We have checked out every one of Ultimate Ears’ universal earbuds over the course of our writing but I’ve only taken a close look at their Capitol Studios Reference Monitors in the custom in-ear segment. Now it’s time to take a look at their flagship 6 driver UE 18 Pro custom in-ear monitors.
This was an incredible hard review to write. Upon first receiving the UE18 monitors I was less than impressed. Coming from the Sleek CT7 and Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors which are two of the best custom IEM in existence, I was hoping for crystal clear sound, deep and thundering bass, and unimpeded treble. Thankfully, I gave the UE18s a lot of time hoping that they would open up and the sound signature would change.
Thankfully, they did– but not enough. There was something missing. The mids seemed to be cramped, the treble was overkill and the bass was muddy. How could Ultimate Ears, a company with many years of experience and known to make among the best of the best, create a product that paled in comparison to their cheaper UE Reference Monitors?
I gave them one last chance and paired them with my HiFiMan HM-601 player with the hopes that the musical nature of the HM-601 could make them shine. What I experienced was a complete renewal of my happiness. The UE18 just do not sound good with an iPhone. Use them with something better and you will get sound that is rich, flowing, and almost creamy in texture.
Almost in disbelief, I plugged them back into my iPhone and again the sound was muddy and unimpressive. This was something that perplexed me. Usually the iPhone is insufficient for driving high demand headphones such full cans from Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic. I have never encountered in-ear monitors being so influenced by the source. Truly, the UE18s were something different.
The good news is that when paired with the HM-601 and later with my Harmon Kardon receiver, the UE18s blossomed into something great. I expected them to have a similar sound signature to the JH Audio JH16 Pro but instead there was quite a difference. Instead of the extreme sub-bass found in the JH-16 Pro, the UE18 was more toned down. Not that the bass wasn’t powerful, but it was more reserved and gave me the impression that they had a lot of ability but didn’t want to outshine the other frequencies as the JH16 can rarely do. The treble was crisp. The mids were no longer recessed. The UE18 and HM-601 had true synergy.
So the moral of the story is: Don’t judge something based upon your first experience. It took me almost a month to figure out how to get the UE18 to sound like they should. UE hit a home run with their UE18 and if I didn’t give them a good chance, I would have never known.
Note: JH Audio’s JH13 is a more similar unit than the UE18 with 6 drivers compared to the 8 driver JH16.