Bass players obsess over their amps, endlessly debating the merits of brands, configurations, size, and nearly every other conceivable detail. Yet, when it comes to the average gig of decent size, the audience hears a DI (or, less frequently, a mic), while the player is at least partly relying on a monitor—a full-range speaker that’s not purpose-built to accurately convey bass. In fact, the vagaries of monitor quality end up being a decisive factor in a performance, with a bad mix making it difficult to feel comfortable and creative. There are a couple ways to mitigate the chaos of live sound, though. First, any band with the resources should consider hiring its own sound engineer. Second, and equally effective, the band should consider switching to in-ear monitors.
The UE 11 PRO in-ear monitors are among the best money can buy, especially for bass players. The advantages of an in-ear monitoring system are enormous. Rather than suffer the indignity of a lame stage mix, in-ears allow each band member to tailor their mix as they see fit and deliver it to their ears at a comfortable volume. The impact on clarity is phenomenal. And while there are many generic models to choose from that feature general-purpose earpieces, to get the most out of the in-ear monitoring experience, it’s wise to go with a set of custom-fit in-ears like the UE 11 PROs.
I have been fit for custom in-ears and earplugs in the past, but that didn’t prepare me for the technology behind UE’s newest fitting system. While UE can make custom in-ears from old-fashioned silicone molds, the company recommends users avail themselves of the latest digital ear-scanning technology. The result is extremely accurate, and since it yields a digital file, is easier to transmit to the manufacturer. For the fitting, I went to UE’s Hollywood office and sat in a chair facing a computer monitor. The technician used a handheld device that looked somewhat like the scope doctors use, but bigger. After determining the depth of my ear canal, she manipulated the laser-based scanner around my ear, creating a detailed image in the process. The whole procedure only took five minutes, and within a few days I received my custom in-ears, complete with a personalized carrying case and cleaning tool.
The fit was perfect. Once I mastered the insertion technique, the in-ears felt like they had disappeared into my ears; the fit was so spot-on that it was easy to tell when they were slightly out of place. The monitors looked and felt high-end, and since I opted for the transparent finish (there are dozens of color/design options on Ultimate Ear’s site), I could appreciate the fine detail of the UE 11 PRO’s interior construction. Designed for enhanced bass response, the UE 11s stuff four high-fidelity drivers into the small enclosure, one each for treble and bass, and two to handle subs. A 3-way crossover ensures that each driver is receiving its optimal region of the frequency spectrum.
I tried the UE 11’s on all kinds of sources, both as live-sound monitors and as general purpose headphones. They sounded amazing. The speakers’ high fidelity, coupled with the –26dB of noise isolation, made music feel as if it were emanating from the center of my brain. I have never felt so connected and immersed in sound. The bass response was extraordinary—fast, accurate, and robust.
The UE 11 PRO’s are absurdly expensive, yes. They company makes lower-cost models, too, and even a decent pair of consumer in-ears can make a worthy partner for stage monitoring—but if you’re deeply invested in switching to in-ear monitors and you care about strong and authoritative bass response, there is no better option out there.
UE 11 PRO
Pros Superb fit; immersive high-fidelity sound; deep and satisfying bass response
Cons Insanely expensive
Bottom Line While it’s a lot to spend on headphones, the UE 11 PROs are the state of the art in bass-tailored in-ear monitoring.
Input sensitivity 119dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
Frequency response 5Hz–22kHz
Noise isolation –26dB
Impedance 18W @ 1kHz
Speaker configuration Four proprietary balanced armatures with 3-way crossover
Made in USA