Two years ago in April, Josh and I combined our thoughts on an absolute classic of the custom in-ear monitor world… the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor. Often referred to simply as the UERM it is known by most enthusiasts for its neutral and unforgiving sound reproduction. While this is a fast moving industry with flagships of most brands being replaced left, right and centre and new products popping up becoming a weekly occurrence, the UERM really did stand the test of time. It was released in 2010 and still loved by me when I reviewed it in 2015 and even impresses me on many levels 7 years after its creation today. However in 2015 Ultimate Ears did once again collaborate with Capitol Studios to make a new reference monitor. Labelled the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered, we finally have a true successor to an absolute legendary CIEM.
Priced in UE’s native USA at $999 and weighing in at £870 from a UK distributor, it completely replaces the UERM. It is not a new more expensive alternative nor have they upped the price tag for the R&D for this new product. I respect that. It also means it is not near the upper echelon of CIEMs in terms of price, which now get above $2000 way too regularly. If it is as dominating of its product category as its predecessor was, it will now also feel like a bargain at the same time!
White Over Black
This comes wrapped up more like a luxury piece of jewellery than an earphone. Opening the magnet clasped box first reveals a “thank you” note followed by the circular case in a big plush cushion. There are some nice little touches with the packaging such as the serial number sticker being hand signed by the lucky employee who was quality control for my unit and a booklet telling you a little history of the creation. The few accessories that are included come packaged in the little circular storage tin along with the earphones, which does leave it a little stuffed in there. The content includes a cleaning tool, 1/4 inch jack and finally an airplane attenuator which adds some impedance to the earphone. The metal case is a little finicky to screw up every time you want to put away and vice versa on removal but the material choice will provide protection and I like how it is customised for yours truly.
While akin to any major operation in the CIEM game UE offers a range of customisation options on their monitors, the UERM always had a famous aesthetic. A clear shell was covered by a black faceplate, featuring both company logos for UE and Capitol Studios. You can still go for this nostalgic design with the UERR, but instead of a black faceplate, the product has been reborn with a white background for the logos. This is the standard option for this product and the one I have although you can pay between £85 and £170 for custom artwork or speciality faceplates. While I normally use my reviewer privilege to get all sorts of fancy designs, I wouldn’t want either of my Ultimate Ears Reference models in any other way.
The build quality of Ultimate Ears products seems to be very average and nothing overly fancy. I know they now use 3D printing which results in close to flawless clear shells but I am going to be honest and say the artwork looks subpar. It comes across almost smudged and blurry, with very little clarity to the image, thankfully this not at all the case when it comes to the sonics. I am a fan of the UE connectors, they remind me of what Trinity Audio Engineering are trying to do but these are executed much better. The two pin connector is sheathed so when inserted into the monitor the sheath envelopes the outside of the female connector holding everything tightly in place and preventing the pins snapping off inside. It also stops the cable sliding out. The cable is a fairly standard affair of braided black wires with a clear right angled termination that is clearly made by UE themselves.
It is worth noting that like with my UERM these earphones have been produced via 3D scans that were done of my ear impressions used by ACS and sent over email to UE. Technology these days huh! Weirdly these insert deeper than my first UE and have much more profile where they lock into my concha. Maybe it is to accommodate the way the drivers are laid but we will be getting to that later. Regardless seal is great and they are a comfortable fit, perhaps rubbing just a bit when I move them in my ear and they are fully inserted.
True Tone Drivers?
While my first helping of respect for UE came when they didn’t adjust the price, my second lot came when they announced this would remain a triple driver configuration. Not only are they not joining the driver wars but they are also staying away from the absurd prices some brands are charging… ahem Empire Ears, 64 Audio, JH Audio.
Looking inside the shell does show off some of the new design improvements they have been touting. Most notably is that instead of the balanced armatures floating in space like with all my other CIEMs, these are held tightly together by a little plastic sleeve. The sleeve is made with three internal chambers which house the different sized balanced armatures and then continues into becoming the sound bore which goes all the way up the nozzle to my listening ear. There are three bores in total, a big one that is for the small treble driver and then the midrange and bass get a smaller almost pin prick sized hole. I am sure the bore sizes and chamber positioning has all been done with phase alignment in mind. They also claim these new proprietary (tuned not made) drivers can extend flatly all the way to 18kHz. This is an extremely long way for any driver to extend. If they achieve it then they certainly will be onto something special!
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