Hailing from Bavaria, ULTRASONE are a company which pride themselves on the use of high-quality materials, efficient engineering processes and sustainability. This is consolidated by their use of advanced electric cars as part of the company fleet in a bid to build a successful and future-proof corporate structure. Despite their thorough work ethic, though, ULTRASONE have not yet reached the widespread acclaim of their German contemporaries Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic.
This is especially the case in North American waters where ULTRASONE products would actually be very well received. Their latest release, the ULTRASONE Performance 880 headphones ($499) combines titanium-coated PET dynamic drivers with S-Logic Plus Technology to enhance stereo image and increase frequency range. As with the HiFiMAN Deva, the ULTRASONE Performance 880 has capabilities for going wireless with the SIRIUS Bluetooth Adaptor which can be purchased separately. The strive for convenience has been a decidedly important factor in consumer markets as of late and ULTRASONE have clearly taken heed of this fact.
The ULTRASONE S-Logic technology is a nifty addition to the Performance 880’s inventory with a spatially improved sound created by the decentral placement of transducers. As a by-product, the technology significantly reduces hearing damage by pressing less strain from sound pressures on the ears.
The ULTRASONE Performance 880 does arrive in slightly lacklustre packaging with a rather industrial grey and red colour scheme. Certainly, the aesthetics could be tightened up here to really sell the high-quality appeal of the German brand.
Nevertheless, ULTRASONE have packed in a functional neoprene travel case as well as two cables – a 3m plain cable and a 1.2m cable with inline microphone and remote control settings. Also included are spare velour ear pads, a manual, 6.35 to 3.5 mm screw-on adapter and proprietary charging cable (USB A to 2.5 mm socket). The ULTRASONE SIRIUS Bluetooth adapter does not come with the accessories unfortunately and must be purchased separately.
The Build & Design
The Performance 880 sports titanium-coated 40mm dynamic drivers. The use of metals with high strength-to-weight ratios has been increasingly common to reduce distortion levels by increasing diaphragm stiffness. The headphones are overall sturdy in nature with chrome-finished plastic rims residing between the plush ear pads and outer housings. While the use of plastic has notably kept weight down to 274 grams, the use of plastic with metallic finishes does detract from a premium feel. Perhaps ULTRASONE could have employed a more aesthetic material in the outer earcup to exude more of a luxury appeal.
Having said that, the slider mechanism is excellent with the right amount of tactile resistance when adjusting between the different headband settings. The earcups swivel in the x-axis with minimal rotation in the y-plane allowing for easy adjustment.
ULTRASONE Sirius Bluetooth Adapter
The accompanying Sirius Bluetooth adapter is a useful device converting the Ultrasone into wireless ready headphones. The adapter is relatively slim and more low profile compared to the likes of HiFiMAN’s Bluemini within the HiFiMAN Deva. As a result, the unobstructive nature aids overall ergonomics. The Sirius is equipped with several buttons including a power on/off as well as play/pause which are relatively easily to locate from a tactile perspective. The Sirius provides 12 hours of run time which is more than decent in the space of wireless technology. The only downside is that the device does not support LDAC or low-latency protocols. Instead, the Sirius is equipped with Bluetooth 4.1 as well as support for aptX codec.
The clamping force on the Performance 880 headphones are slightly tighter than normal. While this does ultimately secure the headphones in place, the pressure does become noticeable after longer listens. However, they are a relatively light pair of headphones with comfortable leather earpads in place. The headbands also have even pressure distribution which does help support a more comforting prolonged listen.
Tonality (in wireless modality)
From the outset the ULTRASONE Performance 880 headphones are a very enjoyable pair of headphones. The sound is decidedly neutral and inoffensive playing well across a range of different genres. While some headphones demand attention with ultra-resolution or fast attack, the Performance 880s take a relatively laidback approach with a good center staging with diffuse panning across left to right.
The Performance 880 headphones are not a consumer-orientated pair of headphones with deep sub-bass and elevated mid-bass. Instead, the signature is rather neutral with no particular emphasis within the sub-frequencies. Compared to the HiFiMAN Deva, the ULTRASONE Performance 880 induces more macro-dynamic slam with a thicker and weightier bass performance. In ‘No More’ by Jafu, underlying bass is handled with ease and agility. However, there is a bit of texture missing and the Performance 880 do not possess the most visceral sub-bass presence.
