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Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones

11-10-2014 | By Wojciech Pacuła | Issue 76

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones

In a year 2003, a not so widely known German company called Ultrasone launched the Edition 7 headphones. It was a limited edition of 999 units. That the company was little known is an overstatement so it would be safer to say that it was unknown in Poland and I had never heard of it. The company was founded in 1991 with its headquarters in Wielenbach, close to German Alps. Their headphones from the very beginning sported unique ideas, which later on developed into well-known and standard technologies of today: S-Logic Natural Surround System and ULE (Ultra Low Emission). The first helps to "free" the sound from focusing inside your head, giving the sense of space without altering the signal. The second one protects the listener against electromagnetic radiation. At first the company was selling their technologies to others, mostly professionals. In 1997 they developed a system limiting the electromagnetic radiation of headphones (of all sorts) which was then implemented in Ultrasone own headphone models, first presented to the public in 1999. The headphones were successful enough to convince the company to devote their resources solely in this area. In 2000 the company went through a series of changes and all research was focused on the headphones known under the Ultrasone brand.

I met Dragana Zirkel, head of Ultrasone PR department, a few years later during the High End 2005 show in Munich. Even though she demonstrated more "mundane" models, like the Pro2500, I could not resist the temptation and asked for the audition of the Edition 7. I liked them enough that we arranged for my review of several models from the basic range. That way the Ultrasone brand arrived in Poland. Later they found a distributor that started selling the headphones in our country.

The Edition 7 were the first from the whole Edition series. In 2006 there came Edition 9 followed by the still available Edition 12, Edition 10 and Edition 8. The latter come in several different finishes. All the models were very expensive. They did not herald, however, what the company decided to do when they added the Edition 5 to the series.

Geoffrey Morrison, the reporter from the internet edition of Forbes, considers them one of the most expensive headphones in the world (Geoffrey Morrison, "10 Most Expensive Headphones", Forbes 11/24/2013, see HERE). On his list they topped the Audeze and HiFiMAN, and are next to the flagship Omega II Stax electrostats and only one step behind the most expensive Abyss AB-1266 (5495 USD) magnetostatic headphones. As a reminder, the Polish Ultrasone prices are: Edition 10 Limited – 8,390 PLN, Edition 12 – 5,490 PLN and Edition 8 – 4,990 PLN. Hence, 14,900 PLN for the Edition 5 is a revolutionary change.

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones

As opposed to all the above mentioned designs, the Edition 5 are dynamic headphones. They are a closed design and are limited to 555 units only. Shame they do not have the name of the owner engraved. The ear cups are made of hundreds years old oak and instead of the classic S-Logic Plus we will find its next incarnation S-Logic EX. The innovation directs the sound from the diaphragm downwards through something looking like a reversed funnel. We are then presented with more spatial sound locating phantom images in front of the listener rather than in their head. Soft leather, titanium coated diaphragms and exclusive accessories complement the picture of this ultra-limited edition.


Albums auditioned during this review

Estampies & Dances Royales, Hesperion XXI, Jordi Savall, Alia Vox AV 9857, SACD/CD (2008).

L'Amor de Lonh, Ensemble Gilles Binchois, Dominique Vellard, Glossa GCD P32304, CD (2010).

• Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie, Bird & Diz, Mercury/UMG Recordings UCCV-9466, „David Stone Martin 10 inch Collector's Selection", CD (1952/2013).

• Daft Punk, Homework, Virgin, 8426092, CD (1996).

• Daft Punk, Random Access Memories, Columbia Records/Sony Music Japan SICP-3817, CD (2013); reviewed HERE

• David Sylvian, Brilliant Trees, Virgin/EMI Music Japan, VJCP-68876, CD (1984/2008).

• David Sylvian, Sleepwalkers, P-Vine Records, PVCP-8790, CD (2011).

• Dead Can Dance, Anastasis, [PIAS] Entertainment Group, PIASR311CDX, "Special Edition Hardbound Box Set", CD+USB drive 24/44.1 WAV (2012); reviewed HERE

• Dizzy Gillespie, The New Content, Limelight/Universal Music Japan UCCM-9097, "Immortal Jazz on Mercury. No. 47", CD (1962/2003).

• Electronic, Electronic, Factory Records/EMI Records 5099990743122, "2 Cd Special Edition", 2 x CD (1991/2013).

• Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Trilogy, Island/Victor VICP-642237, "Victor Music 80", K2HD CD (1972/2008).

• Frank Sinatra, Where Are You?, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2109, "Limited Edition No. 0251", SACD/CD (1957/2012).

• Ivie Anderson, Ivie Anderson with Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra, EPM 157352, "Jazz Archives No. 42", CD (1932-1940/1991).

• Johann Sebastian Bach, Sonatas & Partitas, Jaap Schroeder, Smithsonian Collection of Recordings/ADDA 581134/35, 2 x CD (1989).

• Ludwig Van Beethoven, Piano Trios Op.70 No.2, Op.97 ‘Archduke', Alexander Mielnikov, Isabelle Faust, Jean-Gihen Queyras, Harmonia Mundi HMC 902125, CD (2014).

• Nirvana, In Utero, Geffen GED 24536, CD (1993).

• OMD, English Electric, 100% Records/Sony Music Japan SICP-3810, CD (2013); reviewed HERE.

• Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Mixed Company, Theatre of Voices, London Sinfonietta, Paul Hiller, DaCapo Records 8.226114, CD (2014).

• Tommy Dorsey, Masterpieces 15, EPM 158342, "Jazz Archives", CD (1935-1940/1995).

When I listened to the Edition 7, right after they were launched in 2006, I couldn't quite understand their unique sound presentation. The then breathtaking 1500 USD design was so different from those from the classic range that I didn't exactly know how to approach the issue.

The sound that is reproduced, irrespective of the reproduction method (speakers, headphones) is in a way a "creation" that aims to deceive the listener and convince them that they are dealing with a natural sound. It has very little to do with what is happening on the stage or in a studio. Even though, high quality recordings played back on a high quality audio components press the right "buttons" and cause us to "suspend disbelief" long enough to mentally separate the message (music) from the medium (audio system + sound). It will never cease to be a trick, but a well-intended trick received with a full knowledge of what it is.

The Edition 7 that I auditioned during the High End 2006 in Munich, in far-from-comfortable conditions, did not make a great impression on me. I am talking about the sound here because the workmanship, looks and attention to detail were exceptional. I couldn't get a handle on the sound, though.

Fast forward eight years. The Edition 5 cost, considering the inflation rate, almost three times as much as the Edition 7. They are made even better. They make use of the latest design solutions that were still in their infancy in the 7's. Listening to them for the first time I had an impression of moving back in time and standing once again next to Dragana Zirkel who was telling me excitedly about the care they had put to find proper subcontractors for the various parts of the design and how happy they were to cooperate with them. I can still see her smiling face and the pride radiating from her. But now I finally understand the "why".

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones

The discrepancy between the sound of the Edition 7 and Edition 5 and my previous headphone experiences came from a different expectation priorities. The tonal balance of the Edition 5 is evidently shifted upwards. The lower bass is not meaty or strong. It is interesting that it is still audible even at the lowest tones of the grand piano. However, the sound is not as saturated as that offered by, say, the Audeze LCD-X and Sennheiser HD800 (not to mention other headphones from Ultrasone). Normally that would equal to a brightening or even sharpening of the sound. In other words, a too little and too much of something at the same time. But not so here; this is another case.

The German headphones are ones of the best resolving I have ever heard. Including both the incredible, in that respect, HiFiMAN HE-6 driven by the EF-6 amplifier as well as the reference, again in that respect, Stax Omega II electrostats. Their transparency and ability to "disappear" is so remarkable that for a while you try looking for THEIR OWN sound which seems not to be there (at least at this stage I cannot put my finger on it and describe it unequivocally). Next to the headphones from Bavaria, all others sound somewhat colored. Even though the Audeze impress us with the density of the midrange and their low, soft bass and the HiFiMANs enchant us with their high resolution and sonority. Compared to the headphones under review, the sound of both those designs turns out to be somewhat "made up"—in a brilliant, perfect and beautiful way but "made up" nevertheless. The Edition 5 simply disappear and this is probably what threw me off balance in Munich listening to the Edition 7, and that was the reason why the first moments with their successor at my home were so confusing.]

