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.

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