To experience the charms of the UE 18 Pro in action, try listening to “Mood Indigo” from the Joe Wilder/Marshall Royal Quintet’s Mostly Ellington [BluePort Jazz]. Early on you’ll hear the song’s familiar theme unfold at a stately pace, carried forward initially by Wilder’s trumpet and Royal’s alto sax, reinforced by Bob Magnusson’s acoustic bass down below. The UE 18 Pro’s touch of added bass warmth gives Magnusson’s bass a slightly darker, warmer, and weightier sound than it might normally have. Similarly, the UE 18 Pro’s subtle upper midrange/lower treble lift makes both the trumpet and sax sound a little more prominent and focused within the mix. The net effect is one of heightened vividness that bring the two horn forward in the mix, yet that does not undercut or undermine the apparent authenticity of their sound. On the contrary, the voicing of the UE 18 Pro invites the listener to follow the unfolding solo lines more closely and to savor the musical statements being made.
If you listen to the same track through the IERMs, the bass pulls back into more natural (albeit slightly less engaging) proportion and the upper mids are likewise throttled back a bit, with the subjective effect of making lower mids seem pore prominent. Because the IERM is a little more extended up high, you’ll hear more of high-frequency overtones and of the air surrounding instruments than through the UE 18 Pros, though the UE 18 Pros give more emphasis to lower treble details (such as the initial “ping” of cymbals being struck). There’s no doubt in my mind that the IERM is the more accurate monitor, per se, but that doesn’t mean you might not prefer the UE 18 Pro anyway. Indeed, I imagine some listeners would argue that, while the IERM does a better job of conveying the precise sound of what’s on the record, while the UE 18 Pro may—under some circumstances, at any rate—do a better job of conveying the “feel” of the original musical event.
To get a handle on what I mean by that last comment, try listening to “If” from Joni Mitchell’s Shine [Hear Music]. Mitchell is a master of contrasts, and what caught my ear is the way Mitchell’s soaring voice delivers the song’s lyrics (based upon a poem by Rudyard Kipling and bearing more than a little resemblance to certain passages from the biblical book of Proverbs) as set against a dark, richly textured, and gently grooving jazz ensemble background. What the UE 18 Pros do is to shine just a bit more light on Mitchell’s vocals, while at the same time subtly reinforcing the rich, sumptuous sound of the back band (especially adding weight to the anchoring sound of the bass). As a result, the lines of contrast drawn by the production of the song become just a little more vividly and sharply drawn—a sonically intoxicating effect. On the other hand, you might feel, as I tend to do, that the pure “as recorded” sound of this track stands on its own quite beautifully and requires no enhancement or embellishment at all.
How you judge the UE 18 Pro’s sound, then, may come down to this: If you listen to recordings and find yourself yearning for a certain, elusive “something more” in the sonic domain, there’s a good chance that the 18 Pro will provide it for you. If, on the other hand, you tend to prefer the pure, natural, unenhanced sound of the recordings you listen to, then the IERM is likely a better choice for you.
Ultimate Ears’ UE 18 Pro monitor makes a fascinating alternative to the firm’s superb In-Ear Reference Monitor. The latter model is one of the most sonically honest in-ear monitors we have heard, while the UE 18 Pro takes certain subtle and judicious liberties with the sound in an effort to give you a more vivid and intense presentation of the music. The IERM gives you the true sound of the original recording in a faithful way, while the UE 18 Pro—as we mentioned above—may, at least to the ears of some listeners, do a better job of capturing the “feel” of the original musical performance.
Ultimate Ears UE 18 Pro Monitor
Type: Three-way, 6-driver (balanced armature), custom-fit in-ear monitors
Accessories: Hard shell road case (custom labeled with a padded interior), cleaning tool.
Frequency response: 20Hz – 18 kHz
Weight: Not specified.
Efficiency : 115.6 dB @ 1mW and 1kHz *
* UE quotes “Sensitivity” and “Efficiency” specifications separately, but we think their efficiency specs are conceptually similar to what most other manufacturers term “Sensitivity”.
Impedance: 21 Ohms
Warranty: 1 year, parts and labor.