Ultimate Ears are one of the most influential custom earphone company’s out there, catering to bands like the Killers, Billy Idol, Van Halen, Metallica and John Mayer among many others. Frankly put, they are masters of the high-end domain.
But like all high-end companies, Ultimate Ears also produce consumer-oriented gear that compares well with the market in terms of price and performance. We will be looking at several of the iconic company’s products in the next few months, but today, the MetroFi 220vi will sit in the hot seat.
The Metro Fi series is characterised by good looks and solid engineering. The 220 has a special titanium coated speaker diaphragm which is purported to enhance your music’s mid and high range. Our job is to see if its marketing matches its performance. Of note, the 220vi, like its less expensive sibling, the 170vi, sports a microphone and four-pole jack for use on mobile phones like Apple’s iPhone 2G, 3G and 3GS. It also works with the likes of the iPod touch 2G.
Earphone type: In-ear
Speaker type: Single, high performance, propriety, dynamic speaker
Input sensitivity: 103 dB SPL/mW at 1 kHz
Impedance: 18 ohms at 1 kHz
Cable length: 116.8 cm
Weight: 14.4 grams
Input connector: 3.5 mm gold plated
Frequency response: 20 Hz — 20 kHz
Noise isolation: 16 dB
Alas, for the somewhat pricey MSRP of 99.99$, the MetroFi 220vi come with nothing more than a hard plastic case, the earphones, and 3 silicon flanges. This is in stark contrast to Nuforce’s NE7M or even Zagg’s Z-buds, both of which stocked their packages with goodies and for less money.
Unfortunately, if you don’t get on well with the small, medium and large sized flanges, you are going to have to look elsewhere for comfortable sleeves. I found them problematic only with extended listening of probably over 30 minutes where my inner ear began to ache. Fortunately, I have many sleeves at my disposal and found the longer flanges of Yuin’s RE2 (review forthcoming) to work best as the sound tube of the 220vi is quite long which makes the use of short flanges somewhat difficult.
All is not lost, however, as the ‘liquid silver’ outer housing is stylish, catching good light vibes and with clean lines that encompass both the cable and its remote and mic, make for a very stylish earphone. In fact, while the Q-Jays are stylishly adorned with rubber and shiny plastic bits, the UE model outdoes its Swedish competitor in preserving a moderate, yet chic design.
Another surprise that Ultimate Ear have thrown into the mix is a very stiff cable. While it looks and feels nice, it is simply too energetic and transfers excess of noise to the ear. In fact, I would say even more energetic than the Monster Turbine cable. Fortunately, it does not tangle at all – in fact I have tried tossing the 220vi in pockets, crumpling it in my hands and rolling it around in hopes that it might snag on something. Nothing. Nada.
So, while it loses points for energy (and ultimately, touch-noise), the 220’s cable is when out and about in situations where you might just toss it in your purse or pocket. However, Ultimate Ears cheaped out concerning joint and stress reliefs. There simply are none anywhere. The jack has a small rubber sleeve, but neither the Y-split or the mic (two points that are apt to be stretched) have any moulded rubber sleeve support. The units housing too is secured as haphazardly as the Jays Q-Jay is which could spell trouble after extended use.
That said, the cable’s length is just about right at 116 centimetres and broken up in three places: 15cm below the right housing, again at the Y-split and finally a little lower, where the remote control button rests. Pocketing your DAP is no problem whilst listening to the 220vi.
But, due to the touchy microphonics of Ultimate Ears’ product, walking, moving, hand motions – everything will cause the cable to emit thudding sounds in your ears, but it is not nearly as bad as Zagg’s Z-buds.
The remote is relatively easy to use and the microphone sound quality is excellent with clearly rendered voices and not too much inclusion of background sound. Finally, you can use these either over-the-ear or earbud-style.
review-earphone-220vi-recording-1 (MP3 Format)
Onto the Music!
I’ve changed my music this time around, opting rather for the usual trance, but adding into the mix some Nick Cave and Yelle. MC Solaar remains my benchmark for hip/hop and Feist will join the mix.
Nick Cave – The Boatman’s Call
While still a dark Cave album, the Boatman’s Call is wrought with soul and some very keen melodies that sing out in songs like Into My Arms, There is a Kingdom and People Ain’t No good.
Yelle – Pop Up
Yelle is everything to all people – maybe. She is a pop musician, but has her hand well in rock and speedy electronic music. Ce Ju and Les Femmes hit with hard bass, but are well controlled songs with a great focus on vocal energy.
