Polk Audio Launches Its UltraFit Headphone Line Page 2

I first listened to the on-ear 2000s; which I found a bit difficult at first until I tried the shearling donut-style pads, despite the warm weather. After I'd figured that out, a secure fit was simple enough to achieve. Once in place I found there wasn't a lot of isolation (your mileage, of course, may vary), which impacted bass extension a bit, but given the intended application that might not be a bad thing. Maybe a bit thin-sounding, but they were an enjoyable listen, with good reproduction of the range of material that was on tap, from Medeski, Martin, and Wood's dense organscapes to Diana Krall's pipes. The 2000s aren't a critical-listening device, of course, but if you're a fan of this style of headphone design (and a lot of runners are), it's worth a look.

The in-ear 3000s include an integrated Kevlar flexible earhook/strain relief mechanism that (in addition to the huge variety of included tips) makes getting a tight seal simple right out of the box. The system also manages to keep the 'phones in place even if you inadvertently catch the cord on something - handy not just for athletes, but for anybody who wears in-ears on the go.

The 3000 is overall a very nice-sounding unit, especially at the just sub-$100 price point. It's certainly a bass-forward sound (popular these days, for sure, but also, I'd imagine, essential for a headphone that's meant to be used outdoors and at play) with excellent, impactful bass response that's certainly dominant but doesn't cloud up the midrange unreasonably - vocals, guitars, and strings still sit well even given the heavy bottom end. Electronic kicks and basses obviously have a home here (the sub-friendly rhythm tracks of Das Racist's new Relax came through loud and clear, without overpowering the wordplay), but there 'phones are surprisingly versatile.

I haven't done an extended listening session with the 3000s, but he top-of-range UltraFits did well on some pretty challenging material - Grails' "More Extinction" (from their excellent, all-instrumental, avant-rock workout Burning off Impurities), as a case in point, begins with an imposing organ drone in the bass that I've had real trouble with on a few very bass-forward headphones, where it turns to soup, washing out the delicate harpsichord and sound collage above. On the UltraFits, I had no trouble hearing all of the instrumentation during these passages clearly. The 'phones handled the complex instrumental soundscaping of the rest of that album admirably, and shone on dense, guitar-heavy tunes like Ladytron's "Sugar" (from Witching Hour) and the title track of Soundgarden's Superunknown, leaving both ethereal and aggressive vocals plenty of room in the mix.

I got some time in later in the evening to chat with Polk VPs (of Engineering and Product Line Mangement, respectively) Stu Lumsden and Mark J. Suskind, who provided a bit of insight into the process behind Polk's new line. Even given the company's considerable driver and enclosure expertise, headphone design proved to be a real challenge, completely different than speaker design, and demanding a rethink of the Polk team's engineering processes. Surprised at the paucity of information available about the earphone/ear interface, Polk engineers - including both new, headphone-specific hires and careerlong veterans of the company - worked with an audiologist to creat multiple earmolds, and then to assemble computer models of an average ear to better understand the elements of headphone performance.

Polk's team learned on the job, but as you might expect from Polk, they've obviously learned well over the two years of development that led to the UltraFit line. More headphones could well be in Polk's future, including noise-cancelling and full-size designs, so keep an ear out.