Ultrasone HFI-780 Review

ultrasone hfi 780 main Ultrasone HFI 780 Review

Ultrasone is one of the lesser known, yet quite respected, German headphone manufacturers. They just released the newest member of their mid-ranged product line of closed headphones, the HFI-780. Sporting low impedance, decent sensitivity, foldable design, and good isolation, the HFI-780 work well with even the weakest powered MP3 players. This makes them a viable alternative to the ubiquitous in-ear phones and earbuds usually seen with portable players. For a price of $250 (€195) they deliver sound quality that can hardly be matched by small in-ear phones in the same price range – or even above. Their form factor might appeal to people that don’t feel comfortable sticking tiny buds into their ear canals, but still want good isolation and portability.

Enough of the basics, let’s see in depth what they’re all about…

  • Quick Look
  • Driver: 40 mm dynamic gold-plated driver
  • Sound pressure level: 96 dB
  • Impedance: 35 Ohm
  • Frequency range: 10 Hz – 26 kHz
  • Cable: 3 meters (single-sided), straight 3.5 mm gold-plated plug with screw-on 6.3 mm adapter
  • Special features: foldable design, replaceable synthetic leather ear pads, “S-Logic Natural Surround Sound”, “ULE (Ultra Low Emission)” Mu-metal shielding to reduce magnetic field emissions
  • Accessories: transportation bag, demo CD, printed manual
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Accessories

The HFI-780 comes with a soft cloth transportation bag, small enough to accommodate the phones when they’re folded. The bag sports a fancy embroidered Ultrasone logo and a drawstring to keep it closed.

The printed manual consists of 99% advertisements and 1% semi-useful hints: take care of your phones, don’t listen too loud, and so on. Nobody would miss it if it wasn’t included.

The included demo CD is meant to show off the “S-Logic Natural Surround Sound” capabilities of the headphones – and it is outright misleading. The tracks on this CD are binaurally recorded and display a great soundstage and depth on any headphone, not just the Ultrasones. This CD proves nothing about the “surround” capabilities of the phones. Actually, the CD shows that many other phones have even better spatial positioning than the HFI-780. Nevertheless, the tracks on this CD are fun to listen to if you never heard binaural recordings before.

Design

Build quality doesn’t feel all that great on the HFI-780, considering they’re not exactly cheap phones. They’re an all plastic construction and the thin aluminum veneer on the ear cups is just for decoration. This however doesn’t mean they are going to disintegrate as soon as you look at them – it’s just that most Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, or AKG phones in the same price range have a more solid look and feel to them.

The foldable design of these phones comes in mighty handy on the go. The ear cups can be rotated 90 degrees, effectively flattening the phones. The cups can also be tilted to the inside, towards the headband, resulting in a quite small package which can be stored easily in a jacket’s pocket, a small purse, or similar means of transportation.

Not so great for portable use is the 3 meter long cable. Since the phones are already foldable and thus portable, why not put a little thought in the cable length as well? Better to use an extension cable when you need it than always having to lug an excessive amount of cable around with you… Half the length would be optimal for portable use. The PRO line phones of Ultrasone have user replaceable cables, but unfortunately the HFI series doesn’t. So you either have to use a cable wrapper – or cut the cable and solder a new 3.5 mm plug to it.

Comfort is acceptable with the HFI-780. They’re not as comfortable as, say, the Beyerdynamic DT 770, but they can be worn for extended time periods without getting sore ears. The ear pads are circumaural, but they’re on the smaller side. Large ears might not fit entirely inside of them, but I have no fit issues with my “regular sized” ears. The thin and short synthetic leather headband applies a bit too much pressure on the top of my head, but the somewhat claustrophobic feeling disappears after a few minutes. A wider headband with a gap in the middle (as on the Sennheiser HD 650, for example) would have been a better design, distributing the weight more evenly.

One thing I definitely don’t like is that the ear pads are made of synthetic leather. It might be more hygienic and better isolating than velour ear pads, but the material gets sticky and hot and is certainly the less comfortable solution. Other Ultrasone headphones like the PRO-750 or HFI-2200 are equipped with velour pads, but it looks like they are not interchangeable with the HFI-780. I might try to find some fitting replacement velour pads sooner or later.

Isolation is quite decent on the HFI-780. It is on par with most universal-fit in-ear phones (at least the ones equipped with silicon tips). They work well in noisy surroundings and will protect your hearing since you don’t have to turn the volume to eleven. The isolation works both ways, of course: you won’t be able to hear much noise from your surroundings, and people around you won’t be harassed by your Finnish polka and/or Chinese opera tunes.

