Ultimate Ears, was founded by Jerry Harvey and Alex Van Halen in 1995. Van Halen, the drummer for rock band Van Halen, had been unsatisfied with the performance and reliability of the current monitors he was using. Jerry Harvey, at the time, was Van Halen's touring monitor engineer. He was determined to create a solution to Halen’s onstage sound issues. After a few months of development he created the custom molded earpiece now known as the UE-5 Pro. After that other musicians showed interested in this new custom molded monitor so Harvey designed more sets for them to try. Other musicians showed overwhelming interest in this new design, this became the start of Ultimate Ears.

After seven years of making custom in-ear monitors for professional musicians, in 2002 Ultimate Ears expanded into the consumer market. They came out with universal fit, high-end earphones using similar dual armature technology that was used in the custom in-ear monitors. Several years later Ultimate Ears introduced a triple armature product called the UE TripleFi as well as earphones with diaphragm speakers, which allowed them to offer lower price points. In 2008 Logitech purchased Ultimate ears to expand its audio division. Today UE offers complete product lines of consumer earphones and custom fit in-ear monitors.

Leading the pack of Ultimate Ears earphones sits the UE 18 Pro. This audio beast is setup with a six-speaker balanced armature driver configuration. That's right it has a grand total of 12 speakers! Each monitor has 2-low, 2-mid and 2-highs with an integrated four way passive crossover that electrically separates sound frequencies. The monitor also contains three separate acoustically tuned sound channels that keep the lows, mids, and highs isolated until they are naturally blended in your ear. The crossover will allow you to hear the voice, instruments in the correct range without getting bleed-over and distortion in the overall combined sounds.

The sound signature of the 18 Pro is unique with bright highs, deep lows and a punch in the mid range. Listening to bass heavy songs on them is quite the experience. They have found a perfect way to contain a deep stage-presence bass without the normal distortion that other earphones carry along with. The 18 Pro has a great soundstage, listening to John Hammond’s “Get Behind The Mule” is a fantastic example of this. Throughout this song there is someone tapping the stage with a boot heel, which these monitors bring an incredible presence to. Sounds so live, I close my eyes and I have a front row concert experience in the comfort of my own office. The first run through of the song made the hair on my neck stand.

Standout tracks:

Page & Plant - Battle of Evermore UNPLUGED - This track has a great live concert feeling to it as the instruments are meant to sound true and the vocals are heard after they go through stage speakers. This is the unplugged version and is live, but this monitor emphasizes the sounds to be more true and shows excellent concert soundstage. The 18 pro shows great range isolation on this track.

Chris Brown - ">Beautiful People - Yeah, Yeah, I know, Chris Brown is a douche, but this track is hands down my most favorite track through this monitor. It has shows how well the range is covered. The song begins with at a nice slow mid range frequency then progressively moves into some insanely bright highs. The track also contains some good bass runs throughout. I greatly prefer this track on the 18 Pro to other custom monitors I own. (Sleek Audio CT7 and JH Audio 16 Pro)

The Used - Kissing You Goodbye - Most earphones have extreme difficulty pulling the heavy instruments and Bert McCracken’s voice apart. This usually ends up feeding a jumble of distorted mess static sounds to your ears. The 18 Pro does a decent job in isolating the heavy instrument mash-ups and Burt’s fantastic screaming voice. This is a great track that the 18 Pro emphasizes Bert’s vocal range. The 18 Pro catches breath breaks and some imperfections in Bert’s voice that are completely missed in other earphones.

The build quality is stellar. The monitor shell and cable are very durable and hold up well under stress. Betty, my super rambunctious Doberman has on multiple occasions run by me getting tangled in the cable, the weakest link unfortunately in this test of strength has been my ears. Feeling like they will be ripped from my face the monitors stay put, the cable and connectors hold their ground. A very big plus to the musician that finds himself having an occasional stage mishap that would normally result in the monitor becoming an expensive earplug.

The cable is beautifully braided up to the connectors where you will find a full lobe memory wire that is 2.5” in length. The memory wire can be adjusted to fit your ear perfectly keeping it exactly where it needs to be. As I previously stated in my Sleek Audio CT7 review, this feature is a must have for me. The CT7 unfortunately lacks this feature and the JH Audio 16 Pro’s is far to short. Ultimate Ears also uses this same memory wire setup on their lower end universal earphones. This feature makes cable management a snap. On the opposite end of the UE 18 cable sits a ⅛” (3.5mm) gold plated headphone jack for source input. While testing the UE 18 Pro I got more complements on its cables appearance than any other that I have tested.

The shells are a perfect fit in my ears with no discomfort, even after a 5 hour listing session my ears are not fatigued at all. The comfort level does not depreciate with a closed jaw this is a result to the design as the shell has a shorter cut than some other manufactures. The UE 18’s do not go as deep as the Sleek Audio CT7 they sit 1.41mm shorter and .13mm shorter that the JH Audio 16 Pro. Granted the Sleek Audio CT7 does have an advantage in outside sound isolation by 4-6db it comes at a cost in comfort with a closed jaw.

The Ultimate Ear 18 Pro is not for the faint of heart when it comes to breaking out the pocket book. You will throw down $1,350 on these bad boys and another $50 for the ear impressions from the audiologist. $1,400 on some earphones? Keep in mind the saying that we all have heard, “You get what you pay for.” I 100% agree in this case!

You ready to make the plunge on the UE 18 Pro? Get it here.

The complete review of the 18 Pro was done using the HiFiMAN HM-602 provided by the great guys at www.head-direct.com. A full write-up and review coming soon!

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