We’ll do it LIVE!
PROS: rich smooth tonality, powerful bass impact, 8-driver hybrid design, new IPX cable system.
CONS: custom fit only, proprietary cable connector, not as forgiving tuning.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Ultimate Ears Pro. Available for sale directly from UE or Music Sanctuary.
Ultimate Ears is not exactly the type of manufacturer who likes to shock us with surprises, yet early this year (in April) they made 2 announcements nobody expected. First one was the introduction of two new hybrid models (UE 6 Pro and UE Live), a step forward from their traditional all-BA designs, and the second one was a new IPX cable system in collaboration with Estron A/S who are well known for their popular Linum cables. Being quite familiar with UERR and UE18+ Pro, I couldn’t resist to check out the sound tuning of their new flagship 8-driver hybrid UE Live and to find out more about their new IPX cable connector.
This is not my first UE write up, I have reviewed UERR in the past, and still consider it as one of my go-to IEMs (no pun intended since their universal version is actually called To-Go). UERR has a unique tuning which appeals to performing musicians, music producers, and audiophiles, while UE18+ Pro has more of an audiophile appeal. Which tuning route the latest UE Live will follow and will it be able to dethrone both UERR and UU18+ Pro? Let’s find out!
Unboxing and Accessories.
With a modest smaller size black cardboard box and a magnetic flip cover, there is nothing flashy about the minimalistic packaging UE Live arrived in. Once cover is lifted, inside of a jewelry like presentation with satin material covering foam cutout, you will find a round puck case. This case has an aluminum plating on outside (I can feel it being cold to the touch) and a plastic shell inside with a soft foam lining. The top of the case is threaded which makes it easier to open the cover without IEMs flying out (unlike the aluminum UERR puck case back when I reviewed those).
I have seen other similar puck cases, but they are usually all metal and very heavy, or plastic and not as durable. This one has a combination of aluminum (for durability) and plastic (for lightweight) which you can also customize with your name on the top, though it’s still not exactly pocket friendly. Also, included was a cinch bag to protect IEM shells from scratches inside the case, and a cleaning tool/brush. Furthermore, I found instructions manual with a guide to how to wear CIEMs, how to take care of them, and tips about safe listening.
Cable / IPX connector.
All my flagship IEM reviews usually include a separate cable section where in addition to cable description I also talk about cable rolling (trying different cables). It’s a very common practice among audiophiles who want to fine tune the sound, to squeeze a few more ounces of performance improvement, often at diminishing return cost. I don’t want to get into the argument about cables and the sound, will just leave it at me being a cable believer because I do hear the difference.
But if your target audience is a group of performing musician, cable requirements will change because #1 priority becomes durability of the connection, making sure it will not fail under extreme conditions of sweat, earwax, makeup, and wire strain during stage performance. That was a reason why all UE CIEMs in the previous gens used a less common 0.74mm 2pin connector housing designed with a guard sleeve that wrapped around the shell socket to protect from dust and moisture or the accidental pulling on the cable. This type of a connector requires more force to unplug the cable, but it wasn’t enough for UE.
I can only assume, as part of the feedback while continuing to improve the design, UE wanted a connector with the same benefits and easier locking mechanism while adding a higher audio quality wires. The result is Linum SuperBax cable with super low 0.75ohm impedance and a custom IPX connector. This Linum cable is made of 6 Litz conductors, each with 7 individual strands, where each strand is made from a silver-plated copper with enamel. A very strong cable, tested to withstand a pull force of up to 60N, with a skin friendly and UV safe TPA material jacket which yields zero microphonics.
The cable has a total of 4 inner-twisted conductors, terminated with a right angled 3.5mm SE molded connector, molded plastic y-splitter, and a chin slider with a locking mechanism where you squeeze sides to extend inner part which slides out to allow easy adjustment and then slides back in to securely lock it in place. Above the splitter you have 2 inner-twisted conductors going to each side of the earpiece, terminated with a new IPX connector bullet. The connector reminds me a little bit of mmcx, but it’s smaller, tighter fitting, doesn’t spin easily, and has a very secure yet easy to disconnect locking mechanism. The connectors are color coded with red (right) and black (left), have IP67 rating (waterproof), and guaranteed for up to 3,000 disconnect cycles.
