Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Altec UHP336 In-Ear Earphones: Product Review

My Ultimate Ears SuperFi5 Pro Studio pair blinked out a speaker after two-and-a-half loyal years; unable to afford their replacement, I downsized to this "Upgrader" series. Less than $40 compared to what were then $240 UE5s, so how do these compare?

I've heard recently with "cans" a friend's tube-amp iPod set-up, and with the UHP336 pair, while they may fall sort of the UE's fabled dual-speaker In-Ear Monitor separation, as the lower-level one-speaker equivalent of the UE3's, they sound nearly as great. The stats differ barely except in impedence: 21 for UE SuperFi 5 vs. 13 for UHP336.

I tested them on my standard trial: two Beatles songs that have breaths that lurk semi-audibly in "Taxman" and "Paperback Writer." I did this before and after a 24-hour period leaving the pair plugged into an online hip-hip station, at high volume, as recommended in Mr. Leonard's video here. The difference may not be dramatic, as the bass on these tends towards the reference, uncolored, non-equalized settings I have on my iPod, but there seemed a subtle vocal warmth after burn-in.

They performed well, similar to studio monitor headphones in the steady vocal clarity and ambient separation. Not playing bass-heavy hip-hop but my preferred rock and folk, through such tiny, therefore portable, devices, the pair satisfied me. I admit as I now lack hearing differences between lossy and 128 on my iPod, so be forewarned your results may differ.

I often listen on a train-bus commute, the reason for purchasing a small-sized in-ear pair anyway-- but I blank out in hearing at about 13-20 range so I may not need the resolution that musicians or better blessed, or younger, listeners may demand. Therefore, I need to save my ears; with the lower volume provided by in-ear phones, there is a protective element that adds to their aesthetic delight. They may lack elegance when in use, but you're far better off than earbuds needing a player cranked all the way up to be heard over traffic.

The straight rather than right-angle plug of the UE5 pair may disappoint, as this does put more pressure on the wiring. Yet, it also is easier to carry in a pocket. Cordwise, the slight gain of length not directed off at an angle may make more sense as a compromise. As with the UE's an additional reason for purchase was their detachable cable; UE replaced my SuperFi 5's cord readily, but it needs care in use. Watch the Y-junction and ends. The addition of the carrying case, alternative ear pieces, and cleaning tool's also a customer plus.

I do hope they are more easily cleaned than the Super 5's which perhaps due to the lack of a distancing, protective, double flange built up rapidly with gook deep down at the base of the speakers that was impossible to extricate with the cleaning tool. (The UHP pair lacks a tiny division in the plastic hole opening into the speaker chamber, perhaps as the cheaper pair obviously has one speaker rather than the woofer-tweeter SuperFi pair.) My ears aren't that dirty! The difficulty may be that while any such in-ear pair is in use in the ears, they go so deep out of necessity that the suction works too well. I hope the new double flange may offset the danger of dirtying the interior, literally beyond reach.

This is one problem that I predict may be endemic to in-ear phones; other than the obvious advice to keep them clean regularly, I'd be eager to find out extraction tips that preserve delicate IEM interior speakers. The vacuum created for a snug fit, I wonder, when in the ear may draw out into the speakers one's mucus deeply and irrevocably while they're inside your ears-- is this correct? No audiophile's favorite topic, but I'd figured I'd ask experts.

The other problem with the UE5's (reviewed by me on Amazon when I got them) was their plastic ear tips. They'd fall out easily, often separating off your ear as you pulled the speaker out, and got easily lost. The addition on the standard pair of a second flange works well to stabilize them in the ear. Also, if you need more outside ambiance to filter in, you can tip them farther out of the ear canal and still hear most of the sound fine-- this could not be done on my earlier pair without them falling out totally. Enjoy these and comment if you wish...

(Posted to Amazon US 6-26-2009, where such obsessively researched tech geek products inevitably gain far more reviews than my arcane books critiqued painstakingly. A great video review's here at the product site-- a feature lacking on books I admit!)


Layne said...

You neglected to mention the most salient aspect of this product for you, the capacity to completely deafen you to my voice. They'd be better off selling the things by calling them what they are, "wife cancellers". You also failed to note that despite your intended use for the diminution of moi, I gave 'em to you

Fionnchú said...

That's because this was an Amazon review rather than a thank-you note; I also can still hear your dulcet tones through them. So, I submit my gratitude publicly for my present, combining Father's Day, Anniversary, and Birthday for $35! xxx me