Ultimate Ears’ Ultimate: The UE9000
Disclaimer: The sample for this review was kindly provided by Logitech Asia. Thanks Cannis, Mei Mei, and Deborah (SPRG)!
After spending time with the UE9000 and doing a lot of comparison and thinking, my conclusion is that Ultimate Ears currently has the best premium portable/street headphone on their hand with the UE9000. Ultrasone Edition 8 owners should not be upset tough as I’m looking at the UE9000 through a different set of criteria that I use in coming up with the “best” title.
Everything Done Right
This headphone has it all with the brand name, styling, build quality, wireless and noise canceling, comfort, and most of all, the sound. Whereas the Sennheiser Momentum and the Philips Fidelio L1 are stylish in sort of a classy, mature way, the UE9000 has a more mainstream styling though not in a cheap or pop kind of way. I can imagine the young crowd with the Beats headphones going for the UE9000, as well as the Fortune 500 executives with their $5,000 suits. Personally, I love being seen wearing the UE9000. Design is in the eye of the beholder, but the UE9000 really looks a lot better in person than in the photos, and no other headphone gets me so excited about the design than the UE9000 currently does. Mainstream headphones should look good first and foremost, and Ultimate Ears certainly have got that first step right.
The build is nice and sturdy. It definitely feels more solid than Sony’s newly released MDR-1R, and also Sennheiser’s Momentum. The Philips Fidelio L1 feels the most solid of the bunch, but when it comes to holding it in my hand, with the subtle blue metallic, color changing finish of the housing and the brushed metal treatment, I really have to give the upper hand to the UE9000.
The circumaural pads have enough space to clear my medium-sized ears while the overall size of the headphone cups remain compact enough to hang comfortably on the neck. It’s more spacious than the circumaural pads of the Sennheiser Momentum, and just a bit less than the Fidelio L1. The Sony MDR-1R has the widest space of the bunch, but the distance between the driver to the ears is more shallow and so I keep finding my ears touching the drivers. Walking outdoors in the hot sunny weather of Jakarta, I find the comfort of the UE9000 very good.
So far I’ve found the UE9000 to score strong marks on all three elements of a good headphone design: design, build and comfort. I won’t say too much about the Bluetooth and Noise Canceling functions other than the Bluetooth works great with seemingly every phone I’ve tried it with, from Blackberry handsets, Iphones, Sony Androids, Sony Windows Mobiles, everything but my own Lenovo S880 Android handset. The Noise Canceling unfortunately I have no means of testing it since I haven’t been in a plane in a very long time. The lower end UE6000 supposedly has the same sound, but without the
Noise Canceling and Bluetooth features.
The Mainstream Tuning
The UE9000 is a mainstream oriented headphone with a mainstream oriented sound. Mainstream, as in the same segment that Beats and Bose are targeting their headphones for. The difference between them and the UE9000 is that the latter has enough technicalities to separate itself from the B&B headphones and gain respect from the enthusiasts’s crowd. Not a grade A technicalities the way the Utlrasone Edition 8 or Beyerdynamic’s T5p are for portable closed headphones. In fact I would still comfortably grade the Beyerdynamic DT770LE, the Sony Z1000, and the Fidelio L1 being better than the UE9000 in technicalities. But you know that not everyone enjoys the sound of the Edition 8/T5p/DT770LE/Z1000/L1 because at the end it’s a question of sound signature and how well the UE9000 pairs with the music that they are listening to.
A great mainstream headphone should possess these qualities:
- Great bass
- Good clarity
- Fun sound
- Genre bandwith
And the UE9000 possesse all four of those qualities.
I find the same wide genre bandwith sound found in the recently reviewed UE900 IEM translated into the UE9000 headphone (don’t confuse the two there, the UE-nine-hundred is an IEM, the UE-nine-thousand a headphone). In fact, ignoring the differences between the two (IEM vs headphone, Balanced Armature vs Dynamic), the sound signature is quite similar save from the slightly boomier bass on the UE9000 compared to the controlled bass of the balanced-armature UE900 IEM. You get the same forward, fast, full sound with punchy bass that you get with the UE900. They both have a way to present a forward sound with strong PRaT without having the midrange and the treble become offensive. While I don’t find any romance in the midrange the way I am hearing the Sennheiser Momentum or the Audio Technica ESW-11 are, the UE9000 is safe from “trumpet” vocals (you know, overly present vocals) and hot treble regardless of the recording and source I’m playing. This is perhaps the most amazing aspect of the tuning of the 9000 because in the past, forward sounding headphones tend to come with those “trumpet” vocals while headphones with safe midrange and treble tend to be those dark and sleepy kind (Sennheiser’s HD650, hello).
If you’re used to playing well recorded Jazz, Blues, Classical or Audiophile recordings, the UE9000 will underwhelm you. Again, no romance there. It’s like comparing the UE900 in the IEM world to the Sony EX1000, you know which one you’re going to go for. But if you play mainstream recordings with Pop, Rock, Alternative and Electronic all in your playlist, you will appreciate the tuning of the UE9000.
I think it’s pretty amazing the way the UE9000 does this. I can take the Fidelio L1 for instance and its dark sound is naturally safe from hot trebles, but at the same time that feeling of a dark tonality is still there and though I’m a fan of a dark tonality, I know that a lot of people prefer something lighter.
Next page: more on sound…