The Ultimate Reference for your Ears.
PROS: neutral accurate tonality, transparency, resolution, soundstage expansion, ready to ship in 5 days.
CONS: not a common 2pin connector, very polite sub-bass with a neutral mid-bass.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Quite often when I’m starting to work on a new product review, I do my homework by reading about the history of the company and the people behind it. Searching for “Ultimate Ears” brings up a fascinating story how Jerry Harvey, Van Halen’s mixing engineer at that time, came up with a dual driver in-ear monitors so that members of the band can focus better on the sound during stage performance. As the word has spread and the demand skyrocketed, UE was officially born in 1995. The roots of this company go deep and like a spider web connect many dots between Ultimate Ears, Westone, even Shure, and of course JH. More than 20 years passed by, industry has expanded, competition is growing, and driver wars are still in effect. But throughout all this time UE continued to stay true to their original calling by serving musicians and audio enthusiasts and focusing on the sound quality and the customer support.
My previous experience with UE was limited to their trendy portable wireless speakers, where UE Boom still remains one of my top recommendations, and their universal UE600 and UE900s which became my stepping stone into the world of premium in-ear monitors. I also heard a lot of great things about their first collaboration with sound engineers at Capital Studios and the release of a highly regarded UERM (UE Reference Monitor). 5 years later UE decided to revisit their original design with an updated re-mastered version which received not only the retuning but also an updated UERR name (UE Reference Remastered).
When I was approached with an opportunity to review UERR, I didn’t even hesitate for a second. We are talking about a legendary company and a product that got a stamp of approval from a legendary Capital Studios. Plus, it gave me a chance to chat with Mike Dias (UE Sales Director), a well known UE “face” on Head-fi. The only thing that puzzled me about these CIEMs was a lack of attention UERR received in comparison to other flagship monitors discussed on HF. I really think it deserves more recognition, and I hope this review will shed light on how captivating a neutral resolving tuning could be and what you can accomplish with only 3 BA drivers. So, let’s take a closer look!
Unboxing and Accessories.
I found the unboxing experience of many different IEMs/CIEMs to be either very minimalistic with everything stuffed inside of a Pelican 1010 micro-case or the opposite – an elegant packaging with a gift box presentation. I have seen plenty of both, and as much as I usually say that only IEM matters, I can’t deny that extra attention to packaging details builds the anticipation and also shows the pride company takes in their product.
Arrived in a medium size premium quality cardboard box with a magnetic flip cover, it was dressed in all formal black with a glossy print of UE and Capitol Studios logos on the top. Once the cover is lifted, you will find a precise foam cutout loosely covered by a satin-like material with a metal round case in the middle of it. It definitely reminded me of a jewelry box presentation.
The craftsmanship of the aluminum CNC machined anodized round case was impressive, and I like how they customize it with a name I provided when placing order. Inside the case there was a soft lining to protect the monitors from banging and scratching, and I also found a few included accessories such as 1/4″ adapter, cleaning tool, and UE buffer jack. Considering UE’s emphasis on UERR being intended for mixing and producing, among other applications, here it makes sense to include 1/4″ adapter for use with mixing consoles. Cleaning tool is obviously necessary to scoop out wax build up from the bores of the nozzle.
Buffer Jack, with a solid build and a rubbery coating, functions kind of like an impedance adapter (but not exactly) to lower audio signal level on airplanes and to buffer electrical impedance mismatch. It’s very convenient since you have a right angle male jack and the female part of the connector attached with a short cable for an added flexibility. It’s not a single piece design that will stick out from HO jack of your source. Also, if your have other IEMs/CIEMs with a noticeable hissing, Buffer Jack can attenuate and reduce the level of background noise, but it will also affect the sound signature since this is not a true buffer and you are introducing a variance in a frequency response, especially with multi-BA drivers.
The only additional accessory I would have loved to see here is a small traveling case since the metal round case is more appropriate for a desktop use and not very practical to carry with you in a pocket. UE actually offers one as part of accessories you can purchase separately, but I thought it would have been nice to include it with UERR.
UERR comes with a durable stock cable which I suspect has higher purity wires than a basic cheap OFC. The cable itself has 4 separate conductors, 2 twisted pairs going to each earpiece and then inner-twisted down to a right angle semi-transparent connector with a sturdy rubbery grip and a decent strain relief. All 4 conductors are kept separate, making sure ground wires are only combined together at the connector. Y-splitter is your typical heat-shrink transparent tube piece, and the chin slider is a freely moving clear piece with just enough friction.
In case if you need a replacement, UE offers it for purchase under accessories section, and in there you can also find a balanced terminated version which I highly recommend. That cable is identical, except it’s terminated with 2.5mm TRRS balanced plug inside of a nearly transparent right angle housing. With so many popular DAPs having both HO outputs, in my opinion it makes sense to invest in a balanced cable with 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS adapter, or whatever other balanced or single ended termination you prefer. Just keep in mind, it’s not necessary a termination of the cable but the architecture of your source’s amp section that will determine improvement in sound quality when going from single ended to balanced.
