We have a strict policy at Sound Advice not to publish reviews until the products are available to demo in a shop or buy. We don't see the point of doing it any other way. However sometimes something comes along that is exceptional and the rules need to be broken, such as with these headphones, the new Yamaha YH5000SE. There's not long to wait, Yamaha tell us they will be in the shops in May, meanwhile you can read Ed Selley's review below.
For the last few years, Yamaha’s ambitions in headphones have largely been focussed on wireless models at the more affordable end of the category. The YH-5000SE arrives as a fairly dramatic reversal of this policy. At £5,000, it occupies very rarefied territory indeed and Yamaha says that in time, it will form the basis of a family of headphones. To this end, I was invited to give my thoughts to Yamaha on how that might be best achieved; resulting in a lounge full of Japanese engineers, all being yelled at by my cat, but the YH-5000SE was a finished article by that point and I have had no design input into it.
Key to the YH-5000SE is what Yamaha calls an Orthodynamic driver but is more recognisably seem as planar magnetic type. This prints a metal coil circuit on a thin film that excites the film when the circuit is passed through. Where the Yamaha system differs from many other planar designs is that the driver is circular and uses a concentric pattern coil that has no central mount to it. This is mounted in a large circular housing that has been designed to offer as little interference with the operation of the driver as possible and also features a stainless steel Dutch weave that further controls sonic reflections. This housing is large enough to completely encase the ear.
To connect to the outside world, Yamaha has fitted the YH-5000SE with a detachable cable and supplies it with an unbalanced cable that terminates in a 3.5mm jack with 6.35mm adapter. There is then a balanced option using a 4.4mm pentacon connector. An XLR cable will be available too but Yamaha’s asking price of £900 feels a bit ambitious. You do get some useful extras thrown in though, including a choice between leather and sheepskin earpads and a headphone stand for when you aren’t listening to the YH-5000SE
The thing is though… you’re going to spend a lot of time listening to the Yamaha. Pop them on in a shop or at a show and listen for a few minutes (and you will need to ensure that the space in question is quiet because noise leakage is significant and the Yamaha is more vulnerable than most headphones to external noise) and you will likely be fairly impressed but not blown away. This is not a shock and awe device; no part of the frequency response is accentuated and there is none of the ‘more real than real’ style detail that some high end devices go in for.
Listen a bit longer though and the Yamaha begins to reveal a level of greatness to the performance. There is an effortlessness to how it goes about making music that can make some devices feel forced and artificial. To achieve this, the YH-5000SE carefully balances some singular abilities. The frequency response is utterly even from top to bottom, avoiding any emphasis to draw you attention. It’s a very wide response too, with genuinely impressive bass for a planar magnetic design. At the treble end, there’s the same perception of effortless extension without brightness or aggression.
All this happens in a space that is impressively three dimensional. As you would hope from an open back headphone, the YH-5000SE has no trouble creating a space beyond the ear but it also does an impressive job of pushing information in front of you too. It does this while faithfully matching the scale of the music being played; never imparting force and size that shouldn’t be there. There are points listening to the Yamaha where you forget you are listening to headphones at all.
Incredibly, the YH-5000SE isn’t done there. After a day or so, you will come to appreciate that this is an astonishingly even handed headphone for one that is as revealing as this one can be. It somehow conspires to let you know that a recording is compressed or bright without rendering it unlistenable. It can be huge fun too. There are headphones at this exalted price point that you can argue sound a little faster, with more transient speed but the YH-5000SE delivers unfailingly accurate timing that gets the head nodding when it should without trying to make it happen with music where it shouldn’t.
By the traditional standards of Yamaha, the YH-5000SE is fairly unusual. Absolutely nothing on these headphones doesn’t need to be there and they feel extremely minimalist to the extent where a few people will find them too austere. The combination of upper frame and inner leather headband works very well but can feel a bit crude compared to rivals at the price.
There are two factors to take into consideration with this though. The first is that the YH-5000SE looks simple but it is superbly made. Everything is assembled, painted and finished to a truly exceptional standard. This is product where the enormous amount of attention that has gone into its engineering is on display.
The second is that it is extremely comfortable. The lack of fripperies means that the all up weight is 320 grams which is exceptionally low for a headphone this large and combines with the big pads and good weight distribution to make this a headphone you can wear for hours without discomfort. Yamaha isn’t finished in practicality terms there either. While some planar magnetic designs present the sensitivity of a block of granite, the Yamaha is impressively benign. It will benefit from high quality partnering equipment but it doesn’t need to be enormously powerful.
The Yamaha YH-5000SE isn’t a headphone that reveals everything it can do in one quick listening session but give it a little while and its astonishingly unforced and fundamentally ‘right’ presentation can start to make rivals look a little too clever for their own good. The result is one of the very best headphones ever made and a must audition at the price point.
Ray LaMontagne Monovision
The way that the Yamaha takes this lovely but surprisingly dense recording and works it into something gloriously immersive and three dimensional is a trick that most headphones simply cannot match.
Roy Hargrove Quartet Earfood
As a company that makes all the instruments that appear on this album, you get the feeling it was a point of honour to the Yamaha engineers that the YH-5000SE reproduces them all perfectly and it rises to the challenge.
Stereo MCs Supernatural
Not a natural choice for high end headphone testing, it’s a mark of how good the Yamaha is that it turns this wonderful but crude record into a true high end listening experience.
Type Circum-aural open-back headphones
Impedance 34 Ohms
Sensitivity 98dB SPL @ 1kHz
Frequency response 5Hz–70kHz
Loudspeaker ORTHODYNAMIC (Planar magnetic)
• 1 x 2m silver-coated OFC cable with 1/8" (3.5mm) TRS Jack connector
• 1 x 2m silver-coated OFC cable with 4.4mm Pentacon connector
• 1 x Jack adapter
If you want a home headphone that will approach a vast music collection without fear or favour, allowing for extended listening sessions in absolute comfort, you need to start looking here. There are more flexible and prettier rivals but few of them can match how astonishingly talented the Yamaha is.