Impressed with the Ultimate Ears 600 headphones, I had similarly lofty expectations for their highest-tier dynamic-driver set, situated one step below the 600 and aptly named the 500. In short, I wasn’t disappointed. The 500s are definitely worth the slightly high $70 price, as they deliver clear, warm, rich sound perfect for everyday listening.
The 500s are extremely comfortable earbuds. The slightly forward-canted housing relieves stress on the outer ear even after hours of nonstop use, and the included ComplyTM eartips—only one pair comes bundled, unlike the 600—provide a comfortable, noise-cancelling seal. The five different sizes of silicone eartips that come with the 500 seem unnecessary, as the ComplyTM tips are one-size-fits-all and infinitely better than silicone in every way. The cord is unusual in that it is a flat ribbon rather than the more common round cable; Ultimate Ears say that this is an anti-tangling measure. In addition, the cord seems to transmit much less movement noise (microphonics). A downside, however, to the ribbon cord is that it feels much more susceptible to damage from pinching or creasing.
There is a marked difference in sound when comparing the 500 and 600. Unlike its balanced-armature brethren, the 500 provides a mellow, warm, soothing sound that hides minor flaws in your music but still delivers vocals and instrumentals with excellent clarity. Although you can tell the difference between the fast-response armatures of the 600 and the 500’s somewhat slower—dare I say muddier?—dynamic drivers if you listen to them side-by-side, the 500s can hold their own against most of the competition. There is plenty of bass on tap, and although it doesn’t reach quite as low as other headphones in its price range (wavering comes on pretty strong below ~60Hz), I have encountered no problematic music as of yet. It’s powerful but not overwhelming, tangibly reverberant (read: you can feel your music going thumpathumpathumpa in the base of your skull) without intruding into higher ranges. The 500s rest somewhere between neutral and a slight treble bias; it takes some equalizer adjustment if you want more bass. Rest assured, though, that the 500s are fully capable of pushing lots of lows.
The 500s have a characteristic resonant quality, which is best described as a sounding like a large, hard-walled concert hall. This makes for a round, soothing sound, as well as making certain types of music sound “live.” Piano notes, especially sostenuto notes, sound almost liquid—there is a genuine tactile sensation to the sound which is difficult to explain in words. The 500s work well for virtually any genre of music. Rock, hip-hop, classical, techno—I have yet to find anything that I can say sounds noticeably worse on the 500s than they would otherwise.
I find it easy to recommend these. I said last week that the Ultimate Ears 600s were best suited for the studio and that a good set of dynamic-driver headphones would be preferred for everyday usage. The 500 fills that purpose excellently, providing a great sound and decent noise cancelling in a very eye-catching package. Although the higher-end, higher-priced 600 still has it beat for sheer clarity and accurate reproduction, the 500 has one quality its concertmaster big brother won’t understand: it sounds fun.
- Impedance: 16 ohms, 1 kHz
- Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL/mW, 1 kHz
- Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Connector: 1/8 inch (3.5 mm)
- Noise isolation: 26 dB