Etymotic’s Custom Eartips Comfy, But Suffer From Sibling Rivalry [Review]


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Earlier this year, Etymotic began a new program that allows purchasers of pretty much any of their products — earphones, Bluetooth headsets, whatever — to own custom-molded eartips for an extra $100. Etymotic offered to let me try a set of these custom eartips (full disclosure: on their tab) with the hf2s I tested, and off we went.

The process began with a short visit at a local audiologist, so that molds of my ear canals could be made. A putty-like substance (my audiologist said it was the same material as dental putty, only not safe to stick in a mouth) was drizzled into my ear, given time to set and popped out; the whole thing took about a half-hour and was completely drama-free. The molds were then sent to UK-based ACS, who’ve partnered with Etymotic to make the molds, and two weeks later a set of customized eartips appeared in my mail.

Really, the most appealing aspect about the custom tips is that they’re pillow-comfy and extremely secure. There’s no shaking them loose or needing to readjust; they’re even more comfortable than Etymotic’s  memory-foam tips, which seemed to me the most comfy of the three sets that are standard complement with Etymotic’s canalphones. The tips will also most likely outlast the others. You’ll eventually have to get new molds made as your ears change, but that’s years down the road.

But here’s the thing: Sound-wise, Etymotic’s standard tips are  a very tough act to follow — and the silicone customs don’t keep up.

The hf2s require a practically airtight seal to avoid anemic sounding bass, and my custom tips didn’t quite cut the mustard. In one ear, the seal seemed about as good as that of the flanged tips my hf2 testers came with; the other eartip leaked sound though, resulting in a loss of bass oomph. And neither tip seemed to perform quite as well as the standard memory-foam tips.

Factor in that the custom tips only filter out 26 decibels worth of sound — the tips included with the hf2s block out  anywhere from 35 to 42 dB, depending on the tip type — and you’re actually experiencing what amounts to a performance reduction with the custom tips.

If longevity is key or the standard tips aren’t comfy, consider a set; just don’t expect them to make the hf2s sound any better.

[xrr rating=60%]