Sony's new ULT Wear headphones look cool – but I want an AirPods Max rival

Sony ULT Wear held in the hand
(Image credit: Sony)

This week Sony unveiled a trio of new audio products, including a new pair of mid-range wireless headphones, the ULT Wear

While the headphones are undeniably interesting, I couldn’t help wishing Sony had launched a fourth, more premium product at the event.

To be clear this isn’t a dig at the ULT Wear headphones. Their target mid-range price makes complete sense. 

For those that missed the original Sony news, the ULT Wear are a mid-range pair of headphones that sit below the five-star Sony WH-1000XM5 – which has been a staple entry in our best headphones, best wireless headphones and best ANC headphones guides for many moons. 

The only big compromises we’ve spotted so far are that some features, like head detection, have been cut, and it has a new control toggle that lets you adjust the level of bass they offer. Sony claims the control is needed as bass has been “boosted” in the headphone’s native setting to increase the ULT Wear’s appeal to younger listeners.

Is that cool? Potentially, given that they otherwise share the same core DNA as the XM5. Our staff writer Harry McKerrell said as much after he had a very early listen to the Sony ULT Wear at the headphones' launch event:

“While the ULT Wear aren't at the same price level, we still have high hopes for Sony's latest headphones, especially as they appear to share much of the DNA – both visually and internally – as the class-leading XM5,” he wrote in his ULT Wear hands-on.

Our reviewers are excited to get them into our listening rooms for testing, as a result.

The reason I’m complaining has nothing to do with the ULT Wear. I was just hoping  Sony would go upmarket and release a premium set of wireless headphones to take on the AirPods Max – which currently sit uncontested in the £500 / $500 wireless headphone market. 

The lack of AirPods Max competition is a shame in my mind as, if you count the number of people wearing them in the wild, it is clear there is a market for wireless headphones at this price. 

Some competition for Apple here would be welcome, especially given that some of the AirPods Max’s features don’t work if you’re not connecting them to an Apple source, like Spatial Audio.

Why am I calling out Sony specifically you ask? There are two reasons.

First, it’s because Sony is doing an amazing job with its headphones at the moment. The fact it won every prize in the What Hi-Fi? Awards' wireless headphones category is proof of that. 

Second, Sony also has a unique pedigree among big tech companies in the properly premium headphone market. Jump over to our five-star review of the Sony MDR-Z1R closed-back, wired headphones and you’ll see what I mean. The short version is Sony knows how to make good, premium headphones, and I'd love to see it bring some of this experience to the top tier of the wireless market.

In my mind, this puts Sony in a unique position to take Apple head-on and is a key reason I wish it had punched up as well as down at its latest launch. 


These are the best Sony headphones we’ve tested

Check out our picks of the best wireless earbuds

We rate the best Apple AirPods

Alastair Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Alastair is What Hi-Fi?’s editor in chief. He has well over a decade’s experience as a journalist working in both B2C and B2B press. During this time he’s covered everything from the launch of the first Amazon Echo to government cyber security policy. Prior to joining What Hi-Fi? he served as Trusted Reviews’ editor-in-chief. Outside of tech, he has a Masters from King’s College London in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, is an enthusiastic, but untalented, guitar player and runs a webcomic in his spare time. 

  • 2wires40
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    The ULT Wear makes complete sense, but Sony needs to bring its headphone magic up a price point as well

    Sony's new ULT Wear looks cool – but I want an AirPods Max rival : Read more
    Would that not marginalise the XM5s? I'm interested in the ULT model - they're a bit more affordable. I imagine Sony don't want to produce a perceived competitor to Apple's product because they already have a very good set of choices at all price points up to and including the XM5 (and presumably 6 when it comes?) whereas Apple are only interested in the highest price the sheep will pay.