The Fifth Element #42 Page 2

Ultrasone Edition 9 headphones
Ultrasone's earlier top-of-the-line model, the Edition 7, was a limited edition. The Edition 9 ($1500) does not appear to be such. Which is all to the good. I can imagine quite a few headphone listeners falling for the Edition 9's ultra-rich, lush, seductive sound.

The Edition 9s are dynamic, closed-back headphones. The drivers are 40mm titanium. The headphone cord is a nondetachable Y running to both sides. A hinge-and-pivot arrangement allows the earpieces to flop flat for storage in the provided mock-Anvil transit case. The earpieces can also tuck up within the headband, although why someone would want to do that with such expensive headphones escapes me.

The Edition 9s feature a headband and earpieces of exotic leather—Ethiopian lambskin, as far as I can discern from Ultrasone's website. The Edition 9s sport an all-black color scheme, with gold logos on the silver escutcheons of both earpieces. A standard ¼" phone plug, with miniplug adapter, is provided.

The Edition 9s are extremely comfortable, with the caveat that if your outer ears resemble Lyndon Johnson's more than Barack Obama's, you might find the Edition 9s' mostly round earpads a tight fit (as distinct from the Sennheiser 600/650s' quite elongated ones). The fit I experienced wasn't cramped, but neither was there lots of room.

As I said above, the Edition 9s' basic timbre is smoothly beguiling. It is certainly not bright or peaky. Listening to the CDR of tenor Brian Cheney's mini-recital for the microphone-comparing benefit of the great and the good of New York City's audio engineering community (JA was in attendance; more about this below), I found absolutely nothing to fault about anything.

Ultrasone promotes S-Logic, a proprietary spatial-effect enhancement technology that is claimed to involve the localization function of the outer ear to a greater extent than the norm, through use of offset positioning of the drivers, among other means. Trying the 9s on backward resulted in a markedly more distant, but also above- or "in-the-head" sound—there's definitely something spatial going on related to the positioning of the drivers. Furthermore, the effect of the Grace m902's crossfeed was, for practical purposes, inaudible. So, again, there definitely is something going on. As the S-Logic feature is nondefeatable, it would be best to make sure it's your cup of tea before buying.

Listening to the headphone-demo CD that came with the more affordable Ultrasone PROline 2500s ($399), I did find that the Edition 9s excelled at out-of-the-head imaging (at least when worn as intended, and not switched left-for-right). One percussion track was holographic in a way I had never heard with headphones before—a drum appeared to occupy a space about 5' in front of my nose. But, at the end of the day, I listen to headphones for timbre and fine detail, and not so much for spatial effects.

The Edition 9s are noticeably more sensitive than the PROline 2500s, which sounded lighter, and perhaps gave the impression or illusion of being more agile, but that could also be chalked up to the inherent differences between closed- and open-back designs.

All the participants in the organ project who heard the Edition 9s driven by the Sound Devices 722 digital recorder were tremendously impressed; two jokingly said the combo sounded better than live. (Think what they might have said had they heard the Edition 9s with the RudiStor.) A few wanted to know "How much?" The resulting chagrined looks indicated that some fond ownership dreams had crashed to earth.

As I've pointed out before, headphones are the most personal and idiosyncratic audio purchase—they are the only piece of gear you wear. I can easily imagine the Edition 9s becoming a person's "last" headphone purchase. I can also imagine someone deciding that they are not their cup of tea. I'd say the same for any headphones.

I suppose that those not tempted to buy the Edition 9s would be those looking for a more prominent or incisive treble. An audition or a money-back guarantee is necessary. (There is other competition I have not heard in this price tier, such as Stax's SR-404 electrostatics, at about the same price. AKG's K-1000s, which I also loved, are no longer made.)

I was as reluctant to pack up and send back the Edition 9s as I was to send back the RudiStor amp; they made for a divinely synergistic combination. I can't make a slam-dunk case on the grounds of value for money, except to note that the Edition 9 plus RPX-33 combo costs less than many pairs of loudspeakers readers of Stereophile will buy. Again, it comes down to how much headphone listening you do. Highly recommended for consideration by the hardcore headphone listener.

Ultrasone PROline 2500 headphones
Back here on earth, or at least in a more affordable neighborhood, Ultrasone's PROline 2500 headphones have a suggested retail price of $399. Apart from that aspect, the PROline 2500s' other major distinction is that they're open-backed, while the Edition 9s are closed-backed. (Ultrasone's PROline 750 resembles the 2500 in all respects, except that it's a closed-back design.) A minor difference is that the 2500s' cord goes only to the left earpiece, rather than the Y shape of the Edition 9s'.

Although the company is new to me, the 2500s' packaging, accessories, and owner's manual make plain that Ultrasone is ready for prime time. The 2500s have been completely thought through, and are ready to compete on a level playing field with the products of any other headphone company I can think of. They come with a replacement pair of earpads, in this case cloth velour rather than exotic leather. If the straight cord doesn't do the job for you, a coiled cord is provided. (The cords screw into the left earpiece rather than just push in.) The owner's manual is multilingual, colorful, and informative. Also provided are a cloth carry satchel and a very nice 20-track demo CD of well-recorded environmental and musical examples.

It is unavoidable and unfortunate that the 2500s will suffer in direct comparison with their far more expensive stablemates, the Edition 9s. The Edition 9s' sound was direct, focused, and intense, the 2500s' spacious and airy, with a slight prominence in the articulation or detail-frequency ranges. While the 2500s could create more "holographic" images than the 9s, those images were a tad insubstantial—reminiscent of the transporter in the original Star Trek TV series.

But if you can't afford the Edition 9s, don't despair. While writing this, I've been doing a quick refresher listen to the 2500s, using the excellent Grace m902, my reference for a relatively affordable DAC and headphone amp. Brian Cheney's singing of "Che gelida manina," Rodolfo's aria from Act I of Puccini's La Bohème, brought tears to my eyes. Furthermore, due to their frequency-response difference, the 2500s revealed certain details—such as a quietly rattling heating grate or organ part at one church—that were not so evident through the Edition 9s.