Listen Like a Rock Star

Custom-made, personalized ear phones make listening to music a life-altering experience.

I love music and listen to it constantly. So I was eager to test the Ultimate Ears UE-5c custom ear buds. For $550, they had to be impressive.

Ultimate Ears touts the UE-5c, its first product aimed at average Joe audiophiles, as akin to a life-altering experience. Celebs from Billy Graham to Blondie swear by the brand. But $550?

The road to my custom-fit buds began with an audiologist who, armed with putty, an ear flashlight, and something resembling a glue gun, shaped casts within 20 minutes. (Protocol hint: Don't show off your casts around the office.)

The earphones arrived a week later in a brushed-metal case engraved with my name. It's a nice touch, and for half a grand, I sure wanted to protect my new life-altering experience. But the case is unnecessarily bulky; you can use the less ostentatious soft pouch instead.

I slipped in my new buds and let loose some Vivaldi on my MP3 player. And . . . wow: Suddenly I was in a music hall, right next to the conductor. Ultimate Ears president Mindy Harvey claims that with the buds, "you're kind of in your own world," and she's right. The custom fit blocks out ambient noise, resulting in an eerie isolation. The frequency range of 20 Hz to 16k and sensitivity of around 119 dB is excellent, and two speakers in each ear pick up every detail.

The lightweight buds fit snugly and are slip-free. Ultimate Ears' (www.ultimateears.com) 30-day warranty is laughably short, but the buds seem durable enough. They are, in fact, possibly the best of their kind on the market — even if the price tag daunts those of us without record contracts.

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