- Excellent, accurate frequency response with rich lows and ideal high frequency clarity.
- Exceptional in-ear fit.
- Incredibly expensive.
- Light on accessories.
- No inline remote control.
The Ultimate Ears UE 18+ Pro headphones deliver stellar, accurate audio for the stage and studio professional—or the die-hard audiophile with a very big budget.
First off, a friendly reminder that if you want a pair of custom earphones, you’ll need to make an appointment with an audiologist to have your ear impressions made and sent to Ultimate Ears. These appointments can vary in cost greatly, but are typically minuscule compared with the cost of the earphones themselves. Ultimate Ears is now pioneering a system that stores your impressions digitally and utilizes 3D printing in the manufacturing process, but this still involves an appointment to have impressions made, whether they’re physical or digital.
Sometimes the custom in-ear monitor market feels like the men’s razor business—is it ever possible to have too many blades, or in this case, too many dedicated drivers stuffed into a custom molded earpiece? Ultimate Ears and JH Audio seem not to think so. The recently reviewed JH Audio Roxanne$1,999.00 at Amazon flaunts 12 drivers per ear, while the UE 18 Pro+ deliver audio through six drivers with a four-way crossover system, all upgraded from the previous UE 18 Pro’s drivers to Ultimate Ears’ proprietary True Tone drivers, which the company claims add an additional 3kHz of high frequency response.
The UE 18 Pro+, much like other Ultimate Ears custom models, is offered in a wide variety of looks—you can really glam things out with earpiece flourishes like wood finishes or carbon fiber, or keep things relatively simple with a solid or translucent color (you have more than 20 to choose from). A braided cable detaches from each earpiece—when worn, the earphones will snake the cable up and over the ear, utilizing a semi-rigid, moldable section of cable to angle the direction downward. The default 48-inch cable offers no inline remote control, but you can select a cable with a remote when ordering, or pick a remote-free cable of a different length.
The earphones ship with a personalized circular hard shell carrying case and an earwax cleaning tool. Both are solid inclusions, but for the price, it still feels a little light on accessories—an additional cable or a 0.25-inch adapter would have been simple, appreciated extras, for instance.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver powerful deep lows, but despite their subwoofer-like capabilities, they don’t exaggerate the low frequency thump and push the bass too far forward in the mix, as they easily could. The thumping lows here sound powerful because the track is mixed that way, and the UE 18+ also dutifully deliver clear, pristine highs that provide clarity and balance in the mix.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with less deep bass in the mix, shows that the earphones don’t invent low frequencies where they don’t exist. The drums on this track are often embellished with added deep lows on bass-forward earphones, but here, while they get a solid sense of low-mid attention, the drums aren’t remotely thunderous. Callahan’s baritone vocals are delivered with a solid high-mid presence so that their low-mid richness has a crisp edge. The guitar strums and percussive hits also benefit from excellent clarity and definition in the high-mids and highs.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives just enough high-mid presence to allow its attack to have a sharp edge to it, but we’ve heard plenty of earphones sculpt this frequency range a bit more. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with accuracy, and not a hint of overindulgence in the lows. If you’re looking for earphones that pump up the bass frequencies significantly, you can spend far less on another pair to get the boosted bass sound. Here, you have accuracy throughout the frequency range—the lows are dutifully represented but not overtly boosted, and the highs are crystal clear, but not boosted and sculpted to the point that certain ranges outshine others.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, possibly sound better than any other genre through the UE 18+ Pro. There’s excellent, accurate low frequency presence—you get a sense of the size of the room the track was recorded in, and the bass has resonance at times, but never feels boosted nor dialed back. The higher register strings, brass, and vocals have an ideal amount of high-mid and high frequency presence—they’re the stars of the show, but are never too bright or sibilant.
If it’s an accurate, near flat response sound signature you’re after, the UE 18+ Pro will not disappoint. This is a frequency response for professionals, whether in the studio or on the stage. If you’re a musical enthusiast with a very flexible budget, the UE 18+ Pro will provide you with an exceptionally accurate audio experience. Compared with the JH Audio Roxanne, the UE 18+ Pro deliver a more strictly flat response sound signature, as the Roxanne earphones allow you to adjust the bass response (within reasonable levels), which can bring out a little more richness in the lows. If you’re looking for an excellent custom in-ear experience, you might also consider the Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor, the JH Audio JH16 Pro, and the far less expensive Ultimate Ears UE 5 Pro. For $1,500, the UE 18+ Pro deliver audio that is suitable for the professional seeking accuracy and the music lover seeking the same, earning our Editors’ Choice in the process.