- Review Price: £89.99
It’s that time again; once more I am here to remind you all that those bundled earphones you received with the media player you’re listening to right now are, it saddens me to say, doing you no favours. Not only do they sound naff but they betray your poor taste in music; because surely no-one who has good taste in tunes would subject them to such terrible treatment?
Don’t worry, though, help is at hand. There are plenty of third party earphones available and the latest set to find their way onto my desk, the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5vi in-ear ‘phones, aren’t too shabby at all. Admittedly their £90-odd price tag will deter many, especially as you can get a decent player – say, the Sony E443 for that money, with change to spare.
Nonetheless, if you are in the market for a little under £100 worth of quality earphones these are worth considering. The design isn’t spectacular, but it works whether you want to plug the ‘phones straight into your ears, or run the cable over the top first. The latter is advisable because there’s a lot of noise transmission through the cable otherwise. Better considered is the inclusion of a microphone and an in-line remote.
Logitech says that the addition of this microphone and in-line remote makes these earphones well suited for the iPhone or BlackBerry handsets. That seems to be a slightly devious way of saying: “don’t blame us when these won’t work with some players.” Plugged into a Samsung YP-R1 exactly half of the stereo channels come through, which is hardly ideal. As such you’ll want to be wary that your player of choice is compatible before buying these Ultimate Ears ‘phones.
The good news is that the microphone seems pretty good. Making a couple of calls I heard no complaints about quality from the recipient – even walking through Piccadilly Circus. Ultimate Ears’ placement of the remote is well thought out. While most manufacturers place the control by the microphone, up at the side of your face, the Super.Fi 5vi remote is placed just below the point when the cable ‘Y’ splits – where it should be, if you ask me.
As well as the earphones themselves, the Super.Fi 5vi package comes complete with a plastic carrying case, a cleaning tool and five different tips; four in varying sizes made of silicone and one of Comply foam. The latter aren’t perfect as they degrade fairly quickly, but if you’re happy to purchase replacements fairly often they’re by far the most comfortable and likely the best fitting tips offered by Ultimate Ears – without buying a set of UE’s much more expensive custom fitted ‘phones at any rate.
The price should betray that these are ‘only’ single driver ‘phones, but that’s not necessarily a problem. The £60 Klipsch Image S4 earphones only employ a single driver, but they still manage to sound good, after all. In fact, it’s a little hard to see quite why Ultimate Ears is charging £30 more for its Super.Fi 5vi than Klipsch is for the Image S4s.
Aside from the addition of the aforementioned remote control and microphone, there’s little other than styling separating the two physically. The sound produced by each is fairly similar, too, leaning towards warmth of detail rather than crispness.
Where the Image S4s win out, though, is at the high end, where there’s noticeably more clarity. The result is that Pixie Lott’s voice on the ever-so-catchy Here We Go Again and Turn It Up sound less sharp with these Ultimate Ears ‘phones. OutKast’s Roses suffered similarly, with the various piano and synth parts to the backing track sounding slightly clipped with the Ultimate Ears. You might not notice if you weren’t looking for a difference, but once heard it’s a niggle that becomes hard to ignore.
More suitable competition comes from the Etymotic Research hf2 earphones, though, as these feature an in-line remote. Worse still for the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5vis, Etymotic’s earphones can be found for less, but offer far more detailed reproduction than you would expect from a pair of single driver earphones.
Were these Ultimate Ears earphones cheaper they’d be a much better proposition. iPhones and BlackBerrys hardly have a reputation of stunning audio output, so paying too much more for ‘better’ earphones when you’ll never hear the difference is silly. Currently, however, the Super.Fi 5vi earphones are more expensive than better sounding rivals, which is just silly.
The Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5vi earphones’ only notable advantage over cheaper alternatives is the addition of an in-line microphone and remote. That might have been enough to justify the price hike, were there not better sounding options, such as Etymotic Research’s hf2 earphones, which offer identical functionality for less money.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7
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