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A Journey with Ultimate Ears Factory Tour  

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 

A Journey with Ultimate Ears

By Marv Chen
July 27, 2013

 

As I have an abundance of material, this recollection of my visit to Ultimate Ears (UE) will be split into a series of articles which will be released over time. I decided to name this series A Journey with Ultimate Ears because it reflects a journey in several ways: a journey through the history of UE, a journey through the UE factory, and a journey as an UE customer.

 

It was not my original intent to take a factory tour of the UE facility, much less act as a journalist (and I do mean act, as I’m not a real journalist) documenting my visit. This journey started when the connector of the right monitor on my In-Ear Reference Monitor (UERM) failed. I was too lazy to search the Internet or dig up the UERM’s storage case for UE’s customer service phone number. Instead, I decided to trouble my friend CEETEE, an UE rep, who just happened to drop in the chatbox of an "underground" headphone hobbyist web forum I regularly frequent: 

 

He got in touch with Mike Dias (I think we all know who he is). And in turn, Mike got in touch with Ms. Jazmin Sandoval, an UE customer service and repairs specialist. Ms. Sandoval contacted me via e-mail in matter of hours. All I needed to do was fill out a repair form and send the UERMs back. The repair form was smartly laid-out and easy to complete: explain the issue and provide current contact information (It doesn’t get any easier than this! The typical repair or RMA forms I’ve completed were more like filling out mortgage applications.)

 

The next thing I had to do was to ship my UERM with the repair form to UE Irvine, California. Huh? That didn’t make much sense because I live in Irvine! I fired off a reply to Jazmin: “Can I just drop this off? I live close by.” I half-jokingly mentioned that I could take a tour and do a nice write up for Head-Fi or some other online publications.

 

So one thing led to another and Ultimate Ears was gracious enough to grant me with a VIP tour.

 

CT: Marv, you've got yourself a tour! I talked about your contributions to headphone hobby, etc. They are excited for you to stop by!

 

 

I met with Mr. Philippe Depallens, VP and General Manager of Ultimate Ears by Logitech. Mr. Depallens came to UE from Logitech during the time of the acquisition of UE by Logitech. I know many readers will want to know all the juicy bits related to the acquisition, but we’ll get to that later (I’m afraid there’s really not that much drama concerning it.)

 

Philippe took almost two hours of his time to give me a tour of the facilities and show me how their custom IEMs are made. I came away really impressed with Mr. Depallens, not only with his management acumen on process improvement in manufacturing and with the customer experience, but also with his deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts of custom IEM production. It was obvious the buck stopped with him at UE. If you are involved in any kind of management capacity with a company, big or small, he’s the kind of guy who inspires you do better – to kick it up a notch.

 

I had come prepared to Ultimate Ears with a long list of questions, some of them prepared by my wife, who provides a unique perspective, only because she’s not into this stuff as much as I am. Philippe, as I will now refer to him, answered each and every one of them and more. Very little questioning on my part was necessary as he somehow knew everything that I was going to ask. I told you he was a sharp guy.

 

 

MC: Tell me about the history of Ultimate Ears

 

PD: Ultimate Ears was started in 1995, when Alex Van Halen, the drummer, was complaining to his sound engineer that he was having a hard time hearing. At that time, the sound engineer tinkered with some hearing-aid equipment and created a basic Ultimate Ears monitor.

 

This was the idea behind it:  as a musician on stage, the biggest issue that I face is to hear myself, to really be able to hear my performance and also see if I’m in sync with the rest of the team. And the reason for that is because the monitors on the stage are very often setup in a way in which they overpower each other.

 

So the game that happens is you put your thumbs up and you say get louder for me. Now because now I’m louder, the other guy put his thumbs up…

 

MC: [laughs] As a former bassist and monitoring engineer, that sounds familiar. I’ve always had difficulty with guitarists because they keep turning up. Many of them have hearing damage because of that.

 

PD: And soon enough you get a level where the decibels you are hearing, night after night, will actually affect your hearing - to a point where it’s going to deteriorate your hearing, which is exactly what happened to Alex Van Halen.

