Over the past several months, few flagship headphone launches had generated so much initial excitement, anticipation, frustration over delays of Ultrasone’s ability to begin fulfilling preorders to the US market, and finally, the subsequent controversy over various aspects to the Edition 10s (Ed10) sound quality as demonstrated by the initial batch of ten (10) units finally delivered to a selected few US dealers, and, in turn to early adopters--including some long-time Head-Fi members--who had since chosen to resell their; just a few weeks earlier, eagerly anticipated prized possessions, deeming it to be unsatisfactory in terms of price/performance.
Due to this “official post” concerning the probability that the earpads shipped with this batch of Ed10s may not be up to manufacturer’s specifications, located at http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/518477/ultrasone-edition-10-the-butterfly-initial-impressions/1155#post_7202553 by Ultrasone USA General Manager, Randy Fuchs, this review is an unfinished work and is written to provide a point-in-time snapshot of what two of these--a stock and a custom-recabled unit is capable of delivering paired to a reasonably high-end system as auditioned by my ears only at this time. As the controversy over--documented by the following thread: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/518477/ultrasone-edition-10-the-butterfly-initial-impressions--unfolds over the “defective” earpads, I will post new impressions if/when they are replaced on my recabled unit by my Ultrasone dealer, Whiplash Audio.
- Ultrasone Edition 10 Headphones, Serial 2xx (Stock)
- Ultrasone Edition 10 Headphones, Serial 2xx (Whiplash Audio TWag V2 Reference X Recabled - Balanced XLR3)
Point-in-time burn-in status: approximately 350 hours each
- Cary Audio 303T Pro Reference CD/SACD Player (Solid State Output Enabled - with both Balanced and Single-Ended (S/E) Output active)
- Cary Audio SLI80 Signature Tube Amp (EAT KT88 Output Stage and Cool Valve Rolled)
- Ray Samuels Audio (RSA) Apache Rev 2 Balanced Solid-State Amplifier
- Whiplash Audio TWag V1 Reference X RCA IC (from Cary 303T to Cary SLI80)
- Whiplash Audio TWag V1 Reference XLR3 Balanced IC (from Cary 303T to RSA Apache)
- PS Audio Power Plant Premier
- Whiplash/Locus Design “Raven” Power Cables
- Bella Sonus: “Enamoured” CD
- Allan Taylor: “Songs For The Road” SACD
- The Eagles: “Hell Freezes Over” XRCD2 (Japanese Import)
Build Quality and Ergonomics Observations
Since I’ve been monitoring the above referenced “Initial Impressions” thread, I’ve been keenly aware of various observations related to these headphones physical attributes, such as their stunning design, excellent fit and finish, the suspect sheepskin earpads, which seems sufficiently elastic and pleasant to the touch.
Both my TWag V2 recabled unit--which I have never had a chance to listen to up until the past 3 days--in conjunction with the newly arrived stock unit, which I have purchased solely for this comparison and evaluation of not just the Ed10 itself, but how much improvement the recabling benefits these particular headphones.
Due to feedback on the suspect earpads, I have decided to not only burn-in, but simultaneously “break-in” the headphones as well for 48 hours each on this glass head, which may not have been a bad idea.
As I have started my evaluation beginning with the stock unit, I had immediately detected the sibilant, distant treble some complaints have centered on by some of the early adapters. However, this was when I have placed the headphone in a centered position of the pads surrounding my ears. I did not hear a difference trying to gently push the headphones towards my head from the external surface, however, when I slid them slightly backwards so that the front of the earpads touched the front tip of my ears--still a comfortable position--a bright treble range magically appeared as if by magic.
I have repeated this experiment several times with both stock and the recabled unit with similar results--although the difference was minuscule on the TWagged unit when compared to the stock unit. I have never experienced this with any other full-sized headphones I have auditioned and/or owned and reminded me to the critical “sweet-spot” positioning of balanced armature driver-equipped custom IEMs inside the ear canal. Obviously, full-sized cans such as the Ed10s should have no need this type of tinkering, flagship model or not, so in a way this had lent further credence to Randy’s post that the pads may be to blame, although it would take a different design and not just different filling to recreate the alternate driver angle and positioning sliding back the headphones require, but this is just pure speculation on my part. At any rate, the rest of the evaluation had been conducted by placing the headphones into this recessed position, which had became second nature after the 2nd day of evaluation.
