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Headphone Sessions 7/30/2012: Active Noise-Cancelers... Is Polk the Pick of the Pack?

Polk Audio recently released two new active noise canceling headphones, the UltraFocus 6000 in-ear ($149) and the full-size UltraFocus 8000 ($349). [caption id="attachment_2475" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Polk Audio UltraFocus 6000"] Polk Audio UltraFocus 6000[/caption]

UltraFocus 6000

HeadRoom has not been the biggest believers in active noise cancelling in-ear monitors since we've always heard in-ear headphones as cleaner-sounding noise canceling alternatives due to the excellent (passive) isolation achieved with in-ear designs. The UltraFocus 6000 does provide a benefit over standard ear canal headphones with an easy ‘shallow fit into the ear -- which often equals improved comfort for folks who don't like the deep “ear plug” sensation. The odd downfall of this design is the induced noise that is produced by the active noise cancellation circuitry. The UF 6000 does a great job of canceling voices, loud speech and other mid/upper mid-range frequencies, but seems to allow some lower frequencies through. It’s still a good choice for air travel with included 2-prong airplane adapter and the ability to do away with the sound of a crying baby or the obnoxiously loud talker across the aisle. The UF6000 also feels durable enough to withstand the constant in-and-out of the pocket or carry-on that accompanies frequent travel. We found the Polk talk-through mic functions very well, making it easy to order your drink from the flight attendant without removing the earphones. We really like the flat 'planar' cable that resists tangles and feels sturdy enough to tow your neighbor's car out of the ditch in a Montana winter … Believe it or not, we love Montana winters even though it is sadly common practice to pull your neighbor out of the ditch! The 6000's have an overall bass-centric musical presentation and a good choice for listeners who prefer big, thumping bass or want enjoy in-flight movie soundtracks to their fullest. To the discerning audiophile, the Polk UF 6000 will sound distant in the highs and slightly hollow through the mid-range. For a slightly flatter frequency response with less pronounced bass, we recommend the Phiaton PS20NC at a similar price point. [caption id="attachment_2476" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000"] Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000[/caption]

UltraFocus 8000

Even though Bose isn't interested in working out a retail relationship with HeadRoom, we still give credit where credit is due. Until we put a pair of Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000's on, we've long considered the Bose QC-15 to be the top noise canceling headphone available. No longer. We now think the sound of the Polk UF 8000's is superior to the Bose cans in every way. The bass response is more detailed and controlled, the mids are lush yet defined and the highs are well extended. We feel the 8000's are easily worth their price just for sound quality and the active noise cancellation and telephony features are an added bonus. We can not extend enough kudos to the team at Polk Audio for the level of supreme audio engineering behind this headphone! As with the UF 6000 in-ears, we find the 8000 full-size headphone to be built like a tank while remaining stylish with a cool black carbon-fiber finish. The only negative we could find is the inability of the 8000 to play music without the active noise cancellation turned on. This means if your batteries go dead and you don't have a replacement set, you are done listening to music until you find fresh batteries. While our pal Tyll at InnerFidelity.com says they don't cancel noise as well as Bose, we found them to do an extremely good job with wind noise and low frequency rumble. You might not, however, get the isolation you're looking for in a noisy coffee shop since voices did sometimes penetrate the noise cancellation circuitry. With all of that said, HeadRoom finds the UltraFocus 8000 to be the best sounding active noise canceling headphones we've ever heard, hands down. Where so many others ramp up bass response and drown out the rest of the presentation, the 8000's remain clear, detailed, tight and punchy making them a great value in the active noise cancellation world. For more information on the Polk headphones and any other cans you may have questions about, call the HeadRoom sales team at 1-800-828-8184. A knowledgeable headphone expert is awaiting your call.

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