Now that the press embargo has been lifted, I can finally tell AVguide/Playback readers about an impressive new Ultimate Ears custom-fit in-ear monitor called the Personal Reference Monitor (or PRM for short), which I had a chance to sample last week at UE’s headquarters in Irvine, CA. As of today, the PRM ($1999.99) will take its place at the very top of the Ultimate Ears product line up.
What exactly is the PRM? Well, in simple terms it is an ultra high performance in ear monitor that not only offers the expected custom-fit earpieces and exotic array of drivers, but that also—and please let the full importance of this one sink in for a moment—offers completely customizable voicing to suit the needs, preferences, or sonic tastes of the owner.
Think about it: in every audio product review you’ve ever read, and probably in every personal listening experience you’ve ever had, you’ve likely seen (or offered) comments where some product seemed better than others, but where all product fell short, even if only in small ways, of your own personal sense of the sonic (platonic?) ideal. Now imagine that a manufacturer turned to you with an in-ear monitor design that offered tons of core performance and upside potential, but then told you, “This monitor is completely tunable; feel free to make it sound however you want it to sound, or think that it should sound.” The freedom to shape the sound exactly as you see fit, my friends, is what Ultimate Ears’ new PRM is all about.
The PRM is a custom-fit in-ear monitor that leverages Ultimate Ear’s extensive experience in building great-fitting acrylic custom-fit earpieces—something that, please trust us on this one, seems like it would be simple and straightforward, but that in practice is part art, part science, and part practical know-how. Unlike UE’s reigning accuracy champ, the three-driver In-Ear Reference Monitor, the new PRM is based on a platform that uses five balanced armature-type drivers. But the driver count, per se, is not what makes the PRM special. What does is the fact that virtually everything about the crossover networks used within the PRM is adjustable and tunable, giving owners the freedom to have monitors built with response curves custom shaped to fit their exact needs or desires.
Naturally, everything about the PRM purchase and ownership experience has been planned out by Ultimate Ears to give owners a luxurious, first-class experience from day one. For example, when customers approach UE about the PRM, they are assigned a customer service representative who will walk them through every step in the process. The process will include several steps, including:
• Having ear mold impressions taken by UE-certified audiologists who must meet exacting UE procedural requirements,
• Sitting down at a special UE-designed, high-transparency “define your sound” listening station (UE calls it the "Personal Reference Tuning Station") with a set of purpose built PRM test-version monitors to explore and then choose from among an almost infinite range of voicing possibilities (you’re encouraged to bring your own music materials and, if you wish, your own audio source components for this phase of the process),
• Choosing a custom exotic wood finish for the outer “ID” panels of your PRMs (choices include walnut burl, Carpathian elm burl, cherry, and purple heart woods),
• Placing your order,
• Communicating with the UE team while waiting for your pair of PRMs to be built (the process takes about a week, though UE can do one-day rush orders at extra cost),
• Communicating with UE after your PRMs are shipped, and typically,
• Communicating with UE once again after you PRMs arrive and you’ve had a chance to audition them.
UE has paid fanatical attention to even the smallest aspect of the PRM, including the fit, finish, and build quality of the monitors themselves; the sonic quality and durability of the signal cables provided, the packaging and (sumptuous) road case in which the monitors will arrive, and—of course—the documentation and accessories that come with the PRMs. As a very cool touch (one that will leave many wondering, “Why has no one thought of this before?”), the case for the PRM will come marked with a special so-called RewardTag that advises anyone who might find your PRM’s that by returning the monitors to UE they will qualify to receive (on a “no questions asked” basis) a significant reward from UE (I believe this will take the form of a UE gift certificate). Interesting idea, no? But for obvious reasons, the single most interesting (and crucial) part of the process involves the time users will spend at the Personal Reference Tuning Station. Let me tell you more about how that works.