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A photo of the button control cluster of the Sony ULT WEAR.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys

Sony ULT WEAR review

Press ULT to rattle skull.
By

Published onApril 11, 2024

8.2
ULT WEAR
The bottom line
Though Sony is well-known for making fan-favorite headphones, the Sony ULT WEAR goes too far with its bass. It's possible this will change in an update, but at launch the sound quality isn't where it needs to be.

ULT WEAR

Though Sony is well-known for making fan-favorite headphones, the Sony ULT WEAR goes too far with its bass. It's possible this will change in an update, but at launch the sound quality isn't where it needs to be.
Product release date
2024
Price
$199.99
Dimensions
Ear cup: 40 x 65mm
Cable length: meters to nearest 0.1m
Weight
253g
Waterproof
Noise isolation
What we like
Comfort
360 Reality Audio
ANC
Touch controls
What we don't like
Frequency response is either very bassy, unnecessarily bassy, or ridiculously bassy.
No audio over USB
8.2
SoundGuys Rating
7.4
User Rating
Rating Metric
Our Rating
User Rating
Isolation / Attenuation
7.6
7.8
8.0
Active Noise Cancelling
8.4
7.7
8.0
Durability / Build Quality
6.9
6.3
6.0
Value
7.7
7.8
8.0
Design
8.0
7.4
7.0
Connectivity
9.5
7.8
8.0
Portability
7.5
5.3
5.0
Battery Life
9.9
7.9
8.0
Feature
9.0
7.8
8.0
Comfort
9.0
8.0
8.0
MDAQS rating
Learn more
Timbre
4
Distortion
3.7
Immersiveness
4.8
Overall
4

Sony is famous for making fan-favorite headphones that seem to be named using the same system as gaming monitors. However, the company is trying to shed the past by debuting a range of personal audio products that are much easier to discuss: the ULT line. But are the new products — the Sony ULT WEAR headphones in particular— any good? Let’s take a listen.

Editor’s note: this is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.

About this Sony ULT WEAR review: We tested the Sony ULT WEAR over six days. The headphone firmware was version 1.0.8, and the Sony Headphones Connect app ran version 10.4.1. The company provided the unit for this review.

The Sony ULT WEAR is best suited for commuters who want good ANC but aren’t willing to shell out for the highest-end options. The headphones should also do well for those with slightly larger heads and bass heads.

What’s it like to use Sony ULT WEAR?

The Sony ULT WEAR is a pretty bland-looking set of headphones, save for the holographic-shiny foil adorning the logos and the “ULT” button on the side of the ear cup. The ear cups are matte plastic outside, with a yoke that folds flat into recesses.

A photo of the Sony ULT WEAR sitting atop a carbon fiber surface.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
The Sony ULT WEAR look a lot like the WH-1000XM5.

The 40mm wide ear pads accommodate more ear shapes, which is nice. I would have liked better-angled drivers but will take more room around my ears in headphones. The padding is ensconced in faux leather, which is pretty soft but traps heat like nobody’s business. It’s not so much a problem in the winter, but you probably want to avoid going running with these headphones. The Sony ULT WEAR should be able to take some sweat now and again, but there is no listed ingress protection rating.

You won’t notice any discomfort over a few hours of listening at your desk. However, this assumes you’re wearing the headphones correctly, as they can slide around a little if you don’t have a good fit. This will also affect the ANC and sound quality, so it’s essential to get it right.

A close-up photo of the Sony ULT WEAR's enlarged ear pads.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
The ear pads of the Sony ULT WEAR are slightly wider than those of other headphones, allowing those with larger ears a little reprieve from pinna pressure.

For frequent travelers, the Sony ULT WEAR fold up and stow in their flat case. Inside the case are spaces for a 1.3m long 3.5mm jack cable and a USB cable for charging. However, there is no airplane adapter.

A photo of the Sony ULT WEAR headphones, foleded up atop a desk.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
The Sony ULT WEAR headphones fold up for easier storage.

The band has a fair bit of clamping force but remains comfortable thanks to the well-padded area where it meets your skull. However, if you have longer hair, you might find your locks can get caught if you’re not careful.

How do you control the Sony ULT WEAR?

A photo of the button control cluster of the Sony ULT WEAR.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
A prominent button that you’ll likely not use all that often.

The Sony ULT WEAR is controlled by the touch controls on the right ear cup and a handful of buttons on the left ear cup. The power and ANC/Ambient mode buttons do exactly what you’d expect them to, and the touch controls of the Sony ULT WEAR are virtually identical to the touch gestures on the other Sony headphones with this layout.

