Polk’s UltraFit line of earphones and headphones is, as the name suggests, designed with exercise enthusiasts in mind. The UltraFit 1000, at $69.95 (list), represents the mid-level option in this affordable range that tops out around $100. Joggers will like the 1000′s secure-fitting design, which allows outside sounds in for increased situational awareness. However, gym-goers looking to drown out the blaring music from the adjacent spin class may have trouble doing so with the UltraFit 1000, not only because it doesn’t create a seal at the ear canal, but also because it distorts at top volumes. Thus, despite its extremely secure fit, this is not an option for everyone.
The in-ear UltraFit 1000 has an undeniably sporty look, available in black with red highlights, white with gray highlights, or gray with neon yellow-green highlights. Its cable loops up over the ear, and where the cables from the left and right ears meet, there’s a connection point—here you can connect the cable extension that has an inline microphone and remote for mobile devices, or the cable extension that has none (and is significantly shorter—ideal for use with armband phone cases).
These are earbud-style earphones. That means they don’t enter and seal off the ear canal, though the removable silicon eartips have a narrowed tip that extends them a bit into the canal opening without completely sealing it off like a typical in-canal earphone pair would.
The UltraFit 1000 is designed to stay in place securely during intense workouts. Since the earpieces don’t quite seal off the ear canal, most of the secure fit comes from the over-the-ear, flexible-but-rigid rubberized cable housing. It allows for an almost customized feel, and once you’ve molded it over your ear, the UltraFit 1000 really won’t move around.
The eartips, however, are not for everyone. They’re designed with awareness of your surroundings in mind—this means they let outside noise in, which makes them ideal for joggers or people exercising in the great outdoors. If you’re exercising at a gym that typically blasts loud music, however, you’re going to need to blast your own music to overcome the sounds of your surroundings—there’s no passive noise reduction here as there would be with a pair that seals off the ear canal completely.
The UltraFit 100 ships with the aforementioned cables, a shirt-clip, three pairs of silicon eartips (S, M, L), and a zip-up, cushioned carrying pouch.
Call clarity is fine through the UltraFit 1000; you can make and receive calls without a problem. It should be noted that Polk Audio also sells the UltraFit 1000a—priced the same as this model, the 1000a is outfitted with an inline microphone and remote intended specifically for Android devices.
On tracks with seriously deep bass, the UltraFit 1000 distorts at top volumes. This comes as no surprise—flat, earbud-style earphones that do not protrude into the canal typically have drivers of lesser quality than their in-canal counterparts. At moderate volumes, the UltraFit 1000 doesn’t distort, but it has trouble reproducing the sub-bass frequencies that exist in songs like The Knife’s “Silent Shout.” It never sounds tinny or weak, but the tremendous sub-bass of that song is more implied than delivered.
For a pair of earbuds, the UltraFit 1000 produces a respectable amount of bass, but this is not a pair for bass-lovers. Earphones that don’t seal off the ear canal will almost always have less powerful bass response. This has less to do with the drivers and more to do with the actual sealing off of the canal. (You can hear this effect in action by humming a low note, then plugging up your ear canals with your fingers—your sealed off ears will naturally increase the bass response of your humming.)
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” the UltraFit 1000 doesn’t deliver his vocals with the treble edge that helps them cut through the mix. However, while they could sound more crisp, the vocals still beat out the drums for the spotlight, mainly because the UltraFit lacks the deep bass response that can sometimes boost the bass too much on this track’s thunderous drumming. With the lack of crisp high-mids and highs, and a less intense bass response, the focus on this track shifts to the low-mids, and occasionally things can sound a bit muddy.
Adjusting the earpieces a bit can make things a little less muddy, however, and that is probably my primary issue with the UltraFit 1000: It can be securely in your ear and yet still angled in a variety of ways that change the sound signature from ear-to-ear. Simply put, this is a pair for exercise-lovers who want something that won’t fall out of the ear, and not so much for music lovers.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” have a crisper sound than most pop or rock tracks have through the UltraFit 1000. This is because they are recorded in a natural, ideally transparent manner—there won’t be much, if any, boosted bass response in a classical recording. Thus, the UltraFit 1000 can sound a bit light on the low-end when it comes to the lower register strings and percussion, but the natural high-mid and high frequency presence of the higher register strings, brass, and percussion shines through here. Things don’t sound tinny—there’s still a hint of low-end—and they never sound muddy like they can on different types of recordings.
If sound is your main priority, we like the Sony XBA-S65, which offers a secure fit and a bit more low-end presence. If really big bass is what you seek, the pricey Monster iSport Immersion In-Ear Headphones brings it, along with a secure-fitting frame, while the Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats also bring serious low-end in a secure-fitting, expensive package.
At $70 (and far cheaper at most major online retailers), the Polk Audio UltraFit 1000 is an affordable option for those who want to hear their tunes—and the outside world—as well as take calls while never having to worry about the earphones falling out. But if it’s big sound you’re looking for, this isn’t the pair. For the same price, the on-ear headphone counterpart to the 1000, the Polk Audio UltraFit 2000, delivers significantly better audio performance with no distortion.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc