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 ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) 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.
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