Added Oct 2012
Details: UE’s long-awaited follow-up to the renowned Triple.Fi 10
MSRP: $399.99 / manufacturer’s page
Current Price: $245.99 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Quad BA | Imp: 30Ω | Sens: 105 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4′ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 4.5mm | Preferred tips: stock single-flanges; MEElec M6 bi-flanges; T-series Complys
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (5 sizes), Comply foam tips (3 sizes), replacement cable with inline mic/remote, ¼” adapter, airline attenuator, soft carrying pouch, and plastic carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The UE900 retains the blue-and-black plastic aesthetic and replaceable cables of UE’s previous flagship, the Triple.Fi 10, but compacts everything into a smaller, more ergonomic package. The two-pin cable sockets are gone in favor of rotating coaxial connectors akin to those used by Shure’s current offerings and both a headset and a plain stereo cable are included. The cables are braided, with an unusual quad-braid configuration below the y-split, and provide a massive ergonomic improvement over the latest TF10 cables
Isolation (3.5/5) – Very good with the right fit. The tapered housings allow for a relatively deep seal and a variety of tips is included for optimal isolation
Microphonics (5/5) – Nonexistent in the braided cord
Comfort (4/5) – Ergonomically, the UE900 is a huge improvement on the old TF10, with housings that sit more flush in the ear and can stay in place without additional support, though the rotating cable connectors can make it more difficult to use the memory wire. The earphone seems to favor a deep seal and the housings still contain four armatures per side, so those with small ears should, if possible, try before buying
Sound (9.2/10) – The UE900 is the first Ultimate Ears flagship created under Logitech management. Replacing the Triple.Fi 10, a model that has been a staple of portable audiophiledom for the better part of a decade, the UE900 boasts a 3-way quad-BA configuration akin to that of the Westone 4. Despite UE’s new management, the 900 doesn’t stray too far away from the TF10 sound, opting to simply provide a more balanced and refined take on the signature.
The Triple.Fi 10 has always been known for delivering ample bass courtesy of its 2-way, triple-BA driver configuration, and the new UE900 is certainly no slouch in this regard—its bass is deep, punchy, and articulate. The curve is flatter compared to the TF10, with more linear subbass extension and less mid-bass boost. The resulting sound is less warm compared to the TF10, though still warmer than sets such as the HiFiMan RE272 and VSonic GR07. The bass of the UE900 sounds tighter and more natural than that of its predecessor and the sound is not as colored. The only potential downside is that the UE900 is a touch less “bassy” in the conventional sense than fans of the TF10 may be used to.
The UE900 is tonally on the warm side and the midrange has a mild downward slope. Lower mids are more prominent compared to the TF10, resulting in a sound signature with a much less obvious v-shape. Vocals are less recessed and the midrange sounds fuller and richer, making the mids of the TF10 seem thin in comparison. Upper mids are de-emphasized, however, resulting in slight veiling. Female vocals especially seem veiled and less intelligible compared to sets such as the HiFiMan RE272 and Sony MDR-7550.
Treble response, on the other hand, is quite inoffensive. The UE900 doesn’t lack treble emphasis on the grand scale, providing a brighter sound with more treble presence than some popular triple-driver sets, such as the Shure SE530 and Earsonics SM3. That said, the top end is smoother compared to the TF10 and boasts less sparkle, continuing the UE900’s move away from the more v-shaped, more colored sound of its predecessor. The greater treble emphasis does make the TF10 sound a bit more energetic and can give it the illusion of greater clarity on some tracks but the smoother treble of the UE900 does a better job of avoiding harshness and sibilance. The UE900 also sounds more natural, avoiding the slight metallic tinge displayed by certain other BA-based sets.
The presentation of the UE900 retains the best aspect of the TF10 – the width – but the more forward mids give its sound a less distant, more three-dimensional feel. Soundstage depth is good, easily beating out the popular VSonic GR07 and competing with the pricier Phonak PFE232. Instrument separation and imaging are good as well, providing an immersive listening experience. It’s worth noting also that the sensitivity of the UE900 is rather high compared to the PFE232 and similar sets—seemingly a common trait of all balanced armature in-ears from UE.
