Logitech Ultimate Ears UE900 Review
Logitech now owns Ultimate Ears and it no longer has Jerry Harvey designing products for them. As far as universal IEMs are concerned it has not seen anything new for a long time and the flagship has been the Triple Fi 10 since 2006 that is a triple armature IEM and is actually very nice sounding but has an awful form factor. Well 2012 has seen a lot of new and impressive products and also a new line up from UE. For the first time they have headphones in the range which I have reviewed to a positive outcome and I also have got my hands on the Triple Fi’s successor as UE flagship, the UE900. Adding an extra armature to the mix leaves it with 4 armature drivers, which is the most a universal IEM has along with similar priced models the Westone 4, Sony XBA-4 and the Heir Audio 4.Ai as well as the universal IEM giant (more than double the price), the FitEar ToGo 334 meaning it is still quite an exclusive technology in universal IEMs. It retails for £330 but can be found for just under £300. This does put it in the higher tiers of universal IEMs and it will have to compete with the very best to succeed.
I would like to thank Kim at Logitech for the review sample.
The set-up I have used is the normal, as I have started using a new portable rig, which is the Hippo CriCri amplifier connected through a LOD to an iPod Nano 3G with Apple Lossless and MP3 on it.
I also used my old set-ups of my iPhone 4, Cowon J3 (with FLAC) and my iMac with my Objective 2 amplifier. I also have paired these with a few other amps such as the MiuAudio MRB.
The design of the Triple Fi 10 is unique in its colour scheme combining a lightning blue and black to great effect and they have taken this scheme and applied it to the new flagship that I think looks different and great. It has sophisticated black faceplate which has UE written in metallic on it. The shell is then a translucent blue inviting you to look inside at the internals of the IEM. It comes with a shocking blue cable that really stands out and I love it. If that is too much for you however you can choose to use the black cable that is also included. However I do think that people will prefer the more subtle black cable and I think that cable should have the remote on it but it was a bold move from UE putting it on the blue cable.
The build of the cable seems to be very good with a very tight braid at the bottom that is 4 cables thick and feels very strong. The jack is right angled and has soft and flexible plastic housing but does lack a strain relief. Because it has a 4-cable braid at the bottom instead of a y-split it has a bit of heat shrink and the cable then goes into a twist of two cables. Up the top here it feels thinner and not as strong and it does have a tendency to tangle a little bit. The black cable has a cable cinch but the one with the remote and microphone does not. At the top of the cable is a bit of memory wire that is nicely executed.
The cable is removable and does not use the pins that either the triple fi 10 did or what their CIEMs use that is an odd decision and this uses an MMCX similar to the Shure IEMs. This means it twists round 360 degrees which helps fit but it does not fit completely flush which cause bits of dirt to slip in. I do not think this is a bad method and I have yet to come across any real problems with it.
The housings are all plastic and while the faceplate feels like a bit on the tacky side, overall it should not encounter any problems and is finished very professionally. Now an issue that I should bring up is the two bores that these have. Unlike the Triple Fi 10 and Heir Audio 4.Ai that have to bores, these have one normal bore and one tiny pin hole bore and while there have been speculation what its real purpose is, I do not think it has been confirmed by UE. Now it has been the cause of a lot of discussion because it gets naturally clogged which lower the bass of these earphones making it more neutral and more likeable to many member of this community. Now I have not had this effect because I swim twice a day my ears are basically getting a mega clean and mine have not clogged up leaving me with the same sound as I got from these out the box. This shows that different peoples lifestyle will affect the sound as well as the clogging possibly having a negative effect for those who found the sound and bass just what they are after, straight from the box. This is a build issue for sure and is causing a lot of confusion in the community.
At £330 you are going to want to get a nice package and UE do not disappoint spoiling you with a real nice kit. What really impresses me is this accessory pack is really functional with some very handy equipment.
Case wise UE remain to me the best in this department although I do miss the metal crushproof case you used to get. You get a soft drawstring pouch that works nice for an accessory case or even an alternative case for the earphones. You then get a little sturdy plastic chest. I think it does a good job protecting and is also very functional with holders for a spare pair of tips and also a holder for the included ¼ inch adapter jack.
