Vintage Yamaha Orthodynamics: YH-2, YHD-2, and YH-3
During this past year, the local headphone enthusiasts have caught the orthodynamic bug. In every local meets, orthodynamic headphones (let’s call them ‘orthos’ in short) can be seen everywhere. I even saw some of the rare vintage orthos from Yamaha, Wharfdale and Sansui. The first ortho I listened to was an Audio Technica ATH-2. My first impression was that it has a very clear delineation between bass, mids, and highs, and I was instantly hooked. Since then, I have auditioned some Fostex vintages and Yamaha vintages which are even better than the ATH-2.
I have been planning to own some orthos for myself to listen to them more carefully. However, due to the increase in vintage orthos price this year, I’ve started by buying the less expensive and more widely available vintage models, the Yamaha YH2 and YH3. These two are fairly common in ebay and can be had for $50 or less if you are patient. I was also lucky to be able to snatch the rarer YHD2 at a reasonable price. All of them are supra-aural, though with quite a good comfort. These three Yamahas were produced as far back as the 1970s but the construction and drivers hold on pretty well considering their age.
For those of you interested in owning some vintage orthos, keep in mind that you should be ready to open the headphones and apply some damping. Damping is essential for many vintage orthos to sound anywhere near their potential. For some reasons, many of these headphones are not optimally dampened in their stock form, resulting in a sound that can be dull, dark, and/or lacking serious treble. The three headphones in this review have been redamped by iQEM, a local ortho enthusiast. I found their sound to be muffled before damping, almost to the point of being disappointed with the Yamahas, but they are now much more coherent sounding. Reading this review, keep in mind the different damping scheme that my friends applied to the three. Damping generally doesn’t change much of the basic tonal character of the headphone; however, the frequency response has been tuned toward the damper’s liking.
The three Yamaha orthos share some similarities in the mids-treble presentation. The presentation of the mid-treble is very bodied, in a smooth kind of way, but at the same time maintaining a still light-footed and clear tone—which is an unusually sweet and special combination at this price range. The upper treble is a bit rolled-off when compared to the best at this price range, but within the frequency range that they give you, they produce it very well and more importantly they sound natural, not artificial. In terms of bass presence, they seem to have an adequate amount; however, they are generally quite light on bass punch, and the low bass are rolled-off. They sound fine unamped but an amp definitely helps to bring the best out of them as they are not most efficient to drive. So in general, they do very natural, bodied and sweet midrange-treble, but with limitations in frequency extension and bass impact and punch.