Polk UltraFocus 8000 Review

AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,460
edited September 2012 in Headphones
Well I've had these for a day now and they have a solid 24 hours of burn in on them, so I figured I'd do a quick review on them. The sound really hasn't changed much over the first 24 hours so I doubt things will change much from here on out so my thoughts shouldn't change much.

These come in a nice large box with a flap that closes magnetically. It's a very nice sturdy box and you can tell that some effort went into designing it. Upon opening the box you're presented with the case with headphones enclosed and underneath a cardboard insert you'll find all the accessories and the 'manual'. I use the word manual loosely because it is very small and has very small print, you'll need reading glasses or eagle vision to read it. These are headphones though right, do you really need a manual? Well, when looking at all the adapters they include you realize the manual may be helpful, except that it's not. There are several adapters in little mini ziplock backs that are impossible to open for someone with larger hands. Luckily I didn't need any of the adapters, I just needed the one cable to connect to my source and I'm good. I don't need no stink in' manual, put the batteries in, turn the things on, push each of the four buttons to see what they do, and I was off to the races. I gotta admit though, there was a level of frustration involved with the unboxing experience, who knows maybe I just had a bad day at work. When compared with something like the B&W P5, the unboxing experience was lacking a bit, Polk may want to give their packaging a second look.

Design and build quality
OK, first impression out of the box, these things are ginormous! More to come on that. I'm not an engineer, but these appear to be very well built and seem like they'll last for a very long time. Of the materials used I can identify aluminum, stainless steel, and what appears to be carbon fiber, high quality plastic, and pleather on the headband and ear pads (I say pleather, don't know what it actually is but does not smell like real leather). You set these next to pair of Beats and it's no contest, these win hands down. They're more comparable to my higher end cans and the PSB phones that I'm basically comparing these directly with. The comfort level on these is unreal, very very comfortable. It's like you have pillows resting on both of your ears. The clamping force is decent, tight enough that they stay put but not too tight, it's basically on par with my HD600 - so less than a Grado but more than an AT or Beyer. My ears do touch the middle of the driver enclosure just slightly, it's not a problem for me at all but if you have Will Smith ears that may be an issue. I have an average size mellon and ears. The looks are more subjective and I'll let everyone else decide on that from the pictures online. Did I mention these are big? They are over ear full size headphones. The noise canceling might imply that they're portable, and they do come with a case and would travel well, but these ain't going in your pocket. In comparison, they are bigger than my HD600 but smaller than my HD800. They're not HUGE, they're just big for a portable headphone.

I'll skip all the background details, but my requirements are that i need something that runs well off a portable device, doesn't leak a lot of sound, has some isolation, and has great sound quality. Enter the UltraFocus 8000. It meets all those requirements on paper, so how does it sound?

In a word, fantastic! My reference for un-amped headphones are the Sennheiser HD25, V-Moda M80 and the PSB M24U, all of which are excellent performers (I'm not including all the IEMs out there). The 8000 beats most of them, more on that in a bit. First some observations on the sound.

I'll start with the bas because that's easy, un-freaking-believable! I don't mean like Beats thumping bloated unbelievable, I mean really really good. It has great control, excellent low extension, and great punch. In headphones like this you typically find bass that will get one or two of those right, but the Polk nails all 3 of them, and not just by a little. On the Dark Knight soundtrack the first track "Why So Serious" has some serious low end a little more than 3 minutes in that is very difficult to reproduce well. Most headphones either don't attempt to reproduce it at all and sorta wimp out there, or try to reproduce it and can't handle it and it turns into a muddy slurred mess. These headphones reproduce it effortlessly. If I had to criticize I'd almost want to see it dialed back a little bit, it can be a little much in orchestral music especially.

The mids and highs are very evenly blended and sound superb. It's almost like my ears are playing tricks on me, I'd really like to see a FR curve on this headphone. It has great resolution and detail but yet has a somewhat laid back sound to it. Putting it in speakers terms, tis definitely sounds like more like the LSi than the RT series. The soundstage is very wide for a closed headphone. I've never had the ear for soundstage depth, so can't comment there. This is the most trouble I've ever had describing the sound of a headphone because I typically zero in on their weaknesses. It just sound freaking fantastic. In criticizing, I'd say that the sound can get a little too syrupy at times, as in these are almost too laid back for my tastes. I've yet to find a headphone that's perfectly neutral that still sounds funs though, and I'll take a little too laid back over a little too bright any day of the week.

