- Jun 20, 2001
NOTE: If you can't see the embedded video above, please CLICK HERE to see the video.
Produced by Joseph Cwik and Jude Mansilla
In this episode of Head-Fi TV, we take a look at the latest collaboration between Capitol Records and Ultimate Ears. It is the next evolution of Ultimate Ears' Reference Monitor, the new Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (UERR) custom-fit in-ear monitor.
Ultimate Ears UE Pro Reference Remastered
For the last several years, the headphone that has served as my neutral reference is the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor (UERM). Tuned for producers and studio engineers by the recording engineers at Capitol Studios, the UERM was designed to have flat and accurate studio reference sound. While absolute neutrality isn't always what I'm in the mood for, there are times it's exactly what I'm looking for. Because I listen to so much different gear--so many different colorations and flavors--it's great to occasionally re-align myself with a neutral reference as a sort of sonic palate cleanser. It's more than that, though--the UERM has also just been a pleasure to use for general listening, too, for its clarity, crispness, and lack of coloration.
My Neutral Reference...Remastered
Last week in Los Angeles, Ultimate Ears and Capitol Studios held a private event at Capitol Studios to give a sneak preview of the next-generation replacement of the UERM--an entirely new custom in-ear monitor model that will replace the UERM, called the UE Pro Reference Remastered. Because I believe they're still putting the final touches on the UE Pro Reference Remastered (UEPRR?), we didn't get a chance to listen to it there. What Ultimate Ears and Capitol Studios did do was to give the handful of us there an idea of what to expect, some of the things that make it different, and, just as importantly, why they're collaborating on a second monitor together.
The Motivation: Hi-Res Audio
We gathered in Capitol's legendary Studio B, where some of us sat in Frank Sinatra's chair, placed under Frank Sinatra's Neumann U48 microphone, as if Ol' Blue Eyes was on his way in for a session. After some socializing, we headed into Studio B's control room, where Barak Moffitt (head of global strategic operations at Universal Music Group, who oversees Capitol Studios) talked about playback format history, limitations of the past, lossy compression, the "loudness wars," and other things that would limit the fidelity of what the customer would hear relative to what they captured in the studio. He explained that with storage costs so low today--and bandwidth so plentiful--that "We’re in a world today where we don’t need to embrace the same kind of limitations that we needed to, to service the convenience that the consumers demanded."
(Above) Barak Moffitt discussing hi-res audio in Capitol Studios' Studio B control room.
Barak clearly wants to bring the sound of the original masters to the consumer, and feels now is the time. "We actually have the opportunity to introduce the listener to what the artist truly intended, in the exact same format... The decisions the artists are making, the decision the producers and engineers are making, can actually be listened to by the consumer for the very first time."
At that point, Barak and Capitol Studios audio engineer Chandler Harrod put on a fascinating demonstration. This demo centered around a single track. Chandler was using ProTools to feed several versions of the same classic track through Studio B's magnificent, classic Neve 8068 console, on which Barak could switch between the different versions of that same track for us. The loudspeakers we were listening to were Studio B's spectacular PMC QB1-A flagship active monitors (with over 4800 watts of amplification per channel, for effortless dynamics, among many other breathtaking traits).
(Above) Chandler Harrod, audio engineer at Capitol Studios (left); Barak Moffitt switching between different versions of the same track on the Neve 8068 console to demonstration hi-res recording versus other formats.
The versions of the track included the original vinyl master, the first consumer digital version of the track (1990), a later digital remaster (2000), a 256 kbps version for distribution via an immensely popular digital music store, and finally a 32-bit/192kHz digital that I believe was straight from the analog master. Switching between these versions as the track played was a striking thing to experience--absolutely riveting comparisons. Barak asked Chandler to cue back several times so he could do many comparisons. The early digital versions lost, well, almost everything that gave that track life. The drummer's brushwork was completely buried, the swells by the band (behind the singer) were compressed into something that sounded nothing like swells. The 256 kbps version was devoid of any air, space, soundstage.
At several points in the comparison, the 32-bit/192kHz transfer from the analog master was switched in, and you could literally hear gasps and giggles from people in the control room every time it came on. Why? Because the soundstage became three-dimensional. The dynamics of the swells were awesome, rising powerfully then fading back to softness, like big sonic waves gently braking behind the singer. The singer's legendary voice had body and presence. Switching to any of the lesser digital formats sucked all the life, nuances, timbre and three-dimensionality from the track. In this demonstration, there was no question that the hi-res version was conveying far more information than any other version they had that day. When I looked around during the demo, the hi-res version was clearly conjuring emotional responses from everyone in the room, including Barak, and I know he's given demos like this countless times before (another one of which I'd heard in the past).
(Above) Switches showing different track formats Barak was switching between on the Neve 8068 console (left); a photo of part of the beautiful Neve 8068's controls.
Sensing that we were getting it, Barak then talked about Capitol Studios' partnership with Ultimate Ears, their second product collaboration--their upcoming successor to their successful Reference Monitor. He said, "Part of what excites me about this collaboration, is that it allows Capitol Studios an opportunity to extend that passion for fidelity all the way to the consumer’s ear--like literally as close to the eardrum as physically possible."
After that, Philippe Depallens (vice president and general manager of Ultimate Ears Pro) introduced us to the upcoming Ultimate Ears UE Pro Reference Remastered. According to Philippe, several key improvements have been made, key among them including a new carefully tuned structure that is going to be tooled and produced for the drivers, and that also securely houses them. Also, drivers have been optimized and customized for the new monitor. These proprietary True Tone Drivers (as UE is calling them) will, according to Ultimate Ears, extend the frequency range with flat response to 18kHz, which UE says will help flesh out harmonic structures and overtones that are missing from most headphones. The new Reference Remastered will still be handmade by Ultimate Ears. The default faceplate color of the Reference Remastered is now white, with a black UE logo on the left and black Capitol Studios logo on the right. (The original Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor was black with white logos.)
(Above) Philippe Depallens introduces the Ultimate Ears UE Pro Reference Remastered, and shows us renderings of the new tuned driver housing in the Ultimate Ears UE Pro Reference Remastered.
So how does it sound? Well...we didn't get to hear them. According to Philippe, they're still working with the Capitol Studios engineers to put the final finishing touches on the new monitor. Apparently, they're very close, as they're expected to be available in December 2015 through Ultimate Ears Pro directly, and through authorized dealers, at a suggested retail price of $999. If the new monitors can get me a step closer to having the sound of the Neve 8068 console with the PMC QB1-A monitors shoved into my ears, I'll be thrilled. I'm obviously being somewhat tongue-in-cheek in saying that--but I do love that the engineers who work around that sound all day (and live sound all day) are tuning these things.
My longtime neutral reference is being Remastered, and I can't wait to hear it.
(Above) A shot of the Neve 8068 console in Capitol Studio's Studio B control room (left); one of the remarkable PMC QB1-A monitors in Studio B.
To see the Reference Remastered page on UE's website, click on the following link:
2016-03-08 1140 EST: Added Head-Fi TV video to the beginning of this post.