If you’re at all serious about the sound you feed your head, you’ve already replaced whatever craptastic headphones (aka earbuds, earphones, or in-ear monitors) came in the box with your digital media player of choice. Now you’re ready for another upgrade, and with the economy in turn-around mode, you can afford to splurge just a bit.
Type “earbud” into Amazon’s search box and you’ll get more than 4,000 results, so to guide you through the thicket, we picked out six pairs of sub-$100 in-ear monitors from the biggest names in the business: Audio-Technica, Klipsch, Sennheiser, SkullCandy, Ultimate Ears, and VModa. We then created a playlist on a third-generation iPhone populated with songs from a broad spectrum of styles, including classical, rock, jazz, world beat, funk, and techno from artists ranging from old-school (The Beatles) to new-school (White Rabbits) to cool-school (John Coltrane). We also made a point of selecting a mixture of electric and acoustic performances mastered with both analog and digital studio equipment. All tracks were ripped from CD (recordings produced with both analog and digital studio gear) and encoded in Apple Lossless format.
Have you ever dated someone who possessed all your usual desirables and who seemed to genuinely like you, but the relationship ultimately failed to generate sparks? Ultimate Ears’ MetroFi 220vi are the earbud equivalent of that dating experience.
The MetroFi’s felt big, bright, and warm as we ran through all the genres and artists on our testing playlist: Classic rock guitar strokes delivered appropriate punch without piercing our ears, while acoustic and classical numbers sounded clean, with each instrument’s establishing its presence with natural grace. But as with any dating experience gone awry, that one critical flaw surfaced and all hope of a long-term relationship was lost. In this potential lover’s case, ‘twas bass response that snuffed the romance.
When you do something really well in the corporate world, it’s often easier for a bigger company to just acquire you, rather than try to out do you. Just look at Alienware and Dell or Voodoo and HP. Now, Logitech has acquired Ultimate Ears for $34 million in cash.
Ultimate Ears has a loyal following of touring musicians, sound engineers and mainstream music lovers. An estimated 75 percent of today’s touring rock musicians now use the Ultimate Ears custom-fit in-ear monitor while performing. Pricing for the company’s consumer products begins around $40, while pricing for custom products can be as much as $1200.
“Ultimate Ears is a perfect fit for Logitech and our audio business,” said Gerald P. Quindlen, Logitech president and chief executive officer. “Since its inception, Ultimate Ears has been driven by innovation, close ties to its customers, and the desire to enable an immersive audio experience. Logitech’s success has been built on using a deep understanding of our customers to create innovative products that let people immerse themselves in their pursuits – whether they are listening to music, gaming, watching a video or otherwise enjoying their digital lifestyle. We look forward to using our worldwide distribution network and operational efficiencies to help more people discover this superior listening experience.”
We can hope that they adapt some of Ultimate Ears technology into some really great headsets for computers too!