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Sony ULT Wear headphones review: Brain-shaking bass

The company's Extra Bass moniker is replaced by ULT Power Sound.

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Sony’s Extra Bass line of headphones has given listeners an added dose of low-end tone for years, and was generally cheaper than its high-end 1000X cans. The company is still keen on offering brain-rattling bass to those who want it, but the Extra Bass moniker and its confusing alpha-numeric product names are gone (more to come on that change). Today, Sony is introducing ULT Power Sound, a feature it’s calling the “ultimate step into the evolution” of its portable audio gear.

ULT Power Sound will also be available on Bluetooth speakers of various sizes, but the first headphones to feature the new audio direction are the ULT Wear ($200). A direct replacement for the WH-B910, the ULT Wear contains 40mm drivers that Sony says are specifically designed for deeper bass. If the stock tuning isn’t enough, there’s a ULT button for two more levels of low-end boost. Plus, the company crammed in some of its best features from more-expensive headphones: the V1 audio chip, 30-hour battery life, Quick Attention mode, 360 Reality Audio with head tracking and more.


Sony’s ULT Wear headphones are a better implementation of bass boost than previous models along with considerable updates to ANC, features and overall design.

  • Refined design
  • Great sound most of the time
  • Handy features
  • Improved ANC
  • ULT boost can be too much
  • Some WH-1000XM5 features aren't available
  • Sound gets muddy with some genres
$200 at Amazon

The first thing I noticed about the ULT Wear is its design. These headphones don’t immediately strike me as less-than-premium cans. The matte white finish on my review unit helps mask the mostly plastic construction which looked cheap on previous products like the WH-CH720N. It’s definitely a more refined aesthetic than the WH-XB910 that’s being replaced. There are certainly some nods to the premium 1000X line in a few areas, like the curves of the ear cups and headband.

Sony decided on a mix of physical and touch controls for the ULT Wear, which is another way it’s bridging the gap between its most affordable and most expensive headphones. On the edge of the left ear cup is a power/pairing button and a control for cycling between active noise cancellation (ANC) and ambient sound modes. Further up along the bottom is a third button for ULT bass boost. This item switches between off, ULT 1 (deep bass) and ULT 2 (more powerful sound with deep bass). Over on the right, the outside of the ear cup has a touch panel that you can tap and swipe on for playback controls, volume adjustments and calls.

As the ULT Wear sits in the middle of Sony’s headphone lineup, it has a few of the handy features from the 1000X line that the company’s cheaper options don’t employ. For example, placing your open hand over the right ear cup activates Quick Attention mode that lowers the volume so you can respond to a co-worker or grab your cortado without pausing your tunes. Adaptive Sound Control is here as well: Sony’s long-standing tool that automatically adjusts the headphone’s settings based on your activity or location. General niceties like multipoint Bluetooth and wear detection are present too. The convenient Speak-to-Chat function from more-recent 1000X headphones isn’t available though, which is a considerable omission in terms of overall utility.

Controls detail of a set of white headphones with 3.5mm jack and USB-C port near power, ANC and ULT buttons.
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Bass reigns supreme for the ULT Wear’s tuning and you certainly get a heavy dose of it. Those new specifically tuned drivers muster a lot of low-end thump before you even start exploring the ULT boosts. The out-of-the-box level was good enough for me for most genres, although the overall sound can get muddy with more chaotic styles like metal and some synth-heavy electronic tracks. For the most part though, the stock bass provides depth and range that complements full mids and cutting highs.

On Bayside’s There Are Worse Things Than Being Alive, there’s a thundering kick drum to drive the punk-tinged indie rock tunes, but the texture of the crunchy distorted guitars stands out and vocals cut through clearly. Plus, you can add Sony’s DSEE upscaling through its app, a software trick that’s designed to recover sonic elements lost to compression. And if you have access to 360 Reality Audio content, the ULT Wear supports head-tracking so that sounds stay put when you move. This offers a more realistic experience since the immersive audio in this format would otherwise move with your head.

When you hop into the ULT boost modes, things are a mixed bag. Sony has done bass boost better than most other companies here, as songs are still actually listenable across musical styles rather than just becoming a muffled mess. ULT 1, the option for deeper bass, is the best in my opinion. You don’t lose much detail using it and things like kick drums are still punchy throughout. Hip-hop tracks are a better canvas, with songs like Killer Mike’s “Down By Law” blasting bombastic, yet finessed, amplified bass. His album Michael is one of the better-sounding selections I tested with ULT 1 enabled.

ULT 2, a setting for more powerful sound alongside even deeper bass, isn’t great. During my tests, I didn’t find a single track where I thought it sounded good across driving low-end styles like hip-hop and EDM. It sounds like you’re standing in front of the subwoofer at a concert where bass is most prominent and everything else gets drowned out. And while I’m sure some people enjoy that extent of brain rattling, it’s not what I’m looking for.

Headband and ear cup detail of a set of white headphones showing speaker grille design.
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Sony improved ANC from the WH-XB910 by installing its V1 audio processor from the 1000X series in the ULT Wear. The result is noticeably improved noise-canceling performance for a set of $200 headphones, but you shouldn’t expect distraction-blocking as robust as what the WH-1000XM5 offers. It’s good in most situations, but in some scenarios it simply dulls the roar. The ULT Wear does, however, do a decent job with human voices – much better than the Sennheiser Accentum Plus I recently reviewed.

The company didn’t go out of its way to discuss call quality on the ULT Wear, but the performance here is slightly above average. It’s not pristine, but it also doesn’t have the obvious speaker phone sound most headphones do. Low-to-mid-volume background noise is also dealt with nicely. Ambient sound mode on the ULT Wear is more natural that what most headphones offer, save for the AirPods Max. You can hear a good amount of your own voice, so you’re free to speak at a normal volume during calls. And any sounds from your surroundings come through clear, so you don’t have to worry about not hearing alerts or announcements.

Sony says you can expect up to 30 hours of battery life with ANC on or up to 50 hours with it off. The company doesn’t specify if either of the ULT modes impact longevity, and I didn’t have them on long enough to tell. After 30 hours of use with ANC on, except for several instances of ambient sound for calls, Sony’s app was showing 18 percent battery left. Both audiomodes were used at around 50-60 percent volume, and trust me, that’s plenty loud here.

If you crave a deep bassy thump that most headphones haven't been able to deliver, the ULT Wear does a much better job boosting low-end tone than Sony’s previous efforts. The sound out of the box is certainly boomy, but not at the cost of any detail, and the company gives you the option to add two more servings of bass when you crave it. These won’t be for everyone as a lot of people will prefer the more even-handed tuning of Sennheiser’s Accentum Plus in the $200 range. However, Sony has done well to dress up a more affordable set of headphones as a premium product, in terms of both looks and features.

The ULT Wear headphones are available in black, white and green color options for $200. Sony says they'll start shipping sometime this spring.

Update April 11 2024, 5:00PM ET: This review has been updated to add more information about the battery rundown test.