Thoughts on the Ultimate Ears UE900

I do have some less positive comments on the UE900’s sound. It is not particularly airy, though airy sounding IEMs usually create other problems like sibilance and hot treble, so I can understand why UE tuned the treble this way. Sound stage and dynamics sound a bit compressed especially compared to dynamic drivers, so I wouldn’t be using this for classical music. While overall it has a more mature sound than the TF10, I do miss that extra snappy feeling presented by the TF10. I think the extra bass presence is what’s eating into the snap. Mostly it’s a welcome change (the bass), but there are some songs that I feel are still better presented by the Triple.Fi 10. Overall it’s a better IEM than the TF10, but I’d probably try living with the two IEMs for a few months before deciding if I’d sell the TF10.

I am a huge fan of single driver dynamic IEMs, and I’d still take the big driver on the Aurisonics ASG-1 or the Sony EX1000 based on qualities like timbre, sound stage, coherence, and pure effortless detail retrieval. Still, the two dynamics can’t compare to the frequency tuning of the UE900 which currently may be the best tuning for mainstream music in the market.

Recently I had the chance to listen to the Ocharaku Flat-4 which apparently is FujiyaAvic’s #1 selling IEM in Japan. Designed by the ex-Sound Development Director at Sony, the Flat-4 is incredibly natural, effortless and revealing. With good recordings, the Flat-4 is superb. Start playing some mainstream pop through the Flat-4, and you’ll hear flaws in the recordings more than the actual music. The idea here is that designers create IEMs with different goals, and the UE900 is clearly an IEM designed to cater to the mature but mainstream crowd. The crowd should be mature enough, having previous experience with several high end IEMs to know what good sound is about, and with a playlist mixed of modern mainstream music as to fully appreciate the tuning.

 

 

Ergonomics and Build

Far from the Frankenstein fit of the TF10, the UE900 ranks among the best fitting IEM out there. However tip quality is not the best and I find it a bit uncomfortable compared to the Sony Hybrids. The new connector on the removable cable looks like a more solid connection than the TF10’s two pin, but for some reason I keep on getting intermittent contact on the left channel if I bend the over-the-ear cable hook a certain way.

 

Short Comparisons

First, to the quad-driver Sony XBA-4, I don’t think think there is any comparison other than the fact that both use 4 drivers per side. The tuning on the XBA-4 is amateurish, the tuning on the UE900 may be the best in the industry at the moment.

Some people are asking about the quad-driver FitEar 334ToGo, priced at some $1,400 which is higher than a lot of quad-driver custom IEMs. I think the two are incomparable, the 334 being much more refined, smooth, spacious, all those good things you get from a high end full-size headphone set up yet in an IEM package.

Compared to the Westone 4, I think the biggest difference is while the W4 is smoother and more refined, it doesn’t have the bass and PRaT of the UE900. Compared to the SM3 and the SM3v2, I think the UE900 is more fun, more lively and more toe-tapping while the SM3s are always a little too neutral, too flat for me. The Sennheiser IE80? What Sennheiser did was they make a more forward, more engaging version of the IE8 but I don’t think they’ve done anything special with the IE80 (though I’m looking forward to the IE800 very much). The Shure 535 widely considered to be  inferior to the SE530: the midrange too glaring, and you don’t get enough bass body to balance the frequency response. The only other IEM that I can’t compare to at the moment is Heir Audio’s quad driver 4.Ai, but other than that, without going to specifics, I think the UE900 is the best mainstream music oriented IEM on the market at the moment.

 

End Words

Initial hype would be very high. Not only because people’s been expecting this product for years, but because Ultimate Ears have actually succeeded in bringing a solid product into the market. Although I have to say that Ultimate Ears didn’t really come out with anything new here, only what we all know the market wants but nobody have yet to successfully implement. This IEM certainly has been executed very well by the engineers at Ultimate Ears, but only time will tell if it’ll succeed in becoming a widely loved IEM like the Triple.Fi 10 is.

 

Gear used for review:

Fostex HP-A8C 32 Bit DAC/Amp, Matrix Mini Portable, Ipod, CypherLabs Solo.

 

ultimate_ears_ue900_05 ultimate_ears_ue900_04 ultimate_ears_ue900_03 ultimate_ears_ue900_02 ultimate_ears_ue900_01

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69 Comments

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    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.

    • Reply October 30, 2012

      Mike

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

    • Reply December 16, 2018

      Martin K

      I wonder.., how do the UE900 compare in 2018/2019 with their current price of $250?

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    L.

    Nice one Mike!

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    Nick Tam

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

    Only to buy them back later xP

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    Gorboman

    At last! They humanized the shape!

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    Dano91

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

    • Reply November 1, 2012

      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.

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    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 )

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    reckoncile

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

  • Reply October 31, 2012

    Gurtej Virdi

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

  • Reply October 31, 2012

    Siemens Yee

    What if compared to JH5? Will UE900 be better?

  • Reply November 3, 2012

    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 ?

    • Reply November 3, 2012

      Mike

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

      • Reply January 25, 2014

        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?

        • Reply January 30, 2014

          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.

        • Reply January 30, 2014

          L.

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

        • Reply January 30, 2014

          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.

  • Reply November 3, 2012

    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 ?

  • Reply November 21, 2012

    ed harris

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

    • Reply November 29, 2012

      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.

  • Reply November 25, 2012

    dhill0n

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

    • Reply November 25, 2012

      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!

    • Reply November 29, 2012

      Mike

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

  • Reply November 28, 2012

    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.

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    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?)

    • Reply November 29, 2012

      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

      • Reply November 29, 2012

        00file11

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

        • Reply November 29, 2012

          Mike

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

          • Reply November 29, 2012

            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.

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

            • Reply November 29, 2012

              Mike

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

              • Reply November 29, 2012

                Julius

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

                • Reply November 29, 2012

                  Mike

                  Definitely Disqus is acting up again

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    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.

    • Reply November 29, 2012

      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. 😉

      • Reply November 29, 2012

        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.

  • Reply April 2, 2013

    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

    • Reply April 2, 2013

      Mike

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

      • Reply April 2, 2013

        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

        • Reply April 3, 2013

          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.

  • Reply May 18, 2013

    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 😀

  • Reply August 11, 2014

    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?

    • Reply August 27, 2014

      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?

      • Reply August 27, 2014

        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

        • Reply August 28, 2014

          k2bro

          Any recommendations tho?

          • Reply August 28, 2014

            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

  • Reply May 23, 2015

    Venci

    is the ue 900 still the best iem for mainstream music ?

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