Ultimate Ears’ Ultimate: The UE9000

ultimate_ears_ue_9000_15


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 Ultimate Ears 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…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

    Pretty much my thoughts exactly maybe I should be a guest reviewer? lol jk

    I wouldn’t mind them not having the amp boost, id still listen to them if it wasn’t there but when its available I feel like I always want it on? I always wonder if it never had the boost if “we” would still think they sound flat and lifeless never hearing them with it on.

    So you don’t really think these are the K550 killers that inner fidelity said?

    Id love a comparison to the M50′s and the K550 etc (I know I keep asking for a compareo so if its in the works forgive my impatiens) I just want another portable closed headphone and the DT770′s are a little bulky. Like if my friend tells me he wants beats but doesn’t have the cash should I keep steering them to the M50′s or the DT770′s if they don’t car about looks or the XB-500′s if all they want is bass or should I start suggesting these?

    Last I think people in general are to hard on Bose and Beats yes Bose gets thrown in due to specifically testing and tuning there products for main stream buyers tastes (smooth but veiled sound, extra upper and midbass richness) but there is a lot worse stuff. Sony, Monster, Skullcandy not to mention all the crazy companies jumping on the $200-$350 bass headphone bandwagon make some really awful headphones, every thing Skullcandy makes under $100 is trash along with most of Sony’s under $50 market (there are some exceptions) and there new big red ugly plastic things. Monster makes good in ears but all there over ears are over priced and sub par.

    I’m just saying I would put Bose 1 level above all that junk, there QC15′s are expensive because of the NC but the AE2′s can be had for only about $100 which sound quite nice compared to a lot of other stuff.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Eric.

      I think these can be a killer for a lot of headphones, even a HD800 killer, depending on how you look at it. I mean, a good all rounder headphone for the street? Certainly the HD800 can’t compete on that department.

      Of course if we try to understand what each headphones are designed for, I then I wouldn’t really say that the UE9000 is a K550 killer (I don’t know what Tyll said on IF). It doesn’t have the wow factor in technicalities that the K550 has. But yes if I’m looking for an everyday walk around headphones then definitely it’s the UE9000.

      So, briefly:
      M-50 remains a very popular entry level audiophile headphone. Don’t think the UE9000 at $399 is going to dethrone that.
      M-100: I have yet to hear it, but Edd and Julius didn’t seem to like it so much based on their review.
      K550: More technical, full size for home listening.

      I think the real competition is more from:
      Fidelio L1
      Senn Momentum
      Senn Amperior
      Sony 1R

      • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

        Well I’m kinda throwing the UE6000′s in there as there pretty much the same think for 1/2 the price. I pretty much know how they compare to the Philips and Momentum but the Amperior would be interesting giving your comment about the HD-25-1 above

  • http://www.facebook.com/danny.utoyo Danny Utoyo

    What about comparison vs old trusty HD25-1 II Mike (fun factor vs technicality aspect)? Thx

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The UE9000 has a cleaner sound, bigger soundstage, more bass. I think overall it’s a better headphone, but of course the HD25-1 is unique.

      • http://www.facebook.com/danny.utoyo Danny Utoyo

        I think it will be more compelling if you throw another wireless headphone comparison like sennheiser rs220 in it? ;)

      • http://www.facebook.com/b0unce Boun Ly

        Amperior review! :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Aside from the different tonality of the Amperior, comments on technicalities I made for the HD25-1 would apply to it too. The two practically have almost identical technicalities.

          And yes a review is coming. :)

  • dalethorn

    The review says the UE6000 does not have noise canceling, but it does.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes sorry for that. Edited out the error.

  • Eli

    When you choose to listen to the internal amp in both the UE9000 and UE6000, you’re also listening to the shabby internal noise-cancelling circuit. Really tips up & muddles the bass, and tips up parts of the treble (to a lesser extent).

    When in passive mode, though, they both sound pretty great to me. A small portable amp will coax out their potential a wee bit more, but they’re perfectly fine driven directly by an iDevice or a good laptop.

    I do think that Tyll (InnerFidelity) was right when he said that the K550 had a somewhat artificial sounding treble, in general. Always thought it was rather “tizzy” & unnatural sounding…but still good, compared to most other closed headphones. The UE6000/UE9000 have a much more natural sounding treble to me. Recent entries like the Momentum, MDR-1R & UE6000/UE9000 sound better to me than the K550, the Edition 8, & any of Beyerdynamic’s closed headphones. Just my opinion, of course.

    Cool time to be a headphone geek!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hey thanks for sharing your thoughts, Eli!

      Sent from my mobile device. Sorry for any mistype.