Another minor issue I have encountered with the stock unit only is the fact that it cannot be properly mounted on the included “Y” stand in extracted position that fits my head size, as shown in the picture below. I’d like to think that my head won’t balloon up any further than it already is--as we know water cannot be compressed--but it could have been a minor inconvenience to constantly reset the sliding mechanism every time.
This will obviously not affect all customers--luckily it won’t affect my recabled pair due to the TWag V2 cable being more flexible and thinner than the stock version, as shown below.
The downside of recabling--at least with the dual-XLR3 balanced version--is that the headphones will no longer fit inside the attractive, original factory box.
Observed Sound Characteristics
RSA Apache - S/E Phase-Split Mode (Stock)
Some criticism had been leveled against the Ed10s cabling, myself included. After auditioning the stock version on my system, I have to conclude that--although Ultrasone improperly marketed the cable as “balanced retermination-ready” due to potentially using the sleeving for grounding to deliver “balanced” output--the overall sound quality of the stock version in S/E mode is much better than I expected (when the headphones are positioned using the method previously described). This is not to say I have became a fan, but I will say that the Ed10’s stock cable is not significantly worse than most average stock cables provided with high-end headphones. Yet it feels ordinary, and a bit unwieldy in its appearance, although it is reasonably isolated against microphonics.
The downside is that it is hardwired, which makes recabling quite difficult and time-consuming, as it has to be performed by an Ultrasone-dealer to avoid voiding the warranty and essentially requires disassembly and subsequent reassembly of the headphones down to and from their basic components.
Listening to Bella Sonus, one of my favorite all-time recordings, it didn’t take long to warm up to the Ed10 sound signature. However, electronica has always been one of those genres that complemented the Ultrasone “S-Logic” house sound of earlier Edition series. Aside from the artificially bright treble coupled with the well-documented sibilance issues on certain passages during the track “Eye of the Beholder” for example, the presentation was quite enjoyable. Excellent bass texturing, laser-sharp imaging, strong midrange--especially when presented by the Alan Taylor recording--were all consistent with a high-end headphone. But, the excellent and highly recommended Eagles XRCD Remaster simply failed to convey the excitement and mood of the live recording. Although the imaging was precise, it lacked the “out of head” presentation I’m used to with the Qualias, R10s and my electrostats. It didn’t have the spherical, 3D-presentation of the Qualias either, instead it presented with a more conventional “room” shaped soundstage. Nice, yet nothing exceptional. As noted in the Headphonia review at: http://www.headfonia.com/first-impression-ultrasone-edition-10/, the Ed10s offer a curious balance of laid back presentation, yet it is very dynamic and easy to drive. Yes, you can use it directly from an iPod, question is will you want to do so with a $2,700 pair of headphones?
RSA Apache - XLR3- Fully Balanced Output Mode (TWag V2 Recabled Unit)
After this initial experience, I have eagerly switched to my TWagged version. As anyone who may have read some of my other reviews, I have generally experienced great results using this expensive, but amazing cable and I have been more than a bit excited to experience the new V2 version, especially on the Ed10s.
To my surprise, the improvements weren’t as incredibly elevated as on the Qualias and/or HD600s, however, they were noticeable and across the entire spectrum.
On the downside, the soundstage did not expand or transform as significantly as I have expected, I would characterize it as marginal at best, at least on the Apache. Those of you who may be considering having it recabled, may want to save $100 and opt for the S/E version, unless you own a different balanced amp you consider superior to that of the Apache or plan to upgrade to one in the future.
