Ratings (compared to similarly-priced in-ear headphones):
• Tonal Balance: 10 (comes closer to ideal neutrality than anything we’ve heard)
• Clarity: 9.5
• Dynamics: 10
• Comfort/Fit: 9.5+ (UE’s expertise in molding custom-fit earpieces really shows, and the IERM earpieces do a great job in terms of noise isolation and achieving long-term comfort)
• Sensitivity: 9 (not the most sensitive in-ear monitor around, but still quite easy to drive)
• Value: 9.5
• Custom-fit, earpieces feature outer shells molded from solid acrylic, and the fit is noticeably better than the norm in a field where the bar has already been set quite high.
• Distinctive In Ear Reference Monitor earpiece design scheme calls for clear acrylic earpieces with black outer panels that proudly display the “UE” logo on one side and the “Capitol Studios” logo on the other.
• “Rugged, low-profile, low-distortion” signal cable fitted with a gold-plated mini-jack.
• Passive three-way crossover.
• Three high-quality miniature balanced-armature type drivers.
• Comes packed in a hard shell road case whose interior provides well-padded chambers both for the monitors and for accessories. As a cool detail touch, the owner’s name is embossed on the outside of the road case.
• In fact, UE has gone all-out in the packaging for the IERM’s, which arrive in a beautiful presentation case that contains the user’s manual, plus a padded chamber that conceals and protects the road case. Very tasteful.
• Accessories include a cleaning tool (for removing ear wax from the monitor’s bore tubes), a gold-plated mini-jack to ¼-inch phone jack adapter, and a special “buffer jack” cable for use when plugging the IERM’s into portable devices.
The tonal balance of the IERM comes very, very close to the ideal of sonic neutrality, with perhaps the only (minor) deviation being a tendency to sound ever-so-slightly rolled off at the very highest frequencies. What words cannot easily express is how remarkably smooth the IERM’s response curve is, so that you come away with the sense that the IERM’s have done a much better than average job of ironing out the small response curve bumps and dips that most other in-ear ‘phones exhibit,
I found that the IERM’s bass was powerful, well-defined, and deeply extended, yet in no way artificially “pumped up.” For those who are used to listening through earphones that do make deliberate attempt to add extra bass “oomph” the IERM will come as a revelation. I say this because the IERM offers bass weighting that is accurate and highly realistic, yet that holds plenty of bass “thwack” and “slam” in reserve for moments when the recording happens to call for those qualities. And that’s the point: down low, the IERM will do exactly what the music tells it to do—no more and no less, which is how things should be.
Midrange frequencies are the IERM’s great glory, since they are smooth, well balanced and neither overly prominent nor recessed. Instead, the IERM finds the straight and narrow path down the middle, serving up vocal and instrumental timbres that can, on good recordings, display rich, pure, vibrant, and always natural-sounding tonal colors. As I spent time with the IERM’s, listening carefully to vocal and instrumental material, the one-word description that repeatedly came to mind was this: authenticity. These monitors have an uncanny way of keeping faith with recordings, showing you what was done well in the studio (or in the live recording venue), but also reporting any flaws they encounter. In practice this means you don’t so much listen to the IERM’s, but rather listen through them to learn what the recording is all about. As you come to trust the IERM’s overall tonal balance and sonic honesty, you’ll find yourself using them to assess recordings or audio components in the signal chain. In short, through the IERM’s, what you hear is what you get.
The IERM’s treble response is clear and extremely smooth, though I thought there was a touch of roll-off at the very top of the audio spectrum. While the IERM never sounds “dull” or unduly subdued, it does not convey high-frequency harmonics, “air,” or textural and transient details quite as effectively as, say, the Westone ES5 does. Still, if this characteristic represents a small deviation from the absolute sonic truth, then the good news is that it is a minor and subtractive error, which is far preferable to the alternative (excess brightness pretty much sets my teeth on edge).