Performance & DurabilityTo test these earphones properly I tested them against other earphones in roughly the same price category with the same test gear. Before doing any direct comparisons I carefully matched the volume in order to produce a fairer picture of the earphones. My main earphone rig consists of the following parts: Cowon D2, solid silver interconnect, Ray Samuels Tomahawk portable earphone amplifier on low gain. Ultimate Ears has basically started from scratch when it comes to the design of the Super.fi 5 earphones. The balanced armature is located so that it fires upwards and into some form of deflector plate. Then the sound is brought to the ear canal through a relatively long and large diameter sound tube. In the sound tube there is a non replaceable filter which both shapes the sound and prevents foreign objects from entering the more critical parts of the construction.
Right from the start I was quite impressed with the sound quality of the new Super.fi 5 earphones. The mids are very clear, and forward without being overly dominant. What is worth noticing is that these earphones have a very good and balanced midrange with an ample amount of detailing and texture. Very enjoyable with guitar and vocal based music. Another thing which really pops out in your head while you are listening to these in-ears is the sound stage, it is quite large. Not only in terms of left and right, but also the depth is quite impressive. It is not on par with that of earphones such as the LiveWires T1, but it can definitely compete with the much more expensive Sleek-Audio SA6 in this particular performance category.
Overall the frequency response is not as smooth, but that is really what you would expect from an earphone in this category. The bass is rolled off even when using the RSA Tomahawk which adds a decent amount of bass. Also the amount of bass and midbass is not quite right. The earphones can sound a bit hollow on bass intense tracks, it simply fades out too quickly. The bass does not sound full and is not as defined as other more expensive earphones. Sleek-Audio SA6s and LiveWires are way more competent in the bass area both in terms of quality and quantity. The bass extension is quite good but the amount of bass at deep tones is not sufficient for bassheads. I find it to be a little below what I consider optimal for my kind of music, i.e. rock and trip-hop, but again that is a matter of personal preference. I am sure a lot of people will find the Super.fi 5s to have enough bass for their needs.
The treble is good and is detailed enough not to leave you wanting more right away. The extension is not quite as good as that of the Sleek-Audio SA6s which really excel in this particular area. Treble intensity wise the Super.fi 5s are a bit below that of the Sleek-Audio SA6s so it is not quite as engaging or emphasized. The cymbals also sound more natural on the Sleek-Audio SA6s and on the LiveWires for that matter, but it is really just a question of these earphones being a bit more refined.
Overall I find the new Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 to be a good and entertaining listening experience because of the impressive sound stage and precise mids. Both the treble and bass leave me wanting just a bit more in order to be fully satisfied. Compared to the price, the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 are incredibly good, The last drops of performance are what costs the major bucks. The Super.fi 5 covers all the basics and it covers them well, right from ergonomics to sound quality. As an added bonus the level of microphonic noise is quite low.