Logitech|UE 900 Noise-Isolating Earphones

I remember my first real encounter with the Logitech|UE 900s noise-isolating earphones ($399.99). I broke them out riding the B35 to catch the Q to someplace I don’t remember.The UE 900s’ braided cables unraveled gracefully as I lifted them from their burnished black carrying case.

While tilting the 900s forward, I inserted each earpiece into my ear canals gently. The earpieces are equipped with “earloops”, cable infused with surgical stainless steel that makes them flexible. Plastic sheaths encircle the braided wire extending from each side containing the earloops. With the earloop, you can form-fit the braided cable around the outside of your ear. Folding the earloop towards the back of my head and around my ear tightened the earpiece’s seal. Upon tightening the seal, the crowd of voices on the bus dissipated into a muted grumble.

At the time, SBTRKT’s deeply soulful electronica on SBTRKT had taken hold of me with its triumphant choruses and brush strokes of sadness. Through the 900s, SBTRKT’s synths were so deep with tone they made me think. Made me think about my life. Sampha emerged from darkness, “The ghoulish entities they come floating through the walls. / Ghostly enemies they come floating through you door.” OK. Now the 900s were creeping me out. Their deep and dark backdrop created an eerie and airy soundscape for SBTRK’s gliding synths to hang with ghoulish presence.

My paranoia settled. Now my head bobbed to the dance-pop groove on “Pharaohs”. The earphones propelled the beat with confidence, discipline, punctuation, and control, accenting the chunkiness of the groove without being edgy.

Speaking of chunky, this is how I would describe the overall sound of the treble. Attacks are soft but pronounced as heard on the snare’s fat but snappy tone on Four Tet’s remix of Radiohead’s “Scatterbrain” titled “Skttrbrain”. The 900s definitely steer clear of harsh edges preferring a rolled off wrinkle in the treble. For the most part, this made listening a very non-fatiguing experience, but it sacrificed some of the honey-sweet edge in Derek Trucks’s tone. Through the AudioQuestDragonFly Headphone Amp/DAC, the chunkiness in the highs was smoothed out gracefully, and highs extended a little more cleanly.

Graininess snuck into cymbals though, as evidenced with Mike Portnoy’s hi-hat on Dream Theater’s “Take the Time”. His closed hi-hat attacks should sound pinpoint, but instead, his hi-hat sounded a bit hashy as did the higher frequencies in other cymbals and bells.

On that same Dream Theater track though, the Logitech|UE 900s revealed two strengths. Their reproduction of “Take the Time” positioned me right in front of the stage, maybe 3 rows back, face to face with their stacks of amps and the double-kick drum. These headphones always imaged you in front of the scene, which despite my commute’s destination could transport me anywhere. Second, the 900s revealed their ultra-clean midrange. I could hear each string in Petrucci’s chord work ringing with strength and evenness. The synthesizer and electric guitar were given equal placement in the mix during their synchronized runs. The instruments could be carefully discerned and followed. How fun!

Bass extended deep and with ample sustain with these monitors. The tail of the electronic kick drum on Radiohead’s “Where Bluebirds Fly” dug deeply into my ears. Likewise, on St. Vincent’s “Surgeon”, the usually inaudible or subdued whole-note bass synths in the chorus were now warm and full-bodied for their entire duration.

The Logitech|UE 900s were the first piece of audio gear I’ve ever heard to accurately reproduce Flying Lotus’s low-frequency infused and minimalist bass tone. My impression of FlyLo’s bass had always been "just not enough", but when I saw him perform at Terminal 5 (NYC) this past October, his floor-shaking performance revealed just how deep his bass can get and how many reproductions I've heard lacked the ability to recreate his low frequencies with sustain. With the Logitech|UE 900s, the low frequency energy FlyLo imbeds into the pulse of “Parisian Goldfish” is given room to breathe but throws a deep yet controlled punch to the gut. Each bass pulse was clearly extended.