 

The way it happens is that your ear will get destroyed over time based on exposure to loud noise. So sometimes you can cause more damage for two hours at 100db than standing next to an airplane very briefly at 140db. It’s because you have exposed your ears for a long duration. It’s kind of like staring into sun. And then of course, you don’t allow your ears to rest, so that constant pounding over time destroys your ear.

 

So going back to that story, the beauty of it was what the sound engineer did at the time. He brought that monitor inside the ear. The second advantage was that the in-ear monitor was designed to fit perfectly inside your ear.  By fitting perfectly inside your ear and creating the proper isolation, it would block the noise out.  We conservatively say that we have about 26-28db of attenuation.

 

MC: I use my UERM when I mow the lawn for hearing protection.

 

PD: I do the same thing when I fly a lot. I just wear this. [points to his IEMs] I never worry any longer about babies being on the plane. I don’t worry about noisy people around me. Why? Because I’m isolated.

 

So back to 1995. In-ear monitor goes inside my ear. It isolates me from the noise. The second major advantage is because I’m now isolated from the noise and about that way far [gestures with his fingers a few centimeters] from your eardrum, I end up with the best sound I can get because there’s nothing between my eardrum and my earphone. You have pristine quality.

 

MC: The musician can get an optimal mix.

 

PD: Exactly what you are saying. Because I’m connected to a wireless pack - I’m going back to the main console where a very precise mix can be rendered to my ear perfectly.

 

MC: So I’ve noted this space here. I’ve seen it on many occasions where I’ve visited Ultimate Ears to pick up my customs or speak to your representatives on sponsoring Head-Fi meets. Honestly, I’ve never thought too much of it and assumed it was a prop or something cosmetic until now.

 

I just realized that you can actually demo what you have been describing.  You’ve got the drums there. A guitar there. A board and a few wireless packs here. And if a musician wanted to come in and ask “OK. How’s this going to work?” They can actually try it out for themselves. This room is actually functional.

 

 

DP: It’s actually more than that. It’s function as what you are describing. But more importantly, and this is something I’ve always been emphasizing really hard with our work here: our products are used with real instruments. Not with devices that are measuring sound. Not with anechoic chambers. All these are important, but ultimately, with my chief engineer, the final check on the product is always with real instruments.

 

Now we can argue that we have an electronic drum here. [chuckles] This just makes the test a lot easier because when our resident drummer is drumming a lot, he plugs in the in-ears and there’s no noise in the office. We’ve had some neighbors in the past who have complained because of the noise here.

 

There’s one other thing that he tests: having about 120dbs of noise around him and making sure he doesn’t have that 120db affecting his performance. So at the end of the day, this room is also used to test the product in a real environment.

 

So, the last great advantage of an in-ear monitor is because now I’m connected to a wireless pack, I no longer have to be in front of my monitor physically. I can roam around the stage and the sweet spot is my head. The sweet spot is always there. This is why you can see bands like U2 who can do a 360 stage. And the Edge goes around the stage without worrying about hearing himself. This was something which was extremely difficult in the 80s, where in-ear monitors weren’t prevalent. You had to have all these wedges throughout the stage where Mick Jagger had to run back and forth to hear himself.

 

To summarize: three major advantages. You have isolation. Very important because as a musician, your ear is your most important device. The second advantage is great sound quality, great feed. Because it’s so close to your ear, you don’t have to fight with the noise around you. And the third one is great mobility.

 

MC: So how did Ultimate Ears get put on the map for audiophiles and consumers such as myself?

 

PD: Now let’s move forward a little bit to about 2004. Ultimate Ears is doing OK selling in-ear monitors to a bunch of musicians. There’s an investor here in Irvine who decides to invest in this company to take it to a new level. And that new level is to bring this in-ear monitor technology, the guts of it, and make it a little bit more affordable and more reachable for people who are not necessarily musicians.

