Yamaha YH-5000SE Flagship Over-Ear Headphones Review

Posted on 11th July, 2023
Yamaha YH-5000SE Flagship Over-Ear Headphones Review

This new flagship Japanese headphone has an amazing price tag – and performance to match, says Matthew Jens…

Yamaha

YH-5000SE Orthodynamic Headphones

USD $4,999.95

I do love bargains, especially when I come across a pair of headphones with an excellent price-to-performance ratio, offering superb value for every dollar spent. In today's economic climate, it's reassuring to know that there are offerings on the market that give so much bang per buck, so to speak. All the same, while buying a Toyota Camry may be the intelligent choice, sometimes you just have to take a Rolls Royce out for a test drive…

So today, dear readers, if you're looking for classic StereoNET advice on getting the best sound for your money, then you had better look elsewhere on our website. That's because in this review, I get to play with a downright gorgeous, earth-shattering, wallet-destroying, luxury flagship headphone design from Yamaha! This company has repeatedly proven that – when it's being really serious – it can do world-beating products. So what of the new YH-5000SE?

UP CLOSE

Coming in a thick black cardboard box adorned with an inner silky black lining, this lavish pair of headphones greets you while comfortably perched in its soft little bed. Underneath sits a cable – a woven, silver coated 2-metre long lead that's as chunky as it is confidence inspiring…

“Yikes! This looks expensive and heavy,” I thought, gripping the headband with two hands to prise the YH-5000SE out. Yet to my surprise, however, this pair of cans was considerably lighter than expected. Weighing in at 320 grams, it's actually 10g lighter than the all-plastic Sennheiser HD800, 100g lighter than the Audeze LCD-5, and a whopping 170g lighter than the similarly priced Focal Utopia. This must be down to the decision to use magnesium for the ear cups, which is even lighter than aluminium. 

Impressively, each YH-5000SE is also made entirely by hand in Japan. To prove it, Yamaha sent me video evidence of the assembly lines – it was less of a factory and more like rows of artisans carefully inspecting and assembling each component with love and care. A second set of pads hides inside the box, made from Toray Ultrasuede, a material used in luxury automobiles, perforated for easy breathing. These differ from the standard pads, which have a perforated sheepskin leather outer and a synthetic leather inner. Suffice it to say that you can't go wrong with either set of pads, and the choice is down to you.

Other goodies inside the box are a second cable (equally as hefty as the first) with a balanced Pentaconn adapter, and a headphone stand. Yes, a full-on, some-assembly-required, solid aluminium headphone stand, which seemingly takes strong inspiration from the expensive Woo Audio stands. High-end headphone manufacturers, take note, please! As far as I'm concerned, a beautiful bundled stand is far more helpful than a carry case or bulky display box – as you can use it daily. All other such accessories are just nice fripperies, not essentials!

The headband uses a stainless steel band with a suspension pad held underneath. While this appears to be similar at first glance to flagship Audeze offerings, the fundamental difference here is the stepless adjustment slider on each side. The idea is that you can make millimetre-perfect adjustments to the fit of the headphone, which works well enough, but I found that it would slip every so often, leading me to take the YH-5000SE off and begin readjusting it all over again…

The earcup design is fascinating, sitting somewhere between a Focal headphone and a Sennheiser HD800, with some tremendous Japanese technical love thrown in the middle. The cup is circumaural and similar in shape and size to the aforementioned Sennheiser; either side barely touches the ears when worn, and the pads press gently into the head.

Irrespective of my readjusting, wearing these is a simply heavenly experience. The impossibly lightweight and squishy, breathable pads make this pair of headphones excellent for marathon-length listening sessions. Even the thick, juicy cable is great fun to play with and drapes beautifully over anything it comes into contact with. We are dealing with proper, high-end stuff here, folks.

This cost-no-object approach extends to the internals, too. The driver design is classified as orthodynamic, a Yamaha way of saying planar-magnetic – meaning lightweight diaphragms for high transient speed and low distortion, in theory at least. The company explains: “[The driver] 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 ambience in the music.”

THE LISTENING

After plugging the YH-5000SE into my Schiit stack, it became evident that it requires serious amounts of juice to achieve realistic listening levels. Although quoted impedance is only 34 ohms, it is odd that this design requires considerably more rotation of the volume knob than other such headphones I've auditioned over the years.

