Thoughts on the Ultimate Ears UE900

ultimate_ears_ue900_05

Disclaimer: The UE900 used for this review is the in-store demo unit for AnalogHead. I compared the UE900 directly to the Triple.Fi 10, Sony XBA-4, JHAudio JH5Pro, Aurisonics ASG-1, Ocharaku Flat-4, and the FitEar 334ToGo. The comparison to other IEMs is a memory-based comparison.

 

I am not so big on doing IEM reviews, but the release of a new flagship from Ultimate Ears definitely calls for a review. To understand what the big deal is about the UE900, we’ve got to understand the context under which this IEM is released. The fact that it comes as a four driver IEM is less important to me than the fact that it’s the official successor to the Triple.Fi 10. Please bear with me while I take some time to talk about some history before the UE900 was released. If you want to jump straight to the sound impressions, go ahead and jump to the Sound Impressions section.

 

Introduction

Sometimes roughly last year Westone started the war on the quad-driver universal IEM. It had that perfect tonality from top to bottom, smooth from top to bottom, warm, well controlled bass, very clean sound and instrument separation. Put that under the rating system of a typical IEM review, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a flaw. Yet it wasn’t a successful product. My guess is that they went too safe they end up with a bland sounding IEM with a very weak PRaT factor.

A few months after the Westone 4, Sony introduced their new Balanced Armature IEM line up with the XBA-4 as the flagship model of the line up. I auditioned all of their XBA line up and came home not wanting to write anything on any of them. The XBA-4 easily was the worst of the line up. It simply is a case of boombox tuning in the form of a fancy 4-driver BA IEM.

All these years, headphone enthusiasts are looking for the next big thing creation in IEMs. Whenever a new promising product came out, a strong positive review would be written with strong promising words that this is THE one that everybody’s been waiting for. I remembered how it started with the Sennheiser IE8, quickly followed by the Westone 3 and the UM3X. Ah, how powerful was the image of the UM3X back then. Then you have the SM3 and SM3v2. Shure updated their longtime favorite SE530 with the SE535 and received more criticism (at least sound wise) than praises. Sennheiser also updated their IE8 and released the IE80, but the reception has been quite lukewarm too. Sony came out with the somewhat superb but flawed EX1000: excellent technicalities but failed miserably in making the tuning mainstream-recording friendly. Aurisonic’s ASG-1 is my current favorite IEM, but I don’t see it taking a mainstream spot anytime soon.

What all these new flagships have failed to do is taking over that legendary, time-tested spot that is the Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 aka the TF10.

 

From the Triple.Fi 10 to the UE900

The Triple.Fi 10 is not a perfect IEM. It lacks the refinement the way some of the newer IEMs like the UM3X and the Westone 4 are tuned. Personally I don’t even use the TF10 mostly because of the awful fit, but from what I gathered from observing the enthusiast’s circle, the Triple.Fi 10 must be THE most universally loved IEM spanning the period of the last ~4 years. It does not have the best sound and the fit is awful but for some reason, people just keep on coming back again and again to the old Triple.Fi 10. People would sell it, only to buy it again and again. The low $179.99 price tag from Amazon.com is much lower than the other triple or quad driver offerings in the market, and its occasional $99 sale only makes the Triple.Fi 10 an even better proposition for people looking for a serious high quality IEM.

Enter the UE900. This is the first serious attempt from Ultimate Ears to update their flagship IEM, amid a much crowded industry than when Jerry Harvey designed the Triple.Fi 10. With Jerry Harvey no longer in Ultimate Ears, obviously the UE900 is the creation of a new team of designers. With the backing of Logitech, I don’t doubt their ability to recruit the brightest talents in the audio business to design their new UE900. Judging from their recently released UE9000 and UE6000 headphones (and Tyll’s favorable review of the two) seem to indicate that the bosses at Logitech are taking personal audio very seriously.

