Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000
Directed Electronics Australia, www.polkheadphones.com.au
Superior noise-cancelling capability; silky-smooth sound; excellent build quality
Some noise leakage; NC must be turned on to hear audio
There’s been an explosion of options in the headphone world of late. It’s not that long ago that you pretty much bought Sennheiser for audio quality and Bose for noise- cancelling (NC) models, but now every man and his dog are making headphones and earphones.
While many are half-hearted, opportunistic forays into a growth market, and range from OK to forgettable, we’re also seeing plenty of welcome choice – particularly in the premium end of the market.
Polk Audio has spent four decades making highly regarded speakers and, more recently, car audio and headphones/earphones. These UltraFocus 8000 over-the-ear, noise- cancelling headphones are among its latest models.
The easiest way to describe them is that they combine the street cred of the Beats By Dr Dre headphones with the excellent active (powered) noise cancellation you get from Bose – and add superior audio quality. Polk has done this at the same $449 recommended retail price as the market-leading Bose QuietComfort 3 NC ’phones, and just $50 more than the Beats.
That street cred comes via circular earcups in matte black with silver highlights. The headband is made of carbon fibre, visible under a clear plastic cover. That carbon fibre goes a long way towards the lightness of the earphones, which weigh just 376g with the batteries in.
The padding is also light and soft, and there’s just the right amount of grip on the head, making the UF 8000s among the most comfortable headphones we’ve tried. They’re also solidly made, with an attention to detail lacking from many competitors.
On the right earcup is an On/Off switch and Apple-friendly audio controls arranged in a north-south- east-west pattern: Play/Pause/Call Answer (yes, you can take calls on your iPhone), Volume Up, Volume Down and Push-to-Hear Ambient Control. The latter mutes your music and amplifies outside sounds, so you can hear what’s going on without taking off the headphones.
Similar to the Dre’s, the left earcup cover twists off for the insertion of two AAA batteries (included). Hanging from this cup is a removable, tangle-free flat cable 1.4m in length. Also included on the connection side are adaptors for aeroplanes, Skype, 1/4in plug and Nokia phones.
After using both headphones side-by-side when writing this review, we’d say that the noise-cancellation capabilities of the UltraFocus 8000s are on a par with the Bose QC3s, which is high praise indeed, but have a little more of that vacuum feeling you get when the noise-cancelling circuits are turned on.
In keeping with Polk’s high-end history, these headphones have a relatively neutral sound – but with a nice hint of warmth – plus wonderful balance, smoothness and clarity, and a high degree of detail. Bass-lovers need not fret, though. The tight and responsive low-end definitely makes its presence felt, but not in an artificial way. Available at Myer and specialist retailers.
Polk has taken on both Beats and Bose, and won. The UltraFocus 8000s are hip, beautifully made, comfortable, great-sounding and able to cancel out high levels of noise. The smaller earcup size of the on-ear Bose QC3s are probably better when trying to catch a snooze on a plane, you can’t listen to music without the NC turned on and there’s some outgoing noise leakage, but in every other respect the Polks are our new favourites.