As I mentioned last time, I have an enviable job. I have to somehow try to describe how these very nice, custom IEMs sound. And compare them, which means that I have more than one set. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
I was about to start in on a paragraph describing the configuration for the UE11, and how it’s marketed. But then it occurred to me that I should probably start by stating that you can’t just an IEM by its price tag; at least not in the UE line. I have UE7s, Reference Monitors, Vocal Reference Monitors (Male), UE11s, and UE18s, $850, $999, $999, $1150 and $1350 respectively. And I can’t honestly tell you that the most expensive ones are the “best.” That’s because, much like microphones, each of those is designed to do something slightly different. I always recommend the UE7s for guitar and keyboard players and most worship leaders who play guitar or keys because the frequency response profile of the 7 is perfect for that application. The midrange is really detailed and there is a slight rolloff at the high and low end which helps keep the mids clear.
To some extent, the UE18, while it has twice the drivers as the 7, would not be as good a choice for those musicians, despite its higher price tag. This is not to say the 18 is not worth it, because they sound fantastic. I don’t know if that cleared anything up or not, but I wanted to point out that each model is designed to work really well with a particular type of musician. And, as it turns out, they are each suited to different types of music, as I eventually discovered.
The UE11 is marketed towards bass players and drummers. It’s a four-driver, three-way system. There are two low drivers, a mid and a high, all driven through a 3-way passive crossover network. The drivers exit through two ports—a low port and mid-high port. One of the low drivers is a “sub low,” though I’m not exactly sure at what frequency it kicks in. Frequency response is rated from 5 Hz – 22 KHz, with a sensitivity of 119 dB @ 1 KHz @ 1 mW. Impedance is 18 Ohms. I don’t really have a way to test the response down to 5 Hz, but I can report they go deep.
The low end very satisfying with the 11s. To put it in practical terms, it’s a bit like a PA with and without a sub turned on when you compare the 7s and 11s. To further the PA comparison, when I compare the 18s with the 11s, the 11s are like a PA with both 15” and 18” subs, while the 18s feel as though only one set of subs is active. Both have plenty of detail, and both extend to low frequencies, but the 11s just have more oomph. A bigger bass haystack in PA tuning terms.
One thing that surprised me is that I felt like I was hearing more detail in the music with the 11s. And that’s compared to both the 18s and the Reference Monitors. As I dug into this more, I realized it was most likely because the 11’s are the most sensitive of the three (the 18s are rated at 115 dB with the RMs rated at 112 dB at 1 mW). An extra 4-7 dB will definitely reveal more detail.
The downside of all the detail is that you can begin to hear stuff you never heard before, like distortion. While auditioning tracks for this review, I found an album that I used to really like and can’t listen to any longer due to the amount of distortion I can hear in the recording now. On the other hand, you’ll hear amazing things you never heard before, like spring reverbs and real plate reverbs.
Of course there is more to the story. Much of it is the tuning, and my own personal frequency response. And that is one of the things that is important when selecting a set of IEMs. It’s really going to depend on what you want to hear and what you can hear. For me, the 11s sound the most pleasant. They will probably be the ones that spend the most time in my ears, which is not to say that the others don’t sound good. It’s a little like comparing a Meyer PA to an L’Acoustics PA. Both will sound great, it simply depends on what you prefer.
With that said, the amount of detail in the low end is amazing and for all my bassist and drummer friends, these are the ones to get. If I could have only one pair of UEs, it would probably be the 11s. Again, not that the 18s, Reference Monitors or 7s aren’t great, I just like the sound of the 11s better for most of the music I listen to. Except for Jazz. For Jazz, the 7s rock. And mixing. For mixing, the RMs are my go to. But for general mixing and movie watching, I suspect the 11s will be the ones with the most hours on them. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
Disclaimer, Ultimate Ears gave me a set of UE11s. FTC, you can relax now.