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 those geared toward casual but discerning listeners to sets for 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 former being the subject of this review.
The MetroFi 220 Noise Isolating Earphones are a step up from the bottom of the line in the Ultimate Ears family and come in two versions: a standard MP3 player model for $79.99 and the iPhone-friendly 220vi, which includes an in-line mic and sells for $20 more. Either set is a good buy for picky listeners who have a moderate amount 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 (which looks cool when the light shines through). Although the 'buds are quite small on the whole, we found the squat, completely round design did not let us 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 on the basic version (without mic) can help prevent some tangles when the earphones are not in use, though we still had some issues with that. Also, it's worth noting that the 220vi does not have this feature because of the mic midway up the right side (a call answer button is further down on the cord). 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 the thin, stiff, plastic-covered cable raise some concerns for durability, so it's a good idea to store the MetroFi 220 in the hard case provided in the package.
The great thing about the MetroFi 220 earphones is that, if you can get a good fit, they provide great sound quality and 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 nice, tight bass response that is enveloping without being overwhelming, warm mids, and a high-end response that is clear and detailed. The headphones are also quite versatile, providing solid sound across all genres.
Compared with their step-down cousins, the MetroFi 170, the 220s offer ever-so-slightly improved sound quality--deeper, tighter bass and richer mids--for $30 to $50 more. Most people probably won't notice much of a difference, which is why we're more inclined to recommend the less-expensive 170s as a step-up for listeners looking to upgrade from stock sets without dropping a big wad of cash.