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 ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ), 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.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.