In his July 2023 review of Yamaha’s YH-5000SE headphones, SoundStage! Solo senior editor Geoffrey Morrison noted that Yamaha’s flagship headphones “come with a flagship price: $4999.95 (all prices in USD).” Unlike some competitors, these headphones have “no wood veneers, no fancy colors, just structural metal work, grilles, and a hint of yellow where the cables connect to the earcups”—a design that “shows purpose, and if you know what you’re looking for, they telegraph their price in perhaps an even more impressive way than some other, more visually bombastic headphones.”
The YH-5000SE headphones are an open-back design that use an orthodynamic (aka, planar magnetic) driver in each earpiece. Yamaha’s history with orthodynamic drivers dates back to the release of the company’s HP-1 headphones in 1976. But since then, Yamaha has made major advances to its driver technology. According to the product pages on the company’s website:
The specially developed thin-film diaphragm is the culmination of repeated numerous prototypes, meticulous measurements, and rigorous analysis. It is manufactured by etching the voice coil with a unique pattern on both sides of the film and applying minute corrugation. This results in significant weight reduction from a conventional dynamic driver, providing outstanding responsiveness that fully brings out the subtle nuances and delicate ambiance in the music.
Commensurate with the flagship status, Geoffrey noted that “you get a lot in the box, as you’d hope for the price,” including two cables, one unbalanced and one balanced. The unbalanced cable comes tipped with a 3.5mm plug that works with a 6.3mm (1/4″) screw-on adapter, while the balanced cable has a 4.4mm Pentaconn connector. Two sets of earpads are supplied, “one sheepskin leather, the other synthetic Ultrasuede.” Finally, “at the bottom of the box, there’s an aluminum display stand so you don’t have to leave your headphones lying on a table like some heathen.”
Geoffrey described the 320gm YH-5000SEs as “wonderfully light,” thanks to the magnesium frame. He added that the clamping force is “fairly light,” and “the pads are super soft.” Overall, he found them to be “among the most comfortable full-size headphones” he’s ever worn. But these aren’t the type of headphones you’d use out-and-about: “Even for open-backed headphones, they’re very open. You’ll hear everything around you almost as well as if you weren’t wearing anything over your ears.”
At the beginning of his listening impressions, Geoffrey explained that he would normally “give an overview of the sound qualities of the headphones under test. The bass is like this; the treble is like that.” But with the 5000SEs he opened with a single-word description: “Realism.” Geoffrey explained that everything he played through the Yamahas “had a lifelike quality that is missing on so many other headphones. Far more ‘in the room with musicians’ than ‘in my office with headphones.’ The immediacy of the attack, the detail and openness, the controlled and deep bass, it all combines into a package that produces audio that’s remarkably ‘real.’”
After listening to “The Girl from Ipanema,” from Getz/Gilberto (24-bit/192kHz FLAC, Verve Records / Qobuz), Geoffrey wrote: “Stan Getz’s saxophone sounded remarkably breathy yet still full and intimate. Neto’s double bass practically extended into the subsonic region, but it retained its timbre. A halo of cymbals extended out over the shoulders in this stereo version. Then, of course, Astrud’s legendary vocals sounded like she was practically sitting next to me.” Playing Kacey Musgraves’s “Slow Burn,” from Golden Hour (24/96 FLAC, MCA Nashville / Qobuz), Geoffrey noticed “a slight push in the midrange, with vocals and most instruments having more prominence than the treble or bass,” but called this “more character than an issue.” Geoffrey added that “Kacey’s voice was razor sharp in the center of the soundstage, but it seemed a little higher in the mix” than he’d heard with other headphones, but that “the openness of this track, once all the instruments came in, was fantastically huge.”
Geoffrey also stated that “the immediacy of percussion was a big part of what let the 5000SEs sound so lifelike.” When he turned up the volume of the title track of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life (24/96 FLAC, Virgin Records / Qobuz), “the tambourine was just on the verge of too much, but the 5000SEs remained otherwise composed at levels well beyond safe for extended listening.” And when Geoffrey listened to “Linger,” from the Cranberries’ Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (16/44.1 FLAC, Island Records / Qobuz), “each note rang out and decayed without any harshness or brittleness. Each instrument and voice filled the soundstage while having its own precise place.”
For comparison, Geoffrey turned to two planar-magnetic, open-back designs from Audeze. First up were the LCD-3 headphones, which, at less than $2000, are priced significantly lower than the YH-5000SEs. He quickly determined that they were “straight-up outclassed by the Yamahas.” He then moved to the company’s flagship LCD-5 headphones, which retail for $4500. These headphones “fared far better,” but with “The Wire,” from Haim’s Days Are Gone (24/96 FLAC, Columbia Records / Qobuz), “the LCD-5s were darker, not as open as the Yamahas. The Audezes had a little less top end and a little less bottom end, as if they lopped off a few notes at either end of the frequency spectrum.” While listening to a recording of Franz Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 with Antal Doráti conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (Enesco: Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 / Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 1–6, 16/44.1 FLAC, Mercury Records / Qobuz), Geoffrey determined that “the Yamahas were able to create a bigger, more atmospheric sound.” While he thinks the LCD-5s are “fantastic headphones,” Geoffrey found that “from the lowest brass and percussion to the delicate woodwinds, everything was reproduced just that much better on the Yamahas.”
In his summation, Geoffrey described the YH-5000SE headphones as “beautifully built and engineered” and “remarkably comfortable.” They sounded “well balanced” without being “analytically boring,” and “open and airy while retaining precision in the soundstage.” He went on to say that they were “hugely open, with perfectly fast transients.” Geoffrey also found that the bass extended “remarkably deep while remaining in balance with the midrange and treble.” While the treble was “excellent” he thought it was just “not quite as perfect.”
Geoffrey’s only real gripe was that he wished “they didn’t cost $5000.” The price, however, didn’t prevent Yamaha’s YH-5000SE headphones from earning a Reviewers’ Choice award when the review was published—and it won’t get in the way of us presenting these “amazing headphones” with a Recommended Reference Component award this month.
Manufacturer contact information:
Yamaha Corporation of America
6600 Orangethorpe Ave.
Buena Park, CA 90620
Phone: (714) 522-9011