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Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones hands-on and impressions

Darren Murph

Ultrasone's been kickin' out $1.5k headphones for as long as we can remember, and it only takes a glimpse at the Edition 9s from 2006 to see just how far we've come. The newest model, curiously titled the Edition 8, was initially announced a few months back, and we've just now been able to stuff our cranium between its Ethiopian sheepskin-covered earcups and hear 'em out. We've listened to our fair share of audio products over the years, and we definitely feel as if these are some of the most exquisite we've had the pleasure of experiencing. Still, with a $1,500 price tag, it'll take a little more than "yeah, these are pretty wicked" to win us over. Head on past the break for our two pennies.

Gallery: Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones hands-on | 28 Photos

Make no mistake, these cans are for audiophiles (affluent ones, at that) only. We mean, $1,500 headphones are hard to justify regardless of your salary, but those obsessed with hearing only the best have proved time and time again that they'll pay absurd quantities of cash in order to do so. At any rate, we have to admit that the fit and finish here really shines. Every square millimeter of these just scream precision and luxury, and the materials chosen for construction are just delightful to the touch. The headband and earcups are soft and supple, and the extensions on both sides were easy to adjust. We'll confess -- we weren't huge fans of the chrome cup exterior, as our fingerprints managed to mar the shine within a few seconds of looking things over. The cabling that extends down is nothing too fancy, and while we're sure it'll hold up just fine, we honestly expected something a bit more extravagant given the price.

Frankly, the earcups are on the small side. We got the feeling that Ultrasone built these to barely fit around one's ear in order to provide maximum isolation from outside noise, but in practice, it's a design that will very likely irritate wearers after an extended period of time. While testing, our head and ears were perfectly comfortable for around 1.5 hours (and noise from the outside was essentially nonexistent), but into the second straight hour of listening, we were finally forced to remove them due to noticeable discomfort. We made sure to tweak the headband and all, but we never could wear these for over three hours without having to give our ears a break. Granted, most listeners won't sit for three solid hours and listen to their headphones, but if any niche would, it'd be the hardcore audiophiles (read: the very segment these are targeting).

So, we know you're curious about the sound quality, and we have to say -- it's downright dazzling. We listened to these on everything from a janky $20 MP3 player to an iPhone to a Denon SACD deck, and one thing became glaringly apparent: if you're listening to lossy tracks through these, you'll know it. These are amongst the few cans we've ever tried where the detail was so great that you could literally tell a difference between sources. We heard background vocals and subtle instrumentation changes for the first time in jams that we'd been listening to for years, and we were simply astonished that actual head pain set in long before ear fatigue. The Edition 8s did a marvelous job of projecting the highs and mids in a way that really cut through, yet we never grew tired of hearing cymbal crashes and squealing vocals. "Clarity" was the one word that kept popping to mind when switching from track to track; it was almost as if the fog we'd been listening through on stock earbuds had finally been removed.

Though, for as well as the cans handled the highs and mids, we have to admit that we expected more from the bottom end. From the factory, the bass lines are nearly non-existent. We had to bust out the equalizer and boost the bottom frequencies to bring the bass more in line with the mids and highs, and in most instances, that sufficed. When given a little incentive, the Edition 8s handled kick drums and bass runs like a champ, but they didn't seem to get along so well with pulsing beats and electronic booms found frequently in the techno genre. In fact, we heard audible distortion in the bass frequencies alone on a number of occasions with the volume at around 40 percent, and while killing the EQ fixed the issue, it also removed the drive that's so crucial in these types of tracks.

All in all, we were absolutely impressed with the overall clarity and build quality of Ultrasone's new flagship headphones, but the quirks present weren't minor enough for us to totally forgive. If you're the type who listens exclusively to Johnny Cash, Nickel Creek and Dolly Parton, you've found your perfect cans. If your playlists contains artists such as LCD Soundsystem, M83 and Brothers, you should probably look for a set that's built to handle the low-lows a tad better. If you're somewhere in between, we'd say that you'll be thoroughly pleased with the output of the Edition 8s, but unless you've got boatloads of cash and a dearth of ways to spend it, we don't feel that these perform $1,300 better than, say, the also marvelous Audio-Technica ATH-A900s.

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