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March 2011
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors
IEMs for audiophiles and professional musicians alike.
Review By Steven Rochlin

 

  I remember my first pair of in-ear monitors (IEM), well, technically the Sony Fontopid way back in the 1980’s. Before that it was Koss over the ear jobbies and of course the ever so 80’s stylish Radio Shack Bone Fones (anyone else remember those?!). Eventually I purchased a pair of Panasonic’s revolutionary dual-driver units, which while fitting in the ear were quite large for the time yet had amazing sound quality for that era. Fast-forward to today and this is my fifth set of IEMs, the second via custom fit and I must say they sound nearly like the JH Audio JH13 Pros as reviewed here. Yet before I get into the sound quality and fit details, let us learn more about Ultimate Ears and their 18 Pro Custom IEMs.

 

About Ultimate Ears
Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors (IEM) Ultimate Ears started in 1995 as a small company, with their products selling mainly by word of mouth. In fact their company sales were mainly operated out of the back of a tour bus! Back in 1995 IEMs were few and far between and the benefits of IEM combined with their ability to protect the hearing of touring musicians give IEMs the nod to professional musicians. As many know, some of the leading touring rock musicians are right now suffering from tinnitus (hearing loss) due to the stage monitors blasting their ears at ear-burning volume levels. As a musician (drummer and percussionist) since mid-1970, back then I was well-aware of the problems of high volume levels for extended period of time, and so awkward over-the-ear headphones were a blessing. IEMs not only can sound better, they also have a high isolation factor to keep ear damaging volume levels in check.

Getting back to Ultimate Ears, musicians learned that IEMs protected musicians’ hearing while allowing them to perform better. To quote their website, “Instead of standing in front of speakers on stage, artists were able to have customized micro-speakers fitted directly into their ears. A revolution in live sound reproduction was underfoot. And the best ears of the industry agreed — Ultimate Ears sounded phenomenal. During the first few years, the company client list read like a who’s who from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It was just a matter of time before early-adopting music lovers caught whiff of the hype. By 2004 the secret was out, and audiophiles and business travelers were using Ultimate Ears custom stage earphones with their iPods and other MP3 players.” And good ol’ consumer electronics powerhouse Logitech saw Ultimate Ear’s success and promptly acquired this IEM company.

 

Technical Description
Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear MonitorsUltimate Ears developed the 18 Pro Custom for the most discerning audiophiles and music performers. As such, nothing but the very best for the company’s flagship IEMs were used. A combination of their new experience-driven team, a six-speaker Ultimate Ears sound signature with new technologies including a new cable built for durability and reduced distortion are augmented by three acoustically tuned sound channels and multiple passive crossover points. The goal is in “creating the ultimate in separation, detail, and clarity” according to Ultimate Ears. In the photo to the right: 1 are the midrange drivers, 2 are the low frequency drivers, 3 are the high frequency drivers, 4 are the acoustic filters and lastly 5 are the crossover component circuit boards. As for fit, I will say that the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom IEMs fit better than the JH Audio JH13 Pros mainly due to a wider amount of casing plastic around the outer-most part of my ear. It is not that the JH Audio JH13 Pros do not fit well, far from it! It is the simple fact that the Ultimate Ears have a bit more plastic housing to fit my ear. Also of note is that the cable is far and away better than the JH Audio. Please, pretty please will a top cable manufacturer like Kimber Kable take up the torch and very durable 100% silver IEM cable?

 

Listening And Comparison
Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear MonitorsBoth the JH Audio JH13 Pros and Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom suffer from uppermost frequency extension. It is not so much a roll-off more than they simply can not seem to produce frequencies in the ultra high range to properly produce chimes, bells, that titillating violin electricity as performed by the world’s best performers, etc. Call it a sin of omission, and I’d rather have that then screech and distorted highs. I would say that the midbass on down to the bass, from around 120Hz on down, is a touch stronger with the Ultimate Ears 18 over the JH Audio 13 IEMs. So if you love music with strong bass like pop, dance, house, trance, etc, the UE 18 might be preferred. If you love classical and jazz music the choice becomes a bit more of a personal preference. The midrange is so close to the same between the two that I’d be hard to call either an out and out winner. Both are excellent in the crucial midrange.

Frankly, there is little more to say, as if you read my review of the JH Audio JH13 Pros virtually all other parameters are the same. The benefits, the resolution, the ease of use, etc. This is not a short cut or copout of any sort by me; it is simply that there really is not much else to say that I have not already said within my review of the JH Audio JH13 Pros.

 

Conclusion
What has won me over as my now preference for the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom over the JH Audio JH13 Pros is the touch of extra bass and a slightly better fit due to using a touch more plastic material at the outermost of my ear. Add to that, the far more durable cable on the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom is also very much appreciated as during drumming the cable, at times, does get a little workout. If you make a mistake and the cable/IEMs gets snagged and pulled off your ears, the durability factor of the heavier cable is a godsend. This is not to say the JH Audio JH13 Pros are lackluster, far from it! It is simply that the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom use better cables, feel better during my recent 13+ hour each way airplane ride and the slightly augmented bass is my preference. For the record, i went USB digital out of my source to a Ray Samuels dedicated headphone amplifier during most of this review, with the Microsoft Zune filling the gap during drumming.

 

 

Specifications
Type: In-ear monitors
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 18 kHz
Input Sensitivity: 110.6 dB @ 1 kHz
Efficiency: 115.6 dB @ 1mW
Impedance: 21 ohms @ 1kHz
Internal Speaker Configuration: 6 proprietary precision balanced armatures
Noise Isolation: -26 dB
Input Connector: 1/8" (3.5 mm) gold plated
Warranty: 1-year limited hardware warranty.
Price: $1350

 

Company Information
Ultimate Ears
5 Jenner Street, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92618

Voice: (800) 589-6531
Fax: (949) 502-8379
E-mail: customsales@ultimateears.com
Website: www.ultimateears.com

 

 

 

 

 

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