Ultrasone are looking to carve themselves a section of the UK headphone market, with their range of HFI high-end headphones. The HFI-2200 at the top of the range are an open headphone, claiming to give a natural surround sound on a wide sound stage.
The first thing that strikes about the HFI-2200 is the construction. We hate to start on a bum note, but when you are paying £230 for a set of headphones, you expect a little more than you get here. The 2200 are constructed mostly from plastic, brown plastic, which is paired up with a sort of burnt orange felt on the padding.
Not that something as superficial as colour scheme would deter someone who was looking for an set of open headphones, because they are unlikely to leave your home or studio, but the construction does give you a great deal of creaking. Just holding them in your hand seams to start the creaking. Fortunately this doesn’t really happen once they are on your head when the creaking moving parts settle into a comfortable position, encompassing your ear, with the felt pads resting gently.
So the 2200 are comfortable for long listening sessions, and coupled with the materials and open backed nature, they don’t get too hot, which some closed type headphones do; 5 hours ticked by before we stopped to take them off, with only a little tension around the neck. The headphones are light too at 292g, without the cable.
All that creaking we’ve just complained about does serve something of a purpose, as these headphones will fold up after a fashion to make them more portable – you can fold up the cans under the headband to make them in a more compact ball, or twist the cans to make them flat if packing in a suitcase for example. There is a velvet bag to keep them in too.
As open headphones, you are unlikely to want to wear these in public, or anywhere that it might disturb other people, obviously, as their open nature means that they don’t isolate the noise: neither keeping internal noise in nor stopping external noise getting through. So if you are looking for a set of decent headphones for air travel, then these are totally unsuitable.
What these are designed for sitting down in a quiet room, where you’ll be able to enjoy an immersive audio experience without having to worry about disturbing the neighbours when you crank up your hi-fi or home cinema system. The open nature has the advantage of letting you experience the audio, whilst the phone or door bell will still be able to get through.
The supplied, detachable, cable is 3 metres long which given the home remit appeals, meaning you can sit on the sofa and watch TV with no problems. Hooked up to your laptop you might find you keep getting it caught around your feet, or the wheels of your office chair, however.
It comes with gold plugs and the 3.5mm plug screws into the headphones on the left-hand side. This gives a nice secure connection, but we found given the length of plug, it restricted movement to the left, so from a practical design point of view, it would have been nice if it was a little higher up. You also get a gold 6.3mm adapter, to stick into your hi-fi or headphone amp.
When it comes to sound quality, we were at first a little sceptical. This is perhaps because the last open headphones we tried were the sublime Sennheiser HD 800, but the longer you spend with the HFI-2200 the more they start to appeal. They employ some of the same technologies as the Sennheisers, not only in their open-backed nature, but also in off-setting the sound projection.
The idea here is that rather than blasting the sound down your ear canal, it comes in at an angle, widening the sound stage and giving the impression that the sound is coming from the room, rather than the side of your head: just as you would separate your stereo speakers. In the world of Ultrasone this is called S-Logic.
The result is not only a relatively natural sound, but also a wider 3D sound stage. In normal music listening, to be honest, you might not really notice that much difference, but step over to live recordings and you do get a more noticeable difference, the same too applies to movies where you get a more distinct 3D effect, with background sound brought to the fore in a way that is often lacking from standard stereo speakers on a TV.
This is the type of headphone where you’ll hear more than normal so you’ll be picking out details you didn’t notice before. But that’s not to say everything is fantastic. The bass is relatively punchy and we found that on occasions things weren’t quite as distinct as we’d expect, with some bass intensive tracks suffering from distortion that blends the bass together.
The same problem seems to blight intensity in the high-end too, making it more difficult to pick out the subtle elements that would make the HFI-2200 standout, which at this price point is a little disappointing.
So the HFI-2200 aren’t a bad headphone, but they do have things stacking up against them, especially when you consider the price. It is also a lot of money to spend on something that has been so exquisitely styled and Ultrasone either did some great market research or took a gamble here: the “natural” hues will match your garden fence perfectly.
The long cable and the S-Logic 3D sound make this a great pair of headphones for using with your home cinema, but we feel the price is just too high for their overall performance and the design issues we have.