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November 11, 2005

Ultimate earphones

My last entry was about the quest for the ultimate earphone to go with my new Nano, and as promised, here is the followup.

It was a week or so before my Ultimate Ears super.fi 5Pro phones arrived in the mail. A week of listening with the Etymotics still had not convinced me to stay with them, and I was eager to give the UE's a try.

When they arrived, I was quite surprised at the package. A large blister pack showed off the headphones, together with some of the accessories. Like all PET packaging, it was a bitch to get open, and after it was, I took a closer look at the headphones.

They're much larger than the Etymotics, seemingly almost twice the size. This is pretty understandable though, as they have two drivers in each phone. The hard metal case is a great bonus, holding not just the phones, but the cleaning tool and adapters tidily. Also included is a soft leathery case, though I never figured out how to fit the headphones in with the supporting wires.

Getting them on is a little unusual...perpendicular to the phones, the cables come out together with a stiff wire, which you use to half hang the phones off your ears and loop the cables over the top and back of the ear. The shape that I bend the wire into does make it a little awkward to place in the soft pouch, and I dont want to bend them each time in case they snap.

Regarding snapped cables, the entire cable/plug assembly is completely user replaceable, and at $20, it gives me a lot of ease knowing that accidental damage to the cable won't ruin these expensive phones. The stiff-wire assembly is also part of the user-replaceable section.

The phones come with about 6 different in-ear tips so that they can be assured of a reasonbly good fit to any ear. Spending a few minutes trying all of them out to get the right fit is essential, but I find that the medium ones that are already attached fit perfectly.

Once I'd sorted out all of that, I popped them into my ears and my Nano, then fired them up.

First thing I found - these things are SENSITIVE! On my Ety's a normal volume level would me 7, but on the UE's I rarely go above 1/4 volume. That makes them great for the iPod or any other low-grunt device. There is also an attenuater accessory included, for when they're being listened to on high output devices (basically anything bigger than an mp3 player).

Next, I have been absolutely blown away by the audio quality! From the very first track, these headphones have been absolutely superb, giving great balanced audio, from punchy bass up to crisp highs. Whilst the high end detail is a fraction less than the Ety's, they have a much fuller response overall, and I can pick out individual instruments that I never heard before. I can honestly say that these are the best headphones I've ever hear, inear or otherwise. Live music is especially good on them, but also any non-electronic/amplified music (acoustic or classical) has a presence unlike no other.

Noise isolation of these is good like any in-ear, though not quite the same as the Etymotics. I'm listening on a flight now, and engine noise is subdued significantly, enough that I can still hear all but the faintest details. I now wish I brought the Etys with me to compare!

So how do I feel about them overall? Pros: Excellent detail and balance, handy accessories included, user replaceable cable. Cons: Pricey, unusual ear 'mounting', less isolation than Etys. Weighing this all up, I'm really satisfied with them, and hope they stay with me for a long time.

Posted by Ben at 04:44 AM | Comments (1)