Logitech Ultimate Ears 350vi Noise-Isolating Headset run heavy on bass
Ultimate Ears is one of the veterans of the in-ear headphone industry, having helped popularize (or, in some cases, created) product categories such as custom-fit in-ear monitors, universal fit in-ear canal headphones (also known as canalphones), and “canalbuds,” which are a hybrid between earbuds and canalphones. Ultimate Ears was acquired by Logitech in 2008, and the current product line—which falls under the UE by Logitech brand—includes new models equipped with an Apple-style three-button remote and microphone module. (The UE line has also branched out into other product categories, such as AirPlay-equipped speakers).
One of the new UE models is the $60, canalbud-style Ultimate Ears 350vi Noise-Isolating Headset, which sits between the $30 200vi and the $80 500vi. The 350vi serves as a successor to the MetroFi 220vi ( ), and was designed with a focus on deep bass—a design goal that I’ve found can hinder headphones about as often as it can enhance them. Logitech also offers the 350vi in an Android-compatible version, the $60 350vm, which features a one-button remote, and a non-headset version, the $50 350.
As mentioned, the 350vi is a canalbud-style headset, and as such splits the difference, in both design and price, between traditional earbuds and true in-ear-canal (canalphone) models. Since they fit partially in the ear canal, canalbuds block some external noise, and they’re designed to form an acoustic seal that improves bass performance. However, canalbuds don’t block as much sound as true in-ear-canal models, and, as with those models, getting a proper fit can be tricky, the cord can produce unwanted microphonic noise in a listener’s ear, and using the headset function can be weird due to the occlusion effect of having your ears plugged while talking. (See our in-ear-canal headphone primer for more details.)
The 350vi looks a lot like a typical canalbud design: The earpieces are roughly spherical, with a protruding stem for the included eartips (one pair each of extra-extra-small, extra-small, small, medium, and large sizes), and a cable exiting the earpieces at a 90-degree angle. The cable for the right earpiece features an inline three-button (play/pause/send/end, volume up, and volume down) remote and microphone module, and the cable terminates in a 90-degree, 3.5-mm stereo miniplug that’s worryingly short on strain protection. The earpieces are a restrained-but-attractive combination of matte-black plastic, a glossy-black Ultimate Ears logo, and a metallic finish.
I particularly liked the design of the remote, whose center play/pause button features a recessed hint, making it very easy to distinguish the three buttons by touch. The buttons are relatively easy to press, although their action is somewhat spongey. The 350vi’s microphone sounds slightly distant and thin compared to the iPhone 4’s impressive internal microphone, but still sounds clear and produces comprehensible voices: slightly above average performance, overall (but not as good as the MetroFi 220vi’s microphone). A hard plastic clamshell case is included in the package, and provides good protection for the headphones, although its relatively small size makes the headphones a bit hard to pack in the case. A shirt clip rounds out the selection of included accessories.
Abundance of bass
The MetroFi 220vi’s sound was relatively relaxed and well-balanced, with just a bit of bass warmth. For better or for worse, the 350vi represents a significant departure from that audio signature (at least, based on my recollection—it’s been a couple years since I reviewed the 220vi). The most obvious feature of the 350vi is its big bass, which dominates the sound. The overall bass reproduction is of decent quality, but due to some bloating in the low- and mid-bass regions, and the relatively higher volume of the lower frequencies, I find the 350vi’s bass overwhelms midrange frequencies.
Speaking of which, the 350vi’s midrange isn’t bad, although the midrange frequencies have less detail and sonic texture than I would like to hear. The 350vi’s presentation of high frequencies fares much better, exhibiting impressive detail (albeit with occasional harshness) as well as sufficient volume—perhaps a little too much volume—to not be overwhelmed by the bass. In passages with less bass content, the 350vi does portray a good sense of silence between the notes, but at other times, the bass emphasis makes the 350vi sound crowded. Overall, I had some pleasant listening sessions with the 350vi, but I kept thinking I would enjoy the music more if the bass were reined in.
Comparing the 350vi to other headphones in this price range, the $90 Spider Realvoice ( ) also has notable bass emphasis, but the Realvoice still manages a balanced overall presentation, with superior midrange detail (although the 350vi conveys more high-frequency detail). The Realvoice also has a more liquid, musical presentation that makes the 350vi sound artificial by comparison. The $70 Nocs NS200 Aluminum is competitive with the 350vi’s retail price (the two models’ street prices are also currently equivalent) and provides another interesting comparison: The two models’ sound signatures are similar, with prominent high frequencies and too-prominent bass; however, the 350vi controls its bass better than the NS200 (particularly in the mid-bass) and avoids that model’s somewhat-grating high frequencies. The two models have comparable midrange performance, though. Finally, I compared the 350vi to my old standby, the $80 Maximo iP-595 ([[4 mice]]), which also emphasizes bass and high frequencies; the iP-595 does a much better job of keeping both in check, making for a much more enjoyable listening experience than the 350vi.
Macworld’s buying advice
The Ultimate Ears 350vi’s $60 price tag (and even lower street price) makes it an attractive buy, especially given its three-button remote and headset functionality. However, the 350vi’s domineering bass makes it difficult for me to recommend it for many listeners. Still, overall audio performance is good for the price, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this model to fans of big bass who listen to hip-hop, dance, or electronic music and are looking for thumping, club-like bass. These listeners will find the 350vi to be a great budget alternative to expensive, celebrity-endorsed, big-bass headphones, or pricier bass-heavy models such as the Bowers and Wilkins C5.
[R. Matthew Ward gets nostalgic about Ultimate Ears—his first pair of canalphones was the SuperFi 5 Pro. He lives in St. Louis and writes (occasionally) about audio, Apple, and other cool stuff on his personal blog.]