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones>

The key that opened them up for me was the recording of Beethoven's Piano Trios Op. 70 No.2, Op. 97 ‘Archduke' performed by, among others, Isabelle Faust, about whom I have written a few times before. The record I am talking about is the recent release featuring the violinist playing the "Sleeping Beauty," a Stradivarius from 1704 lent to her (indefinitely) by L-Bank Baden Württemberg.

I do not mention this recording in order to prove my acquired taste nor do I mention Faust and the violin to show off—I do not have to. But those great recordings and great musicians as well as extraordinary instruments (the grand piano and the cello are also exceptional) open up the world of Ultrasone.

Their sound is clear and uncolored. But this is unimportant; it is just a cause. The effect is that the sound is more reminiscent of what we hear live because it is not attached to the transducers, nor is it "projected" inside our head, and it has more air around the performers. Normally, listening to a recording we focus on the "body" of sound, the "structure" of instruments and vocals. The impression of their presence is created by the mass and energy. The Edition 5 sound profoundly lighter with more intensity. The instruments are created by million details, including the surroundings and venue acoustics. That million gives us extra-smooth picture without specific mass. When the bass drum kicks harder, even on Daft Punk's album, first you hear a splash and then the body. That is how the drums sound in real life. When the sound of Miles Davis's trumpet develops into a strong phrase, it is first velvety then sharper and finally smooth. It is bit of a shame that I have to dissect the sounds into their basic components but I would like to do my duty the best I can. When listening to those records with the Ultrasone we do nothing of the kind; that is obvious. But those little details add up to create the effect: an unbelievably spacious and clear sound.

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones

The spatial positioning is the element that organizes it all, both tonally as well as dimensionally. The sounds are located further than usually, a little bit like during a music concert. Hence, they are not "tangible" and "intense". The Audeze, for instance, build up the presentation using energy and mass. The impression of being there perceived by the listener is based on "touching" the presentation in the sense that we have a physical impression of being near the sound and consequently (if the sound is of high quality) near the performers. The Ultrasone headphones are nothing of the kind. They do not suggest the "presence" of a specific mass just next to us. In a unique way they present a clear picture, devoid of any unnatural sharpness, edges and coloring, from which there emerges a natural sound, in the sense of being real.

Listening to the music through headphones is a compromise build on a compromise. First we have to deal with an unnatural presentation. That is because recordings, except binaural ones, are made with the speakers in mind. Then we have to recalibrate ourselves from the sound that normally comes to us from all directions, with a key role of sounds reflected from the ceiling, floor and walls, to the sound that comes directly to our ears, with the room out of equation.

The Edition 5 do that flawlessly in their own way. The space is as good as with the best electronic systems that simulate listening through the speakers, but more natural and clear. We do not have an impression of the sound being processed, which is ever present with electronic systems. The space is incredible. Not only with stereo recordings but with mono as well, which are much more difficult to handle. The sound we get is very coherent and well organized. It is also exceptionally delicate.

I have not mentioned the latter before because I didn't want to tell everything at once, and with the Ultrasone there is no hurry at any stage. But the sound coming from the headphones is very delicate, almost velvety. We usually associate that with smoothness. Here, by saying that the sound is velvet like, I mean something more. It is an equivalent of the sound that does not attract attention with irritating details. Sharpness, harshness, grain or—generally speaking—distortion seem to be on such a low level that we do not hear it (we pay no attention to it). It does not matter whether it is a modern album or a mono recording, for example Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie's Bird & Diz from 1950, very difficult to reproduce, or modern classical music from the recent album by Theatre of Voices, London Sinfonietta and Paul Hiller featuring the compositions of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (OK, OK now I am showing off a little but to a good purpose).

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones


The point of a limited edition is that it is… well… limited. The figure of speech is the most appropriate here. "Limited" denotes "restricted" time or amount. The Edition 5 is limited to 555 units and are expensive as hell. Ten years ago nobody realized that we would have such expensive headphones and that they would become such a "normal" i.e. predictable phenomena. Auditioning and reviewing such designs could seem pointless as they will be purchased by rich collectors anyway.

This might as well be the case and I am wasting my time here. I would prefer to think that I am exploring the achievements of headphone technology and presenting what a given manufacturer is capable of. Not all of us will drive a Bugatti Veyron, although many would like to read about it, dive into details describing the philosophy behind it, the idea, technical specifications and then the driving experience.

