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Sony ULT WEAR Review: Bluetooth Headphones For Those Who Dig that Big Bottom

Fans of big bottom end bass response in headphones will definitely want to check out Sony’s new ULT WEAR.

Sony ULT WEAR Wireless Headphones Black

The headphone market has exploded in the past few years with so many options, it makes your head spin. Fortunately most of these options are wireless so your spinning head won’t result in you being tangled up in a headphone cable. From under $10 to over $70,000, there are headphones for every taste and every budget. 

Here at eCoustics, Sony headphones have been some of our favorites for their sonic performance, noise cancellation effectiveness and ergonomics. Our own Will Jennings rated Sony’s WH-1000XM5 the king of over-ear noise canceling headphones when they came out in 2022. I also found a lot to like in Sony’s WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds when they were introduced last year. 

Earlier this year, Sony unveiled its new ULTimate Power Sound line. With two portable speakers, a massive party speaker and a pair of over-ear headphones, all products in the new line include an ULT button which brings a prodigious amount of bass energy to your ears. If you like a big bottom, you’ll definitely want to check out the ULT Power Sound line. The company’s ULT WEAR are the first headphones in the ULT Power Sound line and the subject of our review today. 

Sony ULT WEAR Headphones unboxing and overview.

What Are They?

Sony’s ULT WEAR headphones are wireless Bluetooth headphones with Sony’s latest ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) technology on-board. The official model number is WH-ULT900N and they list for $200 but can be found online for less. The ULT WEAR replaces the company’s WH-XB910N headphones which were a very popular model for the company. The ULT WEAR comes in three colors: forest gray, black and off-white.

Sony ULT WEAR headphones in Forest Gray, Black and Off-White.
Sony’s ULT WEAR headphones come in Forest Gray, Black and Off-White.

What sets the ULT WEAR headphones apart from nearly everything else in the category is their ability to boost the bass response an ungodly amount, thanks to Sony’s Ultimate Power Sound feature (“ULT” for short). One press on the ULT button gets a satisfying boost to the lowest bass, which helps music feel more substantial. A second push on the ULT button boosts the entire bass spectrum in the most impressive and unnatural way possible. It’s a very particular kind of thing.

Sony ULT WEAR Headphones gray buttons
One tap on the ULT button brings a low bass boost. Two taps will rock your world.

The ULT WEAR headphones feature outstanding noise cancellation as well as innovative features like activity-based modes and optimized immersive sound with head tracking (on select devices). While listening, if you raise your hand to cover one of the earcups, the sound automatically lowers so you can interact with people or things in your environment. You can even set them up so they change to a specific listening mode when you’re in a particular location. Working at your desk? The headphones can set themselves to Ambient mode where they still suppress noise but allow voices to pass through in case a co-worker needs to get your attention.  

The ULT WEAR headphones feature no fewer than four different buttons or sensors that allow you to do different things. There are three buttons on the left earcup and a sensor on the right earcup. The power/pair button allows you to power the headphones on or off and pair with a Bluetooth device. The ANC button allows you to cycle through ANC on, Ambient mode, or ANC off. The ULT button cycles from ULT 1 to ULT 2 to ULT Off. The sensor pad on the right earcup allows you to tap to pause or resume music, swipe forward for next track, swipe back for previous track, swipe up or down for volume up or down. If you tap and hold your finger on the sensor you can enable the voice assistant function. While there are many different buttons in different places, it doesn’t take long to get used to. The spacing and different button shapes make it easy to find what you need.

In addition to wireless Bluetooth connectivity, you can connect the headphones to a standard analog 3.5mm headphone output using the included cable. This comes in handy in case you want to connect to an in-flight entertainment system to watch a movie on a plane. The cable also allows you to listen even if the ‘phones are not charged. However, unlike some headphones, the USB-C port on the ULT WEAR is for charging only (it cannot be used for USB digital audio input). And plugging in the USB-C cable disables the Bluetooth input so you can’t listen wirelessly while the unit is charging. 

Sony ULT WEAR inside case
The ULT WEAR comes with a sturdy zippered case with room for the headphones and cables.

The ULT WEAR headphones can be folded flat for transportation in their included zippered cloth case. The case is pretty rigid so it should hold up well when traveling. They come with a 4-foot analog audio cable with a straight 3.5mm plug on one end and right-angled 3.5mm plug on the other end. They also come with a short USB charging cable with USB-A on one end and USB-C on the other. 

Charge! 

The ULT WEAR is rated for up to 30 hours of music playback with ANC enabled or 50 hours without noise cancellation. A 10-minute quick charge will get you up to 5 hours of music playback. A full charge from 0% to 100% takes about 3.5 hours using the supplied USB Type-C cable and a USB AC adapter. The orange indicator light on the headset turns off when charging is complete.

