Sony ULT Wear review

Sony breaks from its winning wireless formula… with mixed results Tested at £180 / $200 / AU$440

Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones in hand against backdrop of flowerbed
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The ULT Wear may appeal to anyone wanting big sound and plenty of features without spending flagship money, but they sacrifice Sony’s signature sense of refinement and balance in the pursuit of excessive lower-end punch


  • +

    Forceful, full-bodied sound presentation

  • +

    Stacked with features

  • +

    Comfy and typically well-made


  • -

    Sound lacks subtlety, nuance and balance

  • -

    Bass-boosted profiles sound ridiculously overbearing

  • -

    Sonically outperformed by the cheaper WH-CH720N

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Sony’s promotional materials for the ULT Wear headphones (officially called the WH-ULT900N) are crammed with the sort of bold, enticing imagery and marketing buzzwords that seem slightly at odds with a company that we associate with prioritising substance over style. Words such as “power”, “vibes” and “style” accompany images of trendy youngsters posing in the streets or raving away the night, all with a pair of Sony’s latest bass-centric cans clamped over their ears or slung casually around their youthful necks.

None of this is by accident. Sony's latest wireless over-ear headphones are designed to cater specifically to a younger audience, an audience whose lives are soundtracked by Olivia Rodrigo, Bad Bunny and Travis Scott instead of Neil Young, Tom Petty or The Beatles. Harnessing Sony’s Integrated Processor V1 alongside a pair of 40mm driver units, the ULT Wear are, in the company’s own words, “designed for power”, particularly when it comes to the headphones’ handling of bass reproduction. 

All this talk of power and bass boosting reminds us of when Beats added heaps of bass to its headphones during the noughties, yet even Beats has toned things down in recent years in pursuit of a more balanced sound signature. It’s odd to see Sony head in a seemingly backwards direction, so have the iconic brand’s latest headphones sacrificed their sonic soul in pursuit of big, bold bass? 


Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones side on view on wooden table

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Costing £180 / $200 / AU$440 at launch, the Sony ULT Wear occupy a gaping hole within the brand’s range of over-ear wireless headphones. The premium WH-1000XM5 will cost you a substantial £380 / $399 / AU$550, with the next-cheapest pair of over-ear cans in Sony’s range coming in the shape of the excellent WH-CH720N (£99 / $129 / AU$259). Both of these models are, incidentally, current What Hi-Fi? Award winners in the wireless headphones category.

As we’ve griped about before, this isn’t a price point heaving with many viable contenders. The Sennheiser Accentum Plus currently sit at around £200 / $230 / AU$400, while we tested the standard Accentum Wireless model last year at £160 / $180 / AU$300, neither of which impressed us greatly during our respective testing.

Build & comfort

Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones in hand showing headband and lenticular logo

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Visually, the ULT Wear share a good deal of that handsome WH-1000XM5 DNA, sporting smooth, slightly cut-off earcups alongside a well-appointed adjustable headband to give the overall impression of a pair of headphones well-made. The new cans are a little weightier than their more premium counterparts, with chunky earcups that protrude from your head to such an extent that you can occasionally feel as though you’re sporting a pair of semi-industrial ear protectors. 

One of the key design features of Sony’s mid-range contenders is the on-ear “ULT” bass button which allows you to toggle between the provided presets on the fly, offering up a standard profile, ‘attack bass’ for more punch and ‘deep bass’ for a rounded, resonant lower-end signature. Further on-the-fly tweaks to things like volume, play/pause and your desired noise-cancelling mode can be made via the responsive on-cup touch controls. 

Despite their relatively large size, Sony’s substantial new cans certainly aren’t uncomfortable. To touch and hold they're a pleasure, with an easily adjustable headband that benefits from plenty of pleasing padding and a flexible, pliable construction. The earpads are equally well-serviced by nice levels of padded comfort, aiding an experience that generally feels snug, secure and reassuringly comfortable.

The ULT Wear add to their convenience credentials by neatly folding away, with a smooth hinge allowing the cups to swivel horizontally and fold upwards to meet the headband. The new units do distinguish themselves from other Sony models by proudly showcasing their large “ULT” button on the left earcup, while Sony’s iconic text logo on each side of the headband shimmers thanks to an eye-catching lenticular font. Hey, these are “cool” headphones, after all, so we’re happy to let Sony have its fun. 


Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones close up on earcup connections and controls

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Let’s start with battery life, mainly because it’s an area of real strength for Sony’s powerful pretenders. The ULT Wear offer around 50 hours of playback if you’re willing to refrain from using noise cancelling, and while those figures will drop to around 30 hours with active noise cancelling turned on, that's hardly dropping into disgraceful numbers. We’ve spent a lot of time playing with our review pair, and yet it hardly seems as though we’ve made a dent in the amount of time left in their overall lifespan.

Sony ULT Wear tech specs

Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Sony)

Bluetooth 5.2 

Codec Support AAC, SBC, LDAC

Noise-cancelling? Yes

Battery Life 30 hours playback (ANC on), 50 hours playback (ANC off)

Finishes x 3 (black, white, forest grey)

Weight 255g approx

Noise cancelling is also present and correct, and while it won’t quite hit the highest heights offered by the more premium Bose QC Ultra Headphones, the ULT Wear have nothing to be ashamed of. Thanks to that V1 processor, the comfy cans do a solid job in surrounding you with silence, and with two main modes – standard noise cancelling and ambient sound – both working to Sony’s typically high standards, the former blocking out whirring computer fans and effectively softening the click-clack of angry office keyboards. The brand’s Adaptive Sound Control feature, which tracks where you’re wearing your headphones and adjusts to optimise your noise cancelling experience, continues to impress when deployed through the ULT Wear.