With all this frequency talk in mind, it should be noted the Logitech|UE 900s also accurately reproduce the sounds of actual instruments in minute detail. On The Dells’ “I Can Sing a Rainbow”, what I always thought was a distorted electric guitar in the left channel revealed itself to be an over-saturated cello. The mini aggressive whammy strums at the beginning of Brian Eno’s “Needles in the Camera’s Eye” fluctuated in pitch clearly. I also discovered the “wind sound” at the beginning of Laura Marling’s “Old Stone” is actually brushes on a snare. My mind was blown.

These headphones reward dynamics. Every backdrop is jet-black. Their superior noise-isolation helps, but these in-ears also reveal the unpleasantness of highly compressed recordings. Given the air that the 900s offer the music to revel in, the Red Hot Chili Peppers sounded boxed in and tortured.

This is the most expensive headphone ($399.95) I’ve ever had the joy of experiencing for an extended period of time. After spending such considerable time with it, I would absolutely say the price is justified for the sound and amenities offered, but headphones are important to me—easily my most used way to listen to music both at home and on the road. The black carrying case is slick. The blue braided cables are delicate and calming. Most importantly, the sound is realistic, controlled and involving. Instruments are rich with tone. Attacks are carefully restrained, but the high end is still involving with its texture. Music is presented cleanly in front of the listener. Despite some weirdness with cymbals and unforgiving reproduction of overly compressed recordings, I would often get carried way while listening to these headphones. I don't want to say goodbye.

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COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

I played 'Take The Time' with the Senn IE800 and Microstreamer DAC, and the hi-hats sounded clean enough, but I couldn't be sure about absolute graininess etc. since they were in the background enough that the rest of the sound was too distracting. The kind of content this track has would tend to get mushy on low-cost full-size headphones.

The IE800 is known for strong bass (try Trombone Shorty's Backatown), but with Parisian Goldfish the bass impacts were pretty gentle. I haven't heard the UE900, but with Logitech's UE6000 (and presumably the 9000), the bass has bass, if you know what I mean.

The Dragonfly damps bass very well on most everything I've tried, so I'm thinking if you played Goldfish with just the laptop headphone jack or some small analog amp from a DAP, the bass would really bloat up.

Big bad Bill's picture

I think the review above describes the appeal of the UE900s very well indeed.

I went through a period of trying all the well-reviewed IEMs in this price range when I switched from on-ear headphones to in-ears for office listening. I tried (owned) the Shure 535, Klipsch X10i, Westone 4r, Sennheiser IE80, and basically the entire Ultimate Ears lineup. My favorites have turned out to be the UE900, UE500, and Klipsch X10i. I listen with a Foxtex HP-P1 feeding a Fiio E17 amp (so I can use its tone controls).

The UE900s simply seem more transparent to me than the Shure 535s, with better extension in both the highs and lows. The Shures seem a little too mid-centric, and a little grainy--the graininess especially becomes irritating with older recordings like the Beatles White Album. The UE900s handled both older recording and new audiophile-grade recordings with ease and with beautiful results.

The Klipsch X10is kick a little harder in the bass, and are also highly detailed like the UE900s. Their sound is crisp and clear, but just a little dry compared to the richer sound of the UE900s.

The UE500s are much lower priced but still do very well indeed--well enough to handle the string tone of classical orchestral music, if not quite as well as the UE900s. Their weighty bass balance works well for pop and electronic music too.

The Sennheiser IE80s have a great soundstage and good midrange. But they have too much upper bass, so they sound thumpy and unpleasant, and their highs are really grainy.

The Westone 4Rs are OK, but just OK, and the bass extension isn't so great.

My opinion is the UE900s are among the best in this range.

Ariel Bitran's picture

At some point in the future, I'd like to spend some time listening to these. At one event where I heard them, I was attracted to those "crisp" and detailed highs.

 

and thank you for endorsing this review! the UE900s are very very fun earphone and honestly great sounding.

Big bad Bill's picture

I'll just note that on paper anyway, the NOCS NS800 measures very similarly to the Klipsch X10i. So I'm curious about that one too.

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