There are the essential devices we need to ply our trade as bass players: instrument, strings, amp, cable. Anything beyond that, from straps and gig bags to stomp boxes and beyond, is in some ways ancillary. Not so with the most important tool of all, the ear. With its custom fit earplugs and in-ear monitors, Ultimate Ears offers a range of products designed to treat your earhole right, whether as noise cancellation, in-ear monitoring, headphones, or all of the above.
The first step for any in-ear system is getting a mold. In this case, Ultimate Ears offered free molds at Bass Player LIVE!; UE also maintains a database of recommended audiologists on its website. Once a mold is on file, specialists can create any number of earpieces, from Earplugs ($170) to the dual-driver 4 Pro ($400) to Personal Reference Monitors ($2,000). At the higher end of the UE product line, the Ultimate Ears 11 Pro boasts the best bass response, courtesy of a three-way crossover and a four-speaker configuration comprised of dual-driver subwoofers, a designated midrange driver, and a high-frequency tweeter.
The mold process is quick and painless, a 10-minute affair in which a hardening putty is inserted into your ear canal while you hold a bit between your teeth to keep the canal open. There is mild discomfort in the procedure, as more molding material is inserted into the ear canal than will be used to make the mold. (In other words, the finished product is more comfortable than the molding itself.) Aside from custom fit, Ultimate Ears offers a range of colors and graphics for the earpieces and caps; the design you see here comes from a stock graphic lifted from the Internet.
The finished monitors, which ship in a rugged engraved aluminum case, arrive with a detachable 48'' braided cable with sheathed memory wire at the earpieces (for wrapping up and over the ear) and a goldplated right-angle r'' plug. Once inserted into the ear, the earpieces sit comfortably, even for extended periods of time. With 26dB of passive ambient noise cancellation, wearing UE Pro 11 molds is a sensory-altering experience in itself. When the monitors begin to transmit sound, things get intense. Calling up songs in iTunes—even in their compressed MP3 format—the Pro 11s deliver with a clarity that allows you to hear details that are lost with lesser headphones. Using the Pro 11s while brushing up on material I had previously studied extensively, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were hearing these familiar songs for the first time. An overdose of low end can be exhausting—especially with earphones— but I felt none of that fatigue with the Pro 11s, owing to their clear and focused bass response. Because of the ambient cancellation, playing along with an unamplified bass doesn’t work well; I found it most effective to change my audio playback source to mono and remove one earpiece to play along. As for use through an amp’s headphone jack, the Pro 11s are eye-opening, conveying nuances of touch and tone that vanish with many other headphones.
At $1,150, Ultimate Ears Pro 11 monitors are a luxury, without a doubt. But when viewed as a longterm investment in our most valuable asset—our ears— they are a completely justifiable expense. Simply put, whether on stage or on the subway, UE Pro 11s allow you to hear bass as it is meant to be heard: clearly.
11 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors
Pros Custom fit, fast and clear low end, ambient noise cancellation
Cons Clarity comes at a price
More info pro.ultimateears.com
Input sensitivity 119dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
Frequency response 5Hz–22kHz
Impedance 16Ω @ 1kHz
Internal speaker configuration
Noise isolation -26dB
Plug r'', gold plated
Warranty 1 year limited
Made In U.S.A.