The Ultimate Ears line of audio products continues to add to its line of outstanding sounding earphones, professional in-ear monitors and wireless speakers with two pairs of recently released full-sized headphones. The company, which had previously made custom in-ear monitors for musicians and was acquired by Logitech in 2008, has become known for outstanding audio quality and their own signature sound. I have had the opportunity to listen to many of the products in the Ultimate Ears (UE) line and still use the UE 600‘s as my day-to-day earbuds when travelling.
With the release of the UE 6000 and 9000, Logitech now offers their first full-sized, sealed, over-the-ear headphones. While both are noise-canceling, the 9000′s, which we will look at this week, are also wireless with Bluetooth capabilities. Unfortunately, many wireless headphones I have used in the past offer that convenience at the expense of the audio quality. I was eager to listen to the UE 9000′s and see if both wireless & high-fidelity could go hand in hand.
Overview The UE 9000 ($399 suggested retail) is a sealed, over-the-ear headphone that can be used either wirelessly with Bluetooth or wired as a traditional headphone. When used wirelessly, the rechargeable battery pack (charged via USB) offers about ten hours of listening. In addition to the sleek, modern, industrial design, the UE 9000′s are immensely comfortable. Even with ample, full-sized plush memory foam ear cushions and a well designed headband with flexible, rotating joints, these never feel heavy. Quite honestly, they are perhaps the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn giving me hours and hours of straight listening without any discomfort. Unlike most over-the-ear (closed) headphones I’ve used in the past, there was no eardrum “throbbing” after extended playing or any other discomfort that is often associated with this type of headphone.
Sound Quality I was eager to immediately listen to these headphones upon unboxing and didn’t want to bother pairing wirelessly with my phone, so the first listening experience I had was wired. Not surprising based upon my past experiences with UE products, the sound was stellar. I jumped from track to track and was more impressed with each song that I listened to. I can’t stand loose bass that simply thuds all over the place. The UE 9000′s offered deep bass that was also tight and didn’t bleed over to the mid-tones. Warm, natural sounding mids with beautiful, crisp vocals made me not want to stop listening. With closed earphones, sometimes you don’t get the wide-open airy sound that higher quality on-the-air (open) headphones can offer. Fortunately, the UE 9000′s do give the listener the brilliant wide soundstage and not a compressed, “cavern” like listening experience. Additionally, the power is quite good with ample punch.
After listening for an hour or so, it was time to pull the cord and use the Bluetooth capabilities of the headphones. I crossed my fingers that the sound would be similar to the wired option, as most wireless solutions (especially Bluetooth) suffer major sound degradation. Happily, I was thrilled with the sound streaming wirelessly. There’s no doubt that it is different sound, but it is also very pleasing. The bass is actually a bit deeper but comes at the expense of more defined mids. While the sound was slightly less open and seemed a bit more processed, it was remarkably good for Bluetooth and hands down the best wireless headphone I have ever heard. No matter if I was listening to jazz like Medeski, Martin and Wood with exotic percussion, thumping bass notes, and delicate piano; boosting the volume with hard charging rock and heavy guitar riffs, or watching a movie, the UE 9000′s performed wonderfully for any headphone, much less one not encumbered with a wire.
Bluetooth, just like Mp3, has different codecs that produce audio with wildly different quality. However, not all source devices are able to stream with the newer Bluetooth codecs. Fortunately, the UE 9000′s include the newest and best codec called APT-X which is uncompressed and full band. Additionally, other codecs are also provided and the headphones automatically switch to best possible codec that they are able to use.
Noise Cancelling When used wired, you can toggle noise cancelling on or off. When used wirelessly, the UE 9000′s will always be in active noise cancelling mode. Frankly, I didn’t actually notice ANY difference moving from wired/noise cancelling to wireless which shows how good these headphones are in wireless mode. Obviously, with the oversized ear cushions and the closed design, these headphones will be passively blocking most outside noise regardless of the noise cancelling. With the addition of the active noise cancelling technology, even more sound is blocked out. The noise cancelling is very good and definitely blocks out quite a bit of the outside environment without sounding too artificial or processed. I’ve tried a few pairs of noise cancelling headphones that actually do a better job of blocking things other than drone but that came at the steep expense of overall sound quality.
