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More Ultimate for Your Money: Ultimate Ears 500 and 100 Series (Review)

More Ultimate for Your Money: Ultimate Ears 500 and 100 Series (Review)

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We’ve covered a few Ultimate Ears products on the site. We first looked at the then-priced $199.99 Ultimate Ears 700s, which, while impressive, may have been a tad too harsh on the entry-level enthusiast’s wallet. We then took a look at the more economically priced MetroFi 220 earphones, and took issue with some of their design choices.

Late last year, however, Ultimate Ears launched a number of models to flesh out the Ultimate Ears core series, including the Ultimate Ears 100 line, 200 line, and the Ultimate Ears 500 set.

Do the new sets manage to find that perfect balance between design and cost? Find out in our review after the jump.

It’s easy enough to figure out that the sequentially-named Ultimate Ears series get more high-end, and thus more expensive, as the numbers increase. We started from the top with the 700s last year, but now we get into the “lower end.” I quote that because Ultimate Ears earphones are supposed to be… well, the ultimate, right?

Because it can get confusing comparing the technical specifications of the different sets we’ve covered in the past and are covering today, I’ve prepared a little graph for your convenience:

As you can see, these sets are pretty varied in price, ranging from $149.99 for the Ultimate Ears 700 set to just $19.99 for the Ultimate Ears 100 series. The MetroFi 220s and Ultimate Ears 500s fall in the middle, and are evenly priced. In terms of specs, the 700s obviously pull ahead, with the 500s and 100s being pretty evenly matched.

I listened to a variety of music using all four sets for comparison purposes. While I felt more in control of the level of sound with the 700s, I was able to pick up the intricacies of the orchestra when listening to tracks like “Fisherman’s Horizon” from the first Distant Worlds album as well as the heavy bass and blaring synthesizers in “Pleather for Breakfast” from No More Heroes. Even the 100s sounded great.

So what’s the determining factor when buying any pair of earphones, then? We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: design!

While the sets are pretty similar on a scale of sound quality, each has their own unique design choices that often either make or break the set. I was unhappy with the fat, bulky earbuds on the MetroFi 220s, but enjoyed the dainty, non-intrusive 700s. Both sets had a red ring of plastic on the right earphone for easy identification… but I guess I’m talking too much about the earphones we’ve already covered!

Quite plainly, I can’t figure out why Ultimate Ears dropped this red ring idea from their 100 and 500 lines. It was a brilliant design choice, and is absent from both sets. Now I’m back to hunting for the tiny “L” and “R” to figure out what goes where.

In terms of design, the 100s look like they’d be incredibly uncomfortable as they’re essentially a plastic cube with a speaker angled diagonally in one direction, but the angle must have been calculated perfectly, because you won’t notice the cube in your ear. The cube acts as a bit of a cosmetic feature, as the 100s come in a variety of colors with different printed designs, including a cute robot for the blue set and what appear to be cherry blossoms on the purple. However, the cube does feel like it prevents me from jamming the earphone deep into my ear canal, which might just be an unintended safety feature!  They also sport a very thick, round cable, so it looks like they can take some serious wear on the go.

The 500s, on the other hand, feature a sleek silver design, similar to the 700s. While the earphones themselves are slightly larger, they’re longer, enabling you to embed them deep in your ear canal, which is somehow comforting to me (and probably accounts for the better noise isolation). I also enjoy the plastic sheath around the connection between the cable and the earbud, making for a much sturdier design compared to the 700s (I always felt like the cable was going to rip out of the earphone with the 700s). Finally, I love the flat, meaty cable on the 500s. It lends the set a unique industrial look.

In terms of accessories, the 100s do not come with a carrying case as many other UE earphones do. They do, however, come with a variety of ear cushion sizes, although they’re that flimsy, paper-thin rubber that you often see with earphones priced in this range.

The 500s, on the other hand, come with a newly redesigned case that’s much larger, making it less likely that you’ll clamp your cable or comply foam ear cushion in the case (I’ve done this with the other sets). The case is also coated in a sheet of purple silicone (see above, nice touch), although the tab that comes off the side to tie the case to your book bag or whatever makes carrying it in your pocket a little less friendly. This set also comes with a set of ear cushions, but these are the thick silicone ones that form a great seal in your ear, and there is even one set of comply foam ear cushions included.  The box that the 500s come in is pretty snazzy as well, coming as a small, Logitech logo-embossed shoe box of sorts.

Overall, I’m impressed with both sets. The Ultimate Ears 500 earphones stomp the MetroFi 220s not only in technical specifications, but in design as well, and are evenly matched in price (although I do miss that red ring!). The 100s are an entry level Ultimate Ears experience, removing a lot of the flair of the 500s and 700s along with the cost. I think people will enjoy being able to pick out the color and design that suits them, and at the price, you won’t feel bad about being rough with them.

You can head over to the Ultimate Ears website for more information about the sets and for links to purchase them if you’re interested.

Do you have a preference when it comes to earphones, or are they simply a means to an end that you rarely think about? Are you with me in thinking the purple 100s (pictured above) are highly reminiscent of the Okami headphones we saw at Comic Con this year?

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