Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 Studio review

Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 Studio

Although I've been using portable audio players for most of my life, I've never owned good portable earphones. When I was young, I didn't have a lot of money, either for an expensive music player, let alone for good ear phones. And ever since I've owned a car, I've used portable audio players on my car stereo exclusively. But now that we have a dog that needs to be outside for at least an hour a day (Bailey), and with a job that sends me across the country, I could use a set of good ear phones. I set a limit to myself of 100 euros. After much consideration I decided to pass on the Shure SE210, as most reviews claim them to have a poor presence range. In the music I listen to, this range is extremely important. It's where the audible definition sits of distorted guitars.

Specifications - Quoting Ultimate Ears:

Frequency response20 to 13,000 Hz
Input sensitivity115 dB/mW
Impedance13 Ω
ConfigurationSingle full range precision balanced armature
Noise isolation-26 dB
Input connector3.5 mm (1/8") gold plated
Weight14 g (.5 oz)

Looks - Ehr, nothing special. Mine are black, just like the ear tips and the glossy cable. White UE logo on the phones and R and L markings on both the phones and cable ends. A bit blocky, not very shapely, unlike some other brands.

Accessories - Included with the earphones are a practical aluminium storage box, an air travel attenuator, 5 pairs of different ear tips, and a cleaning tool.

Comfort - Very good. These phones go into the ear canal for about 1 cm. Close to the phones, the cables have a moldable section of about 5 cm. This is a good way of adapting the fit to one's ears. Because of that, there's no weight on the phones themselves and the cable hangs from the top of your ear shell. Insertion, when you get the hang of it, is smooth and easy.

Isolation - Very good, once you select the right tip. This requires some experimenting, but shouldn't take more than 15 minutes trying all the tips. UE specifies it as -26 dB. For the mid to high range, this sounds accurate to me, but the low frequencies are definitely damped less. Damping is comparable to the Alpine Music Safe musician's earplugs I use.

Microphonics - Something to consider using any type of in-ear phones, is the sound from the dangling cables. I can't comment on the UEs performance, having not much to compare them to, but rubbing of the cable against clothing can be annoying and particularly affects the bass range during walking. I think it's a kind of numbing effect on the hearing. When you subject your ears to a constant low rumbling it becomes hard the descern other low frequencies.

Sound - Now, the most important part of this review: how do they sound? I wish I could give a concise answer to that question. Sound quality is a very subjective matter. And music taste also plays a large part. So, first, I'll tell you where I'm coming from. I listen to pretty extreme music. Black metal, death metal, doom metal, that kind of stuff. And, as a musician, I own a home studio with a very neutral sounding, mostly digital, setup. I'm used to listening to music at high sound pressure levels. I've seen and heard a few pro studio mixing rooms and listened to a few very good head phones. So I think I know what good sound is. At the same time I know not to trust my ears as measurement devices, as the human ear can be very easily fooled.

Before you do any serious listening to in-ear phones, you should let them adjust to your ear canal first. Immediately after instertion, the bass range is nothing to write home about, but starts creeping down slowly, extending down and down to awe inspiring depths. Optimum seal in my ears is after about 5-10 minutes.

Back to the question: how do they sound? Well, I'd be lying if I said perfect, because they're definitely not. They're good. Very good, even, but with some tweaks. Bass sounds tight and neutral, without any emphasis on a specific range. The lowest range below 50 Hz benefits a lot from an EQ boost, to get that void deep feeling. But the most stunning thing is that it's there. That sea of depth. Awesome. The not very critical midbass range is all there. Midrange, where the human (singing) voice is, is open and clear. The high-mid range has a bit too much emphasis. Pushing down the 3.2 kHz slider on the EQ by about 5 dB clears this up, and removes the slightly screamish, crunchy bits. The treble range overall is okay, but way up above 12 kHz, there's nothing. No crispness, no sizzle, no nothing. But let's be real about it: it's something you can't expect in this price range, probably not even from more expensive, but single driver phones. As such, an audio player with extensive EQ functionality can make the difference between "good" and "very good". The potential is there, it just needs a little help.

It's interesting to see that my findings are pretty much on par with the graph provided by Ultimate Ears:
Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 Studio frequency graph

Impedance - A special mention about impedance. These earphones have a very low impedance of 13 ohms, which might reduce low bass frequencies with sound sources that are designed to take 32 ohms.

The good points

  • Audio quality is very good for the price
    • Exceptional, neutral, void deep bass
    • Clear, open midrange
  • Nice accessory pack, especially the storage box
  • Replacable cable
  • Moldable cable allows for great comfort

The bad

  • Treble end not very crisp above 12 kHz
  • Slightly emphasized, crunchy high-mid range around 3 kHz
  • Short cable

Other resources

In 2008, Ultimate Ears was acquired by Logitech, shuffeling the product line in the process, and rendering this review close to useless. The ear phones reviewed here are best compared to the Logitech UE 600 phones.

Comments

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