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Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro Earphones

By: Ryan Preston
on February 5, 2007 1:38 pm

Have you ever compared items, in general with the same basic functionality, and wonder why item “B” is so much more expensive than item “A”? The classic example, which many people can relate to, is shoes. Are the shoes marketed by a professional athlete and sold for $140 that much better than the ones sold at your local department store for $30?

Unfortunately, the opportunity (i.e. funds) rarely presents itself to test out the high-priced alternative. Lucky for me, Julie provided me just the opportunity with a chance to review Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pro earphones. I have owned countless pairs of earphones. Some I have purchased, never spending more than $30, and some were throw-ins with musical devices that I bought. That’s why I was stunned by the $249.99 retail price of the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones. Obviously I have entered a new frontier; one of premium, high-end earphones.

Now I should clarify, before I get started on the review, that although I love to listen to music, I would not consider myself an audiophile. I will compromise quality for price, which I doubt any serious audiophile would be too willing to do. I appreciate sound quality but my appreciation does have its limits. Now that general warning is out of the way, let’s see if this product is worth the price.

Features/Specifications:

Professional Construction
Fashion Conscious Styling – Available In White, Black And Clear Finishes (White For Review)
Noise Isolating Design
Dual Driver Technology; Low And High Range Precision Balanced Armatures In Each Earphone, One For Lows And One For Mids and Highs
Flexible Ear Loops
Low Friction Cable
Customizable Ear Tips
Metallic Travel Case
Two-year Warranty From Purchase Date
Input Sensitivity: 119 dB/mW
Impedance: 21 Ohms
Cable Length: 46″
Weight (With Cable): 0.6 oz.
Input Connector: 1/8″ (3.5 mm) Gold Plated
Frequency Response: 20 to 16,000 Hz
Noise Isolation: 26 dB

In The Box:

Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pro earphones – White finish
6 Single Flange Silicone Ear Tips (2 Small, 2 Medium, 2 Large)
2 Disposable Foam Ear Tips
2 Dual Flange Ear Tips
1/4″ Gold Plated Adapted Jack
Sound Level Attenuator
Cleaning Tool
Warranty Card
Metallic Travel Case
User Guide

Ultimate Ears, the company that produces the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones, has an interesting history. One of the founders, Jerry Harvey, was a sound engineer with Van Halen in 1995 when he got the inspiration to start the company. Initially the company catered to musical performers but in 2004 they began to manufacture earphones for everyday Joes (and Janes) to grab hold of the iPod and MP3 player consumers. With a reported 80% of the market share for in-ear personal monitors, I think it is obvious that they must be doing something right.

Now let’s get to the review.

Opening the box, I immediately noticed the user guide that fell to the floor. It is 28-pages in length. Yes that is correct, 28 5″ x 5″ glossy pages of information about the earphones. WOW, for a device with no electronic inputs/settings it seems a bit much. That said the user guide is very informative and easy to understand with great pictures and a table of contents for reference. The user guide is also available electronically (pdf format) on the Ultimate Ears site.

I found the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones aesthetically pleasing with a white, almost pearl, finish with a silver-braided cable covered by a clear coating. The earphones are also available in clear and black finishes, although when I checked the website black was on back-order.

The end of the cable and the y-junction cable manager with slider appear to be a frosted, semi-opaque plastic. The two ends of the cable utilize gold-tips; one connecting the earphones to your device, the other has dual-prong tips that connect to the earphones. The earphones can easily be detached from the cable, allowing you to replace the cable without replacing the earphones. So if you damage the cord, just buy a new one and plug them in or you could buy a different color to make your Super.fi 5 Pro phones distinctively yours. Replacement cables are available on the Ultimate Ears site for $20.

Some other reviewers have commented on durability issues especially with the Y-junction, where the cable splits to both earphones. I routinely slid the cable manager back and forth while I was enjoying my music and I never noticed any indication of a durability issue there or anywhere else.

Just in case something does go wrong with your earphones, Ultimate Ears offers a two-year warranty on the earphones. It is always a plus when a manufacturer is willing to stand behind its product with a warranty.

Let’s look at the earphones.

The Super.fi 5 Pro earphones are bigger than the standard earbud style, which are common throw-ins with many of today’s audio players. The earphone body measures at 1″ from inner to outer ear perspective and the width ranges from to 1/4″ to 1/2″.

