Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 headphones

Street style meets serious sound quality with these noise cancelling cans

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Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000
  • Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000
  • Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000
  • Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Solid design
  • Effective noise cancelling

Cons

  • Noise cancelling not adjustable
  • Rubberised plastic finish doesn't scream 'quality'

Bottom Line

Polk Audio's UltraFocus 8000 headphones combine effective passive and active noise cancelling, a sturdy (and trendy) design and some of the best sound we've heard from active noise cancelling headphones. We wish the noise cancelling could be altered a bit, and that the finish was slightly more expensive, but these are small problems for an overall excellent pair of headphones.

Would you buy this?

Polk Audio is a company that has a long history of loudspeaker design, stretching back more than two decades. We haven’t seen any headphones from them before, but the UltraFocus 8000 noise cancelling cans that landed on our desk have all the hallmarks of a high-quality portable audio product.

Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000: Design and features

These Polk headphones are distinctly modern in their design. We’ve seen writers linking them to the Beats headphone movement, but we think they’re different enough that you’ll stand out whether you’re in a crowd of Beats or a crowd of EarPods.

The UltraFocus 8000 headphones are finished in dark black rubberised plastic, with brushed metal accents, leatherette-wrapped foam padding and a strip of carbon fibre running across the centre of the headband. The ear-cups fold flat for transport in the included soft-finish hard carry case.

The left ear-cup contains the two AAA batteries that power the active noise cancelling and amplification, while the right has four buttons — one multi-purpose play/pause/skip, volume up, volume down, and a very interesting noise cancelling attenuation button that cuts out your music (without pausing it, and keeping it just-audible in the background) and reverses the noise cancelling, actually slightly boosting outside noise — making it easy to hear noise around you.

The noise cancelling attenuation is the UltraFocus 8000’s killer feature. In our office testing, we used it more than a few times — it might seem a little rude to keep the headphones on while you’re talking to someone, but if you’re having a quick desk-to-desk conversation it’s very easy, and quite fun, to mute your music and have a quick talk without having to take off and re-position the headphones.

The headband has around an inch and a half of telescoping on either side, so big and small heads are accomodated equally. The foam padding and leatherette are firm but forgiving — and we really like that the leatherette is tight on the headband, which will mean it is less likely to rip or fray after months of use.

The UltraFocus 8000 headphones have a removable cable, with a proprietary-shaped 2.5mm connector that means you’ll need to buy replacements directly from Polk. There are standard 3.5mm and iPhone-compatible 3.5mm cables included in the package, around 1.4 metres long each.

Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000: Sound quality and performance

The Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 headphones are $450 #8212; this is no small amount of cash, putting the headphones in direct competition with Bose’s QC15 active noise cancellation ‘phones. The sound that the UltraFocus 8000s produce is well worth their price tag, though.

Strong bass is a hallmark of the UltraFocus 8000, but it isn’t booming or slow to decay — it’s powerful but tight. These headphones excel with electronic music — we looped Kavinsky’s Nightcall off the Drive soundtrack quite a bit — but are equally at home with the usually less stringent demands of acoustic, pop or classical.

Mid-range is a little less controlled, and can occasionally sound a tiny bit echoey, but is full of detail. In our listening to Birdy’s cover of Skinny Love by Bon Iver, we noticed some background noises — the sound of piano pedals, shuffling of feet — that we hadn’t noticed previously.

Treble is as equally present as bass, giving the UltraFocus 8000s plenty of brass when it came to the breathy female vocals and high synth notes from College’s A Real Hero — another track from Drive. As the volume gets louder, treble starts to take a slight back-seat to the bass, which is what we like — the beat gets more powerful in electronic tracks without necessarily meaning harsh treble.

The noise cancelling of the Polk UltraFocus 8000s is excellent. It almost entirely blocks out constant low-frequency ambient noise — air-conditioning, desk fans, computer fans, and we’d imagine it’d be equally competent with airplane engines. It’s quite powerful noise cancelling, though, with an effect that can be off-putting if you’re not used to noise cancelling headphones, and there’s none of the different modes that we loved about the Audio-Technica ANC9.

Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000: Conclusion

The UltraFocus 8000 headphones are reasonably expensive, but we’d justify their price tag by saying that they’ve got sturdy build quality, a modern youth-friendly design, excellent sound quality and some extremely effective noise cancelling.

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