Ultimate Ears has been a familiar name to musicians and other audio professionals for a decade, but the company has gained quite a following with consumers too. The company has various ranges of earphones, and at the bottom end sits the MetroFi line, which has recently enjoyed a refresh in the form of the 220 and 170 earphones.
The MetroFi 170 noise-isolating earphones are the cheapest set in the Ultimate Ears family and come in two versions: a standard MP3 player model for around £25, and the iPhone-friendly 170vi earphones, which include an inline mic and sell for about £5 more. Either set is a great starting point for picky listeners who don't have a great deal of cash to spend on replacement headphones for their MP3 players -- but buyers should be aware of potential fit and durability issues.
The earpieces of the 170s are the first cause for concern. Their opaque, blood-red enclosures add a welcome hint of style (it looks cool when the light shines through) but, although the earbuds are quite small, we found that the squat, completely round design didn't allow us to get a secure or comfortable fit. The earphones tended to push out of our ears frequently, and, when they did stay in place, the plastic 'buds put a slightly uncomfortable pressure on the inner cartilage of the ear. Of course, everyone's ears are different, so you may not have fit issues. Ultimate Ears provides three sizes of silicone fittings to help in this area.
Descending from each earpiece is a thin black cable that joins into a slightly thicker cord about 30cm down. A slider here can help prevent some tangles when the earphones aren't in use, although we still had some issues with this. From the Y-junction, you get an additional 84cm of cable that terminates in a gold-plated straight plug that's thin enough to fit into recessed headphone jacks, such as that found on the first-generation iPhone. But both the straight plug and the thin, plastic-covered cable raise some durability concerns, so it's a good idea to store the 170s in the hard case provided.
If you can get a good fit, the 170 earphones provide very good sound quality, as well as solid noise isolation -- always good news when you're trying to save your ears by listening to your music at a lower volume. Once you get a good seal, you'll be rewarded with a low end that's thumpy without being overwhelming; mids that are generally bright and forward (we prefer warm and buttery, but each to their own); and a high-end response that's clear and detailed, if not quite sparkling. The headphones are also quite versatile, providing solid sound across all genres.
The Ultimate Ears MetroFi 170 earphones are not for the audiophile by any means, but they're a good step up for listeners looking to upgrade from stock sets without dropping a big wad of cash.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet