A few issues back, we told you about Ultimate Ears Pro’s UE 11 Pro in-ear monitors. Our reviewer, Chris Cavera, had his ears scanned at the 2015 Summer NAMM Show, and we had a little fun joking about drool, as part of this scanning process involved biting down on a Styrofoam spacer, leaving your moth slightly agape during the scanning. Well, at the 2016 Winter NAMM Show, we paid another visit to our friends at Ultimate Ears Pro, and it turns out, they have found a way to streamline the scanning process a bit and no longer require the spacer. In fact, they had a pretty aggressive campaign at the show to get as many people as possible scanned into their database. This not only lets them demonstrate how fast and easy it is to get your ears scanned, but they also make it all the more easy for a bunch of music-minded individuals to order a set of custom in-ears. Smart!
Needless to say, I had my own ear canals scanned, and true to their word, it was fast, easy, and drool-free. They also had some neat new products to show us, and we spent some time talking about other applications for in-ears. Most of us probably think of live performance, or possibly studio work, when we talk about in-ear monitors. But they are also especially well-suited to critical listening, purely for enjoyment’s sake. Two of the newer products which excel at all three goals are the UE Pro Reference Remastered in-ears, made with Capitol Studios, and the UE Pro Sound Guard buffer/limiter accessory.
Remastering a Reference
The UE Pro Reference Remastered (“UERR”) monitors are the result of the second collaboration between Ultimate Ears Pro and the engineers from the famed Capitol Studios (the LA-based recording studio complex which recorded such acts as Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and the Beastie Boys). As with the first Ultimate Ears Pro / Capitol Studios collaboration – the original UE Pro Reference monitors (“UERM”), introduced in 2010 – the goal with this particular set of in-ears is absolute fidelity and detail, along with expanded frequency range and a natural balance from top to bottom. Whereas, the original UERM’s were designed/voiced to be as neutral and balanced as possible at the eardrum, the UERR’s have been re-voiced a bit to be more representative of how very neutral loudspeakers sound in a (neutral) listening room. While these goals are similar in nature, they are definitely not identical.
The UERR’s employ three proprietary balanced armatures, with multiple passive crossover points. The claimed frequency response is 5Hz to 25kHz, and sensitivity is rated at 100 dB @ 1kHz, 1mW. In addition to the (customizable) cable (terminating in a 1/8” stereo jack), the UE Pro Reference Remastered monitors also ship with a cleaning tool, ¼” stereo adapter, and a 1/8” buffer jack (which can be useful when listening through your in-ears on an airplane, or any time where the input signal is overly hot, or where you have an impedance mismatch). One of the specific technical achievements with the UERR’s involves the use of what Ultimate Ears Pro calls “True Tone Drivers,” which claim to smooth the frequency response and keep things basically “flat” up to 18kHz.
Speaking of customization, with the UE Pro Reference Remastered monitors, you can currently choose from 27 different colors for the outer housing (I chose the solid white housing, with the Capitol Studios logo). You can also choose to remove the Ultimate Ears Pro logo, or even add a custom graphic, if you like. If you want to be able to hear some of the ambient sound around you (but lose some noise isolation in the process), there is an option for just that. You can choose from a variety of lengths for the cable, which comes in black or silver. There is also an option for an iOS remote cable with a built-in microphone. The monitors come with a round “road case,” which has your name engraved on it. This sturdy and stylish case is, itself, encased in a very nice shipping/storage box.
The UE Pro Sound Guard is a unique accessory that operates not only as a line-level signal buffer, but also works as a compressor/limiter to protect against accidental audio spikes (and feedback). It is powered by two CR2450 batteries, and ships with one pair installed and a set of replacement batteries. It also includes a short 1/8” to 1/8” stereo cable to allow for inserting the Sound Guard between your in-ears and your favorite audio device. A belt clip is also included. Much like the UE Pro Reference Remastered monitors, the UE Pro Sound Guard is intended to be at home live, in the studio, or chillin’ on the couch, listening to some tunes. It is very straightforward to use, with two 1/8” jacks, labelled “In” and “Out,” an on/off switch, and LEDs for indicating power on status and battery status.
Get With the Program
The folks at Ultimate Ears Pro have made it even easier to find either a dealer to scan your ears or an audiologist to take ear impressions of your ear. They feature a searchable database on their webpage. You can even download a set of instructions to provide to your audiologist, so make sure that they understand what is necessary for the best fitting experience. Once you have sent your impressions to the folks at Ultimate Ears Pro, they will have your data on file, and placing product orders is a breeze. At the NAMM Show, they had a custom set of (universal-fit) monitors which modeled the responses of their different in-ear monitors, and let you select between the different models. This was a very useful tool, and you could really tell the difference between different models.
The Listening Experience
Chris Cavera gave a lot of insight into how well the UE 11 Pros performed for him in a live gigging environment, and I definitely encourage you to check out his review, as much of what he had to say about the UE 11 Pros also apply to the UE Pro Reference Remastered in-ears. Accordingly, in this review, I am going to focus on the critical listening performance.
I do have some confessions to get out of the way. First, I used to fancy myself a bit of an audiophile, and I put together a “big system” at home (built around a pair of big Thiels, powered by Theta Digital mono blocks), and a nice “small system” at the office (featuring Arcam FMJ components and a pair of ProAc Tablette Reference 8 monitors). My next confession is that I don’t listen to either of these systems, anymore. Kids happened at home, as did some remodeling to my main listening room (the Thiels are brooding behind me as I write this, impatiently waiting for me to get around to setting them up, again). At work, I moved into a “better” office, but it’s not laid out well for an audio system. Lame, I know…
As a result, I find myself doing most of my recreational listening either in the car, through PC speakers at work, or through the Bose Wave Radio when I work in the kitchen. When I do find some “me time” to chill with some of my favorite tunes, it is usually after the rest of the family is asleep, so headphones or in-ears are ideal. Fortunately, I do have access to a couple pairs of nice headphones and several nice, universal-fit in-ears (including a set of UE 900s monitors). While these are all definitely enjoyable, and allow me to lapse a bit back into “audiophile mode,” the UERR’s are on a whole ‘nuther level.
|Model:||UE Pro Reference Remastered|
|Input Sensitivity:||100 dB @ 1kHz, 1mW|
|Frequency Response:||5Hz – 25kHz|
|Noise Isolation:||-26 decibels of ambient stage noise.|
|Impedance:||35 Ohms @ 1kHz|
|Internal Speaker Configuration:||3 proprietary balanced armatures with a 3-way crossover|
|Input Connector:||1/8” headphone jack; compatible with all systems|
|Accessories:||Road case, cleaning tool, 1/8” buffer jack|
UE Pro Sound Guard Sidebar
By Vic Serbe
I have an older PSM200 in-ear setup for stage monitoring in the local cover band I play in. One of the artifacts of this system is a loud-ish “pop!” when you turn them on or off, which can be annoying. I figured the UE Pro Sound Guard’s spike protection might help greatly. While it didn’t completely eliminate it, it did noticeably reduce it. And, at least in subjective testing, it did seem like I had better regulation of things, like when the drummer got a little too “happy” with a rim shot on the snare, etc. Overall, it seemed to operate as advertised in a live environment, though its effects didn’t seem dramatic – maybe that’s best, anyway; otherwise you risk dynamic loss. Honestly, I’d like to see Ultimate Ears Pro take a technology provider position, in hopes of seeing this kind of capability integrated into monitoring systems (so you can eliminate that extra box on your belt). But in the meantime, the UE Pro Sound Guard works quite well.
The qualities which stand out after spending some time listening to music through the UERR monitors are right in line with what Ultimate Ears Pro promises in their promotional materials. The details and nuance of every recording stand out exceptionally well. The tonal balance is very neutral, with no particular frequency range overpowering any other. The lows are big and rich, but not overly bassy. The high frequency response seems to be quite extended, and conveys clarity without becoming harsh. I would describe the high end as, “clear, extended and smooth.” The extended range and impressive low- and high-frequency performance of the UERR’s would be nothing but window dressing, though, if the monitors did not deliver in the crucial midrange region. Fortunately, they do deliver said goods, with exceptionally neutral, balanced and detailed midrange. What’s more, the transitions from lows to mids to highs are seamless. Compared to my favorite set of over-ear headphones, the cans were more warm, round and mellow, and the UERRs are more detailed and articulate, and supremely noise-free. Again, the detail, balance and clarity are incredible.
One of the things I always found enjoyable about listening to really good recordings over really good gear was hearing those little nuances of the performance which so often go unnoticed. Like the sound of the brushes coming off of the drum head, or that exact moment when the piano strings are dampened; the intake of a singer’s breath (when you weren’t necessarily supposed to hear it). Another aspect of critical listening which I enjoyed was the ability to close your eyes and “see” the array of musicians in front of you, spaced out from left to right, and front to back. I found myself enjoying these very aspects – the nuances of the recordings, the “3D imaging” – once again with the UERR monitors. In no small way, these monitors actually rekindled a fire in my soul. Music is a big part of what makes me happy, and what makes me feel “connected.” I know I am gushing, here, but I haven’t connected with music like that in a while, and I gotta say, it was awesome!
Universal Music Group, who owns Capitol Music Group, has invested a lot in putting out high-resolution audio recordings, so it only makes sense that they would be interested in helping provide listeners with tools that will let them enjoy the added sonic fidelity promised by high-res audio. After all, what good are these supremely neutral and revealing in-ear monitors, without high quality source audio that can match a similar level of resolution? For my listening tests, I listened primarily to music which I knew well and which I had ripped at the highest possible resolution, played through my iPhone 6 and from the headphone out on my desktop computer. I used both the UE Pro Sound Guard (more on this below) and my Phil Jones Bass Bighead HA-1 headphone amplifier (sometimes together, sometimes independently).
Guarding the Capitol
Speaking of the UE Pro Sound Guard, when the folks at Ultimate Ears Pro first began telling us about the benefits of the UE Pro Sound Guard, what initially stood out to me was the benefit of not having your ear drums blown out when a mic stand falls over, or someone unplugs an instrument, with a big “pop!” [BGM staff reviewer, Vic Serbe, was also able to spend some time with the UE Pro Sound Guard in a live setting, and you will find a short sidebar from Vic at the end of this article.] I figured that the line buffering might help with a weak signal, or maybe help with phase issues. Oh, and maybe it might help things sound a little bit better. Well, after spending some time with the UE Pro Sound Guard, I think that the best way to sum up what the UE Pro Sound Guard does is, “It makes everything better.”
No matter what I plugged into it (headphones or in-ears, with or without the headphone amp), the UE Pro Sound Guard made them sound better. The common benefits were that with the UE Pro Sound Guard, the tone was more full, and upper-mids to lower-highs were more clear and natural. I could hear more details – especially those that combine lower- and higher-frequency content, like the “fingerprints on the wrap of the strings” sound at the very beginning of a bass note. The limiting/compression benefits of the UE Pro Sound Guard were especially noticeable with a certain pair of headphones, which are a little too sensitive in the frequency range of a snare drum hit. If I had the volume up a bit, snare hits could be downright painful with these headphones. But with the UE Pro Sound Guard in the signal chain, I could turn things up quite a bit and the snare never bothered me. Overall, the UE Pro Sound Guard added clarity and detail to all of my headphones and in-ears.
The Bottom Line
If your band uses in-ear monitors, then you should definitely check out the Ultimate Ears Pro line of in-ear monitors and choose the model that fits your needs/preferences/budget. If you are in the market for a very neutral-studio monitoring system that you can put in your pocket and bring into any studio, the UERR monitors are a great option. If details matter to you, and you love listening to and connecting with music – but you don’t have the room, the funds, or the spousal approval factor required for a full-sized, killer in-home system – then the UE Pro Reference Remastered monitors are a godsend.
If you do pick up a pair of Ultimate Ears Pro in-ear monitors, then by all means, order the UE Pro Sound Guard. If you have no plans to buy a pair of Ultimate Ears Pro monitors, but you do listen to headphones or in-ears from another manufacturer, then by all means, order the UE Pro Sound Guard. This thing is great, it protects your ears, and it makes things sound better. What more could you ask for?
|Model:||UE Sound Guard|
|Frequency Response:||20Hz – 20kHz|
|Power:||CR2450 batteries (pair)|
|Input Connector:||1/8” stereo|
|Output Connector:||1/8” stereo|
|Accessories:||1/8” stereo patch cable, belt clip, extra pair of batteries|