Review: Ultimate Ears UE LIVE – Save the bees

Breakdown

 

In contrary to a normal review I will use the same breakdown as I always do for my Custom Inear reviews:

  1. Build quality & Comfort
  2. Personalization
  3. Cable
  4. Price & Accessories
  5. Customer Service
  6. Sound
  7. Comparisons
  8. Synergy

 

1. Build quality & Comfort

Ultimate Ears of course has a lot of experience in making monitors and there really isn’t anything to complain about. Size-wise this is a very normal monitor and I’m positively surprised to see that the 8 drivers only take up so little space. In case you didn’t know yet: each CIEM is handcrafted and digitally modelled and 3D printed for perfect fit, comfort, and strength.

My 18+PRO fit me perfectly and this LIVE model was built with the same impressions. Just like with the 18+PRO, the LIVE’s canal part is short and has soft edges and it perfectly fits in my ear. It’s impossible to break the seal. As long as your impressions are good, I’m convinced UE will make perfectly fitting monitors.

This time round the internal build construction is reasonably symmetric when comparing left to right. There are many different components inside the LIVE’s shells and so it is difficult to keep everything clean but UE has managed to keep things clean on both sides. With the 18+Pro I wasn’t fully convinced of the build quality of the shell but with this LIVE version, everything just is perfect. There are no errors in the shell, the connectors sit perfectly flush and tight and the faceplate closing is thin and precise. No remarks whatsoever here.

2. Personalization

You can of course personalize the LIVE monitor when ordering it and you can find the personalization tool on their website here: https://configpro.ultimateears.com/?model=8468b6ae70ed43e485d6f2d84a1fa910 . The tool is quite nice and it gives you different options: Translucent – Solid – Sparkle – Specialty. I can’t see the LEGO design anymore but there are plenty of different options available. You can now also upload your own artwork (+$200), add a halo (+$200), add an ambient filter (+$50). The weird thing here is that you have to pay $50 to remove the UE logo…

Back in August when my LIVE was being built, I first created an “Alice in wonderland” design but unfortunately that wasn’t possible because of the protected design. I then came up with a new design to support the “Save the bees” movement and so I created a black on yellow and yellow on black honeycomb design faceplate. I’ve been told that this design since then has been copied already by others so it seems it’s a good one. I for one really love it and the bee concept draws a lot of attention on the train. A perfectly executed design by UE, mission achieved.

Don’t let the designer tool get in the way of your creativity though. UE can do so much more than their tool offers, so if you’re looking for something specific, do get in touch with them before you order your set. The online tool also lets you choose between different cable types and cases and it’ll calculate the final price for your design with the options chosen.

3. Cable

A top level monitor deserves a good cable, and most of the popular CIEM companies nowadays are working together with a boutique cable maker.” Ultimate Ears clearly agrees as they’re working with Estron/Linum from Denmark. The SuperBax cable is now being offered with the full UE line-up and they even developed the IPX connector together.

We already know that the SuperBax cable is an excellent cable in both sound and comfort and the Superbax also won our Best Value Cable award a few weeks ago! The SuperBax doesn’t tangle, is light, comfy and hardly noticeable. You can perfectly wear it above the ear and it won’t bother you a single bit as it’s light and soft. This new SuperBax cable does come with a new feature though as it now has a new cable tie where the cable splits left and right. With this new splitter you can lock the mechanism and that way the splitter will always stay perfectly in place where you set it (for me that’s under my chin). That way the cable never gets in the way, it won’t snag the monitors and it won’t bother you at all.

We’ll have to see how the new connecter behaves in the long run but it seems to be very sturdy so far and it has thousands of confirmed connections, so it should last very long indeed. Cable-wise, UE from me gets a double thumbs up. The Superbax IPX-cable only comes in a 3.5mm termination for now (though the 2.5mm version now is available from Linum) and it of course can only be used with T2 and IPX connectors.

4. Price & Accessories

The LIVE is UE’s TOTL monitor and its price starts at $2199. Depending on the accessories and design chosen that can end up being a few hundred USD more.

