“Made with love in Bavaria” is what you’ll see on the main page of Ultrasone’s website, amidst some stunning German countryside. Located in Wielenbach, just near the amazing Alps mountain range and founded in 1991 Ultrasone has some very impressive products under their belt. Each headphone is crafted by hand and the company takes pride in each and every component that goes into making them. What does this all mean for the consumer? Read my Ultrasone Performance 860 review to find out.
“Every performance is different. That’s the beauty of it.” Van Morrison
This sample was sent to me for the purpose of this review. I’m not affiliated with the company in any way and all opinions and observations here are my own, based on my experience with the product.
Ultrasone website: http://www.ultrasone.audio/english.html
- Technology ULE technology-MU metal shielding
- Technology S-Logic® Plus technology
- Principle Dynamic principle, closed-back
- Cable Detachable cable 3 m with gold-plated 3.5 mm jack (B-Lock-Connection)
- 2nd Cable Detachable cable 1.2 m with micro and remote control
- Adapter gold-plated 6.3mm screw-on adapter
- Driver PET/Gold membrane
- Driver size 40 mm
- Impedance 32 ohms
- Frequency range 10-28000Hz
- SPL 94 dB
- Case Neoprene case
- Weight (excl. cord) 274 g
Beautifully crafted and extremely well built the Ultrasone Performance 860 offers linearity that’s perfect for a reference headphone. Overall they have a clean, balanced and mature sound bundled into a top-quality unit.
Packaging and accessories
So here we have a predominantly silver box made from sturdy cardboard with a clear image of the headphones on the front. Over on the back is some information and technical specifications.
When we open it up we’re presented with the neoprene case with the headphones inside. The case is rather nice but it’s a soft case so won’t provide a whole lot of protection if things get rough. For normal situations, though it should do the job and at the very least keep the headphones free of dust.
Underneath the case are the two cables and 6.35mm adapter along with an information booklet.
The first cable is a standard 3-meter rubberized affair. It’s a nice quality cable, soft to the touch and does not tangle easily. On one end is a 2.5mm plug that locks into the bottom of the left ear-cup. At the other end is a 3.5 mm straight plug that will fit into most modern devices but if not you can always utilize the supplied 6.35mm adapter.
The second cable is a 1.2-meter cable with a remote and microphone. It’s made from the same materials as the other cable, feels great in the hand with no stickiness and is very supple. This shorter cable is fitted with an L-shaped plug and is meant for desktop or portable use.
Build, fit and comfort
Premium is the word that comes to mind when you have these in your hands. Everything feels extremely robust and the quality of the materials is immediately apparent. Starting at the top is a steel headband with the middle part surrounded by thick rubber that helps absorb vibrations and eliminate noise from movement. There’s a rectangular space open on the top showing the steel of the headband and the Ultrasone branding.
Where the rubber ends there’s a transition to matte black plastic surrounding the adjustment sliders that are perfectly colour matched to the rubber section and keep the appearance uniform. The sliders are clearly numbered and have a very nice, controlled movement when adjusting, along with audible clicks for each notch.
The ear-cups are made of plastic, the bottom half is soft matte black and the top half “iced-silver”. On the sides, we again see the Ultrasone branding and the 860 classifications. The ear-cups rotate 90 degrees for easier storage, for setting down on a surface or when wearing around your neck. I always appreciate when headphones add this convenience.
The soft protein leather ear pads with memory foam are very nice but I have two major gripes with them. First of all, they’re quite thin so my ears touch the hard driver inside which can be painful after a while. Secondly, they’re not detachable so you can’t use third-party pads unless you’re willing to rip the original pads off and glue on alternative ones. I really don’t know why Ultrasone decided to take this route and for me, it’s my only major complaint with these headphones.
*Ultrasone has informed me that they do in fact provide alternative velour ear-pads for the Performance series. However, the original pads are glued on so keep that in mind if you want to change to the velours.
One of the unique features of many Ultrasone headphones (including the Performance 860) is their S-Logic® Plus technology that uses decentralized driver positioning which “sends music around your head not just into it” for a better three-dimensional experience. It basically reflects signals off the surface of your outer ear (as opposed to pointing directly into the ear canal), similar to how our ears naturally hear the world around us. This is partly why the Performance 860 has a such a good, wide soundstage.