    • dalethorn

      The two UE6000′s I had in passive mode had a really shelved treble. If you should happen to consider a HD800 to be too bright, just subtract 2 or 3 db anywhere on the brightness curve and then compare to the 6000 – the 6000′s treble is still shelved. So in passive mode, it isn’t high fidelity even if you stretch that term way past its limits. I’ve read a lot of comments from people who love the passive mode, but when you look really close, there’s no critical analysis.

      BTW, did I miss it in this review, was there an explanation of the difference between passive mode (no noise canceling), active mode (NC set to ON), and Bluetooth mode (with or without NC)?

      • Eli

        It’s treble is absolutely lower than ideal for a high-fidelity headphone, but what treble is present sounds pretty good to me. In most situations, that’s not a bad thing for me. I spend just as much time listening to crappy-quality streamed video & audio as I do higher quality material, so a somewhat shelved down (but well executed) treble ends up being more pleasant to me than a neutral or exaggerated treble response.

        • eliafant

          Hi,
          I think dalethorn and Eli really are correct in their judgements as my experiences with the UE 6000 ended up being the same.

  • http://www.facebook.com/b0unce Boun Ly

    Mike, how’s the battery life?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Battery life is extremely good I didn’t count but I keep on wondering when the battery will run out whenever I use it.

  • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

    Mike – Interesting Review !

    You wrote:

    “A great mainstream headphone should possess these qualities:

    Great bass
    Good clarity
    Fun sound
    Genre bandwidth

    And the UE9000 possesses all four of those qualities.”

    And – at exactly the same price point, so does the HE-400 Rev 2 (although the open vs closed difference makes the two headphones suited for entirely different purposes).
    Which Is why I keep hoping you will publish L’s review of the Rev 2.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      You are right.

      There is a delay with the Rev2 review as they supposedly already have a newer version of the HE-400.

      Between the one I reviewed and the Rev2, there is no big change in terms of tonality. I just thought that the Rev2 sounds smoother.

      And you are right, the HE-400 has good bass, is clear, fun, and has a wide genre bandwith. It just is not a mainstream headphone though. ;)

  • antonius wijaya

    Where to get UE9000, UE6000 in Indonesia?

  • http://www.facebook.com/satrya.a.pratama Satrya Adi Pratama

    mike can u make a review for sony XB1000 ,, i’m so curious with this headphone, and please compare it with the similiar price headphone,,, i think there is xb1000 in analoghead

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Why don’t you come and listen to it at the store? ; )

      Sorry I don’t plan to do a review on it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/satrya.a.pratama Satrya Adi Pratama

        cause i’m in makassar,, n your store in jakarta right?? just want to read your review for eXtraBass flagship,, heheheh

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Okay so basically the sound is big and spacious given the size of the driver, housing, pads, etc. Pads are super comfy. Mid and treble are very clear, even comparable in clarity to non bass-labeled headphones. Then below the mid frequencies you have this big bass body that hits quite low, though not so much on upper bass.

          Ultimately if you’re looking for maximum bass quantity and punch, I still think that the Pro700Mk2 from Audio Technica is the one you should go for. The XB1000′s bass though there are plenty of bass, is more relaxed.

          Hope that helps. :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/satrya.a.pratama Satrya Adi Pratama

            wow,, its reALly help,, my priority is comfort, and my head is bigger than normal , and my music is K-Pop they need more fun n dynamic mids thanks, the mids by XB1000 is recessed or not?? thanks a lot mike..

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              The mids are okay. It’s not recessed but it’s not forward either. Quite neutral.

      • http://profiles.google.com/dementor338 brian chin

        The XB1000′s are discontinued so its impossible to listen to them in the stores

  • Pepe

    Hi Mike,

    How do these Headphones sound to you with Classical or acoustical music, since you mentioned these are very good mainstream headphones? I am desperatly looking for a closed Headphone for travels and tried out the Philips L1, which never gave me this kind of “wow” feeling in therms of classical music though, but they sounded nice for Pop or Rock. After them I tried out the Ultrasone HFI 780, but the high’s were way too piercing. I also listened to the DT 660 which sounded really nice with some classical tracks, but the bass was basically non-existent.

    I just discovered your side yesterday and after reading your reviews I really would like to try out:

    DT 770 LE 32 Ohms
    Sennheiser Momentum
    UE 6000/9000

    I would really appreciate your opinion on which of these you would recommend for a more classical music oriented person, who likes to discover new details in the recording.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think the UE9000 is just average for classical.

      I enjoy the Fidelio L1 more, but I think the Beyer 770 AE would be the best one on that list.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      If I can recommend something out of that list, I would go for the Sony Z1000.

