From Roadie To InventorIn 1995, Ultimate Ears' founder, Jerry Harvey, was touring as monitor engineer for rock legends Van Halen, early adopters of personal monitor technology. Drummer Alex Van Halen pulled Harvey aside to complain about the quality of his earpieces. Seeing an opportunity to enter a relatively unchallenged market, Harvey took to the drawing board. After a few months of research, he came up with the design of Ultimate Ears' first professional earpiece, the UE-5 Pro.
The UE-5 Pro was a new concept: a true two-way earpiece based on balanced armature transducers with a passive crossover network built into custom-molded acrylic earpieces. Compared to previously available products, this design was superior in both sound reproduction and comfort for stage performers. Armed with these new designs and concepts, Harvey and then-wife Mindy founded Ultimate Ears in Las Vegas. Ultimate Ears not only offered custom-made earpieces, but also turn-key wireless monitor systems for touring acts, and in-ear monitoring system rental. This allowed Ultimate Ears to build a reputation as a one-stop resource for bands looking for the best in onstage monitoring.
Ultimate Ears' innovations didn't just include their own products: Jerry Harvey was on the design team that conceptualized and manufactured the Shure E1 and the Shure E5, the first universal-fit dual-driver monitors.
The Best Of All WorldsFast forward a few years, and Ultimate Ears has grown from a company with a dream and an innovative design to a company holding an impressive 80% market share of custom monitor sales.
Today, the Ultimate Ears has relocated to Irvine, California, and employs a staff of audio engineers, lab technicians, and customer service specialists, still headed by both Jerry Harvey and Mindy Harvey. For those not within reach of the Irvine office, Ultimate Ears maintains a network of audiologists who offer personalized service on a local level.
Ultimate Ears offers several options in custom-made personal monitors to accommodate a variety of tastes and needs. Their entry-level professional earpiece is still the UE-5 Pro ($700), a dual-driver monitor with passive crossover. A step up is the UE-Hybrid ($800), a product for those who prefer a stronger bass response. These earpieces work on the principle that dynamic drivers (the type used in most consumer headphones) provide a better low-end response, whereas balanced armature drivers provide greater detail and wide-range response. Combining those two technologies into a hybrid dual-driver earpiece, the UE-Hybrid is a perfect choice for those looking for the ultimate bass reproduction.
UE also addresses another concern of stage performers using IEM's for the first time: isolation. While most artists are fine if the mix is supplemented with ambience microphones, some can feel too isolated when using in-ear monitors. To help ease the transition from wedges to a safer in-ear environment, UE has developed the UE-5 Ambient ($800). These earpieces are based on the same dual-driver design as the UE-5 Pro, but are modified with an ambient port on the earpiece to allow the user to switch between -12db and -25db isolation. This lets the monitor engineer build a customized listening environment combining wedges and in-ears, with the goal of weaning the user off the wedges over time.
In 2004, UE announced another breakthrough design in in-ear monitoring: the triple-driver UE-7 ($850) and UE-10 Pro ($900). The UE-7 and UE-10 Pro work on an interesting concept: while not a true three-way design, the low end duties are spread out through two matched drivers hand-tuned to reproduce the low-end simultaneously in each ear. The logic behind this concept is simple: the high output of the extremely high-quality custom driver on the high end is matched better by dual low end drivers. The difference isn't subtle in the least; the triple-driver allows for extremely accurate reproduction of even the finest detail. The UE-7 is designed for stage performers with a natural bump in the low-end, whereas the UE-10 Pro is designed as a studio reference monitor, with an exceptionally flat and uniform frequency response across the spectrum.
After making a huge impact in the professional market, it was time for Ultimate Ears to once again enter uncharted territory: the consumer market. Read on.