This is a quite balanced pair of headphones with a midrange that is neither obstructed nor altered by the low-end of the Performance 880s. Owing to the S-Logic technology, the midrange does retain a slight diffuse holding with sounds emanating from both the foreground and background. Again, vocals follow a laidback character with a softer impact compared to the more analytically tuned HiFiMAN Deva. As a result, tracks sound very affable with no strong leading-edge crispness or grating sibilance. The Performance 880s are not a pair of headphones which demand attention from the outset but it is easy to get lost in the music – an often overlooked but important trait any headphone should be proud to have.
Up top, the Performance 880s sound real with natural decay to cymbal crashes and drum snares. There is a slight recession in the lower treble region which removes any sibilance and splashiness from this territory. The upper treble, in contrast, has a gentle upstroke providing some energy and sparkle to tracks. Overall, the listen is quite fatigue-free which helps in long listening sessions.
Imaging & Soundstage
With the S-Logic technology in place, the Performance 880s do offer a decent soundstage given its closed-back form factor. While there is nothing ground-breaking, there is good projection of sonic cues in the elements of width and depth. Separation levels are also beyond average with adequate distinctions between vocals and instruments. It is nice to see that ULTRASONE have used driver placement to their advantage as opposed to digital signal processing or crossover runtime delay. The net result is a sound which is more natural and devoid of unnecessary reverb or artificial echoes.
HiFiMAN Deva ($299)
Both the HiFiMAN Deva & ULTRASONE Performance 880 function as both wired and wireless headphones with their additional Bluetooth adapters. The key difference being that the Deva is open-back in design whilst the Performance 880 closed-back. As a result, the Deva does possess the larger soundstage although the Performance 880s are certainly not far behind. The Devas also induce a more analytical tuning with sharper leading-edge transients and an overall neutral-cool sound. Thus, HiFiMAN’s wireless creation has more perceived detailing whereas the Performance 880 delivers a more fatigue-free sound with softer impact amidst a touch of warmth. Owing to its closed-back design, the Performance 880 is more suitable in the commuting setting while the Deva for home and hotel use.
Master & Dynamic MW65 ($499)
The Master & Dynamic MW65 incorporates beryllium-coated dynamic drivers whereas the Performance 880 dynamic drivers are titanium-plated. Comparing the two, the MW65 delivers better texturing and punch in the lower frequencies next to the ULTRASONE’s more neutral bass. The Performance 880 does offer the better soundstage whereas the MW65’s is rather limited owing to its closed back design and acoustic dampening. In terms of aesthetics, Master & Dynamic have offered a luxury item in the MW65s with its clear-cut design and use of premium materials. While the Performance 880 is still refined in appearance, it could also benefit from more premium choice of metallic coating in its inventory. Functionality wise, the Performance 880 also falls short of the MW65 with a lack of active noise-cancelling (ANC) and in-built Bluetooth. Having said that, passive isolation on the Performance 880 is above average in both noisy settings and commutes.
FiiO EH3 NC ($179)
The EH3 NC represents FiiO’s first stab at the wireless headphone market. Next to the Performance 880, the EH3 NC evokes more sub-bass depth and rumble. While the FiiO EH3 NC elevates the lower midrange to work in some warmth, the ULTRASONE Performance 880 is more neutral in its response. This is also replicated in the upper treble where the Performance 880 is more measured in its overall attack and splashiness compared to the EH3 NC. Soundstage wise, the ULTRASONEs win out here with a larger sound with wider dimensions.
The ULTRASONE Performance 880 was a pleasant surprise offering a versatile and enjoyable sound despite not being the most technically proficient set of headphones. The S-Logic Plus Technology certainly works in the Performance 880’s advantage with a spatially rich sound and natural portrayal of space and scale. With the additional Sirius Bluetooth adapter, the Performance 880 are a well-rounded wireless offering. Despite no active-noise cancelling technology, the understated and compact design along with its fatigue-free performance are certainly commendable in the era of wireless transducers.
ULTRASONE Performance 880 Specifications
- Principle: dynamic, closed
- S-Logic® Basic technology
- ULE technology
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Driver / diameter: PET, 40 mm
- Magnet: NdFeB
- Frequency range: 7 – 35.000 Hz
- SPL: 94 dB
- Weight (excl. chord): 274 g