or Connect
Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphones › In-Ear › Custom › Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors › Reviews › Joelc87's Review

**Revised Update** Fantastic effortless neutral sound from UE

A Review On: Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors

Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors

Rated # 3 in Custom
See all 13 reviews
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Purchased on:
Price paid: $999.00
Posted · Updated · 36983 Views · 4 Comments

Pros: Balanced sound from top to bottom, never stressed or pressurized sounding. Effortless sound, realistic imaging, adapts into different genres.

Cons: None that I can think of.

Ok so I realize the UE IERM's are kinda old news now, but I ordered a pair a few weeks ago and just got them today.  All I can say so far is, the sound is exactly what I want from an IEM.  


I have been a bit of a bass head in the past, and oddly enough still think of myself as one, but apparently that's not the case anymore, because these sound just perfect to my ears.  The treble is nicely extended, yet seemingly neutral.  I have noticed that the treble can sound just a tad and by "tad" I mean <5% harsh sometimes but I am very confident this is due to the recording and not a fault of the earphones by any means.  


Mids are nice, present, not forward, not back.  


Also the part I was most worried about, the Bass seems just right to me.  Lately I've noticed when listening to things with my grados or UE-900s that the bass was either too light which gave emphasis to the treble or the bass seemed just a touch compressed (forced?) over pressurized in the UE-900s which led to this slight muffling of the treble extension.  Possibly due to the fact that these are customs, but regardless the bass sound perfect to me in the IERM.  Direct, punchy, but never getting in the way of anything else.


All in all I'm glad I went with my gut on this one and didn't follow all the reviews that suggested the JH-16s because "I like bass"  


Also huge thanks to UE and their team that got the fit exactly perfect the first time.






I'll have to upload some pictures too but I find these have quite a bit more bass than I was expecting them to have, based on what everybody was been saying.  This is a good thing because I was actually expecting them to be a bit bass light.  


I am curious to see if UE has perhaps done some retuning of the UERMs since the first models.  Based on other pictures the sound tube for bass is significantly smaller than the tube for mids and treble, whereas on mine they're almost the same size, close enough that I have to look at the drivers to tell which hole leads to which.  If this is true and this is kind of a "revised" version, I'd be curious to see if anybody else has noticed this on a recent order.  I will say I hear very very deep bass extension in these and by that I mean very very deep sub bass vibrations in the background of songs that I've never heard before, even compared to the HD650s on my Anedio D1.  


Now I realize comparing a $1k IEM to a $500 full-size headphone is kind of apples and oranges (fresh picked apples and wal-mart oranges?)  Either way, the more I listen to these and compare them to other equipment I have on hand, the more satisfied I am with them.  They sound perfectly flat to me with the D1, (I don't really notice the bass roll off that everybody else mentions at all except the slight roll off as it transitions out of human hearing range approaching 5hz)  Also, I feel like these are the most "real" sounding headphones I've heard in a long time.  It's no longer an issue of "good bass" "good mids" "good treble" etc. etc.  


The resolving power/imaging/soundstage/instrument separation all sound very realistic to me.  So much so that some recordings approach that "virtual live concert" kind of feel, mostly due to the additional extraction of what I like to refer to as "micro details."  By that I mean details not from the instruments and vocalists, but the kind of auxiliary sounds, tiny little reverberations off walls, resonance of drums at rest from nearby instruments, etc.  I think I could tell the difference between a taylor and martin guitar, and probably the difference between light and medium gauge strings, assuming they're recorded in a similar fashion.


To sum things up, based on my impressions over the first few days, I'd say these lie exactly in the middle of everything to my ears.  

Not too bright, not too warm.  

Not too forward, not too distant.  

Also in terms of their analytical nature, I'd say they sound right in the middle between too cohesive and too separated.  You can easily hear every instrument, singer, but at the same time I don't feel like the UERM is prying apart the music to an artificially analytical level.


I realize this has been said many times before, but since the frequency response is so flat in these, they almost seem to change their character depending on the type of music you're listening to.  I always play my music with no EQ on foobar using WASAPI or on my laptop with bitperfect.  


Earlier I had listened to DJ Billy-E's Beats 4 My Van, as rudimentary as this song is, it does a great job of evaluating a headphone's bass characteristics, resonance/decay etc.  I'll have to say that the bass was at least if not more powerful sounding in this song as it is using my Sennheisers, indicating to me that the UERMs are not bass light by any means.  This song sounded very boomy, club subwoofer like, which is what I anticipate the audio engineer's intention was.   I quickly transitioned into Ludovico Einaudi's Le Onde still with EQ disabled and instantly the UERMs shifted into a nice crisp piano sound, with absolutely 0 change in settings from me.  


Something that has stood out to me in particular with these IEMs is their ability to replicate a piano's sound, dynamics and dimensionality.  As a pianist myself, I spend a lot of time playing different pianos, and while I realize all pianos sound different depending on their type and size, I have grown quite familiar with what a piano should and shouldn't sound like in a recording.  No matter how hard I try, pianos never seem to sound right from my triple.fi 10s, grados, UE-900s.  The universal UEs have this slight bass compression, which makes the upper register of a piano sound like it's coming from a speaker, very flat and 2D.  The grados on the other hand can never seem to capture the lower register.  The individual notes sound fine in and of themselves, but on a piano you never just hear one note, the harmonics should ring through the entire instrument.  So far the UERMs capture both the upper and lower registers of the piano more completely and realistically than anything else I've listened to.


I'll continue switching around source equipment and listening for any glaring flaws but so far I have yet to find any.  All of the things I mentioned above seem to add up to create something greater than the sum of the parts, in that they all combine to give an added layer of realism I don't think I've ever heard before.


Congrats!!! I've been doing a lot of reading about them lately.
Yes, congrats.  The UERM has always been on my radar.  I'm curious of your impressions 2-3 weeks from now.
Yes I will be testing them with all my different components sources and will update in a week or two.
So it's been about a month, and all I can say about these earphones is consistency, transparency, clarity, and realism.  I'm not going to get all starry eyed and say they're the most perfect IEM ever, that's not realistic at all.  What I will say is this, since their sound is so neutral they adapt to any genre of music.  Certain bassier headphones or ones with a specific signature may sound better on certain songs, but they might also sound worse on some too.  These never sound bad on any recording.  (unless it's a low quality recording of course)  Stylistically I haven't found a genre or recording style where they sound colored or abnormally out of place.  Instead each and every recording sounds neutral, natural, as if you were sitting listening to it being recorded live.
Sure there may be others (JH-16) with more bass quantity, or more warmth and fullness.  These may be a more "exciting" enhanced way to listen to your music, but with the UERM I don't feel like I'm listening to a recording, I feel more like I'm hearing a simulation, it's an entirely different kind of experience than what I've heard before.  There are some who say that the bass is lacking in these.  I would certainly not call them bass light at all.  They reproduce exactly what in my mind the live sound would sound like.  Bass is there but in the background where it should be.  
Hope this helps those of you considering this IEM.  I honestly can't recommend this earphone enough.  The clarity, neutrality, price, and quality are all classic UE, great from start to finish.  Had to send them in for a minor refit and as always their customer support is second to none.  Personalized emails, updates, and quick responses to any questions/concerns.
Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphones › In-Ear › Custom › Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors › Reviews › Joelc87's Review