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We've reviewed a number of Ultrasone headphones over the years--everything from the iPod-inspired iCans to the luxurious HFI-2200s. But the new Edition 8s are, in so many ways, a very different Ultrasone. First, the Edition 8s have, according to Ultrasone, a completely original design that doesn't share any parts with any other Ultrasone product. Ultrasone's previous Edition series (the Edition 7 and Edition 9) were limited-production offerings and they're all sold out. The Edition 8s are an "open edition," so they'll remain in the line for at least a few years.
The industrial design is unique and we think it's gorgeous. Ultrasone claims the Edition 8s' mirror Ruthenium earcups are extremely scratch resistant. We didn't go out of our way to try to mar the finish, but we didn't baby the headphones either, and they remained blemish free. Genuine Ethiopian sheepskin leather covers adorn the Edition 8s' ear cushions and headband.
With a list price of $1,500, the Ultrasone Edition 8s compete with a select group of luxury full-size headphones, most of which are targeted specifically for in-home use. But unlike the 6.3-millimeter phono plugs found on equivalent Grado and Sennheiser models, the Edition 8s sport a 3.5-millimeter plug that works with portable audio players without the need for an adapter. Indeed, the Edition 8s were a perfect match for our iPod. The headphones are equipped with a thin, 4-foot "Y" cable (one that goes to both earcups), and a 13-foot headphone extension cord is also included for home use.
Which reminds us...when we first started listening to the Edition 8s we found the earpad pressure against our ears to be rather high. After bending the headband a bit to relax the pressure, we achieved a more comfortable fit, without any loss of the Edition 8s' noise-hushing abilities. But the pressure was still a little higher than we would like, and since we wear glasses the pressure against the glasses' sidepieces was annoying. Please understand: comfort issues vary for each individual so our experiences may or may not be a concern for you.
The Edition 8s' mechanical design was conceived with durability in mind. Their leather-covered steel-and-plastic headband looks fairly slim, but extra care was taken with the way the earcups are mounted on specially machined metal-alloy fittings, and the cable connectors--at the earcup and male plug ends--are reinforced.
According to Ultrasone, the Edition 8s' 40-millimeter titanium-plated drivers are individually computer-matched for each set of headphones. (The headphones are handmade in Germany, and each set gets its own serial number.) The Edition 8s' drivers don't fire directly into ear canals; instead, using Ultrasone's S-Logic Plus feature, the sound first reflects off the outer ear, which is the way we hear sound in real life. S-Logic Plus is said to provide a more open, less "in-your-head" sound than more conventional headphones.
As we'd expect with such a pricey set of headphones, Ultrasone includes a travel/storage bag--in this case, one that's made of soft goatskin. The headphones come with a three-year warranty, which is extended to five years after the owner registers it with Ultrasone. So while they're extraordinarily expensive, the Edition 8s should last a long time.
The Edition 8s are closed-back, sealed headphones, so they have a fundamentally different sound than open-back headphones from Beyerdynamic, Grado, and Sennheiser. Specifically, the Edition 8s' bass is bigger and fatter than you'll hear from open-backed headphone designs.
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.