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Ultrasone HFI 780

Compared to Sennheiser, Ultrasone is a relatively new name that has been slowly making its way into the hearts and minds of audiophiles. The company's HFI series of headphones, and more specifically the 780, has been garnering a lot of interest. Unlike most audiophile headphones that focus on touting their musical reproduction capabilities, the HFI series claims excellent home theater performance too.

Similar to the Sennheiser HD 555 and 595, the Ultrasone HFI 780 weren't designed with gaming in mind. Like the Sennheisers, these are audiophile headphones designed primarily for stereo sources like music mp3's. They don't have any fancy features. There is no microphone, no virtual surround sound, no digital processing and no in-line controls. Just like with the Sennheisers, all you get is a headphone with a cable and a standard analog plug at the end of it.

 Ultrasone HFI 780
 Frequency Response
 10Hz - 26kHz
 Driver Design
 40mm per ear cup
 96 dB
 Impedance  35 Ohms
 Cable Length
 3.25 ft (1 m)
 In-line Volume Control
 In-line Mic Control
 Input Method
 1/8" plug (1/4" adapter inc.)
 Price  $279.99

The HFI series of headphones features a technology Ultrasone calls S-Logic. According to Ultrasone, S-Logic is a "natural surround sound" technology. S-Logic works by using de-centralized driver positioning, which means the drivers in each ear cup isn't aimed directly into your ear canal like in most headphones. Instead they are aimed slightly off-angle, which causes the sound to engage the outer ear more. The effective result is a wider soundstage. This is not the same as virtual surround sound. S-Logic does not actually produce a surround sound effect at all, it just makes the soundstage wider. It allows Ultrasone to build a closed-back headphone that has a similarly open and wide soundstage as many open-back designs.

Design & Comfort
The Ultrasone HFI 780 has a "DJ style" design that is fully collapsible. The ear cups can fold inward, towards the headband, which allows them to collapse for storage. The ear cups can also be turned 90 degrees in either direction as well as flip backwards. This allows them to be used in a single-ear configuration where the second ear cup is off the ear and resting against the head, as many DJ's like to do during live gigs.

The Ultrasone HFI 780 has excellent build quality. While the headphone is built primarily of plastic, the back of the ear cups are metal. All of the joints feel over-built and very sturdy. Our impression is that these headphones can take a serious beating and will last a long time.

The HFI 780 are quite comfortable to wear. The ear cups have soft padding covered by a pleather-like material and the headband is cushioned with similar materials. The headphone has relatively low clamping pressure and can be worn for extended sessions without fatigue.

The headphone has a very short 3.25 foot (1m) cord that ends in a standard 1/8" plug. Thankfully, Ultrasone includes a extension cord in the package, as well as a 1/4" adapter. Also included is a soft velvet cloth bag for storing the headphones and a demo audio CD full of music tracks for testing them out.  

Sound Quality
For the most part, the sound quality and character of the Ultrasone HFI 780's are most similar to the Sennheisers, out of all the headphones in this round-up. They produce a very balanced and accurate sound. We find that they are slightly less balanced and more pleasing to the ear than the Sennheisers. They probably aren't as useful as studio monitors due to their slight tendency to flatter the source material. Thankfully, this doesn't present an issue for gaming.

Our only complaint about the Sennheisers is they didn't produce a significant low-end punch. While they didn't lack bass, the bass wasn't as satisfying as with some other audiophile headphones. This is definitely not the case with the HFI 780's. They have bass in spades. Not only is there plenty of it, but the bass is well controlled and punchy. This lends explosions some extra kick compared to the Sennheisers.

In games, the HFI 780 performed very well. It didn't have the same ability to pick out sound effects like footsteps that the Sennheisers do, but they still sound great. The sound reproduction was accurate and spatial positioning was great. It was easy to tell where sound effects were coming from and sonic clarity was excellent. While the HFI 780's have a closed-back design, they sound fairly open and sound-staging was excellent, though not quite as good as the Sennheisers.

Like the Sennheisers, the Ultrasone HFI 780 are audiophile grade and they also come with an audiophile price. Combined with a lack of features like virtual surround sound, built-in sound card, no microphone or even an in-line volume control, the Ultrasone presents relatively low value for a gamer. If sound quality is your top concern, then consider the Ultrasone alongside the Sennheisers. However most gamers may be better served with a purpose built gaming solution like the other headsets in our round-up.

Compared to the Sennheiser HD 595, the HFI 780 falls behind slightly in sonic clarity but definitely comes ahead in terms of bass response. While we definitely didn't find the HD 595's bass lacking, we preferred the HFI 780's low end. With a $20 difference in MSRP, if you are a basshead then the Ultrasone might be the better pick.

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