 

Between 2004 and 2008, the partner decided to bring the armature concept and put that into standard earphones with standard ear tips. Probably the most successful product at the time was the TripleFi 10 (TF10), which lasted for seven years. It was a triple armature product, but with standard ear conforming tips.

 

PD: We had very very good run with this product and we just replaced it last year with a new product which we call the UE 900. The UE 900 is a quad armature. It has essentially fixed all of the issues with the TF10, implemented all the improvements you can think of with the TF10. The first one, the most important one, was that the TF10 had a pretty thick bore, which prevented smaller ears to be able to use the product.  The second advantage of the UE 900 is inspired from our customs. It has a flush fit. What that means is that it just looks just like a custom. I was part of the requirements team that gave this requirement to the designer. You want to have something discreet, because the TF10 made you look like Frankenstein with the things coming out of your ears. [smiles]

 

MC: It’s interesting you mention those things. I tried to get my wife into IEMs, but she never liked them because of poor fit and how clumsy they felt sticking out.

 

PD: You’re right. It’s that. And the last piece, going back to your wife, is to a very important point. We put a bunch of different ear tips including extra-extra-small and also foam tips. A one-sized-fits-all solution doesn’t work with everybody, everybody has different preferences. The beauty of the foam tip is that it will conform to the shape of your ear. You press on that foam and the foam expands and naturally takes the shape of your ear.

 

The last piece, which is the complaint that we’ve heard a lot, is providing a secure fit. So if you have the cord dangling like this [cord dangling down in front of ears], if you are running, or if you are an active person, or if you are a musician: you pull on the cord and the thing is going to pop out of your ear.

 

With the UE 900, it actually is worn like a custom in-ear monitor where the cable wraps around the back of your ear. If you pull on the cord, your ear will act as a damper. You are not going to have microphonics if you hit the cable, and also it will securely keep the device in your ear.

 

MC: So let’s talk about the Logitech acquisition. I’ve heard all sorts of wild speculation and assumptions, even to this very day.

 

PD: In 2008 Logitech is looking into getting in the iPhone and iPod market. What we wanted to do was not just go to China, put our logo on some kind of earphone that was made there, and say it was our own. We wanted to create something, and also base it on a real story, an authentic story.

 

That’s when we found UE. We fell in love with the story of UE: of them working with some of the top musicians; of the incredible sound quality; we loved the handcrafting. We wanted to build upon that story and expand it. So that’s why we acquired UE in 2008. And I say “we” because I was part of Logitech.

 

I used to work for Logitech in the Bay Area. I was asked to come down here in October 2008 to help preserve the UE authenticity, but also integrate them into the “mothership” – the Logitech enterprise. And make sure we take advantages of the talent that we have, the ability to procure materials at much cheaper cost, the ability to expand manufacturing without having to worry about credit and all that stuff.

 

Logitech is a big company, so you have the ability to do a lot of stuff, but what’s important is to not destroy the spirit and soul of what is happening here. So I constantly had to balance that out. And you know, within the first few months, there were a lot of people that were saying “Oh my God!” [inflection reflecting imminent doom] “Since the acquisition, everything was destroyed!” 

 

MC: Even with the customers, there was some concern.

 

PD: Tons of customers! Had concern. And, and, [excitedly] people started to say “Oh my God. This is a huge difference.” What was very funny is that it was the exact same thing. [pause] Nothing had changed.

 

MC: Nothing had changed.

 

PD: [laughs] To everyone, I was the invader going to be telling all of them how to do their job. But it was the exact same thing. Exact same thing, for the first three to six months. Plus, you don’t want to come here and start to tell them what to do. You want to immerse yourself into what they do. And then slowly and surely constantly improve.

 

There were different things we could do on quality, and I’ll show you what we have done. They were really in love with the product, but they were not thinking of the product as a journey. They were just thinking of the product as a product. So these are the types of things that we have slowly and surely changed here. And you will see how we have done this. I have a thing here you can take a picture of which demonstrates this evolution.

