I have thoroughly enjoyed listening exclusively to these three orthos for few weeks, without desperately wanting to reach for my other headphones. My ears were just spoiled by the full and sweet midrange-treble presentation. They are not luscious or overly creamy type of mids, just some natural body you want for good mids. This midrange-treble presentation, which I like to call the ‘vintage Yamaha glow’, can be heard through all vintage Yamaha orthos I have listened to, including the Yamaha YH1000, said to be the king of vintage Yamaha orthos.
So sweet their tonal color is, when I listened to one of the orthos exclusively for too long, I tend to get drawn into the tone and overlook their weaknesses. Their flaws only became apparent when I compared them to competent benchmarks. Starting with the soundstage, the soundstage size is somewhat flat and limited, not quite a perfect soundstage sphere. Imaging and instrument separation is clear and stellar for the price; however, headphones like the HD668B have a more pinpoint positioning. I also mentioned that none of these three orthos do bass as well-rounded as I would’ve liked to as they lack at least one but not all of the following: bass presence, bass impact, bass punch, and bass depth. As I’m not a basshead, I didn’t notice this until I shockingly found out that they have slightly less bass punch and impact than the Hifiman EF5-powered AKG K501. In the realm of dynamic headphones, K501 are often considered bass-light. The bass of these three orthos also rolls off quite early, so the low bass can’t be heard very clearly. Another nitpick, the treble is also a little rolled-off on top, but what you get before the roll-off is some very clear sounding highs, so I don’t really make much fuss about it.
Throughout this review, I have found out that mids to lower treble is truly the strongest trait of these three orthos. I was curious how their mids stand up against K501’s mids, one of the best mids presentations you can find from a reasonably priced headphone. The YH2 fared well with a unique midrange flavor and its sweet balance of low and upper mid, however, one thing I found out is that the K501’s mids is quite a bit more resolving and detailed across, though at the same time, a bit coarser in the upper midrange and is pickier with its amp requirement. The Yamahas has a slight problem with mids resolution/transparency, but this made me realize that if somebody can execute the Yamaha sweet mids in a higher level of transparency, that headphone can easily become very special. Unfortunately, from my experience, a YH1000 that I borrowed (recabled but not redamped) doesn’t fully solve this transparency issue. I have lots of hopes for the LCD2 to be able to pull this off.
I also compared the three orthos to the Hifiman HE5LE (equipped with silver HE5 cable), a $700 orthodynamic headphone. What do you get by spending the extra money? First, you get a much bigger soundstage with the HE5LE. The soundstage presentation of the three small orthos is a little cramped and there is this feeling of the instruments extending to the edges of the soundscape, reducing some of the localization accuracy. On the opposite, the HE5LE, when paired with the EF5, has such a large spherical soundscape with space for all instruments and some. Another is bass depth; the big ortho has such a big and immersive bass presence with a lot of extension that is missing with the three vintage orthos. The mids and treble are also better resolved, smoother and you get more layers and information behind the sound. So yes, in this case, money speaks.
Many of you may wonder about the amp requirements for these three orthos. Some people have been scared off by the orthos’ reputation for powerful amp (this was true in my experience with the HE5LE and YH1000); however, I have to say that the three Yamaha orthos sound quite enjoyable out of my Ipod Nano, though it has a hard time getting the YH2 to a loud volume. The YH3 is the easiest to drive, neck to neck with the YHD2, then the YH2 in the not-very-efficient category. Going to the uDAC headphone out, TPA6120 amp or the modded ImAmp, there are some improvements though synergy with each amp is still the key, as the YH3 can sound too dark with the imAmp, while on the opposite, the YH2 has a nice synergy with the added presence from the imAmp. That said, I get the best sound out of the three orthos out of the EF5. The EF5 is arguably a colored amplifier, but the coloration infused a lot of musicality into the three orthos. With the EF5, there is a real air that separates different instruments that you don’t get out of the smaller amps, which adds to a greater sense of imaging. However, the tone also becomes noticeably mellower and smoother (they somewhat blurred the rough edges); which may not be to everyone’s taste (the YHD2 is a bit too smooth with the EF5 at times).
As long as you are ready to open them up and apply some damping, the three Yamahas should offer a good sneak peek to what a good Yamaha orthodynamic headphone can sound. Still, the big question is: why should you pick these three orthos over the more common dynamic headphones at comparable prices? The easiest answer is that these three Yamaha orthos has a certain midrange glow that you can’t find in any other driver technology at this price. Moreover, they are actually able to give some taste of the much more expensive YH1000 though at a lower resolution. It’s a bit like buying a Grado SR60 to get a rough idea of how the higher end Grado should sound like. The AD700 and the HD668B are strong contenders for best-sounding sub-$100 headphones and remain so because of their many great qualities; however, to my ears, these three orthos have a more natural–sounding midrange. Still, they are not perfect; there are better alternatives to these Yamaha orthos if you place a lot of importance in bass-treble extension, bass impact and presence, and soundstage width of a good full-size headphone.
Equipment used for review:
Source: Pioneer CD Player, Nuforce uDAC, HRT Music Streamer 2, Ipod Nano 1st Gen
Amplifier: Hifiman EF5, TPA6120 amp, Audiotrak ImAmp