Specifications

Ultrasone uses an “ULE (Ultra Low Emission)” Mu-metal shielding to reduce magnetic field emissions in the HFI-780. Mu-metal is a nickel-iron alloy with high magnetic permeability. In the HFI-780 design the Mu-metal plate is put in front of the driver, physically shielding about 70-80% of the ear cup’s surface
. Since headphone drivers certainly do generate a magnetic field right next to your brain it can’t be wrong to take some action against that. We have enough wave pollution to endure already, due to the ubiquitous Wifi and cellphone antennas… If Ultrasone’s “ULE” works the way it’s advertised, it sure is commendable – and we should hope that other headphone manufacturers will follow suit.

“S-Logic Natural Surround Sound” is one of the funniest examples of market speech I ever encountered. It doesn’t do anything for the soundstage or spatial positioning at all. Ultrasone just put the drivers in a slanted way into the phone’s housing, instead of the regular parallel alignment. They also moved the driver down from the center of the ear cup, but that’s about it for “S-Logic”. The HFI-780 have the same old “left/mid/right blob” linear soundstage as almost all other closed back phones. Considering how very verbose Ultrasone exaggerate the benefits of their “S-Logic” technology, you would expect it to sound like a full-blown 5.1 surround setup – which it absolutely fails at. The soundstage isn’t better or worse than most other closed phones, but that’s all there is to say about that. For what it’s worth, my old Beyerdynamic DT 770 have a slightly wider, more 3-dimensional soundstage, and even my tiny MylarOne X3i in-ear phones are rather similar to the HFI-780’s soundstage. I wish Ultrasone would actually improve the soundstage on these phones instead of putting flashy CGI movies on their website that demonstrate how “S-Logic” is supposed to work (but doesn’t), or bundling a deceptive binaural demo CD with the phones (which sounds great with any other headphone as well).

A side effect of “S-Logic” seems to be what Ultrasone calls “safer hearing”. This slogan refers to the statement that the slanted off-center driver construction supposedly reduces the sound pressure level on the eardrum by a few decibels, compared to other headphones. I am not sure what I should make of that statement, since lower sound pressure level usually just means lower perceived volume. How the HFI can have a lower sound pressure level at the same perceived volume is beyond me, but then again I am neither an engineer nor a physicist. Maybe there is a difference between direct and reflected waves reaching your eardrum, but Ultrasone isn’t as verbose about their “safer hearing” as they are about “S-Logic” and “ULE”. So I don’t know if this statement is fact or fiction. On the positive side, the HFI-780 sound good and balanced even at very low volume levels, so there isn’t much need to turn them up to unsafe listening levels anyway.

Some things I gathered from discussions on the Head-Fi forums are that the cable on the HFI-780 isn’t the best quality – it supposedly adds some impedance which might influence the sound quality in a negative way. Furthermore, there’s a small circuit board with some diodes in the audio path, obviously some kind of overload protection, which might also affect the sound. Well, for me the HFI-780 sound good the way they are, but for “tweak-a-holics” they might provide a nice playground for trying a different cable, removing the circuit board, or even putting various dampening materials into the driver enclosure.

Sound

Don’t let the advertising blurb that the HFI-780 are mainly tuned for “movies and gaming, classical, jazz, and rock” distract you from the fact that they sound amazingly nice with almost any kind of music. The got enough bass to be fun and enough treble to unveil every little detail in any audio track. Fortunately, the midrange doesn’t suffer because of those sonic attributes – with these phones everything is forward and in your face, you won’t miss any nuances at all.

Like any other dynamic driver headphone the HFI need some time to settle down. They might sound a bit harsh right out of the box, but they even out after some listening time. They work great with most portable players, but they do benefit from a proper amplifier as well. I like their sound straight out of wimpy players like a Samsung YP-U1, or more powerful ones like the Cowon D2 or Sansa Clip – but over my Woo Audio 6 desktop amplifier or my portable Corda Headsix they just deliver a bit more, showing off what they’re really capable of.

