Etymotic hf2 Review, or: Can A Headset Change Your Life?

First, this article requires some personal background: I had meningitis as a kid; as a teen I went to a lot of rock concerts with zero hearing protection; then, a few years ago, had a vestibular infection and/or Meniere’s Disease (even the experts at Harvard’s Mass Eye and Ear couldn’t decide) on my right side.

The net:net, without all the personal whining, is that I’ve ended up with some fairly significant nerve deafness, much worse on the right side. While it doesn’t much affect my day-to-day life, over the past several years I’ve found that I just don’t use the phone like I used to.  Don’t like it much at all.  No fidelity to the voices, they sound extremely flat, have to ask people to repeat, etc. etc. …… so I generally avoid the phone if I can.  I know, I know, I should probably go get a hearing aid or something but I hate the idea – and besides (and more important) – why? I can carry on conversations just fine (unless there’s a ton of background noise), can still enjoy music, and honestly, most of the sound out there in the world I’d just as soon not hear.

My avoidance of the phone has probably had a negative impact on my ability to get some of my professional work done and other goals accomplished.  Perhaps that’s not the right way to put it – I mean, I always used the phone if I had to – but if it’s optional I generally had avoided it and used e-mail, which is often not ideal because it’s much easier to ignore.

Well, my Etymotic hf2 iPhone headset changed all that.

Etymotic was kind enough to send me a review set about six months ago.  I’ve owned several of their stereo headsets and always loved the products, but had never had one of their phone headsets.

I get rich stereo sound into both ears; the conversational quality is crystal clear.  Anyone who has used Etymotic’s earbuds already knows their sound quality is dramatically superior, but this takes it to a new level by adding iPhone functionality and a great microphone.

The reason I’ve been waiting all this time to write my review is that while I knew instinctively that I had been spending more time on the phone, I didn’t know how much.  So I’ve been watching my AT&T bill over these months to map out the numbers / minutes used compared to pre-headset.  It’s astonishing; I spend at least 3-4x as much time on the phone as I did before.

They made the phone dramatically more accessible to me, and I no longer find myself avoiding it.  It’s made a bunch of things possible that would not have happened a few months ago.  I’ve reached out to a lot of people – personally and professionally – that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

The personal result is that I’ve spent a lot more time reaching out to old friends and engaging with new ones.  The professional result was palpable – I had several pieces of writing published this year (including one for Money that would have been impossible without the phone interviewing and so on), and I secured several business engagements that would have been impossible without a lot of phone time.  I also did some political fundraising that was greatly helped by my phone outreach.  So: it really, really mattered.

I’ve tried a lot of one-ear headsets and found them universally awful.  I used a couple of Etymotic’s two-ear competitors, and nothing sounded great.   The silly little Apple-supplied headset that comes with the iPhone is barely worthy of discussion.

But the fidelity of the Etymotic‘s sound is amazing – I listen to everything from electronic trance music to Bill Moyers’ show (OK, they’re not that different) – and the sound is truly excellent.  The buds form a great (yet gentle) seal inside your ear and block out most outside noise.  Impressive things, especially considering their size, and the microphone delivers good sound as well while doing a good job of filtering out background madness.  The build quality is solid.  You can tell these people have been at it for decades and know how to build a quality audio product.

So, now that you’ve finished buying gifts for everyone else (right?), you ought to get one for yourself – these.  Because you’ll actually use them, and heck, they just might change your life.

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