Ultimate Ears Metro.Fi 2
The Metro.Fi 2 phones are a step up price-wise from the Denons, and it shows. The cabling is thicker, the right-angled plug more robust and the overall feel that bit more luxurious. For instance, while the earpads provided are removable (and a selection of sizes is provided) these fit so well to the main body of the earphone that you almost think they're one single part. I didn't find the UEs quite as comfortable to wear as the Denon or Sony 'phones or as snug a fit as the Shure SE102's I've been using recently, but they're not uncomfortable and they don't look or feel quite as obtrusive as the Shures. In fact, the only real grumble that springs to mind is that the slightly rigid cable is more prone to handling noise than some I might mention. If the wire bangs against anything, you know about it. A leather case is provided, and a hard metallic carrying case is an optional £15 extra.
Is the sound more luxurious too? Well, in some ways the Metro.Fi 2's are the opposite of the Denons; they can't match the AH-C252's for power and tone at the low-end, but they produce a more refined and articulate sound that's actually a bit more versatile. Listening to Show from the Beth Gibbons/Rustin Man album, Out of Season, the Metro.Fi 2 set picks up more nuances in the vocals than the Denons, and while the bass isn't so strong, it's well defined and arguably sits better with the rest of the track. In Talk Talk's Inheritance it's easier to pick out the layers of textural detail that make the track beneath the minimalist, half-mumbled vocals so compelling. The soundstage, meanwhile, is getting closer to the sort of holographic ideal you might get from a really good set of earphones. I've heard better reproductions, but only from sets in the price range above or even above that. Even the SE102's we hold in such high regard here at TrustedReviews don't do a better job with this material.
Still, as with the AH-C252's the Metro.Fi 2's have their weaknesses. Outkast's Bowtie sounds fine, but the Ultimate Ears set doesn't quite have the low-end welly to propel the track's rolling groove along. The Everlasting Gaze, meanwhile, sounds thin and lacking in power, the mix of pounding guitar and heavy riffs sounding less raw and angry, more mildly stroppy. Again, we're being fairly tough here and, heard in isolation, you wouldn't have much cause for complaint, but put the Metro.Fi phones up against the Shure SE102's in a straight A/B comparison and the Shure 'phones have more body in the mid-range and a little more detail at the top. Given the choice, I'd plump for the Shures, but the Metro.Fi 2's deliver a very decent performance for the price.
A strong, crisp and versatile sound, but the Shure SE102's have the edge on warmth and body.