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Sony ULT Wear review: Souped-up bass monsters that lack subtlety

Our Rating :
£149.00 from
Price when reviewed : £179
inc VAT

ULT Wear offer an impressive set of features and effective ANC but only die-hard bass lovers are likely to enjoy the ULT Power Sound mode


  • Effective ANC
  • Comfortable
  • Highly customisable


  • ULT modes are a mixed bag
  • Slightly cheap feel
  • Not Hi-Res certified

Sony has enjoyed widespread success with its WH-1000X series of over-ear headphones but is targeting a more specific audience with its latest release, the Sony ULT Wear.

Launched alongside a trio of Bluetooth speakers as part of the brand’s new ULT Power Sound range, the ULT Wear are unashamedly designed for those who adore bass. Not part-time bassheads or those who dabble in low-end shenanigans, but those for whom bass is the most important element of their musical experience.

Twenty years ago that would have been me. My lifestyle has changed a lot since then, but drum and bass and jungle remain my genres of choice, and I’m still occasionally caught throwing shapes at raves. As such, I’m well placed to put the ULT Wear through their paces and compare them to the countless pairs of headphones I’ve tested over the past five years.

Sony ULT Wear review: What do you get for the money?

The Sony ULT Wear are available in black, off-white and forest grey and cost £179. Despite being a mid-range option, they have a reasonable amount in common with the Japanese manufacturer’s flagship noise-cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5.

Both use Sony’s Integrated Processor V1 for audio processing and noise cancellation, employ a combination of physical buttons and touch controls and support Sony features including 360 Reality Audio and Adaptive Sound Control.

Connectivity options are similar, too. Both operate over Bluetooth 5.2 and support the SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs. Sadly, the ULT Wear aren’t Hi-Res certified like the XM5 but they do support Bluetooth multipoint, Google Fast Pair and Microsoft Swift Pair.

Physical connections extend to a USB-C port and a 3.5mm port. The former doesn’t support audio transmission so is solely for charging the battery, which should last around 30 hours with ANC engaged and 50 hours with it switched off. Included in the box are a USB-C charging cable, a 1.2m audio cable and a hard-shell carrying case.

Despite weighing practically the same as the XM5 (255g vs 249g), the Sony ULT Wear are designed quite differently. Their headband is attached to the earcups by yokes rather than integrated into the cups as it is on the XM5. This results in a less cohesive aesthetic but one that allows the earcups to be rotated and folded in ways the XM5 couldn’t.

There are some other key differences between the two models. The ULT Wear use larger drivers than their more expensive stablemates (40mm vs 30mm), have half the number of microphones (four vs eight) and make do without Sony’s HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1.

Most significantly, the ULT Wear have an extra button on the left earcup reserved for their headline feature: ULT Power Sound. This unlocks two sound modes – ULT 1 (Deep Bass) and ULT 2 (Attack Bass) – both of which dramatically change how the headphones sound.

Sony ULT Wear review: What did I like about them?

There’s plenty to like about the ULT Wear, starting with how light and comfortable they are. The padding on the headband’s underside felt nice and soft on the top of my head and the earcup cushions were supple and breathable. I found the level of clamping force perfectly judged, too; the ULT Wear remained in place no matter what I was doing, but never felt like they were applying too much pressure.

The ULT Wear use touch gestures on the right earcup and physical controls on the left, and I found both intuitive to use. The physical buttons were distinct enough from one another to ensure I knew which was which when wearing the headphones, and I particularly liked the swipe gestures for volume control. The “Quick Attention” gesture, which allows you to immediately reduce the volume and increase ambient awareness by covering the right earcup with your hand, is another welcome inclusion.

Active noise cancellation has been a strong suit of Sony headphones for a while now, and it’s highly effective on the ULT Wear. It’s not quite as good as on the WH-1000XM5, but I was taken aback by how much noise they sucked out of the cabin during flights to and from Barcelona, and even the most hectic journeys around London’s transport network struggled to pierce their shield of sonic attenuation.

To bolster their ability in this department, the ULT Wear support Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control. This is accessed via the Sony Headphones app and can switch the level of noise cancellation automatically based on whether you’re standing still, walking, running or on transport. You’re free to set the noise-cancelling level for each action and can even go a step further by adding automatic ANC and sound setting switching for specific locations. Having tested this feature on several pairs of Sony headphones, it never ceases to amaze me how well it works and how useful it can be.

As a bit of a tinkerer, I also appreciated the various customisation options found in the Sony Headphones app. Here, I was able to engage Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) upscaling technology, choose from various EQ presets and create my own, set up quick access to Spotify via one of the physical buttons, turn wear detection on or off, and a whole lot more.

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Sony ULT Wear review: What could they do better?

In default mode the ULT Wear sound pretty good, but they’re not Sony’s most refined effort. They lack the accuracy and balance of the WH-1000XM5, which is to be expected given the price difference, and they’re less able to communicate the nuances of complicated arrangements.

That’s not to say I found them an unenjoyable listen; they possess plenty of power and low-end presence, and that’s even before you engage their bass-boosted modes. The bassline on BCee’s “In The Moment”, featuring MC Tempza and Charlotte Haining, for instance, had a pleasing low-end punch and vocals that were articulated with decent clarity.

This is the kind of track that the ULT Wear’s ULT Power Sound modes were designed, for but my feelings on these were mixed. I rather liked ULT 1 (Deep Bass). It adds body and depth to the already robust reproduction of lower frequencies, but without overshadowing other elements of songs.

ULT 2 (Attack), which Sony describes as having “powerful and groovy bass”, takes things too far, however. There’s no disputing the force of the bass response, but it can sound muddy and distorted. While I can see some people digging this when they want to recreate the feeling of being in a club, the bass becomes so utterly dominant that it’s hard to enjoy the subtler aspects of music.

There are a couple of other areas in which the ULT Wear could be improved. The materials used in their construction feel a bit cheap, and I also found the touch controls a little inconsistent. I had to be very deliberate when tapping the right earcup, using only one finger, since a tap with two fingers or more would generally result in the ULT Wear ignoring my commands.

Sony ULT Wear review: Should you buy them?

If you’re the type of person for whom bass is the be-all and end-all, the Sony ULT Wear are worth considering. They have a great suite of features, including Sony exclusives such as Quick Attention, DSEE and Adaptive Sound Control, along with industry staples such as wear detection and Bluetooth multipoint pairing.

Their noise cancellation is very effective for the money, they’re comfortable to wear and they can be folded into a pocketable package. They don’t look half bad, either, despite feeling rather plasticky.

For most people, however, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are the smarter choice. While the ULT Wear’s bass modes will appeal to a specific audience, they don’t add much if your musical tastes extend beyond hard dance and hip hop. The XM4 may be a last-generation model but they deliver better sound, are Hi-Res certified and feel and look nicer. If you can afford the extra £50 outlay, I recommend picking them up instead.

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