In comparison to the models I mentioned, the sound is buch bigger on the Polk than on the Senn or the V-Moda. IMO that's not a fair comparison though, as those are both portable travel phones and these are much bigger. Do I think it sounds better than both of those, yes. Is that a fair comparison, no. In comparison to the PSB it's a much closer call. PSB has a very good headphone on their hands and I've enjoyed my pair immensely. I think I'm going to need some more time to formulate a final opinion there. The PSBs are a little more forward sounding, which at times works to their advantage and at times to their detriment. So far I seem to prefer most genres of music on the Polk, but prefer the genre I listen to the most (orchestral, mostly movie scores) on the PSB as at times the bass of the Polks can get in the way of really intricate moving pieces. If I had to pick a pair to have on my head 8 hours a day without taking them off it would be the Polks, if I had to pick a pair to listen to Barbarian Horde from Gladiator it would be the PSB. Thankfully I don't have to choose.

I should also put things into perspective just a bit. My 'real' headphone setups blow these away. Even my HD600 DAC'd and AMP'd as it lists in my signature sounds better than these by a mile, and it's a cheaper headphone. But it's connected to another grand of gear and doesn't meet 3 of my 4 criteria. It's absurd to even mention the Polk in the same sentence as my home setup, but wanted to provide some frame of reference. The Polk is a great headphone for what it is and may be the best option given my criteria, but a reference headphone it is not.

Final Verdict
A well built, extremely comfortable, superb sounding headphone.
Post edited by AsSiMiLaTeD on


  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,460
    edited July 2012
    A couple notes I forgot.

    These do a decent but not great job at noise canceling, certainly good enough for most people. And the noise canceling has to be on for them to work.

    The push to talk feature is nice, where you can push a button that turns off ANC and amplifies your surrounding so you can communicate without taking these off.
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 0
    edited July 2012
    Nice to have feedback. How was Ultrafocus 6000 IEM's sound isolation/cancelling comparison? I would assume that being engineered as noise isolation/cancellation, that it would do it's intended purpose. I have tried several brands and the "it kinda works" seems to be the standard. My view is this. If it is designed to cancel/isolate noise, that should be the main objective and the sound quality should come second.

    Edit: Forgot to add. The PSB M24U's have the built in amp, so I would imagine the 8000's pretty impressive.

  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,460
    edited July 2012
    I'd originally planned to get the 6000 as well but ended up not getting it, I already have a good pair of Shure IEMs and I don't even use those so I don't need another pair sitting around collecting dust.

    I disagree with your assertion on the importance of noise cancellation though, that it should be the primary design point. Everybodyd in the industry knows that Bose has the best noise cancelling by a mile, the general approach seems to be to avoid trying to even compete with that and instead focus on improving the sound quality.

    If you want the ultimately noiise cancelling get the Bose, other companies like Polk and PSB are trying to make a product that is 'geed enough' at noise cancelling but with better sound to appeal to people like me.
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,460
    edited July 2012
    OK, so after a couple days in the office of wearing them all day I have an update. Unfortunately I'm going to be returning these to Polk, for a couple of reasons.

    The first reason is not really Polk's fault, but I can't deal with the noise canceling for long periods of time. And it's not that it's bad, if anything it's too good. I was not aware of this when buying them, but you must have the NC engaged to listen to these, there is no passive. Apparently this is fairly common with NC phones, and I guess should be somewhat implied that if I'm buying NC phones I want NC. The battery concern isn't an issue because I can just always cary spares in the case, the bigger issue for me is that noise canceling really messes with my head. It's nice to have it on a plane, but for all day listening at work I just can't deal with it. It sounds weird I know, but it throws off my senses and leaves me, well I guess disoriented is the best way to describe it. I didn't really want NC cans, I bought these more for the sound (and they excel at that) and SOME isolation, but the NC is just too intense for me. If these had a passive mode the second issue below wouldn't really be enough to sway me from them...

    Second, and let me say again that the sound on these is superb, I find that the bass is just a bit much at times. This became more apparent around the 80 hour mark. I'd say that about 75% of my music listening is movie scores and similar orchestral music and, especially with bass heavy scores like a lot of the Zimmer work, sometimes the bass can get in the way of the sound a bit. With all other forms of music this isn't a problem, but with this music there is a lot of sustained low end throughout the whole piece like a driving continually meandering bass line that never lets up and it can overpower the rest of the music at times. In music where the low end has a beat (which is most of what 99% of people listen to) these perform excellently, so I want to make sure that distinction is clear.

    Again, I could live with #2 because it rarely becomes an issue. But the noise canceling thing though (which I don't consider to be a defect so much as just the way they work) is a deal breaker for me so sadly these will have to go back. It's a shame, they are an excellent sounding headphone and I'd highly recommend them to someone looking for a NC headphone.
  • newrivalnewrival Posts: 2,016
    edited July 2012
    Everybodyd in the industry knows that Bose has the best noise cancelling by a mile,

    simply not true. I'm guessing you haven't demoed the sennheiser pxc-450. superior to bose noise cancellation by a considerable margin. And the SQ is very good
    design is where science and art break even.
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,460
    edited July 2012
    I've not tried the 450, but it's hard to imagine better than dead silent. With the Bose on I simply cannot hear anything in the outside world, how's it get better than that?
  • vcwatkinsvcwatkins Posts: 1,606
    edited July 2012
    Thanks for the nice write-up.

    I agree with you on the NC and Bose (haven't tried the Senn model newrival mentioned). Due to size, I'm not sure I would get the Polks for travel. I have an old Sony NC6 on-ear I still use for air travel. They're small with boosted bass, very good sound/$ ratio, will play without NC, and I don't worry a second about banging them up.

    I thought I would give the Polks a try if I can find a deal on them. I do not have the budget to buy something like the HD800, but I think I may try the HD600 and wait for a deal to come along on the Polks.

    Den: Rega RP6 (mods) * AT33PTGII * Jolida jd9 (mods) * Roon * Sonore Ultra Rendu (LPS-1) * Lush USB * Chord QuteEX (Pardo) * Joule-Electra LA-100 iii * Sunfire Sig II * PSAudio p3 * MIT S3 * Polk SRS 1.2 (mods)
    Office Rip: Music Hall MMF-5.1se * Speed Box II * DL103r * Parks Budgie SUT * PS Audio NPC * Roon * Sonore microRendu * Meridian Explorer ii * Dayens Ampino * PSA Dectet * MIT s3 * Hartley Reference Mini-Tower
    Beach Gameroom: MH mmf2.1 * Denon dl-110 * Belles Phono 20a * Sonos * Arcam rDac * Belles 20a * Pass Aleph 30 * PSAudio Dectet * MIT s3 * Revel m22
  • newrivalnewrival Posts: 2,016
    edited July 2012
    The Bose QuietComfort 15's are Bose's best and they are good, but they are not dead quiet on an airplane. On a flight to Portland for a wedding, there were 4 different noise canceling headphones amongst a group of us: audio tecnica ANC7 (mine), Bose QC3, JVC something, Senn PXC-450. The JVC's were the least effective, followed by the ATs, and everyone that tried agreed that the Senns edged out the Bose on NC and SC. The difference between the senn and the bose was not as dramatic as between the bose and the AT/JVC, but it was still very noticeable.
    design is where science and art break even.
  • vcwatkinsvcwatkins Posts: 1,606
    edited July 2012
    Interesting. Will look closer at those for travel. Looks like they fold flat too which is a pretty big advantage over the Polks (for my use anyway).
    Den: Rega RP6 (mods) * AT33PTGII * Jolida jd9 (mods) * Roon * Sonore Ultra Rendu (LPS-1) * Lush USB * Chord QuteEX (Pardo) * Joule-Electra LA-100 iii * Sunfire Sig II * PSAudio p3 * MIT S3 * Polk SRS 1.2 (mods)
    Office Rip: Music Hall MMF-5.1se * Speed Box II * DL103r * Parks Budgie SUT * PS Audio NPC * Roon * Sonore microRendu * Meridian Explorer ii * Dayens Ampino * PSA Dectet * MIT s3 * Hartley Reference Mini-Tower
    Beach Gameroom: MH mmf2.1 * Denon dl-110 * Belles Phono 20a * Sonos * Arcam rDac * Belles 20a * Pass Aleph 30 * PSAudio Dectet * MIT s3 * Revel m22
  • JohnCWillisJohnCWillis Posts: 32
    edited August 2012
    ^^^ oh boy I am excited to get these babies. From the sounds of it, it has everything I have dreamed of in a headphone. +1 Polk for never cutting a corner.
    RTI12's cherry
    Adcom GFA-555 driving them
    CSI3 cherry
    FXI3's white
    Yamaha SW315 sub
    Onkyo SR876
    Nintendo 64
    Vizio 55" 120hz
    Ultrafocus 8000 :eek::cool:
  • jkg123jkg123 Posts: 114
    edited September 2012
    Very nice review, Man i want a pair
  • davevfxdavevfx Posts: 5
    edited September 2012
    Nice review I'll certainly take a look at these .
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