Sony ULT Wear headphones review: Brain-shaking bass

Sony’s Additional Bass line of headphones it gave listeners an extra dose of low-end tone for years and was generally cheaper than that high end 1000X boxes. The company is still keen to offer mind-boggling bass to those who want it, but gone is the Extra Bass moniker and its confusing alpha-numeric product names (more on this change to come). Today, Sony introduces ULT Power Sound, which it calls the “ultimate step in the evolution” of portable audio equipment.

ULT Power Sound will also be available in Bluetooth speakers of various sizes, but the first headphones with a new sound direction ULT Wear ($200). A direct replacement for the WH-B910, the ULT Wear features 40mm drivers that Sony says are specifically designed for deeper bass. If the stock adjustment isn’t enough, there’s an ULT button for two more levels of low-end boost. Moreover, the company has included the best features of more expensive headphones: V1 audio chip, 30 hours of battery life, Quick Focus mode, 360 Reality Audio with head tracking, etc.


Sony’s ULT Wear headphones are a better bass booster than previous models, along with significant updates to ANC, features and overall design.


  • Elegant design
  • Great sound most of the time
  • Convenient features
  • Improved ANC

  • ULT increase can be high
  • Some WH-1000XM5 functions are not available
  • Some genres sound muddy

$200 on Amazon

The first thing I noticed about ULT Wear is its design. These headphones don’t immediately strike me as lower priced boxes. The matte white finish on my review unit helps mask the cheap-looking mostly plastic construction of previous products WH-CH720N. It’s certainly a sleeker aesthetic than the WH-XB910 it replaces. There are definitely some nods premium 1000X line in several areas such as the curves of the ear cups and headband.

Sony decided on a mix of physical and touch controls for the ULT Wear, which is another way to bridge the gap between its most affordable and most expensive headphones. On the outside of the left ear cup is the power/connect button and a control for switching between active noise cancellation (ANC) and surround sound modes. Below is a third button to boost the ULT bass. This item is turned off, switching between ULT 1 (deep bass) and ULT 2 (stronger sound with deep bass). On the right side, on the outside of the ear cup, is a touchpad that you can tap and slide for playback controls, volume adjustment, and calls.

Since the ULT Wear sits in the middle of Sony’s headphone lineup, it has some handy features that the company’s cheaper options from the 1000X line don’t. For example, placing your open hand over the right earcup activates the volume-reducing Quick Attention mode, so you can respond to a colleague or take your cortado without stopping your tunes. Adaptive Volume Control is also here: a long-standing Sony tool that automatically adjusts headphone settings based on your activity or location. Common features like multi-point Bluetooth and wear detection are also available. The latest 1000X headsets lack the convenient Speak-to-Chat feature, which is a significant drawback in terms of overall usability.

Controls the details of the white headset with a 3.5mm jack and a USB-C port near the power, ANC and ULT buttons.Controls the details of the white headset with a 3.5mm jack and a USB-C port near the power, ANC and ULT buttons.

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Bass is superior to ULT Wear’s tuning, and you certainly get a big dose of it. Before you even start exploring the ULT amps, these new custom-tuned drivers pack a lot of low-end punch. Out of the box the level was good enough for me for most genres, although the overall sound can be muddy with more chaotic styles like metal and some synth-heavy electronic tracks. In most cases, the stock bass provides depth and range that complements the full mids and cutting highs.

at Bayside’s There are worse things than living there’s a pounding drum to punctuate the punk-tinged indie rock tunes, but the texture of the crunchy distorted guitars is prominent and the vocals cut clear. Plus, you can upscale Sony’s DSEE through a software trick designed to recover audio elements lost through compression. If you have access to 360 Reality Audio content, ULT Wear supports head tracking to keep sounds in place while moving. This provides a more realistic experience, as immersive audio in this format would otherwise move your head.

Things get messy when you switch to ULT boost modes. Sony boosted the bass better than the other companies here, as songs can still be heard across a range of music styles rather than becoming a muffled jumble. ULT 1, the choice for deeper bass, is the best in my opinion. You don’t lose much detail using it, and things like kick drums are still effective. Hip-hop tracks like Killer Mike’s “Down By Law” are a better canvas, with great but subtle, boosted bass. His album Michael One of the better sounding options I’ve tested with ULT 1 enabled.

ULT 2, the setting for stronger sound, along with deeper bass, is not great. In my tests, I didn’t find a track that I thought sounded good in low-end driving styles like hip-hop and EDM. It sounds like you’re standing in front of the subwoofer at a concert where the bass takes center stage and everything sinks in. I’m sure some people enjoy this degree of brain jingle, it’s just not what I’m looking for.

A detail of the headband and ear cups of the white headset showing the design of the speaker grille.A detail of the headband and ear cups of the white headset showing the design of the speaker grille.

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Sony has improved the ANC from the WH-XB910 by installing the V1 audio processor from the 1000X series in the ULT Wear. The result is noticeably improved noise-canceling performance for a $200 set of headphones, but you shouldn’t expect the same distraction-blocking that the WH-1000XM5 offer. It’s fine in most cases, but in some scenarios it just dulls the rumble. However, ULT Wear does a decent job with human voices – better Sennheiser Accentum Plus I recently reviewed it.

The company didn’t go out of its way to discuss call quality on the ULT Wear, but performance here is slightly above average. It’s not clean, but it also doesn’t have the speakerphone sound heard in most headsets. Low and mid-range background noise is also handled nicely. The surround sound mode on the ULT Wear is more natural than what most headphones offer AirPods Max. You can hear your own voice at a good level, so you can speak at a normal volume during calls. Any sounds around you come through clearly, so you don’t have to worry about missing alerts or announcements.

Sony says you can expect up to 30 hours of battery life with ANC on or 50 hours with it off. The company doesn’t specify if any of the ULT regimens affect longevity, and I haven’t used them long enough to tell. After 30 hours of use with ANC on, with the exception of a few ambient sounds for calls, the Sony app showed 18 percent battery left. Both audio modes were used at about 50-60 percent volume, and trust me, it’s very loud here.

If you’re after a deep sonic punch that most headphones can’t deliver, the ULT Wear does a better job of boosting low-end tones than Sony’s previous efforts. The sound out of the box is certainly boomy, but not at the cost of any detail, and the company gives you the option to add two more servings of bass whenever you wish. These won’t be for everyone, as many people will prefer the more even tuning of Sennheiser’s Accentum Plus in the $200 range. However, Sony has done well in dressing up a more affordable set of headphones as a premium product, both in terms of looks and features.

ULT Wear headphones are available in black, white and green color options For $200. Sony says they’ll start shipping this spring.

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