Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pro
For the last decade, Ultimate Ears has been manufacturing professional-grade in-ear stage monitors for musicians, but the company only recently began offering high-end earbuds for the consumer market. Ultimate Ears' Super.fi 5 Pro ($249.99) delivers excellent performance and fits more securely than most in-ear headphones. Unfortunately, a component of the Super.fi 5 Pro's replaceable cord wore out in the second week of testing. Aside from that notable snag, the Super.fi 5 Pro ranks among our favorite in-ear headphones. It's available in black and iPod-matching white.
The Super.fi 5 Pro's rock-solid fit and ultralight weight make it exceptionally well suited for exercise--as long as you don't mind subjecting a set of $250 headphones to such rigors. Likeand , the Super.fi 5 Pro comes with interchangeable silicon and foam ear tips. The ear tips conform to the shape of your ear canal, blocking out ambient noise more effectively than some battery-powered noise-canceling headphones we've used. After stuffing the ear tips into your ears, you loop a flexible ear loop over the top of each ear to further secure the 'buds. The flexible ear loops are essentially 1.5-inch flexible wires integrated into the headphone cords where the cords emerge from the left and right earbuds. The ear loops hold whatever shape you bend them into and are very effective at keeping the 'buds from falling off your head. We jogged outdoors with the Super.fi 5 Pro for more than an hour on two different occasions, and the 'buds didn't dislodge a single time. During the second week of testing, one of the ear loops' flexible wires broke. Ultimate Ears assured us that the headphones' two-year warranty would have covered free replacement of the cord, but the wire's untimely demise was nonetheless disappointing. The cord's 4-foot length is just right for connecting the 'phones to a portable player without leaving too much slack.
The headphones come with more replacement ear tips and accessories than most competing models. Ultimate Ears supplies two sets each of small, medium, and large silicon ear tips and one set of foam ear tips. When we removed the 'buds from our ears a couple of times, a silicon ear tip detached from the headphones. We've heard reports of people losing multiple sets of the Sony MDR-EX71SL silicon ear tips, and the same is likely to happen with these 'phones if you're not careful. The Ultimate Ears Web site carries a full range of replacement parts. The Super.fi 5 Pro comes with a cool metal carrying case that stores the headphones and the ear-tip sets as well as the included cleaning tool, a 1/8-inch-to-1/4-inch headphone-plug adapter, and a volume-attenuator adapter, which protects your hearing by preventing loud bursts of sound. The supplied leather carrying pouch provides more compact storage.
The Super.fi 5 Pro, which incorporates two drivers (one handles low frequencies, the other middle and high frequencies) into each earpiece, delivers first-class performance. On notoriously noisy New York City subways, the 'phones blanketed us in music while the in-ear drivers sealed out environmental background noise. When we conducted an informal A-B listening test with the Super.fi 5 Pro and a few larger home-audio headphone models, including AKG K100s and, the Super.fi 5 Pro more than held its own, delivering the most revealing, detailed sound of the bunch. During Shannon McNally's "The Worst Part of a Broken Heart," the acoustic guitar's overtones and texture were more pronounced with the Super.fi 5 Pro than through the other 'phones, and every instrument occupied its own sonic space in the mix. Bass performance was agile and well defined, but not overemphasized. But if artificially big bass is your thing, the Super.fi 5 Pro can do that too. When we cranked up our EQ's bass and fired up OutKast's "Love Hater," the 'phones dished out surprisingly formidable low end without distorting or getting sloppy. The high-sensitivity (119dB) 'phones could play extremely loud even when paired with portable audio players such as Gateway's 6GB MP3 Photo Jukebox and Oregon Scientific's MP-210. The Super.fi 5 Pro's sonic character can be summed up as balanced or perhaps slightly skewed toward brightness; in that sense, the Super.fi 5 Pro is to headphones what studio monitors are to speakers.
Ultimate Ears also offers the similarly styled Super.fi 3 Studio ($99) and the Super.fi 5EB ($199), which is specifically designed to emphasize bass frequencies. You might also want to check out($299).