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Nowhere is this more apparent than on Newton Faulkner's superb cover of Massive Attack's Teardrop. Even my venerable Shure E2c's, which I consider to be pretty dry and light on bass, manage a warm, rounded grumble when the crisp acoustic guitar intro gives way to the main part of the song. That just doesn't happen with the same degree of warmth through the Super.fi 4's. There's power here, but it's delivered in a measured way that's lacking in emotion and intimacy.
Moving on to another cover - Mary J Blige's version of U2's One - emphasises and underlines these traits. Vocals don't ring out; they seem to thrust, slash and tear at your ears. Sibilants irritate and while the bass is incredibly defined with clear edges and amazing separation, it lacks warmth.
The Super.fi 4's fared a touch better with live music. Listening to Georgie Fame's amazing album Live At The Kentish Town Forum gave a much more realistic sound than, say, the £40 Sennheiser CX400's did. But again that tiring harshness continues to come through, giving unnecessary weight and significance to cymbals, snare drums and other sibilant noises.
Competition is hot under £100, and at £75 the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 4s come in at possibly the trickiest price point there is - at the bottom end of what an audiophile might consider, yet at the upper end of the scale of what a keen yet stingy iPod owner might buy.
And these headphones don't quite hit the mark. Build is top quality and there's a good range of accessories in the box, but the sound quality just doesn't come up to scratch for me. There's no doubting these are highly capable headphones, but the tuning of the single driver is just too dry and this results in a sound that's hard-edged, harsh and difficult to listen to for extended periods.
After several days of listening to these, I was more than happy to go back to my Sennheiser CX400's and Shure E2c's. Neither is perfect, but both are a lot easier on the ear.
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