Not everyone has an easy time getting wireless earbuds to fit comfortably. It seems like tech companies all size their silicone ear tips differently, and foam tips, as good as they can be, don’t always solve the problem. So there was a lot of excitement earlier this month when Ultimate Ears announced the $250 UE Fits, a pair of earbuds that can mold to the shape of your ear for unmatched comfort.
The earbuds use a 60-second molding process that doesn’t require a visit to your local audiologist or taking an impression of each ear with an at-home kit that needs to be mailed in. This approach is an evolution of technology that parent company Logitech picked up through its acquisition of Revols. Ultimate Ears doesn’t quite match the perfect, unique-to-you results that you get with expensive custom ear tips that professional musicians use. But the UE Fits come close enough that they’re more comfortable than any regular earbud tip I’ve ever tried. The molding process is something special, but the earbuds themselves trail similarly priced competitors in a few disappointing ways.
But first, let’s cover that fitting process. The UE Fits come with large ear tips — if you can still call these that — with an outer layer of soft silicone. Underneath the silicone, there’s gel containing a photopolymer that reacts to light. When you unbox the Fits, there’s a warning that they’re light-sensitive, and you’re encouraged to have the mobile app downloaded and ready to go before you take them out of the packaging. (Don’t sweat this too much. The sensitivity isn’t so extreme that you’ll mess them up if they sit out for a while.)
Each earbud has bright purple LEDs that cure the gel during the minute-long molding session and harden it to the shape of your ear. The UE Fits app guides you through the entire thing. It starts by instructing you to put the earbuds in until they’re comfortable and the bass from the sound test is to your liking.
After that, you’re told to firmly hold each earbud in place — you’ll have to put your phone down — and the process begins. During molding, the tips warm up, which is an unusual sensation for something in your ears. It never gets uncomfortable (Ultimate Ears likens it to the temperature of a warm bath), but it’ll definitely grab your attention. So the app reminds you to stay calm and keep your jaw relaxed to avoid messing up the fit.
My first molding attempt actually “failed,” according to the app; I saw an error message after about 40 seconds saying that the process had been interrupted. (This wasn’t really true. The app only tells the LEDs to turn on, and the rest is science, so there’s not much that can go wrong.)
Afterward, I could definitely tell a difference between the finished mold and how the Fits felt out of the box. The end result doesn’t have the same obvious contours of a truly custom earbud tip and doesn’t sink as deep into your ear canal. With this approach, the shape adjustments and bumps are more subtle. But I found that the finished Fits were able to glide into my ear with fantastic comfort and stayed reassuringly planted once in. Even after the process is done, the tips remain soft to the touch and flexible.
The first set I tried were the default tips that Ultimate Ears says should work for 95 percent of customers. But since I almost always veer toward large-sized tips, the company also gave me a bigger pair. Sure enough, I found that those worked even better when it came to noise isolation. (The Fits lack active noise cancellation, so this is important.) Both sizes provided a steady fit and the kind of comfort where I could wear them for hours without thinking about it. Ultimate Ears says the Fits come with a satisfaction guarantee on how they fit, and the company will send customers a second set of tips if they botch the first one or need a different starting size.
The UE Fits definitely nail the “fits” part of their name. And now that I’ve got them, I find myself wishing I could use these tips on other earbuds — like slipping them onto my Powerbeats Pro for workouts. I think this personalized fit concept gives Ultimate Ears a lot of runway for where it can take future products.
Thankfully, your $250 isn’t just going toward that fit: these earbuds also sound quite good. Each bud houses a single driver (unlike professional IEMs that often have two or more), but that’s still enough for respectable bass response and excellent, detailed music reproduction. The UE Fits app lets you apply custom EQ settings and save your favorites, but I stuck with the “signature” profile since that’s what sounded best most often. Listening through the new Tom Petty Wildflowers & All The Rest compilation, the Fits were able to span remasters, at-home demo sessions, and live recordings and made them all shine with depth and excellent instrument separation. These earbuds can sound big when songs like HAIM’s “Don’t Wanna” warrant it but also handle the more raw, acoustic tracks of Ruston Kelly’s Shape and Destroy. The Fits support AptX, AAC, and SBC Bluetooth codecs.
Ultimate Ears says the Fits can last for up to eight hours of continuous playback, which is in the upper tier for battery life on true wireless earbuds. The compact, pebble-shaped carrying case, which lacks wireless charging but thankfully uses USB-C, packs another 12 hours. During my time testing the earbuds, I encountered some bugs when they were seated in the case. The UE logo on the earbud would slowly pulsate to indicate charging (as expected), but the other earbud would quickly flash and seemed to think it was in pairing mode. The company tells me it’s aware of this bug, and it’ll be fixed in a firmware update. As a side effect of this issue, I also occasionally heard a sonar ping sound effect in the left earbud — even when it was paired and music was playing. The Fits frustratingly use bleep and bloop sounds for audio feedback, and I much prefer straightforward voice prompts for a clearer idea of what’s happening.
The UE Fits also stumble when it comes to onboard controls. You can double tap the stem of either earbud and choose what you want that to do (play / pause, skip tracks, volume, voice assistant, etc.), but the double-tap is the only gesture that the Fits support. That’s limiting compared to most other earbuds and means you’ll be pulling out your phone regularly. Still, I’m a fan of the overall form factor; the elongated pill shape makes it unmistakable that you’re wearing earbuds, but also allows for easy handling.
Water resistance is another downside. The Fits are rated IPX3, which should make them semi-sweatproof. But I’m a heavy sweater, and since these lack the IPX6 or IPX7 ratings of fitness-focused buds, I’d be a little anxious using them while working out. Ultimate Ears also skipped features that are becoming status quo — like auto-pause when an earbud is removed. And the Fits offer no transparency mode whatsoever, which some people might consider a deal-breaker. You can still make out what’s happening around you when music is paused, but a hear-through feature would’ve been nice for this price.
So as you can see, you’re trading a few notable things for that unrivaled comfort that the Fits provide through their molding process. But I can at least say that they’ve been stable when it comes to audio playback, with no noticeable bouts of cutouts or Bluetooth interference. Microphone performance is decent, as the Fits are outfitted with dual microphones on each earbud to block out wind noise. Some callers said my voice came through a little thin, but everyone could understand me just fine.
I think I’d recommend the UE Fits to people who are never fully satisfied with how the AirPods or Galaxy Buds of the world feel in their ears. $250 is pricey; it’s right up there with the AirPods Pro and not far off from Bose’s new QuietComfort Earbuds. And you’re missing out on some of what those products offer — namely noise cancellation. If you’re perfectly fine with regular ear tips, I can’t say the sound quality of the Fits dramatically outperforms other premium earbuds at their price range (or even slightly below it). But the UE Fits are proof positive that this 60-second mold concept works and works extraordinarily well. They’re a fascinating middle ground between everyday ear tips and cost-prohibitive, professional IEMs. I’m excited to see where Ultimate Ears takes it from here.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge