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Ultimate Ears Pro Premier IEMs: Review

Are these the best value in high-end custom IEMs? We would be hard pressed to suggest otherwise. $2,999 is a lot of money but the Ultimate Ears Premier live up to their billing.

UE Pro Premier IEMs

Back in June at T.H.E. Show 2023, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Ultimate Ears team where we discussed the current IEM market and how the consumer and pro audio segments differ in their approach.

Part of our discussion focused on the development of the Ultimate Ears Premier IEMs and how they differed from other products in the lineup and other comparable high-end IEMs from competitors.

You can read our factory tour here for a better look at their R&D process.

We have spent a fair bit of time over the past 3 years reviewing most of their product lineup; part of the reason for that amount of coverage is that the brand was one of the key innovators in the in-ear monitor category and they make excellent products.

The corporate focus has leaned more heavily into the pro audio space where they have had a lot of success over the years; Jerry Harvey was the driving force behind the brand at that point and he put the company on the map when they secured Van Halen as one of their first customers.

UE Pro Premier IEM Back
UE Pro Premier

In the years that followed, Ultimate Ears earned the trust of dozens of touring bands and musicians that fill stadiums around the globe on a nightly basis.

UE Pro is not very aggressive when it comes to marketing and a lot of their focus remains on professional musicians; the brand does not refresh its products every single year and we were rather curious to find out why they suddenly decided to invest so much time and money into a pair of IEMs like the UE Pro Premier that are very expensive. 

One of the biggest reasons which we discussed was the impact of COVID on their business. When live music events were cancelled and venues closed around the globe — their business took a major hit. 

For some companies, that would have been a fatal blow. UE Pro decided that it was the perfect time to take a look at its lineup, improve its manufacturing capabilities, and regroup as a company.

A new website with an improved shopping experience was launched, along with changes to its design and manufacturing process. The UE Pro Premier had been in the design phase prior to COVID, but the slow-down gave engineers more time to experiment with different driver technology and improve the crossover.

Eric Pye getting ears scanned closeup for custom fit IEMs
Eric Pye getting ears scanned at T.H.E. Show 2022

Getting Fitted

The process for ordering a pair of the UE Premier is like any other in their “Pro” series and that starts by having your ears scanned or sending in molds of your ears. Most audiologists offer molds for $50 to $150 USD depending on market.  

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Once UE Pro has the molds on file, they are good for 2 years should you decide to have additional IEMs made. From the time molds arrive, the manufacturing generally takes 2-3 weeks depending on any options that you might have selected during the ordering process.

The UE Premier ships with earpieces, cable, cleaning tool, hard-shell case with custom engraving, and a card thanking you for your purchase.

Some in the Head-Fi community have become accustomed to receiving everything but the kitchen sink with their custom IEMs, but that’s not the case with UE who are more focused on the pro audio user.

The ear shells are 3D printed and the basic shell is available in multiple colors; including the clear version that we selected for the review sample.

UE Live Kit wit Switch Swappable Faceplates
UE Live IEM Kit wit UE Switch (Swappable Faceplates)

Custom faceplates can also be ordered from high-end jewelers like Sonny Blaze who has the ability to create almost anything including those with precious stones and very ornate designs.

Ultimate Ears also offers different faceplates for these models; we have already had the chance to sample them which you can read about in my earlier report.

Technology

When you are spending this kind of money on a pair of custom IEMs, the biggest selling point is the driver technology and not just the quantity; each earpiece integrates 21 drivers which includes a pair of sub-bass drivers (they are both dual-drivers which makes it 4), a quartet of mid-bass drivers, 4 midrange drivers, 5 UE Pro True Tone tweeters and a Knowles quad super tweeter for the extreme top end.

UE Pro Premier IEMs 21 driver diagram
UE Pro Premier IEM feature 21 drivers.

The arrangement of 21 drivers is split into 5 separate groups which are controlled by a five-way passive crossover.

Aside from the incredible array of drivers, UE has also redesigned the internal structure of the earpieces with a new frame that holds all of the drivers in place and creates a seamless junction between the nozzles and sound bores.

UE Pro Premier IEM Internal Parts Top View

During the R&D phase, UE discovered that slipping tubing over the bores actually creates a constriction immediately in front of the nozzle that negatively impacts the sound; the new design is built to be a perfect slip fit with no gap at the junction of the nozzle to the sound bore so it appears as a single continuous piece rather than a tube fitted over a nozzle. 

This combination of drivers allows the Premier to produce a quoted frequency range of 5Hz – 40kHz which is well beyond that of most IEMs on the market; during our interview with Vincent Liu, he was quick to point out that many IEMs claim to offer 20Hz – 20kHz but when they are actually tested on the the bench, they are actually incapable of reproducing sound at the same levels at the extreme ends of the spectrum and are actually rather focused on the center of the range.

One of the goals for the Premier was to create an IEM that could actually reproduce the stated frequency range and be consistently excellent across the board.

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UE Pro Premier IEMs Front and Back
UE Pro Premier IEMs

Having had a number of custom IEMs made for myself over the years, I knew what to expect from the build quality and how they were going to fit.

One noticeable difference, however, from the other UE Pro models that I have tried is that the Premier is thicker and that includes the UE Live and UE 5 Pro. The reality is that the UE Premier sit inside the ear and also on top of it.

The cable provided with the Premier is simply listed as the 50” IPX clear loop cable and is made by Estron for UE Pro; the IPX connector is compatible with the Estron T2 connector as well, so cables can either be purchased from UE Pro or from Estron if a replacement is needed. 