 

Philippe takes me to a display that demonstrates successive iterations of improvements to the product. We’ll return to this toward the end of the series.

 

 

So we acquire UE in 2008, and since then, we have created all types of new products. New earphones, new headphones, new speakers, and also a lot of new IEM tips. We’ve created award winning products such as the UE 18 that have been very positively received by different communities and prestigious press reviewers.

 

We also, and this was a decision that I decided to make because in my past, I was working in scanners. If you remember, in the late 90s, there was a big war on dots-per-inch. You end up with scanners which could scan 20,000 DPI. And the only thing you could scan was a stamp maybe [laughs] because at 20,000 DPI, it was taking so much memory that you could not transfer this image.

 

So I didn’t want to go down this path. After adding six drivers per ear in the product, I didn’t want to go to a twelve or fourteen, because the return on the quality and the investment is no longer there.

 

MC: There was a little joke on Head-Fi. An April Fools joke.

 

PD: An eighteen driver IEM [laughs]

 

MC: [laughs]

 

PD: That joke was exactly what was in my mind. I didn’t want to go down that path. At this point, we challenged ourselves. What is it we can do very differently? How can we innovate around a product that we know that we have, but target something else? And that’s when we realized there was an opportunity for us, which would be the studio.

 

To be continued...


Edited by purrin - 9/5/13 at 3:41pm
post #2 of 35
Thread Starter 

If you try to design

product for 

everybody, you design for nobody

 

 

 

PD: The issue that we had is this: we had good cred as a stage device, but we had no credentials to be in a studio. The studio is a different environment with different requirements. So that’s when we started to partner with Capitol Studios and work with their engineers. So my engineers and their engineers worked together at creating the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor (UERM).

 

The idea was a little bit inspired by the Yamaha NS10, which is sort of a reference speaker in the industry. It’s not like it’s perfect. It’s a known entity. And we wanted to do the same thing with the UERM. There’s no such thing as a perfect sound. We just wanted to establish something that is very well known.

 

MC: I’m an owner of the Reference Monitor, and it’s precisely because I felt it was accurate, at least in the studio monitor sense.

 

PD: Yeah. So the goal was, as you said, to be accurate, but to also to really have something that you can trust. When we worked at the studio, we were not there to replace the studio.

 

However, a lot engineers sometimes cannot go to the studio; or if the engineers are on the road, they want to have something that they can trust. As soon as you are in an environment which is not yours, you have no idea really what you are going to be getting.

 

We even had some people that told us that they were mixing, after the recording, in the plane on their laptops with our product. Which is exactly the intention we had in mind.

 

With that in mind, we said, this is fantastic. Now we’re working with Capitol Studios. What is the right frequency response? What is the right sounding response?

 

We have something that is called perceived flat. This is a very important statement that I’m making, especially when I talk to a journalist: if you were to measure it, it’s not flat. Why? When you put a device inside your ear, you lose the pinna (the visible part of the ear that resides outside of the head). And the pinna acts as a bit of an amplifier around the frequencies of 2.4 to 2.6kHz. So we have to compensate for that.

 

MC: I’ve noted the same thing. I actually post to a website that provides measurements of various headphones and IEMs, and I noted this exact behavior in the raw measurements of the UERM.

 

What I realized, and what’s really interesting, is that with headphones, we don’t want that bump. But once we shove something directly to the ear canal bypassing the pinna, it’s absolutely necessary, otherwise the sound gets a little too laid back, we lose the harmonic region of vocals.

 

PD: Yup. You got it. You got it.

 

So that’s per design. So this is why I never want to lie to a journalist. Because that’s the worst thing you can…

 

MC: I’m a hobbyist! [laughs]

 

PD: [laughs] When I do these types of discussions, I want to make sure they (journalists) realize it’s not flat if you measure it. But your brain will perceive it as flat, because we are compensating, to the best that we can. Every ear is different, it’s never perfect, but it’s the best that we can: a good average.

 

MC: This is very enlightening. Folks will always be arguing measurements, or what’s about flat or what’s not. Bottom line is when people have asked me “How do the Reference Monitors sound like”, I’m generally at a loss for words.

