||Dynamic / 40 mm
||20 Hz — 20 kHz
||3.5 mm stereo mini (Driver Direct)
||SBC, AAC, Qualcomm aptX, Qualcomm aptX HD
PRICE R2 290.00
SUPPLIED BY Balanced Audio 011-259-7850
I’ve used my fair share of headphones over the years, and although I’m told that our auditory memory is very short-lived, I can without any doubt say that the vast majority of those experiences were disappointing. This is especially true for the early days of the various MP3 players, which I’m certain (alongside awful compression rates to save space) had equal blame for the listening experience, which I almost without fail found terribly ‘bright’ to listen to.
Technology has of course advanced in leaps and bounds in the years since, and things are hugely different on all fronts: we’re really spoilt for choice when it comes to the various codecs, the digital audio players, and of course…the headphones themselves.
The ‘wired’ headphones of course progressed at a faster rate, not hindered by Bluetooth limitations as their wireless compatriots were. But that has mostly changed now: Yamaha’s YH-E500 headphones come with Bluetooth 5 standard, which means faster connection speeds and a transmit rate of around 6 Megabytes per second, while the Qualcomm aptX, Qualcomm aptX HD codecs – which the E500s support — are able to improve the audio quality even further.
The wireless aspect of the headphones adds to the likelihood of users carrying them around, and to this end Yamaha supplies a nice quality pouch as part of the package. Also supplied is a USB charging cable and a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm audio cable, which I expected to become my preferred method of listening, yet didn’t…but more on that later. My only gripe at this point was the length of the charging cable: at 30 cm, you aren’t really left with many convenient ways to connect to a plug point. However, a handy cellphone cable sorted that issue out for the duration of the review.
Another ‘accessory’, if you’d like to think of it that way, is the Yamaha headphones controller App. This allows you to control the main features of the headphones, namely Listening Care, Ambient Sound and Active Noise Cancelling, as well as offering access to the manuals of various Yamaha headphone models.
Listening Care is an interesting adaptation of Yamaha’s YPAO system initially designed for their AV systems. Here, adjustments are made, adaptive to the volume level, for fine-tuning and balance even in low volume settings, eliminating the need to turn the music louder to hear all the high and low frequencies. Worked a treat, but it’s nonetheless difficult not to want to max out the volume when you find a track you really like!
Ambient Sound is useful for those who like to listen to their music on the go, as it allows the built-in microphone to channel through outside sounds, no matter what the volume you’re listening at. So you’re still going to hear, for example, that approaching emergency vehicle.
Active Noise Cancelling is pretty much self-explanatory and here the microphone is used to capture those irritating external noises and cancel them out with an electrically opposite phase. This one I found pretty useful when trying to listen to music while my two-year-old was running rampant in the background.
Lastly, the E500s come with a hands-free/voice assistant feature that can activate things like Siri and Google Assistant to help you search for music, news and such. If listening to music on your Smartphone, the headphones allow you to accept calls as well.
Okay, so much for the technology! But what did the headphones sound like?
Well, it’s Yamaha. The name says it all, really – so before you’ve even taken a listen, you can rest assured that what you’re dealing with is a quality product with decades’ worth of technological backing. It’s of the on-ear category, and the fit is snug to the point of view that I felt the Noise Cancelling might well be rendered obsolete!
For the duration of the review I listened to music wirelessly, and then switched to listening with the 3.5 mm audio cable using the Fiio BTR1 Bluetooth Headphone Amp and the Hi-Res Audio wireless Fiio BTR3K DAC/Headphone Amp. The latter features the Qualcomm Bluetooth chip with a 120 MHz DSP, support for 24-bit transmission and processing, as well as abilities to decode multiple lossless Bluetooth codecs.
But this is where it got a bit weird, to be honest, though in retrospect I suppose it makes sense, seeing as the E500s are marketed primarily as being ‘wireless’ headphones. I have a set of studio monitor headphones that have become, for better or worse, my benchmarks for headphone audio. I’d listened to them extensively before I invested in the Bluetooth DACS – not because I found their sound lacking, but simply because I really just wanted to hear if a DAC would really make a positive audible difference to what I was listening to, which they did.
I’d (possibly foolishly) expected the same here with the Yamahas. Yet when I compared the ‘wired’ performance of the E550s while connected to the DACs, compared to ‘wireless’, where they were linked directly to the source via Bluetooth, there was a noticeable difference – the E500s actually shone when left alone with no external interferences, which is I guess what they’re ultimately supposed to do. I was honestly so surprised that I roped my wife into the listening sessions to confirm what I was hearing, worrying for a moment that my hearing was getting dodgy.
I listened to a variety of tracks I have come to know well over the years, and have come to hear the difference – as slight as it may be at times – between the various versions I have of these tracks in MP3, FLAC, WMA and WAV codecs. Pink Floyd’s Coming Back To Life off ‘The Division Bell’ is one of my many favourites, especially with the opening guitar work, and the clarity of those notes through the E500s was enough to give you chills down your spine.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Disturbed’s take on Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence when lead singer David Draiman really lets loose can easily deliver some unwanted distortion if you’re not careful. Not so here, and at one point I was pushing the volume to see when the headphones might start showing signs of taking strain. They didn’t, but my ears did!
Those looking for portable, wireless, high quality headphones really need not look much further than the E500s – clarity where needed, punchy bass where needed, always in good balance and never one at the expense of the other. My personal preference for listening remains the full over-ear type that William Kelly currently has his hands on, but lovers of good music are unlikely to find any fault while listening with this model.