Despite being created under a different team than the Triple.Fi 10, people expected the UE900 to be that IEM that would finally be the update to the TF10. There is something about the tuning of the T10. Though far from perfect, the extremely fast pace and speed, snappy rhythm, awesome PRaT and bass punch, combined with the lively treble just strikes a perfect tone with modern fast-paced music. The treble and midrange on the TF10 do sound a bit dry, lacking the warmth, body and smoothness offered by some of the competitors. The awkward fitting IEM body is universally agreed to be the worst fitting IEM in the business. Certainly, there is room to improve the TF10 and we’re eager to see if the UE900 succeeded in doing that.

 

 

Sound Impressions

Last week, a friend brought the UE900 to a small headphone meet where a few headphone enthusiasts gathered.

Some of the memorable statements among the sea of enthusiastic comments being said about the UE900 were: “It’s a more mature TF10″, “The TF10 has graduated from college”, and “It’s going to be out of stock for a very long time”. Clearly, the small crowd we had on that meet loved the IEM.

I had a listen to the UE900 too and I agree with the positive sentiments. The UE900 definitely improved on the tuning of the Triple.Fi 10 while retaining the forward and fast-paced sound: fuller bass and mids, smoother treble, warmer, all without losing that PRaT that people love the TF10 for. The bass is its strongest point: full bodied and weighty, it remains quick and agile to take on the pace of fast rock and electronic music. You get absolutely no boomyness with the balanced-armature driver, only fast punchy impactful and deep beats over and over again. Transients, like the majority of balanced-armature drivers, are more than enough to handle any recording though overall the UE900 is slightly slower than the Triple.Fi 10.

The signature is forward and engaging like the Triple.Fi 10 with a little less treble. The treble is bright enough to be lively yet safe from sibilance tendencies. Sound stage is just average, but I don’t see that as a weak point as any bigger sound stage and you’re bound to lose that energy and the forward sound (the JH5Pro being a very good example). Despite being a quad driver, there is very little driver phase coherence issues: not only is the UE900 better than the TF10 on this but also better than the JHAudio JH5 with only two drivers.

 

Continue to the next page…

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  • http://twitter.com/saschamt Sascha M. Trinkaus

    Great review. I’d love to see these compared to the classic CIEMs out there, namely the UE-5, 7, 10 and 11.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Sascha, but sorry I don’t have access to the UE customs.

      • http://twitter.com/saschamt Sascha M. Trinkaus

        Fair enough, thanks Mike!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You’re welcome!

  • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

    Nice one Mike!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, L!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692862021 Nick Tam

    It’s strange because people are starting to sell off their UE900s already.

    Only to buy them back later xP

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Funny!

  • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

    At last! They humanized the shape!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes!

  • Dano91

    Thanks for the great review! Could you pls compare q-jays with these ones?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The Q-jays? Very interesting.. well the UE900 is a quad driver vs the Q-jays with dual. The Q-Jays is a lot more flat, while the UE900 more musical with more bass and a more engaging sound.

  • 2jono

    That is one enjoyable IEM review Mike !
    No wonder we all crave for some IEM action on headfonia
    And you Delivered .. Informative and Balanced , Well done Mike )

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks!

  • reckoncile

    what about Ortofon? Monster? Unique Melody? how do they fare with mainstream music?

  • Gurtej Virdi

    great review. Hopefully your compare them to the heir 4ai’s.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/siemens.yee Siemens Yee

    What if compared to JH5? Will UE900 be better?

  • jxhyde

    Hi mike what a great review !

    i am looking for my new IEM to replace my W4 :
    – W4 : I like them but if i have found them really perfect but in fact they are a little too wise for me.
    – Earsonics SM2 : i really like their mids and the luxuriant sound they propose
    – Monster turbine copper pro : i like their dynamic and their soundstage but the detail level and treble are less good than the W4
    – Sennheiser IE80 : i do not like them it seems they lost details for me
    – Hifiman RE262 they were not too warm for me and not usable with ipod video , also they were not confortable for me
    Can you think that UE900 will be a good answer if i want have something like the perfection of W4 with the carnal and luxuriant dimension of the SM2 ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Ugh.. I really can’t say. Sorry I can’t really picture the sound you want.