 

PD: You know, Jude said it the best to me. He said “When I go back to my reference monitors, it’s like a palette cleanser”

 

I think that’s a really good way of looking at it, because what the UERM does is go back to the basics. There are some songs that you want to hear with more bass, and it’s awesome to have that energy. But from time to time, you want to go back to “what does music really sound like?” And the palette cleanser is a really good analogy.

 

MC: Well, personally, I do like it for the way it sounds, and because it’s uncolored.

 

PD: Yeah. It’s uncolored. And if you want to color it, no problem.

 

MC/PD [simultaneously]: EQ

 

MC: On some days, I don’t want the accuracy. I’ll bump up the bass, drop the upper mids a little bit.

 

PD: Yup. If you want to make it warm, you make it warm. If you want to make it bright, you make it bright. It’s up to you. So that’s the beauty of this product.

 

That’s the Reference Monitor. So the innovation there was not to add more drivers and to do crazy stuff. It was really to go after a different market. And do it really well. And that’s why we brought in Capitol Studios.

 

MC: Have you been successful with the UERMs?

 

PD: It’s been successful with sound engineers, but to my surprise, it has actually been more successful with audiophiles, which was not the initial target.

 

But it’s always the same. You target a segment, and if you can get another segment, that’s fantastic. It was not per design. But as you know, if you want to design a good product, you have to have a narrow focus. Most companies that have done that have been very successful.

 

If you try to design a product for everybody, you design for nobody. A side effect of the (UERM) design is the crystal clear sound that you get out of this. The audiophile loves it because they have very similar requirements to the studio engineer.

 

MC: I have a little bit of a technical question. I’ve noted the use of multiple drivers for bass, or multiple midrange, or multiple treble. Is there a reason for that?

 

PD: Yes. It’s like if you have a boat; and if you have one engine or two engines. If you have two engines, your two engines will be at 2000-3000 RPM, as opposed to 5000 RPM for one engine. What happens with multiple drivers is that it allows you to not push those drivers as hard all the time, resulting in more headroom. With two drivers, we can double the power.

 

It allows us to also have coverage of frequencies being overlapped. For the UE 18, we have two lows and two mids, but the mids are separated. We have low mid and high mid. Then we have two highs. So it gives you incredible detail in the highs, incredible extension in the highs, and a lot of headroom. Bass you get that thumping, but without getting overbearing. And then on the mids you have that beautiful separation with vocals.

 

MC: Interesting. So the UE 18 is actually more than a three way.

 

PD: It’s actually a four way.

 

MC: A four way with two mids.

 

PD: Yeah. It’s a four way crossover.

 

MC: What currently are your best selling products?

 

PD: It depends upon the market.

 

MC: Not the professionals, the music lovers?

 

PD: The music lovers, a lot people like the UE 11 because of the bass.

 

MC: [laughs]

 

PD: It is the way it is in this market right now. Even my kids say “Dad, if you want good sound, it’s ‘good’ bass right?” [laughs]

 

MC: I’ve tried the UE 11 and it’s a little too bassy for me, but I could see myself twenty to thirty years ago saying these are the best things ever.

 

PD: The UE 11 is very popular, especially on an iPad or iPhone because of that bass; and the type of music which is being produced right now usually has a lot of thumping and you want to get that feeling right.

 

Now our UE 18 is extremely successful because it’s the top-of-the-line, and a lot of people like to have the the top-of-the-line. We just had some musicians that tried different products, and they came back to us and said, “Look, there’s not enough detail in there, do you have something better?”

 

We had them listen to the UE 18: “Ah, now we have it”. When you get to a certain level, which by the way, I’m not, people are seeing and hearing a major difference in their performance as well. So the UE 18 has been very successful for us since the launch.

 

If you go to houses of worship or emerging bands, the UE 5 is a very popular product because it’s more affordable. You won’t necessarily have the full extension, headroom, and sound quality of the UE 18. But you get the advantages of an IEM that I talked about earlier: the isolation, the quality, and the mobility.

