Ultimate Ears 600vi: The Champ [Review, $100 IEM Week]

Ultimate Ears 600vi: The Champ [Review, $100 IEM Week]

Almost all mic-equipped canalphones that can be had for about $100 use moving-coil drivers to produce sound, as is the case with all the previous IEMs in this review series. But the Ultimate Ears 600vi ($120) are different — this set employs a single tiny armature in each ear. Armatures generally allow for a more neutral sound with better definition than their moving-coil brethren, and that’s exactly the case with the 600vi. In fact, this set uses pretty much the same excellent drivers as in the now-discontinued, $180 SuperFi 5vi we reviewed early last year.

And yes, apart from the V-Moda Vibrato, the 600vi is $20 more than the other earphones in this review series — but we think the extra Jackson is worth it.

The Good:

As I mentioned, there’s one overriding reason you’ll want a pair of these guys: They sound terrific. In fact, they’re the best-sounding earphones of the sets in this review series. Those armatures really do produce a different sound, with two big differences between this set and others in its range.

The first is in how neutral music reproduced through the set sounds. The entire spectrum is represented evenly and faithfully, with a slight bias toward bass. Every frequency sounds even and exactly where it should be, and music can be more easily tuned to taste with equalizer settings from this point; there’s also a unusually delightful, bright emphasis to the midrange and vocals, accomplished without drowning out bass or highs. The other immediately noticeable characteristic is how well-defined the different instruments sound — there’s no fuzziness, and you can pick out each instrument in its own space. Just bear in mind that this isn’t a set for iehard bassophiles; bass is there, but unlike the S4i, it’s offered up at measured, restrained levels.

Seal is even more critical with armatures than with moving-coil drivers, and Ultimate Ears has accordinlgy furnished the 600vi with six different sets of eartips: five sets of differently sized silicone tips and a set of Comply foam tips, with a spare set of the latter as the foam tips wear fairly quickly. My favorite are the Comply — they’re comfy, and expand in the ear canal to form a good seal; they’re not as good at sealing or keeping out noise as Etymotic’s foam tips, but they’re more comfortable.

Like the Klipsch Image S4i, the 600vi can be worn either with cables hanging down, or looped around the back of the ear; either is comfy, and wearing them in the latter method worked exceptionally well — although as with the S4i, the housing is a little funky and wasn’t as comfy to wear with the cables hanging straight down (although they didn’t jut out as much as the S4i). The silver accents on the earpieces may or may not be to your liking, but the styling and finish in general is fairly clean.

The Bad:

While the controls and mic housing felt solidly constructed and was located logically, the buttons were flush and a little more difficult to activate than they should have been. There’s a weird effect with the microphone that seems to amplify all noise coming in through the microphone when on a call, and shunt it, like a runaway freight train, up to the earpieces. I’ve never quite encountered this in a headset, and it was enough to nervously deter me from making calls in noisy environments. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Also, while sound is fantastic for a set at this level, the 600vi didn’t quite make notes at the high end sing as clearly as I would have liked. The perceived lack of definition is only noticeable when compared with the performance of the midrange and low-end — the rest of the package sounds so damn good you want the highs to sound not just very good, but great; although, doubtless that would probably up the price.

Verdict:

Fantastic, life-like sound combined with the comfort and convenience of controls and a mic makes the 600vi essential equipment for entry-level audiophiles.

Rating: ★★★★½

Ultimate Ears 600vi: The Champ [Review, $100 IEM Week]

Related
  • Steve

    I really don’t understand why you showing here, on the Mac blog, so ugly non Apple products…

  • Georg

    the problem with UE IEM is the poor build quality of the plug and the connection of the cable to the ear pieces. Had quite some bad experiences with them. The tend to break when you give them a strange look. One set broke within a few months.

  • G Taylor Rutter

    Could you please review the RF3 Live-JV1s? They are different in that the speaker is way down the cord, and conduct the sound to the earpiece… I want to know if the sound is any good before I buy them :)

  • GregsTechBlog

    These reviews came at the perfect time. I’ve been thinking about getting new earbuds for a while now, and I want to make the jump to higher quality headsets. I’ve wanted something that sounds good, and has a mic/remote. So far, these are at the top of my list. Keep the reviews coming!

  • andrew

    because the apple ear buds you get with the iphone suck?

  • elimilchman

    Hey, glad you liked the series. Sadly, this is the last one; check the Reviews sidebar or type  “$100 IEM Week” into our search box and you’ll find the rest. 

    The UE 600vi is a great choice though. 

  • elimilchman

    ‘Fraid we don’t have one of these scheduled for review at the moment, but we’ll have other wooden earphone review(s) coming up within the next month or so. 

  • GregsTechBlog

    Well this was the pair I had my eyes on anyway. Unfortunately, I’ve only found it online (I hate waiting for deliveries).

  • elimilchman

    btw, still have the 600vi set we tested, still using it and no problems to report so far. 

About the author

Eli MilchmanWhen he was eight, Eli Milchman came home from frolicking in the Veld one day and was given an Atari 400. Since then, his fascination with technology has made him an intrepid early adopter of whatever charming new contraption crosses his path — which explains why he's Cult of Mac's test editor-at-large. He calls San Francisco home, where he works as a journalist and photographer. Eli has contributed to the pages of Wired.com and BIKE Magazine, among others. Hang with him on Twitter.

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