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Gadget of the Week

Gadget of the Week: Sony brings the live music experience home

The new ULT Wear headphones introduce an audio technology that one can hear and feel, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

What is it?

Premium and mid-range wireless over-ear headphones are a dime a dozen, if that dime was worth a few thousand rand. Almost any headphone with a price tag going into four figures is likely to provide a satisfying audio experience.  

However, Sony seemed determined to go beyond mere “satisfying” when it developed the new ULT Wear model. Rather than going for what is called a neutral, reference-quality sound – i.e. accurate and faithful to the original recording – the Ult Wear is specifically engineered to reproduce the powerful, resonant bass impact experienced at live music concerts and festivals. In other words, what feels like floor-shaking bass that captures the physical sensation of feeling sound waves reverberate through one’s body.

To cater to different bass preferences, the ULT Wear incorporates two distinct ULT audio modes, toggled with a dedicated ULT button. ULT1 mode emphasizes ultra-deep, sub-bass frequencies for a pounding sound that works well for genres like hip-hop or metal, while ULT2 makes for more energetic rhythms and basslines. But that does mean it is not ideal for those seeking that neutral middle ground.

That said, it is designed to appeal to both bass lovers and everyday users who enjoy the feel of the music. It uses Sony’s V1 audio processor, known for its strengths in Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and overall audio quality. While it doesn’t match Sony’s high-end WH-1000XM5 in noise reduction, it comes close, at two-thirds the price.

The biggest difference I noticed in trying various modes was in activating 360 Reality Audio, which foregoes traditional stereo channels and treats individual sounds, like instruments and vocals, as separate objects. This in turn creates a positional effect which allows for placement of sounds around you, giving a sense of space and directionality. In short, an immersive experience, as if one is in the middle of the music.

Another dedicated button allows easy switching between ambient noise and noise cancelation, using Dual Noise Sensor technology, paired with the V1 advanced signal processing. Removing the headphones activates auto play/pause, and multipoint Bluetooth connectivity allows one to swap between two paired devices.

It offers up to 30 hours of battery life on one charge with ANC activated, and up to 50 hours with it turned off, making it a viable option for extended use. Quick charge capability can give you up to 90 minutes of playback from 3 minutes of charging.

An elegant, flexible design includes comfortable ear pads in a spacious over-ear cup design with soft, plush padding. By completely covering the ears, it enhances noise cancellation, and even offers noise reduction when it is switched off. It supports ambient sound modes, making it useful for clarity during calls and hearing ambient sounds without removing it. It folds up into a compact, portable form factor and include a carrying case for protection on the move.

The app is excellent – once it is set up. It demands a string of finicky settings and permissions before it is ready to pair and could do with additional interface design.

How much does it cost?

Available from June 2024 at a Recommended retail price of ZAR 4,999. Watch for updates.

Why does it matter?

For bass lovers who crave a pulse-pounding, immersive experience of being up front at a live show, the Sony ULT Wear headphones deliver an adrenaline rush of low-end frequency resonance.

What are the biggest negatives?

  • The ear pads can trap heat during prolonged use.
  • The intense bass emphasis may be too much for some kinds of music.
  • The app requires a complex set-up, getting in the way of instant enjoyment when the headphones are first set up.

What are the biggest positives?

  • Excellent battery performance for long outings, offering up to 50 hours on a charge.
  • Designed with comfort in mind, fitting a variety of head shapes and sizes,
  • Delivers powerful, thumping and detailed bass that captures the live music vibe.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx, editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee.

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