Ultrasone's New $1,500 Headphones Deliver

The box that enshrines headphone maker Ultrasone's latest high-end offering exhorts listeners to "feel the luxury." With a $1,500 set of headphones that feature titanium-plated speakers and ear cups lined with Ethiopian sheep's leather (the company says it's the softest around), the contents fit the bill.

Ultrasone, the American distributor for German headphone maker Ultrasone AG, has undoubtedly produced a great set of headphones with its Edition 8. From a company whose previous, limited-edition consumer headphones cost $3,000, the new, more broadly available version is a veritable bargain.

Yet even at that price, only the most recession-proof audiophiles are likely to spring for a set of headphones this high-end. But the product, which Ultrasone calls "the pinnacle of headphone sophistication," is a reminder that the proliferation of Apple (AAPL) iPods and earbuds aren't a step forward in the realm of music appreciation.

Background Detail I'm no slouch when it comes to audio equipment—just the cables that attach my Bowers & Wilkins speakers to a living room stereo receiver are a half-inch thick and cost $400. But the Edition 8 headphones let me hear details in familiar recordings I hadn't noticed. An Emmylou Harris song possessed quiet background vocals I'd missed. Listening to a CD of organ works by Johann Pachelbel, I could hear the wind blowing through the pipes as the notes sounded (plus some background studio noise as the organist played).

And I'm showing my age, but when Mark Knopfler's famous electric guitar riff that opens Dire Straits' Money for Nothing gave way to the drumroll that marks the beginning of the first verse, a wide smile crossed my face.

Ultrasone promotes Edition 8 technology called S-Logic, which it says directs sound toward the outer ear, making recordings sound more natural and reducing pressure on listeners' eardrums. The headphones also deliver a wider range of frequencies than the company's past designs.

Trebly Sound a Turnoff The Edition 8 phones are built with a light aluminum frame and soft, comfortable ear cups (the Ethiopian sheep's leather did its job), so wearing them for a full album's worth of listening time wasn't a problem. The headphones also come with a leather carrying case and a 13-foot extension cord that let me wear them while sitting in various places in my living room without feeling like I was going to yank them out of their socket.

My only complaint about the way the Edition 8 delivers music is that it yields a very bright, trebly sound. That's great for revealing the snap of a snare drum, the rustle of a shaker, or bright, crisp horn sounds. I prefer my music with a mellower tone, though, and purchase products accordingly. Still, that knock seems like nitpicking given the range and subtlety Ultrasone delivers with this product.

The big hurdle, obviously, is the price. If you can stand shelling out the price of six Apple iPods for a set of headphones, you likely won't be disappointed. The Edition 8's sound is a sharp reminder of how much sonic joy gets lost in the transition to go-anywhere music.

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