Offering wireless and noise cancelling facilities, Paul Rigby reviews these closed-backed headphones
And yes that’s just what they are, closed backed and over-the-ear designs replete with the addition of Bluetooth and active noise cancelling. De rigueur on all the best transatlantic flights, noise cancelling is becoming a useful feature when doing daring, esoteric activities like…walking down the street (facing the challenge of jostling, blaring traffic on our town and city roads), sitting next to screaming kids demanding sugar and E numbers on the bus or on the train or trying to drown out the shouting from drunken yobs railing against the threat of WMD or as we know it, the face mask.
So yes, Yamaha has the ability to close the door on inner city life and cosset you in a world run by Kenny Rogers, as one suitably jaunty example that springs to mind. Imagine, with the aid of Yamaha, you can blithely swan past road rage, soap-box prophets and leaf blowers while quietly humming to yourself, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em/Know when to fold ‘em/Know when to walk away…”
Better still, the noise cancelling is adaptive so it will automatically adjust itself, using built-in microphones, depending on the noise occurring outside of your headphone bubble. Yamaha declares that its Advanced Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) lowers the ambient noise but doesn’t apply processing to the music signal, enhancing sound quality. We’ll get to that, later.
Weighing in at 325g, these headphones are available in black but my particular review sample arrived in white. It’s a warm white, though and one that would fit with anyone who prefers to live inside the Apple Commune. The YH-E700A headphones look like Beats designs aimed at someone using a McIntosh portable desktop computer from the 80s. That is, the design has a stylish, yet chunky aspect. It is replete with modernity in technological terms yet its structure is a little retro in presentation. The angelic nature of the white is only punctuated by a couple of rose gold-ish coloured metallic strips on the head band.
Although the headphones are bulky to look at, they are also oddly compact in form. Neat. In an industrial kinda way. I found the headphones comfortable on my large head, too. There was no undue pressure from the ear cups while my ears slotted inside each cup chassis with ease. The cushioning on the faux leather-covered cups provided just enough grip to prevent slippage but not too much to cause irritation on my ears while the headband held sufficient padding to allow extended use without impending headaches.
BUTTONS & SOCKETS
On those ear cups are a range of buttons and sockets. On the left cup is the socket for the wired connection plus the ANC button. On the right cup you’ll find the power cotton and mini USB-C power socket, volume keys and function key.
Pairing the Bluetooth option is done by pressing the power button to the ‘on’ position for around five seconds.
One point of note here, do NOT attempt this operation if the 3.5mm wired audio cable is attached to the headphones. Bluetooth connection will not even be attempted by the headphones with this cable in place. The manual does allude to this issue on a later page but not in the Bluetooth pairing section – where it should be.
In use, the buttons provide no real feedback in terms of what each button does, what and when. Apart from the volume rocker switch, the other buttons are the same size with no change in texture so don’t expect any feedback there. You’re going to have to memorise what does what and where.
What is useful is the in-ear, vocal feedback to many of the controls.
Inside each swivelling/folding ear cup of the YH-E700A is a dynamic 40mm driver that pumps out music via Bluetooth 5 (supporting SBC, AAC and apt-X Adaptive codecs). There’s that alternative, wired connection that offers a 3.5mm plug on the end of a bootlace that promises little in terms of audiophile quality sound – but we’ll see.
As for the lithium-ion battery? Well, you can listen to Kenny Rogers for a total of 35 hours, apparently. And that’s with the Advanced Active Noise Cancelling switch to the ‘on’ position (so, obviously, you can disable ANC if you wish). Pretty darned good, in performance terms, methinks.
One headline feature is the Listening Optimizer. This EQ-like gizmo apparently monitors the sonics in the ear canal and adjusts to suit.
Inside the presentable box of the YH-E700A , apart from the power cable, carry case, wired listening cable and in-flight plug, there is a basic (too basic) instruction sheet featuring someone’s GCSE-level sketch homework (it’s about as useful too). I recommend hot footing it to this website address: uk.yamaha.com/en/products/audio_visual/headphones/yh-e700a/downloads.html#product-tabs and downloading the 45-page manual to find out how to actually use these headphones.
In the manual, you will note the Listening Care feature (installed for low volume listening), the Smartphone addition to allow you to talk on the phone while wearing the headphones and you can start up the voice assistant while connected to the headphones. You’ll also learn about the ‘Headphones’ app that promotes yet more settings.
In this app, the Listening Care, Listening Optimizer and Noise Cancelling options can be changed here. Battery information is also displayed while an Auto Power-Off Timer can be set. The app also allows you to download the latest firmware.