Sony's LDAC Bluetooth codec – which lets you stream high-resolution audio up to 32-bit/96kHz via Bluetooth at up to 990kbps – is also supported, while Bluetooth Multipoint lets you switch between devices on the fly as you sustain simultaneous device connections. If you’re in a hurry, fast pair tech allows you to hook up to source more quickly if you're using a Google or Android device (sorry iPhone users). 

The fun doesn’t stop there. We might have expected Sony to save some of its fanciest features for its most expensive, premium models, yet there’s no sign of skimping here. The ULT Wear support 360 Reality spatial audio with compatible tracks on Tidal, while you’ll have to take some snaps of your ears and hook up to Sony’s Bravia XR TVs if you want to enjoy the personalised head tracking experience.

Like many of the over-ear cans in the Sony range, the ULT Wear offer support for Alexa voice control and Google Assistant, both of which are responsive and alert to your queries thanks to their seamless integration. On the subject of using your voice, the call quality of the ULT Wear is typically excellent, with chats over Zoom sounding clear, solid and with a surprising amount of tonal depth. 


Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones side-on view of earcup on wooden outdoor table

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Diving into OutKast’s Roses makes it clear that the marketing for the ULT Wear was more than empty hyperbole. Sony’s new arrivals deliver that much-hyped lower-end oomph in spades, furnishing the legendary duo’s snappy hip-hop anthem with more muscle than the All Blacks’ front row. Immediately it’s clear that the Sonys are keen on carrying the tune their own way, taking the track’s signature beat and opting for mounted heaps of pulsating, eardrum-thwacking force.

The ULT Wear’s approach is unabashedly unsubtle, with a sonic personality that opts for a palette of a few bright colours at the expense of any of those bothersome shades or hues. This can lead to an invigorating (and overwhelming) listening experience, with the Sonys furnishing Roses with a fullness and solidity that wallops you around the ears with their relentless, full-bodied personality. Sonic details and subtler textures do tend to fall by the wayside, though: Atticus Ross’ Crimson Sky from FX’s outstanding miniseries Shōgun builds drama through layers of strings fortified by pulsating drums, yet individual timbres are lost in favour of a more general sonic outline that rarely seems to be adequately filled in with texture or nuance.

Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones leaning up against plant pot on wooden table

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The same goes for true dynamic contrast. While it’s nice to hear Liars’ Big Appetite benefit from the robustness and forcefulness the ULT Wear duly provide, we’re not so keen on the lack of musical insight the track exposes. It’s a song with plenty of light and shade, from mysterious opening bass plucks to explosions of cymbal crashes and rising vocal wails, all of which the Sonys fail to communicate effectively as they bulldoze through with their insistent, one-note presentational style.

As you might expect, then, these are not cans with a sonic approach that’s conducive to all genres and to every artist in your entire Spotify catalogue. Pulsating, hard-hitting hip-hop – such as Wu-Tang’s Gravel Pit or Kendrick Lamar’s Money Trees – gains enthusiasm from the heft that the Sonys provide, but the subtleties of each respective vocal performance or any underlying instrumentation are lost within what feels like a sonic tornado. Heavy rock workouts need weight and force so that they punch through with sufficient conviction, but guitar-focused offerings from the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Deftones suffer from an overbearing sense of sonic overload that will leave even the hardiest of headbangers reaching for the aspirin. 

That’s before you’ve even touched that on-cup ULT toggle. The cans’ patented ‘ULT’ switch can be best compared with those bright red nuclear buttons you’d normally find housed on a submarine from a James Bond movie, in that it unleashes a cataclysmic explosion that should be avoided at all costs. The first ‘attack bass’ mode adds unnecessary weight to a pair of excessively bass-happy headphones, while ‘deep bass’ renders your music almost entirely unlistenable as it dials up the lower end to ludicrous, flabby extremes. It’s as though your music has been placed upon a giant blancmange, wobbling around without clarity, agility or solidity as your tunes struggle for purchase on this rumbly, unstable foundation. 

Even if you heed our warning and avoid the ULT button’s temptations, the Wear headphones will struggle with many rhythmic-dependant genres. Rick James’s Give It To Me Baby or Stevie Wonder’s Superstition are given a poor account as the Sony cans struggle to grab hold of each track’s funky rhythmic underpinning, and while Mint Royale’s joyous electronic anthem Show Me should soar with effervescent charm, the Sonys drag that infectious energy down with their weighty, heavy-footed nature. Rather ironically for a pair of headphones aimed at the lower registers of hip-hop and EDM, the ULT Wear are as nimble on the dance floor as a drunk uncle at a wedding.


Sony ULT Wear over-ear headphones on wooden table next to smartphone

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Sony ULT Wear are an oddity. If you were keen on grabbing Sony sound at the mid-range level, it might have appeared as though this was the answer to your whispered prayers. In terms of feature set and build quality, the ULT Wear do an exceptional job of shadowing the best that Sony has to offer, and while they aren’t quite as well furnished or as comfortable as the company’s flagship over-ears, they’re not far off.

If you’re expecting the new boys to follow on from Sony’s recent string of exceptionally balanced, musical and detailed headphones, though, you’re likely going to be disappointed by an effort that paints everything with a broad, simplistic and overbearing sonic brush. If you’re searching for the fabled sound on which Sony has built its Award-winning reputation, either swallow your pride and drop down to the cheaper, better-balanced and subtler WH-CH720N over-ears or just save up for a pair of the outstanding WH-1000XM5 instead. 


  • Sound 3
  • Features 5
  • Comfort 5


Read our review of the five-star Sony WH-CH720N 

Also consider the Award-winning Sony WH-1000XM5

Read our Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review

Best over-ear headphones: wired and wireless models tested by our experts

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