Polk Audio UltraFocus 6000 in-ear headphones
These in-ear headphones have active noise cancelling to cut out ambient chatter
Polk Audio is a brand that’s traditionally associated with audiophile-friendly speakers, but it’s making cautious steps into the high-end headphone market as well. We were genuinely impressed by the Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 headphones, so we tried out the cheaper UltraFocus 6000 in-ear ‘phones with interest.
- Excellent passive and active noise cancelling
- Good sound, pleasant bass and treble response
- Bulky in-line battery pack
- In-ear noise cancelling isn't for everyone
Polk Audio's foray into the not-so-popular world of noise cancelling in-ear headphones is a solid one: the UltraFocus 6000 headphones have good sound and competent active noise cancelling to complement the passive in-ear isolation. Our main issue is with the bulk of the noise cancelling's in-line battery pack and volume control. The sensation of noise cancelling with in-ear headphones is also a strange one -- moreso than with over-the-ear headphones.
Polk Audio UltraFocus 6000: Design, build quality and fitting
The UltraFocus 6000s are the larger, dual-stage variety of in-ear headphones. They’re almost a hybrid between in-ears and regular ear-buds; they have a silicon- or foam-clad earpiece that sits in the inner ear canal, and a larger plastic bud that effectively seals against the outer ear canal to help with isolation.
The stem of the earphones is the third lump in their design, looking vertically down on them — they may look uncomfortable, but if you’re used to the size of regular EarPodesque earbuds, they’re only slightly more intrusive.
Two pairs of foam and five pairs of silicon ear-tips are included in the packaging for the UltraFocus 6000s — Polk Audio is banking on one of these being a comfortable fit. We found both the medium silicon and large foam ‘tips to be the most appropriate; the silicon ear-tips are easier to insert but the foam offers additional passive noise isolation.
Despite being largely plastic, the UltraFocus 6000 earphones are well built. Perhaps not as sturdily as the UltraFocus 8000 headphones, but that’s because the full-size headphones have more mass to play around with. If you can overcome the initially-strange shape of the earpieces themselves, the UltraFocus 6000 shouldn’t present any other issues with design or construction.
The headphones have a large silver-on-black Polk logo on the outer ear-piece, with a dark grill that looks modern in a slightly more shouty way than the minimalist 8000s. A small cut-out below the grill hides the integrated microphones in each ear-bud for the noise cancelling circuitry. Below these cut-outs, the J-style headphone cord extends around a metre and a half; the cord itself is flat to reduce the incidence of tangling.
The in-line battery pack, which holds a single AAA battery (one is supplied), is bulky when compared to the relatively small size of the headphones themselves. There’s no avoiding that — the pack does have a clip on the back to secure it, which helps reduce its weight, but it’s a necessary evil in having active noise cancelling in compact in-ear headphones.
The battery pack has three switches — one to activate or deactivate the noise cancelling, one to attenuate the noise cancelling by -10dB, and a speak-through button that cuts out noise cancelling and boosts outside noise, to let you more easily speak to someone next to you or to listen to in-flight cabin announcements.
Polk Audio UltraFocus 6000: Sound quality and noise cancelling
Polk’s UltraFocus 6000 in-earphones are musical rather than flat, with emphasis on deep bass and especially crisp treble rather than neutral tones; because of this mid-range is slightly lessened but this is a similar situation with most consumer-focused headphones of the same price range.
The UltraFocus 6000 headphones are able to produce good levels of detail in high quality music tracks — while they’re perfectly at home with the streamed or compressed MP3s that most people will use them with, they shine when supplied with a detailed FLAC track with complex arrangements.
These headphones have generally clear treble, although it is slightly overshadowed by what is very powerful bass for in-ear headphones. We think this must be a function of the noise cancellation’s amplification, and it makes the UltraFocus 6000 in-ears excellent for bass-heads who love their dubstep or heavy beat-driven metal.
The noise cancelling circuitry in the UltraFocus 6000 in-ear headphones doesn’t work quite as well as the same noise cancelling in the larger 8000 headphones, but it still does a very good job of attentuating outside noise. In conjunction with the natural passive isolation of in-ear headphones — especially when used with the conforming foam ear-tips — the UltraFocus 6000s are excellent when it comes to blocking out office printers and aircon and chatter, general public transport noise, and loud constant ambient noise (think airplane engine).
Polk Audio UltraFocus 6000: Conclusion
Beyond slightly-too-present bass, we have no problems with the sound quality of the Polk Audio UltraFocus 6000 given their middle-of-the-road price tag. The noise cancelling is similarly commendable — we just wish the battery pack was a little more subtle.
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