It’s interesting to listen to these headphones in a very quiet room, with music switched off and the app on. Just to hear the basic, underlying sonic effects of the noise cancelling. With the ANC in the ‘off’ position, you tend to hear your heartbeat and that closed-in ambience of covering your ears. With ambient sound ‘on’, the sound opens up a little as the outside world intrudes upon your ears. So, if I rub two fingers by the ear cup with ANC ‘off’, I can’t hear anything. In Ambient Sound mode, I can easily hear the rubbing fingers. With ANC switch ‘on’ I can’t hear any finger action.
What I can hear in ANC mode is a tunnel-like effect. A low-key, wind-like noise punctuated by many and sudden interruptions as the built-in microphones monitor and adjust to the outside world.
I list the above because these are the foundations that music will be played upon. Be aware, all of them have an effect on the quality of the music.
I began the YH-E700A sound tests by pushing Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me, Kylie Minogue’s All the Lovers and then Nina Simone’s Love Me or Leave Me from my iPhone, iPad and MacBook to the Yamahas with Ambient Mode on and no other EQs engaged.
The musical response was pleasant indeed. A little warm perhaps, cuddly, comfortable but a response that promoted no listening fatigue over a long journey. Turning the Ambient sound and, in fact, the ANC off did open up the soundstage, injecting more air into the music and giving the likes of the piano and the vocal a more spacious presentation while bass had a touch more structure and precision.
Engaging the ANC in all its glory subdued the bass, pushing the lower frequencies further back into the mix. This mode is not neutral or balanced in the classic sense. It was completely flat. With mids lacking in any insight or focus.
This sonic response is not unusual though. Whatever Yamaha might tell you, attempting to correct for noise from the outside world demands a sonic compromise ad lots of processing. The reduction of naturalistic sound is that compromise.
What I’m happy to report, though is that the sonic results are bearable. Sure, the more processing applied to the music, the worse it sounded. Hence, ‘Ambient’ mode sounded worse than ‘Off’ and ‘ANC On’ sounded worse than ‘Ambient’. Again, an expected result.
With the ANC off to maximise the wireless performance, how do the other EQs change the sonic presentation? Switching on the the Listening Optimizer, the effect was a subtle one. Many uses won’t hear any change during a casual listen. It needs a bit of study to note the change. I felt that bass was emphasised just a touch. It was pushed a little further forward in the mix adding a slight bass emphasis. It’s not my cup of tea, though. I prefer this EQ in the ‘off’ position.
As for Listening Care? Well, that provides the opposite effect. The Listening Care EQ pushes the mids a little forward in the mix to enable detail to be heard at low volumes. Don’t use it at normal listening volumes because it will push the midrange balance out of kilter.
As for wired mode? As expected, the YH-E700A sound quality improved. In fact, Yamaha itself notes that these headphones enter into hi-res mode sound output when Bluetooth is disengaged so the improvement in sound really is no surprise. Here, the soundstage moved left and right, tonal realism was enhanced, bass featured extra weight and focus.
One word of warning, I recommend listening to music via the wired mode with the power on. Sure, if your battery dies during listening, you can still use these headphones in passive (i.e. power off) mode but the dynamics are killed stone dead when that occurs. Suddenly, you’re listening to music wrapped in a worn scarf.
Don’t buy the YH-E700A headphones if you’re trying to reach audiophile nirvana. If you’re attempting to eke out every last drop of frequency detail from your valued recordings. That’s not the purpose of the Yamaha YH-E700A headphones.
These headphones exist for two things: wireless operation and ANC use. They are on the market to solve problems. And to solve those problems in the most laid back, efficient and stylish way possible. In both modes, where wireless operation is required and where noise cancelling is demanded, these headphones succeed wonderfully.
In a busy and noisy environment, the Yamaha ANC and ambient features worked well both in a noisy living room in my house and on the street, surrounded by traffic and excitable pedestrians. In this world, I don’t really care if I can hear the last filigree of treble from cymbals: I’m just happy to hear the cymbals at all. The Yamahas provide that wish but, within that restricted frequency spectrum remit, they offer an excellent sonic performance that never grates, never irritates or annoys. These speciality tools do the job asked of them. For any tool, that’s all I ask.
If you’re in the market for a pair of wireless, ANC-bedecked headphones, do yourself a favour and check out the YH-E700s.
YAMAHA YH-E700A Headphones
GOOD: build, battery life, design, overall sound in targeted environments, ease of use
BAD: button interface
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