Sound – General
The Audeze MM-500 is tuned in a rather neutral way but not too much. What I mean with this is that Audeze managed to combine a reasonable neutrality with a natural and still musical delivery. This headphone isn’t flat but it’s not extreme either, just a lift in frequency here and there.
As a result, the MM-500 also in weighty and body is to the neutral site, but it’s still very realistic and normal. The level of clarity here is great, especially compared to the older Audeze headphones. For what cleanness is concerned, the LCD-5 still is quite a bit ahead.
The MM-500 is an engaging, musical and natural headphone. It’s not a headphone you can only use in the studio. It has Audeze’s typical fun character, which makes me think back of the original LCD-2. Another thing that reminds me of the LCD-2 is the bass presentation, but more on that in a bit.
“The MM-500’s planar magnetic drivers provide realism that audio professionals like Manny “can’t live without.” With lightning-fast transients, accurate frequency response and trusted mix translation powered by Audeze’s patented innovations, the MM-500 produces unparalleled audio quality that other headphones can only dream of”.
Looking at soundstage, the MM-500 is not the widest or most spacious headphone. Though I have to admit that with a balanced connection and a good amp/source, the spaciousness and separation positively surprised me. So you get a more intimate, rounded presentation in a stage-like sense.
From a technical level, the MM-500 scores well but there are better technical Audeze headphones in the product line-up. The Audeze MM-500 is rather transparent, so it’s amplifier dependant in the way it will sound. More on that in the next chapters.
What I really like in the MM-500 is how it displays the contrast between the bass, and upper mids/vocal forwardness. The MM-500 has that energetic vibe all over it, making it fun to listen to, for multiple musical genres.
Sound – Basics
There’s a good bass presence in the MM-500, I would say it’s slightly elevated but within limits to still name it neutral and natural. If you like a lot of bass, look elsewhere. Same goes if you don’t like bass. With this tuning, it can perfectly serve as a studio headphone that you can also use for fun and musical listening. Bass reaches down nicely low to sub level, but it never exaggerates. Bass detail and layering are ok, but Audeze has done better with the MX4 and LCD-5. The speed, tightness and control strongly depend on the amplifier you’re using the MM-500 with. Mid-bass I would say is typical of most Audeze headphones.
The mids clarity and separation are striking here. The layering and detail are on the same level as the lower frequencies. The spaciousness and airiness depend fairly a lot on the amplifier you’ll be using the MM-500 with. More on that in the next part on Sources. The mids so have that typical Energetic Audeze timbre and speed, so you kind of know what to expect here. The vocals with most amps are situated a bit more to the front, and their energy level is a bit higher in general. That’s what is creating the nice balance as said earlier.
The top end doesn’t extend very far but it is natural, energetic and technically strong enough to keep things exciting and fun. Of course on tubes you might even soften down the treble even more, so you can play with your source/amplifier a bit here.
Sound – Sources
With its Impedance of 18Ohm and sensitivity of 100 dB/1mW (at Drum Reference Point), the Audeze MM-500 is easy to drive. At the same time the MM-500 is transparent – as it should be – and as a result you will hear what your amplifier or source brings to the mix.
I have listened to the MM-500 with a whole series of sources, and I have selected the following for this chapter: The dCS LINA stack, the dCS LINA DAC & Auris Headonia combo, the Musician Aquarius & Feliks Envy combo, the Aquarius & OOR combo and the EarMen CH-Amp full stack. Portable setups selected are the Cayin N8ii, the Astell&Kern SP3000, the Chord Electronics Mojo 2 and the EarMen Angel.
The MM-500’s max power handling is 5W RMS. Audeze states the minimum power requirement is +100mW and they recommend + 250mW. No problem at all for the devices of our choice.
First up is the Cayin N8ii. We recently reviewed this high-end portable player, and we gave it our Recommended Buy Award as it not only sounds goo, but you get multiple different tunings and a high level of versatility. The N8ii has no issue driving the MM-500 and even in low gain the volume doesn’t need to go very high. My preferred setting with the MM-500 is the tube mode in CLASS A. This way you get a full bodied and clean sound from top to bottom. Bass has good impact and punch, and it reaches down low to sub levels with good control. Layering in both the bass and mids are excellent. The mid section timbre is natural, and it comes with a nice spacious presentation with a natural amount of air and lovely note extension. The top end is soft but lively and it will never offend. If you want to spice up things more on top, you can switch to the solid state setting. All-in-all the MM-500 and Cayin N8ii combo is nice.
