Headphone companies go to great lengths to develop earbud shapes that offer the most comfortable fit for the most users. Everyone’s ears are unique, so even the best efforts won’t offer optimal wear for all. Still, companies continue to mine data in the quest for perfection. Jabra, for example, has a ton of information thanks to parent company GN and its experience with hearing aids. Ultimate Ears is another company with piles of research on ear shapes thanks to its years of experience building custom in-ear monitors (IEMs) professional musicians. The company has put that knowledge to use in a pair of true wireless earbuds that use lightform tech to heat and mold ear tips to your ears. As the name suggests, the perfect shape is the primary aim of the $249 UE Fits.
Gallery: UE Fits review | 17 Photos
Gallery: UE Fits review | 17 Photos
The technology Ultimate Ears put inside the UE Fits to quickly mold them to you is the main attraction here, so I’ll get right to it. The company developed a lightform system that uses LEDs to heat pliable ear tips during the initial setup process. A companion app guides you through the process, including when to gently press the buds in your ears as they warm up. The entire thing takes about a minute, during which you feel a tiny dash of heat, but nothing even close to what I’d consider “hot.” The outside is still pliable, but the inner portion is noticeably firmer.
- Custom fit
- Good battery life
- Adjustable EQ
- Customizable controls
- One shot at molding process
- Limited on-board controls
- Long charging times
- No ANC
- No automatic pausing
Once the gel-filled tips are molded, they’re set for good. You can’t repeat the process if you think you messed up. The app will offer a fit test to make sure you did things correctly, but that’s only after you’ve molded them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check my work since that feature is still being built. But, due to the shape of the tips, you really have to try to screw this up. The only issue I could see is if you don’t have them fully inserted in your ear before you begin. Still, it would be great if Ultimate Ears gave you some software based guidance on fit before you went past the point of no return. The company does plan to offer extra ear tips as a separate purchase, but there’s no word on how much they’ll cost. It did say that if you’re not satisfied with the fit of the first pair, it will send you a replacement set.
The UE Fits are very comfortable. Due to the design of the earbuds, it never feels like you have something crammed in your ear canals -- even though you most certainly do. The fit is secure, but it isn’t tight, so I had no trouble wearing these for hours at time. The normal discomfort I experience after 30-45 minutes isn’t a thing here, so at the very least, Ultimate Ears succeeded with the custom fit portion of the program.
Ultimate Ears isn’t the first company to take on custom-molded earbuds. Revols created a heating process for tailoring pliable gel tips to the shape of your ears. The primary difference was they weren’t true wireless, but the tethered wireless style. Ultimate Ears parent company Logitech acquired Revols 2018 and a collaborative effort led to the development of the UE Fit tech. There are simpler takes on custom fit as well. Decibullz, for example, sells wired and true wireless buds with earpieces you heat in water before putting them in your ear. The traditional ear tip is still used here, but there’s an outer stabilizing component that molds to your ear for a better fit.
To give the light-based tech room to do its thing, Ultimate Ears had to develop a different earbud shape for UE Fits. Most buds have a nozzle that goes inside your ear canal. Silicone or foam tips slide over top of that to offer the best possible seal. Since the gel on the Fits needs space to move around, these earbuds don’t have that nozzle piece. There’s a tiny elbow of components pointing toward your canal, but all of the electronics sit just outside. That includes the LED lights that power the fitting process.
The ear tips for the UE Fits are larger than normal, providing both the custom fit and ample protection for the internal parts. On the outside, a pill-shaped panel houses touch controls, microphones and charging connectors. That design element also helps you get the UE Fits in place without painfully pressing them into your ears. Most earbuds are just flat circles or ovals on the outside, so these look rather unique. And, importantly, form follows function.
Touch controls are limited to a double tap on each side, or two options total. By default, they’re set to play/pause on both earbuds, but you can customize those actions for other things. The choices are limited to the next track, previous track, volume up, volume down and voice assistant. Yes, track and volume controls are separate, so if you want both of either one of those, you’ve just used both available slots. What’s more, there’s no automatic pausing when you remove one of the buds from your ears, so you’ll likely want that option on one side. While these on-board options are very limited, at least Ultimate Ears gives you the ability to assign them as you like.
The UE Fits earbuds are larger than many recent true wireless models. They protrude from your ears a bit, and their design is more antennae-like that the Bluetooth headset look Bose and Sony have gone for. Ultimate Ears doesn’t offer much moisture protection either. The UE Fits are IPX3 rated which the company says this makes the earbuds sweatproof, but no matter what, they fall short of the more robust IPX6 or IPX7 ratings that stand up to high pressure jets or full immersion.
Thankfully, the extra bulk didn’t translate to a bigger charging case. Ultimate Ears kept it compact enough to easily fit in a small pocket. Both the case and the earbuds have their own battery and charging indicator lights, so you don’t have to wonder what info you’re getting at any given time. There’s also a dedicated pairing button inside the case, and a USB-C port around back when it's time to plug in.
