Yamaha recently presented its most complex and expensive headphones with “morphodynamic” drivers: the Yamaha YH-5000SE. The 5,500 euro headphones are a prime example of Japanese engineering and craftsmanship. But does it sound as good as its exclusive price suggests? LowBeats was lucky to get the first European test sample for an intensive test.
There are currently three dominant driver principles among headphones: (electro)dynamic, electrostatic, and magnetostatic. The dynamic or, more precisely, electrodynamic principle is the most widespread and usually consists of a permanent magnet as the drive and a voice coil wound on a carrier, which is attached to the back of a membrane and dips into the magnetic gap of the drive magnet.
Put, electrostatics consists of a thin, electrically charged membrane that is suspended between two metal grids (electrodes), between which it is pulled back and forth by changing the polarity in time with the music. Electrostatic requires high voltage to operate and, therefore, special amplifiers. They cannot be operated on conventional headphone outputs.
In the case of magnetostatics, the voice coil is applied directly to a thin, flexible membrane foil as a conductor track, and this is suspended between permanent magnets arranged in the form of rods or grids. In contrast to electrostatics, no high voltage and special amplifier electronics are required. Other terms, such as isodynamic or morphodynamic, are also used for the magnetostatic principle. Iso/orthodynamic headphones were particularly popular in the 1970s. This included Yamaha’s first ortho-dynamic headphone model, the 1976 HP-1.
Each of the technologies mentioned has advantages and disadvantages in terms of construction and sound, but all are suitable for the construction of headphones for the highest sound demands. Dynamic drivers are tried and tested, reliable, easy to control electrically, and also allow the construction of closed headphone housings without great effort, which is particularly advantageous for mobile use. Electro- and magnetostatics are usually provided with open housings, which allow sound to escape and external noise to be heard almost unhindered.
With the emphasis on “mostly”: Among the magnetostatics, there are also closed representatives, such as the Dan Clark Audio Aeon2 tested here or its big brother Stealth from the same company. These two headphones are also available in an open-housing design. From a sonic point of view, open-back headphones are often valued for their more airy, less obtrusive playing style. On the other hand, closed headphones are more versatile thanks to their sound-insulating effect but require significantly more design effort to reduce the sound impact of the housing. The electrostatic principle is still considered by some to be the sonic gold standard for headphones, but it also requires the greatest technical effort and is the least flexible to use.
Which of these principles a manufacturer ultimately chooses (apart from cost issues) depends on the one hand, on which target group or areas of application the listener should be able to use and, on the other hand, on which of the principles the developers consider to be the most promising to achieve the best possible sound in there to deliver meaning. From my point of view, with today’s material and construction possibilities, there are hardly any reasons to consider any of the three principles superior in terms of sound. Ultimately, it’s probably more a question of personal taste, the manufacturer’s philosophy, and how good the technical implementation is. This brings us to the Yamaha YH-5000SE, whose creators have opted for the magnetostatic principle, which they traditionally call morphodynamic.
|Cable: 2 m unbalanced, 2 m balanced Pentaconn, headphone stand, additional ear pads
|34Ω @ 1kHz
|98dB/mW @ 1kHz
|317 g, without cable
Yamaha YH-5000SE: delicious accessories
Let’s start with the type designation and its secrets. The “YH” stands for “Yamaha Headphone.” It’s obvious. The model number “5000” places the headphones in Yamaha’s absolute top range of hi-fi products. On par with the award-winning NS-5000 loudspeakers, the C- and M-5000 pre-amplifier combination, and the GT-5000 turntable. As is the meaning of the abbreviation “SE” for Special Edition. I can also report that the SE mainly refers to the included accessories. According to the current state of knowledge, the YH-5000 will only be available in Germany as an SE version, which, in addition to two high-quality Kimber-like braided connection cables, also includes a headphone stand and an additional pair of ear cushions. In Japan, there will also be a non-SE version without a stand and with simpler cables. It seems that Yamaha Europe made a good decision only to offer the SE here. Because the included accessories make perfect sense, less would be unworthy of the YH-5000.
