In our continuing series of updates and information from The NAMM Show 2012, let talk about something every music lover appreciates…great sounding music!
If there is one constant at this annual show, it’s the time for the 1400+ exhibitors to show off their best. An obvious big part of what’s shown are ways to create the music. But another big part is how to listen to what has been created…both during the process and after completion. While you will generally see more speakers/headphones/earbuds at event like the Consumer Electronics Show The NAMM Show brings out some of the best. One of those exceptional exhibitors at the show was once again Ultimate Ears. With a claim of over 75% of the top recording artists using their products, it was time to take a closer look at why.
As avid music lovers here at Christian Concert Photos, we have tried many solutions over the years for music on the go. For context in this article, the broad statement for “portable” will apply to the obvious things like iPods and other music players and entertainment devices. It also will encompass from of house solutions for onstage and mix boards. The bottom line is that this crosses over into a lot of different areas and we expect a lot from the solutions we use. During the very busy NAMM Show 2012, I was able to spend some time with some time with Philippe Depallens, Vice President and General Manager at Ultimate Ears. Philippe and some of his fantastic teams members helped me better understand all things UE and why you should consider them. The end result is what will be a series of articles here to show you the different products and what the process is like when moving into the incredible world of custom in-ear monitors. Coming up we’ll feature articles about the entire process from ear impressions to production to delivery and performance. Let me also say this up front. The “custom” approach is not for everyone. The universal fit solutions are very good and much easier on the wallet but do not compromise on quality. The top of the line TripleFi 10 has set the bar very high for an earbud solution. More on that later…stay tuned.
In the meantime, let’s talk a bit more about Ultimate Ears; products developed by musicians for musicians. The company has come a long way since 1995 when Alex Van Halen and his monitor engineer wanted a better solution. One that removed all barriers between them and the music. Fast forward to 2012 and Ultimate Ears has huge market share, is used by a large majority of touring musicians and has the solid backing of Logitech after being acquired by them in 2008. Switchfoot, David Crowder Band, Underoath, Hillsong United, Third Day…these and more are some of your favorite Christian artists who have chosen Ultimate Ears. My currently most used all around earbuds are M-Audio IE30’s. Turn’s out that my favorites are, yup, you guessed it; an Ultimate Ears designed product. In a testament to the concept of products designed by and for musicians, Philippe shared a story about the secular rock band AC/DC. Turns out that in working with the band, UE engineers sent the band some beta (in development/unreleased) in-ear monitors to test and provide feedback. The “beta” product was so good the band decided to trust them enough to just use them on stage. No other testing…trial by fire in front of a crowd of thousands. The product was just that solid and they trusted the engineers to develop something that would meet their demanding needs.
“We’ve been using in-ear monitors for years; Ultimate Ears are the best sounding ears we’ve ever had. Jon Foreman, Switchfoot
So, just where does one start when it comes to selecting the product that will work for you. First of all you need to think about your usage, your music tastes and what sounds good to you. Some might think that all in-ears are created the same but that could not be further from the truth. There are essentially two major categories of products we’ll discuss in this series; universal fit earbuds and custom in-ear monitors (IEMs). Within each category you will find solutions oriented for different tasks and musical tastes. When you are shopping for replacement earbuds or in-ear monitors that choices can be staggering. There is an endless array to select from. The nice thing about Ultimate Ears is they share the same philosophy of top quality products throughout the product line. With many components shared between different solutions. Here’s one term you’ll see tossed around a lot…”flat response”. Flat response in its essence means just that. The music is delivered to your ears just as recorded or played live. No enhancements to the bass, mids or treble. The reality is that a large number of people simply would not like that. In this discussion I was introduced to a new term (for me); “perceived flat”. What that essentially means is the sound has been engineered to compensate for things like your ear canal, where the speakers are located in relation to your ear drum and how you hear the music. Many people prefer something that has a bit more low-end so that’s one place you’ll see it deviate from true “flat”. As we grow in our musical tastes and start to better appreciate the clarity, accuracy, sound stage and overall audio quality we start to demand more and more from what we put in our ears. As you step up in the product line you will start to get things like better sound isolation, more drivers (speakers) and higher quality components all around. The next step them becomes a custom fit solution with custom designed products. As you move into the custom category you will also see the term change from earbuds to in-ear monitors (IEM). These solutions provide the best possible sound direct to the eardrum with great sound isolation. Solutions are engineered for different needs be in on stage or other front of house functions or in the studio. Ultimate Ears has several customer solutions available including one reference solution co-developed with Capitol Records that does deliver a true flat response. Much more about the reference model to come as that is the solution we’ll be walking through the entire process with.
So, more to come in future articles. This is already longer than anticipated. Moving ahead in this series, we provide a product line overview and then a few stories that will walk through the process of moving to custom in-ear monitors. With interest and the ability to do so, we’ll do more hands-on reports on other UE solutions. Customs are not for everyone, but there is little doubt Ultimate Ears will have something to meet your specific tastes. With products ranging from the $19.99 UE 100 to the $1,350 custom UE 18 IEM the product line is extensive. Check out the short video below about Ultimate Ears and be sure to visit their website. On the website you will find much more detail about the product than feasible to ad here. Ultimate Ears brings the The Soul of the Stage in Every Pair of earphones