UM In-Ear Monitors


Earbuds with professional quality and comfort

I like earbud headphones — especially on airplanes — for acoustic privacy and because of the way they focus and intensify listening for me. But most off-the-shelf earbuds don’t fit my ears; for instance, the set that came with the Apple ipod are just unwearable. They are not just big, but really round, which is not the shape of my ear, anyhow. And it is not just me; other people have this problem because I see this question online in the Apple discussion board.

I’ve tried many alternative brands. In my experience earbuds contoured to fit into the ear almost never fit comfortably and often won’t even stay put. That is why I was delighted to find the UM1, apparently a unit made for musicians to wear as a monitor while on stage. It’s produced by Westone, which mainly makes hearing aides, and the quality and performance reflect that high standard. The replaceable foam earpieces naturally fit perfectly, the sound is remarkably clean and precise, and the whole unit is unobtrusive when worn and quite small and packable.

I know these UMs don’t appear especially ergonomic but the yellow foam piece is infinitely malleable; you squish them into shape, insert and then they expand to fill. And you’ll notice that the earphone unit itself sits at a slight canted angle from the foam, which serves to point it into the ear when properly inserted. Following included instructions (I know, nobody does) I even learned to loop the wires behind the ear after inserting and slightly twisiting the foam plugs, which serves to secure the whole apparatus and basically hide the wires.

When my dog chewed up my first set, I nearly had to quit listening to the ipod until replacements arrived; the difference between them and ordinary earphones is that great. I recommend them to everybody.

The UM1 is a bargain at $99 (web price). I’m told the higher grade UM2 is even better, but my discrimination isn’t that great so I haven’t sprung for them yet.

06/26/03 -- Howard Weaver