Ultimate Ears is settling in as one of the top dogs in the fairly saturated market of custom IEMs. Since their 2008 acquisition by electronics manufacturer Logitch, the company seems to be seeing steady growth on the pro side as well as growing acceptance within the audiophile crowd. The walls in their office in Orange county are lined with portraits of countless artists that perform under the supervision of their bespoke handiwork. The company has seemingly rebuffed the competitive cold war of cramming increasing numbers of BA drivers into their custom shells and has fully embraced a goo-free impression-taking process that begins with no-touch ear scan.
Perhaps even more impressive to consumer experience has been their refinement of the actual IEM manufacturing process. Gone are the days of 6-month delays. Since incorporating 3D printing into the operation UE was able to ship me a custom in-ear within 5 days from ear to doorstep. This, of course, was a proof of concept execution by the company (and not a typical response time) but it sends a very clear message as to their end-to-end capabilities. Removing the challenges of custom IEMs has been as much of an effort for the company as producing great sounding IEMs. The current lineup has seen few additions or adjustments until recently and their flagship UE 18 pro sports only a mere 6 drivers per ear. UE is clearly not afraid to buck the trend when it comes to the more-is-more mentality among the current market of BA happy flagships that have risen to multiples of thousands of dollars. The newest (and only) addition in recent years is the subject of this review and continues to carve its own path though the market with a somewhat standard issue $1k pricetag.
The UE Pro Reference Remastered is a second take on the 3-driver (per ear) collaboration with Capital Studios. Both efforts have been aimed squarely at pro mixing and mastering intentions with a nice halo effect also drawing in audiophiles who are seeking a more neutral sound. It sets itself apart from the growing field of CIEM options with a new internal bracing that is said to help with consistencies in manufacturing as well as improving the overall sound quality. The tiny, 3 chamber piece runs the length of the shell (with a slight bend) and all the way out to the end of the earpiece. Three corresponding tubes can be easily identified from the tip of the drilled bore hole, with two smaller twin tubes designated for mids and lows, and a bigger central tube for highs. While everything else about the acrylic monitor remains essentially the same, I did notice that the Remaster’s shell was slightly deeper than the original UE Reference, presumably to accommodate the new internal structure.
The original UERM was unique in its field. A vast majority of high cost IEMs continue to produce slightly above average levels of low-end response. It is a very tricky shot to make. No boost and things sound dry and uninviting. Too much and things get muddy or crowded, but it does appears that the acceptable tide has risen quite high before the market yelled uncle. Both the original Reference and Remaster have perhaps the most realist grip on bass of any popular IEM, hence the affinity to many audiophiles. The new UERR continues the fine tradition of a perceived flat response down into the low end. It digs deep however, and doesn’t let go into some flappy oblivion of soft, mushy nether regions. The response to C to C’s Down the Road dance track was swift and intentional but fair. Bass beats never overpowered the mids, but remained steady and responsive in a solid reflection to the rest of the frequency range. The reach was deep, deeper than I expected from a “reference” piece, but in a good way. The new Remastered felt very familiar against a comparison to its predecessor on the bass end, a formidable achievement in many respects. However, listening upward through the frequency range starts to show very quickly where the two begin to diverge.
There have been substantial improvements made to both the mids and the highs over the previous version. Tonally things feel just a bit more smoothed out in both arenas. Mids feel a touch more pronounced and nuanced than before, creating a nice full picture of vocals or strings placed kindly in-between the lows and highs. Even with the highs, there is very little bite and more bark. A pleasant calming texture now runs across the field that leaves an impression that things have settled down a bit in terms of any aggressive tendencies the old variant may have had by comparison. By comparison is an important point here. Nether IEM has ever stood out as noticeably flawed, but it is easy to see that serious effort has been made to improve with specific intent. The high frequency balanced armature driver is new proprietary design, and the response is a little less jumpy and more natural sounding.
The UE Reference Remastered is replacing the UERM, but still maintaining the same pricepoint. If you consider yourself a fan of the original piece, then you will definitely appreciate the lengths UE and Capital Studios have gone through create noticeable improvements to this mid priced CIEM. While it may be the newest, the Remastered is not UE’s most expensive piece. In relationship to their flagship UE 18 Pro ($1,350) the UERR carried on its sonic mission of smoothness, but the 18 offered up more punch to the bass. Not necessarily tons more boost overall, but the low end components of Down the Road hit with a little bit more slam and impact through the flagship.
The new Reference Remastered from UE offers up several adept changes to the three driver IEM. To my ears it is one of the very few CIEM’s that get balanced bass right, straight out of the box. The new internal design appears to deliver on the promise of improvement and the delta here is satisfying and most welcome. It is a must-audition for those looking for a mobile listening option with flat frequency sensibilities.
More info: http://pro.ultimateears.com/rr