Ultrasone’s iCans feature the same S-Logic technology that prompted us to name the company’s Proline 750 headphones to our 2006 Best of the Best list. However, as wonderful as they sound with an iPod, they can’t displace the Shure E4g earbuds in their respective Best of the Best category.
Yes, we’re comparing apples to oranges, but both sets of phones are designed to be paired with personal music players. And if you find in-the-ear phones like the E4gs uncomfortable, we would strongly encourage you to check out the iCans: They’re light, they’re comfortable, and they’re considerably cheaper than Shure’s pricey earbuds. They also sound great; they just don’t sound as great—or as loud—as the E4gs.
Instead of piping music directly down your ear canal, Ultrasone’s S-Logic technology uses an array of transducers inside the ear cup to bounce sound off the folds in your outer ear. The result isn’t exactly surround sound, at least not in the sense that you’ll perceive audio events to be originating from specific locations in three-dimensional space, but the effect is much more natural than what you get from conventional headphones.
Typical headphones—and this goes for earbuds, too—tend to overemphasize stereo separation. Musical instruments and voices come from the extreme left or extreme right; if they’re perfectly centered in the mix, they sound as though they’re originating from smack in the middle of your head. With Ultrasone’s S-Logic, sound waves bounce off your pinnae before traveling down your ear canal, just as they would in a normal listening environment. They arrive at your eardrums microseconds apart, enhancing your perception of depth and separation. Instead of hearing the band on either side of your head, you hear it all around your head.
In light of the valid concerns about headphone-induced hearing loss, it’s probably unwise for us to wish for louder headphones. But we will anyway: The iCans just didn’t rock our casbah—or should we say our cabeza? Hmm…maybe it’s time to invest in a headphone amp.