Recognizing that thePersonal Reference Tuning process will be liberating for many buyers, but potentially a bit stressful for others, UE offers several suggestions (plus one very handy listening tool) to help make the process flow more smoothly, as noted below:
• UE provides detailed marking on each control knob and explains that the “50/50/50” settings make a good starting point. In principal, those who just hate tinkering with an already good thing could simply order their PRMs with a “50/50/50” high-neutrality curve and call it a day.
• UE strenuously advises listening to a minimum of five different recordings, preferably of different genres, before finalizing one’s choices for response curve settings. UE invites PRM buyers to take their time and listen for as long as they like before making a final selection. Some listeners take only about 20 minutes, while others take much longer (I listened for nearly two hours before coming up with settings for my personal pair of PRMs).
• UE argues that there are no “right” settings for the PRM and therefore recommends adjusting the control knobs with one’s eyes closed, so as not to be overly influenced by the marking on the knobs. The objective, UE explains, is simply to pay close attention to what your own ear/brain interface is telling you and then to choose settings that, for you, simply sound right on most recordings, most of the time.
• UE points out that many, many listeners have slight differences in left/right hearing and that it is fully possible (and often desirable to have different voicing settings for the left and right earpieces). To this end, UE keeps on hand an iPod, which contains narrow band test tones that span a wide range of frequencies, and which also provides monaural tones that can be handy for make left/right earpiece adjustments.
• Finally, knowing that some listeners may find it difficult to relax and simply trust their own ears, the UE test station provides left/right “Bypass” buttons that temporarily return the crossover networks to the baseline “50/50/50” settings so that buyers can verify that their personal settings really do, for them, represent a worthwhile sonic improvement.
Once you’re done at the Tuning Station, a UE representative carefully notes the crossover settings you’ve chosen, records your choice of exotic wood to be used for you PRM earpiece ID plates, and that’s all there is to it.
I’ve not yet received my production PRMs, though UE’s Director of Sales & Marketing, Chuck Reynolds, called me yesterday to advise that my PRMs had been built and would be shipping later in the day. Am I excited to receive and hear them? You bet I am. In the interim, though, I thought I’d offer some first impressions based on the listening I did at the PRM test station.
How does the PRM sound? Well, with baseline “50/50/50” crossover settings the PRM sounds a fair amount like a set of UE’s In-Ear Reference Monitors, but on steroids. By this I mean that the PRM has a smooth, open, and more-or-less neutral sound (as does the IERM), but with several important differences. First, I’d say the PRM offers notably higher resolution with less apparent sonic “grain,” so that it offers significantly more of that effortless, transparent, “see-through” sonic quality that I and many other audiophiles crave. Second, it offers slightly more free-flowing and expressive dynamics—especially in terms of capturing subtle vocal inflections or variations in playing techniques. On paper, these might seem like tiny changes (and in an absolute sense they probably are), but in terms of musical satisfaction and involvement they actually make a quite significant difference. But third, the PRM offers its own signature “special sauce” in the form of customizable voicing that can be tuned in minor (or, if you wish, major) ways to bring the sound of the PRM as close as possible to your personal idea of sonic perfection. And that, let me tell you, is truly cool.
Because I found the baseline “50/50/50” sound of the PRM to be very, very good, I was initially reluctant to move away from the baseline settings. However, UE’s Vincent Liu, who is both the product manager for and the designer of the PRM, encouraged me to be more adventurous in my adjustments (at least at first)—if only to learn what the full scope of tuning possibilities for the PRM were like. What I discovered is that UE has allowed for a remarkably wide range of possibilities ranging from changes so subtle that they are (to me) only just barely audible on up to much more obvious high impact changes (with plenty of adjustment range in between).