Ultimate Ears: A History of Legacy and Innovation

Ultimate Ears: A History of Legacy and Innovation
From designing and manufacturing the first widely-available in-ear monitors to creating the first custom-fit true wireless earbuds, innovation is the Ultimate Ears legacy.

 

 

Since 1995, Ultimate Ears has made over 100,000 earphones for musicians and music lovers. Our IEMs can be found on stages across the world, from the O2 arena in London to the Tractor Tavern in Seattle. But before Ultimate Ears, custom-made in-ear monitors weren’t as prominent as they are today. 

 

 

Rock’n’Roll Problems

 

Like many great moments in music history, Ultimate Ears was born on a tour bus. Van Halen’s touring monitor engineer realized that drummer Alex Van Halen had been having trouble hearing the other band members through traditional monitor wedges over the audience and asked his monitor engineer to find a solution. Turning up the monitors didn’t help—it just made the stage bleed worse—and was a risk to Alex’s hearing over time. 

 

Though traditional monitor wedges were and still are a go-to option for musicians and venues worldwide, they present a lot of problems for the musicians on stage. With traditional monitor wedges, sound can fluctuate as you move around the stage and can be wildly inconsistent from night-to-night. 

 

Stage bleed—also known as spill or leakage—is particularly problematic with monitor wedges. Musicians need to hear their bandmates to give their best performance. But if you turn up those wedges too much, the sound will spill into the microphones used for their drums, creating a muddy sound or worse. 

 

So how do you solve the problem of giving musicians consistently good mixes while eliminating stage bleed and protecting their hearing? By creating in-ear monitors. 

 

  



The Birth of Ultimate Ears

 

After we finished our prototype, the requests for in-ear monitors flooded in. We outfitted the rest of Van Halen with IEMs as well as the openers, Skid Row. When pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck wanted a set, Ultimate Ears was officially founded to keep up with the demand. The word was out.

  

Our fifth design, the UE 5, was released in 1998 and was our first major hit. Musicians in every genre, including Rock’n’Roll Hall of fame legends and world music superstars, were suddenly using Ultimate Ears IEMs. In 2002 we opened our own manufacturing facility and laboratory to keep up with the ever-rising demand for our IEMs. 

 

 

 

 

Continuous Innovation

 

Not content to rest on our laurels, we continued to innovate. In addition to expanding our professional line, we began to create earphones designed for music lovers who were looking for an immersive, high-fidelity listening experience. 

 

In 2004 we released our first consumer earphones, UE 5c, featuring dual drivers tuned specifically for digital devices which were quickly becoming the primary way music lovers consumed music. Those were later followed by Super.fi 5 Pro, a double armature product.

 

While UE 5 had seemingly cornered the professional IEM market, we kept finding ways to improve our offerings to musicians. In 2007 we released UE 11, which boasts four drivers compared to the two in UE 5. Tuned with high-energy rock, hip hop and metal musicians in mind, UE 11 offered dual low-frequency drivers for extra bass reinforcement

 

With the success of Ultimate Ears came new opportunities. In 2008, Logitech acquired Ultimate Ears as a wholly-owned subsidiary. That opened us up for even more opportunities to collaborate with other technology, improve our products and expand our offerings. 

 

In 2013, Ultimate Ears entered a new market with UE BOOM, a portable wireless Bluetooth speaker that enables music lovers to share their favorite music wherever they go. BOOM was a success early on, allowing us to expand that line over time. Our line now includes the even more compact WONDERBOOM™, waterproof Bluetooth speakers like BOOM 2 that allow you to enjoy music at the pool or beach and the phenomenally big sound of the HYPERBOOM.

 

While IEMs had been a mainstay for almost two decades by 2015, they weren’t as widely used for mixing and mastering recorded music. To bridge this gap, we teamed up with Capitol Studios to release UE REFERENCE REMASTERED, the first custom-fitted in-ear monitors tuned for hi-res audio. REFERENCE REMASTERED, also known as UE RR, offers a uniquely flat frequency response with superior isolation so musicians and mixing and mastering engineers can get perfect mixes even if the audio treatment of their room isn’t quite perfect. 

 

In 2018, we worked with Estron to create durable IP67-certified, sweat-proof connections for our removable cables. This enabled wearers to easily swap between different cable types (or replace cables completely) without worrying about everyday dust or sweat from high-intensity performances damaging their in-ears.

 

Continuing with our history of finding inspiration in unlikely places, we embraced Lightform technology—in which LEDs cause a photopolymer to mold to the shape of your ears—to make it easier than ever for music lovers to get custom-fit earphones. Our CSX line, launched in 2018, is fitted via an at-home Fitkit, which uses a photopolymer and LEDs along with your smartphone to create a high-quality, near-instantaneous mold of your ear up to its first bend. Customers could then send us that mold and have their custom earphones in a matter of days.

 

2018 also saw the release of our flagship UE LIVE custom-fitted IEMs. Featuring an incredible eight precision-tuned drivers, UE LIVE reproduces music with maximum purity and power over 5 to 40,000 Hz. 

 

In 2020, we expanded our foray into Lightform technology with UE FITS, the first custom-fit true wireless earbuds on the market. FITS uses a patented process that creates a custom fitted earbud in less time than it takes to brew a cup of coffee. The result is a comfortable, immersive listening experience at a consumer-friendly price point. 

 

We also released UE SWITCH interchangeable faceplates, which allow PRO and CSX owners to quickly and easily swap between different faceplates to match their style. Customers can even customize their UE Switch plates with logos, custom designs and more.

 

So, what’s next for Ultimate Ears? Since our acquisition by Logitech in 2008, we’ve had more resources available to continuously improve our products, processes and offerings—and we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. If it can improve the listening experience for music lovers and musicians, we’ll work to incorporate it into our offerings. That means expanding our consumer-level offerings while maintaining sight of our top-of-the-line IEMs and earphones. 

 

If you want to stay up-to-date on the future of Ultimate Ears, join our mailing list for updates.

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