Not sure if it is noticeable in the pictures but the earphones are not straight. They are designed with an estimated 45-degree angle with a flared wing-like mold on one side of the body. The earphones have the standard designators (“L” for left ear, “R” for right) in the mold near where the cables connect.

The first time I inserted the earphones in my ears, I was not very impressed with the fit. Come to find out, it was not the earphones, it was a user error. Upon referring to the user manual, I discovered that the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones are designed to be inserted into the ear with the cord pointing straight up and against your head, wrapping behind your ear. I had the cords pointing down the first time. Basically I had them upside-down from their intended position.

One page of the manual is devoted to earphone insertion, including three pictures and step-by-step instructions to ensure that you get the correct fit to maximize comfort and listening experience. I guess there is something to the idea of reading the manual first.

I found the earphones and the default single flange silicone ear tips to be quite comfortable. Just in case, there are 3 additional sets of silicone tips (small, medium & large) plus a set of foam ones included so you can test which ones are best for you. I just stuck with the defaults that were on the earphones and they felt great.

Now I normally use a pair of Sony wrap-around headphones when listening to music, so putting them into my ears felt abnormal at first but I would not say uncomfortable. After a few minutes the feeling of having something stuck in my ear dissipated.

The Super.fi 5 Pro earphones seem to sit deeper in the ear in comparison to other earphones I have used before. The mold of the earphones, in combination with the silicone ear tips form a great seal in the inner-ear, eliminating background noise and creating an environment that allows the music to be the focus of the ears without causing discomfort.

In my opinion, there are some potential drawbacks from the elimination of background noise. Maybe you are like me, and like to be able to hear some background noise while listening to your music, especially at work. If someone is trying to talk to me, I want to be able to hear them.

I also noticed that I talked louder when responding to someone while wearing the earphones, a drawback from not being able to hear myself speak clearly. I would not necessarily deem this a flaw of the earphones; actually they are specifically designed to diminish background noise. Just something that I think you might want to consider, especially if you are like me and actually want to hear what is going on around you.

Listening to music through the earphones, I was amazed at the sound quality. I immediately noticed a difference, in that I was able to detect sounds and nuisances that were unnoticeable in my normal headphones. Music seemed crisper coming from the earphones. Sort of like the sensation I experienced when viewing something on a high-definition TV for the first time. Things you were unable to notice before become evident. Experiencing sound this clear and pure is like a wake-up call on my sense of hearing. Definitely a cool sensation.

Besides music, I often listen to sports radio at work and sometimes I have to turn up the volume so that I can hear what someone is saying, especially when someone calls in to talk to the host. While wearing the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones, I never had to adjust the volume. I could clearly hear everyone and everything said. In fact, I found that wearing the earphones allowed me, in general, to listen to everything at a lower volume level than normal, which has to be better on my hearing.

The dual drive technology utilized by the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones could be the difference. This basically means that each earphone has two audio drivers per ear, one responsible for low frequencies while the other handles the high, enhancing the bass and/or treble range. Researching the technology on the net, it seems that the majority of earphones employ a single driver to produce sound that is average to better-than-average. The Super.fi 5 Pro’s go beyond that to deliver exquisite listening pleasure.

Accessories:
In terms of accessories, the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones provide something for everything. The metallic carrying case adds to the aesthetic value while providing a nice, relatively small yet durable mechanism to transport the earphones. I was actually able to fit the earphones and all accessories into the case.

A cleaning tool is provided to help you keep your earphones nice and tidy. Hard to notice in the picture below but there are two silver prongs on one end to help you eliminate any excessive earwax build-up. Not a pleasant thought but a necessary evil of repeatedly placing something in the ear. Might be something to keep in mind too if you are considering the black-finish body. Not sure but the wax residue could be more apparent on the black body as opposed to the white or clear-finish.

The 1/4″ gold plated adapter jack extends the 1/8″ connector capability.

The three additional sets of silicone ear tips, single and double flanged, plus the one set of foam tips gives you plenty of options to find the fit best for you.

Lastly, Ultimate Ears includes a sound level attenuator with a 1/8″ gold connector tip. What is a sound level attenuator? That is the question that I asked when I read the list of accessories. The sound level attenuator is a device that buffers unusually loud bursts of sound that are possible from unbalanced sound systems.

