|Founder||Jerry Harvey, Mindy Harvey|
In 1995, Jerry Harvey was Van Halen's touring monitor engineer, mixing their stage sound through stage wedges--powerful loudspeakers aiming at each of the musicians. Drummer Alex Van Halen had great difficulty hearing the other band members over all the noise of the stage; louder monitors did not help. Harvey created a custom molded earpiece for the drummer to block some of the stage noise and focus on the desired sound: a prototype earpiece that contained two tiny speaker drivers, one for low frequencies and one for high frequencies, the frequencies split by a passive audio crossover. The high frequency driver was a stock Japanese component but a suitable low frequency driver was difficult to find. The only driver which survived strong kick drum signals was a Knowles-made pacemaker part, a balanced armature transducer intended to warn the pacemaker wearer of internal problems. Other Van Halen band members became interested and Harvey crafted further sets. The musicians touring with Van Halen--Skid Row--wanted some in-ear monitors and Harvey sold them six pairs for $3,000. Pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck wanted a set and at that point Harvey determined to start a company to supply the demand.
Harvey and his wife Mindy decided to divorce at the same time as they joined as business partners in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they incorporated Ultimate Ears. Mindy Harvey later said, "Ultimate Ears is the child we never had ...and in the big picture, getting divorced was the only way to spread the word about the company." The company was run from Mindy's home, offering not just custom-molded earpieces but the associated radio transmitters and receivers intended for use onstage by performing musicians. Jerry Harvey promoted the systems and also helped Shure produce their E1 and E5 IEMs, "the first universal-fit dual-driver monitors." Helping Shure make this product also helped the new company Ultimate Ears gain respectability. Ultimate Ears first became significantly profitable in 1998 with the introduction of the UE-5 model; the fifth of Harvey's designs. Customers included The Rolling Stones, Faith Hill, Enrique Iglesias, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
From the beginning, Ultimate Ears partnered with Westone to manufacture Harvey's designs, but in 2001 Westone began to operate a separate distribution channel in Europe, selling the IEMs as their own designs, holding all the Ultimate Ears trademarks and patents. Relations between Westone and Ultimate Ears soured. Harvey did not have any patents, so it was difficult for him to separate his design, marketing and sales business from the manufacturer. At the beginning of 2002, Ultimate Ears opened their own lab, hiring Chomphorn "Noy" Soudaly, an audiologist and hearing aid technician, to run the lab. In April 2002, Ultimate Ears produced an upgraded model without Westone's help. The Harveys were able to retain nine out of ten customers; the remainder became customers of Westone. In 2003, Ultimate Ears had five employees and held about 80% of the professional IEM market.
Harvey went out on tour with Linkin Park to get back in contact with touring musicians and while on tour he noticed the popularity of iPods and other mp3 players. He returned with the idea that Ultimate Ears should offer a consumer model for audiophile listeners. The resulting UE-5c appeared in January 2004 sold for $550. High sales of these doubled the company's income. Pursuing this direction further required outside investment, and the Harveys contacted Bob Allison, owner and CEO of Innovate Partners, an investment holding company in Irvine, California. Allison became the CEO of Ultimate Ears as the company moved to Irvine, with Mindy Harvey the president and Jerry Harvey the CTO. Innovate Partners helped Ultimate Ears develop a manufacturing source in China to provide the expected volume of sales. By April 2005, the resulting Super.fi 5 Pro, a double armature product, was offered to consumers at $250 per pair, and sales of these helped Ultimate Ears to gross more than $10 million in 2006. That same year, Ultimate Ears teamed with M-Audio and with Altec Lansing to produce rebranded lines of earpieces, one sold under the management of M-Audio (their IE model line) and the other under the Altec Lansing name.
Harvey left Ultimate Ears in 2007 after designing and producing the UE-10 Pro and then the UE-11, the first 3-way and 4-way (respectively) IEM products from Ultimate Ears. Harvey said he was "forced out" by Allison who wished to strengthen his position as leader.
Ultimate Ears was acquired by Logitech in August 2008. The $34 million deal bought out Mindy Harvey's share and gave Logitech its first in-ear earphones product line. Allison continued as division CEO. Logitech's vice president in charge of headsets and earbuds, Philippe Depallens, said that even after the departure of both Jerry and Mindy Harvey, the company has been able to "keep carrying the torch of having the best in-ear monitors in the market."
Like all earphones the Ultimate Ears consumer monitors require the user to test varying sizes of ear cushions (included with the purchase) in order to achieve the proper fit for noise isolation.
Ultimate Ears has always offered earplugs for professional musicians. The earplugs are marketed relative to the amount of background noise reduction.