 

MC: What about the lower end? I figure you might be selling more volume at the lower end.

 

PD: We don’t. The way our sales team works is not to “tell you what to do”. It’s a consultative sale. We want you for life. We want you as a musician to be performing on stage for life. We want you as a customer for life. This is why I showed you what we call the customer journey. One of the key aspects of that journal is that we want you to progress with us.

 

The eight steps of the customer journey can be seen the last photo of the prior article in the series.

 

Very often people who come here and say I want the UE 4 because it’s the cheapest. We say that's fine, here is the UE 4. Listen to it, and then listen to the other ones. And hear the difference between those products. Very often, the person that comes here with the UE 4 in mind ends up with a 7 or an 11 because they realize there is a significant difference.

 

If they invest that kind of cash, they may as well invest into the right product. And we’ll be there if there are problems. We have a two year warranty. We have a lot of support for those (customer service) positions.

 

It’s a once-in-a-while investment. Is it the right investment for you as a musician? If you spend three grand on a guitar, what’s six, seven, eight hundred dollars on a pair of earphones that will protect your ears.

 

MC: I wish I had them during my days as an active musician.

 

PD: I’ve heard that story so many times.

 

[pause]

 

So yes, the UE 4 is a product that we sell, but if you look at the distribution of our products, we have actually a very nice distribution. It’s not like 80% UE 4 and 20%...

 

MC: It’s very even.

 

PD: It’s very very even. To be candid with you, I was very surprised at the nature of the distribution.

 

Philippe later showed me a graph posted on the manufacturing floor which broke down UE product distribution over the last several years. Since the Logitech acquisition and release of new products, I noted the distribution became more even over time.

 

While I am not allowed to reveal what the exact percentages are, I can confirm that the product distribution is very even, with the exception of the extremely niche new products such as the Vocal Monitors or Personal Reference Monitors which comprise small slices.

 

MC: What do you use personally?

 

PD: Well it depends.

 

When I want my sound, I have the luxury, and it’s one product I wanted to tell you about: I use my Personal Reference Monitor, which is something I design myself from a sound signature standpoint.

 

But when I’m in a plane, when I’m flying, I use the UE 11. It’s casual listening. I just want to be isolated from the world around me. I’m relatively anti-social in planes. [laughs] The UE 11 just feels right in that environment.

 

From time to time, I go back to the 18. The warmth of the 18, when I want less bass than the 11, the 18 has less bass.

 

I would not use myself as a good reference, because I have the luxury of working here.

 

To be continued


Edited by purrin - 8/29/13 at 6:49pm
post #3 of 35
Thread Starter 

When you do have

a problem, do we

bitch at the fact

that you have a

problem, or do

we take care of it?

 

 

PD: So these impressions are taken throughout the world. They come in different shapes and colors. This is the most important process for us. It what they say: “garbage in garbage out.” What that means is if somebody does a poor job at taking the ear impression, there’s nothing, nothing we can do here to fix that. We’ve tried, to imagine, if we are missing half the ear canal here, we can’t. You need to take a good ear impression.

 

 

What you see here is different ear impressions. Different shapes. Every shape is different. We always ask the audiologist to take more material than we need to make that shell. We can always get rid of it. It’s easier for us to remove material than to add anything.

 

First step we do here: we clean up the ear impression and we create a cast: an exact replica of your ear. As we go through the process of manufacturing the product, we constantly verify the fit by propping the product against it, doing different alterations to the shell. So we don’t end up creating an IEM that doesn’t fit.

 

Next step, now that we have your ear impression, is to remove anything that is no longer relevant for us to create that shell. Essentially, it’s a clear ear impression that has the exact amount material for the ear canal, the exact amount of shell space that we want to place the drivers on.

 

 

Then we put it into this small container there. This is where we create the next cast. That cast is used to create the shell. It’s a mold.

