Pros: Cheap. Nice looking. Can be made to sound very, very good.
Cons: Cable too short. Sound totally dependent on precise fit and an equaliser. Hopeless with some common hardware.
I bought these as my Shure SE215 were stolen. I prefer an earphone which fits within the shell of the ear, which has good isolation and which is designed to allow the cable to route up and over the ears. This is for comfort, convenience while active, and to avoid or minimise conduction of noise via the cable "microphonics". I want to be able to walk and listen without hearing my footsteps thudding and the wind swirling around the earphones, and at home I want to be able to put my head down and not have the earphones snag or cause pressure. I also want enjoyable sound of course. Mostly I use IEMs with Rockboxed portable players (Sansa Fuze+, iRiver H140, iRiver H340) but also with domestic audio and hi-fi and PC headphone out.
Purchase and price:
I bought these last week from a reputable amazon UK market place seller for £27.95 inc. delivery, which is $44.82 US or €33.23. They were delivered on September 20. The product was new in a sealed box. It is heavily discounted because Logitech bought Ultimate Ears and have rebranded the range, so for the moment you can sometimes find much the same product being sold very cheap with the old branding or very expensive with the new branding. If I had chosen the new branding I would have had to pay about three times the price. Easy choice.
In the box:
The SuperFi IEMs were supplied new in a sealed retail package. The branding is all Ultimate Ears, not Logitech.
The box contained 2 pairs of Comply T-200 medium grey tips, and several pairs of silicone tips: 1x large, 2x medium, 1x small. The earphones arrive fitted with medium silicones. There is a small tool for cleaning earwax from the earphones and tips. You get a small plastic case just big enough to hold the earphones. There is the usual promotional stuff, spec sheet and warranty info. The packaging is needlessly bulky for such a small product though I suppose it would look attractive on a shop display.
Fit and Isolation:
The fit is pretty good but not perfect. The SuperFi 5vi are very small and extremely light so it's easy to slip the tip into the ear canal. The problem is that there isn't anything to stop the earphones gradually moving back out again, which they may do over several hours. I wore these overnight a couple of times and found that the Comply tips can even fall out. The silicone tips don't quite stay in place if I walk a few miles. One thing you don't get with the SuperFi 5vi is some triple flange tips. Luckily I already had some generics for another product and these fitted the SuperFi perfectly. They don't look so pretty but they do go in easily, stay put, and isolate quite well.
My Shure IEMs were much bigger and didn't look so pretty but actually their design is much better because it pays much more regard to the anatomy of the ear so that the IEM hugs the ear to hold the IEM in place without any pressure and also forms an extra barrier to external noise. The SuperFi 5vi still does isolate well, better than all the Sennheiser CX style IEMs, but not as well as most Shure, some Klipsch, Etymotic and similar deep insertion IEMs. The difference is mostly in the lowest frequencies such as traffic or machine noise.
The cable is too short. The SuperFi 5vi are designed so that the cable can route up and over the ear. This requires a slightly longer cable than for conventional "straight down in front" IEMs but unfortunately you do only get a 120cm cable just like if you had bought cheap buds. This gets annoying because if you route the cable down your back and need to take your player out of your pocket you are stuck holding it down to the side by your waist. This is the kind of bad design that suggests dumb marketing people had too much input into the product while people who actually use the things had very little. When it comes to marketing people I'm with Bill Hicks all the way.
These use a single balanced armature driver and absolutely rely on being sealed in the ear canal to produce any bass. Fit is crucial. If you can't get and maintain a good fit then the SuperFi 5vi will never be any use and will sound no better than a cheap earbud.
If you've read a few reviews of these you'll notice the same things being said (over and over) by their advocates:
Balance blah blah bs detail blah blah natural unexaggerated bass blah blah neutral bs bs so much better than dynamics bs bs blah blah blah.
You may have spotted that I think most of the reviews are unthinking nonsense. These are not balanced or neutral sounding headphones and I'm not just referring to their bass response. These IEMs roll off upper mid and high frequencies very obviously and this is not a good quality or something you might not notice. One part of what is rolled off is the frequencies that include a lot of the harmonics of the human voice, sounds which make it seem alive and present. When frequencies between 2000 and 4000 Hz are very reduced then voices sound recessed and deadly dull because they lose their presence and timbre. You can say much the same about lots of instruments.
There is bass (if the seal is perfect) but this idea that there is something natural or good about it being flat and competely unboosted is complete rubbish. That is true for loudspeakers but with an in ear monitor you're not experiencing air moving or sound being conducted through your bones and body. You need a few dB of bass boost to make IEMs sound something like neutral loudspeakers. So these do feel quite lightweight - not terrible but a bit thin.
The combination of the thin bass and the rolled off upper mids and highs makes for a terribly unappealing sound. It's like someone took your favourite music and surgically removed all the bits that made it special and enjoyable. It's not satisfying to hear a great singer rendered dull or to hear a kick drum with any sense of impact dialled out.
