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Over-Ear Headphones

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphones Review: Fence-sitting Perfected

Impressive, neutral sounding $500 over-ear headphones should appeal to audiophiles who want to hear everything, not just feel the bass.

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphones

This is my first review of an Ultrasone product. Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, I had so little knowledge of their product stack that I didn’t even know what relative quality, or price for that matter, the item I received actually was. I took a quick listen before doing any of that basic research and was blown away. It’s not often that I receive new products that astound me, so listen close as I share my thoughts with you on the Ultrasone 880.

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphones Fold Flat

You can find the Ultrasone 880 for sale for $499 at Amazon or Manfrotto.com.

About My Preferences: Heads up, I’m a person! As such, these words are my opinion, and they are tinged by my personal preferences. While I try to mitigate this as much as possible during my review process, I’d be lying if I said my biases are completely erased. So for you, my readers, keep this in mind:

  • My ideal sound signature would be one with competent sub-bass, a textured mid-bass, a slightly warm midrange, and an extended treble.
  • I have mild treble sensitivity.

Source: The Ultrasone 880 was tested in the following configurations:

  • LG V40 -> earphones
  • Hidizs AP100 3.5mm out -> FiiO A5 3.5mm out -> earphones
  • HiFiMAN SuperMini -> earphones

All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC.

Tech Specs:

  • 40mm Driver
  • Closed Back
  • SPL: 94dB
  • Impedance: 32 Ohms
  • Weigh: 274g (excluding cable)

Sound Signature

Ultrasone Performance 880 Closed Back Over-Ear Headphones

Sonic Overview:

The 880 is part of Ultrasone’s Performance lineup, and as such, is tuned for reference and professional uses. That said, it is capable of being used for so much more. It has an overall neutral presentation, but it allows its listeners to delve deeply into the abyss of their music, picking out details and instrumentation that is seldom heard. It did take a bit for my ears to adjust to the less-emphasized presentation of treble, but this is merely a natural part of switching from a V-shaped consumer sound signature to a neutral/”pro” sound signature.

Sonic Breakdown:

Treble: Songs used: In One EarMidnight CityOutlandsSatisfyLittle OneShow Me How To Live (Live at the Quart Festival)

Given how “flat” and neutral the 880 is, I was continually surprised by the expressive nature of its treble. It extends very far into the upper-treble, stretching as far as my ear can follow it. High-hats and cymbals are fully-expressed, even in the background, with a full and complete presentation. The treble’s dynamic and complete nature makes it excel at setting the spatial staging and providing a sense of air and distance between instrumentation.

The 880’s treble is immune to any sort of sibilance-based discomfort as it doesn’t accentuate any spikes or valleys in the sharper parts of the sound spectrum. Poorly-mastered songs such as Satisfy did not irritate my ears, which is a very good sign.

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Midrange: Songs used: Flagpole SittaJacked UpI Am The HighwayDreamsToo CloseLittle Black Submarines

I was a little worried about the 880’s midrange when it came to displaying drier songs such as Flagpole Sitta. After a couple listening sessions, and giving my ears time to adjust to the new sound signature, I found my concerns assuaged. Not only did I immensely enjoy Flagpole Sitta through the 880, I enjoyed the presentation of its dryly-mastered kin.

Vocals are incredibly clear and intelligible. It’s not often I find myself thrilled with vocal presentation specifically in a headphone, but the 880’s neutral tuning allows each component of a song to find its natural groove. There’s no over or under-sharpening to blur and smudge instrumentation nor singing — a desirable trait for the highly-critical listener.

One of the most impressive aspects of the 880’s midrange is its ability to render a wide-variety of instrumentation with high-levels of transparency and separation.

Bass: Songs used: MothGold DustIn For The Kill (Skream Remix)War Pigs (Celldweller Remix)

Bass is a contravention component of the sonic spectrum. Each individual looks for something different from it, so it makes it very difficult to write about for a generalized audience. That said, the 880 was designed for a specific audience: those who wanted uncompromising clarity and wide, dramatic audio renditions. This is not a club headphone, it is not a general consumer headphone, it is for people who want to hear everything, not just feel the bass. As such, its bass is well-restrained and, while expressive and precise, has little of the sub-bass rumble and mid-bass impact that you’ll get from, say, a standard consumer V-shaped headphone such as the Meze 99 Classics or M&D lineup.

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So, if your primary concern is feeling your bass drops or blasting your ears with rumble, the 880 is not for you. But, if you want full bass-line articulation and lower-register expression, the 880 can assuredly meet and exceed those expectations. For example, the degree to which the bass guitar in Moth was expressed was unreal: I was able to pick out several muted strings and tempo-mistakes that I’d never previously been able to hear.

Packaging / Unboxing

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphone Package
Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphone Box Open with Case

Build

Construction Quality

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphone 3.5mm Input

I’ll admit, my first physical impression was not that the 880 was a $500 headphone. The use of cheap chrome finishing didn’t aid that impression either. Note to any manufacturer reading: using a chrome-finished plastic or piano-black finished plastic on your product immediately makes it feel cheaper, so just avoid it altogether.

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphone Input Connected

That said, the 880 is fairly sturdy. It is built to be lightweight, in no small part due to the fact that its target audience will likely be spending many consecutive hours listening with these headphones on. The lightweight build means that most metals are totally off the table for the main driver-housing. As such Ultrasone opted for a mix of plastics — some finished to be soft-touch matte, while others have a metallic or reflective finish.

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphone Headband

One of the most important mechanical components of a headphone, the headband adjustment slider, its built very well on the 880. Its inner components look to be all metal, housed in a tough plastic. I have no concerns about the longevity of this part of the headphone.

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphone Earcups

The ear-cups and driver-covering on the 880 are plush and comfortable. The ear-cups are affixed firmly to the driver housing and have no wiggle or give at all.

Comfort

Even if I have complaints about the physical build of the 880, I have no complaints at all about the 880’s comfort. I listened to it for four consecutive hours with no discomfort at all, bar some minor head-squeezing from the initial tightness of the headband.

Accessories

Ultrasone Performance 880 Headphone Accessories

Inside the box you’ll find:

  • 1x pair of extra felt ear-cups
  • 1x 3.5mm cable
  • 1x 1/4in cable
  • 1x foam carrying case

For a pair of headphones intended to be used in a studio or at home by a professional, I find this suite of accessories to be sufficient. The cable variety is good enough, as most people aren’t going to be using anything but the 3.5mm jack anyways.

Ultrasone Bluetooth Adapter

Ultrasone sent me a Bluetooth Adapter for the 880 to test as well, and it works quite well. If you are a wireless technology user, or a poor soul who doesn’t have a headphone jack on their smartphone, you can buy the privilege of Bluetooth-ifying the 880 for an extra $170. This extra device has aptX encoding support as well as a 12-hour battery life. In my testing, it works well, though it will be up to the individual user to decide whether or not it is worth the hefty additional cost.

Summary

The 880 is marvel of modern audio engineering. Clarity that you’d usually end up paying $1000 for is available for half the price, barring you don’t mind some lighter-weight (and lower cost) materials being used in the 880’s construction. The 880’s neutral tuning is perfect for the highly-critical or detail-oriented music listener. While I can’t recommend it for bassheads or club-music listeners, I can assure anyone looking to take the next step into the performance-stack of their audio journey that the Ultrasone 880 will not disappoint.

As always, happy listening!

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