As far as comfort goes, these have almost nailed it but as I mentioned above the earpads are a bit on the thin side. That combined with the fairly aggressive clamping force is not ideal for comfort but does make them very stable for use on the move. The soft foam on the underside of the headband does a good job of dispersing pressure on the top of the head but I would like to see a bit less clamping force or the option to change ear pads.
Sound isolation is decent as you would expect for closed-back headphones. They won’t block out all noise but if there’s music playing you certainly won’t hear much outside of it.
PC > Arcam irDAC-II > headphones
Shinrico D3S > Audinst HUD-MX2 > headphones
FiiO X1ii > headphones
NiNTAUS X10 > headphones
Music used for testing
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (Experience Version 2011 double CD)
Mathias Eick – Midwest album
Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts album
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Official Soundtrack
The Performance 860 is described as a linear headphone and that’s pretty much what I hear with them. That’s not to say they aren’t musical though. On the contrary, they provide a smooth but detailed sound that faithfully reproduces the original recording. Although they can be powered sufficiently by smartphones and DAPs they do scale well with some extra juice and can sound more forgiving when paired with a warmer source.
The 860 has a fast, punchy bass with a fast decay, perhaps for some a little on the light side but this gives more room for the mids and treble to come through. Personally, I don’t find the bass lacking and the sub-bass doesn’t roll off too early either (10-28000Hz), it’s just at a neutral level. In Westside Connection’s “So Many Rappers in Love” the sub-bass still manages to rumble but it does so without overshadowing anything else in the mix.
Good separation and layering is what you’ll find in the midrange. Instruments and vocals alike sound like they should with good tonality and realism. They’re a little on the dry side depending on what you’re listening to. Acoustic guitars sound great like in “Pale Flag” by Katatonia, a track that fares particularly well with these because it’s a naturally warm sounding song.
Utada Hikaru’s “Traveling” is a busy track with some inherent sibilance that I often use to test separation and highs. With these headphones, this track can be a bit fatiguing at moderate volume and borders on being downright unpleasant. That’s not necessarily a weakness in the headphones though and is mostly due to being mastered by someone with play-dough in their ears. The Performance 860 simply reproduces the track in its natural state, hence why they are called linear. There’s a good chance that the song was mastered using warmer studio monitors or headphones. In a roundabout way, I’m saying that these are good for reference but are not the most relaxed listen. Technically impressive and leaning towards analytical more than fun.
Soundstage is wide and imaging is particularly good, giving accurate positioning of instruments and sound. Whether this is due to the S-Logic Plus feature or not is hard to say but for a closed headphone, these give a very good impression of space. Mathias Eick’s “Midwest” is one of my go-to tracks for testing as the percussion sounds can reach well outside of the head-space and gives a good idea of a headphone’s ability to place objects in a 3D space. The 860 does exceptionally well here which reminds me – these are also really good for first-person shooters and can reveal the movement and position of enemies. With the included 1.2m cable with microphone, these can be used as a serious upgrade over many gaming headsets.
Ultrasone Performance 860 Comparison
The Ultrasone gives a more accurate reproduction of music where the MSUR adds warmth and colour. For detail, they’re not far apart and I found it difficult to choose between them. The MSUR offers a more laid-back and fun approach while the 860 is more business-like and analytical. Comfort-wise they’re both pretty good but neither are the most comfortable headphones I’ve used due to the clamping force of the 860 and the inner foam ring on the N650’s ear pads.
The 860 is also much more practical for portability and use on the go because of its smaller footprint and rotatable ear-cups. This one for me comes down to mood and specific use – MSUR for easy and non-critical listening and the Ultrasone for audio mastering/production and for gaming or when in transit.
Ultrasone Performance 860 Conclusion
With their modern styling, exceptional build quality and detailed sound the Ultrasone Performance 860 is a fantastic reference headphone that can also be musical when paired with the right source, whether that be the music you’re listening to or DAP/DAC. When paired with something neutral what you get is well…neutral, just as promised. Currently priced at $399.95 the 860 falls into the middle or sweet spot of the Performance range.
Based on its quality and sound and relative to the asking price I might have given this a full 5 stars if not for the non-detachable ear pads which would have added some customization options and the slightly aggressive clamp force. If you’re looking for a durable, attractive and mature reference or linear headphone then I would certainly suggest you consider the Ultrasone Performance 860.