When Ultimate Ears is hot, it’s hot. And after a 2007 that was colder than past years for the premium earphone maker, its new Super.fi 4vi ($150) — an iPhone-ready, metal canalphone design — marks a mostly triumphant return to past form, complete with a long-overdue rethinking of its approach to cabling and enclosures.
Metal has recently become the go-to material for premium earphones, and like V-Moda’s $100 Vibe Duo and Maximo’s $70 iP-HS2, Super.fi 4vi’s earpieces are made entirely from metal—here, machined aluminum that’s been dual-finished with a matte body and a polished barrel. Just like V-Moda, Ultimate Ears has positioned its non-detachable cables on an ear-friendly 45-degree angle rather than sticking them straight out or down, and five total sets of included silicone tips give you a great opportunity to make Super.fi 4vi fit comfortably while providing passive noise isolation.
There’s almost entirely good news about the Super.fi 4vi design. Lightweight and right-sized, the earphones feel and look good in your ears—color aside, they’re a step or two forward from the company’s prior, low-end Metro.Fis and a number of steps better than the more expensive, higher-end Super.Fis and Triple.Fis in comfort.
We found the tips, which include one pair of double-flanges and four single-flanges in various sizes, to be very comfortable and snug, providing just the right amount of isolation for our needs. And the cabling, which has a dangling mini-microphone on the right side near your mouth, plus a separate box for play/call control under its Y-splitter, is easier to use than Apple’s iPhone pack-in earbuds.
A dialless airline adapter is in the package, providing fixed-level attenuation for the sensitive earphones, and Ultimate Ears has also included a very nice little hard plastic carrying case for Super.fi 4vi, capable of snapping in 1/3 to 2/3 sections to hold the earphones or all the other pieces inside. Thanks to the better tips, nice case, attenuator, and a couple of other factors, the package feels more complete than V-Moda’s Vibe Duo set, and even that of Etymotic’s more expensive hf2.
That having been said, V-Moda has outclassed Ultimate Ears’ design on colors and materials. Varying in cool cabling, single- or dual-colored metal-bodied earphones, and color options, the less expensive Vibe Duo is a step up in style from Super.fi 4vi, which though billed as Gunmetal Silver is actually more of a light baby blue in color; there are no other options. The black plastic cables are, like Etymotic’s, functional but not sexy, and while UE’s case does a good job of holding its parts, Etymotic’s zippered, compartmented one works even better, and V-Moda’s looks better.
Etymotic’s triple-flange and foam eartips are also extremely strong on providing passive noise isolation with a snug fit; we’ve loved them for years. Which of these options you’ll prefer will depend mostly on what you’re personally looking for.
Thankfully, Ultimate Ears has a great sound signature on its side. Like its better high-end products, and unlike its overly bassy highest-end UE-11 Pro, the Super.fi 4vi performs audio with flavoring that we’d describe as slightly skewed towards warmer low-end, without over-exaggerating or flooding the bass, and while preserving enough high-end detail to let you feel as if you’re hearing the complete sonic range, not just part of it. While the slightly more expensive Etymotic hf2 offers superior detail and a crisper overall listening experience, Super.fi 4vi is—like Super.fi 5—an earphone with sound that’s hard for a listener of almost any persuasion to complain about. If you like bass, you’ll find more of it here than in hf2; if you like treble and midrange detail, you’ll find more of it in Super.fi than in Vibe Duo.