      • TylerCameron

        My UE Triple.Fi 10’s recently have fallen apart (they lasted 4 years!) and now I’m looking to replace them.
        I listened to a friend’s Shure SE215’s and LOVED the bass and I felt like I could pick out every instrument, but it would feel pretty useless to go from a pair of triple driver monitors to single driver monitors. Same story for Audio Technica ATH-50’s. (but I don’t like headphones. Too much sound leakage)

        But I’m looking at the UE900’s
        Westone UM3X’s
        And the Shure SE215’s.

        I’ve heard that the UE900’s bass is worse than the triple.fi’s, and that’s pretty bad considering, imo, the Triple.Fi’s were pretty sucky at the lows.

        What do you think? Does the bass of the UE900 or Westone UM3X come close to that of the Shure SE215’s? UE or Westone?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I think you should go for the 215s if you’ve heard it and you’ll like it. There is no point spending $200-$300 extra on an IEM if there is no guarantee it’ll sound good to you. I am not saying that the triple/quad driver IEMs are worse than the 215 but there are so many factors to consider and sometimes if you find a sound that’s just right for you, then go for it.

          People love the TF10’s bass for its fast speed and punch, but it doesn’t give you the low hitting bass. The UE900’s bass is different. It has better low bass but less punch and speed than the TF10. Different sort of bass.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Also check out the RHA MA-750i!! They’re the new SE215 (read what Tyll had to say about these two)

        • John Junior

          If you like SE 215 bass, try SE 215 LTD. Who knows the extra kick in the bass give more enjoyment to you. And I’m not a bass head, but still I think SE 215 is not bassy IEM I like they’re labeled, which is a SE 215 with boosted bass.

  • jxhyde

    Hi Mike and thank you for your answer

    perhaps i can explain more simply : I m looking for something warm, luxuriant and detailed.

    i don’t know if it is more clear ?

  • ed harris

    Any thoughts on a comparison with the Grado GR10’s?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Ed,
      Sorry the last Grado IEM I listened to was the GR8. Smooth, a bit forward. It was overall pretty decent. People never really dig it though.. perhaps they see it as a half-hearted attempt by Grado.

  • dhill0n

    Why this website has no products of Klipsch ? The Image S4 is a legend !

    • http://headfonia.com/ Valentin

      I wouldn’t consider none of the Klipsch IEMs especially legendary. This including the S4, X5 and X10. Pretty poor imaging. Mediocre freq response. And horrible longevity in the cable design.

      Klipsch’s 70′-80’s horn speakers though…. legendary!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      No particular sentiment against Klipsch. Just haven’t had the chance.

  • lazuline

    Hi Mike,

    Fantastic review and pictures as per usual.

    I just have to ask–is there any truth to the tiny hole (cleary visible in the 3rd pic) in the nozel getting clogged with ear wax and altering the sound?

    I’ve head both +/- impact on the sound from the mob at head-fi. I just can’t imagine engineers would have overlooked something like this.

  • 00file11

    Hey Mikey: Thx for emphasizing PRaT, dynamics, snappiness, etc. This freq-neglected sonic criteria is, for me, the single most important sonic factor.
    IME, the IE-8 is the best overall (tho’ the SE530 may beat it in speed, its spectral balance is poor). The SM3v2 are an overrated JOKE … yup, I own a pair, and can’t wait to sell ‘em off.
    Also own Ety ER-4 (PRaT is okay).
    An awesome PRaT IEM is the super-cheap Brainwavs Beta (and similar OEMs) — tho’ they are not refined nor detailed and huge BLOATED bass.
    Have heard about TF10’s unequaled (??) PRaT several times.

    Question: Is TF10’s PRaT truly unique in the IEM arena? If V-Moda make the v. PRaTty normal cans, how about their IEMs? Ditto question for Grado (i.e., very PRaTty classics like SR series, but how about their IEMs?)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry I really dont’ understand your question here:
      Can you rewrite/rephrase?

      Question: Is TF10’s PRaT truly unique in the IEM arena? If V-Moda make the v. PRaTty normal cans, how about their IEMs? Ditto question for Grado (i.e., very PRaTty classics like SR series, but how about their IEMs?)

