“True wireless headphones in handheld form just for your ears”. That’s the claim of the new UE Drops, and given Ultimate Ears’ proven track record in audio, we’d be happy to put our hopes, dreams and a little cash in the capable hands of the Californian brand.
But before we get into the sordid topic of currency (and we need to talk about it), let’s talk about what the EU just brought to the table because they could become some of the best true wireless headphones made for the mass market. that we saw.
Ultimate Ears has been a little quiet for a while – where are the Summer 2022 UE Bluetooth speakers and where is the Wonderboom 3? – so it’s great to see this innovative brand get back in shape. And it looks like Ultimate Ears is finally making a name for itself by creating headphones made just for your ear canals. It’s like everything is leading up to this moment.
The UE Drops headphones are available in three pearl colors – but that’s not the point. What makes them special is that after you order a pair, Ultimate Ears will ship a FitKit at home. You use this kit to capture the 3D measurements of your ears in the comfort of your room, under the step-by-step guidance of the company’s UE FitKit iOS app (opens in new tab) or android app (opens in new tab). Then you return your FitKit complete with the prepaid tag and wait… which the EU says can take three to four weeks, once the company receives your prints.
When UE Drops are molded for you and just you, Ultimate Ears will ship them to you ready to use – and unlike other options, they’ll fit neatly into the charging case.
Opinion: If Ultimate Ears can meet the demand, it has a hit on its hands
See, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen custom headphones: UE says that if you already have a custom ear print (for a pair of UE CSX or UE Pro in-ear monitors, say) you can save time. and use the same measurements for your UE Drops – as long as the prints are less than five years old.
But these older, more expensive products (Pros start at $549) are aimed at the professional or dedicated audiophile — and more importantly, they’re wired headphones.
UE Drops is aimed squarely at the general music-loving consumer and offers the convenience of true wireless listening – ergo, the product many of us have been waiting for.
It’s also not the first time a company has tried to customize something many of us want or already have; check out Avery, an American company that makes custom buttons to simply slide over virtually any earbuds you currently own, transforming and customizing the fit, security, fidelity, and isolation on your Apple AirPods Pro, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and more. most.
A deep dive into custom headphones
Avery’s Colin Doyle (who came to us recently to extol the virtues of Avery’s solutions) explains that there are actually two forms of impressions you can get from a custom headset: shallow and deep.
Shallow – the company sends you a two-part silicone impression kit, you send back the impression you made, and within a few weeks you receive your headset. Shallow prints offer better noise isolation than any “stock” button, are easy to put on and take off, and are well-suited for low-impact tasks.
Deep – Avery provides a medical description of what he needs and you take it to the ENT (read: ear, nose and throat doctor or speech pathologist) of your choice. Deep impressions apparently take a day to get used to because of the deeper sensation and in terms of putting them in and out of the ear smoothly, which suggests they are quite invasive, but the listening experience is supposedly transformative – especially if your headphones feature active noise cancellation.
Given the description above, the EU is clearly providing custom headphones with surface print. But here’s another thing: the big downside to putting something third-party into your current headset is that some in-ear controls you’re used to might stop working and the buttons won’t fit in the case. With UE Drops, customizable controls and the case are unaffected, because the engineers took all of that into account.
Elsewhere, you’re getting a standard rather than excellent total playtime of 22 hours (8 hours on the buds, 14 hours on the case), although the case does support Qi wireless charging. The buttons are also sweat-resistant and there’s a transparency mode – but no active noise cancellation.
Oddly and a little disappointingly, UE Drops comes with the older Bluetooth 4.2 version, and you’re only getting vanilla SBC codec support (no aptX, no LDAC), which means that even with all the custom tuning magic involved here, you cannot get high resolution streaming. As a result, audiophiles can just go for it – but then again, we’ve yet to experience them. It will be a good one for the fit versus features debate for sure…
It’s the price? Personalization doesn’t come cheap. UE Drops are $449 with free shipping (about £375 or AU$653), which makes them $50 more expensive than the high-end Bowers & Wilkins PI7, and considerably more than the splendid Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 (opens in new tab) (at $299 / £279 / AU$499 or so).
Are they worth it? Time will tell. But if you’re willing to fork out for something tailor-made for your unique ears, Ultimate Ears should probably be your first port of call.