Bass: whoa, do they have some. It should be enough even for genuine bassheads – but the bass is so precise, focused, and punchy that it shouldn’t overly frighten even the highest-grade “bassophobes/audiophiles” as well. The bass doesn’t overshadow any midrange or treble, there’s not the slightest hint of a veil or muddiness to be heard. It hits hard where it should, it is musical when required. There’s no midbass or low-midrange hump to speak off, all the serious business is below 100 Hz. The only mild complaint I can think of is that the bass is not absolutely linear, some low notes sound slightly louder than others, but it’s nothing that really distracts from the sheer punch and snappiness of the HFI-780. In short: I have yet to hear a better bass from a closed headphone – these Ultrasones are as good as it gets, compared to similar phones.

The midrange is as forward as the rest of the frequency spectrum. No matter if male or female vocals, guitars, or piano, the HFI-780 deliver great detail with great speed. The soundstage and “space” around the various instruments suffers a bit from that, but everything that’s in the recording is there, with no parts missing. Compared to open-backed headphones it all feels a bit narrow, but for a closed one they are really fine.

One thing you can’t ignore with the HFI-780 is their sheer treble power. It might be too much for some people, certainly. For me, however, it doesn’t appear to be sibilant or fatiguing – my ears don’t hurt after using the Ultrasones for hours. The highs aren’t rolled off at all – everything is there – and the truth often hurts with poor recordings or encodings. Cymbals and hi-hats sound like they should, which is something you don’t hear all the time over headphones. If you’re easily annoyed by high frequencies the HFI-780 might not be the right ones for you, but if you like to get even the tiniest bit of detail out of your phones, they’re spot-on.

As for the soundstage and spatial imaging of the HFI-780, just check my rant in the previous chapter about “S-Logic”. The soundstage is nothing to write home about, but it’s not really bad either.

Generally speaking, the HFI-780 are better sounding than the usual suspects around that price range, like the Beyerdynamic DT 770, Sennheiser HD 25-1, or AKG K271 (or the cheaper and more popular K81DJ/K518DJ). Comparing the HFI to in-ear phones would be quite unfair and pointless, so I won’t go down that road. The Ultrasones combine many of the best aspects of most closed headphones and in-ear phones I know – and take it a step further.

Conclusion

The Ultrasone HFI-780 are very good sounding closed headphones for the money. They do almost everything right if you’re looking for forward sounding and precise phones that work great across the whole audible frequency range, no matter what music genre. People looking for a “warm/relaxed/laid-back” sound signature certainly have to look at other phones, but for anyone craving the last word in detail and resolution the 780’s are the right ones.

There are somewhat better closed phones out there regarding build quality, comfort, or soundstage – but those aren’t really negative aspects of the HFI-780 by any means, it’s just that these features are more or less “average” compared to other phones in the same price range.

All in all, the HFI-780 can be recommended for any setup, be it with a standard MP3 player on the go, or with a home Hi-Fi, TV, or computer setup. They perform well in every case (but of course benefit from a good source or amp as well).

If full-sized closed phones are your thing, the HFI-780 are definitely worth considering.
They’re seriously good cans.

Pros

  • Deep punchy bass, precise mids, fast treble, great clarity and detail, very forward sounding
  • Works well even with low-powered MP3 players
  • Good sound quality even at low listening levels
  • Decent isolation
  • Foldable, quite portable

Cons

  • 3 meter cable, synthetic leather ear pads
  • Not the great soundstage as advertised (“S-Logic” doesn’t really do anything)
  • Treble might be too bright for some tastes

Purchase

In the US you can pick up the Ultrasone HFI-780 at Amazon with usually free shipping and no tax. For the EU and the rest of the world check out Ultrasone’s site for distributors.




17 Comments

WalkGood on April 2, 2008 8:36 PM

Another fine review :) I hope the warm/dark side hasn’t lost you, just don’t go wearing loud colors :D and keep up the good reviews…

Xenodius on April 3, 2008 1:16 PM

Excellent review dfkt,http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f70/ultrasone-hfi780-alo-mod-299731/“We place acoustic vibration dampening material in various parts inside headphone as well as removal of the diode board.”Sounds like the things are capable of quite a bit, judging by the raves on the modded 780′s… I bet the “acoustic vibration dampening material” is, for the most part, bunk… They sound like great headphones!

Martin Sägmüller on April 3, 2008 2:15 PM

I don’t really believe in “esoteric” cables, like ALO sells (for an insane price) – but maybe I’m putting some Sennheiser HD650 cables on my HFI-780. Those cables are great, very sturdy and high quality.

Xenodius on April 3, 2008 8:10 PM

Yeah, I could care less about the cables, unless they don’t hold up.If you do, I would really appreciate a record of the process… They don’t look like they come apart easy at a glance! From what I have read, I definitely want to remove the diode board. I am considering putting in a 1/4 jack on it, so I can route the wire under my shirt to keep it out of the way, and still be able to stow it away/get set up quickly when I want to use it. Folding the wire so that it isn’t damaged takes more time than anything else.

Xenodius on April 4, 2008 6:22 PM

I wonder, do the Pro 750′s sound better than the HFI-780′s? I don’t imagine there is much of a difference… I read that they seem to be somewhat lacking in clarity, quite surprising for a $400 pair of headphones.

Martin Sägmüller on April 4, 2008 6:38 PM

I tried the almost twice as expensive PRO-750 in a store as well – and I really didn’t like them. They were muddy and veiled in comparison to the HFI-780, and they’re the ugliest looking headphones I ever saw, with their blue “Lego” brick design. The HFI-780 are definitely worth their money, but the PRO-750 most likely aren’t.

Ash on April 5, 2008 12:34 AM

Leatherette!? Why?!?

Paul on April 10, 2008 9:48 PM

It truly amazes me, the difference in people’s tastes about headphones. It’s as if we live in different audio realities.I have never heard the HFI-780′s but I would be willing to bet that I would really like them. I own a pair of Ultrasone Proline 750′s and I really like them a lot. I have listened to several professional headphones (including all of the ones mentioned in these reviews) and without question, the Proline 750′s are the best sounding headphones I’ve ever heard. The negative comments I read by one reviewer made me think that either there is something wrong with that reviewers hearing or that person owns stock in a competitor company.In the “main” review by Martin Sagmuller (sorry my keyboard doesn’t print the little accents), he writes,”“S-Logic Natural Surround Sound” is one of the funniest examples of market speech I ever encountered. It doesn’t do anything for the soundstage or spatial positioning at all. Ultrasone just put the drivers in a slanted way into the phone’s housing, instead of the regular parallel alignment. They also moved the driver down from the center of the ear cup, but that’s about it for “S-Logic”. The HFI-780 have the same old “left/mid/right blob” linear soundstage as almost all other closed back phones. Considering how very verbose Ultrasone exaggerate the benefits of their “S-Logic” technology, you would expect it to sound like a full-blown 5.1 surround setup – which it absolutely fails at. The soundstage isn’t better or worse than most other closed phones, but that’s all there is to say about that.”First, in any advertisement by Ultrasone I have ever read, there has never been a claim indicating that their phones play a 5.1 surround sound type sound stage. (Although, in listening to my Proline 750′s I could swear I’m listening to surround sound as the positioning of sounds is almost identical around my head as compared to what is playing through the surround sound speaker system when that is being used.)Second, I could not disagree more with Mr. Sagmuller’s comments about the sound stage of the Ultrasone headphones. Actually, having never heard the HFI-780′s, I really can’t disagree with him. But, what I will say for certain is that his comments absolutely do not apply to the Proline 750′s.The Proline 750′s sound as if you are in an acoustically balanced room and listening to a top of the line speaker system. The positioning of the speakers in the headphones has a great deal to do with the way we hear and our sense of where the sound is coming from. And, with the Proline 750′s, there is the acoustical perception as if the sound is surrounding you as well as being above you instead of being driven directly into your right and left ears as one would experience listening to other brands of headphones.Over the years, as I stated previously, I’ve listened to a number of headphones. Immediately before purchasing the Proline 750′s I did even more listening, checking out the most recent versions of the best professional headphones on the market. Without question, the Proline 750′s came out on top. After reading this review I am anxious to hear the HFI-780′s. I am almost positive that, while they probably have an excellent sound, they probably don’t sound as good as the Proline 750′s (judging from the specs). However, it would be advantageous to hear them because knowing their sound would enable me to recommend them to people who I am certain would not want to pay the more expensive cost of the Proline 750′s.One more thing. There most definitely is a difference in the “out of the box” sound versus the sound of a pair of “mature” Proline 750′s. New, their sound is somewhat on the bright side of what one might call “acoustic reality”. But, with sufficient play time their sound becomes more dynamically centered and more acoustically realistic. I assume the same is true for the HFI-780′s.

Xenodius on April 13, 2008 9:08 PM

Sound quality is subjective, but if the Proline 750′s are the best you have heard then I would be inclined to say that while the HFI-780′s/Proline 750′s likely do have a great soundstage, they are certainly not near as spacious as more expensive headphones.Also, not to defame your recent purchase, but from what I have heard the HFI-780′s sound better than the Proline 750′s. Which is to say more people prefer the HFI-780′s… you may not be one of those.I respect Martin’s assessment, he has listened to these headphones and many others. I have no reference material, I am speaking from the very, very significant amount of time I have spent researching and reading about these headphones.

