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.
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.