Also, we are so used to either 2pin or mmcx cables, that many don’t realize there is a variation in 2pin connectors, going back to early UE days of Triple Fi and Super Fi with 0.74mm pins vs 0.78mm pins used in majority of today’s IEMs, where pins usually have a tolerance of about +/- 0.02mm. Some might assume that any 2pin cable will fit UERR shell socket, but in reality it’s not. I have a lot of replacement cables, but found many of them not being able to fit or the fit was too tight and I didn’t want to risk damaging the connector. Furthermore, UE cable connector housing is designed to offer an extra level of security with a sleeve that wraps around the shell socket to protect from dust and moisture or the accidental pulling on the cable. It gives you an extra peace of mind, and at the same time more headaches if you are into cable rolling.
This type of a connector requires more force to unplug it if you want to switch between cables, and majority of your other 2pin cables won’t fit. But it’s definitely one of the most secure 2pin connections I have seen since the pin joint is wrapped around with a tight fitted plastic sleeve of the cable connector. Coincidentally, I have one Pure Silver cable which probably has pins less than 0.78mm in diameter, and I was able to use it with UERR. In comparison I found a stock OFC cable audio performance to be superior in terms of a deeper bass and more controlled highs. From my experience of testing other SPC, pure silver, and pure copper cables vs cheap stock OFC wires, I can only assume that UE OFC cable has a higher purity copper.
Bottom line, I found UE stock cable to be of a high quality with a tight and secure connection, and its performance compliments very well UERR sound signature. Just keep in mind I only compared it to a pure silver cable that happened to fit and also to another basic silver cable (from FLC8x). The only suggestion for upgrade I have is to invest in UE balanced terminated version which only cost $10 more in comparison to single ended replacement cable. Otherwise, you will have to buy a new aftermarket cable with a custom 2pin connector.
UERR is available in Custom fit which means it requires ear impression from a professional audiologist or UE 3D Ear Scanner. Customs are great when you are on stage or behind mixing console and want secure fit and maximum isolation. But when it comes to audiophiles or just audio enthusiast, I noticed that not everybody wants to make a “custom” commitment.
Some people choose universal fit design because they want an instant gratification without waiting 4-6 weeks to receive their custom model. But with UERR and their other CIEMs, UE made sure that waiting for your custom earpieces is no longer a painful task. With their efficient 3D printing of the shells and faster production assembly due to a clever 3-chamber piece which holds together all 3 drivers, the wait now only takes 5-days. My review pair was delivered within 5 business days, and I also experienced a fast turn around with a prepaid return shipping when I had to send it back for re-fit (my ears anatomy is just not CIEM friendly).
On the other hand, many people who go for Customs are interested in two things: a custom fit and a chance to personalize the shell design. UE on-line Designer is very straight forward where you choose the color and then the case and the cable. I didn’t find an option to change the color of the shell – it comes only in transparent. With a faceplate, you have 20 different colors to choose from, including a signature white with Capitol Studios logo. You also have a choice of 5 wood faceplates, 5 specialty material faceplates, and 9 different patterns. It’s not as exotic as some of the options offered by other manufacturers, but it still offers plenty of choices to add a custom touch to your CIEM.
Of course, it’s fascinating to see inner guts of the shell, the arrangement of the drivers, the miscellaneous resistors and capacitors and wires of the crossover, but at the same time clear shell doesn’t hide any imperfections of 3D printing. I don’t consider it to be a showstopper, but it was noticeable in a few places when looking closer at the finish of the shell. Either way, I found UE team to be very flexible when it comes to requests, and I have no doubt they will take under consideration any customization request.
Other than that, when my pair of UERR arrived, the build quality was pretty good, the joint of a faceplate with a shell was smooth, you can see the line where the nozzle was fused to a shell but the seam is unnoticeable to a touch. Also, each shell had a model marking, my initials, and a serial number printed on the inside in red and blue colors corresponding to Right and Left sides. The 2pin connector socket was unique, sticking out of the shell to accommodate a sleeve of the cable’s connector for extra security and isolation of the pins.
Inside, UERR features 3 proprietary BA drivers, referred to as “UE Pro True Tone”. The design accommodates multiple passive crossover points and triple-bore sound channels with a distinct 2 smaller tubes connecting mids and lows BAs and a larger one for highs – all going up to the nozzle. Actually, when you look closer at the tip of the nozzle you can clearly see the main wide open bore and 2 smaller ones which could be a challenge to clean even with included tool. Without a doubt the selection of the sound tube diameter size is not accidental and certainly based on a specific sound tuning, but you have to be aware that smaller tubes are prone to getting clogged faster, thus will need to be checked and cleaned periodically.
When it comes to the fit, it’s obviously based on my in-ear impression where I typically struggle due to a sharp turn inside of my wide earcanal. Usually it’s a miracle with any pair of CIEMs to get it right from the first shot, and it wasn’t an exception with UERR which I had to send back for a refit. After that I had no issues, the fit was perfect, the isolation was excellent (UERR is rated at 26dB), and I didn’t experience any microphonics.
Overall, I was satisfied with a design (classic default white faceplate with UE and Capitol Studios logos) and a build quality, though the 3D printing finish could be a little better. But I think some people who got spoiled with exotic finishes offered by other manufacturers might find the available UE customization options to be lacking a bit. After further discussion with UE team, they explained to me that the benefit in precision when using their 3D process outweigh the losses of the color shell, and that is a reason why UERR shell is offered only in a transparent color.
Also, I heard a great news that UE is starting to roll out Universal version of UERR, and once I have more info about it I will update my review with pictures and comparison.