A closer look at the accessories is worthwhile. Above all, the supplied headphone stand with the type designation HST-5000 is a real gem. It consists of three solid parts: a round base plate made of solid metal, a no less solid support rod with a cable hanger, and a headpiece that is also solid, relatively wide, and gently curved as a headphone holder.
The foot weighs almost 1 kg screwed together, and is extremely stable. In contrast to most cheap headphone stands from Amazon & Co., the HST-5000 can hardly be knocked over, let alone upset. Nothing resonates when you touch it. The integrated cable holder is a simple but useful detail. I am much more pleased that the headstock, thanks to its shape and width, does not dent the head cushion so selectively and that it is large enough to hang two headphones on it. However, the HST-5000 cannot be purchased separately. It is only available in combination with the YH-5000SE. A decision that Yamaha should perhaps reconsider.
The supplied connection cables make a similarly good impression – at least at first glance. These are two lines, each two meters long. One is unbalanced with a 3.5mm jack plug plus a 6.35mm screw adapter (HUC-SC020), and the other is balanced with a 4.4mm Pentaconn plug (HBC-SC020). The braided cables are strongly reminiscent of the principle made popular by Ray Kimber with several thin and braided stranded conductors. The cables are connected to the headphones on both sides with a two-pole 2.5 mm jack plug.
As headphones are designed for home use, the YH-5000SE has no carrying case. What for? The headphone stand makes a lot more sense. If I had one more wish, it would be a matching, discreet hood to protect the headphones on the stand from dust when not in use for a long time. A bag of fine shoes will do if necessary, but it is not stylish.
The SE also comes with two pairs of memory foam ear pads. One is covered with soft leather (HEP-5000LE), the other with TORAY Ultrasuede, a soft and very comfortable velour (HEP-5000SU). The different materials of the ear cushions have minimal influence on the sound, which means that they can also be used to tune to personal taste. First and foremost, however, they change the sense of comfort. I like the velour upholstery a little better.
Perfect technology in almost every detail
The constructive effort of the YH-5000SE can hardly be seen at a cursory glance. But what the Yamaha engineers have created is impressive. First, the optics. The YH-5000 looks quite pompous and technophile in the manufacturer’s photos. In real life, however, “filigree” is the first thing that comes to mind. The impressively low weight of 317 g without cable also contributes to this (manufacturer information: 320 g).
The headband is still the most conventional part of the Yamaha. A thin stainless steel spring plate forms the actual bracket. Underneath is a very wide, multi-layered headband that is wonderfully comfortable. The length is adjusted exclusively via the headband attached to the left and right in a rail with a step-less adjustment range of around 4.5 cm.
The two driver housings are made of several parts and are made of particularly light and, at the same time, stiff magnesium. Although “housing” might not be the right word, they are baskets in which the membranes are suspended. To the outside, i.e. behind the membranes, the sound is released in a controlled manner through a stainless steel braided fabric filter. The fabric ensures precisely defined damping and is an important component of sound tuning. Looking at the inside, you can see how open the whole construction is against the light. Case resonances are certainly not an issue here.
The drivers have a thin-film cone with a metal spiral structure, as described by Yamaha, and they are a new development. In contrast to most surface radiators, it is not just a flat foil – see picture.
The cable connections are mounted on the housings in quite unusual ways with external sockets, which makes them very accessible and easy to hit. Yamaha relies here on the already mentioned jack connection, which, unlike the Lemo plug, does not require a lock.
The first fitting makes it immediately clear that the ergonomics of the Yamaha engineers have paid off. The low weight, supported by the large-area weight distribution through the wide headband, and the geometry and the all-round well-fitting and fluffy ear pads, make the large Yamaha headphones one of the most comfortable ones I’ve ever had on my head, like clouds on your ears.
Thanks to the very open construction, the acoustic ambiance of the area is hardly affected at all. This, in turn, is a very positive aspect of long-term wearing comfort because you don’t isolate yourself from the environment. In quiet rooms, I still clearly prefer open headphones. And the Yamaha is unique in this discipline: airy, relaxed, and light.
The comparatively very low contact pressure rounds off the wearing comfort. But you don’t have to worry about an unsafe seat with the YH-5000SE. Quite the opposite. Due to its low mass and the cushions that comfortably surround the ears, the Yamaha sits like one. Even if the head is bent over or thrown back, it will not slip off the head. As luxurious, wired, full-size connoisseur headphones, they are not made for sporting activities or silent parties.
The joy of this uniquely good wearing comfort is minimally clouded by two small things in my test copy (as I said, one of the first of its kind). The housings are isolated from the fork mounts with small rubber bumpers. When this axis moves, they make slightly crunching/crunching noises. The axis practically does not move when worn, which is why this is only noticeable with the headphones in your hand.
The second disruptive factor comes from the cables. When the head moves, the braid generates slight frictional noises due to the movement of the individual conductors against each other. This is transferred to the housing and is audible when worn. The noise only occurs in the upper part of the cable, where the two channels run separately to the ears. But I think it could have been done better.
The supplied and excellent headphone stand is a plus for the practical grade. The very good efficiency of the YH-5000SE is also beneficial. The specified sensitivity of 98 dB/mW @ 1 kHz, in combination with the relatively low impedance of 34 ohms, makes it (in balanced operation) play almost as loud as the Utopia.
Anyone who spends several thousand euros on headphones, to which the costs for an adequate headphone amplifier must be added, expects nothing less than sound heaven. However, it would be best to give up the idea that headphones for 5,500 euros sound at least five times as good as those for “only” 1,000 euros. That’s not how high-end works, of course, especially since sound quality cannot be realistically multiplied in any way.
But the Yamaha YH-5000SE lives up to its claim. I have only heard a few headphones with electrostatic or magnetostatic drivers, so light-footed and at the same time gripping. From the finest micro-details to timpani and trumpets, the Yamaha impresses with its great resolution, but it does not appear thin or too bright. It required an above-average break-in period of a good week (several hours a day) until it reached its sound plateau.
However, I’m talking about levels that you should only do to your ears for a few seconds anyway (if at all). Nevertheless: there are better alternatives for loudspeakers and those who like to let it rumble with monster basses.
In all other areas, the YH-5000SE are undoubtedly exceptional headphones. You don’t often find such a good compromise between the sound characteristics of different converters. Only the already mentioned Focal Utopia slows down the triumph of the Yamaha thanks to a tonally somewhat more neutral and even more gripping dynamic for my taste. This comparison makes it clear that the Yamaha has a more Asian tuning, which doesn’t flatter my Central European ears quite as much.
And yet: no matter which headphones I pulled out of the drawer (including the Dan Clark Aeon2, Beyerdynamic T1, Fostex TH909, and also the T+A Solitaire T, which was recently found to be outstanding ), none could even begin to match the convincing overall impression of the Japanese compete. So it’s not just a higher price range for more exclusivity, but a significantly higher sound class that the Yamaha occupies.
Conclusion Yamaha YH-5000SE
Spending so much money (5,500 euros) on headphones is a luxury that not everyone can afford or like. But every headphone enthusiast looking for the non-plus-ultra should listen to the YH-5000SE at least once extensively and, if possible, on his cutlery. Maybe the money will sit a little looser afterward.
If anything can slow down the Japanese top-of-the-range headphones, then it is at most its limited level stability and the rather Japanese tuning in the tones for European ears.
The sonic experience, paired with exquisite wearing comfort, exclusive construction, and high practicality, make the Yamaha YH-5000SE one of the most desirable representatives of its kind.
|fantastic airiness and resolution, substantial bass
|very easy; comfortably wide headband
|Beautiful and extremely solid headphone stand included
|Braided cables transmit noise