Martin Sägmüller on April 15, 2008 8:01 PM

Paul: S-Logic IS nonsense. And regarding their claims, just look at the ridiculous “S-Logic” movie on Ultrasone’s website, or read the manual. Their claims are bogus. The soundstage on the HFI-780 is not great, there are several better ones available. Not to mention that the HFI-780 have “S-Logic Plus”, whereas the PRO-750 have the older regular “S-Logic”. Listen to some other closed phones like the Beyer DT770, or the AKG K271 for some notably better soundstage. The HFI are great phones for sure, but their soundstage marketing is blown way out of proportion.

pleshy on June 23, 2008 7:14 PM

Hello. I am a home theater enthusiast and I’m looking for the perfect headphones for watching movies. I’ve almost made my choice until I read this review. How come you are the only one that thinks that their surround sound isn’t as great. I’ve read many reviews (about the HFI 650/700) even some by professional musicians and they all say that the headphones’ surround sound is great. On top of all even cnet says that S-Logic works. Martin Sägmüller, could you please explain to my why do you think S-Logic’s crap and maybe recommend a better set for watching movies.P.S. Are the HFI 780 different than the HFI 650/700? If so, in a good or bad way for watching movies.

Xenodius on June 24, 2008 8:29 PM

I seriously recommend buying the HFI-780′s from Fullcompass.com– Ultrasone has a MAP (Minimum advertised price) of $249, so most all sites sell them for that price so they appear in search engines, including Fullcompass. But if you phone Fullcompass, (go for extension 1141) you can order them for $232, free shipping, with absolutely incredible customer support.They also sell all manner of Neutrik jacks and plugs. An angled, gold plated Neutrik plug is a measly 3.47 USD, other types are 1.00 USD or less.I just placed an order… Ten neutrik jacks/plugs and the cans for only $245.97.

Paul on September 26, 2008 6:35 PM

Martin,I have heard the AKG K701 and the K201. I am not familiar with the K271 and could not find it on the AKG website. I have also heard the Beyerdynamic DT770 among others. While these are excellent sounding headphones, I find, overall that I prefer the Ultrasone Proline 750 (now called “Pro 750″).My understanding is that some people can not hear the S-Logic technology. I am not not one of them. I can definitely hear the S-Logic technology and therefore regard it as being a valid technology. Consequently, I find Ultrasone’s claims about S-Logic technology to be truthful. Perhaps you are one of those who is unable to hear the S-Logic technology which causes you to think that the S-Logic technology is “nonsense”. I assure you, for those of us who are able to hear it, the S-Logic technology is most definitely not nonsense but instead an absolutely valid technology.

JT on April 15, 2009 7:35 AM

Has anyone considered that as humans we all have differently shaped and arranged ears? Dare I suggest that S-Logic may not work for everyone!

Frog on September 9, 2009 1:47 AM

JT, though human ears vary, decibel differences are very slight (plus or minus 3 dB range). It is taste. For example, SR225 are touted for having good soundstage. In actuality, it is identical to the SR125, but with a much less airer sound to it and with less treble than the SR60. Sometimes people equate soundstage with a distant, dull sound. Frequency response is not the same as presentation. Now my HD555′s have a great soundstage. DT880s are 2D-headphony since they point towards the eardrum rather parallel with the other ear.It’s okay JT. The reviews on Amazon say it all (all 5-star). Audiophiles who think dull is natural need to attend concerts, not their home theatre rooms. HD650 are not that great. Utter marketed, socially-distorted headphones. Like Bose, for audiophiles, though a league ahead!

florin on October 6, 2009 12:19 PM

I think S-Logic depends on the listener. I cannot hear the “magic” but two friends of mine who have listened to my Prolines 750 have both noticed their “surround sound”. Nonetheless, I really enjoy listening to them. I think I’ll order 780s too, I need a pair of headphones for office use (with my RB Fuze).

wangbob on April 21, 2010 10:31 PM

ok i used hfi 700.that is great sound exept for moneyi heard hfi780 that added metal structures in can’s body.so, hfi high range was great than hfi 700. i thinkbut thinking overall balace of can, 700 is great balance than 700any way ultrasone sealed can is always durable performance.so. that’s why i recommend this can to my friend.appreciate my foolish english.^^

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