      PRaTty IEMs to watch for (and/or comment on … pls!!):

      New… JVC fxz-100-200/150. TDK MA700. And (of course) Senn IE-800.
      Old(er) …. need (re)test … Head-Direct RE272. Etc

      • 00file11

        “Sorry I really dont’ [sic!!!] understand your question here.”
        You’re FIRED, Mike!!!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You want to take over my job? It’s a lot of work. ;)

          • 00file11

            You have a point: being forced to listen to the SAME music for the sake of standardizing your reviews. Even with “free” cans for life — which may be the case for popular reviewer/sites — I don’t like MUSIC (or MUSIC/Media GEAR) *that* effin’ much … to justify time away from other interests. I mean like Ken Jeong was bangin’ his wife …
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FdJlKc4W68

            But ‘nough philosophy for now …

            But back to PRaT … just toss off the brand/model(s) of an IEM(s) that’s MORE PRaTty than TF10.

            Once you (or anyone reading this) do that, I’ll get a better handle on how (whether!) to pursue this topic.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              More Prat than the TF10? Nothing that I know of.

              • Julius

                Whoa, Mike. I think something is wrong with Disqus again, lol! Same post 10x :)

                • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                  Definitely Disqus is acting up again

  • 00file11

    Great review, Mike.

    I just got a pair and did a couple of tests. I have a sortof DIY dummy head — in the sonove.angry.jp or changstar tradition — with which I test/tweak all sorts of cans. Thru this I found that a slight mod can REALLY improve the SQ of the UE900s — pretty much restoring the TF10’s snap and PRaT, as well as other sonic bennies. Not sure why UE did not think of this … Anyway ….

    You’ve gotta be a little brave for this mod. Take a Dremel and saw off about 1.5mm from the nozzle’s business end. You’ll have to plug the hole so plastic dust does no enter the delicate innards. For that purpose you can use tweezers to insert (and later remove) cotton.

    Got all that … now get to work…and report back with your jaw dropped in astonishment.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Wow… not sure I want to Dremel a UE900. ;)

      My experience with modding headphones is that since acoustic tuning is a matter of choosing the best balance/compromise, when you add some thing to the sound, something else is taken away.

      The problem with all these “mods” is that they only speak about the things the mod adds. Not the stuff taken away. ;)

      • 00file11

        Nothing is taken away except negative qualities you noted in your review. I have two UE900s, both with equal hours burn-in. One with and one w/o mod. No contest.

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  • Fabio_Rocks

    NIce Review Mike. The last iem I got is the Vsonic gr07 mkii. It’s very clear sounding and very detailed. I am little perplex about the bass, with my iphone outdoor is a little “thin”. So I was wondering to get another iem, ie80 or u900. Let’s say I need a full bass like the px100ii, which one will be better for me? Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The ie80 should be closer to the px100-ii signature. Better yet the ie8.

      • Fabio_Rocks

        Thanks Mike! So even the ie8 is kinda forward sounding like the px100ii? I always thought that the ie80 was forward and ie8 laidback… I am a little confused lol

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Well, more bassy body and laid back kind of a feel. The px100-ii is a little forward due to the supra aural design, but it’s still a laid back headphone Imo.

  • Yongky

    nice review mike,
    if i like ps500, is this the right iem for me?
    and how about the isolation compare to se215?
    im looking for a rock iem with isolation like se215 or maybe more :D

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  • Ike

    Hi Mike! Now, I am using UE900 but just want to know if you already tried the Westone UM Pro 30 and 50 yet? How about the sound difference between UE900,UM Pro30 and UM Pro50?

    • k2bro

      I have the Westone 4R. I can’t use them for a prolong time. It actually puts pressure on my ear lobes. I wonder if the UE900 is comfortable?

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Each is ear is different. What could be good in line could be horrible in yours. My suggestion is trying in the shop before you buy them

        • k2bro

          Any recommendations tho?

          • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

            go the custom route :)
            I quite like the Brainwavz S5 and M2. Also the Vsonic models fit great, like the GR7 which is awesome. I have very difficult ears for universals, sorry