You then get two cables that are very handy. The offer to different colours that is nice in case you’re not a fan of one colour and they also offer slightly different designs with the black one having a cable cinch and the blue one having a standard three button remote and microphone. They also have a shirt clip to go along with either of them.
One accessory that they come with is an airplane attenuator or a 75ohm (if I am not mistaken) impedance adapter. The reason for this is that airplane stereo jacks output a lot of power that can be too much for the earphones and give them undesirable effects or just be dangerously loud. This will give you better sound as well more desirable listening volumes. It is also a generally very handy audiophile accessory. It can help when using an amp with these as well other IEMs and also help with the sound of these aiding in how refined they are as well as overall sound quality.
Lastly you get a nice range of tips. First off you get some spherical TS style Comply foam tips. You get them in small, medium and large which is very generous considering they normally just come in medium with IEMs and are actually fairly expensive and premium accessory to buy on their own. You then get silicone tips in 5 different sizes starting down at XXSmall and going up to large. They are single flange and actually well designed for these IEMs with nice mechanism in the bore that allows them to easily fit on the sound nozzles.
The design that helps it easily slide on the IEM.
The fit of these is perhaps all in all the biggest improvement over the Triple Fi 10 and the reason that it a lot of people always struggled to recommend it over more ergonomic models. This has clearly though about allowing a good fit and taken a approach much like many CIEM companies universal shell models and with the huge range of provided tips including Comply, I found getting a good fit rather easy.
Comfort of these is good stemming from that they are light, small and worn over your ears but I do feel that they dig into my ears ever so slightly at the back which warrants a re insertion after about 2 hours, nothing dramatic but I thought I would note it. These are generally pretty well designed though and I am sure they will be comfortable for the bulk of people and do not let a bad experience with the fit of the Triple Fi 10 turn you off these.
Isolation of these has been pretty good, especially with the Comply tips. It will block out most ambient noise and although my silicone CIEM the ACS T2 and my Etymotic HF5 do still trump it, I could easily use these in most noisy environments and not have to worry the slightest.
Microphonics (Cable Noise):
Cable noise is far from a problem with these tight braided cables that are worn over the ear. These are easily on the same level as the standard issues westone style CIEM cable and cause no concerns.
By what I am about to write I do not want to cause any upsets or arguments as this topic can be seen as a sour subject. These have had roughly 100 hours now of use and burn in combined. As burn in is not scientifically proven this all could be mental and happening in my head but in the case that it does happen I recommend burning them in as in my personal experience I have noted improvements which have a massive impact on my enjoyment factor, so don’t make any irrational decisions after listening to them out the box.
Sound quality for these seems like it is not going to be as easy as normal and this is to do with that pinhole bore that I have previously mentioned because it does really affect the sound. Now I have blocked it up to simulate what ears will naturally do to it. The reason I had to simulate it is because as my name suggests, I like to swim and by that I am talking competitively and 4 hours a day and I do not think I have a normal amount of earwax in my ear so I basically gave the natural clogging a little boost. Now I will say that before this and out of the box they remind me of a better Triple Fi 10, better up top without that metallic timbre, slightly less bas which is faster but still a bit boomy in the mid bass and has enough extension down low providing even a little sub bass which I can not say often about armature IEMs (the PFE 232 nails it). Mids (low mids especially) are still a little recessed but nothing to worry about but do lack lushness. Overall though they are a bit bass dominated and sound a little too slow for my liking.
Now when your ears naturalness clogs them up they really do change up. The mid-bass noticeable reduces yet we maintain the extension. Mids are clearer and no longer slightly veiled like I felt before and treble is in nice quantity to finish the job. The overall sound is full and very close to neutral but does still have warmth to it which keeps it good for mainstream music and the overall presentation is rather relaxed. The following regards the earphones now with the pinhole blocked as I find it to be for the better.
