Peeking inside the Premiers is like looking at some kind of cybernetic device from John Connor’s future. The drivers include, from low to high, four dedicated sub woofers, eight drivers to cover the middle-low range, four midrange drivers, four high-frequency super tweeters, and one proprietary True Tone driver designed to capture any upper harmonics and overtones present in the mix. There’s also a five-way passive crossover that directs each tone coming in to the best driver for it. The Premier are capable of delivering frequencies as low as 5 Hz and as high as 40,000 Hz, both extremes being beyond the range of the human ear.
All that componentry adds up: These headphones cost $3,000 a pair. Ultimate Ears Pro is marketing the Premiers toward, well, pretty much anybody who can afford them. That includes musicians who perform in front of packed crowds, studio engineers, composers, and just plain old audiophiles with disposable income. Traditionally UE Pro has targeted different products to different demographics, so it’s interesting to see it take a sort of “one ring to rule them all” approach here. I actually already had a pair of the company’s last flagship IEMs, the highly regarded(eight drivers per ear, $2,299), which I’ve used obsessively for the past four years, so I was able to do a bunch of one-to-one comparisons using a variety of music players and music sources.
The first thing I noticed is that the Premiers are larger than the Lives. The faceplate of the Live lines up with the plane of my outer ear, while the Premiers stick out ever so slightly. They feel a bit tighter within my ear, too, and it took me a week or two to get used to them. They don’t have active noise canceling, but they fit so snugly that they block out roughly 26 decibels of ambient sound, a noise level equivalent to the murmur of an open-plan office. You will not have any trouble hearing audio over the roar of a plane, or really anything else. The Premiers have three holes in them: a main channel for delivering sound, a small hole next to it that helps deliver additional frequencies, and a tiny hole toward the top of your ear (by the helical crus) which is exclusively used to vent pressure (better for your eardrums and for bass performance, almost like open back headphones).
The Premiers come with a swappable cable with UE Pro’s proprietary IPX67 connectors. That means you can replace a damaged cable, swap in a cable with a mic to use the earphones for calls, or even plug in a Bluetooth cable that lets you run them wirelessly. You also get an engraved carrying case and a cleaning tool. For my custom faceplate I chose a multicolor splash, but wood, mother of pearl, and carbon fiber are all options.
It doesn’t really matter how many drivers you cram into headphones if they don’t sound good. Fortunately, the Premiers offer absolutely breathtaking soundscapes. Music comes through so full, and so rich. The separation between different instruments is immaculate. On lower-quality headphones or speakers, you sometimes hear some instruments duck down in volume to make space for others. In the Premiers, each instrument seems to occupy its own space, and everything seems to be in perfect balance.