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Verdict

One of the most straightforwardly strange products I’ve tested in a long time, the Sony ULT Wear seem to have everything going for them – and then they start to make a sound…

Pros

  • (Very) assertive sound
  • Good specification and feature-set
  • Predictably well-made and -finished

Cons

  • Horribly ill-balanced sound (at best)
  • Short of subtlety, insight and poise
  • Can be bettered by more affordable Sony alternatives

Key Features

  • Bluetooth supportBluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC and LDAC codec support
  • Battery30 to 50 hours of battery, usage-dependant
  • ANCAdaptive ANC to cancel out sounds

Introduction

Sony knows exactly what’s what when it comes to wireless headphones of all types – that much has been made obvious over the last decade or so. 

With the ULT Wear, though, it intends to kill two birds with one stone: create a pair of wireless over-ears to fill the gap between its premium WH-1000XM5 model and its bargain-tastic WH-CH720N, and to appeal to The Young People at the same time.

So does Sony know what appeals to The Young People, apart from a keen price? Let’s find out…

Availability

The Sony ULT Wear (or, to give them their full name, the Sony WH-ULT900N) are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom they sell for £179. The asking price is $199 in America and €179 in Europe, while in Australia they go for AU$439.

This fills a bit of a gap in the Sony wireless over-ear headphones range, for sure, but it doesn’t mean the ULT Wear are without competition. Sennheiser’s Accentum Plus, for instance, are very similar money, and Final Audio’s UX3000 come in at a little less.

Design

  • Predictably well-made
  • Three finishes
  • 255g

There’s no arguing with the job Sony has done where the design of the ULT Wear is concerned. Within the strictly defined limits of over-ear headphones, this is a discreetly good-looking pair with more than a hint of the (considerably more expensive) Sony WH-1000XM5 about them. 

Available in black or forest grey (which is unarguably green) as well as the white of my review sample, the Sony are as well-made and expertly finished as everyone expects from the company. The earcups themselves are a little deeper than the norm, but unless you’ve an extremely narrow head you won’t look too much like a Cyberman – and you’ll be comfortable inside them in any event, thanks to nicely padded pleather-covered memory-foam contact points.

Sony ULT WEAR design details
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

There’s a good amount of adjustment to the headband, plenty of articulation where the headband meets the earcups, and the Sony fold cleverly enough to allow them to travel in a fairly small, discreet case.  

In fact, the only way in which the ULT Wear are less than understated is where the company logo and one of the few physical control buttons are concerned. At each end of the headband, the Sony logo is realised in racy lenticular printing, and the same technique is used for the (relatively) big ULT button on the left earcup. I’ll get to the baleful effects of that button soon enough…  

Sony ULT WEAR carry case
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Features

  • Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC and LDAC codec compatibility
  • 40mm full-range dynamic drivers
  • 30 – 50 hours of battery life

The ULT Wear use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity, and as well as the bog-standard SBC and AAC codec there’s also compatibility with the Sony-developed LDAC. So if you’ve an appropriate source player, 32-bit/96kHz (up to 990kbps) can be wirelessly streamed. 

Once it’s on board, it’s delivered to your ears by a pair of 40mm full-range dynamic drivers. Sony’s claiming a frequency response of 5Hz – 20kHz, which is about par for the wireless over-ear course. The same V1 processor that’s fitted to the premium WH-1000XM5 does the business here, and as well as dealing with the actual audio content it’s also in charge of the active noise-cancellation circuitry too. 

Sony ULT WEAR held in reviewers hand
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Beam-forming mics in each earcup feed information to the processor in order for it to adapt top your ambient conditions on the fly – ANC can also be switched off, or to Ambient to allow a little external sound in. There’s a button in the left earcup to allow you to toggle between ANC and Ambient – if you want to turn it off altogether, you’ll need to delve into the Sony Headphones control app.

The app itself is just as thorough and just as useful here as everywhere else. As well as fiddling with ANC, it allows you some EQ adjustment, can identify where you are and adjust sound accordingly (that’s Adaptive Sound Control), and will use pictures of your ears to optimise spatial audio performance if any of your preferred streaming services have content mixed in Sony 360 Reality Audio. It’s also where you can connect to an appropriate Sony Bravia XR television in order to experience some personalised head-tracking. It’s one of the most helpful and worthwhile control apps around.

Sony ULT WEAR Headphones app
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The mics also help with voice-assistance and call-quality, of course, and they’re very effective indeed in both instances. Further control is available from the capacitive touch-surface of the right earcup (play/pause, volume up/down, skip forwards/backwards and so on), while the left earcup has a power on/off button that also initiates Bluetooth pairing. There’s also a 3.5mm socket here (Sony provides a 1.2m cable for hard-wired listening) and a USB-C slot for charging the battery.

Battery life itself is a very acceptable 50 hours with ANC switched off, and a not-exactly-terrible 30 hours if it’s switched on. You’re looking at around 200 minutes to charge from flat to full. 

Sony ULT WEAR in carry case
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Sound Quality

  • Hugely assertive, staggeringly lop-sided sound
  • Any sense of nuance or detail is sacrificed on the altar of bass…
  • …and that’s before you investigate the ULT button

I may as well get right to it, if for no other reason than you’ve already seen the star-rating at the top of this review. The short story is: the ULT Wear are deficient, in sonic terms, in virtually every respect. For a company with the resources, the reputation and the track record of Sony to offer them for sale is, I reckon, astonishing.

I’ve always enjoyed Trompe Le Monde by Pixies, and I’ve always thought it sounded just a little bit thin and edgy in a typically early-90s indie sort of way. But in the hands of the ULT Wear it’s transformed into a soup of ill-controlled and ill-defined low-frequency activity, with any sense of momentum abandoned in favour of bass, bass, and more bass.

Sony ULT WEAR bass button
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The low-frequency presence here is such that the midrange is all but swamped, while the top of the frequency range fights an endlessly losing battle too. Any sense of insight, nuance or articulacy disappears while the Sony shove fat, ponderous bass in your face with something approaching delight.

Switch to music that’s actually bass-centric in the first place – Kimbara by Barry Can’t Swim, for instance – and the low-end overload is enough to provoke a panic attack. The ULT Wear thump as mindlessly as a party heard from two doors away, skewing the rhythm entirely and utterly sacrificing detail in favour of bass onslaught.

And, remarkably, this is before you investigate the properties of that ULT button. It has two modes, each more ominously named than the other: Attack Bass and Deep Bass. First of all, the idea that the ULT Wear have not, until now, been producing bass that’s both deep and attacking is laughable. And second of all, if you thought you’d been listening to ill-defined, overstated, and monotonal bass before now, well, you ain’t heard nothing yet. 

Because the ULT Wear are so single-minded in their purpose, it’s difficult to look beyond their preposterous bass response to find any meaningful positives in the way they perform – but I’m going to give it a go. 

Sony ULT WEAR earcups close up detail
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Their active noise-cancelling is pretty decent, as it is on all of Sony’s ANC-equipped headphones – those external sounds that aren’t already drowned by the sheer bass presence of the headphones are dealt with impressively. And if you listen to a recording containing no low-frequency information whatsoever – Walking Song by Meredith Monk, say – the ULT Wear are revealed as quite insightful, quite articulate and actually quite well organised. So if you intend to listen to music with no bass element, go right ahead.

Ultimately, though, it’s like throwing a switch. Even if you listen to podcasts, there will be moments when a speaker’s voice descends from the midrange to the upper bass frequencies – and the Sony seize those moments like the tax office seizes your money. And then all semblance of realism disappears. Again.

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Should you buy it?

You’re a bass at all costs type of listener

You want bass? You got it.

You place any importance on sonic accuracy

If there’s a more lopsided-sounding pair of headphones out there, I haven’t heard them.

Final Thoughts

I am terribly confused by the Sony ULT Wear. After all, this is the product of a company that is usually judicious and thoughtful – but for ULT Wear it seems to have given itself over to a focus group that has convinced it that what Young People want is a face tattoo and a loudness button. 

I’m prepared to concede I’m not what you might call young – but in my experience it takes a fair bit more than too much bass to interest Young People, because where headphones are concerned they’re generally like all the rest of us.

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Tested across several days

FAQs

How long is the Sony ULT WEAR’s battery life?

You cna get 30 hours with ANC activated, or 50 hours with it turned off.

Full specs

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