Ultimate Ears has been a familiar name to musicians and other audio professionals for a decade, but the company has gained quite a following with its consumer line as well. Earphones in its various lines range in affordability and scale nicely, from discerning listeners to audiophiles. At the bottom end, you have the MetroFi line, which has recently enjoyed a refresh in the form of the 220 and 170 earphones, the latter being the subject of this review.
The MetroFi 170 Noise Isolating Earphones are the cheapest set in the Ultimate Ears family and come in two versions: a standard MP3 player model for $49.99 and the iPhone-friendly 170vi, which includes an inline mic and sells for $10 more. Either set is a great starting point for picky listeners who don't have a lot of cash to spend on replacement headphones for their MP3 players, but buyers should be aware of potential fit and durability issues.
The earpieces of the MetroFi earphones are the first cause for concern, though they do have a hint of style with their opaque, blood-red enclosures (it looks cool when the light shines through). Although the 'buds are quite small on the whole, we found that the squat, completely round design did not allow us to get a secure or comfortable fit. The earphones tended to push out of our ears frequently, and when they did stay in place, the plastic 'buds put a slightly uncomfortable pressure on the inner cartilage of the ear. Of course, everyone's ears are different, so you may not have fit issues. Ultimate Ears provides three sizes of silicone fittings to help in that area.
Descending from each earpiece is a thin, black cable that joins into a slightly thicker cord about a foot down; a slider here can help prevent some tangles when the earphones are not in use, though we still had some issues with that. From the Y-junction, you get an additional 33 inches of cable that terminates in a gold-plated straight plug, which is thin enough to fit into recessed headphone jacks (such as that found on iPhone number one). However, both the straight plug and thin, plastic-covered cable raise some concerns for durability, so it's a good idea to store the MetroFi 170 in the hard case provided in the package.
The great thing about the MetroFi 170 earphones is that, if you can get a good fit, they provide very good sound quality as well as solid noise isolation (always good when you're trying to save your ears by listening to your music at lower volumes). Once you get a good seal, you'll be rewarded with a low-end that is thumpy without being overwhelming; mids that are generally bright and forward (we prefer warm and buttery, but to each her own); and a high-end response that is clear and detailed, if not quite sparkling. The headphones are also quite versatile, providing solid sound across all genres. The MetroFi 170 are not audiophile headphones by any means, but they're a good step up for listeners looking to upgrade from stock sets without dropping a big wad of cash.