Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors Review Highlights
The 18 Pro is Ultimate Ears’s top of the line custom in-ear monitor. With six (!) drivers, and a custom build that takes advantage of the latest in 3D printing technologies, the 18 Pro is impressive contender in the custom person audio space. While the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors are not cheap ($1350, before audiologist visit), the sound quality is exceptional. If you’re looking to approach the best in personal audio, custom in ear monitors are probably already on your list, and the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors deserves a serious look.
Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors Highlights Summary
- Custom fit and finish, built specifically for you
- Detailed and full audio presentation
- Suitable for the most demanding listening applications, both professional and non-pro
- Immediate, not for everyone sound
- Fatiguing physically for extended periods
Introduction to the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors Review
When Ultimate Ears Custom contacted me about a meeting at the 2014 New York Audio Show, I said: “Absolutely”! I had a terrific experience reviewing the entry level Ultimate Ears 4 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors CEM and was eager to hear what was new in the world of custom audio. What I learned at the show, and during a subsequent call with UE Pro team, was that Ultimate Ears has rethought their entire manufacturing process for the custom monitors. The result is not only a better buying experience for the consumer, but a superior custom product. As a follow-up, UE sent me a set of their top of the line IEM: the 18 Pro. The 18 Pro’s are exceptional. Everything the 4Pro’s did well, the 18Pro’s did better…way better. Incredibly detailed, astonishingly neutral, and dynamic beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in a personal audio piece. If you are looking for the best, you’d be a fool not to have the 18Pro’s be on the absolute shortest of lists.
ULTIMATE EARS 18 PRO CUSTOM IN-EAR MONITORS REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: In-Ear Monitors (Earbuds)
- Internal Driver Configuration: Six Balanced Armatures and Four Passive Crossovers
- MFR: 5 Hz – 22 kHz
- Input Sensitivity: 115 dB @ 1 kHz, 1mW
- Nominal Impedance: 21 Ohms @ 1 kHz
- Noise Isolation: -26 dB
- Input Connector: 1/8” Headphone Jack; Compatible with All Systems
- MSRP: $1,350 USD
- Ultimate Ears
- SECRETS Tags: Ultimate Ears, Ultimate Ears 18 Pro, In-Ear Monitors, Secrets Headphone Reviews 2015
Design, Setup, In Use, and Rating of the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors
After I reviewed the Ultimate Ear 4 Pro Custom in Ear Monitors (CEM), I continued to use them as more or less my go to daily use headphone. They had everything I was looking for: terrific sound, noise isolation suitable for even NYC subway use, iPhone control integration with an in-line mic, robust build with use replaceable parts… I could think of little else that I would want in an everyday unit. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I leave the house most days with the 4Pro’s in my pocket.
When the UE team reached out and said they were eager to chat about new developments I jumped at the opportunity. I met with the UE team at last year’s New York Audio Show and learned about some big changes that UE was making to their IEM process: moving from nearly fully analog process to a 3D based, entirely digital workspace. The result wasn’t just a more streamlined process (3 days vs. 2 weeks from start to finish), but also a superior fitting and sounding CEM. I instantly wanted to know more, so UE set up for me to talk with Mike Dias, UE Pro’s Sales Director, and Philippe Depallens, UE Pro’s General Manager.
Prior to the adoption of 3D printing, the entire process monitor construction process was essentially analog. A technician at UE would take each customers ear mold and, by hand, begin the process of crafting an appropriate monitor design. This crafting process incorporates everything that UE has learned about effectively reproducing sound in your ear. The process was slow, tedious and unforgiving. With 3D printing, the same technician is able to do all of the processing of the monitor shape digitally. This allows the technicians to not only move faster, but also to be more accurate. The result, said Mike and Philippe, was a higher hit rate on a terrific fit. And because everything was digital, turnaround time could occur at a much faster rate. Our talk made me even more excited to give the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors ‘s a try.
The Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors comes with the same case and cleaning accessory as the Ultimate Ears 4 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors. As with the 4Pro, the cash contains the serial number of the unit and the owner’s name. Also imprinted are instructions for return should the case be found by a Good Samaritan. Unlike the Ultimate Ears 4 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors, the 18 Pro is available with a variety of different case colors (link). I opted for black for my pair.
In the hand the 18 Pro monitors are slightly bigger and heavier than my 4 Pro’s, undoubtedly due to the additional drivers. UE didn’t send the 18Pro with cabling that included an inline mic, so I simply moved the cable from my 4Pro over. I continue to love that the pieces here are modular so that user replacement of the cabling, a common point of failure, is possible.
In ear, the 3D printed 18 Pro’s without question fit better and more comfortably than my 4Pro’s do. The seal formed with my ear canal felt more certain, and my ears tolerated the 18Pro’s far longer than they do with my 4Pro’s. Noise isolation was astonishing. I actually have missed announcements on the subway owing to the 18Pro’s ability to literally cut out everything that’s happening around you. That said, my ears still do fatigue from the presence of the monitors in my ear canal after extended use.
In use the best thing I can say about the 18Pro is that it does everything the 4Pro did well, but better. While the 4Pro’s had no issues performing adequately across the entire frequency spectrum, the 18Pro’s brought an entirely new depth to my music – perhaps owing to the additional drivers capable of handling high, mid and low frequencies. Music was incredibly rich, yet never unbalanced. This depth was perfectly demonstrated on the recently released Grateful Dead Dave’s Picks Volume 12 (11/4/77 Hamilton). I normally listen to quite a bit of Grateful Dead, but I’ve been in extra rotation recently as I prepare for my July 4th trip to Chicago for the “Fare The Well” concerts. For those who aren’t familiar, the “Dave’s Picks” series features shows hand picked by Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux, mixed and mastered in HDCD by the Dead’s in house engineer Jeffrey Norman. The 18Pro’s did a fantastic job conveying both power (“The Other One”) and subtlety (“It Must Have Been The Roses”). What I was most struck by though, was depth. Everything as there, just like on the 4Pro’s – there was just more of it. Especially through the mid and bass, the music was just more present.
Brandi Carlile is a personal favorite. Like many, I discovered her music in 2007 when she broke out with the T Bone Burnett produced “The Story”. The title track from that album was featured prominently in a Toyota commercial during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Carlile released a new album early this year entitled The Firewatcher’s Daughter. I’d strongly encourage checking it out. “Wherever is Your Heart” is the first release from this album and is a favorite. I love acoustic guitar for evaluating detail, and the 18Pro’s did an exceptional job with track. The guitar was well resolved and precise, but never fatiguing. Carlile’s vocals were powerful, but still subtle on the 18Pro’s.
The UE18Pro absolutely shined with video. I’ve been catching up on the most recent season of Doctor Who over my last few trips. Chaos always follows the Doctor, and the 18Pro had no trouble conveying every bit punch from whatever mayhem happened to be ensuing on my iPad. Bass reproduction reached about as deep as I could fathom for a headphone.
The 18Pro possesses the same kind of audio immediacy to music that I have noted in my use of other CEM’s. Simply by the intimacy of the interaction these units have with your ear, audio has a different presence that one experiences with an over the ear unit, or even a decent in ear piece. The audio is THERE in a very “interior” way. Imagine the difference between an over the ear headphone and an in ear headphone and multiply that by several factors and you’ll start to understand what a CEM is like. If you are someone who doesn’t like that change, or prefers the “distance” given by a over the ear unit, you may want to steer clear of CEM’s.
I have absolutely loved using the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In Ear Monitors. The level of performance, while costly, is astonishing. I have never before had the pleasure of using a personal audio product that was able to convey this level of depth and detail before. There are nuances to using custom in ear monitors – the fit might not be for everybody, and the forward characteristic that audio takes may also not be to everyone’s liking. Those aren’t knocks, just observations. If you’ve thought about CEM’s before, seek out a qualified audiologist, do some demo’s, and by all means, put the 18Pro on your list as something to discuss.