Ultimate Ears has been a familiar name to musicians and other audio professionals for a decade, but the company's consumer line has gained quite a following as well. Earphones in the company's various lines range in affordability and scale, from those geared toward casual but discerning listeners to sets for audiophiles. At the bottom end, you have the MetroFi line, which has recently enjoyed a refresh in the form of the 220 and 170 noise-isolating earphones, the 220s being the more expensive model.
Fit and durability issues
We do have some concerns regarding fit and durability. The earpieces of the 220s are the first cause for concern. With their opaque, blood-red enclosures, they're quite stylish, but the 'buds are quite small on the whole. We found the squat, completely round design didn't let us 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 that regard.
Descending from each earpiece is a thin, black cable that joins into a slightly thicker cord about 30cm down. A slider here on the basic version without the mic can help prevent some tangles when the earphones aren't in use, although we still had some issues with that. The 220vi earphones don't have this feature because of the mic midway up the right side (a call-answer button is further down the cord). From the Y-junction, you get an additional 84cm of cable that terminates in a gold-plated straight plug, which is thin enough to fit into recessed headphone jacks, such as that found on the first-generation iPhone. Both the straight plug and the thin, stiff, plastic-covered cable raise some concerns regarding durability, however, so it's a good idea to store the 220s in the hard case provided in the package.
Good all-round sound
The great thing about the 220 earphones is that, if you can get a good fit, they provide great sound quality and solid noise isolation, which is always good news when you're trying to save your hearing by listening to your music at lower volumes. Once you get a good seal, you'll be rewarded with a tight bass response that's enveloping without being overwhelming, warm mids, and a high-end response that's clear and detailed. The headphones are also versatile, providing solid sound across all genres.
Compared with their step-down cousins, the 170s, the Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220s offer ever-so-slightly improved sound quality -- deeper, tighter bass and richer mids -- for about £10 more. Most people probably won't notice much of a difference, though, so we're inclined to recommend the less-expensive 170s as a step-up for listeners looking to upgrade from stock sets without dropping a big wad of cash.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet