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OhGizmo Review: The Ultrasone iCans

ultrasone icansBy David Ponce

The iCans, a set of semi high-end headphones from company Ultrasone, come bundled with a bunch of relatively exciting promises. For one, they feature “S-Logic Technology”, which is meant to give the listener the impression that the sound comes from further away, rather than being “stuck inside the head”… kind of like being at a live concert. Also, they allow you to listen to your music at a lower volume (as much as 40%, or 3-4 dB) while still giving you the same loudness impression. They fold up for “easy storage” and come in a relatively nice tin box (a “can”, hence the name) for more convenient transportation. Finally, there’s ULE technology which shields your ears from as much as 98% of the radiation produced by the magnetic drivers.

I got a set to review a few weeks back, and I’m finally getting around to posting my impressions. So, come inside for all the details. Out here, you’ll get the verdict and the links: they’re a nice looking pair of great sounding headphones at a reasonable price. Are they going to give you eargasms? No, not really.

[The iCans] and [Ultrasone]

The first thing you have to pay attention to, when you first use the headphones, is to not break them. That is, when unfolding them, you have to make sure you have properly un-twisted the speaker portion before you pull it down.

The headphones look quite nice. Of course, that’s a matter of taste, but I’m a sucker for chrome (though they are plastic) and the angular headband is a welcome change. The fabric that covers the speaker portion is grey with a slightly metallic look. Overall, in the looks department, they have me sold.

Now, to the technology. S-Logic works differently than other speakers by using decentralized driver positioning. What this means, is that instead of directing the sound directly into your ear canal, they first bounce it off your outer ear. The outer ear, apparently, is essential in your full understanding of the three-dimensional structure of sound. In other words, without your outer ear, things would sound quite different, your echolocation abilities would be diminished and traditional speakers don’t take full advantage of your anatomy. The iCans, apparently, do. This bouncing of the sound on your outer ear is meant to make music sound like it’s not trapped inside your head, like it’s coming from further away.

Does it work?

Eh… Well, maybe. Let me first say, the headphones sound good. Very good. Music is crisp, the bass is full and the higher tones are distinct. They do seem to sound better than regular headphones, certainly better than the iPod’s white buds, but… is it a life altering experience? Listening to some Jimi Hendrix, did I feel the mud under my feet, the smell of pot in the air and the faraway thump of the band’s drums, as though I really was standing there, at Woodstock? Well, I can’t honestly say that I did. It sounded great, but… I did not feel as though my ears were taken for a ride in Santa’s sleigh.

Now, of course, this might be more of a limitation of the file format used rather than the headphones themselves. To use high-end audio equipment with an iPod, with anything less than lossless compression, has always seemed a risky proposition to me. The iCans, however, were manufactured specifically for use with digital audio players and should in theory somehow compensate for the loss in quality that compression creates. And they do this relatively well, though, I guess my point is that only so much can be done.

Then again, I’ve not tested out all that many alternatives, so perhaps my impression is off. So take it for what it is. I am a non-audiophile with average ears. I tested the iCans and was pleased, but not blown away. As I said earlier, they are nice looking and great sounding headphones.

They cost about $150. Information about where to purchase can be found at Soundwerks Audio.