ear say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am

Every time I see someone listening to an iPod with its original white earphones, I can't help thinking, 'That's someone in serious need of an upgrade.' You're just not getting the full sound your iPod is capable of when using cheap headphones. And in a city where people judge you by your watch and your mobile phone, can you risk going out in public wearing anything but the best earphones available?

When you live in a place like Hong Kong and travel a lot, odds are you want to shut out peripheral noise. If that's the case then sound-isolating earphones, which fit into your ear canal, are the way to go.

I never thought I'd be comfortable shoving something so far into my ears but now I'm used to them, I can't go back to regular earphones.

Shure shot

The flagship product of Shure's Sound Isolating Earphone line has recently had its name changed from E500PTH. The tiny SE530PTH earphones (above right) have three drivers - one tweeter and two woofers - for excellent sound across the spectrum, including surprisingly warm bass. The supplied kit includes three sizes of flex and black foam sleeves as well as a triple-flange sleeve, so getting a comfortable fit is easy. There's also an extension cable and a zippered nylon carry case.

The 'PTH' (push to hear) option is a battery-powered add-on that features a microphone and clips onto your shirt or jacket. When someone is talking to you, you can push a button to hear what they are saying without having to remove the earphones. You'll have to pay a lot for these little buds, almost HK$3,500, but iLounge.com calls them 'the best in-canal earphone we've ever tested'.

Cordless quality

Etymotic Research was one of the first firms to make sound-isolating earphones; the ER-4 and ER-6 series are legendary. Etymotic has released the ety8 In-The-Ear Bluetooth Wireless Earphones (below), an odd-looking accessory that may not be for everyone. Each earphone has a small, rectangular box that sits beside your ear. It contains the Bluetooth receiver and a rechargeable battery, the life of which is seven to 10 hours.

The package includes a leather carry case, an assortment of ear tips, cleaning tools and a USB charging cable. The basic set-up, which will work with a device that already has Bluetooth built in, costs US$199. If you're using an iPod, you'll need the package that includes the 8-Mate iPod Bluetooth adapter, which bumps up the price by US$100. Etymotic does not have a distributor in Hong Kong but its products are widely available on the Web.

Fit for a king

Ultimate Ears is a brand that gained its experience to make earphones for professional musicians. Top-of-the-line Ultimate Ears cost US$900 and are custom-made. The firm also has a consum-er line that includes the one-size-fits-all super.fi 5 Pro (HK$1,980) and the super.fi 5EB (HK$1,560). The 'EB' stands for extended bass. The super.fi 5 series uses separate high-frequency and low-frequency drivers, and includes audio filters and a passive crossover to give you professional-quality sound. Available in four colours, the package includes a Universal Fit Kit with eight different ear tips, as well as a carrying case and cleaning tools. Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pro and super.fi 5EB are available online at Apple's Hong Kong store.