We heard a lot of marketing buzz when the Super.fi 5 Pros were released from a little known company, Ultimate Ears. Since then, audiophiles the world over have been singing their praises, and the company’s homepage has been overflowing with images of professional musicians endorsing these in-ear monitors. Is it marketing buzz or a truly great product? Well, we have the answer…
Features and Design
Go to the Ultimate Ears website and watch as a slideshow of musicians from every genre rave about the Super.fi 5 Pro canalphones. As a well-informed and skeptical consumer, you might think these idols have had their pockets padded by Professor Payoff for their “opinions.” You would be wrong. These headphones are just THAT good. We really strained to come up with something bad to say about them besides the fact that they’re expensive. At $250 (at the time of review), the Super.fi 5 Pros don’t come cheap, but it is a case of “you get what you pay for.”
The design is that of the familiar canalphone — an earbud-looking headphone that actually fits into the ear canal, sealing out ambient noise and projecting sound directly into the ear. As always, we warn that not everyone will find this design comfortable, and it does take some getting used to. But, once you’ve gotten over the fitting procedure and the sensation of an earphone actually in your ear, it’s hard to go back to traditional cans.
The Super.fi 5 Pros come with a full assortment of accessories and are available in white, black, and gray. Most retailers stock only the white model, with the other colors available for special order or online purchases only. The Super.fi 5 Pros are tethered to a 46” cord, terminating in a 1/8” plug. Inside the box you’ll find eight fitted silicone sleeves (for getting the perfect fit), a 1/4” adapter, a larger, hard plastic case, a smaller soft case, a level attenuator, and cleaning tool. These headphones come with a two-year warranty.
The driver housing is relatively large for canalphones due to the dual driver design, but part of the weight is offset by a semi-flexible plastic coating on the segment of cord coming from each ear piece. This coating can be bent around the back of the ear to stabilize the earpieces and reduce the transmission of sounds down the cord (bumping the cord or brushing against clothing can sometimes transmit thumping sounds, since even small vibrations are easily heard when the ear canal pressure is too precisely set). The cords themselves are very thin, and we worry about the longevity of them, especially in colder weather, when the rubberized coating is more prone to cracking and breaking.
Image Courtesy of Ultimate Ears
We tested the Super.fi 5 Pros with a full assortment of musical tastes, including techno, rock, jazz, pop, and classical. Out test setup is listed below:
Nearly every aspect of the listening experience exceeded our expectations. Highs, mids, and lows are balanced and clear. Bass is tight, but still has boom without sounding muddy, and highs are bright, but not screeching. Overall, the general tone of the Super.fi 5 Pros was energetic and accurate. The sound stage was satisfactorily wide and distant, without showing separation or the feeling of far-off sounds. The sound wasn’t harsh or warm, but somewhere in between. Spatial cues were somewhat limited, since canalphones in general lack the ability to convey 3D virtualization accurately.
If there was one “weak” category for the Super.fi 5 Pro, it was classical music. The tight tonal qualities caused atmospheric crescendos to sound slightly sparse, but still very satisfactory. Jazz and techno shone through with exceptional quality, and the Super.fi 5 Pros had no trouble keeping up with the highly mixed profile of Bjork. We also found these headphones extremely easy to drive with portable music players.
For movies, the Super.fi 5 Pros performed admirably. Though this is not a highly touted category of use, action sequences and dialogue were clear and exciting. Atmospheric music seemed set back further than with other headphones we’ve tested. Again, the lack of accurate 3D virtualization did slightly detract from the experience, but again, this is not an intended use for these cans.
The Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pro headphones are the best canalphones we have had the chance to audition to date. However, they are also the most expensive. Are they worth the price? Emphatically, we say, “Yes!” The dual driver design pumps out some of the cleanest audio we’ve heard across the broadest range of genres possible.
• Amazing sound quality
• Solid construction
• Dual drivers
• Thin cords
• Expensive price