Archive for January, 2014

Ultimate Ears is a firm that traces its origins to Van Halen drummer Alex Van Halen’s difficulty in hearing the band’s other members during their high-decibel live performances. The band’s touring monitor engineer Jerry Harvey built custom moulded earphones for the drummer using a high frequency driver and a balanced armature transducer used in pacemakers.

Soon Harvey’s in-ear monitors were being used by musicians ranging from Engelbert Humperdinck to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ultimate Ears initially focussed on in-ear monitors for professional musicians and high end custom-made earphones that require an appointment with an audiologist to create an impression of both ears.

After being acquired by Logitech in 2008, UE has targeted consumers using smartphones and portable music players, making headphones using its proprietary technology, but its products continue to be priced higher than those of other firms.

I picked up the Logitech UE 350 in-ear phones (which usually go for about $60) after finding them on sale at a Delhi store for Rs 1,500 (about $24). ue2

These are very plain looking phones – except for the silver rings around the earpieces, they are very low key and the strain relief, cable and overall construction seems to be very run of the mill.

The UE 350 comes in two versions – the “vi” meant for use with Apple products like iPhones and iPads and the “vm” for use with Android and other smartphones. You get five pairs of silicone ear-tips in different sizes and a protective hard case (which doesn’t look very hard and has a plastic hinge that I doubt will last very long).

Straight out of the box, these in-ears were among the lightest and most comfortable earphones I’ve ever used. The fit was snug and even in extended usage, I never experienced any discomfort. The isolation and seal was very good too, ensuring that the music came through loud and clear even in noisy environments.

They also required more burn-in than most other earphones – the sound settled down only after several weeks of regular use.

The one word that repeatedly came to mind during my listening sessions with the UE 350 was laidback – these ‘phones do not have the down and dirty charms of the Skullcandy 50/50 but then that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The highs were nice and airy, displaying no sizzle even when playing MP3s with Poweramp on my Galaxy S3. UE claims the 350 has “big bad bass” but that’s just marketing hype – the lows I heard were nice and punchy and there was no flabbiness.

It is the mids that are the Achilles heel of the UE 350 – a result of the largely v-shaped sound signature of the ‘phones. Fortunately, Poweramp has a great equaliser and after some fiddling about, I was able to compensate for this weakness. With the right equalisation, the mids and the overall sound improved, giving the UE 350 much more dynamism. ue1

Strangely, the weak mids were less noticeable when I used the UE 350 with my Denon PMA-717 amplifier fed with high-res FLACs from my laptop via the Micromega MyDAC. Without any form of equalisation, the sound was much more punchy and balanced.

Given the price I paid for the UE 350, I’m pretty happy with these earphones. But would I pay $60 for them? Hardly likely as I don’t think they’re worth that much.


phonesHow often have you looked at online reviews of headphones and earphones packed with fancy measurement graphs and colourful descriptions about their ability to handle highs, lows and mids and wondered whether there are simple tests to gauge the quality of your new set of earbuds or in-ears?

Well, there are several online resources that allow you to carry out some basic listening tests with your earphones or headphones and gauge their ability to handle a range of sounds. There are also some great lists of music that you can use to test your ‘phones.

This post provides links to some useful resources that can you can use to test your earphones and headphones.

The AudioCheck website offers some great, and very simple, tests to help you evaluate headphones or earphones online and get an idea about their performance. If you want, you can download the test files and put them in your portable player to test ‘phones when you go shopping.

These tests allow you to check stuff like frequency response, dynamic range, driver matching (whether the drivers on both sides sound the same) and their ability of the ‘phones to handle really deep bass. Follow the simple instructions provided along with the tests and you just can’t go wrong.

Another great resource is the Sensaphonics website, which allows you to check whether your in-ears or earbuds  provide a good, tight seal to ensure an adequate degree of isolation, which is essential for good sound in a real world situation, like a daily commute in the metro or while you’re out and walking about. (In my case, I don’t favour complete isolation as that can cut off all sounds and can be dangerous.)

On this website too, the tests can be conducted online or the files can be downloaded for use with your portable player. The summary of results provided on the page can give you an idea of the seal provided by your ‘phones.

The eminent-tech website contains some audio tests for speakers that folks believe can also be used to test ‘phones. The page has several test tones and pink noise that can be used to check your in-ears or headphones.

A word of caution – remember to turn down the volume before you carry out all these tests. Also, the tests on the eminent-tech website are more advanced and it’d probably be best to carry them out after you’ve done the other tests.

Happy testing!

2013 in review from Wordpress

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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