With a beamforming microphone and a mesh screen to prevent wind noise, the ULT WEAR offers excellent call clarity on both ends of the conversation. Go ahead and call into that Zoom meeting from the beach if you like – no one needs to know. The ULT WEAR even includes head-tracking technology to adjust the sound based on your head position. This feature can make your listening experience more immersive on compatible content like music encoded with Sony 360 Reality Audio, and on select apps including Netflix. The head-tracking feature is currently only available on select Android phones and devices. The only phones which I know support the feature are Google’s Pixel phones, though there may be others. Sony’s head tracking feature does not work on Samsung phones as Samsung apparently restricts this feature to only its own branded headphones like the Galaxy Buds. The ULT WEAR also supports Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google voice assistants.

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Who Are They For?

Anyone who needs a pair of wireless over-ear noise-canceling headphones at a fairly affordable price point (under $200) will want to check out the ULT WEAR. They’ve got all the features needed for most users: portability, flexibility, ANC, comfort and long battery life. Based on listening (see below), I predict that the ULT WEAR headphones are going to be extremely popular with “bass-heads” who enjoy substantial – even exaggerated – low end when listening to music. But honestly, if you don’t care for that bass-heavy sound, you don’t have to press the ULT button and you will get all of the benefits of the ULT WEAR without the exaggerated bass. Or if you like a slight boost to the lowest bass, a single press to the ULT button does just that.

The Set-Up

Back in my day, here’s how you set-up a pair of headphones: you took ‘em out of the box – if they even came in a damn box – put them on your head and plugged them into your Walkman. Done! These days, there are so many options and features that it takes a Master’s Degree in headphone theory to get everything set up and configured. Of course, you can just press the power/Bluetooth button on the ULT WEAR headphones until the light flashes blue, and go to your phone’s Bluetooth settings to discover and pair them to your phone, but you would be missing out on a whole slew of features. 

To get the advanced features and functionality, you’ll want to install the Sony Headphones Connect app for iOS or Android. This will appear in your apps list as simply “Headphones” in case you have trouble finding it. Once you install it, you can set-up and take advantage of all kinds of advanced stuff like a 5-band EQ, Adaptive Sound Control which can change modes depending on your activity or location, Immersive Sound 360RA optimization and head tracking. 

Sony Headphones Connect App Adaptive Sound Control
The Sony Headphones Connect app lets you set up adaptive sound control to change listening modes based on location or activity.

If you plan to listen to immersive music in Sony 360 Reality Audio format (which I recommend), then you can take pictures of your ears (in the app) to optimize the immersive sound quality for your specific ear shape. You can also optimize your streaming app (within the Sony Headphones app) to get the best results from 360RA music tracks. App support for 360RA content is fairly limited. You can use Artist Connection, nugs.net, PeerTracks, Sony 360 Reality Audio Live or TIDAL. Fortunately I have TIDAL and it offers a good selection of Sony 360RA content. Amazon Music Unlimited also has 360RA content so you can use that app as well but it’s not specifically “optimized” for the ULT WEAR headphones.

Note: As I was wrapping up this review, TIDAL announced that it is discontinuing support for Sony 360 Reality Audio in July 2024, so choices for listening to this immersive sound format are dwindling even further.

Listening Impressions

Settling in for a few hours of listening, I found the ULT WEAR’s ANC to be very effective at reducing steady state background noise like the rumble of a jet engine, noisy HVAC systems or fans. And it did so without impacting the musicality of the sound. Even without ANC engaged the ULT WEAR headphones maintained a pretty quiet background just with acoustic isolation. The headphones were pretty comfortable for extended listening, tending toward a snug fit on my over-sized noggin. Snug is good for sound isolation and bass response.

And speaking of bass response, I did experiment with the ULT button a lot. Without ULT engaged, the sound of most stereo and immersive tracks was pleasant but unexceptional. The frequency blend was slightly thin on most material, though midrange and treble details were crisp and imaging was pretty good (though definitely not expansive) on 2-channel material. One hit to the ULT button (ULT 1)  brought a welcome solidity to the low bass which I found addicting. A second hit (ULT 2 mode) brought way too much bass (IMHO, of course) which overpowered the music. This was particularly egregious when listening to bass-heavy content like “Alive” by Deadmau5/KX5 and Kaskade. With no processing, this track still had solid bass and ULT1 made the mix a bit more substantial and impressive. But ULT2 just brought an overwhelming amount of bass to the mix which I didn’t find particularly enjoyable. Others may disagree. 

Sony Headphones Connect App Equalizer
Sony’s Headphones Connect app includes a 5-band graphic equalier with a separate slider for “Clear Bass” so you can customize the sound for your particular tastes.

Back in ULT1 land, things were much sweeter. Bass lines like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” were solid and well-defined while Freddie’s vocals cut through clearly with a nice sense of space and Freddie’s voice locked in the center. Lorde “Royals” also features a prominent bass line and this was well represented in ULT1 mode (but overblown in ULT 2). I will say that while ULT 2 bass was excessive, it somehow didn’t sound sloppy. It was still fairly defined, just several dB higher than normal.

Imaging in stereo mode was good but not very wide. I find that most closed back headphones like the ULT WEAR lack the expansive wide soundstage of open-back models. But open-back models are not ideal for public use since they bleed much of their sound to the outside world. The ULT WEAR did a pretty good job of keeping what I was listening to to myself with only minimal bleed so they work well on a plane or a train.

