The Ultrasone Edition 10
I’ve heard so many conflicting opinions on the Ultrasone Edition 10 that I just had to get my hands on a pair. At $2,749, you’d reckon the praise ought to be a little more consistent. So I gave my buddy Todd (the Vinyl Junkie) a call to see if he had a pair I could play with, and sure enough, he had a slightly used pair for me to audition.
Wow! What an experience!
The Ultrasone Edition 10 ($2,749!)
The Edition 10 is truly a beautiful headphone. The Ethiopian goatskin on the ear and headband pad is soft and luxuriant. A mix of Ruthenium and wood inlay are sculpted into elegantly designed earpieces inspired by the wings of a butterfly. Machined aluminum fittings on the headband provide a comfortable range of adjustment and swivel.
Like most headphones in this price range (well … there are VERY few really in this price range) they come with a very nice storage case. The wooden case has custom foam inner lining cut out to hold these cans with care. Also included is a headphone display stand, which echoes the butterfly design of the earpieces and makes for a truly lovely display.
In hand, the first thing that struck me is how amazingly light they are. Once on the head, the headphones are light as a feather. With the sumptuous leather surrounding and caressing your head, you’ll feel like you could wear them all day without the least discomfort.
That is, until you turn the music on.
Oh. My. Goodness! My senses feel assaulted … as would my wallet, if I had had to pay for these. With every smack of the snare and blare of a trumpet my eyes wince in pain. Fast transient edges are transformed into indiscriminate micro-bursts of tizz. Likewise, low notes are powerful, but have lost all definition as they are reduced to a bloated blur. The mid-range seems like it could be pretty good, but I hear it as so disconnected from all else that I could hardly keep track of what’s what in the confused aural picture. I’ve heard worse headphones before, but for $2749 these have got to be the worst price/performance headphones I’ve ever experienced.
Of course, maybe I just don’t get Ultrasone’s S-Logic.
Ostensibly a method to improve the audios spatial qualities on headphones, Ultrasone’s S-Logic attempts to improve the image presented by placing the driver off-center, somewhat forward and down from the entrance of the ear canal. It’s widely known by headphone enthusiasts that moving headphones forward and down some generally improves the audio image. I’ve experienced this myself and agree that there’s some truth to it. In Ultrasone headphones, this placement is somewhat further forward and down than one could normally move a pair of headphones as they would no longer fit on the ear normally.
Ultrasone claims that by placing the driver this far forward and down next to the jaw, sound travels past the ear in a more natural way, eliciting acoustic reflections off the pinna (outer ear) that create the psycho-acoustic cues used for audio localization. Ptschyeah right, sound from my living room speakers doesn’t travel from my jaw and move up the side of my head past my ear. Sound from a speaker is essentially a planar wave front hitting your head at an angle.
In his 2004 AES Convention Paper: “The Causals of Headphones Tone Coloration Variations related on the Human Pinna Influence,” Ultrasone’s President, Florian Konig talked about the evidence for this belief, and had this to say about the measured observations of people wearing S-Logic Headphones:
“One [headphone] with a spatial reproduction of sound was much more conspicuous statistically, because of a higher quantity recommended sound quality judgements as 'too much' and 'less high frequency range' parallelly.”
There are a number of headphones out there that are almost universally recognized as painting a good aural picture; the Sennheiser HD 800, some Stax, AKG K1000, are all very consistently heard as having good imaging. The common characteristic of these cans is that they project a planar wave at the listener’s ears from a slightly forward angle. It is believed that this plane wave coming at the ears produces a geometrically different set of reflections than a normal headphone where the small driver essentially acts as a point source and radiates a spherical section wave front towards the ear. I think I agree with this, and the improved imaging of moving a pair of headphones slightly forward is, in my opinion, just getting it closer to the angle at which sound approaches from speakers.
The Ultrasone S-Logic position is, however, dramatically off-center, and creates a situation where virtually no sound is radiated from the driver directly into the ear canal. (How many people think the Bose 901 Direct-Reflecting speaker imaged well? [crickets] Yeah … didn’t think so.) When I read the threads discussing Ultrasone headphones and the imaging performance of S-Logic, I see a lot of diverse opinion, that’s for sure. If Ultrasone was going for a headphone with lots of “sound quality judgements as 'too much' and 'less high frequency range' parallelly,” well, they’ve done it. Doesn’t sound like a good theory upon which to design good sounding headphones to me, though.
Let's have a look at the measurements ...