Sony ULT WEAR touch controls:

GestureAction
Swipe up / down
Volume up / down
Swipe forward / backward
Track forward / back
Double-tap
Pause / Play
Cup with hand
Passthrough
Long press
Voice assistant

However, new to the ULT line of products is a huge “ULT” button, inlaid with a holographic foil to catch your eye. Though debuting new branding is notoriously difficult to stick, I don’t see the ULT thing going very far when all it amounts to is adding a ton of bass that negatively impacts my music. Luckily, the button is far enough away from the more important control cluster so that you won’t be pressing it accidentally.

Should you use the Sony Headphones Connect app for the Sony ULT WEAR?

If you’d like to listen to Sony’s 360 Reality Audio content with head-tracking, EQ your headphones, adjust the ANC, or stay on top of firmware updates, you’ll need to install the Sony Headphones Connect app in the App Store or Play Store. Though, unfortunately, modern headphones need software support for their complete feature set, it’s one of those tradeoffs you must make. Even if sending personal data to another company makes you squeamish, you’ll need to open access to certain things like your camera (used to take photos of your ears for the 360 Reality Audio) if you want your headphones to be fully functional.

How do the Sony ULT WEAR connect?

The Sony ULT WEAR connects to your source via a Bluetooth 5.2 connection that supports SBC, AAC, LDAC, and (after a firmware update in the future) LC3. If you swap devices often, you’ll be happy to note that the Sony ULT WEAR supports Multipoint.

A photo of the ports of the Sony ULT WEAR.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
You can connect your Sony headphones to a source via 3.5mm TRS or Bluetooth 5.2.

For wired audio enthusiasts, the headphones can also use an included cable with 3.5mm TRS connectors to pipe audio to your ears the analog way. Should you go this route, you will not need an external amp, as the headphones handle the amplification. Unfortunately, unlike many current headphones, the Sony ULT WEAR does not support audio over a USB-C connection. Though that’s not a deal-breaker for many, the USB-C connector is increasingly the main conduit for wired listening when necessary. While it may not be a big deal today, it may be in the future.

  1. Enable Bluetooth on your source device and scan.
  2. Use the power button on the Sony ULT WEAR to turn on, and hold for 3 seconds until you hear the pairing mode start
  3. On your source device, tap the Sony ULT WEAR in the available devices list

This should be enough, but if you’d like to use the advanced features, you’ll need to use the Sony Headphones Connect app.

How long does the Sony ULT WEAR battery last?

In our standardized battery test, the Sony ULT WEAR lasted 32 hours and 35 minutes, playing back music peaking at 75dB. This is pretty good, and it will last you three weeks’ worth of commutes (assuming 2 hours per day) or four full workdays. Limiting how much you charge your headphones will keep them out of the landfill, so this is a respectable performance here.

According to Sony, charging the headphones for 10 minutes nets a 5-hour playback time.

How well do the Sony ULT WEAR cancel noise?

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The Sony ULT WEAR do a decent job of noise attenuation. With a combination of active cancelation and isolation they consistently attenuate more than 25dB of noise at frequencies above 80Hz: nothing to sniff at. It’s not going to compete with the highest-end options, but it’s close enough that you won’t find much to complain about. These are a decent option for commutes or flights.

Cupping your right ear will enable the ambient sound option for a short time so you can hear your surroundings. Sony’s implementation of this is quite good and valuable in context.

How do the Sony ULT WEAR sound?

The Sony ULT WEAR are bassy, and not in a good way — so I highly encourage you to play with the equalizer if you pick up these headphones.

Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Scores (MDAQS)

The chart below shows how the sound of the Sony ULT WEAR was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sony ULTWEAR WH-ULT900N in SBC DEFAULT mode. The Timbre score is 4, The Distortion score is 3.7, the Immersiveness score is 4.8, and the Overall Score is 4).
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
An impressively high immersiveness score is helped out by an emphasized bass response.

The Sony ULT WEAR are built for bass, and bass typically contributes towards high immersiveness scores. But even though MDAQS is very tolerant of heavy bass emphasis, there are limits to what our virtual panel of a few hundred listeners will tolerate, and the overall sound of the Sony ULT WEAR reflects this. A poorer Timbre score points to a default sound that is okay for most, even if it won’t win any audiophile praise.

Timbre (MOS-T) represents how faithfully the earbuds reproduce the frequency spectrum and temporal resolution (timing information).

Distortion (MOS-D) represents non-linearities and added noise: higher scores mean cleaner reproduction.

Immersiveness (MOS-I) represents perceived source width and positioning: how well virtual sound sources are defined in three-dimensional space.

See here for an explanation of MDAQS, how it works, and how it was developed.

Reviewer’s notes

Editor’s note: this review uses a hover-enabled glossary to describe sound quality based on a consensus vocabulary. You can read about it here.

Objective Measurements

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Even with default settings, the bass and sub-bass are quite strongly emphasized over the highs — which are a little under-emphasized outside a peak near 8kHz. While this is a pretty expected result coming from a lineage of headphones branded “Xtra Bass,” there’s a point at which this needs to stop, and we’ve passed it. We’re not huge fans.

To a casual listener, the Sony ULT WEAR will sound bassy and a bit dull, lacking detail like guitar picking or snare attack. It’s a strange sound, but it was popular even ten years ago. Though you can address this to a limited degree with the app’s equalizer, there’s only so much you can do. I didn’t have much luck, as you can only adjust so far with a slider.

ULT 1 EQ Preset

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Tapping the ULT button once will net you a boost in the sub-bass, which will kick up everything under 100Hz by about 5dB over the already-overemphasized lows. Unsurprisingly, this makes very low sounds like explosion rumbles, kick drums, proximity effect, ground loops and the like very, very loud. If there are a lot of these things in your music or movies, it will be more challenging to make out what people are saying over these sounds.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sony ULTWEAR WH-ULT900N in SBC ULT1 mode. The Timbre score is 3.9, The Distortion score is 3.6, the Immersiveness score is 4.8, and the Overall Score is 4).
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
The default sound is pretty bassy already; adding more further declines the timbre score.

ULT 2 EQ Preset

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Nope.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sony ULTWEAR WH-ULT900N in SBC ULT2 mode. The Timbre score is 3.1, The Distortion score is 3.6, the Immersiveness score is 4.9, and the Overall Score is 3.6).
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
The insane sub-bass tanks the timbre score here.

I’m generally pretty tolerant of weird frequency response decisions, given that my job is to match headphones to the needs of all sorts of headphone buyers, but the ULT 2 preset is something I could not listen to for long. A fair amount of kick and tom impacts will end up horribly loud, even at normal listening volumes. If outside noise gets through in this range, I can conceive of this setting being helpful — but you have worse problems at that point.

Can you use the Sony ULT WEAR for phone calls?

A photo of the Sony ULT WEAR's vent.
Windscreens for ANC, phone calls.

Sony borrowed some of the design decisions from the WH-1000XM5 to create a wind-screened beamforming mic array for the Sony ULT WEAR. But it’s always much better to hear how it works for yourself, so be sure to listen to all the samples below.

Sony ULT WEAR microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

How does the microphone sound to you?

196 votes

Sony ULT WEAR microphone demo (Office conditions):

Sony ULT WEAR microphone demo (Street conditions):

Sony ULT WEAR microphone demo (Windy conditions):

Sony ULT WEAR microphone demo (Reverberant space):

Disappointingly, those windscreens are not effective. Additionally, the microphones have a habit of picking up nearby sounds, though that’s hardly rare.

Should you buy the Sony ULT WEAR?

Unless you like super-bassy headphones — and lots of people do — you shouldn’t buy the Sony ULT WEAR just yet. But you should definitely keep them on your radar. The headphones nail the build quality, features, and interface even if the sound isn’t where it needs to be, and these cans don’t quite make the sale at $200. They’re very comfortable and fully-featured, but could be a lot better with some software love.

Sony ULT WEARSony ULT WEAR
Sony ULT WEAR
Comfortable • Long battery life • Immersive sound
MSRP: $199.99
Press ULT to rattle skull
The Sony ULT WEAR headphones are a new generation of folding, wireless headphones with ANC and a big, comfy design. Good connectivity options and a focus on immersive sound are the key selling features.

Though they fell short in our sound quality testing, new firmware might improve matters. Even though we reviewed these headphones with firmware that made it to production (v1.0.8), it’s unlikely to be final — a typical risk when reviewing headphones that haven’t been released yet.

What should you get instead of the Sony ULT WEAR?

As far as direct competitors go, you’ll see a lot of ink spilled comparing the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Plus ($217.95 at Amazon) to the Sony ULT WEAR. And for good reason: these headphones are similarly priced, similarly performant (as far as ANC goes, at least), and equally featured. However, the Sennheiser headphones sound better than the Sony ULT WEAR. The Sony cans can’t use their USB-C for audio, whereas the Sennheisers can. Though the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Plus is $30 more than the Sony headphones, they represent a better value overall if you don’t care about spatial audio.

A photo of the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Plus' ear pads.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
Decently large and soft ear pads make for a comfortable fit.

If you’d like to save yourself a couple of bucks, you could also look to the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless ($179.95 at Amazon), as it’s $20 cheaper than the Sony ULT WEAR and very similar to it in many ways. However, it does have slightly poorer ANC and isn’t as bassy — though we posit that’s a good thing.

Frequently asked questions

No.

Yes. See above for samples.

I wouldn’t use them for this purpose.

Yes.

You would need to use a wired connection, but yes.

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