First Impression: Ultrasone Edition 10
Ultrasone’s Edition 10 flagship headphone has made it to our test labs, thanks to our friend Onny who contributed his headphone for evaluation.
S-LOGIC AND SOUNDSTAGE
Being the first open-designed Ultrasone headphone, the Edition 10 gives a refreshing breath of open-ness in the sound. The S-Logic effect sounds more natural than the other models, most likely due to the open design. I’ve always felt that moving between S-Logic and non S-Logic headphones require some adjustment of the soundscape presentation, and it happens that a lot of people can’t quite adjust to the S-Logic, which leads to a lot of mixed reviews on Ultrasone headphones. In this sense, the Edition 10 soundscape presentation is much easier to adjust to, as it doesn’t have the typical shortcomings of a closed headphone design. Ultrasone should’ve made far more open designed headphones in their line-ups, as that would do wonders to their S-Logic technology.
The Edition 10 matches well with well recorded live recordings, as the driver is able to re-create a very real and enjoyable soundscape with those recordings. I went back and forth many times between the Edition 10′s soundstage presentation to the Sennheiser HD800′s, and I can’t quite decide which is the better one. The presentation is quite different, where the HD800′s puts you more in the zone, where the Edition 10 is like sitting further back and yet still into the music. The HD800′s soundstage wraps around your head and puts you in the center of the image, with a very good center focus. The Edition 10 is more like a very clear image that’s been projected within your head. Whatever it is, Ultrasone really should make more open-designed S-Logic headphone.
The tonal balance is definitely on the bright side, and perhaps the second thing you’ll notice upon listening to the Edition 10 is how its treble has very strong tendency to sibilance. The Edition 10 boasts of its clear reproduction of the music, which I feel to surpass the HD800, and matches the HE-6 clarity very well. Unfortunately, I feel that one of the thing Ultrasone did to enhance the perception of clarity and detail is by boosting the treble level of the Edition 10. I really didn’t think they needed to do this, as the driver in itself already performs very well even without the upper treble boost. By doing this, Ultrasone has pretty much limited the use of the Edition 10 strictly with classical music and audiophile recordings. With mainstream recordings, even one that has modest treble levels like U2′s Joshua Tree, it’s hard to listen to the Edition 10 as heavy sibilance is present at almost every moment. Even on amplifiers like the Burson HA-160D or the Zana Deux, the sibilance level is still quite annoying. So, it’s a pretty annoying flaw that I’m hearing here.
One of the aspect that I really like is the lack of grain in the sound, which is a total opposite of the HD800′s. Having no grain in the sound results in a very clear view in the music. I think this has always been the tradition of Ultrasone drivers, as the majority of their headphones always have very low grain levels. This is comparable to the Hifiman HE-6, Stax Omega 2 or the Audez’e LCD-2 in that they all have low grain levels. Since the Omega 2 and the LCD-2 has a relatively dark tonal balance, both headphones doesn’t flaunt the apparent impression of clarity as well as the HE-6 or the Edition 10. And between the HE-6 and the Edition 10, the Edition 10 is even higher on the clarity scale, mostly due to the higher proportion of treble levels.
Moving down to the midrange area, I generally like the clean midrange presentation that’s both sweet and yet clear. The transition from treble to mids to bass is fairly linear, and the midrange also doesn’t feel thin or recessed. There isn’t much coloration in the midrange and the midrange is generally quite straightforward, but it all sounds quite sweet and far from dry. When the recording is warm and thick, the Edition 10 will let that warmth out. In comparison with the HD800, the Edition 10′s mid is less mellow and less grainy, but but it also doesn’t have the forward mids of the HD800. With proper recordings, the vocal presence is better on the HD800, but on some mainstream recordings, the HD800 can be overly forward. Again the lack of grain in the sound is very appealing as it produces a very clean midrange area. Perhaps the midrange is most similar to voicing of the the Hifiman HE-6′s midrange, in the sense that it has a clean sounding mids with good clarity, and without a sense of dryness.