Having used these cables in other settings when I play or record on location, there is no question that they are one of the best when it comes to durability and build quality.

When you perform, these cables never get in the way and manage to stay firmly in place. More manufacturers of high-end custom IEMs should offer them considering what they charge for their products.

UE Pro Premier IEM with case

Sound

For starters, please throw any preconceptions about the UE Premier that you might have out the window before trying a pair. Not only is the Premier not as neutral as the UE 18 Pro, but it also lacks the bass heavy signature of the UE Live.

We expected the Premier to be the UE 18+ Pro ($1,599) on steroids, but none of that was true and the end result is something that might actually be preferable for a wider swath of listeners.

Right out of the box, the UE Premier demonstrated that it requires less power than the UE Live and we needed to adjust the volume levels accordingly. If you already own a pair of the UE Live — be aware that using your existing settings will not be required.

UE Pro Premier IEM side

The extreme low end has very good impact and there is some additional emphasis but UE has focused on controlling it so one does not lose definition and experience bass bleed into the mid-bass and upper bass range.

The mid-bass range is somewhat rich sounding and that’s a departure from the UE 18 Pro; one does not lose any clarity, texture or detail in the process and that is a win for these IEMs.

Even through the mid-bass exhibits some mild emphasis, that doesn’t take away from the overall impact and it’s accurate to say that the bass range is well controlled overall and rather tight even with very complex material.

The lower midrange builds somewhat on the performance in the mid and upper bass range with male vocals exhibiting solid note weight and tonal accuracy whilst maintaining rather good clarity and detail.

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Electric and acoustic guitar are very well served by these IEMs; both were reproduced with crisp transients, accurate tonal balance, ample detail, and a rather strong edge.

There is a mild degree of added emphasis in the midrange which does result in higher strings being reproduced with more energy and whilst some might wonder if that results in a reduction in clarity and texture, the end result is a rather accurate sounding experience that proved to be one of the IEM’s best aspects.

Piano tonality is very accurate throughout the range with lower notes having additional weight, whilst the upper range comes across as slightly thinner sounding and less impactful — something that mirrors my personal experience playing the instrument for many years.

Female vocals have very good clarity and cut through the instrumentation quite easily — and still manage to not become strident in the process.

Overall, the Premier offer both accurate tonal accuracy and note weight — which is something that very few IEMs or headphones manage to do regardless of price.

UE made it clear to us that most IEMs are not capable of true 20Hz to 20kHz performance and that it was a major design goal to deliver that within a +/-3dB window.

Based on those claims, we expected the treble to be more aggressive than the rest of the range and that proved not to be the case.

There is some bleed from the upper midrange into the lower treble, but it never gets hard enough to make the treble strident; percussion snap is crisp with good snare rattle and hi-hat and cymbals have good energy without ever sounding metallic.

UE Pro Premier IEM Top

The most impressive thing might be just how open the top end of the Premier sounds with a lot of detail and airiness that never becomes strident or fatiguing during short or rather long listening sessions.

Overall soundstage performance is very good and whilst one is required to temper their expectations somewhat because these are closed IEMs, the UE Premier manages to sound more spacious within its shell than you would expect.

Soundstage depth is actually more impressive than width but both are large enough to seat an orchestra without feeling that too many instruments are crammed into too small of a soundstage and there is no sense of overlapping.

There is a rather good sense of height with most mixes and one can discern spatial cues from different angles surprisingly well. Imaging is superb with instruments and performers locked firmly in place and one can easily track movement across the soundstage.

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UE Pro Premier IEM Inner

The overall sonic signature could best be described as a midrange forward, mild ‘V’ which some might find problematic.

There is a mild lift in the low end and a corresponding degree of emphasis in the upper midrange and lower treble that creates that mild ‘V’ but that isn’t how one should define these IEMs overall.

The Premier are a mid-forward IEM with exceptional detail retrieval that adds some fullness and warmth that one rarely finds in rather clinical sounding reference IEMs.

Having that extra degree of overall warmth could be a problem if the overall sonic signature wasn’t rather clear sounding with excellent detail, but that never happens with the Premier.

Most Similar Alternative?

If you are seriously considering the UE Premier, the most similar alternative might be the Empire Ears Wraith ($3,499) which also offers a less than neutral sounding foundation.

The Wraith, however, is thinner sounding in the midrange and most certainly hotter in the treble. Switching back and forth between these two fantastic IEMs was interesting because there were elements of their performance that I liked over the other with certain music.

At the end of the day, the Ultimate Ears Premier are more forgiving of the two and easier to use with a wider range of Dongle DACs and DAPs.

UE Pro Premier IEM Kit

Final Thoughts

Spending $2,999 USD on a pair of custom IEMs will certainly raise a few eyebrows, but that is the going rate for some of the best currently available.

What is so intriguing about the UE Premier is how they manage to offer so much detail and clarity without becoming fatiguing and how much easier they are to drive than many of their rivals.

When you add up their overall sonic performance, technical excellence, and superb build quality — they actually make a stronger case for themselves than a rather large number of the most expensive IEMs on the market, which includes a few that are double the price.

Are these the best value in high-end custom IEMs? We would be hard pressed to suggest otherwise.

Where to buy: $2,999 at Ultimate Ears Pro

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Update: Save $750 off UE PREMIER from Black Friday to Cyber Monday!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. IemEndgameSystem

    November 3, 2023 at 11:07 am

    Welcome worlds 1st 42 transducer IEM..Peace!

    • Ian White

      November 3, 2023 at 6:44 pm

      And they sound phenomenal.

      IW

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