I love the functionality of true wireless headphones, but I’ve had trouble with earbuds for years. My problem is my freakishly small ear canals that ache when I use earbuds for too long. Nothing ever quite fits right, and even Apple’s AirPods Pro — by far my favourite buds — seem to hurt when left in my ears for any lengthy period of time. But after spending a week with a new pair of earbuds from Ultimate Ears, I can safely say I’ve found a pair of buds that not only fit my weird ears comfortably, but sound pretty great too.
Let me start by saying these buds are not a one-to-one AirPods Pro comparison, despite the fact that they cost $US250 ($353), the same as Apple’s pricier buds. But you will get something with the aptly named UE Fits that you will not with the AirPods Pro: a custom fit. (Changeable tips do not a customised fit actually make, Apple.) The UE Fits do this by using on-unit embedded LEDs to harden a mushy, gel-filled tip to the shape of your ear without requiring you to ship anything back to the company. It’s a neat process that the associated app makes fairly easy to follow — the process takes about a minute start to finish — and it’s actually a pleasant experience during which you’ll feel a warming sensation in your ear while the buds harden (the companion app will reassure you that this is normal).
WHAT IS IT?
A true wireless earbud that custom molds to the shape of your inner ear.
Actually fit my weird-arse ears — a small miracle.
Will not fully replace my AirPods Pro as I'd hoped.
Editor’s Note: The UE Fits are not currently available in Australia. Stay tuned for a local launch!
I wound up with not one, but two pairs of earbuds that shipped with my review unit (typically, replacement and additional tips will retail for $US30 ($42) a pop). While both fit pretty well, I actually opted for the larger of the two in order to get the best sound. The first bud size I tried was one that Ultimate Ears told me fits the majority of users, and the one that will be included in the box. That one gave me bass-heavy sound that called to mind the company’s fantastic Bluetooth speakers. They also managed to tune out ambient noise pretty well. While these buds are not noise-cancelling, they do offer passive noise isolation thanks to the seal created by the fitted tips. The second pair of buds, meanwhile, was smaller and felt a tad more comfortable in my ears but didn’t quite give me the same sound — particularly on tracks with a lot of thump, which I tend toward.
“Our research shows that the tip provided in the box should fit about 95% of consumers,” a spokesperson for Ultimate Ears told Gizmodo. “But we know that all ears are unique and there may be outliers. In the app, there is a Fit Test to ensure that consumers are satisfied with their fit, comfort, and sound quality of their earphones. Depending on the Fit Test, we may recommend and ship an alternate sized tip for some consumers.”
Like the Ultimate Ears Bluetooth speakers, the UE Fits have a companion app that allows for custom EQ. I found myself opting for the Loudness and Bass presets most often, but the app does allow for user customisation as well. Janet Jackson’s “Go Deep” sounded as fantastic with these settings selected — it absolutely slapped, in fact — as did Waxahatchee’s “Fire.” That said, I did notice that tracks that sounded absolutely gorgeous with the UE Fits also lost some of their crispness when played with my Apple buds. I noticed this most on SZA’s “Child’s Play,” which sounded like a dream on the Ultimate Ears buds but lost a lot of clarity and detail that came through easily on my AirPods Pro. That said, I do not think that this is something anyone would notice if they didn’t have both bud pairs on hand to compare.
It’s a wonder that Ultimate Ears hadn’t made a consumer-facing earbud like this sooner, as the company’s been making custom earpieces for decades. But the company did take into consideration practical applications with the UE Fits that didn’t go unnoticed. Both buds will produce sound on calls — which is more than I can say for my Bose SoundSport Free buds — and dual mics on the earbuds are designed to reduce feedback in windy environments. As for battery life, the buds themselves will get up to eight hours of battery life and up to 20 hours on a charge from their case. I don’t think I needed to charge these once during the time I was testing them, which I appreciated.
I will say I found that getting used to the UE Fits’ on-unit controls took a little bit of time — a double tap gives a single command on either bud — but it wasn’t too bad once I’d spent some time with them. I customised mine by making the right button my play and pause control and used the left bud to summon Siri, which allowed me to skip songs without having to stop whatever I was doing, be that folding laundry or washing dishes. But the UE Fits do lack one of my favourite features of Apple buds: the ability to easily switch between active noise cancellation and Apple’s transparency setting. This is something that always comes in handy while I’m on a walk with my dog, when I can be listening to music but also hear traffic and any potential passersby. For the price, active noise cancellation feels like a must-have feature.
During a product demo with the Ultimate Ears team, though, it was made clear to me that the primary focus of these buds is a custom fit above all else. In that respect, these buds succeeded. And while I would have loved for the UE Fits to replace my Apple buds entirely, I think I’m more likely to use them on long trips and on days when I know I’m going to have to be wearing earbuds for a longer period of time. That said, these buds are a good option for somebody who wants a considerable amount of bass in their headphones and doesn’t consider noise cancellation and transparency a must-have like me. And while the UE Fits may not be an AirPods Pro killer, they’re a solid earbud with a damn good fit.
- A true wireless earbud with a focus on custom fits.
- A gooey gel inside the tips will harden during the fitting process and mould to the shape of your inner ear.
- The earbuds support voice assistants and a companion app offers several EQ presets.
- The double-tap command system — which can be customised for things like playback and voice assistants — was a little funky at first, but I warmed up to it after a couple of days.
- They sound great, but they do miss some features available on the similarly priced AirPods Pro.