Polk Audio has been one of the most respected brand names in audio during the past four decades, but until recently, has never had a footprint in gaming. After announcing that they have an exclusive relationship with Microsoft for the upcoming release of the Xbox One, Polk Audio has made it known they are now going after the gamer market. We had the opportunity to use the Polk Audio Ultra Focus 8000 Headphones to see how they performed from a gamer’s perspective, as opposed to many of the reviews that already exist which are written from an audiophile’s point of view. We used the Polk Audio Ultra Focus 8000 Headphones on various gaming devices, including an iPhone 5, a fourth generation iPad and a Gaming PC. We then evaluated the unit based on the criteria of comfort, gaming performance, music quality and price value.
Polk Audio Ultra Focus 8000 Features
Sold on Amazon (currently at $267.99) and other online retailers, the Ultra Focus 8000 is a stereo-jack AAA-battery powered noise canceling headset. It’s clearly aimed at more sophisticated and mature consumers, earmarked by the sleek and classy design, quality of the drivers and price point of the product. The product marketing material boasts of “audiophile sound-stunning detail” with full fidelity and deep bass. There’s “true active noise canceling” thanks to the battery assisted Active Noise Canceling technology. In addition, there are “Ultra Fidelity” dynamic balance transducers which are Polk Audio’s proprietary driver technology that “guarantees full frequency response” while minimizing distortion. Consumers should note that without the power turned on, courtesy of a handy little switch on the right ear, there will be no audio coming through the unit, meaning there is no “passive mode” operation.
These headphones are active noise canceling that sport an over-the-ear design. The input is a gold-plated 3.5mm “standard stereo” jack that will plug into devices like the iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy and PS Vita. The frequency response rates 8Hz-28 kHz and the transducer diameter is 40mm. The weight of the headphones is 8.9oz (not including batteries) and it requires two AAA batteries (included) to operate. The headphones features a built-in microphone and included in the box is a Skype adapter, Nokia adapter, Airplane adapter, External Attenuator Jack, a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter and a 55″ flat tangle-free cable.
The Ultra Focus 8000 is a little heavy at roughly 9oz (accounting for the two AAA batteries) and is a very large unit worn around the ear. The build is very sturdy and all the parts are well made. The cushions and leather for the top bar and the ears are incredibly comfortable. Gamers that have been using ear-buds will clearly have to do some adjusting to “the other end of the spectrum” but for those already used to a gaming headset, this will not feel much different and the weight will not be an issue. The top is very soft and the ears are very comfortable. At no point did they become hot, which is an issue with some units. In terms of comfort, playing 1-1.5 hour gaming sessions or just listening to music was a breeze.
A handy leather case is included that also has a velcro pouch to hold all the adapters. When not worn, the headphones go into the handsome case to be carried or put into a travelling bag.
The most impressive “wow” moment gamers will have with the Ultra Focus 8000 is when there’s a good mix of music and “big game moments” (think explosions) in tense scenes. Playing Ubisoft’s Tomb Raider made for a perfect test bench for gaming sound. Restarting the game (minor spoiler) really pays off as the plane crash scene, escape segments and all the explosions in the caves were shockingly awesome. The bass really kicks in and the fidelity of the tone was as impressive as anything we’ve heard from headphones. While other USB-based units have performed amazingly well, the team at Polk Audio created headphones that were aimed at audiophiles that port over to PC and mobile gamers perfectly who only crave the “2.1″ stereo experience. Most gamers can simply plug the stereo jack into their speaker system port and if worse comes to worse, just pick up a stereo extension cable and plug it into the PC’s stereo jack in the sound card.
Playing various games on the iPad and iPhone 5, including Bastion, Infinity Blade II and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City proved to be an amazing experience. While Apple might tout their ear-buds, serious gamers that spend a lot of time on their mobile devices (specifically you 3DS and PS Vita fans) will hear many new layers of music and sound effects that ear-buds and other headphones simply can’t reach.
Gaming performance with the Polk Audio Ultra Focus 8000s was in a word, stunning. Consumers can expect a premium experience for music with Polk Audio and now gamers can too, even from products that frankly weren’t thought to be marketed to gamers in the first place. Gamers play games, listen to music and watch movies and thus, need headphones. For games, this unit is fantastic.
Serious consumers would never rate audio equipment off of basic 128kpbs MP3s or streamed music on Spotify, preferring to rate equipment by listening to FLACs and other uncompressed audio formats. Typically, Gaming Illustrated has done the same but this time around the performance was so good from the FLACs, we also tested the headphones against “standard” sources of music and the difference was incredibly noticeable. In the many years we’ve been reviewing headphones and headsets, music has never sounded better – period. The genre simply doesn’t matter, as classical music is taken to a depth that makes other headphones sound silly. If a listener isn’t whisked away completely while listening to a high definition version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (maybe the best piece of music ever created) while using the Polk Audio Ultra Focus 8000 headphones, they simply have no soul.
While the tone is breathtaking for classical music, hard rock and heavy metal fans might have it even better. Perhaps the greatest compliment we could give the unit is that it made us want to listen to more music simply because it sounded better than it ever had before. Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and “One” rocked the house, thanks to the incredible performance of the bass. It’s not overwhelming like it is on most gaming headphones, fortunately, and has been configured precisely perfect to fit with in the song.
Whether you are listening to a master of the classical age, or headbanging away to the rock gods, the music will simply never sound better. There has never been a better sounding set of headphones for music that we have ever come across.
A wise man once said, “No matter how much the best might cost, if you buy it, you can’t be disappointed” and that saying holds true to this product from Polk. A quick internet search at the time of publication priced the unit at $299 around various online retailers and at $267 at Amazon, which seemed more than fair for what is pretty much the best sounding set of headphones around. While gamers might be used to shelling out $100 for a decent headset, $299 might be well above most budgets. That said, save some money and buy them if you see them anywhere near $250 because that price is more than justified. It comes with a wonderful leather case and a pouch (for all the included adapters), has a high quality build and has performance that will knock your socks off. An amazing product that receives an Editor’s Choice award for amazing quality.