In the world of live performance, the top brand of in-ear monitors is Ultimate Ears. Even if you never really paid attention to them, your favorite artists use these stealthy monitors both for hearing protection on stage and for the ability to hear their own mix of what's going on musically with the band. Gone are the days of running past a wall of Marshall Amps blasting at 120 dB, causing feedback and, worse yet, hearing loss. Today's performers interact with the other musicians on their own terms and in their own head.
Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors are starting to grow in terms of their consumer appeal to audiophiles and music lovers, and there are lots of reasons why. Ultimate Ears headphones are ultra-lightweight, thus they pop into a briefcase easily for your morning commute or for that "trying to tune out that crying baby" flight across the country. Ultimate Ears' $850 7 Pro Custom In-ear Monitors come with a three-way driver complement and offer 26 dB of isolation when fit correctly, which is crucial with such a product. The build quality of these made-in-California in-ear-speakers is first-rate. The removable cables are nicely braided. The plastic molds are nearly impossible to break. You get a touring case that might be a little large for the casual user, but these are professional tools first and audiophile toys second.
The Fitting Process
The UE 7 Pro is a custom-fitted product; just ordering a pair from Amazon isn't going to get you to the holy land, as the in-ear monitors need to be tailored for you and you alone. This means that you are going to need to schedule a visit with an audiologist who can take a mold of your inner ear and likely will clean your ears during the process, which is a pretty freaky but oddly rewarding experience. The cleaning process can get the impacted, funky ear wax out of the deepest part of your ears without any damage, and the result can be downright enlightening. When getting fitted for your in-ear monitors, it's important that you are sitting down, as the foam molds can leave you off-balance when you have them both in place. The overall process doesn't take more than 10 to 15 minutes. The audiologist sends the molds to Ultimate Ears in Irvine, California, where your custom headphones begin their build process.
Speaking of customization, you can also choose custom colors, logos, and initials if you like. My UE 7 Pro monitors are in a pretty feminine pink-ish purple, but you can pick any color and even add a skull and crossbones or something more menacing. I have my initials etched into the in-ear part of the earphones, which is pretty cool. These might be the most customized product an audiophile can buy.
A few words of warning. First, Ultimate Ears likes your headphones to fit tightly. This is for safety purposes, as well as for hearing protection - as I have learned having been through the fitting process three times now. Not everyone likes the "tight" feel of the speakers, and there is a process to shave down the molds to make them fit a little more loosely. I am not worried about yanking my UE 7 Pros out of my ears when jamming to some Led Zeppelin III on my iPad in seat 3B, as I would be if my old band, Ghetto Chicken, reunited and I had to worry about onstage antics and "audio accidents." You are not being a jerk if you ask for your Ultimate Ears to be fine-tuned in terms of fitting. This is part of the process.
Second, if you are going to use Ultimate Ears for consumer purposes like working out or as part of your travel rig, you will want both the longer cable (no additional cost) and the cables that fall to the front. Ultimate Ears has cables that fall from the in-ear monitors toward your back so that you can hide your monitors down the back of your outfit. Once again, this is something that you don't need while sweating to the oldies on the treadmill or powering down another complimentary Cutty Sark in business class. Neither of these tweaks to your Ultimate Ears monitors costs you a penny, but for consumer use they are key to your long-term happiness.
Click over to Page 2 for Performance, High Points and low Points, Comparison and Competition, and Conclusion . . .