Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 EB full review

If you’ve ever stared in wonder at Radiohead singer, Thom Yorke, puzzling over those odd earphones poking out from either side of his head, then you’ve seen a set of Ultimate Ears’ headphones. The company builds the high-performance headsets musicians use during gigs to hear how they’re sounding. Now it
has applied that technology to the digital music market.

These in-ear headphones boast excellent sound, with warm, resonant bass – but not at the expense of the overall sound mix. The in-ear tips create a tight in with your ear canal, so they do a good job of keeping other sounds at bay, meaning you, like Radiohead’s front man, can focus on the music. The company claims 16 decibels of noise isolation.

To achieve this, Ultimate Ears has applied a variety of technologies. The gold-tipped line-in jack gets the best possible sound from your iPod, feeding this along thick cables to your ears.

Each earpiece contains both a high and a low frequency driver (an impressive 13.5mm bass woofer sits inside each one), along with passive crossover technology to direct music to either the high or low range speakers for good-quality music reproduction. The Super.fi 5 EB is a bass-friendly system (EB stands for ‘Extended Bass’), that makes hip hop, rap, reggae and dub sound much better than through Apple’s iPod earbuds. You get a richness and depth in bass, with the passive crossover technology also ensuring that treble and mid-range sounds also come across well.

If you want an even wider sound stage, you could try the Super.fi Pro headphones from the same company (£169). These support a wider frequency response, which makes them a better choice if you like folk, jazz or classical music more than rock or rap.

Ace of bass
It’s a shrewd move on the manufacturer’s part to deliver headphones for people who like bass-heavy music. After all, with the majority of iPod users coming from a generation bought up with the sounds of punk rock, hip hop, techno, dance and reggae, music lovers need a set of headphones custom-built for the tunes they like best. Every bass track we tried, from Rakim to the Prodigy, Dead Kennedys to Muse, came across well. It’s clear that while other headphones aim to please listeners with wider tastes, it’s bass that kicks modern music into life.

In comparison with other more expensive systems, this set competes well, making the Super.fi 5 EB a good purchase for iPod users serious about sound but working to a (moderately) limited budget. We also found that you can drastically reduce the volume you play your music at with these headphones. Superb sound combines with noise cancellation to make music audible at low volume.

While they are a treat for the ears, on first sight these are a fright for the eyes. The earpieces are big, big enough to make you think twice before using them. Historically, Ultimate Ears built headphones on a bespoke basis, crafting them for the size of rock star’s ears, not egos. These are among the first of a new one-size-fits-all strategy. From the point where the cable meets the earpiece to the end of the in-ear stalk is a lengthy 2cm. It takes practice to squeeze these huge things into your ears. First, you need to insert them, then gently twist them up so they form a seal with your ear canal. The 46in cable then loops over the back of your ears and down to your iPod. Fitting these can be quite disconcerting, and if you don’t like in-ear headphones this may put you off.

To make for a more comfortable fit, the headphones ship with three different sizes of silicone ear tips (small, medium, and large), and a set of foam ear tips. If you have difficulty levering the earpieces in at first, change the tips to find the right one. Once they’re firmly inserted, you’ll blank out most external noise, and enjoy excellent in-ear audio. You also get a small metallic box to carry everything in, including the 1/4in gold-plated adaptor jack and cleaning tool. There’s a sound level attenuator to use when using unstable sound sources, like in-flight entertainment systems. It prevents hearing damage in the event of unusually high sound.

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