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Customer Review

26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not all earphones are created equal! A Qualified Recommendation. Ultimate Ears 600: A Critical Review, 21 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Ultimate Ears 600vi Noise-Isolating Headset (Electronics)
Length:: 1:35 Mins

I want to start off by saying these are exceptional. And, they're exceptional when compared to the audio-fidelity of other earphones at different price points. But, there is however a concern--an industry-wide problem having to do with the basic design of earphones, especially, when you're asked to spend $100 for these. I'll address that in my conclusion.

* Inspection and What is "Burning your earphones?"
** Testing
*** Suggestion and Conclusion

* There was a wonderful video review made last year by an audio engineer on one of Ultimate Ears higher prices earphones. I've looked for several days without any luck, because his explanation on how to "burn" new, higher-priced earphones was particularly interesting.

To "Burn" a pair of earphones is to play various music through them for an extended period of time and at higher volumes. As he explained, various kinds of music is used to make the speaker's skin more flexible and responsive sound at different frequencies, much like breaking in a new pair of shoes so that they can conform to the feet.

Several manufacturers suggest "burning" all of their earphones from the least expensive to the top-of-the-line. Others suggest only their premium line. My suggestion is to burn the moderate-priced earphones ($50-$60) and up. To put the economy-line earphones through that process may prove to be foolish.

I burned these earphones for 30 hours straight before listening through them. So does burning earphones make a whole lot of difference? I can't say conclusively, but when these earphones were tested against another earphones in the Ultimate Ears line and against a couple from their competitors, the difference in sound reproduction is like night and day.

** To test UE 600, I compared them to stock Blackberry earphones (because if you have any audio player, these are the el-cheapo set you start out with.), Altec's ,"Muzik" and Ultimate Ears MetroFi 170vi Earphones. The price ranges from free, $25, $50 and $100, being the UE 600. For the better part of 6- 7 hours, I sampled tracks from the following cd's:

The Manhattan Transfer, Tonin''
The Lord of The Rings, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [Complete Recordings] [3CD + DVD] box set, Disc 1
Teena Marie, I Need Your Lovin': The Best of Teena Marie (1994),
Michael Jackson,The Essential,
Ella and Louie Again, Ella & Louis Again (Mobile Fidelity)
Bob Marley, Catch A Fire (Mobile Fidelity)
Bruce Springsteen, 1975-85-Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live &
Sacred Treasures: Choral Masterworks From Russia

After having UE 170 for a year, one of the things I was expecting was an extremely comfortable earplug with sound better at different ranges. What I didn't expect was that there'd be a monumental gap in audio fidelity. In most of the albums I selected, the tone and tenor was remarkably reproduced and only a couple whose sound was only marginally better than the rest.

As you move up the price range, the frequency response on the UE 600 (20 Hz- 20 kHz) becomes more pronounced, that is the lows --the bass and instrumentation-- and the vocals and stringed instruments on the higher ranges becomes more clearly defined. Middle range was sharper, but most earphones are geared to capture the middle range, anyway.

Although, I (still) think that the Altec earphones could be better at that price range, it was by comparing the UE 170 to the UE 600 that made the biggest distinction. 170 has (like the BB and the Altec) a simple, stereo (right and left audio division) but there's a filter on the 170's that reduces the range and perhaps another that curves the sound, giving it an ambient-like feel to it. This results in a range where the instrumentation, at the lower levels, and the voices at the higher octaves are cut off. Although less distorted, it also produces a sound where the music is compressed and muddied in the process.

With the 600, without exception, the 3D drivers in the headpiece amplifies the sounds which were indistinguishable if not invisible with other earphones I tested, including the 170. (But you also notice the limitations ("the hissing") from the source material at the lower and higher levels.) So much so, that when you hear the audience's reaction to Springsteen's mid-set speech as distinguished between the 170 and the 600, it sounds like a muffle has been removed from your ears Live: 1975-85 (3CD). On both, the The Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring (The Complete Recordings) and Sacred Treasures: Choral Masterworks from Russia, the vocal arrangements were crisp.

Ella's voice on "Our Love is Here To Stay" is vibrant. However, it was the Michael Jackson- remastered greatest hits that didn't offer much difference between the 170 to the 600 or the Altec to the 600. Go figure.

My guess is, after hearing the Manhattan Transfer album, "Tonin," with the UE600, most people would choose the 600 over most of the in-ear headphone that are available today. I sat there for a good 20 minutes playing the tracks over and over again and the 600 really amazed me. That and the Springsteen makes this earphones a keeper.

*** A few weeks ago, on my way to work, I noticed a couple of people were adjusting their earphones as they were about to pay their fares on the bus. Ordinarily, it wouldn't have come to my attention, except I was adjusting my earphones at the same. As we went a few miles down, I started to think "there's a lot of people on this bus with earphones on." Quickly counting, I discovered that half the people on the bus had earphones on, different kinds of players, but half of the riders had earphones. The earphone industry is HUGE.

I brought this up because last year, I reviewed several in-ear headphones ("earphones") and from the economical to the moderate to the high-end, the industry can make a few simple engineering designs on the earphones so that they'd last a bit longer. This is especially true if you want to invest 100 bucks on a thin-wired, but exceptional set of headphones. Headphone companies, Ultimate Ears, Altec, Monster, Skull Candy, etc. don't want to make structural changes because they hope you'll snag the line and break the connection so you'll be forced to replace them frequently.

My suggestion is simple.

First, recognize that when the wire snags, the connection is either severed at the base (the 3.5mm jack) or where the wire meets the headpiece. If you encase the speaker line with an outer shell and have this case surround the headpiece and the jack. Any tension on the wire will either pull the earphone from the ear or out of the player socket.

I'd also like to see the line curled. A curled line would allow at least a step or a step and a half before the tension gives way (see second half of video).

These are very, very good earphones (fidelity wise), design/ construction wise you'll have to protect your investment. If it's possible to have a moderate-priced pair for every day use and a pair for private uninterrupted listening pleasure, then owning the Ultimate Ears 600 is a no-brainer.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Oct 2013, 01:21:19 BST
Burning in is usually pointless with the tiny dynamic drivers found in earphones (a change of a couple of degrees in room temperature will make more difference to driver behaviour than hundreds of hours of noise burn in) and is guaranteed to be a complete waste of time for balanced armature driver earphones as there is nothng that could need to bed in, stretch, or settle.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2013, 01:47:44 BST
Burning In, is recommended by many manufacturers. And, a former writer for Stereophile magazine also comment that burning in does "some good" with Balanced Armature headphones. That's not to say that there isn't some environmental influence on performance. But to say a complete waste of time when manufacturers and audiophile commentators concur is disrespectful.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2013, 09:29:52 BST
"Many manufacturers?"

Ultimate Ears don't recommend burning in in earphones, nor do Sennheiser, AKG, Shure, Denon, or Sony. In fact there doesn't seem to be even one reputable manufacturer that does. Absolutely nobody recommends burning in balanced armatures, probably because it's ridiculous. If you find out how balanced armature drivers work you can see why it's pointless.

To try to characterise my comment as "disrepectful" because I point out a plain fact and disagree with some nameless, unknown, alleged supposed "audiophile" that you claim to cite is risible.
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