Review: Ultimate Ears UE LIVE – Save the bees

Bass – Mids – Treble


The 6mm neodymium dynamic speaker takes care of the bass together with a couple of the balanced armatures and that of course immediately explains why the bass is how it is. Differently said, If you design a monitor with a BA and dynamic driven bass section, then you just know that bass is what you will get. The nice thing here is that the dynamic driver and the balanced armatures are perfectly in tune, something which isn’t always the case with hybrid models (think Polaris)

Bass in the LIVE still has good detail and reaches really down low but the speed, layering and tightness for me is a little less impressive but that probably goes hand in hand with the additional body and impact for stage use. At all times will you get impressive bass from the LIVE and if you’re one of those music lovers that likes bass but not as much as a basshead, then this might be the monitor you’ve been waiting for.

Body-wise the bass perfectly connects to the mids section, the multitude of mid and lower mid focused balanced armatures make sure of that. As a result you get the same effect the bass has where we get a little less precision, speed and decay but if you’re fan of thicker sounding lush mids (and most people are) then these mids will suit you just find. Don’t expect precise, super detailed and analytic mids but think warmth, smoothness and musicality.

With a bass and treble section this specifically tuned, it’s no surprise the treble section is on the easygoing, soft and full bodied side. There’s still enough treble presence, energy and dynamics for the artist but this is far from the extended and focused audiophile treble we know. I’ve been listening to the Shozy/AAW Pola lately with the electrostat driver for the treble region and compared to that the LIVE’s treble simply is very soft. That again isn’t bad or wrong in case of the LIVE, it was exactly tuned this way for artists but for some audiophiles it might be too simple.

Even though the LIVE is for artists I am sure there are audiophiles out there who will love this type of sound. It’s special but once you’re used to it, it’s hard not to like it as it’s soft, smooth and oh so musical.

7. Comparisons

I have chosen four different 8-driver customs to compare the LIVE to.

The Ultimate Ears 18+PRO V2 is the LIVE’s brother one of my favorite monitors from last year. Compared to the LIVE it sounds much more neutral and balanced. There is no increase in body in the bass and the mids aren’t as thick. The clarity, speed and precision is higher and the airiness and extension better. The vocals in the LIVE are lush and natural where they in the PRO are sharper and thinner, more forward sounding. The UE18+PRO V2 is the analytic and precise monitor, where the LIVE is the stage one with bass, impact and lush smooth mids. It’s refreshing to see that UE can make two top models so different from each other. I would still recommend the 18+PRO to the audiophiles reading this.

The Vision Ears VE8 is another award winning custom and while there are resemblances they’re still different. The VE8 is also know for having bigger and impactful bass and thicker mids, but it’s more spacious sounding with a wider sound stage and better extension. The detail precision also is a little higher. Basically the VE8 combines the best of both the pro and consumer world and that’s why so many people like it.

When I’m not reviewing and just want to sit back, sip my Hibiki whiskey and dream away, then the JHAudio JH13MK2 very often is my monitor of choice, and preferable with the WM1Z as source. I discovered JHAudio late in my life but their tuning quickly won me over. The JH13MK2 is extremely musical, its presentation is soft but spacious with great separation and detail retrieval. The sound stage is wide and deep with excellent separation and layering. It’s not what a pro needs but if you love music, you need to at least once in your life own the JH13MK2.

The first thing that strikes you when listening to the Westone ES80 is the more airy presentation, the better extension, the higher clarity and the higher level of micro details. Bass and mid body here is much less present and we can even call this neutral tuning with a good kick. The treble section is further extended and cymbals sound much more energetic and sharp. The ES80 is so different from the LIVE tat they’re complimentary and I really love both sound signatures.

8. Synergy

A high-end monitor deserves a high level source and so I have selected my top 4 DAPs for this section. Unfortunately Linus has the new Lotoo Touch so you won’t find it in this review, sorry. As the Superbax cable from UE is only available in 3.5mm termination at his time, I have only tested the single ended output of these DAPs.

The Astell&Kern SP1000 is precise, analytic and neutrally tuned and so it’s completely the opposite of what the LIVE stands for. This can be good if you want to move the LIVE more to the neutral, lighter and precise side but the magic just isn’t there for me personally. The SP1000 is my number one DAP but the LIVE is one of the few monitors I wouldn’t combine with it.

The Sony WM1Z as well know is the opposite of the SP1000 and it should suit the LIVE’s style much better. With the Sony and LIVE you get two signatures that match and the combo really sounds excellent. Great powerful bass, lush mids and soft treble. IF that’s your thing, this is the ultimate combo for you.

The SP1000M is the little big one in Astell&Kern’s product line-up and it isn’t as analytic and neutral sounding as the SP1000 is. As a result it also matches better with the UE LIVE. The M is lusher in the mids, has some more weight in in the bass and body in the mids and the treble section is a little less energetic. The M retains the excellent detail retrieval and extension and so you get a great sounding combo. If you like both smoothness, impact but also great clarity, dynamics and energy, then this is the combo you’re after.

The advantage of the Cayin N8 is that it offers different sound signatures and in single ended mode we can choose between the tube output or the solid state one. For me personally the warmer and thicker tube output makes the LIVE sound too big and thick for me, but it might just be your thing. I prefer it in ss mode where the sound gets snappier, faster, tighter and more precise. The combination is extremely musical like with the Sony.

Another nice thing about the LIVE is that it doesn’t really need amplification to sound really good. Sure you can alter the sound signature a little bit like you can do with your DAP or phone or any other source but it doesn’t need amping directly to shine. At the office I’ve mostly been using it with the Chord Electronics Mojo and I quite like the combo as the Mojo has speed, precision and clarity. So to make a long story short, you can use the LIVE with any source, it just depends on how you want the LIVE to sound.


Ultimate Ears wanted to create the ultimate stage monitor for professional users and they have succeeded in doing exactly that. At the same time the LIVE is more than just a pro monitor as it has a sound signature in which many audiophiles will be able to find themselves.

If you’re an audiophile and fan of full bodied sound and impactful bass, a smoother tonality and soft delivery than the LIVE will impress. The LIVE is also the perfect solution for those who use their monitors both at home, on the go and on stage: the LIVE simply can do it all.

On top of all that the LIVE comes with an excellent new cable system with improved connectors that will last a very long time. UE made an excellent choice with the Linum SuperBax cable, a cable we all love here at HFN. Great comfort, hardly visible for on stage and great sound.

All in all the LIVE’s package is complete and perfect for what it was designed for and so to the recommended list it goes as a stage monitor. Congrats!


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.


  • 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


    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


    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


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

    • Reply March 20, 2019


      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


    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


      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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