 

Based on the color number that you give us, we have a recipe. We put the mix in there, fill it up. What we do is UV cure that cast, the acrylic. The longer it stays in there, the thicker the shell will become. If we leave it forever in there, it would become solid.

 

Each color has a different level of translucency. There’s different timing that we have for each of the colors.

 

Against the wall were probably over a hundred different colors labeled with color codes and with corresponding cure times indicated. I did not take photos because this was obviously company confidential information.

 

So now we have a shell that fits perfectly inside of your ear. It’s almost ready to be populated with drivers. Before we go there, there is a final step: to clean up the outside of the ear. Next step is to cut a very small sliver. We fill it up with the same acrylic, UV cure it, and it gives us a faceplate.

 

So now we have a shell and a faceplate. We also have a notch, and we drill a few holes. Notch for the connectors, and holes for the tubes that will bring sound to your ear.

 

 

 

MC: It’s definitely a very involved process.

 

PD: This is why say handcrafted; because it’s really done by hand. This is not lying. Every step of the way is people working on the shell.

 

MC: That went by fast. So I can get things straight, can you summarize the process again?

 

PD: The first step is let’s preserve the shape of the ear with everything that we’ve received. The second step is let’s get rid of everything we don’t need to create a shell. Third step is to create the shell with the UV curing machine. The final step is to create the face plate that’s going to be sealing the drivers inside that shell.

 

We talk toward another area of the production floor to the next phase of the custom IEM manufacturing process.

 

This is the most important step in the process after the ear impression. Now we are going to take the shell; we are going to take a set of preassembled armatures and crossovers that have been designed by our engineers. And we insert them inside the shell. And now we calibrate that structure inside your ear to make it sound exactly what we want the UE18, UE7, to sound.

 

Then we use our microphone were to listen to pink noise that we generate through this. Then we set a frequency response for each of the products. We listen to its playback here. And we modify the positioning, we modify the damper, we modify everything until the frequency response matches the curve that we have there plus minus 1db. We can never be perfect. We never claim to.

 

 

I observed on the monitor: target frequency response reference curves to which the IEMs being made would be adjusted to. These curves are proprietary to Ultimate Ears’, so the information on the screen in intentionally blacked out. The IEM coupler and measurement microphone is seen in the photo on the right.

 

And that’s the big difference between a custom in-ear monitor and a regular retail product. The fact that we know the shape of your ear so we can create, say the UE 18 sound signature for your ear; as opposed to having something that’s going to resonate, however it’s going to resonate inside your ear.

 

MC: Everyone’s ear impressions are going to be different. So you actually do calibrate to those differences to make sure a UE 18 is going to sound like a UE 18?

 

PD: Exactly. That’s a process that takes about 15 minutes to guarantee.

 

MC: Not an insubstantial amount of time, even for moderate or smallish volumes.

 

PD: Yep.

 

Once we are happy with the tuning. The next step is to seal the device. You can see that every single component is nicely tucked away so they don’t rattle around. Then we take the faceplate that we made and seal it perfectly.

 

Once we are done with that, the last step is what we call the art section. In the art section we do three major things: First we the laser-engrave the in-ear monitor with the model number. What you can see here, we laser engrave the right red (so it’s easy to remember), the number of the model, and a unique number we assign to you that first time that you order something. If you send us this device, we can easily do the rework tag. If we receive this, we know it belongs to you.

 

Red right. Blue left. We laser engrave the box with your name. The last step here is this high end printer. We can print anything you want on your faceplate. The advantage of this printer is that it’s very precise. It can print white without having a white background. You can print on any type of material. Once it’s printed on this printer, we cool it. We package it in the final box here. And we ship it through the shipping department.

 

 

Our overall process can be done in 24 hours. You pay a premium for that because we have to accelerate everything. It’s like taking the express train.

 

The overall process here takes about 5-10 days depending upon how busy we are, depending upon the touring season, and other overall situations.

 

You spend a lot of money. You want this thing to function perfectly. It’s like I spend so much cash on this car; and it’s making squeaking noises. Unacceptable. It’s the same thing here, you spend a lot of money; you want this thing to fit perfectly.

