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Hands-on with the UE LIVE CSX
Hands-on with the UE LIVE CSX IBTimes / Jeff Li

As a pioneer in the custom in-ear monitor (CIEM) field, Ultimate Ear continues to challenge the status quo with new innovations. It's current top of the line UE LIVE, using a whopping 7 Balanced Armatures + 1 Dynamic Driver hybrid arrangement, and also offering the new UE Switch, allowing the user to swap between multiple faceplates with a quick twist.

With all that the UE LIVE has to offer, does it truly give the ultimate listening experience, and set itself apart within the fast-crowding IEM space? Let's dive in to find out.


The CSX Daily Fit

UE offers two configurations for the UE LIVE, either the PRO fit or the CSX fit. The difference between them is that the PRO fit is made by using an ear mold created by an audiologist, which extends deeper into the ear for a deeper fit, whereas the CSX fit uses the FitKit, the ear mold can be generated at home. In this review, since we're intending to use the UE LIVE as a daily driver, the CSX fit is chosen as it is less fatiguing to wear.

The process of using the FitKit and getting a unique imprint of one's ears is detailed in our last review of the UE 11 CSX. In fact, since UE has my ear profile in their archive, I didn't even have to go through the fitting process again, and they were able to create the UE LIVE using the information on file.

When the UE LIVE came out of the box, it fit exactly like the UE 11s did, matching my unique ear contour. In fact, since I had a one-on-one online consultation with a UE team member for a complementary Virtual Fit assessment previously, the UE LIVE fit even better out of the box than the 11s.


UE Switch: Interchangeable Faceplate System

Since CIEMs are hand-built, its custom designed faceplate is one of the exciting choices that the user gets to make during purchase. UE has a range of textures to choose from, and even has a 'design your own' option where you can upload the image file of your own artwork.

With the new faceplate system (a paid option at $199 at the time of writing this article) you can get two extra sets of faceplates that are custom made to your IEMs. I'm pretty sure this is a world first for CIEMs, and is the ultimate (and only) bling for your monitors.


To create something like this, there must have been serious engineering involved, since the structural integrity of the IEM shell requires a lot of work for it to remain uncompromised. What's more, the space inside of the UE LIVE is already quite limited with 8 fitted drivers, so the plate switch system too must've been thoroughly worked on for it to take up minimal space and at the same time, withstand the abuse that IEMs go through while on stage or on the move.


While considering this, the final twist-fit system that UE came up with is nothing short of genius. Behind each faceplate is a small 'T' shaped 'key' that fits into the 'keyhole' on the monitor face, and clicks in place with only a 90-degree twist. Once the plate is fitted on, they are perfectly flush with the IEM body, and are practically impossible to come off by accident.


The faceplates are a premium option, but they allow for very interesting aesthetics options. I ordered the Clear, Carbon Fiber, and Mother Pearl. Each were made to a high level of craftsmanship, and UE even includes a carrying pouch for the faceplates. My favorite configuration is mismatching them to easily distinguish between the left and right earpiece.


7 BA + 1 DD Hybrid Arrangement

UE LIVE is in fact the company's current flagship model, with the maximum number of drivers fitted in each earpiece. The UE 11 CSX, which we reviewed before, had a decent bass, but with balanced armature was unable to produce the rounded punch of Dynamic Drivers.


As the first hybrid arrangement, the UE LIVE addresses this limitation with the inclusion of a 6 mm Neodymium driver, together with two balance armatures to give the cleanest, biggest bass in the UE lineup: and it doesn't disappoint. Though the UE 11 was tuned for bass, the UE LIVE has a comparatively obvious superiority, especially in punchy low-ends.

The low-end is not the only specialty of the UE LIVE, but it is also configured with UE's proprietary TrueTone Plus balanced armatures to deal with ultra-high frequencies. These drivers are made for reproducing ultra-high frequencies, to add more detail, separation, musicality and coherence to your music. By capturing more of the overtones and harmonics, the UE LIVE mix has a very realistic texture, capturing chic of high hats, the papery texture of snare drums and the airiness of vocals.


TOTL Sound from UE

What is the UE top-of-the-line sound? Other than its superior treble and bass, the UE LIVE has an interesting linearity in its sound. Let me explain.

Due to its superior separation of instruments and wide soundstage, you don't need to turn up the volume to hear your favorite detail in the music, as there is a flat linearity in how everything is presented. It's as if all instruments are equal distance from you and every little detail captured for your pleasure.

Using my favorite album to test the UE LIVE, I played lossless tracks from Jamiroquai's 'Traveling Without Moving'. Its intricate arrangement of funky guitar licks, percussion instruments and slap bass all have specific spatial location. It's an album that I've listened to for over 20 years, but with the UE LIVE I'm noticing and appreciating new details that I hadn't noticed before.


Included Hardware for Everyday Carry

The whole idea behind UE's CSX range is so that people can enjoy their CIEMs on a day-to-day basis. So together with the UE LIVE, it comes with a braided cable with an inline microphone that terminates with a 1/8" headphone jack, as well as a behind-the-neck wired Bluetooth receiver.

Especially those who need serious sound isolation while they are on the move, or in a noisy office or cafe, the included hardware will provide a simple means to use the UE LIVE that way.

However, as a premium earphone, I would say that though these cable systems provide convenience for everyday carry, they barely do justice to the quality of the UE LIVE's sound range. I would still recommend purchasing a balanced cable with IPX terminations, such as the Linum T2 SuperBaX, balanced 4.4mm cable. For those who want an end game level sound, I would also recommend investing in a decent sound source, for example the FiiO M17 DAP, which I had used for this review.


Final Verdict

In an ever-expanding market for in-ear monitors, Ultimate Ears would always hold a special place as it is, after all, the company that started it all. As the flagship model, the UE LIVE CSX exhibits the best that UE has to offer, and it offers an impressive listening experience not only reserved for professional musicians, but also for those who demand the best of the best, anytime, anywhere.


For its top of the line sound that can be worn anywhere, for extended times, and the unique aesthetic offering from UE Switch's faceplate swapping system, we're awarding the UE LIVE CSX the IBTimes Best Products badge.

Check out the UE LIVE CSX on their official website.

Sam is a production engineer turned tech writer who specializes in seeking out gadgets that enhances productivity while still looking sharp. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travelers.