Aside from handling the initial molding process, the UE Fits app also offers a collection of EQ presets. UE Signature is the default, but there’s also the options of Bass Boost, Bright, Hi/Lo Boost, Loudness and Spoken Word. You can also create your own and save them for future access via an EQ curve. The app gives you battery level for each earbud and the case separately, so you know exactly where each part of the package stands at any given time.
If you choose to purchase additional ear tips, there’s an option in the main menu for “Mold New Tips.” That will guide you through the 60-second fitting process the same way the software does initially. And again, there will be a fit test in that menu at some point to help you double check your molds. These aren’t scheduled to ship until “late fall,” so hopefully that tool is ready before these are available to the masses.
UE speakers are some of the best-sounding Bluetooth options you can buy, plus the company has built a reputation amongst pro musicians for its IEMs. So I knew these would at least sound decent. And they do, but the results are pretty inconsistent. I do have to give them credit for great clarity. Details like snare drums are crisp and clear, so on country tunes like Luke Combs’ “Refrigerator Door,” you can hear the subtle rattle in the decay. Ditto for picking and fret noise on guitars, mandolins and other stringed instruments. It’s the stuff you don’t notice when it’s not there, but when it is songs have more texture.
The UE Fits is evenly tuned as well. There’s no strong preference towards the bass, mids or treble, so these handle a range of genres with ease. The bass is a bit restrained for my taste when it comes to hip-hop like Run The Jewels, so songs like “walking in the snow” and “JU$T” lack their usual punch. The low-end sounds good, and you can get more of it by opting for the Bass Boost preset, but I could never get the same depth when the drum machine drones and rings out that I could on other earbuds. In fact, I kept it locked on the default UE Signature option most of the time because I felt like the clarity and detail was best there.
At times, things like cymbals come off as harsh and abrasive. When you crank Gojira’s “Another World” for example,” the constant crash during the chorus is almost too much. The sound gets compressed reducing the full band to a dull roar and it’s difficult to pick out individual instruments. Softer genres like country and bluegrass fair the best, and synth-driven electronic music is enjoyable as well. Sylvan Esso’s Free Love sounds very good on these. But the customization options don’t overcome average sound quality with some genres.
Ultimate Ears promises eight hours of battery life on the buds themselves, with another 12 hours in the case. It’s odd to see a charge and a half extra instead of two (or three) full cycles. 20 hours of total listening time is still pretty good though, and eight hours on the earbuds will get you through a full workday of non-stop use. Indeed, I managed just over 7.5 hours of continuous playback before I had to tuck these away. Confusingly, the app said the left earbud still had 30 percent battery left. Ultimate Ears confirmed my suspicion about what might be the cause: the right earbud is the main connection and the left piggybacks off of it.
One word of warning: the initial setup process will use a considerable amount of battery. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but it takes significant power to light up those LEDs. So after the molding process, you can expect battery levels in the earbuds to be around 60 percent -- or at least that was my experience. Obviously, you can immediately use them for the rest of that allotment or return them to the case so you can begin at 100 percent later.
Getting to 100 percent is an exercise in patience. The case seems to top off in an appropriate amount of time, but the earbuds take several hours to fully charge. Multiple times I opened the case after they had been in there for at least four hours and the flashing LEDs indicated they still weren’t done. Sure enough, the app confirmed this, and it was a headache every time I needed to recharge dead earbuds.
I’ve reviewed a lot of true wireless earbuds, but I’m not aware of any other company that uses this kind of technology to mold semi-custom ear tips. I feel confident saying Ultimate Ears has a unique feature there. At $249 they’re in the same price bracket as premium offerings from Bose and Sony, though, which offer powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) on their QuietComfort Earbuds and WF-1000XM3, respectively. The UE Fit doesn’t have ANC, but one you’ve molded them to your ears, they do a great job of passive noise isolation.
Both Bose and Sony have more robust on-board controls and, in turn, more customization options. And the QuietComfort Earbuds and the WF-1000XM3 have much better sound quality than these Ultimate Ears buds. But neither of them tout a fit system like these UE buds. Plus, Ultimate Ears offered the Fits for $209 during an early pre-order period, which made them a more attractive proposition. Unfortunately, that deal has ended.
I’ll admit it: when I first saw the UE Fits I really thought they were a gimmick. But the more I thought about it, the more a mold-it-yourself system made sense for the maker of in-ear monitors. And if any company has the ability to create a system like this that actually works, it’s Ultimate Ears. The fitting process is quick and easy, and eventually you’ll be able to check to make sure you did it correctly. But at the end of the day, the features list is a bit limited and the sound quality fails to consistently impress. If you can live without ANC though, the UE Fits are certainly unique. And sometimes being different is all you need to rise above the competition.
Update 10/23/20 12:54PM ET: This review has been updated to clarify Ultimate Ears’ acquisition of Revols and that the pre-order pricing discount has now ended.