Watching people sitting on a bus, as we often do, there are two main types of headphone wearers: people who have the default white headphones, and people who opt for something that asserts a bit of their personality but also provides better sound — usually over-ear cans from the likes of Skullcandy or Sennheiser. If you believe you belong to a third group that values sound quality over anything else then prick your ears.
Ultimate Ears was created by drummer Alex Van Halen who needed a pair of custom in-ear monitors. After crafting professional gear for several years, the company began making consumer headphones in 2002, and was then snapped up by Logitech in 2008.
The headphones sit somewhere near the top of the consumer headphones, which culminate in the Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 at AU$529. The headphones feature two custom-tuned speakers per ear and yet are quite small and light at only 11.6 grams per earphone. The finish is metallic, though unlike the Monster Jamz it's plastic and not actual metal, but they feel hard-wearing. Be aware the metallic paint will peel off with use, so keeping them in the supplied case is recommended. The headphones ship with four different-sized ear tips including (our favourite) the expanding Comply Foam.
The 700s have a frequency response of 10Hz - 16.5kHz which doesn't sound all that impressive when CD goes all the way up to 20kHz. But if this matters to you be comforted by the fact that most modern music arguably cuts off about 12kHz anyway. Plus, we don't think many of the headphones that claim to go 20-20,000 are quite telling the truth anyway.
Forget what you know about boomy, tizzy in-ear headphones of the past: these are incredibly refined animals. We liked the sound of the Monster Jamz, and the Ultimate Ears are even better. There is a more sophisticated touch to music and they're more comfortable to listen to for long periods. While the rubber tips will give you a more "upfront" sound this is at the expense of both bass response and noise isolation. With the Comply tips in, the sound levels are reduced by up to 26dB, or by a third in real terms, and the bass returns.
And when we say bass, we mean bass with detail. By that we don't mean explosive sound but bass notes with definition — for example, you can actually hear the sound of a pick on a bass string where before there was only mush.
The rest of the spectrum is well-served too, and while it may not have the most expansive sound stage in the world the mid-range is detailed and the treble is sweet. The 'phones have an even-handed response, which suits all types of music, but rock music and dance still retain their energy.
If you're looking for out-and-out excitement then you can save a bit of money and get the Monster Jamz instead, which are amazing value for money. But if you want a set of headphones that won't grate on your nerves after one or two songs and are also great on the train or plane then the Ultimate Ears are perfect. Shop around, though, as we've seen them online for about AU$170, which makes them very competitive with the Jamz.