The user guide gives the example of an airplane. You ever been listening to a movie through the jack on your armrest during a flight and the captain’s voice comes through the earphones to update you on the status of the flight? Sometimes that may be louder than the movie you were listening too. Utilizing the sound level attenuator helps diminish the difference in sound. I noticed it effective while listening to music via my laptop. My application alarms were not as loud. A neat little add-on.

Summary:
The Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pro earphones are very impressive. The sound quality and range distributed from the earphones is profoundly better than any headphone/earphone I have ever used. The clarity achieved by the earphones makes sounds seem more crisp and rich, without distortion.

In the initial paragraphs of this review, I pondered if the earphones are worth the extra money compared to other headphones/earphones that I own. I can now answer that question with an emphatic YES.

This has been my first journey into the land of high-end earphones and I have to say it has been an “ear”-opening experience. If you have the opportunity and the financial means to following, I highly recommend the Super.fi 5 Pro earphones by Ultimate Ears.

 

Product Information

Price:249.99
Manufacturer:Ultimate Ears
Pros:
  • Tremendous sound quality
  • Two-year warranty
  • Great accessories
Cons:
  • Probably too expensive for the majority of people

Comments

  1. 1
    Julie says:

    Post your comments on the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro Earphones review.

    http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/review/ultimate_ears_super_fi_5_pro_earphones

    Just click the POST REPLY button on this page.

  2. 2
    marianne says:

    Entirely disappointing to try these earphones. So much talk all over, great marketing, but the tone is dreadful. I was able to listen to each model and they are not even close to the Shure e5, ExtremeMac FS1, or Westone 3.

  3. 3
    madkins007 says:

    Shure e5- Gahh!! $500 on SALE (Amazon.com)!
    Extrememac FS1- first Google hit was a bad review, hmmm…
    Westone 3- Shipment dates are being given as March with costs of about $400.

    I find the reviews of earphones I cannot possibly buy to be rather hilarious- there seems to be even more nitpicking on the upper end than there is in the ‘under $50′ range I can afford!

  4. 4
    BoogieNYC says:

    As there are an infinite number of iPod user types — audiophile-types, kids looking to have an iPod like their friends, people who need a convenient musical companion to workouts, etc. — there are myriad different ear- and headphone choices. While I consider myself “picky” when it comes to music, I know there are plenty of people who are far pickier than me, so I don’t really consider myself a true audiophile (a true audiophile would scoff at listening to mp3’s in the first place — if you know why then you’re halfway there).

    In short, I bought a pair of Shure E-4c’s; these are similar to the UE 5’s in that they are in-ear canal phones and are pricey; the retail of the 4’s is somewhere around $300 but the real-world price — if you look — is somewhere about $175. For people that are satisfied with the tinny, half-baked sound that comes forth from the packed-in phones Apple includes with the iPod, there’s no reason to really consider anything better. However, I was never satisfied with their phones because they didn’t fit comfortably (if at all), they would come loose when I was skating or doing other physical activity, and they sounded awful.

    So I did some investigating and found the Shure’s. $150 and up for a pair of earphones — ones that, in theory, duplicate the function of something that comes with the iPod — might seem silly. But for me, the difference between the included phones and the Shures is like listening to AM radio on a one-speaker clock radio your Aunt Edna left you when she died and listening to a DVD concert on a surround-sound system. The difference is really that noticeable.

    The truth is that many people don’t bother — or care — about bitrate, mp3 quality (variable/fixed, joint/true stereo, etc.), and for them music is just their background soundtrack. For me, even when I’m running around doing work errands in NYC, my iPod takes me to another world. The Shures not only filter out 98% of background sound/noise (a pro and a con), they manage to reproduce my music clearly, cleanly and without any coloration.

    As you guessed, this is more a testament to spending $100 — or even $50 — on a good pair of isolating in-canal earphones than it is to the Super-Fi’s or the Shures or to any other brand of earphone in general. The Shure E-4c’s are supposed to be very similar to the UE 5’s in performance and price; what dissuaded me from getting the Super-Fi’s was the removable cable. I figured that one day I’d be skating or working out and one of those cables would pop loose, or, worse, one day I’d grab them from my pocket and find one of the earphones disconnected (and disappeared). I’m happy with the Shures but spending $50 or $100 or $150 or even $200 isn’t that silly when you consider you (or someone on your behalf) spent $400 for you to enjoy the music player. Why not spend a bit more and enhance the experience? That is what originally led me to buy a pair of in-ear phones to begin with, and I’m extremely satisfied.

