- Review Price: £229.99
As far back as 2006, we reviewed the Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pro earphones and were blown away by how good they sounded. The super.fi 5 Pros employed a dual driver design, where high and low frequencies were sent to different drivers, offering a full and rich sound, coupled with amazing clarity.
At the time we couldn’t help wondering how anything could sound better than the super.fi 5 Pros, but a few months later the Shure E500PTHs raised the bar sky high and not just in the area of sound quality. There was no doubt that the E500PTHs blew the competition out of the water when it came to sound quality, but with a price tag of £420, you were going to have to be very wealthy and very serious about your music to buy a set.
The Ultimate Ears’ triple driver offering, the triple.fi 10 Pros, begged the big question of whether Ultimate Ears can steal the crown back from Shure in the high-end earphone arena.
The triple.fi 10 Pros have a similar design to the dual drive super.fi 5 Pros, but the translucent blue and black finish is a definite improvement over the white and grey finish of the older set. Each unit is quite large and protrudes a fair way from your ear when inserted. Like the super.fis the triple.fis have a malleable section of cable which allows you to route the cabling over the top of your ears and down the back. The result is a solid, comfortable fit that should stay put once inserted.
One major improvement is the cabling. Whereas the cable on the super.fi 5 Pros was very thin and insubstantial, the triple.fi 10 Pros sport far thicker cabling, that feels like it could survive a decent amount of tugging, pulling and twisting. The cabling still isn’t quite as heavy duty as that seen on Shure’s earphones, but you’d have to be pretty rough to split or break it.
The triple.fi 10 Pros ship with a very nice metal carrying case with a brushed titanium finish to it. Yes it’s a little bulky, but if you’re buying very expensive earphones, it’s worth keeping them in their case when you’re not using them – after all, you don’t want to pull them out of your bag and find that they’ve been crushed.
The cable is 46in long, which is just about perfect for the majority of situations. However, if you do need a longer cable, there’s also a 26in extension bundled in the box. There’s also a sound attenuator supplied. If you’ve ever plugged your headphones into a plane’s sound system, you’ve probably found yourself almost deafened by a cabin announcement – the attenuator will save you that pain. There’s also 3.5mm to full size headphone adapter and a tool to help with the pleasant job of cleaning wax from your earphones.
You get three pairs of single flange silicone ear tips – in small, medium and large sizes – along with a single pair double flange silicone tips and a pair of disposable foam tips. The medium silicone tips provided a perfect, airtight fit for my ears, while also proving to be very comfortable. The foam tips don’t feel anywhere near as comfortable as the new tapered foam tips that Shure uses, but I guess that there’s a level of subjectivity here.
Of course no amount of design or bundled accessories will make up for poor sound quality, so the important question is whether the triple.fi 10 Pros sound good. Unsurprisingly, the answer to that question is a resounding yes!
What better way to kick off the testing than with a woman who has her finger on the pulse of the current social climate, the ability to create wonderfully opinionated, personal lyrics and the voice of an angel. Lily Allen’s debut album, “Alright, Still” represents one of those rare occasions where a new artist creates something truly different and gets just about everything right first time. Obviously we feel for her ex-boyfriend, trying to avoid anyone who may have heard Not Big. For us though, the best track on the album is Everything’s Just Wonderful, with its cheesy 60s elevator music hook and angelic harmonies. The triple.fi 10 Pros did an amazing job with Lily’s vocals – every word just flowed through my head, lapping gently over my ear drums like warm waves on a tropical beach. The cheesy electric piano sounds were easily discernable, despite sitting a way back from the main vocals, while the backing vocal effects were audible enough to add the right atmosphere without distracting from the main theme.
Switching over to a bit of Green Day, we fired up Wake Me Up When September Ends. The triple.fi 10 Pros recreated the acoustic guitar intro with expert precession, allowing the vocals to flow over the top without overpowering it. When the electric guitars come in, the sound is full, loud and heavy, but still the vocals are crystal clear. And the louder you pump this track, the better these earphones sound – although you may want to be careful not to damage your hearing in the process.
Next we let Huey and the boys loose on the triple.fi 10 Pros. Loco is the definitive Fun Lovin’ Criminals album (in our opinion), with the title track being the stand out number. Loco epitomises the FLC’s desire to dabble in pretty much any genre, with strong Latino influences, a thumping bass line and a blatant Santana-like guitar riff – not to mention an awesome video, check it out if you get a chance. The triple.fi 10 Pros really excelled themselves with this track – the bass line just punched through my head like a hammer, while Huey’s vocals were smooth as silk. But it’s the guitar riff that steals the show, even though it’s quite far back in the mix, behind both the lead and backing vocals – these earphones just pick out the guitar and relay it straight to your brain, without losing any of the impact of the other instruments or vocals.
So, are the triple.fi 10 Pros the best earphones that money can buy? Well, from a pure sound quality point of view, the answer is no. Fantastic as the triple.fi 10 Pros are, the Shure E500PTHs are still without equal in my opinion. However, when you throw price into the equation, things look a bit different. With the triple.fi 10 Pros costing only £229, they’re actually going head to head with Shure’s dual driver SE420 earphones, rather than the triple drive model. Now, the SE420s are a superb set of headphones, but the triple.fi 10 Pros definitely represent a step up when it comes to sound quality.
When we reviewed the SE420s I recommended them, because they offered much of the quality of Shure’s triple driver models, but at a significantly lower price. But now Ultimate Ears has come in with a triple driver product in the same price bracket, making the triple.fi 10 Pros look very compelling indeed. And even though £230 is an undeniably significant amount of money for a set of earphones, what you’re getting for that sum is equally significant, making the triple.fi 10 Pros surprisingly good value for money.
The Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10 Pros are superb earphones in every respect. The triple driver design produces staggering sound across a wide range of music genres. The improved build quality over the super.fi 5 Pros is also a very welcome addition. But it’s the pricing that comes as the real shock here, with Ultimate Ears undercutting Shure’s triple driver SE530s by £100, and going head to head with the dual driver SE420s. If you’re seriously thinking of spending a couple of hundred pounds on earphones, we strongly suggest that you put these at the top of your list.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9