2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Very good - but with caveats, 20 Feb 2012
I've owned the Ultimate Ears Superfi 5 Pro earphones for a number of years now and I loved them. Even though I've been an audiophile for some time they were way better than any other portable earphone I had tried before. I was particularly impressed with the way they handled low bass frequencies because I listen to a lot of bass guitar led jazz fusion (e.g. Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller etc.).
However, when the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 came on sale for £109 I couldn't resist buying them because of the huge discount. In any case, the Superfi 5 Pro cable was on the verge of failing for the third time so I thought it was better to put the money towards what should be a better pair of headphones rather than a new cable.
I was pretty dissapointed with the Triple Fi 10 earphones when I first listened them. I found them to be bright sounding to the point of distraction. They were unlistenable. As it turned out, they were faulty. The left earphone had no bass coming out of it at all, and the treble frequencies were being emphasized. Amazon's customer service was outstanding, and I had a new pair in my possesion within 2 days.
Once I had a working pair of Triple Fi 10 earphones I began to cycle through my music collection to evaluate them. I use an iPhone 4, will all the mp3's ripped at 320 Kb/s . The equalizer is always turned off. I listened to jazz fusion, classical, folk and (soft) rock. Some of the best recordings I have are of live performances and they tend to present the greatest challenge of any headphone because they need to recreate the atmosphere of "being there".
Let me say from the outset that I have no comfort issues with the Triple Fi 10. They sit comfortably in my ears and never fall out. I manage to get a good seal most of the time. If I don't, it's easily fixed with a minor adjustment.
Initial back to back comparisons of Triple Fi 10 and the Superfi 5 Pro showed the Superfi 5 Pro to be "muddy" sounding. It was as if a veil had been placed over the sound that made them send significantly less transparent than the Triple Fi 10. This is commonly known as distorsion. You can still hear the detail in the music through the Superfi 5 Pro - but something wasn't quite right. They are still an oustanding earphone - but it will be diffcult to go back to them after an initial listen of the Triple Fi 10. What amazed me is that I would never previously have described the Superfi 5 Pro as distorted.
Having established that the Triple Fi 10 was a step up from the Superfi 5 Pro I started to home in on what they could do, starting with the negatives.
First, they are not as efficient as the Superfi 5 Pro. That is to say, you need to set the volume control higher to generate the same sound pressure levels (SPL). It's not a big deal, but it's worth noting.
Second, they show recordings for what they are. Bad recordings sound, .... bad. And good recordings sound great. You need to be prepared for this. Recording quality in the studio is bad enough at times so using a low bit rate to rip them will just compound the issue when you're using a high quality transducer like the Triple Fi 10. I also had the impression that the Triple Fi 10 made some tracks sound "soft" or lacking in bite or attack. This was not the case with all tracks, and some that I expected to sound laid back had plenty of verve. This can be put down in part to recording quality variance. I also think the Triple Fi 10 will not be driven properly by most portable devices. Speakers and headphones always benefit from being driven by a high current amplifier and i think the Triple Fi 10 needs a dedicated headphone amplifier to really show its best. Portable devices like the iPhone have low current amplifiers because they expect them to be used to drive cheap headphones. Don't get me wrong. When you play a good recording on an iPhone 4 through the Triple Fi 10 it sounds great - but I don't think you're hearing them at it's best.
Thirdly, hard core bass heads should look elsewhere. The Triple Fi 10 will give you accurate bass - but not overblown bass. However, if there is genuine bass on the track, the Triple Fi 10 will deliver it in spades - accurately.
Now onto the positives. I already mentioned the transparency gains over the Superfi 5 Pro. Everything sounds remarkably clear - but fortunately,it does not verge on being overly clinical. For example, Sade's voice (I'm showing my age, aren't I?) is still as warm and soulful as ever. Detail retrieval gounds hand in hand with transparency and it is here that the Triple Fi 10 delivers. You'll be able to hear the bassist farting in the background quite easily.
Bass, as mentioned earlier, is delivered accurately and impressively. The Triple Fi 10 was unflappable in this regard - and trust me, i put in through the wringer in this regard. The midrange (vocals) is impressive. Sting's voice was full of character, as was Seal's. In the latter case you can clearly pick out Seal's (almost)croaky vocal quality. Treble is distinct (almost too distinct) and full of detail. It's slightly too bright for my tastes at times, and its the only area of the audio spectrum where the Triple Fi 10 departs from a neutral balance.
How does the sound all hang together? Live recordings had all the space and atmosphere captured very well. This is a tough thing to do and it passed this test. They also handle the scale of large classical works well. In terms of drive and rhythym, they will get your feed tapping. The notes start and stop in an instant with little or no overhang.
Now for the rating. Yes, the Triple Fi 10 is good, but I wasn't blown away. Maybe I need to use a better quality audio source and amplifier. If I didn't know any better I would give them 5 stars at the price of £109.
But I do know better. At the price of £200+ I would give them 3 stars - but this is when you compare them againt the very best domestic headphones. As it is, I'm happy to give them 4 stars. They are not fit for purpose as a portable earphone. They need to be easier to drive for one, and they also need to be more neutral in the treble to get top marks from me.