Ultrasone Performance 820
 
Simple pleasures
 
We have unusually little to say about these headphones — and that’s a very good thing indeed. There’s no faffing about with Bluetooth, no app control, no headset touchpads no voices confirming when you raise the volume. They’re straightforward closed and cabled headphones, built for use on the road, in the home or office.
 
This is not to say there’s no clever tech going on — this Bavarian brand has been making headphones since 1991 with an emphasis on craftsmanship, hand-selected driver pairs and high quality materials (as its entry level in the Performance series, though, the P820 is made in China). Ultrasone’s particular trick is decentralising the position of the driver, which it calls patented ‘S-Logic’ technology, the idea being that sound from the driver reflects off the surface of the outer ear before entering the auditory canal, resulting in a “three-dimensional” sound. Ultrasone sometimes calls this ‘surround’, but it’s more about space than actual ‘it’s-behind-you’ surround.
 
Ultrasone Performance 820  In the highest EX variant of S-Logic the driver fires downwards through a funnel to the front. These Performance 820s have the newer but lesser S-Logic Plus, which is not so clearly explained — saying it “combines precision dampening with micro-acoustic reinforcement, allowing driver, buffer-board, and spatial parameters to complement one another in an optimal manner”.  
 
They also have ‘ULE’ technology to reduce magnetic emissions from the transducers, though such emissions are not, from anything we’ve ever heard or read, considered a health issue. 
Tech differentiators aside, this is simply a very enjoyable headphone. Its construction is largely of fairly plain plastic, though several snazzy colour options are available, and they are fully adjustable, they swivel flat for storage (a bag is provided) and their leatherette earpads are comfortable and exert very little inward pressure. 
 
We were delighted by their sound balance, well balanced across a wide frequency range, with plenty of bass from their 40mm PET (like Mylar) drivers, sometimes a little too much in a quiet environment, blooming up Leonard Cohen’s vocal on ‘Going Home’, delivering more low sine wave than shaped texture on the bass guitar intro to ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. But this is just right to deliver a good balance against the background noise of a commute, without any subsequent dip higher up, so vocals remain rich and strong, the top end clear and detailed without distortion, even as you raise levels high — and there’s plenty of level here with the cable into a mobile devices, more than from a Bluetooth headphone.
 
As for the ‘surround’, there is indeed a lovely sense of space, and without apparent sacrifice in speed. On Julian Bream’s performance of the adagio from Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto De Aranjuez’ his guitar is centre-stage with guitar plucking tight and tinned while a spacious orchestration spreads wide across the soundstage. Mozart’s Symphony #25 in G minor similarly flooded forth. We discussed the issues of overstretching a soundstage last issue in the Sennheiser HD 800 S; again here things go far beyond the bounds of a loudspeaker arc, but these are day-to-day headphones rather than the ultimate listening tool, so we just enjoyed the wide luscious and well balanced sound. Several of our listeners considered this a ‘wow’ performance. 
 
The detachable cable has a mike and single button for calls and transport controls, though no volume adjustment. 
 
A straightforward headphone that does things well, and at a good price! What more can we ask? Indeed they impressed us enough to win the Sound+Image 2017 Awards for Headphones of the Year $250-$500.
 
 
Ultrasone Performance 820      
Price: $299.95 
Type: closed, dynamic, cabled, over-ear
Driver: 40mm PET
Impedance: 32 ohms
Weight: 244g without cable
 
 
Ultrasone Performance 820