Saturday, 2 March 2013

Yamaha HPH-Pro 500 Review

Yamaha HPH-Pro 500 Review

Thanks to Yamaha UK for the loan.

First Impressions:  Well the box is certainly fancy enough and they are very well packaged in multiple levels of protection including a rather nifty case.  I note that they come with two different cables.  That means the cables are removable, which is nice, and that I see one of them has phone connecters and volume controls.  It makes me wonder who’s going to use this with a phone but I can think of no reason not to add the cable, so those that want to can.  I’m rather liking that you can stick in either side!  Visually these are clearly aiming for the mainstream “hipster” crowd.  Sure they also come in black but I went with the blue and gosh it is visually striking.  It’s not garish like some manufacturers but it’s clearly going to be noticed.  So how is ever so grown up Yamaha going to meld with the “consumer” acoustically?

First listen and its running out of the FiiO E9, now I’ve been using the RE-400 all day so that’s where my ears are coming from and the first I note is the bass.  There is lots of it.  It sounds good but clearly someone at Yamaha likes the use a bass boost button me thinks!  Clarity though seems really good despite the bass.  Vocals are so articulate but pushed back somewhat.  Still I’m pretty aurally impressed so far and can see why they have the price tag they do.

Also after 10 min I’m noticing the clamping force, these suckers are really on there very firmly which I’m thinking just what you want if your wandering around outside with them.

Source: FiiO E7 and E9 combo and Hisoundaudio Studio 3rd Anniversary Edition

Lows:  Woah baby, steady on there.  The bass here is rather similar to its stalemate the EPH-20 in the quantity.  There is rather too much, not comedy levels as found in some “style” headphones but enough that purists will not be pleased.  Have you seen these things though?  You think purists were going to be buying it anyway, because I don’t.  The lows on here besides being too much are pretty awesome.  Awesome in the sense of awe inspiring, face slapping, authoritatively powerful.  Oh and god help you if you go crazy with the volume dial because these can go stupid loud and the bass will crush you beneath them.  The audiophile in me is not chuffed but the male in me is grinning like kid on Christmas morning.  Oh my, the power is skull shattering!  It’s something I did have issue with if I listened for hours but I can’t help but be impressed with what it can do.  The bass is so crazy powerful and so masterfully tonal.  The agility in there too is super impressive and if this were a sub you would be spending “buy a car” levels of money.  It’s just masses of fun, with a playful skill that’s stunningly enjoyable.  I have no clue how they have got a driver to feel so massively powerful and weighty sounding yet remains super agile even when driven by rubbish like your phone.  I haven’t many big, closed cans the Denon AH-D1100 and the Shure SRH-840 so both retail for rather less (about half) the Yamaha’s, the yammy has the quantity of the Denons but neither come close to the power of them.  They have such force behind them!  Normally you only get this sort of smack from something with quick and punchy bass but these have the big abundance too.  It really is the best of both if you like bass.  Oh and the depth, being closed is very good too.

The quantity though really is too much though.  I’m sure the mainstream will love it but for Head-Fi peeps it’s going to be more divisive.  There is just too much, simple.  Way less than the Beats I’ve heard but still too much.  Some will like this some wont but I don’t see anyone questioning the quality.  Colour me very impressed.

Mids:  Not quite where I’d have placed them as they are touch behind the highs and a fair chunk behind that big bass.  Thankfully though they are superbly clear.  I’d have thought being a yammy they would be a bit more liquid than they are, I suspect a touch of coolness and dryness was added to bring out the clarity.  It works.  Vocals are very audible and articulate and I have enjoyed them very, very much.  I can’t deny I’m rather disappointed that they aren’t more equally balanced, I found on some songs (notably The Beautiful South stuff) that I was cranking the volume for the vocals then finding my ears tiring of the treble and bass.  The power of the bass and the piercing clarity of the treble dominate what really is a beautiful midrange.  I’m not a fan of the EQ but I found myself doing so here.  I have very mixed feelings. 

From a technical stand point they are great.  The level of detail is first rate and the expressive openness of the vocals is fantastic, even more so given its closed.  Every voice is clear, open and has plenty of air to breathe.  I’d be super interested to see what this driver could do in an open unit.  The clarity lends itself equally well to a guitar.  Notes are very clean and crisply delivered. They really snap and twang like they are in front of you.  “Painter Song” is nailed oh so well for something closed.

Highs:  It’s a running theme but really, really good.  Dynamics always do the high end best and these show off somewhat.  I haven’t the on paper specs but these clearly go high and oh they can shimmer.  They can shimmer sweetly, delicately, effortlessly casually and then out of nowhere explode in a cacophony of blinding brilliance. They seem equally happy too to do either.  I can’t say its anything other than super impressive that it can so adeptly turn its hand to either but……….. there is a bit too much.  It’s crazy speed too lends itself showing off a bit and to focus on the treble, sure Nora sounds great but the treble isn’t being stretched.  Firing up Owl City’s “Cave In” the treble takes on a new life.  It can move like lightning and it can hurl both abundance and detail at you.  On a technical ability level I just can’t fault it.   I can’t come close to faulting it.   Normally such in your faceness is accompanied with a hard or over crisp edge but here its acoustically bang on.  This has an extremely impressive driver in here.

The down side is the quantity is too much and as delightfully impressive its abilities are its tiring.  The treble quality is oh so good but I normally love the Yamaha house sound, a bit warm, bit rich, bit softened in the highs.  These are much more of a rambunctious party machine.  Tremendously fun but who wants to sit on a roller coaster all day long?

Soundstage:  Very good.  The treble especially lends a real sense of space and air to them.  It doesn’t hurt that the drivers are really quite far away from your ear too.  Depth is a bit so so but scale and width are very nice.  Instrument separation is so so given their clarity.  Everything is very clear but no great range of placement.

Fit:  They are rather large, I never extended the band at all in use so if you got a small head that may be an issue.  The cups though are a bit smallish and didn’t quite surround my ears, my ears made it inside but they were sat on a little bit at the edges.

Comfort:  These were not the most comfortable.  They clamp like mofo’s.  Clearly that’s to ensure they don’t fall off inadvertently as I suspect Yamaha expects hipsters to buy these and wear them out and about so for that purpose it’s what you need.  The clamping I don’t think would have really bothered me if it wasn’t that it just pinched my ears as the cups are a touch small for me.  It’s not like it was painful but like removing a tight pair of shoes it was a bit of a relief being free of them.

Cable:  Bits I loved bits I did not.  I loved that the cable is removable and even better that you can plug it into either side.  Absolutely every headphone company should shamelessly rip this idea off right now!  I had never thought of it before but it seems such an obvious thing to do so hats off to yammy for that.  The next thing I loved is that they come with two cables, one normal and one for plugging in to your phone.  Of course plugging these into your phone is a bit of a waste but I love that they have given you the two cables to pick from.  What I don’t love is that the cables are flat ones.  Its trendy nonsense that’s a pain to wind up and makes them inflexible in use in one direction.  Quality wise though both seem vastly more sturdy than previous flat IEM cables I have encountered and should survive a lot of abuse.

Microphonics:  None, not even any feet fall which is nice.

Amped/Unamped:  For a great big set of cans they do hell’a good out of my phone.  Clearly since they come with a phone cable Yamaha intends or at least expects them to be used with a phone.  So you can and they sound pretty good but please don’t do it.  The Galaxy Nexus is pretty decent audio wise for a phone and the Pro500’s are really sensitive for headphones but……….. they are great big leaps and bounds better than the phone.  Given the last Iphone I tried I was not chuffed with the hp out it won’t fair even as well as the GN did.  They may both be expensive objects but that’s all they have in common.  These will sound good I’m sure out of your phone but it would be a waste.  When running of something with more oomph the bass and treble both improve greatly.  When you give them some power they sound awesomely spectacular, out of a phone they are merely really good.

Isolation:  Clearly these are meant for use outside, the isolation on them is really rather good.  Just as well given all that bass and from an acoustic level I’d be happy with using these out and about, on a bus etc etc.  You could get away with Tube and flight use too if in ears are not for you.  If it was an IEM it would be at very good isolation for a dynamic levels.

Build Quality:  Plastic but its all solid and premium plastic.  There is metal in there too but it’s not readily visible until you extend the headband.  The hinges on them are metal.  It’s everything you would expect from a company like Yamaha and with this price tag.  It is clearly a quality product and it feels appropriately study.

Accessories:  Pretty good actually.  There are the two cables and a case.  Yes a case.  What your going to do with the case I don’t know as its freekin’ huge.  It even has one of those clips on the side of it so you can clip it to a belt or god knows, go rock climbing with it?  Still I really like that it’s there so you can use it if you like.  Oh and there is a 6.25 to 3.5 mm adapter too.  N.B.  the phone cable included, the volume controls on it do not work with my Galaxy Nexus so be aware it may not work for you.  The mic and play/pause/skip button worked fine though.

