UNBOXED: Reviewing the KLH Ultimate One Headphones

By: Rob Stott

Admittedly, prior to really diving into reviewing product, the concept of open-back was foreign to me. Why, when listening to audio through headphones, would you want that sound experience to bleed out into the open, polluting the environment of those around you? That line of thinking, of course, was beyond ignorant on my part and has since been locked away in the attic. Open back corrects the issues created by a majority of headphones on the market, which create a listening experience akin to placing your head right up against a loudspeaker. Keeping the sound essentially trapped inside headphones is less than ideal and can actually ruin the soundstage that the artist intended to create when recording their music.

Enter open-back headphones, which literally rip the back off of the can, allowing the sound to live around the user’s head, opening up that sound stage for a more-natural audio experience. Sure, it’s less than ideal for those around you on your morning commute. But then, you’re likely not going to want to use headphones like these in that kind of setting—just as the sound can escape the headphones, all of that external noise can seep in, muddying the music.

Looking specifically at the KLH Ultimate Ones, the open-back experience is only improved upon by the fact that the brand was somehow able to develop them with a 50mm pure beryllium driver—and manage to keep the headphones a shade under $300. In other non-beryllium dynamic headphones that we’ve looked at in the past, while they performed well, they were noticeably boosted when attached to an amplifier. That wasn’t necessary with the Ultimate Ones, which made reviewing them much more pleasurable.

KLH acknowledges that the headphones have a frequency response rate between 18Hz and 22kHz. Bass response on the headphones was impressive, to say the least. In listening to a range of styles and genres of music, the Ultimate Ones displayed their ability to handle a wide array of dynamic sounds. Audio came through crisp and clear, and I often found myself drifting away into the music.

From a design perspective, KLH didn’t cut any corners with their first headphones. The Ultimate Ones feature a headband and ear pads made of soft lambskin inner sections that provide a comfortable and breathable wearing experience. Cowhide leather is used on the outer portions of the headband and cups for improved durability. Notably, they’re exceptionally light headphones despite their size and status as an over-ear product. KLH offers the headphones in two real-wood style options, body ($299) and zebra wood ($379).

For a first attempt, KLH Audio knocked it out of the park with the Ultimate One headphones. These open-back headphones are exceptionally comfortable to wear, the beryllium driver produces an astoundingly dynamic and impressive sound stage, and the price is simply unbeatable. Looking up and down the list of open-back headphones that we’ve unboxed, I honestly don’t think there’s a better pair out there right now.