Ultrasone is a 27-year-old Bavarian company with a track record for making Edition-series headphone models designed to compete with the best. Here we review its top-of-the-line Edition 15 headphone. (Edition models are built in limited-quantity production runs—in this case 999 pieces for the world market).
To get right down to it, the Edition 15 is the single most enjoyable headphone I’ve ever heard. That statement deserves some qualification, as you will see.
In basic terms, the Edition 15 delivers more bass output than is typical among high-end headphones. This sounds like a midbass bump, but low bass isn’t overhyped so the Edition 15s don’t sound leaden or slow, and upper bass is pretty normally balanced. The general lower-octave shaping here makes music sound warm, rich, and alive, but the bass at times is less than ideally defined.
Since that doesn’t sound like a particularly glowing summary of bass performance, let me provide some context. Headphones, by their nature, do not allow so-called bass “slam.” That is, since they aren’t moving air in the room, your body is never impacted physically by the sound, mainly in the bass, as it would be in a live concert or with speakers. This fact leaves room for interpretation among designers about whether and how to shape the bass to compensate for the lack of slam.
While most high-end headphones opt for something aligned with measured accuracy, the Ultrasones instead aim for psychoacoustic accuracy, meaning that on many discs they deliver a more compelling, dynamic, and musical-sounding result than most ostensibly “accurate” headphones do. For example, the pace and groove of “Will The Wolf Survive?” from Los Lobos’ Just Another Band from East L.A. [+180 Records] are really engaging. The bass characteristics of the Edition 15 form an integral part of the headphone’s overall presentation. That said, I do hope future Ultrasone Edition models can retain the spirit of this headphone, but with improved bass detail.
The Edition 15’s bass tailoring is made more convincing by the fact that its midrange is incredibly beguiling. This headphone is able to render midrange instruments—such as voice, guitar, piano, and horns—with exceptional clarity and layering. Bass weight with superb midrange clarity is a good start.
Also contributing to the whole is Ultrasone’s proprietary S-LogicEX technology, where Ultrasone places the drivers farther from the ear than normal in an offset location. The idea is to engage the outer ear, reflections from which typically are the source of spatial cues. As I listened to the Edition 15, I didn’t hear S-Logic creating a soundstage of performers in front of me, as with good speaker-based audio. But I do think the Edition 15s did a superior job of getting the sound out of my head, making music seem much more like it was coming from somewhere in the environment. The key point is that this spatial wizardry dovetails beautifully with the superbly layered and detailed midrange to sound organic and alive rather than mechanical and artificial.
The icing on the sonic cake is Ultrasone’s choice of treble balance. The Edition 15s are ever so slightly rolled off or shelved in the upper registers, but this avoids calling unnatural attention to the upper octaves. Many high-end audio products sound a little edgy, clinical, sharp, or brittle in an effort to maximize perceived resolution. This is not, however, how live music actually sounds when it is most engaging. By avoiding gratuitous brightness the Edition 15 invites you to enjoy the music. At the same time, it offers clear, extended high frequencies, successfully revealing venue acoustics and overtones.
In the end, this is a great headphone not because each aspect of its performance is analytically perfect, but because everything works together as a whole. Great live music often has a similar character; you can criticize the bass definition or the electric piano tone, but often you completely forget about that when the sounds come together to be music.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Circumaural, open-back, dynamic-driver headphone (production is limited to 999 units worldwide)
Driver complement: One 40mm Gold Titanium Compound dynamic driver per channel
Frequency response: 5Hz–48kHz
Impedance: 40 ohms
Accessories: Cable, leather box
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