As this was my second UE monitor in a short period, we agreed to just send the monitor and the Superbax cable in a simple case without any accessories. Of course you’ll get the full experience as a normal customer and you probably get something like I did with the 18+PRO: “The 18+PRO comes in really beautiful box. When you flip it open you’ll see the UE labelled inside of the box and a manual saying “Thank You”. Under the manual, there is the roadie case which I chose. Inside the roadie case you’ll find the monitors, a soft pouch to put them in, the SuperBax cable and a basic cleaning tool. It’s a really nice package with standard accessories but they’re all very well done.”

5. Customer Service

I didn’t deal with the UE customer service directly as everything was discussed via Fischer Amps. I can only say that Fischer Amps is a really good company, they have a lot of experience and they have an excellent service.

As said FA has over 20 years of experience and they’ve been doing the European UE distribution since 1999, so also almost 20 years. That clearly means both buyers and UE are very happy with the level of support they’re getting from FA, and I’m sure the UE service is just as good.

6. Sound

The LIVE monitor is built for a professional audience and the monitor is intended to be used on stage. Of course we audiophiles like everything but for artists there’s a big difference between getting the right amount of bass or amplitude on stage when performing or not getting it enough. We don’t tend to listen or use the monitors in such noisy environments but for the artist it can make or break a performance.

That’s why the LIVE was designed to deliver extra bass amplitude and a full bodied sound from bass to treble. The difference in sound signature is immediately audible when you’re coming from the more neutrally tuned 18+PRO though if you’re in to bigger sounding ear-and headphones, the difference might not be as “shocking”.

But don’t get me wrong: bass and body are not exaggerated. The artists simply wouldn’t accept that and so bigg bassheads will still be left wanting more bass and bigger impact than the LIVE delivers. For some of you who prefer a lighter, more balanced presentation, the LIVE’s tuning might already be too much for you. On the other hand I find it to have great synergy with lighter, more forward, neutral sounding DAPs such as the Astell&Kern SP1000 and a lot of other ESS Sabre based players.

What strikes me most besides the bass and body is the clarity and precision, though it at he same time isn’t a surprise as the 18+PRO also scores excellent in these regards. I’m pleasantly surprised actually as it isn’t always easy to combine bass, body, cleanness and clarity all in one, and UE did an excellent job here. If clarity and a clean sound are extra important to you though, the 18+PRO will probably be the better monitor for you.

The stereo image and left/right balance with the LIVE are also really good but because of that bass and body the monitor does sound less balanced and neutral than the 18+PRO. That last one also sounds snappier and faster though this could be the same in the LIVE, yet it may be a little hidden behind that body and bass.

The sound stage is wide, the separation is good and the airiness is more than sufficient. It actually reminds me a lot of the Vision Ears VE8 in these regards and that’s an award winning monitor. At the same time the VE8 and LIVE aren’t the most spacious, precise or widest sounding monitors either, but they were intentionally tuned that way.

The part on sound continues on page three of this article, just click HERE

Review: Ultimate Ears UE LIVE – Save the bees
4 (80.83%) 48 vote[s]

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

7 Comments

  • Reply January 11, 2019

    Jonathan Sudharta

    So what is the Live purposely build for, only for artist or audiophile can enjoy this? Quite surprising because they mention its the mix of UE7 and UE11, because i have the ue7 and the high really sparkle and it make string guitar sounded like string, it doesnt change the sound of the string to more timber-ish sound.

    Is the UE18 got more treble sparkle or just flat sounding?

  • Reply January 11, 2019

    Lieven

    UE18 is flat and has more sparkle in treble.
    It’s made for Professional use but some audiophiles will like the typical sound as well. It’s all explained int he review really.

  • Reply January 17, 2019

    Darren

    I’m debating back and forth on whether to purchase the UE REFERENCE REMASTERED vs. UE LIVE. Do you find that the LIVE colors the sound too much for studio applications where a flat response is needed, or as you say in the review, is it indeed the perfect solution for those who use their monitors both at home and on the go? I appreciate any insight or recommendations you have as to which option to choose.