Despite being such a power-hungry headphone, the Yamaha handles itself surprisingly well with subtle programme material. It proved well able to be delicate and gentle, as demonstrated wonderfully by LOVE by Sofiane Pamart. This touching piece of music has one single pianist playing a complex melody across a broad range of keys, expertly recorded and faithfully mastered. The YH-500SE made it wonderfully accessible. With an accurate soundstage and a warm timbre, it presented each key press with crisp detail without becoming sibilant.

The frequency response across the midband is reminiscent of my Sennheiser HD800S, which is a compliment in itself, as the HD800 boasts one of the best dynamic driver designs on the market. Planar-magnetic drivers are well known for their size and surface area movement, which can generally help lean into a bass-heavy response. Still, the capability to produce soft, accurate and engaging piano is a strength of the Yamaha. It made me want to play this album repeatedly, which is precisely what I did.

What with this being a large and expensive planar-magnetic design, it would be downright rude not to put it through its paces. So I shifted gears and cued up Whale Song by Proff. Despite being a dance music track, it has wonderfully mastered piano samples drifting through the track, and the nuance of these can easily be missed on some headphones. The YH-500SE does an impressive job of maintaining sufficient bass kick, while paying these samples the respect they deserve.

Next, it was time to get down to business and see how much bass slam I could tease out of the drivers. Hallucinogen by Chris Lorenzo did the trick, with a relentless thrashing of sub-frequency ridiculousness. The YH-500SE performed admirably, with that signature planar magnetic sound rendering plenty of kick and rumble, with super clean decay tails. I could also dial in plenty more bass EQ if required, a specialty of this sort of driver design.

Overall then, the sound quality proved very hard to fault. It's not a clinical, tonally accurate, flat response studio companion; instead, it's one with which you can sit back comfortably late at night, listening to some of your old favourites for hours. Its detail-oriented nature is unforgiving to low-bitrate files, but if you spend this much on headphones, you've probably forgotten what low-bitrate files sound like.

Being an open-backed design, don't expect much isolation from the outside world – and vice versa. Anyone sitting remotely close to you can hear what you're listening to, assuming you're listening at decent volume levels. Yet the upside of open-backed designs is that it delivers a spacious, natural soundstage with effortless instrumental separation and detail retrieval. As ever, you get what you pay for…

THE VERDICT

As we know, Yamaha's YH-5000SE is very expensive – but then it's a planar-magnetic (orthodynamic in Yamahaese) headphone made almost entirely out of magnesium, so you can see where much of your money has gone! Thanks to its excellent audio engineering, it offers superlative sound. And Yamaha has also taken a unique approach to accessories; instead of just throwing in seven cables you will never use, it supplies a proper, solid headphone stand, a robust pad selection and a cable that looks and feels great.

Overall, this Japanese giant has again proven that it can produce excellent value headphones, even at the rarefied price of the YH-500SE. This is a superb high-end design that's very much on the pace in the top echelons of the market. So should you rush out and buy a pair? The answer is yes, provided you have the funds and are looking for a no holds barred solution. Sometimes tightening your belt isn't good for you.

For more information visit Yamaha

Matthew Jens's avatar

Matthew Jens

Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.

Posted in:Applause Awards 2023 Headphones Over / On Ear Headphones StereoLUX!
Tags: yamaha 

JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION

Want to share your opinion or get advice from other enthusiasts? Then head into the Message Forums where thousands of other enthusiasts are communicating on a daily basis.
CLICK HERE FOR FREE MEMBERSHIP

applause awards

Each time StereoNET reviews a product, it is considered for an Applause Award. Winning one marks it out as a design of great quality and distinction – a special product in its class, on the grounds of either performance, value for money, or usually both.

Applause Awards are personally issued by StereoNET’s global Editor-in-Chief, David Price – who has over three decades of experience reviewing hi-fi products at the highest level – after consulting with our senior editorial team. They are not automatically given with all reviews, nor can manufacturers purchase them.

The StereoNET editorial team includes some of the world’s most experienced and respected hi-fi journalists with a vast wealth of knowledge. Some have edited popular English language hi-fi magazines, and others have been senior contributors to famous audio journals stretching back to the late 1970s. And we also employ professional IT and home theatre specialists who work at the cutting edge of today’s technology.

We believe that no other online hi-fi and home cinema resource offers such expert knowledge, so when StereoNET gives an Applause Award, it is a trustworthy hallmark of quality. Receiving such an award is the prerequisite to becoming eligible for our annual Product of the Year awards, awarded only to the finest designs in their respective categories. Buyers of hi-fi, home cinema, and headphones can be sure that a StereoNET Applause Award winner is worthy of your most serious attention.