I recently reviewed the Ultimate Ears Live flagship IEMs along with the new Switch faceplates. Priced at $2,199, the Live easily ranks in the top echelon of IEMs but is understandably well above what most people can afford, so it is nice to know that the switch faceplates are available for the entire UE Pro lineup which starts with the more cost effective UE 5 Pro which retail for $499.
$499 is still a lot of money for IEMs but these are custom models and there is a price to be paid for that.
The first thing to understand is that all Ultimate Ears Pro models are built using the same materials and craftsmanship. They are designed for professionals who are going to use them far more than the average listener and are designed as a “tool” for those who make their living as musicians.
When ordering, you’ll have to send ear impressions or have UE send you a mold kit to make impressions of the inside of your ear. Your local audiologist can usually do this for between $50 and $150 depending on the market you live in.
Once you send Ultimate Ears your impressions it takes between 2 to 6 weeks to get your new IEMs depending on backlog and parts availability.
Your new IEMs will arrive in a near bulletproof shipping carton with the earpieces, a Linum Bax cable, an aluminum pill box style case, and a cleaning brush. If you order the switch option, you also get a leather book style case with slots for 6 pairs of faceplates.
These are not intended to be show pieces, so they are not packaged in Corinthian leather with gold accents, instead the packaging is practical and durable and well thought out for a lifetime of road use.
The earpieces themselves are made from acrylic resin using the molds as a guide so each pair is designed to fit the ear as precisely as possible. If for any reason, the fit is not perfect, UE will gladly work with the user to get fit perfect. After almost 20 years, UE has a 99% success rate and their customer service is excellent.
UE recently switched all their models to a new IPX type connector provided by Estron A/S who makes their Linum Bax and Linum Super Bax cables that ship with the entire lineup; the cables are very high quality and not something you would find with most IEMs.
This new connector can be thought of as an improved MMCX connector as it allows the earpiece free rotation around the connector but has a much stronger connection and thus a much lower failure rate than typical MMCX connectors. Having now owned and used several pairs of IPX connected IEMs, I can attest to how well they work and how little fuss they require.
The cable provided with the UE 5 Pro is a six conductor Litz with each of the conductors having seven individual strands that are barely the size of a human hair. The strands themselves are silver plated oxygen free copper in a TPA sleeve that is designed to get wet and survive the rigors of daily abuse.
In short, the UE 5 Pro are designed from the ground up for working musicians who don’t care about cable rolling and just need it to work every time. The default jack on the new cable is the 3.5mm SE which again shows the target market as most pro gear doesn’t offer balanced outputs.
There are some options for balanced cables both through UE and the aftermarket but choices are slimmer due to the new connector type. The splitter is also a neat design and again shows a lot of thought as the chin slider locks into the slider when not in use and can be locked at the desired point on the cable when used.
Far too often, the chin slider moves around during periods of high activity. This one won’t.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the UE 5 Pro before the review pair arrived as I hadn’t had the chance to try one before. I’ve used and enjoyed the Reference Remastered and Live and expected the UE 5 Pro to maybe sound a bit like the reference remastered; just watered down by comparison due to its 2 balanced armatures.
The UE 5 Pro uses a single bass armature and a single high-frequency armature with a phase guide that helps align the outputs as they reach the ear.
UE’s own sales pitch for the UE 5 Pro is “Balanced sound for all applications” which sounds a bit ambiguous; it is definitely being marketed for studios, live performances, and even podcasting.
The tuning of the UE 5 Pro is interesting; the overall balance is pretty even with deep bass that is also rather quick, enough midrange presence to keep you engaged, and a treble presentation is rather well extended if not slightly bright overall.
The lows are typical of balanced armature driven models with good depth, great speed and detail, but slightly less impact than most dynamic driver models. The tradeoff between the two are a bit of depth and impact for a more articulate presentation.
This won’t please the bass heads in the bunch, but those looking for accuracy will appreciate what the UE 5 Pro brings to the table.
The mid bass is quite good as well with a lot of detail and good note weight and as expected, the transition into the lower midrange is rather clean with no bleed.
The armature design might lead some to wonder if the UE 5 Pro sacrifices some presence or color in the midrange but this is actually where these IEMs really demonstrate why they are worth $499.
The lower midrange has a richer than expected tone giving male vocals some necessary weight and texture and they never get lost in the instrumentation.
Guitars have good growl with enough sharpness and rasp to the attack to sound realistic, and lower strings share the same lush tone that makes male vocals so pleasing to listen to.
There is a mild upper midrange boost that gives higher strings the energy needed to sound accurate and this helps female vocals stand out as well.
I did find that female vocals are pushed further ahead of the instrumentation than their male counterparts, but it never sounded etched or artificial.
It is worth noting that while there is that slight lift to the upper midrange (and lower treble), it is not pronounced and doesn’t make vocals strident, nasal, or fatiguing at all.
The lower treble starts out on the same plane with the upper midrange with snare rattle having clean edges and enough definition to sound realistic and cymbals having enough energy to sound good without getting tizzy or metallic.
Above the initial lift, the treble dials back a bit and is quite polite through the mid treble where fatigue and stridency can quickly creep in; roll-off is somewhere above 14 kHz.
The soundstage is good but like most closed IEMs that isolate to this degree, it isn’t huge in any dimension. Instead, what you get is an intimate performance with good proportion to the stage if not a lot of size to it.
Seating the orchestra reveals a soundstage that is slightly wider than deep with some height in the mix and instrument separation is above average and keeps the placements from overlapping. Imaging is also above average and is neatly carved into space.
Overall, the UE 5 Pro largely delivers on the promise of a single custom IEM to cover a wide variety of applications. Critics will complain about the $499 price but it’s quite affordable considering the quality of both the construction, cables, and the overall sound quality.
I strongly recommend that performers use IEMs because the isolation provided is something almost no universal can match; even those with ANC which almost always fail to deliver enough isolation without compromising the overall sound quality.
Music lovers who work and play in noisy environments will like the UE 5 Pro for that same reason; excellent isolation, a solid seal, and far more impressive sound quality than anything in the same price range.
For those who haven’t tried a custom IEM yet, the UE 5 Pro is a good jumping off point.
Add to that the switch face plates and you have a single IEM that is usable for your death metal gig one day and your worship team performance the next without having to spend another $500 each time you want a different look.
Where to buy: $499-$599 at UltimateEars.com