    • Reply January 21, 2019

      Lieven

      I wouldn’t use the LIVE ina studio no, go reference or 18+PRO for that

    • Reply March 20, 2019

      zenmaestro

      go reference for studio. i have live and ue7. i looove the live. so enjoyable for listening to music. just joy. definitely color sound. i would buy another live, without question. they making listening to music so enjoyable. smooth, warm, detailed, visceral, rhythmic, fun, non-fatiguing. they just make me wanna move. i can listen for hours without stopping. for enjoying music, get’em. to master music, not so much.

  • Reply April 6, 2019

    Lee

    I can’t tell you how excited I was to receive my UE LIVEs in the mail a few weeks back. I was expecting to be totally blown away by the flagship IEM from a company with such a stellar reputation and so much seniority in the field. I am an audio engineer, professional musician, and audiophile; and as such, I own countless pairs of headphones, studio monitors, and sound systems, ranging from dirt cheap to embarrassingly expensive. However, I can honestly say, without being hyperbolic in any way, that these are my least favorite headphones I’ve ever owned; bar none. I wanted to love these so badly, especially after dropping $2,250 on them. But, by the time I got to the chorus of the first song I played through them, I was devastated to realize that I didn’t and wouldn’t ever like them at all.
    That said, $2,250 is a lot of money to spend on some ear candy, and I wasn’t ready to give up so easily. So I listened to over 100 hours of music on them, and performed live with them at six shows and a few rehearsals, but I still cannot trick myself into thinking they are anything but well-marketed garbage.
    The best thing about them is the way they fit, but anyone now a-days can make a well fitting CIEM.
    Why are they so awful? The bass and low mids bleed into each in an unparalleled manner. It sounds like there are actual marshmallows stuffed in the sound holes (without the marshmallow’s sweetness, I might add). I know audiophiles hate the word “muddy” when describing how something sounds, but Jesus, these things are so painfully and powerfully muddy. The release of the sub bass is so slow and uncontrolled that it’s just right out distracting. (To be clear, I LOVE sub-bass to a level that makes my wife a little bit jealous.) Here’s how I would describe the sound signature. It sounds as if someone took a parametric EQ and boosted 15 – 20db at 100hz with a ridiculously wide bell curve, and then cut -10db of everything from 450hz to 10khz with high shelf and then rolled off the rest. It’s strange and bewildering to listen to. The mids are so far recessed that you have to crank the volume to unhealthy levels to really hear vocals clearly. As for the treble, it’s not just rolled off; it sounds like you are listening from the room next door.
    At first I thought I must have a defective pair, but it sounds just as bad in both ears, and what are the odds of both sides having matching faulty drivers?
    To test my sanity, I went to a local dealer who sells a number of the big brands, and I got to demo over 25 different models from UE’s competition… I liked every single IEM I heard better than the UE LIVE.
    Also, the SuperBax cable, which I actually loved initially, is already starting to come apart, and UE charges $250 to replace it once it’s out of warranty.
    On the bright side, UE is one of a few companies that has a return policy. But, with the 25% restocking fee, it will still cost me $562 just to return them. Let that sink in for a second… It’s painful to think about.
    Through the demoing process I was able to find hear some IEMS from other companies that are absolutely incredible. I would tell you what models those are, but at the risk of being accused of being an undercover sales rep for another company, I wont post that here.
    All that to say… I would definitely try to demo as many different products as you can before purchasing IEMs, and unless you get to demo and for some odd reason absolutely love the UE LIVE, I would simply look elsewhere.

    • Reply April 26, 2019

      Lieven

      That description doesn’t sound like anything my LIVE sounds like, but it’s clear these are stage monitors, not studio gear
      I have a lot of Linum cables,a nd apart from the very first T2 ones, they all still work perfectly.
      I guess you really had bad luck with this set :/

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