Ultrasone Signature Pro
Judging by the number of high-profile German headphone manufacturers like AKG, Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, and Ultrasone, it's clear the Germans have a greater affinity for designing and manufacturing headphones than any other country in Europe. The Signature Pro ($1,299) is one Ultrasone's top-of-the-line models and its sound quality reflects that pedigree. Unlike many high-performance headphones, its clarity shines just as well at home as it does paired with a mobile music device. The Signature Pro is the first model of a complete line of Ultrasone Signature headphones, and this one's stellar audiophile sound proves the company is on the right track.
Design and features
The Signature Pro is treated to a handsome design with earcups trimmed in black glass that contrasts nicely with its matte black plastic parts, leather ear cushions, and headband. Regarding the durability of the glass, Ultrasone tells me the headphone can withstand repeated drop tests to stone floors from a height of 10 feet. I believe it -- build quality feels well above average with an appropriate heft that should withstand many years of trouble-free use.
Although the Signature Pro doesn't look all that different from other higher-end Ultrasone headphones, nearly every part is unique to the Signature Pro. The headphones come with two cables: a 5-foot wire with a 3.5mm plug at the end and a 10-foot cable with a studio-grade 6.3mm connector. Ultrasone also designed the plug on the left earcup to accept a locking mechanism that ensures the cable won't unintentionally rip from its socket.
Additionally, the cables are user replaceable, and an extra-cost cable with a microphone and smartphone controls will hit stores later this year. The earcups also fold flat for convenient storage and protected travel in the zippered case.
Like all Ultrasone headphones, the Signature Pro features S-Logic Plus technology that bounces the drivers' sound off your outer ears instead of firing directly towards your eardrums. The technology produces a more open, less direct sound than other closed-back headphones, and the Signature Pro also features ULE-technology that Ultrasone claims to shield the wearer's ears from low-frequency magnetic field radiation. The headphones employ a special MU Metal shielding to reduce radiation by up to 98 percent , and its impedance is rated at 32 ohms.
The Signature Pro is manufactured in Germany, and the generous warranty coverage runs to five years, the longest warranty I've seen for any set of headphones. To activate the warranty the headphone's owner must register the Signature Pro's serial number with Ultrasone. The warranty covers manufacturer defects and normal use, but not what the company judges to be abuse.
The Signature Pros are very precise, accurate headphones. Listening at home over a receiver or headphone amplifier strengthens its vivid clarity, producing remarkable sound even compared with other high-end headphones. The transparency is addictive, since most headphones sound veiled and cloudy by comparison. This "see-through" quality isn't limited to treble detail -- you also get that immediacy in the midrange and bass. This headphone doesn't overemphasize any particular frequency range; it's not laid-back or mellow. Instead, it's a neutral, colorless device that takes the shape of the music you pump through its drivers. As such, buyers looking for pumped up bass and accentuated highs won't find satisfaction here -- the Signature Pro emphasizes neutrality over artificial sonic boosts.
As a closed-back design, the Signature Pro provides more isolation from environmental noise than open-back headphones. The headphones also limit sound "leakage," so you can watch movies in bed without disturbing the person next to you.
The S-Logic Plus design feature really opened up recordings with spatial effects, like Brian Eno's ambient "On Land" album, which projected a vast soundstage outside my head. The Signature Pro sounds better in that regard than the Grado RS1i open-back headphones. That's worth noting because closed-back headphones like the Signature Pro rarely sound as spacious as open-back designs. The Turtle Island String Quartet's take on Lennon and McCartney's "Because" sounds perfectly balanced and very pure.
You can't always assume high-end headphones will sound impressive on iPods, but the Signature Pro succeeds where other audiophile-friendly headphones fail: it played with a loud, dynamic punch and a spacious sound space.
I also watched several episodes of the "Lost: Season 2" DVD on my Mac Mini computer with the Signature Pros plugged into a $140 Fiio headphone amplifier. The show's theme music, jungle and beach surf sounds seemed to come from all around me, and I was also impressed with the clear sounds of dialog and gunshots that demonstrated the headphones' dynamic punch.
Yes, they're really expensive, but there's a lot to love about the Ultrasone Signature Pro headphones. They're comfortable to use over long listening sessions either at home or on the run, they're ruggedly built to withstand the rigors of daily wear and tear, and Ultrasone has one of the longest warranties offered by any headphone manufacturer. The Ultrasone Signature Pros are a worthwhile investment if you're shopping for full-size headphones that pair well with any genre of music.