The 4-way Ultrasone Saphire are in-ears that provide six drivers at once, and use balanced armature and electrostatic technology.
For more than 25 years Ultrasone have been providing high-quality sound solutions. And the German manufacturer is breaking into the growing in-ear market. With this model, the Saphire, the Lake Starnberg-based manufacturer aim to treat our ears to a handmade headphone sound. Our test will find out if they succeed.
High-end at first glance
The package that comes with the Ultrasone Saphire makes it clear that they are looking for a high-end audience. In addition to an asymmetrical cable, these headphones also come with a symmetrical cable option. As a little extra, the cables arrive in a little drawstring bag printed with the manufacturer’s logo. Both cables are connected to the in-ear housings via 2-pin plugs. Of course, all the plug contacts are gold-plated.
The ear moulds are made of silicone and memory foam and each is available in three sizes, so there should be a suitable fit for almost every ear canal. Additionally, the ear pads are made of memory foam that has a mesh that serves as a cerumen (ear wax) filter. A tool for cleaning the ear moulds is also included.
The transport case is a little gem. It securely closes with a zip and is lined on the inside with a soft synthetic fur. As a gimmick, it has small flexible side panels that expand when the case is opened. Not only do they ensure that the headphones cannot fall out of the side of the opened case, but they also prevent the zip from leaving scratches on the in-ear cases. They’ve really thought of everything here.
Compact appearance – easy to handle
Although there is a lot of technology in the Ultrasone Saphire, their housings are small and compact. The design is simple and elegant. And the matt metallic finish of the all-aluminium housings also makes a positive visual impression. Silver-coloured accents provide high-contrast touches and a small chrome-plated stainless steel plate displays the manufacturer’s logo on the outside. All this suggests a high-quality product.
The fit of these in-ears was fantastic, in my ears at least. The ends of the cables grip the ears perfectly and the shape of the in-ears was perfect for this tester’s ear. The headphones extend far into the ear canal so that the attenuation of external noise is immediately excellent. Due to their good fit, the comparatively high weight of the headphones was not a problem.
While the asymmetrical cable is equipped with a mini jack and twisted to avoid transmission of structure-borne sound, the symmetrical cable is equipped with a 2.5 mm TRRS plug and generously encased in noise-insulating plastic material. Thanks to a small guide groove, changing the cable is torsion-free and easy. Both cables are worn over the ear to keep them in place so that these in-ears do not slip out of your ears when the cable is pulled. However, no flexi-wire is built into them. Instead, the tubes of the cable ends are reinforced and pre-formed. Therefore, their flexi-wire has a “one size fits all” size.
Two receivers, four ways, six drivers
Yes, you read correctly: Six drivers are used in these four-way in-ears. The Bavarian manufacturer relies on a combination of electrostatic and balanced-armature drivers. This combination consists of four balanced-armature drivers, which are distributed over two bass, one mid-range and one treble driver. The super-high frequency range is reproduced by a double electrostatic driver.
With an impedance of 25 ohms as specified by the manufacturer, these in-ears can also be used with Smartphones, tablets and other low-power headphone preamplifiers. A sensitivity of only 106 dB SPL means that on paper, this model is not exactly the loudest. But if you buy these headphones you do probably not want to have your eardrums blow away with a jackhammer, you’re more likely to be a sound purist who doesn’t want to be deprived of your beloved audio pleasure. The frequency range of these in-ears also speaks for itself: their audio bandwidth ranges from an ultra-low 10 Hz up to a dizzying 50 kHz.
Fat basses, lots of dynamics, soft highs
Ultrasone promise us that the Saphire will sound extremely detailed over its entire frequency range. Therefore, when listening with them, I was surprised by my first impression. The sound of these in-ears contains unexpectedly few trebles, but creates tremendous power in the upper basses and lower mids. And these little Saphires also brings out sub-basses like there’s no tomorrow. They bring a really fat bass texture to your eardrums. The overlying bass range is especially strong, especially on kick drums and timpani. This demonstrates the excellent implementation of the transient dynamics in the bass range that are often rather discreet and/or washed out in in-ear headphones. The Saphire, however, delivers so much bass power that some high-end purists might wish there was the possibility of being able to adjust it with an equalizer.
In the mids, these headphones provide a very three-dimensional sound image, making voices sound full and detailed. The speech intelligibility when listening to pop, rock and jazz was therefore very good. There were never any problems with sibilants due to the attenuated upper mids and highs. The highs are a prime example of how warm a sound can be in this frequency range of the spectrum. The fact that the Saphire reaches up to 50 kHz in the super high frequency range is mainly noticeable in the openness of the sound. The trebles are super soft on the surface and therefore the subjective signal resolution seems a little reserved for my personal taste, however, the bass range is still at a high level. But the stereo impression conveyed by these in-ears does not suffer from those soft highs.
In terms of their dynamic conversion, these headphones reveal their full potential when you are listening to classical recordings. For a listening test, I would recommend a recording of the first part of Stravinsky’s “Le sacre du printemps”. From the gentle bassoon solo of the introduction to the energetic tutti of the “Abduction Games”, it becomes clear how powerful the Saphire can actually be. Ultrasone have undoubtedly been reticent about specifying their sensitivity, as these headphones can certainly supply a really decent level without distortion. Last but not least, the excellent, deep fit ensures not only the aforementioned attenuation of external noise, but also a pleasant acoustic isolation from the outside world. If you listen to music loudly with these in-ears, you don’t fill the entire room with sound.
The Ultrasone Saphire, a pair of in-ears handcrafted in Germany, impress with their combination of six drivers that work in four ways, and a mix of balanced armature and electrostatic drivers. The package of accessories is also impressive, as it includes a small, elaborately equipped transport case and an additional symmetrical exchangeable cable. The design and workmanship of these headphones are outstanding. The devices themselves have a simple, elegant appearance and are pleasantly uncomplicated in both handling and fit. In terms of sound, the Saphire surprised us with a sound that is attenuated in the trebles but still conveys a sense of breadth, strong mids that reproduce sound very vividly, and a rich low range that produces deep bass confidently. There is no doubt that Ultrasone has succeeded in creating a unique signature with these headphones!
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principleelectrostatic + Balanced-Armature
- Frequency response (headphones)10 - 50.000 Hz
- Impedance25 ohms
- Sound pressure level (SPL)106 dB
- Weight with cable15 g
- Cable length105 cm
What's in the box
- 6 pairs of ear tips
- Balanced cable
- Unbalanced cable
- Cleaning pen
- Transport case