Ultrasone claims that its HFI-15G headphones employ a breakthrough technology that convincingly simulates surround sound without using digital signal processing. As the story goes, the HFI-15G's angled 1.57-inch drivers reflect sound around inside your ear, leveraging your anatomy to create the perception that you're in the middle of the action. Unfortunately, the HFI-15G ($100 list) set is relatively pricey, and--surprise, surprise--doesn't quite live up to the marketing hype.
The HFI-15G has an all-black design with the exception of some highly visible yellow branding copy and a couple of gold accents. Although small enough for portable applications, the HFI-15G lacks a folding headband and couldn't play very loud with our portable MP3 player. When we first tried on the HFI-15G, the lightweight 'phones seemed quite comfortable, but after about 20 minutes, the terry cloth-like earpiece covers began to make us itch, and the humidity level around our ears got pretty high.
Ultrasone deserves credit for the single-sided, long, 9.3-foot cord, which makes for easy connections around back of a desktop computer. The 'phones have a gold-plated miniplug, but Ultrasone supplies a 1/8-to-1/4-inch adapter to accommodate connections with home audio gear, such as an A/V receiver.
Performance results are a mixed bag with the HFI-15G. When we listened to CDs and MP3 files, we weren't all that impressed. Partially as a result of the headphones' diffuse sound, the music seemed too distant, and we couldn't hear much texture in the individual instruments. In the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo, explosions lacked bass presence, and the surround-sound simulation didn't help us track enemies any better.
Playing DVDs through the headphones was a more positive experience. In Pulp Fiction, the rumble of motorcycles at Jack Rabbit Slim's created a more enveloping environment than we heard when listening to the same scene with comparable standard headphones, such as our AKG K-55 set. But the HFI-15G's weak bass presence again proved to be a stumbling block in action intensive movies such as Jurassic Park, where the T. rex's thunderous footsteps didn't sound big enough. All in all, we've heard better surround-sound simulations, and we still prefer the generally superior performance of standard stereo headphones.