On more mellow fare like “Prodigal Daughter” by Aoife O’Donovan, vocals were represented with good presence and finger-picking on the guitar came through with plenty of detail. Again, imaging was constrained mostly to the space between the ears, but instruments and voices were presented without congestion or crowding.

If you switch over from Bluetooth to wired listening, the sound opens up a bit, with more air and better vocal clarity. With a wired connection, ULT processing is disabled (the ULT button does nothing). Even so, the bass response in wired mode is more than adequate. EDM tracks from deadmau5/kx5 had a satisfying bottom end when the bass dropped. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and Billie Eilish “Bad Guy” did not leave me wanting for bass. In fact, I’d say the overall frequency curve in wired mode is a bit different from the Bluetooth wireless version. Bass overall felt a bit more substantial when wired compared to the ULT mode off setting in wireless mode.

Compared with the more expensive ($300) Philips Fidelio L4 over-ear Bluetooth headphones, the ULT WEAR had a slightly darker overall character with a bit less sparkle in the high end. The ULT WEAR had a more bass-forward presentation even without the ULT processing on. Overall the Philips ‘phones sounded a bit more open and voices more intimate with a more spacious soundstage while the ULT WEAR had more substantial bass, at least partially due to their snugger fit.

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Getting Immersive

I’m not going to lie, immersive multi-channel music on headphones has never really impressed me. While I love listening to music in Dolby Atmos or Sony 360 Reality Audio over a good multi-channel speaker system or even a high-end multi-channel soundbar system, I just can’t get the same illusion of immersion on a pair of headphones. And while immersive music (aka “spatial audio”) did sound wider and more dimensional on the ULT WEAR compared to stereo content, it didn’t really blow me away. It didn’t make the soundstage much wider or deeper, and height effects were not particularly impressive.

Even so, I did enjoy listening to my Dolby Atmos music playlist and Sony 360 Reality Audio playlist on TIDAL through the ULT WEAR. Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing” and Lynyrd Skynyrd “Sweet Home Alabama” Dolby Atmos remixes sounded spacious with nice positioning of the various guitars and voices across the slightly expanded soundstage. Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” Dolby Atmos mix on TIDAL has a complex tapestry of layered instruments and vocals which were represented well on the ULT WEAR. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a complicated song. Many of its details are lost in regular stereo listening. In Dolby Atmos on the ULT WEAR, these complex details come through cleanly and articulately. Tom Petty’s live version of “I Won’t Back Down” had a nice sense of presence in its Dolby Atmos mix on the ULT WEAR, making me feel almost like I was there for the performance.

Interestingly, the full ULT bass boost (ULT 2) had a less profound effect on immersive music in 360RA format. On Michael’s Jackson’s “Thriller” in 360RA on TIDAL, the bass line was definitely pumped up but less than it was in the stereo version. Meanwhile Dolby Atmos tracks were rendered unlistenable with ULT 2 engaged, due to excessive bass. In fact, Dolby Atmos tracks on the ULT WEAR sounded best to me with no ULT processing on at all and best of all in wired mode. 

Pros:

  • Good value for solid Bluetooth headphones
  • Class-leading ANC (Active Noise Cancellation)
  • Advanced optimization features can improve immersive sound
  • ULT button brings the bass (ULT 1 offers nice low bass boost)

Cons:

  • No USB digital audio input option
  • ULT button brings a bit too much bass (ULT 2 bass is ridiculous)
  • Slightly dark presentation

The Bottom Line

The price point, portability, highly effective noise cancellation and flexibility of the ULT WEAR headphones with wired or wireless connections make them an ideal travel companion. I found the level 1 ULT effect to offer a pleasing boost to the low bass which enhanced many rock, pop and EDM tracks. The level 2 ULT effect brought a bit too much of that “big bottom” for my tastes but I’m sure fans of Beats and Skull Candy Crusher headphones will appreciate this kind of bass response. Those with a penchant for more precise or refined sound might want to invest a bit more in the Philips Fidelio L4, Sennheiser Momentum 4 or Sony’s own WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones. But, for the money, the ULT WEAR are a strong contender.

Where to Buy: $199 at Amazon in black or white, or forest gray at Best Buy.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. ORT

    June 22, 2024 at 1:32 pm

    “Fat bottom ‘phones”…Do they go to 11?

    These Sonys look nice! I have a pair of Skullcandy headphones that I occasionally put on my (fat) head and they have a slider (on the left earcup) to increase/decrease bass. They can be fun with Accoustic Jazz but after a bit it can become a bit too much.

    ORT

    • Chris Boylan

      June 22, 2024 at 3:54 pm

      ORT, You’re mixing up your bands but I’m right there with ya. “Fat Bottomed Girls” is a Queen classic. “Going to 11” is Spinal Tap. Spinal Tap’s tribute to Fat Bottomed Girls was “Big Bottom,” where all three front men played bass instead of guitar for a decidedly “big bottom” sound. “I met her on Sunday, it was my lucky bun day.”

      The Sony ULT WEARs should be the official headphones of Spinal Tap.

      • ORT

        June 22, 2024 at 9:28 pm

        Oops! Sorry Chris! I am getting worse lately.

        ORT

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