(CNET) -- Unlike the Ultrasone HFI-2200s, which allow sound to be projected from the actual ear cups, the Ultrasone HFI-580s are a "closed-back" pair of headphones, so they hush outside noise, which prevents the headphone's sound from being heard by other people around you.
That's good, except that a lot of closed-back (ear-cup) headphones usually sound canned or hollow. This was not the case with the Ultrasone HFI-580s; the headphones were so free of the usual closed-back sound colorations that we had to check the specs to confirm the headphones were, in fact, a closed-back design.
The HFI-580s are handsome in a professional sort of way. They would look right at home in a recording studio. Their soft leatherette ear pads completely covered our ears, but since we were testing these headphones during fairly hot summer days, our ears grew sweaty over hours of listening. We had no problem once the temperature and humidity dropped.
The central part of the cups' exterior, where the headband attaches, consists of chrome metal pieces, which are clearly marked with "L" and "R," respectively. The adjustable plastic headband feels quite sturdy, and there's a leather cushion at the very center of its arc for additional comfort.
A 15-foot headphone cable is permanently attached to the left ear cup and is terminated with a 3.5mm plug. Included is a screw-on phono plug adapter intended for use with AV receivers and the like. The HFI-580 can be folded for easy storage in its included travel bag.
The HFI-580 features Ultrasone's S-Logic Natural Surround Sound Plus technology that bounces sound from the 50mm Mylar driver off your outer ear, instead of firing directly toward your eardrum. The effect produces a less headphone-like sound, closer to the sound of conventional external speakers.
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."
Thanks to the HFI-580's closed-back design, you can watch movies in bed without disturbing the person next to you; unless you crank up the volume extremely, they won't hear a sound from your HFI-580s.
Another benefit of closed-back headphones is they tend to have deeper, more powerful bass than equally sized and similar-priced open-back headphones. The HFI-580's plentiful low-end oomph may be too much for some tastes, and in our opinion it was.
Even so, the extra bass will come in handy when playing blockbuster movies. Within a few minutes of listening to the Saw DVD, we forgot we were wearing headphones. The creepy soundtrack is loaded with all sorts of unsettling, low rumbling sounds. We were more aware of the actors' panicked breathing as their captor torments them than we were when playing this DVD over external speakers.
We found the sound to be clean and nicely detailed on John Mayer's new "Where the Light Is: Live in Los Angeles" CD. The "live-ness" of the recording and the audience's cheers immersed us in the concert. It seemed the show was only a few feet out from the ear cups.
We compared the HFI-580s with another pair of Ultrasone headphones we had on hand -- the aforementioned HFI-2200s. Those headphones have an open-backed design and, overall, they sounded better than the HFI-580s. The HFI-2200's warmer sound created a less bright tonal balance and firmed up the bass so that the listening experience had more nuance and "air."
However, the usual closed- versus open-back trade-offs weren't pronounced. Neither headphone crammed the most possible sound inside our heads.
Continuing our testing, bass-heavy CDs like Cat Power's "Jukebox" had a hefty punch and impact that's rare for a set of headphones. There was a certain immediacy to the HFI-580's sound on jazz CDs as well. On Bob Belden's lush opus, "Black Dahlia," the sound was expansive. Even though the music is scored for a large band, the HFI-580 made it easy to zero in on the sound of each individual instrument. The drums and various percussion instruments were crisp-sounding, yet still had a natural sense of body and form.
The HFI-580s are a big pair of headphones, so we're not sure that many people would be tempted to plug them into their iPods. When we gave it a try, the sound was too lean and aggressive. By contrast, the HFI-2200s are just as big, but are a terrific match with iPods.
Overall, the HFI-580s are a solid-sounding pair of studio-grade headphones. Their closed-back design should attract an audience that doesn't want to disturb anyone around them. But if you're looking for something that will also sound great with an iPod, we'd really recommend stepping up to the HFI-2200s.
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