MC Solaar – Mach 6
Mach 6 is simply phenomenal. Pop, hip hop and great, great bass. MC Solaar’s voice is silky and yet quick which sound great with hardware that can do male vocals well. La vie est belle and Introspection remain my benchmarks for hip/hop. Introspection has some of the deepest bass lines in its introduction and La vie est belle is fast, featuring great electronic instruments, male and female vocals.
the 220vi is a performer in the lower end of the spectrum. Its titanium coated driver produces prodigious bass, both in depth and resolution. This is where the price of 89$ does not look so bad. The Nuforce NE7M may be a benchmark for low-cost earphones, but the 220vi smashes them in every category. Bass can be boomy (evident in Solaar’s Hijo de Africa), but it simply rumbles where the music needs rumbling.
Markus Schulz’ Mainstage was stunning, vibrating unlike any other phone in my current possesion (my dad stole my Turbines) while Nick Cave’s Boatman’s Call was appropriately moody, but not as smooth as I had expected. While I consider the bass of these sub 100$ earphones to be among the best I have heard in the price range, it can at times, boom, but not excessively so.
Fans of very fast bass-driven music may find these a tad too hot, but they stand up well for electronic, hip/hop, jazz, classical and pop.
Mids and Treble
While bass is the 220vi’s mainstay as a headphone, mids and highs are done quite well. Though not a ‘detailed’ i.e., treble-spiked earphone it has a good sizzle up top with decent instrument separation and placement. Fans of symbols and high hats will like these, but will probably wish for a bit more sparkle.
Similarly, mids are decent, but subdued. In particular, female vocals, ala Yelle and Madeleine Peyroux seem dry and in some cases, short on emotion and feel. It is not altogether a bad thing however as electronic music sounds great.
MC Solaar’s bass is a wonderful showstopper, but vocals on the 220vi congeal well enough for a good listen. While not impressed by female vocals at all, Nick Cave’s ballads were powerful and the dark edge that comes through the earphone lent a sombreness that some other headphones lose.
Remarkably, the 220vi are an interesting mix of performance and maturity with regard to both separation of instruments and their placement around your head. Nothing like Sleeks bone-conducting customs, these earphones have a compact stage that is neither very wide nor very long to the front or the back. However, placement is great. The 220vi don’t litter your head with indiscernible globs of sound. Rather, a piano is well separated from the drums and the bass. These don’t perform like armature phones, but they bring a maturity to presenting instruments that is altogether pleasing and for the price, a nice surprise.
We have until now, reviewed inner earphones whose intrinsic ability to block external noise is often second to none. Dynamic phones like the 220vi and Sennheiser’s IE8, however, rely on an open port to help passive bass amplification. This open port makes the UE phone perform less well when compared to its rivals, but by no means is it a slouch. In fact, the open port, in allowing for better bass, has made a great trade off for isolation. You will hear the hubbub of people around you: conversation, shopping noises and lots of other distractions, but it will all be slightly muffled. Ultimate Ears rate the 220vi for 16db of isolation which is enough to allow you to focus on your music, but you will never forget your surroundings.
You may also notice some hiss from your player (assuming you don’t own an iPhone 3G or iPod touch 2G), but not too much. With a sensitivity of 103db, your player will have to be pretty archaic to really bother your music.
Am I happy with the Ultimate Ears 220vi? For the most part, quite. They are well-designed, good sounding earphones that have a great mic and remote nub. With little hiss to bother the listener and some good old-fashioned isolation to muffle the geezer beside you, this 99$ product is great. But, for a 99$ middle-level product, there should really be a better selection of accessories, attempts at strain relief and a cable that doesn’t sound like a drum set.
Had these been priced about 20-30$ lower, I could overlook these failings, but 99$ is a lot to ask for a product that lacks a few decent additions for a customer’s comfort. I would like to grab these, but in good conscience, I cannot. Therefore, the 220vi from Ultimate Ears gets Tapped from TouchMyApps.
|Title:||Ultimate Ears 220vi||Developer:||Ultimate Ears|
Please also take a look at our Headphone section or, if you want to read our other inner earphone reviews, check below:
Westone’s UM3X Review – Q-Jays in Review — Sleek Audio’s CT6 Custom Earphones in Review — Phonak Audeo PFE 112 Inner Earphones and 121 Mobile Phone Compatible Earphones in Review —Nuforce NE7M Mobile Phone Compatible Inner Earphones in Review — Zagg Z-Buds Mobile Phone Compatible Earphones in Review — Monster Turbine Inner Earphones in Review