In addition to the Triple.Fi 10 comparisons above, I took the chance to test the UE900 head-to-head against a few other high-end universal-fit earphones. What follows are brief notes based on lengthy comparative listening.
The R-50 is a high bang-per-buck dual-armature universal based on the Knowles TWFK driver, a setup similar to UE’s lower-end 700 model. Compared to the UE900, the R-50 boasts a brighter tone with less bass emphasis and more treble energy. It has a thinner note presentation but provides better midrange clarity and more intelligible vocals. Unfortunately, the treble is also splashier and more prone to exaggerating sibilance. The UE900, on the other hand, is smoother and carries more lower midrange emphasis for fuller, throatier vocals. Its bass is deeper and significantly more powerful, though also a touch boomy in comparison. Both earphones have similarly spacious soundstages with good depth and width.
The GR07 is an audiophile heavy-hitter, providing benchmark performance from a single bio-cellulose dynamic driver. Compared to the UE900, the GR07 provides better clarity and a brighter sound with tonality closer to what I would consider “neutral”. The UE900 is warmer and provides more mid-bass impact with similar sub-bass depth. Its sound is more dynamic, however, and it avoids the sibilance-prone treble peaks of the GR07 in favor of a smoother, less fatiguing presentation. The UE900 also pulls away in soundstaging, with better depth and layering that make the GR07’s presentation appear flat and overly distant.
The RE272 is another audiophile favorite and the latest in a series of increasingly accurate in-ears from HiFiMan. Compared to the somewhat bass-light RE272, the UE900 is warmer and punchier, with an overall presentation centered more on the bass and lower midrange, and a slightly “boomier” bottom end. The RE272 is more transparent and boasts better vocal clarity and treble sparkle, as well as better instrument separation. Its soundstage lacks a bit of depth in comparison, however, giving the UE900 an edge in layering and imaging.
Phonak’s flagship uses a dual armature setup but still manages to deliver sound that puts it near the top of the universal earphone game. The sound signature of the PFE232 is noticeably v-shaped, with more recessed mids and added treble energy compared to the UE900. The top end of the PFE232 is more crisp, sparkly, and extended. The low end of the Phonaks also presents less mid-bass emphasis for a slightly cleaner sound. The UE900, on the other hand, still manages good bass, both in depth and impact, but also provides more prominent and less grainy mids compared to the 232. Its presentation also has slightly better depth in addition to great width.
The priciest universal-fit headset on the planet, the K3003i is AKG’s sole entry into the high-end in-ear market. Compared to the UE900, the dynamic bass driver of the K3003i provides more mid-bass impact and slower bass decay while the balanced armatures attain better top-end extension and crisper, more detailed sound. Its presentation is also more airy and layered better than that of the UE900, though the latter is definitely no slouch. The midrange of the K3003i is more recessed, however, with the UE900 providing better balance between the bass and mids. The UE900 also wins the smoothness battle as the AKGs are more prone to exposing harshness and sibilance.
The TG334 is a flagship custom-come-universal from Japan-based FitEar. The UE900 puts up a good fight in this unfair comparison but the TG334 earns its otherworldly price tag with a noticeable jump in clarity and transparency over the UE900. The veil of the UE900 was most noticeable next to the FitEar—the more forward midrange of the TG334, despite the powerful bass, carries no veil whatsoever. Microdetail is brought forward and made more discernible compared to the UE900 and instrument separation is improved as well. Finally, the bass of the TG334 is also more dynamic and capable of delivering greater impact when called for.
Value (8.5/10) – With such a widely revered predecessor and an even more easy-going sound signature, the new Ultimate Ears UE 900 is a high-end earphone for the masses. The outgoing Triple.Fi 10 is still an audiophile icon but after more than half a decade it is undoubtedly a bit long in the tooth. The UE 900, despite the steep price tag, is a well thought-out replacement, both sonically and as an overall package. It provides better ergonomics, optional headset functionality, and an improved cable, as well as punchy, smooth, non-fatiguing sound that doesn’t butcher low-bitrate tracks. It’s not perfect, but with the UE 900 as its replacement the TF10 certainly won’t be missed by many.
Pros: Comfortable fit; spare cable included; nearly no cable noise; punchy bass; more balanced sound than Triple.Fi 10
Cons: Upper midrange can appear a bit veiled