10 Pro Earphones
Review 10 Pro Earphones
Ultimate Ears

Price: $399 US

When paying more than $150 US for premium earphones or headphones, listeners expect the best. They’ll not be disappointed with Ultimate Ears’ top-of-the-brand newest model, 10 Pro. Equal in price to Etymotic Research’s highest-rated ER4P MicroPro, reviewed here, and $100 less expensive than Shure’s very good E500PTH model, reviewed here, 10 Pro is engineered to be leader of the pack when considering the ultimate for your ears.

Our 10 Pro review ‘phones arrived in a large rectangular brushed-aluminum snap-clasp “roadie” container holding earphones, rugged individually-numbered travel mini-case, instructions, and accessories. This website provides information on what’s inside the case, as well as what’s built into the listening experience. Short summary: accessories are numerous, comprehensive, and equal to 10 Pro’s snazzy foam-filled metal suitcase. Hint: don’t try to go through airport x-ray security with this container in your backpack, if you want to board your plane, or any plane. Sirens will go off, I predict. Instead, travel with 10 Pro in its crushproof mini-case, and all earphone accessories in a zippered bag, but not the same one with your three ounces of blueberry-jalapeño yogurt.

Ultimate Ears tells “The 10 Pro that you received, John, and are reviewing is actually the limited edition version of this product. Normally, the 10 Pro will come with the crush proof squirgle, fit kit, and an extended cable. The limited editions are not for an extra cost, but are the first sets of Triple.fis that are available. They were only a limited number of units produced initially. The standard case that will come with the product was actually included with the unit that you receive – it was inside of the large roadie case.  It is the gun metal “hockey puck” that was numbered according to what unit you received. This case will be included with all products when they are generally available, however they will not be stamped with the numbers.

Additional accessories, ear tips kits, cables, plug adapters, plus storage and travel cases are available from the company. A toll-free USA customer service help line is provided for troubleshooting via a phone call.

Read the manual. Please. Your safety and listening fit are covered in detail, with links to Ultimate Ears for additional information. Twenty pages of detailed explanations will help you become a satisfied user of 10 Pro. They are powerful, “sonically rich,” and able to damage your ears and brain just as easily as they can send you into audio ecstasy. Read it. Nuff said.

If Ultimate Ears’ medium-size single flange silicone ear tips that are standard on 10 Pro fit you comfortably, you’ll have one of those “there is no step three” moments within a minute of using these in-ear ‘phones the first time: plug cable into iPod and gently guide ear loops around your ears, then adjust volume from quiet to whatever you desire (please! not too loud). That’s it.

Three types of interchangeable tips (foam, double-flange, and single-flange) and three sizes of the latter are included, to help you determine which tips fit and sound best for your situation. 10 Pro are true “26 dB” noise-isolating earphones, meaning when tips are fully-inserted you hear the audio from your iPod or other sound source, and very little ambient noise.

The sound quality, you ask — howizzit? Splendid. Falling midway between the brilliant, full-spectrum audio of Etymotic Research’s ER4P MicroPro and the bass-heavy Shure E500PTH, 10 Pro has a studio-reference-response-curve similar to the recently-reviewed speakers and headphones from Samson Audio, posted here and here. Compared to Ultimate Ears’ 5 Pro, reviewed here, it’s NO CONTEST. You’ll instantly agree that the $150 difference between last year’s and this year’s top-end releases is no joke. 10 Pro contains one treble and two midrange/bass “individually balanced armature speakers” that combine to perform, in a word, GREAT.

Comparative earphone and headphone evaluation is tricky, because an A/B test involves removing A, setting them aside with care, inserting B, trying to remember how A sounded and felt, and going back and forth a few hundred times until the initial response is confirmed or overruled. 10 Pro at first sounded perhaps too rich and deep, but hours and hours of listening and comparing yielded a satisfying experience. Emphasis is on clear, sonorous midrange, with bass muscle (but not too much THWUMPPP) and gentle treble falloff. To call 10 Pro consumer earphones is a bit of a stretch, both for cost and audio spectrum. Perhaps one in a hundred (I’m being generous) consumers have the cash or the sophistication to appreciate what Ultimate Ears delivers for $400 US.

Don’t be scared by behind-ear looped cable placement. Unless you are ultra-sensitive to the physical sensation, over time you’ll understand the common-sense benefits of this design. It’s impossible to describe the feeling, but within a couple of weeks you’ll look forward to it as Ultimate Ears intends.

The company’s two-year warranty is generous. A different headphone product now in our review queue has a lifetime warranty. I don’t think warranty duration will influence high-end earphone purchasers, who are paying more for their ‘phones than to buy the most expensive iPod. Construction of 10 Pro is heavy-duty by the standards of today’s in-ear headphones, but please keep them away from pets, children, or irate former spouses (and their jealous new mates who wish they could get away with spending four hundred smackers on — can you believe the nerve! — yet another set of earphones).

Any complaints? Yep — the “R” and “L” identifying letters for your non-interchangeable right and left ears. PLEASE (yes, I’m shouting) color-code them, such as R=red and L=blue in future, for instant identification. My ears work great, but my eyes are not attached to electron microscopes, which is what is required to see the almost-invisible “R” and “L” hidden inexplicably by Ultimate Ears. Nuff said #2.

Time out. I’m going to listen, one more time, to 10 Pro to determine if I’ve omitted anything from the above evaluation. I’ll be right back.

[Locate R and L tips. Gently loop cables around and buds into my ears. Insert gold-plated stereo tip into PowerBook. Launch iTunes and play full-spectrum song selections, being careful to lower volume ahead of time. Buds are comfortable, without too much pressure. Audio delivery is intensely present, and balanced. Treble gentle and smooth. Can’t hear wife asking me some questions. Half hour passes. Need to get back to writing. Not possible to listen and write at the same time.]

Whoa! I just switched from medium to small single-flange silicone tips, and 10 Pro’s bass is now as powerful as on Shure’s E500PTH. “Reference” midrange is gorgeous, and treble has a gentle timbre. It’s much cheaper to design and construct in-ear phones with wowiezowie treble than with booming bass, and high-end is easier to add via equalization than is low-end. Bonus: noise isolation improves dramatically for me with the smaller bud tips. Nicely done, Ultimate Ears.

Audiophiles, sound engineers, and upper-tax-bracket aficionados who require flat frequency response and access to tiptop brilliant highs should consider (try before you buy) Etymotic Research’s ER4P MicroPro, but Etymotic provides sound isolating tips that are not comfortable enough for this reviewer. The same listeners will encounter exceptional bass and studio-reference midrange in Ultimate Ears’ 10 Pro, which are very comfortable and can be adjusted using equalization to produce sparkling treble.

RECOMMENDATION: When $400 US won’t bust your budget, and you demand solid sound from your in-ear heaphones, awards 10 Pro by Ultimate Ears a loud round of applause, and our excellent rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Good — now I can finally return to listening with 10 Pro on my iPod. I’ll catch you later, friends. Don’t expect me to hear when the phone is ringing.

P.S. Lousy songs and rotten recordings will sound worse using premium earphones and headphones, because you now can hear so much detail. Most contemporary recordings play as well through premium ‘phones as is possible, but you’ll be surprised how variable is their recording quality, most noticeably on tracks downloaded from iTunes Store. When you want to hear a fine recording of an excellent audio track, 10 Pro and other outstanding ‘phones are superb.


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