Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro
Ultimate Ears, makers of the custom-molded personal monitors that musicians use onstage, decided a while back that if folks wanted to listen to their music through the same earpieces as the pros, then by golly, it'll cost them only $900. Yes, you read that number right--that's not an extra zero. The Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pros are truly at the top of the headphone buyer's market (unless you have a few grand to drop on electrostatic--and extremely unportable--headphones). Is it ridiculous to pay more than twice as much for your headphones than you did for your iPod? Not if you can afford it. Simply put, there are no better in-ear headphones available, even for listening to standard MP3 files.
Let's talk about the UE-10s' design process. First, the consumer goes to a doctor who works directly with the company to make ear-canal molds. This process is not gross or painful, but it feels a bit weird. For anyone who has never seen a negative of their ear canals, it can be truly fascinating as well. These ear molds then get shipped to Ultimate Ears' manufacturing facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, where a custom earpiece set is made from them. The transparent plastic earpieces come in a variety of colors--the red is rather striking--and inside them are three drivers, just like in high-end speakers. In addition, you can customize your cord with five colors and two lengths: 46 or 64 inches. The whole package includes a metallic carrying case with your name engraved on the face (your initials will appear on each earpiece as well), along with earwax-cleaning tools--an unfortunate necessity for earpieces that go this deep into your ear.
At first, the custom-molded UE-10s may seem slightly uncomfortable, as the ear canal is simply not used to having this kind of visitor. However, once the ear has adjusted, the custom fit ensures that the listener will forget they're even there. The UE-10s' secure fit also significantly attenuates the ambient room sounds around the listener, which leaves us to focus on only one aspect: the sound quality.
If you want booming bass, look elsewhere. In fact, Ultimate Ears actually makes the Super.fi 5 EB just for you bass freaks. The UE-10 Pros are about balance and accuracy, as any speakers worth their audiophilic salt should be. The low end is smooth, the mids are powerful, and the high end is crystal clear. As one should expect from a $900 pair, the UE-10 Pros suit any music type, from classical to heavy rock and rap to jazz. The new Flaming Lips single "The W.A.N.D." sounds superb; a buzzing guitar saws in your left ear while the drums hit heavy and clear without overpowering. Every Wayne Coyne vocal, whether lead or backup, is airy and crisp. Taking a trip back in time, The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes for You" retains all of its haunted splendor and even seems to gain a little; the reverb on the vocals has never been clearer than it is through the Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pros, hovering in the listener's left ear.
We could go on, but the point to make is simple: these three-driver personal audio monitors are worth every penny. For those who can't quite afford these custom masterpieces, Ultimate Ears makes much less expensive models that still offer excellent sound quality.