Headphone Cage Fight!!!

Ultrasone PROline vs. Sony MDR V6?!?! A David & Goliathesque mismatch, you say? Well that depends. . .
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I’ve been using the “pain phones” for about 15 years — the Sony MDR 7506 and MDR V6. They became the studio standard for many years and I had no real reason to change. The other day as I was untangling the coiled cable on a pair of Sony V6s, I tugged a little bit too hard and snap, the wires inside the coil yanked apart: deadphones.

Happenstance had me in the palatial EQ office the next day where Mr. Robinson, sympathetic to my plight, gave me a pair of Ultrasone PROline 2500s to try out. Perfect timing. I needed another set of phones for a session that afternoon. The Ultrasone headphones come with detachable cables — one straight longish one and one coiled. You screw them in to the left can. They also come with extra ear pads and a bag you can fold them up into.

The first time I put the 2500s on I was very impressed by the comfort. The ear pads fit around my ears not squishing them flat. The ear pads are soft, velvety things that don’t suction onto your head. Although they are sort of bulky, they are light and after a while I couldn’t really feel they were on my head. That could also be because of how they sounded. I was doing some routine drum editing, cleanup, and pre-mixing before a mixing date, and after a couple hours I had no sense of ear-fatigue and I wasn’t constantly turning down the drum overheads and hat. The literature says that the PROline technology allows a higher degree of transparency and spatial sense because of a higher degree of ear anatomy involved. They have something called “S-Logic” that uses decentralized transducer positioning to reflect sound off of the listener’s pinna, or outer ear, creating a natural three-dimensional sensation without the need for processing. Hearing damage is also reduced since the drivers aren’t aimed directly at your auditory canal.

All good stuff. These phones sound very, very nice.

I still needed my trusty Sony V6s when I was checking my mixes the next day though. I brought the Ultrasone 2500s to the session, but since I don’t know what they’re all about yet — and the increased dimensionality made the stereo imaging hard to analyze — I had to rely on the Sonys.

The next week I got a note from Ultrasone saying that they wanted me to try out the closed-back PROline 650s as part of my comparison. They sent me a pair and I immediately put them to work. Since they’re closed-back I was able to use them for tracking — unlike the 2500 open backed design where the bleed coming from them was too much to have near any microphones — and their snug ear pads had relatively zero bleed out.

The PROline 650s are obviously the little brother to the 2500 as far as sound quality. While the same dimensionality and lack of fatigue is there, the overall sound isn’t quite as sweet as the 2500. I have to say though that compared to the Sonys these sound fantastic. They’re much more pleasant at high SPLs needed for tracking. The Sonys aren’t called head-ache-phones for nothing.

But here’s the weird rub: I think the PROline series of headphones from Ultrasone are great-sounding phones perfect for long sessions and detailed work — but are they worth the price given what the hell happens to headphones? I mean I know that I am not going to spend $300 or $400 on phones that a drummer is going to sit on or a vocalist is going to rip off his head and toss to the ground. I feel just a little bit better about spending the $95 for the Sonys in those situations.

I also had problems with the screw-on cable on both the 650s and the 2500s. If I screwed it in too tight I would only get the left channel. I’d have to screw it in and then back off a tiny bit to get it to sit right. I don’t like having to worry about that when I need to work. I want to continue using the Ultrasone PROline phones for my geek sessions at home, but I am going to buy another pair of the Sony MDR 7506 or V6s for my critical tracking and mix referencing in the studio.

PROline 650 closed-back studio headphones ($300), PROline 2500 open-backed studio headphones ($400), Sony MDR V6 ($99)


Pluses: Comfortable for long listening sessions, non-fatiguing, safe on the ears, excellent dimensionality and clarity, they don’t sound like the Sonys.

Minuses: Expensive, bulky, screw-in cable connection could be a problem, they cost more than the Sonys.