Bluetooth Features In addition to wireless listening there are a few other Bluetooth features (if you have the right device!) There are dual microphones built in to allow for use as a wireless headset for clear phone calls, nicely placed buttons built into the headset to allow for volume & track control, and a “listen through” button which not only mutes the music but also uses the mics to amplify the outside sounds. This allows you to carry on a conversation without having to take off the headphones. Perfect for ordering a cocktail on the airplane! When using wired, the wire also duplicates these buttons for easy control. However, unbeknownst to me prior to trying to figure out why some of these features were not working, the Bluetooth controls only work for supported devices which include several iOS models. If you are using a non-iOS device or an unsupported iPhone model, don’t expect all (or any) of the controls to work. For example, the listen-through button worked fine on my Galaxy SIII, but the volume controls did not. Frankly, according to their tech specs, audio is only officially supported on iOS devices. However, I was able to quickly and easily pair and stream to many devices including several different phones, a tablet and my laptop.
I’m never too terribly far from whatever my audio source is when listening wirelessly, but it is always good to have a strong, reliable signal. Inherent, it seems to many wireless headsets (Bluetooth or any other technology like infrared) is a shaky signal with periodic drops or hiccups. This makes them completely unusable for critical listening and negates the concept of “high end wireless”. Many people can get accustomed to a periodic drop, like those from AirPlay devices, but they drive me mad. Fortunately, the UE 9000′s offer a steady, strong connection with a range of about 50′ or so. After listening wirelessly for dozens of hours over two weeks, I haven’t experienced one single drop.
[UE 9000 with travel case]
Build Quality & Accessories The materials, build quality and “feel” are all extremely high end. Brushed aluminum, rich leather, glossy surfaces and nicely trimmed with just a touch of blue to match the headphone cable all make for quite a striking look without being over-the-top. Their design allows for a nice fit without any shake or wobble even when actively moving around. It is impossible to definitively predict how a pair of headphones, especially with heavy use, will stand up over time. However, I’d be shocked if these don’t last for many, many years. The headphones come with a molded, zippered, hard travel case, USB charging cord, USB AC adapter, headphone cord with mic and controls and a 1/4″ headphone jack.
- Specifically designed for iOS devices so you won’t be able to use for phone calls with other devices and not all the Bluetooth controls will work
- It would be nice to use the headphones wirelessly without the active noise-cancelling feature when in an environment that doesn’t necessitate it.
- The glossy black earcups are prone to smudges.
- The $399 price is a premium price for a premium product. However, the UE 6000 offers the same outstanding sound and build quality but without the Bluetooth wireless compatibility and is priced at $199.
Final Thoughts Make no mistake, these are not simply “wireless” headphones. The sound quality IS outstanding over Bluetooth, but most importantly, these are outstanding headphones in their own right- wireless or not. Rich, lush, open and airy sound with extraordinary detail and plenty of power coupled with a stylish, modern design and extreme comfort. There’s likely not a better Bluetooth headphone out there that offers the sound quality that the UE 9000′s do. Logitech has added yet another winner to their Ultimate Ears line by creating one of the most versatile headphones available. Offering Bluetooth, wired, noise-canceling or not, built in mics for iOS, rechargeable batteries and headphones good for both travel and home, this is a pair that is a Jack of all trades- and fortunately does them all extraordinarily well.
Winner from Last Week First off, I’ve had scores of people get back to me that ordered the HiFiMAN HM-101 after our review two weeks ago and everyone seems to love it as much as I did. Likewise, I’ve had a bunch of people that ordered the Monoprice earbuds from last week and couldn’t believe the cost/value relationship. Anyway, congrats “Kurt”, we have a pair of them to ship off to you so you can check them out yourself. Please get in touch with me with any of the contact info below to arrange for shipping.
Apple Store $399
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