This closed-back design blocks outside noise almost as well as some of the better noise-canceling headphones without the inherent drawbacks (batteries, sound quality compromises, and noise-canceling ear pressure effects) of noise-canceling models. Ultrasone doesn't offer a noise-canceling model; its engineers can't bring themselves to alter the Ultrasone sound with noise-canceling circuitry. So it has instead beefed up the earcups' sealing to limit how much outside sound "leaks" in. It's a highly effective strategy.
The isolation also works in the other direction: people around you won't hear much sound from the Edition 8s, which will make them a good choice if you like to use headphones in bed. Open-back headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800 and Grado PS1000 can be annoying to people around you.
At home, we mostly listened to movies over our Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver. The Edition 8s brought jazz guitarist Mike Stern's "New Morning: The Paris Concert" DVD to life. The sound really did have a live, "this is happening now" quality. We listened at moderate and loud volumes, and while both sounded great, we preferred the louder sound. Drummer Dave Weckl's sticks beating the drum heads and cymbals sounded very real, and when Weckl put the sticks aside and used his hands, the Edition 8s imparted the tactile feel of skin against skin.
The Edition 8s' home theater muscles were put to good use on the "King Kong" DVD. First, because the headphones' prodigious bass output almost made up for not having a subwoofer. When Kong chases Jack Driscoll through New York City streets, every car crash and overturned street trolley was a visceral event.
For CDs and SACDs, we switched over to our Woo Audio WA6 Special Edition headphone amplifier. Listening to the newly remastered Beatles CDs, Paul McCartney's bass parts had a solid punch and power. The Ultrasone Edition 8s brought a new dimension to the sound when he plucked the strings on "The Word" from Rubber Soul. John Lennon sucks air into his mouth between verses on "Girl," and the Edition 8s made it sound less like an effect and more human. Drummer Ringo Starr's hand-slap percussive fills on "I'm Looking Through You" were newly evident. McCartney and Lennon's vocal athleticism on the earlier Beatles CDs sounded thrillingly present.
The Edition 8s were no slouch at home, but were even more amazing with our iPod. We have never heard that level of bass power, detail, overall dynamic range, midrange, and treble clarity on an iPod as we did when listening with the Edition 8s. The sound was much more dynamic than our Etymotic, Klipsch, Monster, and Ultimate Ears in-ear headphones. The Edition 8s sounded clear, clean, and pure with all kinds of music.
Back at home, comparisons with the Sennheiser HD 800s and Grado PS1000s put the Edition 8s' sound in perspective for home theater and music. Those two headphones delivered a significantly more open, less "in-the-head" sound than the Edition 8s'. But open-back headphones produce less bass--though we felt, from home audio sources, that the Sennheiser's and Grado's bass was more detailed.
We liked the Edition 8s best with our iPod, but the Grado PS1000s weren't far behind. The Sennheiser HD 800s sounded excellent as well, but they couldn't play as loud as the other two headphones with our iPod.
The Ultrasone Edition 8s are world-class headphones, but with a very different set of pluses when compared with the best headphones around. They would be our choice for bass-lovers, and for those who might be tempted to use full-size luxury headphones with their iPod or MP3 player.