Details: UE’s priciest dynamic-driver model
MSRP: $69.99 (discontinued); $79.99 for 500vi with mic & 3-button remote (discontinued); $79.99 for 500vm with mic & 1-button remote (discontinued)
Current Price: $37 from amazon.com for 500; $36 from amazon.com for 500vi; $30 from amazon.com for 500vm;
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 105 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 3.8′ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (5 sizes), comply foam tips, shirt clip, and plastic clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (3/5) – As with most of UE’s recent releases, the lightweight housings of the UE500 are made mostly of chromed plastic. The flat cable is soft and flexible but could really use better strain reliefs on housing entry and the 3.5mm L-plug. The paint on the housings rubs off over time
Isolation (3.5/5) – Very good for a dynamic-driver earphone
Microphonics (4/5) – Reasonably low in the soft and flexible flat cable. Can be reduced further with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (4/5) – The housings are small and lightweight, tapering slightly at the rear. The nozzles are reasonably long and angled slightly for comfort. The flat cord can make over-the-ear wear slightly more troublesome but with the cable cinch it is still very much possible
Sound (7.4/10) – In stark contrast to the UE350 and UE600 models, the signature of the UE500 is very mildly v-shaped, with punchy bass and crisp, sparkly treble attracting the most attention. The low end of the UE500 is weaker than that of the UE350 but unlike the cheaper model, which is bassy all the time, the 500 can be impactful when it needs to be and balanced when it doesn’t. The bass is reasonably well-extended and has good impact for an earphone that can still be called balanced on the whole. It is not the tightest or quickest and there is slight mid-bass emphasis, giving the sound a very small amount of warmth and slight fullness compared to sets such as the RE-ZERO, but no discernible bloat or bleed. Those seeking Klipsch S4 or Beats by Dre-like bass power will want to look elsewhere.
The midrange is slightly laid back and possesses good detail and clarity. Compared to the UE350, the UE500 sounds significantly cleaner, though it trades off some of the fullness and forwardness of the cheaper model. The top end is crisp and sparkly and the earphones would sound slightly bright overall if not for the mid-bass emphasis. Top-end extension is good but those who prefer laid-back treble might find the UE500 just a bit too energetic. The overall balance reminds me of the Sunrise Xcited – both earphones are spacious and reasonably balanced, with the Xcited being slightly clearer and more detailed but also brighter, edgier, and more aggressive. The UE500, on the other hand, offers more impact and a smoother sound.
The presentation of the UE500 is spacious and airy. The sonic space is wider than it is deep or tall – not as well-rounded as something like the Sunrise Xcape IE or MEElec CC51. As a result, the UE500 has a bit of a tough time portraying intimacy compared even to the Sunrise Xcited, which has a similarly wide presentation, but is still very enjoyable overall. Instrument separation and overall resolution trail the Xcited slightly but the dynamics of the UEs are good and the layering is a touch more convincing than with the older BA-based SuperFi 4. One thing that surprised me knowing that the UE500 is a consumer-oriented earphone is the relatively low sensitivity – there will undoubtedly be complaints of low volume in the general populace, though the UE500 is still plenty loud next to the Phonak 012.
Value (8.5/10) – The Ultimate Ears 500 differs both from UE’s lower-end dynamic-driver models and the old armature-based SuperFi line in offering a mildly v-shaped signature with impactful bass and sparkly treble. Thanks to its clean and detailed sound, it competes well with Head-Fi’s favorite mid-range IEMs, which is in itself is impressive for an earphone so readily available to the general public. The flat cable is rather poorly relieved for my liking and the frustrating plastic carrying case puts style above convenience but neither of these will stop me from recommending the UE500.
Pros: Lightweight and comfortable; clear and articulate sound
Cons: Frustrating carrying case; poor strain relief