    Now if someone could do something to make all my 256/320 mp3’s a little more manageable so I could squeeze more into a 60GB iPod video, that would be nice ;)

    Good review, Ryan. Even if people, as a result of your review, don’t go rushing out to nab a pair of UE 5’s, hopefully you’ve at the very least opened their ears to the possibilites :)

  5. 5
    Capt Kanga says:

    I have a pair of the UE Super. Fi 5’s. I also have a pair of the Etymotic ER6i and ER6. My opinion is:
    * The UE 5’s have the “best” sound – fuller, deeper and richer than the Ety’s.
    * The UEs are more comfortable than the Ety’s.
    * The Ety’s are better at noise isolation than the UE’s.

    I use my headphones while commuting each day on the train and while the UE’s are better for music and easier to remove from my ears, the Ety’s (particularly the ER6i) are far better at noise isolation.

    I believe the noise isolation is very important for two reasons: you can relax more in a crowded, rushed train environment; and, you can lower the volume on the headphones while hearing everything – thereby protecting your hearing. Since I mainly listen to podcasts, this means that the ER6i’s are superior in this respect and just under $100 or so.
    But just to restate – music sounds great with the UE’s.

  6. 6
    bobfa says:

    Welcome to the world of Hi-Fi! There is a rather large group of folks very dedicated to headphone listening. Check out http://www.head-fi.com.

    What you are reviewing here are called IEM for In Ear Monitors. There are many models in different price ranges with differing audio qualities. It is a very fun and “Sorry for your Wallet” hobby or vocation.

    The IEM was sort of invented for musicians to protect their hearing. Systems are used to playback the live music to the performer at a sane audio level and the IEM seal is used to protect the user from hearing loss.

    There are a lot of folks who use these in noisy environments to protect their hearing. You can keep the volume down and the noise out.

    There is no right or wrong here, but what sounds good to you.

    Sometime try taking one of your favorite CD’s and RIP it with something like FLAC or Apple Lossless. Then play it back on a good DAP into various headphones, you will be amazed. Be careful of your audio chain during playback. Computers are sometimes pretty bad. Check out foobar2000 and a quality sound card. Then use line out through a good headphone amplifier (headamp for short).

    There is a whole new world of music to your ears awaiting. Soon you will have as many headphones as PDA’s

    Bob

    PS there are some very good headphones at much lower prices as well as some fantastic “cans” for $$$$$$.

    ALAC -> itunes (on a mac) -> total bithead 06 -> e5c

  7. 7
    Shaun says:

    I agree about the clarity of [Ultimate Ears Super.fi Pro 5 earphones]: http://www.hifiheadphones.co.uk/ultimate-ears-superfi-pro-earphones-black-prodid-264.html “Ultimate Ears Super.fi Pro 5 earphones”. There is also plenty of bass, something that is lacking in the lower end Shure IEM models (SE110 and SE220). The in-ear fit is also really good for my ears with the Ultimate Ear’s.

  8. 8
    Milton says:

    I am a drummer that has used Shure E-3’s, 4’s & 5’s for several years. When I purchased the UE Superfi Pro 5’s I was not sure what kind of sound quality I was going to have. I was happy with E-5c’s but heard about the Pro 5’s from the other guys in the band and how they can hear every little thing that we were doing on our Instruments. We currently run an Aviom system that will allow you to hear what you want to hear……….More Drums, Less Drums, More Keys, Less Keys……and so on. Well….I broke down and purchased a set, and man am I happy that I did! The sound quality is so much better them Shure’s. The high’s are out of this world and the low’s are so deep that you can feel it in your chest. Over all if you are looking for a great IEM………………Start with this! I know there are IEM that are less expensive then this……………But, they won’t last trust me……after 3 sets of Shure’s in 4 years I know what I’m talking about. Buy the best, BUY ULTIMATE EARS!!!!!

  9. 9
    Steven says:

    Good review here. I recently (today) purchased a pair of the UE’s from eBay (2nd hand with brand new tips I should say!) and can’t wait for them to arrive. One thing I did pick up on in your review is that you say you prefer to have background noise so that you can ultimately hear what people are saying – for me, if I want to listen to music I wouldn’t want to hear anything else going on around me, especially people chatting away!! It would be pretty close to pointless having a trememndous pair of ‘phones but can only ever being able to hear a small proportion of the sound. I am a big fan of in-ear ‘phones for that reason alone; sound insulation.

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