Value:  Oh no question I liked this.  It’s not exactly cheap and you have to want this sort of sound.  This in its present form is aiming at the “hipster” crowd and of offering up very impressive sound quality with it.  I’ve not heard much in that segment myself bar the odd Beats and they were not anywhere close to being this good.  Even for hard core audiophiles, if you can bring yourself to EQ them these are very good sounding, easily worth their price tag. 

Conclusion:  These were not what I expected or hoped for from Yamaha.  They were a bit more of what their looks suggest in that they are not subtle sounding nor are they really accurate.  They have a bit of the Chavtastic sound to them, all bombast and drama and relentless excitement is what they crave.  Me, I’m a bit of an old fart and like things a little purer, more near where Yamaha’s roots lie.  I like that rich sound with a slightly muted high end so it doesn’t give me listening fatigue.  The Pro500 is not that, just why it has Pro in the name escapes me and I’d severely scold whoever approved that.  This is in no way a Professional product and Yamaha should be ashamed of themselves for essentially claiming it is.  It’s just plain misleading.  I am sure that to the segment these shall be marketed to (hipsters) the professional moniker as in in professional “musician” like what Mr Dre is.  That’s professional right?  Well no Yamaha, go look at your own website.  You are a big grown up real music company that supplies professional products that you even show case!   There is thing called “I Play Yamaha” I would really like Yamaha to show me what artists are planning to use these “Pro” headphones, go on, I dare you. 

As you can probably tell this clearly bugged me.  My enquiring about this came back with the response that it was a product idea born in California (no shocker there) where they designed them (I’m assuming visually) then all the engineering cleverness came from Japan.  Supposedly these have nothing to do with Yammy’s Professional line.  So why I ask did someone think that calling them Pro when the company is famous for making professional equipment.  Dear Yamaha, my suggestion to you is change the name.

Now so far in this conclusion all I have done is moan.  I have moaned about possibly the most petty thing ever, that being its name as that’s really all that’s wrong with it.  When you get past the stupid name and accept that this is not a professional product and does not have a  professional sound then things take on a different tack.  The sound signature here is clearly having a go at the current wash of “hipster” headphones, those oh so achingly trendy look at me everybody, I’m serious about my music don’t you know.  While they listen to Beats out of an Iphone.  So granted that segment is getting better but it still has a pretty particular sound.  That sound isn’t one of accuracy but with rather boosted bass and a boost in the highs too to make them feel clearer.  So that’s what Yamaha have done here, I saw a quote about the chap in charge of Yamaha USA saying they had been tuned to suit the taste of a panel of american listeners.  I’m betting their listening tests weren’t in runs lasting several hours at a time.  These have that V shaped attention grabbing sound that is so impressive for demoing. 

The sound signature on here isn’t what I’d have picked and isn’t what I’d expect from Yamaha.  The bass is too big and the highs are too abundant and I find the combo to be wildly exciting but it got rather tiring on my ears.  These had trouble slowing down and relaxing and after 4 hours I find I want them off.  Still it’s hard to take them off. (Not just because they are clamped so tight.)  They are so engaging to listen to.  I find I’m constantly wanting to flick to another song and hear how it works on them.  They are just so spectacularly dramatic sounding.  The bass, the treble the detail, everything is so awesomely WOW!!!  I honestly can’t find a song that sounds bad on these despite its over dramatized sound sig. 

So, why am I still writing?  I can’t quite make up my mind about these.  No question these sound quite amazing and every aspect of what they do is amazing.  It’s all just, perhaps a little too amazing.  I love hearing every detail in every song on them but there is always a but.  The bass is so hard, so powerful, so abundant and so energetic its wearing me out.  The highs too are by all technicalities amazing but the energy and the detail has me worn out.  Yet I can’t quite take them off.  It’s all tremendously engaging.

If you want this sort of sound signature, that favoured by the average american it seems then these are simply amazingly good.  Every technically is flawless and the driver at the heart of them is a work of genius.  I have no doubts that someone at the Professional side of Yamaha is, as I write, retuning these to go into professional monitors.  When they do and when I get to hear them expect much gushing over them.  These however, while amazing are too V shaped and dramatic for me.  These are taking aim at Beats and just demolish them.  The Pro 500’s are by a massive margin the far and away best sounding “consumer” headphones I’ve heard.

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