The balanced armature driver does offer real clarity and precision. There is no danger of the sound ever seeming congested or muddled. Every sound seems to be amazingly distinct. As well as being welcome in itself this helps a lot in maintaining the illusion of a stereo image, a soundstage.
More good stuff:
If you have a player with a parametric equaliser you can go a very long way in correcting these IEMs so that they have a bit more warmth and depth in the bass and don't roll off the upper mids and highs so badly. You can't get too carried away because these will clip both low and high frequencies if you overcook it. I'm using Rockbox and I use a precut of 1 dB, a lowshelf boost of 2 dB at 312 Hz, a 2 dB boost at 3500 Hz with Q factor 0.7, a 1 dB boost at 6000 Hz, and a 1 dB boost high shelf at 12000 Hz. These are modest changes but do make for a much more natural sound. I started off by looking at a frequency response curve and then did lots of trial and error listening and also used some difficult tracks to check for clipping. If you add more than 2 dB anywhere you will probably encounter clipping on some tracks.
With some EQ applied I like the sound of these IEMs a lot. I can really enjoy them now as their good qualities can shine.
More bad stuff:
These IEMs have extremely low impedance, a claimed 13 ohm. The single balanced armature driver basically does not work with my Hi-Fi amplifier's headphone output, nor with my PC's headphone out. Like other low impedance IEMs it hisses a little bit with my Sansa Fuze+ and iRiver players. It sounds nicely balanced with the portable Sony CD/Radio I have at home except it makes the most incredibly loud and intrusive hiss I have ever heard from a headphone. My other IEMs and headphones all work at least OK with all the above.
I wouldn't recommend these unreservedly because you could run into really severe compatibility issues and might have no way to correct the frequency response, so if your player/amp/combo has a high impedance headphone out or doesn't have a decent equaliser these IEMs should be avoided. On the other hand if you have a personal player with sane specs and a decent equaliser, or a PC or player with line out to a dedicated headphone amp then you could really enjoy these IEMs a lot and find them very appealing and refreshing. It could go either way so my suggestion would be to under no circumstances pay full price for the new Logitech branded version but definitely consider spending a few pennies if you find them being sold cheaply as plain old Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5vi.
edit: I raised the rating to 4 stars because I am really enjoying listening with these.
another edit: back down to three stars because for all the good qualities of the SuperFis they do suck out the zest and vigour such that exciting and dynamic music ends up feeling unengaging and even boring. I suppose these IEMs make for a good demonstration of the drawbacks and benefits of a single balanced armature design and imo the drawbacks are too serious, especially if you have some decent dynamic driver headphones or IEMs with which to make a comparison. Unless I need the extra isolation I always end up removing these and switching to my Sennheiser CX 95 which take me back to the world of atmosphere, excitement, dynamics, impact and all round enjoyment.
yet another edit: these things grow on you! They can offer an exciting and dynamic sound but the design and ergonomics are such that you may have to try a lot of different types of tips before achieving the best possible isolation and sound quality in combination with good comfort and practicability. It took me ages but eventually I stumbled across a 3rd party seller, Earphones Plus, who sells really good foam tips at about a third the price of Comply. I tried them, they fit, they work, they stay in, they allow the IEMs to sound at their best. YMMV. I had spent the first few weeks of ownership just wishing some lowlife hadn't stolen my Shures and contemplating spending the £200 on a new pair of SE425 (SE215 have got too expensive here to be good value so 425 look more appealing). I am no longer tempted as I think, given a low output impedance source, the SuperFi 5vi/UE 600 are actually much better sounding than my old Shure SE215 and also now as comfortable and with great isolation and with a source of cheap, effective replacement tips.
This is the eq I settled on using with Rockbox parametric EQ:
eq enabled: on eq precut: 0 eq low shelf filter: 122, 7, 20 eq peak filter 1: 64, 10, 0 eq peak filter 2: 125, 10, 0 eq peak filter 3: 250, 10, 0 eq peak filter 4: 500, 10, 0 eq peak filter 5: 1000, 10, 0 eq peak filter 6: 2000, 10, 0 eq peak filter 7: 3500, 10, 0 eq peak filter 8: 8000, 10, 0 eq high shelf filter: 2500, 7, 30
I've never used a high shelf filter at such a relatively low frequency before but this really does the trick. See the UE 600 and Shure SE425 and 535 curves at headphone dot com to get an idea of why this isn't anywhere near as odd as it first seems. Of the various IEMs I've owned these are the first ones that can take a 3 dB boost and not distort and so don't need a precut and do retain their sensitivity with EQ. I think that is quite impessive. If Ultimate Ears or Logitech or whoever makes these had paid a bit more attention to the ergonomics (tip size, cable length, lack of sliding toggle etc) they could have had a budget IEM that rates off the scale but Shure have IEM ergonomics and design so well sorted these days that the UE product has to be rated a little lower because the design, while being good, is still second best. Durability of the SuperFis is something I can't yet assess but I'll update this review either way after a few months or immediately if anything untoward occurs.