The upside? Even below it’s recommended 500 hours+ burn-in requirements, the TWagged Ed10 nearly completely eliminated the sibilance and enhanced the treble delivery by smoothing out the rough edges. Instrument separation and detail--not a weakness of the stock Ed10s--have increased substantially. During Rincon de Espana of Bella Sonus tiny crystal bells have appeared during quiet passages I had not been able to detect before. Subharmonics in the midrange an bass extensions have also improved. Vocals sounded more natural, yet not as involving as I would have preferred. In summary, things were looking up, but at this point I felt only partially satisfied with the overall performance.
Cary SLI80 Signature - S/E Triode Output Mode (Stock)
Part of my fascination with tube amps is that often--depending on source and headphone constraints--they are able to transform digital music to sound more engaging and emotionally involving. In order to satisfy my craving, I have invested in some of the most expensive, EAT tube compliment--with the exception of the two rectifier tubes which were left untouched--at the cost of nearly equivalent of the amp itself. Regardless to say, every time I turn it on, it’s a special event to me.
The stock Ed10 has paired much better with the Cary as it did with the Apache leading me to the conclusion that the Ed10 does benefit a great deal from good tube amps. The sometimes rough edges apparent in the prior test with the Apache were no longer there, but the treble quality changed very little. It was not as bright, and slightly more forward, more conventional. All good things, but even with the improved midrange texture--a common benefit with tube amps--did not compensate for the nagging treble quality, as it sounded curiously unbalanced. On the upside, the speed of attack experienced with the Apache abated to some extent, partially eliminating that curious imbalance of a laid-back soundstage with a highly dynamic rendering.
Cary SLI80 Signature - S/E Triode Output Mode (TWag V2 Recabled Unit)
As I have attached the TWag XLR3 to TRS S/E adapter to my recabled Ed10s, I was hoping that my earlier impressions were correct and I was sacrificing little in trading fully balanced output in exchange for switching to tubes vs. SS.
By this time it was past 11pm on a workday and I was going to just listen to a single track before shutting down for the night. In my thirst for analog goodness, I have jumped directly to a little-known track (#6) on the Eagles XRCD2 Japanese Remaster, called “Hotel California” and pushed the Play button. Within a minute I was “in the zone.” The Ed10 finally took me “there” where the music lived. After the initial guitar passages and the crowd finally around me, the experience was nothing less than stunning in its entirety. Around the 40 sec. mark, the kickdrums had simply resonated the way I have never experienced before from a recording. Granted, this is an amazing reproduction and all Eagles fans should have this, but that upper bass, low-midrange paired with a finally consumable upper mid and treble representation made the whole investment worthwhile in my book. I had been standing there before realizing that I had listened to the entire live portion of the CD as if I was standing there in the midst of the crowd. Frustrations about earpads, and HP-stand shortcomings became irrelevant and superfluous nitpicks.
Thinking back of the experience on balance the next day, some doubts began to surface. Perhaps I was too tired, too immersed and overwhelmed by that last session to lose the last sliver of objectivity to properly evaluate what I heard to the best of my ability. For sure, I want and will go back there again and will audition my Ed10s with more recording. I’m sure it will be near-perfection--defective earpads or not--with some recordings and perhaps merely average with others. These reviews are subjective, it cannot be done otherwise because each of us hears differently. For the time being I cannot and will not recommend anyone to rush out and order an Edition 10, because I cannot be sure you will get similar results and there are certainly Q&C and PR issues the company has yet to step up to match the prestige and premium post-sales support customers of $2,700 limited edition headphones demand and deserve. Any pair of headphones are just delivery “endpoints” and so the entire system has to achieve a level of synergy for one of these special convergences to come together to manifest this type of sonic nirvanas. Still, the potential is there to be realized and the company certainly has the means to address these issues and ensure that future customers will have a more consistent and enjoyable experience out of the box and consider their money well spent.
However, in exchange for my nearly $3K total investment in my customized Edition 10s, I can be sure of one thing with full confidence, as the memory is still quite vivid in my mind: whatever its faults and shortcomings when paired on other systems and recordings, this equipment on this particular recording on that day “took me there.” “There” is where the music lives and that is the reason why I’m here...to find out more how to go back “there” as often as I can.