The Astell&Kern SP3000 only arrived a few days ago, but it seriously impressed me already. I found it good when I heard it during our Headphone.shop visit, but now that I got to spend more time with it, I realise it’s better than I thought. The MM-500 has a little less weight and body compared to with the N8ii. The bass section isn’t as impressive or present, but bass is tighter and faster. The mid section here is a little less spacious, and vocals come out a bit more to the front. I do really like the note extension and decay of the MM-500 and SP3000 combo, as it’s a level up from the N8ii. The top end here is more energetic and livelier, but it’s never too much. Sound stage-wise I do feel the N8ii is a better match for the MM-500, but precision and PRaT-wise, the SP3K and Audeze combo is the better one. The SP3000 has no issues driving the N8ii, though the volume does need to go up more (compared to the N8ii) to get to the same listening level. Both great portable sources for the MM-500, both with their own advantages. It basically comes down to personal tuning preference here.
The EarMen Angel, is one of the best transportable DAC/AMPs we had the pleasure to review this year and the synergy with the MM-500 is excellent. Note that you will need an adapter to 4.4mm or 3.5mm. There’s no need to active the high gain mode on the Angel to properly drive the Audeze, but in high gain mode you get bigger bass impact and presence, making the MM-500 sound heavier. This combo brings excellent extension in all ways (depth, width and note). The vibe is energetic with a good pace and perfect control. Bass reaches down very low, like in the N8ii but the control is better here. The Angel is a bit of a mix of the N8II and SP3000. Technically strong, but musical, clean, and very dynamic. I could happily listen to this combo all day long.
One of the most used portable DACs probably is the Chord Electronics Mojo 2, no surprise there. The only thing you need to run the MM-500 from it is a 6.35mm to 3.5mm adapter. To be honest this combo least impressed me. This combo doesn’t bring the same level of dynamics, energy and excitement as al the others do. For me, here, the MM-500 sounds less musical and exciting and a bit boring to be honest.
We’ve already established that the MM-500 can easily be driven by portable devices. The MM-500 is transparent, and it will show you what your source or amp brings to the table. That also means that it scales up nicely with bigger and better desktop gear. Is the MM-500 good with portable devices? Yes. Is it even better with desktop gear? It is. Let’s have a closer look. Where possible we always used the balanced output.
The dCS LINA stack luckily is still in my office, and it brings a balanced and more evened-out MM-500 to the party. You get excellent speed and good control. Bass is still present and punchy but not too much. This combo delivers a great mix of technicalities and musicality, and as such it’s a pleasure to listen to. I really like the 3-dimensionality and positioning with this combo, you simply don’t get that from the portable devices used in the previous chapter. Same goes for the dynamics, in desktop mode they simply are a lot better. Another thing I really like here are the vocals, they have a soft and really natural feel to them. The layering in bass and mids are impressive in this combo, so all-in-all there really is nothing to complain about. It’s a great combi, as expected.
When switching to tubes and the Auris Audio Headonia (with the dCS DAC and Clock), the MM-500 gets more presence in the lower regions and the vocal presentation is more forward and energetic. The beauty of this setup is the tube warmth and the incredible extension in the notes. This combo also makes the MM-500 nicely spacious and natural sounding. The tonality here is a bit more energetic than with the dCS LINA amp, but it works well together. The MM-500 isn’t as balanced an even here, but the contrast brings extra spiciness and excitement. It’s the combo I used most of the time for my casual, non review listening. A good amount of detail, excellent dynamics, addictive musicality and a bit of tube smoothness. What’s not to like?
When hooking up the MM-500 to the Feliks Audio Envy 300b tube amp, in combination with the Musician Audio Aquarius DAC, we again get a very different MM-500. In this setup, the MM-500 sounds bigger in the mids and on top. The amount of bass is more or less the same but the Headonia as a better punch and kick, where it here has a softer approach. You do get a more narrow and less spacious sounding MM-500 mids, and there for sure is less extension on top. It’s more of a compact and powerful sound and less of a romantic tube kind of sound. The note extension here isn’t as long as in the Headonia and there’s less tube smoothness. You do still get a hugely dynamic sound, with a high level of detail. Vocals here are also more to the front of the stage, but they have less energy than with the Headonia, and some of you might prefer that.
The Aquarius and Ferrum OOR/Hypsos combo with the MM-500 sound more like the Envy setup above, but bass isn’t as controlled. It’s more of a typical solid state, fast and compact type of sound. Where you before got more space, extension, a wider sound stage, and tube musicality, you here get a full, heavier, and more compact signature. To be honest, this combo isn’t really for me as the other desktop sources – at least to me – make the MM-500 perform at a higher level. Finally, we have the EarMen CH-Amp full stack setup with the PSU-3 and Tradutto DAC. This combo works a lot better for me. Bass is slightly more present but fully in control. The mids are full but they’re more spacious with better layering and extension. The vocals carry more energy making everything more exciting. The top end is more energetic and that spices up things. You get a really good level of detail, a nice sound stage and an overall natural, energetic, and musical presentation. This for me is a very addictive, musical combo. The EarMen setup keeps amazing me. An End of Year Award winner perhaps?
On the Fourth and last page of the article you can find the comparison part, the conclusion and the full list of specs. Click here!
Page 3: Sound General, Basics, Sources
Page 4: Sound – Comparisons, Conclusion
Page 5: Full technical Specifications