Soundstage, Speed and Instrument Separation:
The soundstage of these is rather impressive and is three dimensional due to an impressive width and some depth added for good measure. The width is nice but does not compete with the width kings of IEMs such as the Sennheiser IE8, Aurisonics ASG-1 and Sony MDR-EX1000 but still doe impress. However, it is more intimate than the IE8s for example and your feel more involved in the music and the depth it has allows this farther. I then used the virtual hair cut on youtube to see how it does imaging (on top of with music) and I did not think it was too natural or accurate compared to other sets with imaging falling behind the EX1000, 4.Ai and 232 but does show off its size again nicely.
Instrument separation is among the very best but does still fall short of other sets such as the Etymotic HF5, Heir Audio 4.Ai and Lear LCM-5. It is mainly due to the others being more airy and slightly faster which helps really show off these qualities. As for speed these really do manage most things but firing up some real fast System of Down or Slipknot with these does test them and although they maintain character through out notes do sometimes fall into one and other.
Bass is something of which my description will always contrast with another persons and this is not a good thing. However I have found it to be quite confident. I find it to have a slight bass boost in the mid bass but it does go into the sub bass range rather linear. The mid-bass is well bodied for its quantity and position and does give rather satisfying impacts but I cannot help but find it to lack just the slightest bit of speed. Now I say this in comparison to the fastest armatures that I have heard and not some slow bassy dynamic. This is me nitpicking and just wanting a little bit more speed and this gives the mid bass a rather dull sound.
Sub bass is something that dynamics like my Cosmic Ears HY3XB and Sony MDR-EX1000 take in their stride but armatures always find it hard to move the air in the lower regions. Now I do find the Phonak 232 to do this very well and these are one to compete, just not quite close enough though. You do feel a slight bit of rumble and texture down there but the texture would like a bit more detail to it and the rumble is not something you can really sink your teeth into.
The mids are along with fit the other huge improvement over the Triple Fi 10. This is because they are a lot more present but that is not to say they are forward now. Low mids are in good present but and only slightly warm but they lack height and honesty. Highs mids are actually nice but again vocals lack lushness or sweetness. I say they are nice but I should abbreviate, they are in better presences than the Heir 4.Ai and have good balance with the low mids and I actually lost the veil completely that I originally had with them. Overall I think my biggest problem with the midrange is not the presence but it is a lack of emphasis, not a bad thing necessary and everything is smooth very smooth and timbre decays nicely although I could do with a bit more clarity in guitars chords. The smoothness affect how I perceive micro detail and does take the focus off of them which are not actually quite plentiful although transparency does not compete with Fischer Audio DBA-02 and Etymotic HF5.
Treble finishes off these IEMs as smooth because that is how the top end is. They have sparkle but nothing that will ever be sibilant or harsh like the Fischer DBA-02 could be or perhaps even the Triple Fi 10. However it is smooth and does still have good detail. The extension is good resulting in a bit of air to the sound but too much; the treble is however very full and complete sounding. One concern is that it does not have great clarity which gives a beautiful acoustic sound but that only affect a percentage of music. The sparkle of the treble is a very pleasant amount, not harming yet still giving so that cymbal crash will always be heard for example and this finishes of a very complete package in my book.
The smooth and inoffensive sound nails popular music genres and the new housing gives Ultimate Ears a very ergonomic IEM. The overall package matches the price but at times I was really not sure the sound did. If I was in the US the price is almost a £100 cheaper and being in the UK we do have to pay the premium. This is a true successor to the Triple Fi 10 and does the brand proud. However it does have issues with the pinhole bore, as it will cause concerns if people find the sound changing too much. If you listen to mainstream music and want a comfortable, smooth and slightly warm IEM then maybe this is for you but I personally would go for something else. It is also in the same league as the Heir 4.Ai, Sony EX1000 and Phonak 232 in terms of overall sound but it is more about finding the one for you and sound preferences lean me to over offerings. What I really do think is great though is UEs marketing of it and hopefully more people will pick it up because the sound can quickly be loved and show people what an amazing world of audio there is out there.
With the UE9000