Listening to transducers like the Edition 5 is an eye opening experience and proves that headphones are capable of recreating the sound in an unusual way. The closest to what this design offers are the electrostatic headphones from Stax on the one side and magnetostatic HiFiMANs on the other. The electrostats have a similar way of handling the "tissue" of sound, equal balance of reflected and direct sounds. The Ultrasone are much more coherent and delicate. With not even a trace of brightness and sharpening. Magnetostatic planar designs, such as the HE-6 from HiFiMan, the LCD-X from Audeze or the PM-1 from Oppo driven by Oppo's dedicated HA-1 amplifier/converter, share with the Edition 5 a smoothness and directness of sound. The Ultrasone combine several elements that do not appear in any design I know of. Here, they provide something unavailable with any other design.

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones

So, even though listening to classical music was exceptional, due to (hallelujah!) a natural presentation from a distance combined with a clear sound and great focus, listening to Daft Punk made my knees go soft and with Emerson Lake & Palmer Trilogy I had a feeling of live concert. They are great all-rounders that bring classical music to a new level. You have to give them a chance to "recalibrate" yourself. The GOLD Fingerprint award goes to Ultrasone for the Edition 5 and the entire work in the field of headphone design.


Closed headphone designs are very rare indeed in the high-end audio. Having in mind the Audeze LCD-XC and Stax 4070, one must say that the Edition 5 from the German Ultrasone belong to a very rare group of headphones of this type and this class.

They are "circumaural" i.e. the ear cups completely surround the ears. The cup shape reminds the PM-1 from Oppo, the M500 from KEF and some of the Sennheiser models. It's a rectangle with rounded corners. The Edition are relatively small and exceptionally light – after the heavy HiFiMANs, Audeze and even Oppo it is a relief. Thanks to well-designed headband and properly adjusted tension they fit the head perfectly with a very low fatigue factor.

Ultrasone EDITION 5 Headphones

They are made of plastic, aluminum, steel, leather and wood. Each model of the Edition is made of different wood. Here we have hundreds years old bog oak, with a beautiful grain and great mechanical properties. The wood is laser etched for an aluminum application and has seven coats of varnish. The headband is made of anodized aluminum and headband pad is made of Ethiopian long-haired sheep leather, same as the ear cups.

In addition to being a circumaural and closed design, the Ultrasone are also dynamic headphones. They feature ULE (Ultra Low Emission) solution that has been present in headphone designs from this manufacturer since 1999, setting them apart from the rest: MU-metal screen. It protects the listener against negative effects of electromagnetic radiation. After all, the coils and magnets are very close to the head for many an hour. MU-metal reduces 98% of the radiation.

The patented S-Logic EX is responsible for the extraordinary spatial positioning effect. It is a development of the former S-Logic, where in front of a transducer there was an aperture with specifically designed holes, to make the sound more spacious. In the EX there is a funnel shaped arrangement oriented downwards to the front. Apart from improving the spatial effect the EX allows a 40% reduction of the pressure on the eardrum (3-4 dB), while maintaining the same perceived volume. The 40 mm diaphragm is coated with titanium.

The flexible, detachable cables are made of 99.999 % pure OFC copper. The headphone come with two lengths of cables—a 4 meter cable, fitted with a 6.35 mm jack plug and a 1.8 meter cable with a 3.5 mm mini-jack, both from Neutrik. You also get a box to keep your headphones and a stand made of steel bar. Last but not least, a special pouch protecting from dust when the Edition 5 rest on the stand.

Technical specifications

Design: dynamic, closed

S-Logic EX Technology

ULE Technology

Impedance: 32Ω

Driver: 40mm, titanium plated

Magnet: NdFeB

Frequency response: 5 – 46,000Hz

SPL: 96dB

Weight: 280g

Cabling: 2 detachable cables – a shorter 1.5m cord with angled 3.5mm NEUTRIK plug and a longer 4m cord with 6.3mm NEUTRIK plug

Full metal headband, bog oak ear cups, leather earpads and head pad, dark chrome PVD plated ear cup rings

Price (in Poland): 14,900 PLN

Ultrasone AG
Gut Raucherberg 3
82407 Wielenbach | Germany/Bawaria
[email protected]


Text by Wojciech Pacuła,

Translation by Andrzej Dziadowiec,

Images by Wojciech Pacuła | Ultrasone

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