Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5. Sound-Isolating Headphones

by | Feb 11, 2009 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5. Sound-Isolating Headphones
SRP: $169.99

Ultimate Ears by Logitech

5 Jenner Street, Suite 100

Irvine, CA 92618

Sound-isolating earphones aren’t for everyone. Some users have complained about their features, ranging from ear canal discomfort, extreme isolation, to loud cord thwack. Yet in noisy environments like gyms, their benefits are clear: No more hearing TV sports patter, abominable piped-in music, and witless discussions about disappointing progeny. The earphones packaged with my Sansa MP3 player are so dismal that I can hear only the most basic rock music with them. [The same in spades with iPods…Ed.]  So what do the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 earphones offer for the pricetag?

First, some specifications:
Input Sensitivity: 115 dB SPL/mW at 1 kHz
Frequency Response: 15 Hz – 15 kHz
Impedance: 13 ohms at 1 kHz
Internal Speaker Configuration: Single driver, proprietary balanced top-fire armature
Noise Isolation: 26 dB
Input connector: 1/8 inch (3.5mm) gold plated
[Ultimate Ears Listening Devices is now part of the Logitech family of products.]

These earphones have an impressive frequency response, displaying fine amplification within their 15 Hz – 15 kHz area. Compared to the Super.fi 5 Pro of two years ago, their L-shape fits the ears better, the design being now liberated from that clunky rectangular body. Simply put, they stay in better. The sound stage is quite expansive for earphones in this price range. Listening to the midrange is no longer a chore in noisy locations, like it is with cheaper earphones. Grieg’s songs, sung by the stunning Anne Sophie von Otter, are not only audible in the gym, but predominant. I can hear every note, and very little of ESPN on that blaring TV. This is probably due to the Super.fi 5’s “Top Fire” armature speaker design, which uses a single wideband driver to create detailed sound in a small package. Despite their size, the earphones appear durable; I dropped them three times on hard floors and ran over the cord with my office chair, and they haven’t suffered sound degradation yet. The high end is silvery without being shrill, particular if you are listening to a coloratura soprano singing bel canto style.

The earphones come with six sets of tips, including two sets of foam tips. These ergonomic tips are far better than the conical yellow ones that several manufacturers were shipping a few years past. They fit and stay in tight. Unfortunately, the carrying box is small and flimsy. I would have preferred the fixed spindle kind that Shure offered two years ago (but no longer does). I also like the mini-jack, which is straight rather than right-angled. I don’t know why, but I trust it more. Another welcome trait is its color coding. No longer do you have to search for tiny Rs and Ls. Right is dark red plastic, left is black. How simple! The kit also includes a cleaning tool, a quarter-inch adapter (whose use, contrary to opinion, doesn’t attenuate the music), and a dual-mono airplane adapter. I caution anyone before using the airplane adapter. Pilots tend to interrupt with booming voices, pummelling your peaceful in-flight listening moments.

I’m not wild about the bass response. Some bass-heavy cuts, like Donovan’s 43-year-old “Sunshine Superman,” are underwhelming on these headphones. I have heard that other, similarly-priced models (like the Shure S210) offer better bass response. The Super.fi 5 Pro, despite its higher price and boxy design certainly handles Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-Symphonie” (and its eight percussionists) with more earth-shaking conviction. There is a slight problem with the Super.fi’s cable thump, particularly if you are a jogger. It’s best to invest in a cable clip (why don’t they include those anymore?), or attach them from behind and run the cord past your neck.

The bottom line is that if you are a “bass-head,” you won’t be wowed by this product. [That usually requires a true in-the-ear-canal phone such as the Etymotic, with a much greater possible discomfort factor for many users…Ed.] However, if you want a fine general-purpose replacement for the lousy headphones packaged with MP3 players, or if you want to blot out external noise when playing your home system, get these headphones. Most likely they will not disappoint.

– Peter Bates

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