Ultimate Ears

Ultimate Ears Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors Review

I blogged before about my purchase of a pair of Ultimate Ears Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors, but, after having lived with them now for just over a year, I wanted to write a follow up post about them. Rarely does a product so satisfy a demanding customer!

I bought these in-ear monitors primarily for in-flight travel–to block out the often annoying noises of being couped up in flight. However, I love them so much, I literally try to find every opportunity I can to use them. My review is going to focus on: comfort of use, sound quality, and sound isolation.

Comfort of Use

I have always found wearing earbuds and headphones uncomfortable for different reasons. Earbuds actually hurt my ears within about 20 minutes. Over the years I’ve tried every conceivable design and every conceivable in-ear adjustment. They just irritate my ear canal. I have even worn them to the point I’ve gotten a blister in my ear from a pair. Crazy, I know. Maybe I just have a stranegly shaped ear canal.

I notice a significantly improved bass performance when the ear bud is sealed in my ear canal; so, I am constantly having to push the ear buds back into my ear canal. It’s as if the sound pressure of the bass performance pushes the ear buds out of my ear, and I don’t listen to music at anything approaching a loud volume. I find this crazy annoying. Left to their own, earbuds will always fall out of my ears in time.

While earphones do not lose their seal around my ear or cause discomfort resulting in blisters, they feel hot after wearing them for a while. I get ear fatigue from wearing them over my ear. They feel large and bulky and anything but convenient when storing them in flight or at home.

The UE Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors address all of these concerns. They are completely comfortable to wear. They are custom manufactured (3D printed) for my specific ears and no other and naturally fit perfectly as a result. They also completely seal themselves to my ear canal for flawless bass performance. They never “push themselves out” of my ear canal. I never have to adjust them in my ears. I literally think I could wear these monitors indefinitely as I experience no in-ear fatigue from wearing them, even on the longest flights (5+ hours).

Sound Quality

Headphones and ear-buds have a wide range of audio performance. Some are really good; most are muddy and cluttered. None of the ones I’ve ever used come anywhere, anywhere near the fidelity of the UE’s.

This is where words completely fail me. I love listening to music with these in-ear monitors because the sound quality is absolutely indescribably awesome. Astonishing to me. Better than any audio experience I’ve ever had with any audio equipment: speakers or headphones. Literally, I prefer listening to music through my UE’s above all else because I can clearly hear everything. Listening to music I’ve heard many times before is almost always filled with pleasant surprises when I hear something that’s always been in the performance just never heard because of the sound reproduction technology.

I can hear the music with exceptional clarity. If you really enjoy carefully listening to music, you can hear everything with the UE Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors–everything. The spacial field is open, clean, clear, and rich. Bass performance is robust but never overpowering. If the music is in the least bit muddy, it’s because of an audio engineer’s poor mixing technique, not the in-ear monitors performance profile.

The only time the sound has been in the least bit thin or brittle is when the audio engineer pushed the mix too close to the edge of distortion when remixing vintage jazz recordings. Again, I never bang music out at intensly high volumes as I value my hearing too much to do that. Therefore, I can not speak to how these in-ear monitors perform under listening habits that could damage your hearing (short or long term).

I just had no idea the listening experience could be this superb. While I had read other glowing reviews of the Ulitmate Ears Pro 18 in-ear monitors, I really thought their words were hyperbolic. They aren’t. If I’m going to actively listen to music, give me my UE’s. Nothing else comes close. If you’re an engineer mixing a project, I can’t imagine not using these as your listening technology.

Sound Isolation

I find the world in which I live too conjested with noise and audio nuisance. I greatly enjoy silence but rarely can find it: traffic noise, buzzing indoor and outdoor lights, home appliances, horrendously repetitive  “music” blarring or just there everywhere, etc. And then when hundreds of people are packing into the confined space of a plane: screaming and badly behaved kids, babies, people talking loudly, the noise of wind resistance and the engines… It’s a miracle anyone is sane.

Ear-buds and noise canceling headphones reduce the ambient noise field, sometimes significantly. However, none of these begins to approach the astonishingly effective external sound reduction of the Ultimate Ears Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors. I am not exagerating in the least: I simply can not understand a single word anyone says to me when wearing these. Most of the time I can not hear them at all.

These in-ear monitors just place you in your own space with the artists to whom you are listening. You and them. That’s it.

This has a distinct disadvantage. You absolutely can not drive while listening to music with these. You will not hear your surroundings. If I recall correctly, and I’m not at all certain I do, the in-ear monitors reduce ambient sound by -25db. You can have them manufactured with a small hole to allow you to hear your surroundings, but for an intensely personal, isolated listening experience I would not recommend that.

What’s Missing?

Well, I would like to say the only thing that’s missing is the noise all around me, but the UE Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors do lack one thing I wish they had: the little switch/button in the wire that would allow me to advance to the next song when I’m not in the mood to listen to the song that’s playing. Otherwise, I can think of nothing that would improve this product.

Summary

The Ultimate Ears Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors are expensive because they are custom printed for your ears only. As a result, I was very, very hesitant to purchase a pair. And you have to go to an audiologist to get molds made of your ear canal, which is not terribly convenient.

The question for me was: will this extreme cost and inconvenience of having to have the molds made and then wait for them to be printed be worth it? Will they really sound THAT good? I was very, very hesitant and apprehensive. In fact, I didn’t do it for years, choosing to  purchase their less expensive and more generic earbuds instead. I really liked them. I mean, I really liked them. (I actually had to purchase packs of the foam cushions that I would wear out through the years.) Would the Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors be that much better? Frankly, I was doubtful.

Well, only you can answer that question for yourself. And, unfortunately, there is no way to try a pair out because they are custom fits. For me the answer is an unequivocal “These provide me with the best listening experience I’ve ever had–literally ever! I can not recommend them enough.” If mine were stolen or crushed by a steam roller, I would have to purchase another pair.

I love the way my music sounds with my Ulitimatte Ears Pro 18 In-Ear Monitors. Love, love, love!! LOVE!