 

MC: Do you provide a list of audiologists who tend to do a better job than others or ones who’ve worked with you in the past who have had good results?

 

PD: We have a list. We have a “find an audiologist” page on our website. But yet we are always at their mercy. While we know all these audiologists, their offices, but if they have a new apprentice… we have no control over that.

 

MC: Do you have one on staff?

 

PD: We do. We actually have a person who comes here every day. That’s a service that we provide to musicians who are coming here – a free ear impression if you come here to the office.

 

MC: So what are your turnaround times for adjustments?

 

PD: Our standard RMA process is three days. Your repair was really fast. Thirty seconds is not typical!

 

My Reference Monitors were already returned to me fully repaired well before I set foot on the manufacturing floor. It probably took the repair technician more than thirty seconds, but close enough. You guys get the idea.

 

We wanted to make sure that if you had a product with a problem, it should not take as long as buying a new product (to get the problem resolved).

 

This is why I always use that term journey. It’s a journey. Our relationship is a journey. It’s not just a one-time event. How do we take care of you when you call us? How do we take care of you when you order the product? How do we take care of you when we manage the process of creating the product? Do we contact you? Do you send you a video of saying your product is being made? Do we send you a video afterwards? Which we do.

 

After that, when you do have a problem, do we bitch at the fact that you have a problem, or do we take care of it?

 

MC: [laughs]

 

PD: You get what you pay for. To the musician that is touring, this is one of their most important devices. When they are down, basically we are preventing them from earning money. This is not a gadget that you wear just casually. This is something that allows you to perform on stage. It’s how we take care of you during your performance that matters.

 

Do you remember Hillary Clinton’s ad with her saying who do you want on the phone at 2am during a crisis?

 

You want to have somebody that has been there for a while. Somebody that is backed up by a company with a good reputation. Or do you want just a mom and pop operation where they might be on vacation for two weeks and nobody is there?

 

I think the most important message that I hope I conveyed is that Ultimate Ears is all about the journey with the customer. What you see here is what we are selling as a product. And the product is not just a piece of hardware that goes inside here [points to ear] or that is on this picture [points to a product poster]. The product is everything that you have between you and us  the company – Ultimate Ears.

 

End

 


Edited by purrin - 8/29/13 at 6:48pm
post #4 of 35
Thread Starter 

There are a few more interesting odds and ends which I may release sometime later. Transcription is a serious pain in the ass.


Edited by purrin - 8/5/13 at 5:25pm
post #5 of 35

Bravo. A very enjoyable read!

 

I really like hearing about the companies and people behind the products in this hobby of ours, seeing where they work and reading their perspectives. Especially ubiquitous things like the UERM.

post #6 of 35

Interesting read, thanks for your time and effort to write everything down!

post #7 of 35

Great inside look!  I had no idea about the Alex Van Halen back story... Can't wait for the next installment.

post #8 of 35

I like the fact that Logitech/UE is striving to differentiate themselves with something other than number of drivers. Also the fact that Logitech understands the importance of keeping the talent, and preserving the original UE culture as much as possible... Can't wait to hear the whole story!

 

 

post #9 of 35

Same. Waiting impatiently for this to be updated!

post #10 of 35
Thread Starter 

Transcribing interviews is much harder than I thought! Today for sure.

post #11 of 35

Nice !

Waiting for the rest ...

post #12 of 35
Thread Starter 

Part 2 posted.

post #13 of 35

I'm not surprised he chooses the 11 for travel... on the tube, train, or plane I grab the 11, otherwise it's the UERM.

 

Are we headed to the "factory" next?

post #14 of 35

Really great stuff!

 

I actually have a trip to UE in the works for next month and had planned to write about the experience here. I will try to touch on things from a different perspective and try to cover things not covered here, but this is a really comprehensive look! Really well done!

post #15 of 35

I'm learning things that I didn't even know! Hat's off to Marv for making this happen. And for transcribing all of this so accurately.

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