  • tand

    Hi Mike,,

    I was looking to buy the UE 6000 and came across this review. It seems the only difference with the UE9000 is the lack of BT.

    My question is with regard to the NC on sound. People complain that the bass will be excessive. But is the quality still good?
    I want to combine it with my Godap GD03 that boosts the mids and highs. hopefully it will work out like with my wooduo2.

    Second question..how does this headphone compare with the CAL? On paper the CAL seems to have the ideal soundsignature for my taste.

    Anyway also want to mention how impressed I was when I stumbled across your store in jakarta. Matter of fact I am planning to post it on tripadvisor.(ps If you don’t want i will cancel it).

    I mentioned that in europe there was not a similar store like this. But your website explains why your store is like a headphone nirvana. Not only with the amount of choices available, but also the possibilty to try everything out. An enthusiasts dream. I could easily spend hours there and with so many gear available. I knew I was in danger making a fast climb up the audio ladder.

    So thanks for your hospitality. I will be back for sure and maybe you could help me find the right gear for my taste.

    • dalethorn

      The UE6000 bass with NC on is way above even bassy headphones like the v-moda M100, and it’s not a tight or controlled bass – it’s very bloated. But the highs are also strong, so I wouldn’t boost them or they’d fry my ears. I managed to enjoy the UE6000 with a slight upper bass reduction. The quality is OK – good enough for $200.

      • tand

        That’s bad news.Bloated bass is useless.
        I have the wooduo 2 and this IEM combines bigtime bass with out it being bloated.

        • dalethorn

          There are much better choices when noise canceling isn’t required.

          • tand

            I am paying 70€/100u$ for the UE 6000. I was actually considering the CAL.
            Which headphones would you recommend?

            • dalethorn

              Quality is a real issue at $100, and when the UE6000 is only $100, you’re asking to compare an original $200 item to items that aren’t discounted at $100, which is not a fair comparison. If I recommend a headphone with similar quality to the UE6000 but with better bass, it’s going to cost at least $200. So maybe you’d be happier if you buy the UE6000 for $100 and use some simple bass reduction. But whatever you do, make *sure* you can return the UE6000 for full credit without paying for shipping if need be, since my first two UE6000′s were defective. BTW, my experience was not a fluke. Tyll of Innerfidelity got some UE4000′s to test, and the first was defective, the second was defective, and I don’t think he was able to test the third one (don’t remember). Just don’t take chances.

              • tand

                Thanks for your advice. UE is now part of logitech. And I always have a great experience with their customer service. Not sure i get muy money back, but pretty much gauranteed to get replacement products.

                I am just curious for your recommendations. My budget is at a hard 250€. About 350$ for one headphone. I dont have unlimited budget so I am not planning to buy a lot of headphones and I hate reselling things that i bought.

                After a lot of reading on headfi and a lot of listening I know what is the soundsignature I want. My proble is I dont know if there is a headphone that fits my soundsignature and music taste. A good strong tight low subbass with good mids and highs that sparkles without ever going sibilant.

                So I am now slowly working up the headphone price ladder, looking for the perfect headphone.Buying the highly recommended headphones that seem to fit my soundsgnature.
                Also looking into the chinese OEM brands…looking for good fits.

                Anyway i am always interested in recommendations.

                • dalethorn

                  The signature you suggest is the ideal nearly everyone at Headfonia wants. It is extremely difficult to get the strong yet tight bass that doesn’t interfere in the mids or unbalance the sound to a large degree. I’ve found several solutions in that price range, but none are perfect. The B&O H6 is nearly perfect, but when people compare it to others directly it never compares in bass, although heard on its own the bass is quite strong. The Beyer T51p that I have is nearly perfect, but the highs are just a little bit too soft, although you might like it the way it is. The new refresh DT1350 from Beyer may be even better, but I haven’t heard it yet.

                  • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

                    And don’t forget the HP100

                    • dalethorn

                      The HP100 is really great and may be a lot closer than my suggestions. Unfortunately for me it’s gone.

                    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

                      Mine too. weird, it’s a great headphone but for some reason people don’t hang on to it

                    • dalethorn

                      It’s that comparison and upgrade fever.

                    • tand

                      Isnt the t51 the new DT1350?
                      I am not sure about on ears. Sensitive ears that gets hot fast.

                      B&O…theiir image scares me. You pay a premium for it’s design. Always make me wonder if anything they sell is worth it.

                      HP100? Is described as neutral. Not sure if it’s up my alley.

