The Surprisingly Good Logitech UE6000 and UE9000 Page 2
Sound Quality---Wired, Passive
Wow! Man, do these headphones sound very, very good in passive mode. No, I wouldn't call them "Audiophile Grade", but I can't think of any sealed headphones that really cut the mustard anyway. And they do a fine job of isolation in passive mode. If it weren't for the fact that the UE6000 is very attractively priced, I'd encourage Logitech to remove the noise canceling feature and sell a model at $149. But at $199, I simply can't think of a better sounding pair sealed cans, passive or active. In fact, I can't think of a better sounding pair of sealed cans, period.
Both the UE6000 and UE9000 are cut from the same cloth, and sound quality differences are vanishingly small...so small, that the difference between the two pair I had could easily be chalked up to the slight differences in capsule geometry due to the change in electronics and battery. It did seem like the UE6000 was slightly cleaner sounding than the UE9000, however.
These are warm sounding cans, with a modest bass-heavy tilt. Low notes are rendered with good texture and are well extended into the lowest octaves. Bass tightness is good, but not great, and sometimes delivers a bit of confusion in the bass-to-mid transitions. The mid-range, while slightly lower in level than the bass, remains very nicely proportioned, and vocals are rendered with a natural balance. Mid-to-treble transition is quite good, bringing well balanced presence to vocals and strings. A slight emphasis in the mid-treble coupled with a mild rolled off top octave means they won't deliver a sense of air that a really great headphone does. Imaging and dynamics are surprisingly good for a sealed headphone, but again fall somewhat short of the best headphones available.
Please note the number of times I used the words: small; modest; slightly; a bit; mild; etc. I've reviewed a lot of headphones that do much well, but fail in one way or another only to deliver a frustrating listening experience. Not so the UE9000 and UE6000 in wired, passive mode. These cans simply deliver a full-bodied and nicely controlled listening experience across the board. I'd call it very good mid-fi, and if they only did a couple more things really well they'd click over to audiophile grade right quick.
Noise Canceling Sound Quality
While I was quite content with the sound of these cans in passive mode, the audiophile in me let out a groan when I turned on the noise canceling feature. As soon as you've got an active circuit inside the cans, engineers have a bit more liberty to tweak the sound, and, of course, marketing people can then push their requests for "moar bass!" with vigor.
Again, both headphones are very similar in sound in active mode. But now the bass is markedly more present in the mix, and markedly more loose and bloated. Additionally, the mid-range is somewhat more recessed, highlighting the presence range which remains at previous levels, making for a "harder" sounding presentation. There's now a more "U" shaped frequency response, rather than the nicely coherent and balanced response of passive mode. However, while it doesn't necessarily make the audiophile in me happy, and I think the EQ changes are a step too far, I also think they may actually improve the listening experience for movies and video on portable devices with a bit more oomph and intelligibility in loud environments.
I compared these cans head-to-head against my reference noise cancelers, the Bose Quiet Comfort 15, while playing brown noise on speakers at about normal airplane cabin noise levels. The Bose simply trounced the UE headphones in noise canceling ability---frankly, the QC15 trounces everything I've heard with it's noise canceling abilities. Sound quality was a sort of a toss-up though: the Bose sounded clearer in the bass, while the UEs were preferable in the highs. I'd prefer the Bose if I were a hard-core traveler, but the ability to operate without battery power and sound terrific, and then turn on the noise canceling when needed, will make the Logitech UE heaphones more satisfying for most folks, I believe.
UE9000 Sound Quality Bluetooth Wireless
Using the UE9000 in noise canceling and Bluetooth wireless mode, I found virtually no change in audio quality when compared to noise canceling wired...which makes this a pretty darn good sounding Bluetooth headset. Generally, I've been pretty unimpressed with Bluetooth headsets, but I thought the UE9000 sounded mighty fine, so I went over to HeadRoom to borrow my previous favorite---the Sennheiser MM 450-X---to do a little comparison. While I found the noise canceling of the MM 450-X better (though not as good as the QC15), I thought the sound quality of the UE9000 easily superior. The MM 450-X was somewhat dry and grainy compared to the warm and nicely articulate UE9000. Yes, it was still a little too bass boosted for me, but I clearly preferred it.
Being somewhat surprised with the Bluetooth sound quality, I asked my Logitech contact what Bluetooth protocol was being used. Here's the answer I received:
It has two modes:
Bluetooth Hands Free Profile (calling with your cellphone) called HFP. Labelled 'Bluetooth Headset' on Mac. In this mode, the audio band is limited to narrow band audio for telephony. Audio performance (specifically audio bandwidth) in this mode is a legacy audio standard defined by the Bluetooth SIG standard for phone calls. For now it is narrow band, mono audio similar to a landline telephone for both mic and speaker paths. HFP specs are publicly available though on the Bluetooth SIG website.
Bluetooth stereo audio called A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). Labelled 'Bluetooth Headphone' on Mac. This RF transport protocol uses the SBC codec(standard BT stereo audio that is compressed), AAC (for Apple iProducts) and APT-X (uncompressed full band wireless audio over Bluetooth). All are included in UE9000. APT-X is included on most of the newer Apple computers (Mac Mini + Macbook Air). In this mode, the audio band is full band (20Hz-20KHz) as the web specs suggest for each of the audio codecs. Depending on the type of source device you have streaming BT from you get varying amounts of compression. APT-X is the best quality being uncompressed. AAC is the next best from your i device. A2DP is the standard codec for BT stereo audio that has compression. UE9000 will automatically choose the best quality A2DP codec available from your source to optimize you listening experience. UE9000 will also automatically switch from A2DP music mode over to HFP when a call comes in. The converse is true when the call is ended.
All the devices I used to test the Bluetooth (MacBookPro, iPhone, iPad 1, Galaxy Nexus phone) are fairly new, so likely I was hearing operation in the second mode...and man, I could certainly live with the sound I was getting. I spent a couple of nights watching movies, and it was really a pleasure to hear fairly good sound and be unencumbered by wire as I made a midnight snack. Very nice.
Summing Up the Logitech UE6000 ($199)
No, it's not my favorite noise canceling headphone---the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 is going to keep that title---so I don't recommend these for hard-core travelers. However, most of us don't really need that kind of isolation for day-to-day use. As a general purpose headphone for home, office, and going out-and-about, I found the UE6000 very satisfying. It's good looks, good comfort, sturdy build, great sound in passive mode, and very fair price, make this a really good general purpose headphone. The fact that you can flick on some extra isolation with it's noise canceling---even though at the expense of some sound quality---is just icing on the cake. A big thumbs up from me, these are going on the Wall of Fame as a full-sized sealed headphone.
Summing Up the Logitech UE9000 ($399)
Good sounding Bluetooth headphones are few and far between, in my experience, and the good ones are brutally expensive. I found the UE9000 a pretty terrific compromise of some fairly complicated factors. The sound quality was very, very good as a passively sealed, wired headphone. The noise canceling was good, but not great. It's Bluetooth performance, however, was the best I've heard to date, so it's going up on the Wall of Fame as a stand-out performer for those who want freedom from the wire, and a dandy headset for your calls.