Provides: Over ear audio reproduction with inline mic and basic music control
Developer: Polk Audio
Ah, the rest of the world, with its hustle and bustle, hopes and dreams. Sometimes you just want it all to shut up and leave you alone while you listen to music. If you’ve got the scratch to invest in a luxury pair of full-size headphones, the Polk UltraFocus 8000 combines rich sound with some fantastic noise-canceling technology.
Starting with the good news (and there’s a lot of it) the UltraFocus 8000 delivers on being a really great pair of headphones. Music is rich and well-blended, and the active noise-cancelation succeeds in isolating the sound from the outside world. Unless there are physical vibrations (a truck rumbling past, or someone stomping their feet) to draw your attention, wearing the UltraFocus 8000 is like being inside a sound booth. While listening to music I started to notice subtle things in the background of songs I’ve listened to for years: the rolling hiss of a high-hat that I’d never heard before, for example. One of my favorite podcasts jokes that they record in their basement, and listening to it using the UltraFocus 8000 I started to hear the noise of water rushing through pipes, giving me this very odd experience of being in the room with them. Also, there’s no sound leak to annoy the people around me; taking them off and holding them just inches from my face, I heard nothing coming from the headphones.
As someone who wears glasses, I normally have a problem with full-size headphones as they either clamp down too hard (pressing my glasses into my skull), or hang loosely, letting sound leak out. The UltraFocus 8000 largely solves this problem via the band across the top (decorated with carbon fibre) that rests on the head and keeps the headphones firmly, but not painfully, against the ear. The padding around the cans are made of a spongey material that shape themselves around your ears (and glasses) like foam insulation. Every couple of hours I’d have to take the UF8 and my glasses off to massage my ears, but even then, it wasn’t headache-inducing like other full-size ‘phones I’ve used.
The controls on the UltraFocus 8000 are minimalist: volume up/down, a switch which turns off both the noise-cancelation and mutes your audio without pausing (used for when you need to interact with the real world), and a play/pause button that, when held, also activates Siri. There are no controls to skip forward or back a track. The controls are placed on the right can, and each has a small nubbin to make it easier to find by touch. The only other control is an on/off switch that glows blue when “on” (and a good thing, too, because the UF8 only works when drawing power from two included AA batteries included. If the batteries die, the headphones will not convey any sound. Polk says that the batteries will give you 40 to 60 hours of normal use, but if you forget (as I did more than once) to turn the switch off, you’ll be SOL until you replace them.
The cord itself is detachable from the headphones and has a flat, rather than rounded shape. Polk says this design prevents tangles, and after weeks of stuffing the phones into and out of bags, I must admit I’ve never had to untie them.
Included with the UltraFocus 8000 are a number of adapters: 1/8″ to 1/4″ for use with stereo/pro equipment, a two-prong airline adapter with external attenuator, and a “Skype adapter” that lets you plug in an external microphone, assuming you don’t want to use the UltraFocus 8000’s inline microphone. The headphones also come with a hardshell carrying case to keep all of this together. One caveat; the case also comes with a carabiner to attach it, via a cloth loop on the case, to other gear, but when used this way, the cloth loop quickly tore off.
At 350 bucks, the Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000s ain’t cheap (though you can find them for less at any number of reputable sources), but their sound quality and noise-cancelation make for a potent combination. In a crowded coffee shop with multiple conversations, music overhead, and traffic going by, I hear absolutely nothing except for the audio coming through them. It’s a wonderfully isolating experience that allows me to tune out the world.
Buy the Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000