                    • dalethorn

                      The new DT1350 is the same as the old except it’s called “refresh version” and has new pads that should seal better for improved bass. The T51p is the new refresh version of the T50p. I haven’t used these new versions in warm weather, but indoors in 75 degree F temperature, I can wear the T51p all day without any heat or moisture inside the earpads. That may be different outdoors in warm weather with high humidity. The B&O H6 is *very* much worth the $400, if you can accept the midrange sound. The build is great, comfort is the best, and compactness for around-neck wear when not listening also the best. The HP100 is pretty neutral with some good lower bass, but again, it’s the midrange – it was something I got used to and could live with (like the B&O H6 just different sound), so otherwise hard to describe. A great value for the price.

                    • tand

                      Read your review on the UE6000. Seems our taste in bass is different.lol.
                      I am testing the UE6000. Have some problems and nigles with it. Mainly that the cable doesnt work well wih my venturecraft.

                    • dalethorn

                      One the second issue of defects, it helps to understand that my first 2 6000′s were defective, and even Tyll of Innerfidelity received several defective UE’s in a row!! So be prepared for exchanges. On the first issue, I don’t think our taste differs as much as you might expect, since I think we both want the same thing, like a strong yet firm and well-controlled bass that isn’t flabby. The 6000 just isn’t that good, but it is a bargain at the original $200 price, and probably better now! My headphones now are all bass-elevated, except for the v-moda V80 and Bose OE2i – the rest of them (8 or 10 depending on what day it is) have a pretty strong bass well above neutral, but the 6000 is different – maybe get it on a good DAC/amp on a computer and the bass will tighten up a little.

                    • tand

                      Can you maybe explain what the effect will be if an overear headphone doesnt fit over my ears?

                    • dalethorn

                      The effect is really different for different people. I don’t remember exactly for the UE6000, but some headphones like the Momentum fit very well (for me they did), and for some people the Momentum doesn’t fit at all. Since the Momentum (just for example) is partly around-ear for me I can make it fit over the top of my ears and then it sits ON the bottom of my ears, which is OK since the bottom of my ears don’t stick out like the top. The V-Moda M100 is another example that doesn’t fit completely around everyone’s ears. My B&O H6 seems to be completely around for most people, same for the B&W P7. The Beyer COP and DT770 fit easily around anyone’s ears I think. So if you don’t get a good fit with over-ears it can be uncomfortable and the sound could be thin.

                    • tand

                      Thanks…the UE6000 fits like the momentum for you. Semi overears.

                      No kidding with the defects. never had such weird defects or so many in just one headphone. Scares me to keep it.

                      BUT what is it a fun headphone. You are getting two headphones for the price of one.
                      We all know how highly people praised the passive mode. But the NC active mode is not to be underestimated.

                      Actually i will come straight out it´s quite awesome tom me. It´s making it a fun headphone for any music with a beat in it. Bass is over the top. But some music are simply asking for it. And the bass still knows it place. Never bloated or bassbleeds. If there is no bass in the music, you will not hear it. But if it’s there..it will do it’s best let you feel it.The boost in the highs is actually more noticeble, but here is where the shelved highs is paying off. Even with the boost it doesn’t get irritating or piercing.Definitely no sibilance.

                      Compared to my Wooduo it leads to a less fatiguing fun headphone.

                      Anyway it’s definitely more vshape sound, But the seperation is still great. Vocals is good enough that you will have no problem listening to songs where vocals is more important. Even though Adele is a bit overpowering with NC on.

                      Matter of fact in passive mode other headphones is beter or it’s equal. But with NC active…this headphone comes closest to my amped wooduo as a fun basscentric listening experience.

                      Now I just need to find a defect free headphone. thankfully logitech support is the best around, Just make sure if you can to buy it straight from them.

                    • dalethorn

                      I gave the UE6000 a good review because I could accomodate it with some simple bass reduction for an enjoyable sound. I avoid the term ‘fun’ because some reviewers use it and there’s no standard of reference for ‘fun’.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Tand,
      Thanks for helping to post the store on Tripadvisor, I really appreciate it.
      So the question is with the UE9000’s bass? I don’t think the UE9000 has excessive bass, but it’s a dark sounding headphone that’s for sure. I think they want to make it safe for modern recordings and that means a sound that’s darker than the CAL. The CAL is a good headphone, actually I think the bass is a bit more boomy on the CAL, compared to the UE, and the CAL also has reverbs that intrudes the midrange. However overall it’s a musical headphone. Fun and great for the price. The UE9000 on the other hand stands at the near premium end of the portable closed headphone spectrum but of course it’s a better headphone overall.

  • Chriso89

    Hi mike. How is this compared to the sony mdr-1rbt? I listen to Kpop and pop music. Mostly female artist and need powerful sound and good bass response