The bass punch is quite good, but nowhere as good as the Audez’e LCD-2, but I’m enjoying the bass more than on the HD800 and the HE-6. The punch is fat, round, and also tight. The bass texture is also very good, as bass details remains very clear and is quite above the HD800 and the HE-6 in this respect. The Edition 10′s driver is able to make the bass appear quite distinct from the other instruments, as if I had the bass playing from a separate subwoofer, but without the phase delays. On some recordings, the bass can be slightly boomy, and though it will sound unimpressive on a review, but the reality is that the Edition 10 bass is generally fun and never feels lacking. Low bass is quite good, but I’d put my money in the LCD-2′s low bass performance. Overall, the Edition 10 would be a pretty kickass headphone for electronica, if not for the lingering sibilance issues.
Ergonomically speaking, the Edition 10 is among the best. The luxurious Ethiopian sheepskin leather pads is very comfortable for long term listening, and is far less sweaty than the leather pads of the LCD-2, the Omega2, or the HD800. The weight feels very light on the head, lighter than the HD800, and roughly the same as the Omega2. The headband design, which looks like it’s been pulled from the Edition8, is a weak point in my opinion. While this headband was fine paired on the Edition 8′s smaller pads size, and the strong clamping force acceptable for a headphone that’s bound to be used portably, it’s not quite a good fit for the open-designed, big diameter size Edition 10. What happens is a pressure point on the area above the ears, and while the pressure is not too uncomfortable, it fell short from the comfort levels of the Omega2 or the HD800. The round pads is fairly large, but like with all round pads design (Hifiman HE-6, Beyerdynamic T1), my ears rubbed with the inside pads, and so I prefer oval designs like the Omega2 or LCD-2 better. In all, the Edition 10 is very comfortable, but I felt that they could’ve designed a new headband to make the comfort level on par with the Omega2 and the HD800.
I feel that the headband is the most solid part of the Edition 10. The actual Ruthenium covered housing may look quite metallic in photographs, but in reality it feels more like a plastic with a faux metal finish, and the material doesn’t feel as high end as the Beyerdynamic T1′s and the Stax Omega2′s housing, both of which are made from real metal. Although the Edition 10 is very lightweight, it doesn’t inspire as much confidence as the built of the HD800 or the Stax Omega2. I certainly don’t put too high of a score in the housing quality. The Oxygen-free silver plated copper cable with Aramid fiber is also less convincing in person than the cables of the other flagships. Although the Beyer T1 and the Audez’e LCD-2 used a generic third party cable, both their cables are thicker and feel more well built than the Edition 10′s. Briefly, I thought that the cable uses a Neutrik 1/4″ TRS connector, like the T1, HE-6, and the LCD-2. However, on second look, it’s not a Neutrik. Opening the jack, I was not that impressed with the build quality, and I discovered that the cable looks like a typical microphone wire, with two cores for signal and the sleeving used for ground. This probably means that there is a soldering joint in the Y-split. While I won’t make a big deal of the cable, I do think that the Edition 10′s cable build quality is not as good as the other manufacturer’s flagship.
The Edition 10 does have an enjoyable sound with a good tonal balance, mids, and bass, aside from its high treble issues — which is a big turn off for me. Overall, the Edition 10 comes with a lot of strong points. The voicing reminds me a lot of Hifiman’s HE-6, only a little brighter, but far more comfortable and easier to drive. And just for the record, the Edition 10 sounds just fine straight out of an Ipod. And while tolerance to sibilance differs from one person to the next, but in the case of the Edition 10, I think it’s going to get in the way of people’s ability to truly appreciate it. But as I’ve said, the implementation of the S-Logic is the best so far, and it would be very interesting if Ultrasone decides to release another open headphone to the market. An open Pro900, perhaps?
Gears used for review:
Headphones: Ultrasone Edition 10, Sennheiser HD800, Hifiman HE-6
Amplifiers: Burson HA-160D, Zana Deux
Source: Burson HA-160D, Onkyo ND-S1