The cable is available in either 50″ or 64″ variants, and it’s a very durable, sweat-proof, weatherproof, lightweight yet strong, and offers a decent audio performance. There is a little bit of memory effect when you unwind it, but it straightens out quickly. Of course, I can’t compare it to other cables since no others are available yet with IPX connectors, but I’m very familiar with SuperBax cable which I have been using for years and have plenty of experience with to conclude the improvement in resolution and transparency when compared to stock OFC cables, and a great pair up with multi-BA IEMs, thanks to its super low impedance.
While only offered now with 3.5mm Single Ended (SE) termination, Linum is looking into various balanced 2.5mm TRRS connectors, and I also received one of their prototype balanced cables. It’s the same cable, just using one of the BAL connectors Linum has under consideration, which appears to be a high-quality plug with a very comfortable grip and all metal housing. I even decided to run a quick test with Linum IPX SE vs BAL using SP1000 SS as my source.
In theory, IPX SE should sound the same as IPX BAL w/SE adapter. But to my surprise, while tonality remained nearly the same, the soundstage expansion was: BAL > BAL w/SE adapter > SE. These are two identical cables where the only difference is SE connector vs BAL w/SE adapter, and apparently the combination of the connector/adapter makes a difference where I hear a wider soundstage. Of course, in general, the advantage of a balanced terminated cable is being able to use BAL output of your source where in many cases you have a lower noise floor and a wider soundstage expansion, among other benefits. Just remember, switching a termination connector is a not a magic that going to improve your sound. The key here is a synergy with a source that has a properly designed balanced output.
Page 2: Design and Sound Analysis.
4 thoughts on “Ultimate Ears UE Live”
Hi twister. I was thinking of getting the a pair of the UE Live simply because of it’s current labor day sale which has it down a whopping $600…. The sale seems absolutely irresistible, as it has coincidentally fallen right into my personal budget/ price range of $1599. I’ve tried to do as much research as I can into other brands but the wormhole of info is overwhelming. Before I pull the trigger on this, I want to know if you have any other suggestions on an CIEM that would fall in the $1600-1800 range. The primary application would be vocals and guitar.
I would seriously consider 64 Audio N8 CIEMs, tuned in collaboration with Nathan East. Both are good for your application, but from my audiophile perspective, N8 is tuned better (you can read the comparison between N8 and Live in my N8 review). If you are not in a rush, wait until black friday sales or just email 64audio now and ask for discount, you can probably save easily 10-15% that way to get under your budget. Plus, 64audio offering the option of IPX connectors in addition to 2pin.
I appreciate your reply. I will certainly consider those. I am unfortunately in a bit of a hurry. I was hoping to have some sort of IEM for an upcoming project. This is my first venture into the CIEM world and I’m seeing that 4 weeks seems to be the average turn around time. Which is where 64 Audio is at. Unless expedite fees are paid. Which I suppose I could pay if I really must. Another company having a similar sale is Clear Tune. Their Davinci IX is down from $2200 to $1760. JH Audio currently has a pretty fast turn around. 2nd fastest to UE that I can find. At $1899 it would be a stretch out of my budget, but the JH Audio Roxanne look nice. The Westone ES70’s are also on my budget at $1599. Have you experienced any of these aforementioned IEMs? And if so, do any stand in any comparison to the UE Live?
Don’t just focus on “ciem”, you have to focus more on tuning. UE Live was poorly tuned, imho. Heard universal DaVinci 2+ years ago, it was just OK. JH – have to fiddle with that cable, tuning down the bass, but they are not bad. Love Westone ES60 and ES80. Not familiar with ES70. You might want to consider ES60, more natural tonality. Also, don’t look at msrp, many of these manufactures will offer you up to 20% discount when you ask customer service, just be a bit persistent.