The nice people at Ultimate Ears have dropped me off a pair of MetroFi 220vi in-earphones to have a
look at listen to. Ultimate Ears make a range of very high-end stage and studio in-earphones and the MetroFi series are their entry level earphones. The MetroFi series has two levels the 220 and 170, and both of them are available as earphones or as headsets with an integrated multifunction button and microphone. These might possibly be the world’s first urban in-earphones …
The 220vi earphones are quite lightweight with a strong but stiff cable that tends to stay in the curled position. They come with 3 different sized silicon-rubber ear cushions, there’s no foam option offered. The right earphone is red, to ensure it goes into the correct ear. Five inches below the right earphone is a mic and just below where the earphones split is a multifunction button. The mic mount and the multifunction button have rounded edges so they shouldn’t catch on things and where the cords enter the back of the earphones feels very secure. Swapping the ear cushions was very easy.
The design of the included storage case is such that the cables have to be curled to store them so the weight of the cable has been well chosen to prevent it twisting and continually tangling. Every time I’ve pulled them out of the case they’ve have separated easily and not tangled.
They come with a hard plastic case that reminds me of an overweight Zippo lighter. The case can even survive being sat on (yes I did). The hinge is part of the case though and the lid may separate after continuous use. The spare ear cushions can be crammed into the case as well.
The included ear cushions are comfortable and form a good seal with your ear. I passed them around for a few people to try (put that thought out of your mind) and no one had any complaints. The only major difference is the MetroFi don’t go into the ear as far. I know some people don’t like the feeling of in-earphones because of how deep into the ear they go. If this is you then the MetroFi might be the answer.
There is very little about compatibility of the earphones in the literature or the website. The box says it’s compatible with iPhone, iPod, MP3 players and laptops. The first thing I tried them on was my Nokia N82 which has a 3.5mm headset jack. Unfortunately my phone thought it was a TV-Out cable and didn’t work. I then tried it with a Nokia E66 via a stereo 2.5-3.5mm adapter, and they worked fine as earphones only. I also tried them in a 5G iPod, iPod Touch and a Dell laptop and they worked fine as earphones, but the multifunction button didn’t do anything.
Plugging it into a 3G iPhone and the headset worked fine. Voice was clear through the mic, as it’s positioned up near your mouth and the multifunction button answered/hung up calls and Play/Paused whilst listening to music. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a Blackberry to test them on.
The blurb on the box says “Crisp Sound Signature”. Crisp is putting it mildly. MP3 music positively sizzles coming out of these. I tried the different ear cushions to make sure what I was hearing wasn’t an artifact of the seal with my ear but it wasn’t. Listening to classical music and rock CDs to make sure I wasn’t hearing normal MP3 sizzle, but it wasn’t. High frequencies have a slight jangle to them while the bass is very impressive. It’s louder and it cuts through, but it’s not deeper or warmer, there’s just more of it.
Also, the sound isolation isn’t extreme. With some in-earphones, Shure especially, you put them in and it sounds like you’re underwater. That’s brilliant for reclining on the couch when all you want is the sound. It’s not so great if you still need your wits about you while dodging traffic.
And to be honest, I think it’s all ok.
If you want ear phones to use on the train, bus and and in the quiet at home or work, then you don’t want these. These are commuter earphones, for city dwellers in noisy environments, letting you hear what’s going on here-and-now and giving you the parts of the music you want to hear. Taking them outside near a busy road and the sound punches through the noise, especially the top end.
I think a surprising amount of thought has gone into the design of these headphones, especially with regards to the use of certain materials as well as the where and manner they’ll be used. Aurally, I’d call these Fast Food Earphones, they fill a need, but continued use may spoil your appetite for the finer things. If you’re looking for quiet-time earphones, then the MetroFi probably aren’t what you need. If you need a pair of earphones, or a headset, that can live in your commute bag, that offers a safe amount of sound isolation and you don’t mind your earphones having crisp acoustics then the MetroFi deserve a closer look. US$89.99 for the 220vi with headset and US$79.99 for the 220 earphones. There’s also the cheaper 170 models as well.