There are many times when I feel very blessed that ChurchTechArts has grown the way it has. I’ve made some great friends through this site, and had some great experiences. I also get to play with some very impressive technology from time to time. And while I had an absolute blast mixing Easter weekend on the DiGiCo SD5 a few years back, I had to give that back. By far, my favorite product to test is custom IEMs, mainly because once they make them for me, they don’t need them back.
This is the fourth IEM I’ve reviewed from UE, and they just keep getting better. I got a set of UE7s about 5 years ago, and thought they sounded quite good. As I’ve explored more of the UE range, I appreciate the UE7s more; not because they sound great for general music listening—they don’t—but because they are purpose-built for vocalists, guitar and keyboard players. Then I tried out a set of the Vocal Reference Monitors. Those sound terrible for general music listening, but are amazing for a vocalist. The clarity in the vocal range is unparalleled, and it’s so easy to pull a vocal mix together with them. Last year, I received a set of Reference Monitors. These were developed in partnership with Capital Records Studios, and are designed to be a flat reference for mixing. I thought they sounded great and used them as my everyday ears for almost a year. A few months back, my UE18s showed up, and the RMs now live in the palatial studio.
First, let’s look at what the 18 is. It’s a six-driver system with two drivers for lows, two for mids and two for highs. Also packed in that little package is a 4-way passive crossover. The sound exits from three separate ports. The frequency response is quoted at 5 Hz - 20 kHz. That’s right, 5 Hz. Input sensitivity is 115 dB at 1 kHz, 1 mW. Impedance is 21 Ohms at 1 kHz.
All three of my other UEs are 3-driver models and to be honest, I kind of poo-poo’d the more drivers is better concept. At least until I put them on.
The sound coming out of these things is simply incredible. I’ve found myself listening to them on a flight, and been completely unwilling to take them off when I land. Twice have I walked through airports continuing to listen to a given album because it just sounds so good!
As I’ve spent more time with the guys at UE, I’ve learned that each model has a target sound profile, which makes them useful for different purposes. For example, the UE7 has some low- and high-end rolloff that emphasizes more of the midrange, and cuts down on listener fatigue. This is perfect for musicians whose instruments occupy that middle frequency zone. However, give them to a drummer or bass player and they’re going to be disappointed. The RMs are almost ruler-flat, and perfect for making mixing decisions. They are incredibly detailed and clean, but tend to sound a little sterile.
The UE18s sound a lot like I like to tune my PAs. There is a nice bass haystack at the low end, smooth and flat through the midrange with just a little taken off at the top so they are not harsh or fatiguing to listen to. Thankfully, the low end isn’t over-emphasized, and it remains detailed and clean. There is still detail in the top end, it just doesn’t assault you.
I don’t hear nearly as much clarity throughout the midrange as I do in the VRMs for example, but I wouldn’t expect to. This is not to say there is no detail there; there is more than enough. It’s just not emphasized as much.
What you find is that there are different models that suit different tasks. For drummers and bass players, I would heartily recommend the UE18s (and from what I understand the 11s, but we’ll have to wait and hear…). If budget is tight, the UE5 is also well suited to more low end.
The soundstage of the UE18 is big, wide and detailed. Listening to Zac Brown’s new album is a great test of these IEMs. On that album, we have everything from soft acoustic sections, large groups of vocals panned all over the place, heavily distorted bass lines, and full-on rock tunes. The 18s handle it all with ease, never sounding like they’re even working hard.
The only thing I’ve heard that accurately gives me the sense of sitting near a stack of subs is my Heil ProSet 3 headphones. Those are rated to go down to 10 Hz, and remember these are rated to 5 Hz. Of course, I suspect that’s a 10 dB down point, but still. The bottom line is they sound amazing. I would not suggest everyone in the band needs these and they are pretty expensive. The cost is not insignificant—$1350 list—but now that my daughter is out of college and I have a little more disposable income, I might be willing to spend it. Especially after I started pricing out new washer and dryer sets. Totally off-topic, but we’re getting ready to move.
I’ll put it this way; should you spend the money on these, you will not be disappointed. You will have a hard time wanting to take them out, however.