Happy New Year’s! Here’s to great tunes and great technology in 2012. There’s so many exciting things on the horizon, I think it is going to be an extraordinary year for both music and tech.
I’ve always been bummed that I have never been able to enjoy music with earbuds or in-ear earphones. Not quite sure why, but I have never been able to find a pair that is both comfortable enough to wear for any extended period AND that stay in until you want to remove them. Add to those two issues, quality that hasn’t really been inspiring. So for on-the-go listening or when need to be quiet inside but still want to rock hard, I’ve had to use over the ear headphones. The Sennheisers that I use have given me years of enjoyment but are not exactly easy to travel with (and I do a lot of travelling). You can imagine my joy when I finally found a pair that is not only affordable but also extremely comfortable, perfect fit, and noise-isolating.
This week I’ll check out Logitech’s Ultimate Ears 600 which I couldn’t be more impressed with.
Sadly, with stellar seats for Phish’s four-night run at the Garden and hotel rooms procured, plans made, and expectations high, I was unable to travel away from home due to a family medical emergency. So for four days I spent a couple of hours during the day listening to albums off of Hidden Track’s Top 25 that I had not yet listened to yet and four nights listening to the Phish webcast. Typically I would fire up my speakers and tweak every last watt out of my amplifier or in the later hours resort to my trusty headphones. Having just received the Ultimate Ears 600, retailing for about $99, I figured it was a good time to run them through some critical listening.
Comfort & Fit: This has been one of the biggest drawbacks for me in finding a pair of earbuds that I can comfortably wear for a long period of time. I was elated at how well these felt and stayed securely in my ears. I’ve now used these for well over 20 hours of listening and they have fallen out a gross total of zero times. Likewise, I’ve had zero discomfort and have thoroughly enjoyed wearing them. The UE 600′s come with seven different sizes of ear cushions so you can get the exact fit that you need. Oddly, despite dozens of earbuds and earphones I have worn in the past that simply didn’t/couldn’t fit me properly, whichever the “default” size was that came attached were the ones the fit me perfectly. I actually had no need to even try on the other sizes as they instantly felt great and were secure.
[Ultimate Ears 600 can be worn with corn hanging straight down, or as shown here, over the ear]
Design The earphones are extremely lightweight and can be worn with the cord hanging straight down like a traditional earphone or wrapped around the ear like an in-ear monitor. The right earphone is colored dark red to identify it as the right one. However, the shading is so dark that the difference to the left is barely distinguishable in low light making it difficult to discern which was which as there is no other indicator. The remainder of the earphone has a brushed chrome look which is pretty stylish and tangle-free cords.
Sound I was absolutely blown away with the quality of the sound of these. In fact, the quality was superior to my headphones that were more than triple the price. The first thing I listened to was an album that I had previously not heard, M83′s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. One of the tracks in particular has a mesmerizing mix of singing, dialogue, snapping, synthesizer, extremely shrill highs and deep bass. My jaw dropped as each sound was so vividly reproduced and distinct. It literally sounded like an arena full of music with rich, lush tones and the perfect amount of bass.
I figured that some of my impressions were being colored by hearing this stellar album for the first time so I switched to a couple albums that I was familiar with. Next up was War on Drugs’s Slave Ambient, an album that I probably listened to 20 times so far this year. It’s not an understatement to say that this was my favorite listening session. There were new things that I heard for the first time and what already had rich texture, had more detail than I previously heard. No matter what I picked, from bluesy-folksy laid back Gillian Welch to more aggressive tunes, the UE 600′s did a great job letting me hear the music.
But the biggest test for me, even after four or so hours of varied listening during the day, came later in the night. How would they handle the Phish webcast? Simple answer to the question is that I never flipped over to my headphones. Many people in attendance at Madison Square Garden commented on improved acoustics, deeper bass, and better (louder) volume that could be increased without distortion. Funny enough, even listening at home, via the wonders of streaming, and reasonably priced earphones, those changes were distinctly noticeable. Mike’s booming thumping bass was enjoyed in all of its glory as well as clearly distinct cymbals from Fish. However, one of the most impressive moments for me was listening to Page’s keys during Heavy Things. They were crisp, bright and had perfect tonality.
The Line You may say to yourself: Logitech? Logitech? (said in Jim Mora’s voice) Don’t they make webcams, remotes and computer peripherals? What do they know about high quality audio? Well, the answer clearly is a lot. First off, Ultimate Ears was a unique entity for years. First started by Alex Van Halen who kept coming up short when trying to find high quality in-ear monitors for live concerts. So he ultimately started the company to create these custom monitors that became a quality bar in the industry and are used by an impressive array of musicians across all musical spectrums including Phil Lesh. Unlike some of the current celebrities who are attached to audio companies for nothing more than marketing, Ultimate Ears & Alex Van Halen were on a true quest for superior sound and design. Ultimately selling consumer products in 2002 and being acquired by Logitech in 2008, the company’s commitment to quality and design have remained.
The 600 are one step down from the top-of-the-line 700′s at about $50 more. Additionally, there is a range of earphones in the Ultimate Ears series starting at $20. Although I have not had the opportunity to listen to the rest of the Ultimate Ears line, I am assuming that, for each price point, if they are anything at all like the 600′s, that you will not be disappointed.
Bottom Line You simply can’t go wrong with these headphones for the price. They offer incredible sound for the money and outperform headphones and earphones costing much more. At roughly $100, these well-fitting, comfortable and thoughtfully designed earphones are absolute animals. While perfect for portable devices, they too may replace your headphones as your primary listening choice at home. The 600′s come with a hard carrying case & several different sizes of ear cushions.
Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for a reviews of additional earphones & headphones both in the budget category, as well as the true audiophile, high-end category.
And again, Happy New Year!
Hidden Track Technology Tuesday
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