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Ultrasone headphones are comfy, sound great

  • Story Highlights
  • Ultrasone's HFI-2200 headphones are comfortable, well built and sound great
  • Excellent sound quality features strong bass and is fine complement to iPods
  • Headphones fold up for compact storage and include a travel case
  • The bulky size and earth-tone color scheme may not appeal to everyone
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By Steve Guttenberg
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CNET.com

(CNET) -- The Ultrasone HFI-2200 headphones have a dark brown outer casing, while the earpads are colored with a golden-brown, velvet-covered cushion. At the top of the headband is another cushion that matches the same color combination.

We think the look is a welcome alternative to the usual drab headphone color schemes. The earcups' exteriors are covered by a machined metal trim, clearly marked "L" and "R" on the headband as well as on the earcups.

The HFI-2200s are attractive, though we imagine some buyers would prefer to see more metal or chrome materials in a high-end pair of headphones. That said, the HFI-2200s are fairly lightweight (292 grams) and feel well built.

The 'phones are an "around-the-ear" design, and we found they applied just the right amount of pressure to our ears. The hinged headband folds for easy storage in the included travel bag.

The supplied 15-foot headphone cable screws into the left earcup; it sounds long -- and it is -- but it's designed to stretch across the room during home-listening sessions. The cord is terminated with a 3.5mm plug, and a screw-on phono plug adapter is provided for connecting to stereos and AV receivers.

Ultrasone offers an optional shorter 31-inch headphone cable that we'd get if we were going to use the HFI-2200s with our iPod.

Don't Miss

The headphones also feature the Ultrasone S-Logic Natural Surround Sound technology that bounces sound from the 40mm gold-plated driver off your outer ear instead of firing it directly toward your eardrum. The effect produces a less headphone-like sound, closer to the sound of actual external speakers.

In fact, a couple of times we thought actual speakers were still on -- it was only when we took off the HFI-2200s did we confirm that the speakers weren't really playing.

Like many Ultrasone headphones, the HFI-580s feature ULE (ultra low emission) technology. Ultrasone claims that "most headphone drivers produce low-frequency magnetic fields as they convert an electric signal into an acoustical signal you hear as music."

To combat this exposure to a magnetic field, Ultrasone claims to utilize a special type of "MU metal shielding" that purports to "reduce radiation by up to 98 percent compared to current headphones."

In terms of sound quality and performance, My Morning Jacket's new "Evil Urges" CD made a strong impression over the HFI-2200s. The bass, midrange, and treble balance were neutral (that's good), while the dynamics were lively.

The S-Logic Natural Surround Sound really did open up the sound compared with what we were getting from our Sennheiser HD580 headphones. Not to mention that the Ultrasone headphones' sound was also richer and more fleshed out than that of the Sennheisers.

Our continued testing proved that movies were first rate over the HFI-2200s as well. Their openness became a part of the story as the sound was more speakerlike than the Sennheisers'.

We used the plane-crash scene on "The Flight of the Phoenix" DVD, which really pushed the limits of subwoofers when we played the disc over conventional external speakers.

The HFI-2200's low bass output remained intact, but no pair of headphones can truly replicate the room-shaking gusto of a potent high-end subwoofer. Still, the twisting metal intensity of the sandy crash in the desert was preserved by the headphones.

To finish up, we plugged the HFI-2200 into our iPod. We were instantly wowed -- the sound was big and weighty with exceptional clarity. The iPod had enough power to play the HFI-2200 fairly loud, but nowhere as loud as our reference Ultimate Ears UE-10 in-ear headphones.

The HFI-2200's sound was much better than the far more expensive UE-10s, but the HFI-2200s' size will deter customers looking for a portable and practical set of headphones. Still, it's nice to know it can work with an iPod if the need ever arises. The HFI-2200 was a much better match with the iPod than Ultrasone's HFI-580, which we wouldn't ever recommend using with an iPod.

Still, the HFI-2200s are among the best headphones we've ever tested from Ultrasone -- they're right in line with the now-discontinued HFI-700s. If portability isn't a priority, the HFI-2200s provide a midrange speaker system experience without the actual speaker system.

© 2009 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. CNET, CNET.com and the CNET logo are registered trademarks of CBS Interactive Inc. Used by permission.

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