9 years ago I got my very first set of custom in-ear monitors, a pair of UE7’s from Ultimate Ears. I still remember the day I opened the box and put them in my ears. My life was completely changed. I had never heard music the way I was hearing it that day. I heard guitars and vocal effects and clarity that I didn’t even know was in my music. I then brought them to church and started running monitors with them. It was a night and day difference from my generic foam tipped Shures. Fast-forward to today, I now have five different sets of custom IEMs (in-ear monitors) from various companies, work as a professional audio engineer specializing in Monitors, and my UE7’s are still my go-to set.
In-Ear Monitor Review: Pro Ultimate Ears UE7
The UE7 models are triple drivers – so they have one driver each for highs, mids, and lows. These have a very wide frequency response and lots of headroom. The pro Ultimate Ears website says that the frequency response of these ears is 5Hz to 22kHz, and after what I have put them through, I have no doubt that is true. They are great for stage use, studio use, and even for personal music listening. I have mine in every day, not just for professional use, but also when I’m working out at the gym or driving with the top and doors off my jeep.
For those of you who are unaware of what IEMs are or how to get them, the process starts by going to an Audiologist or Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor and getting impressions made of your ear canal. They place a small cotton ball down into your ear, close to (but not touching) your eardrum. They then use a syringe gun and fill your ear canal with a foam material that expands and hardens. The cotton ball protects your eardrum from the impression material, and after a couple of minutes, the Audiologist removes the foam and you have an impression of your ears. From here you ship the impressions to your in-ear monitor company of choice, for the purposes of this article we’ll say Ultimate Ears. The company will then use the impressions as a guide to make you a set of in-ear monitors, or super high quality headphones, made to the shape of your ears. Ultimate Ears actually has a very cool system where they use lasers to scan your impressions and create a computer generated 3D model to keep on file and build the ears from. Some other companies use the impression as a negative, and make a positive impression of your ear -similar to a photograph – but in three dimensions.
I hear a lot of musicians who say that they are just scared to insert something plastic into their ears. Why are foam tipped generic ears not good enough? Well, there are a number of reasons, but the main one is they allow for greater ear protection. The whole point of having custom IEMs is to protect your own ears. If you are wearing IEMs and have no music coming through them, they essentially become super thick and incredibly efficient earplugs. They block out a minimum of 26 decibels of sound. The custom mold of your ears and the match of the IEMs allow for an excellent seal which doesn’t allow any other sound to get through. Foam or silicone tipped generic ears don’t even come close to creating that good of a seal and can’t block out even a fraction of that much sound.
Once you have that seal, you have ultimate control over what your ears hear. Being on a loud stage, next to guitar amps, a drum set, and stage monitors, you can easily be exposed to upwards of 100 decibels of sound, which can cause significant hearing damage in no time. When you wear IEMs on stage, all of that is blocked out and you can listen to only the things that matter to you. Let’s say I’m playing piano with wedge monitors, and I’m placed directly next to the drummer. I’ve got my piano blasting through the wedge, and maybe some of the lead vocal, but the drummer on my left, even though he is playing with hot rod sticks, is blasting my left ear due to our close proximity. This is something you never have to worry about while wearing IEMs. When you’re wearing IEMs, the drummer can play freely, and I can hear my piano, guitars, and vocals at a comfortable level because everything else is blocked out. Coming through the ears is only what my monitor engineer or personal monitoring system is sending me. I can play without distraction, and my ears are protected by this wonderful yet simple technology.
Here I have two sets of UE7’s: the clear ones that I bought in 2006, and the purple ones I bought just this year in 2015. This is important to note not only because these are the same model several years apart, but because these two ears were made in two different eras in Ultimate Ears history. In the middle of 2008, Logitech acquired Ultimate Ears, and to be completely honest I was worried that a byproduct of the merger would be a change in the quality of the product. My 2006 models have served me extremely well. They have countless hundreds, if not thousands, of hours worth of use and the drivers still sound good. I received the 2015 models this month and have given them lots of use and found that they are just as comfortable and also sound incredible. My 2006 models fit me like an old pair of sneakers, and like an old pair of sneakers, I can tell that after so much use they are starting to wear out. These new ears are the same super high quality, and they sound phenomenal. I am looking forward to using these for many years to come, I will retire my 2006 set to be just for the gym or for driving. Interesting side fact, when driving highway speeds with your windows down, or in my case with no roof or doors on my jeep, the wind speeds can cause significant pressure changes that can be damaging to your ears – so if you drive a convertible or like to drive with all your windows down, be careful when driving highway speeds!
Now, what about all those other models? I will tell you this: I have several models of custom IEMs from several different companies. Some have up to 16 total drivers in a set! That’s crazy to even imagine! But these UE7’s are built with beautiful precision, are budget-friendly, and are sonically incredible. Full disclosure, as of a few months ago I am an ambassador for Ultimate Ears and as such, I can offer great rates on new sets of IEMs for churches or individual orders. But even before I partnered with Ultimate Ears, I was shouting from the mountains about how great their product is, specifically this particular model of IEM. They are head and shoulders above every other set I have, and they will always be my first choice when running sound or playing on stage.
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