YAMAHA YH-E700A wireless noise-cancelling headphones
While pricey compared with some consumer wireless in-ears, Sennheiser’s IE 300 offer stunning cabled audio in a solid, compact package.
Yamaha keeps its ears firmly on the music with these $499 wireless noise-cancellers.
True wireless in-ear buds may be bouncing up the hit parade as far as street usage goes, but they’re not perfect, and they’re not for everyone. So while here you won’t be getting the same set of features as a similarly priced set of true wireless noise-cancelling headphones, that’s not the focus of the Sennheiser IE 300. At this price point, it’s clear Sennheiser isn’t trying to directly compete with the more affordable wireless alternatives, nor with industry-level professional in-ear monitoring solutions used by performing musicians. Rather, this is an attempt to bridge the gap and offer audiophile-grade sound quality in a focused and relatively affordable package (when considering those professional IEMs) to tempt you away from true wireless.
Construction here is excellent, with gold-plated connectors and para-aramid (Kevlar-like) coating for the cables promising increased durability and “thousands of bend cycles”. The same attention to detail is present in the design of the audio components, with some clever engineering allowing for a much greater sense of space than in-ears are often afforded. And being a cabled set of headphones allows the IE 300s to have far more compact driver housings than can true wireless buds, which have to cram in a battery and wireless tech; here the housings are able to sit properly flush with the ear when worn.
The IE 300s are currently available in a single colour configuration, which could broadly be described as ‘black’ — a suitable statement given their focused, high-end design. The units themselves are a dark greyblack with metallic flecks, which on close inspection can be seen to be gold and blue speckles.
The cable terminates in a right-angle 3.5mm TRS jack which we found played nicely with our devices and was very easy to handle, though unusually there’s no in-line volume or transport controls, which some cabled in-ear users may miss. Nor do these have an in-built microphone or call-taking abilities.
The buds can attach and detach from the cable (see the ‘exploded’ image below) via gold-plated Fidelity+ MMCX connectors, which allow for a 360-degree swivel of each of the buds as well as the ability to swap out the included cabling to your preferred choice of MMCX-compatible cable.
This styling together with their diminutive size makes for an incredibly tidy aesthetic, and they would
border on being unnoticeable if it weren’t for the shiny Sennheiser logo at the centre of each bud.
In the box you get three sets of silicon tips as well as three sets of memory foam tips, along with a cleaning implement to keep your buds free from wax build-up. You’ll also find a rather swish soft-shell case to keep your buds safe and tangle-free when not in use, complete with some cable and accessory organisation straps within.
Fitting the IE 300 over and around your ears is incredibly easy, thanks to the swivelling connection that the buds have to the cabling, along with the malleable ear hooks. We even found these hooks thin enough to co-exist rather politely with the arms of eyeglasses, for those that wear them.
This reviewer found that none of the included silicon tips provided an entirely adequate seal, but thankfully the memory foam options worked perfectly. With in-ear headphones it’s entirely necessary to get a snug fit or you can lose bass frequencies entirely; the IE 300 are no exception.
The issue with the silicon tips may be a result of a slight warping of their shape, which was the state we found them in out of the box, but this is likely to be an experience that varies user to user, as is often the case with in-ear fit.
We did find these buds quite susceptible to microphonics — noise heard when the wearer moves the cable or brushes it against clothing or something similar. It’s most noticeable while no audio is being played through the earbuds or while the wearer is moving, so while it may be problematic for those listening to more nuanced music or podcasts while walking, listeners sitting still at home should be fine.
For those music lovers coming from a world where active noise-cancellation and true wireless connectivity are standard, it’s worth reiterating here that the IE 300 offers almost nothing in the way of these kinds of features. Instead, it focuses exclusively on audio quality.
Quite often, the inherently limited design of in-ear devices means that the listener ends up with somewhat compressed audio (albeit with some clever tricks to mask this, in some cases) due in part to the smaller drivers and the lack of cues that can emerge from circumaural headphones. But once a successful seal was made with these IE 300s, they offered a truly rich and spacious musical experience. One especially notable feature of these particular in-ear buds is their ability to create an excellent sense of space in their reproduction of music, a characteristic that’s rarely found within the category. The sound signature is pleasantly balanced, with a slight preference towards bass, but the IE 300 handled all genres comfortably and offered stunning levels of detail while doing so. To achieve this the IE 300 uses 7mm Extra Wide Band (XWB) transducers in combination with extra air chambers to provide that aforementioned sense of space.
The precision engineering pays off. Listening to Fountains from Jogging House’s 2019 release ‘Lure’, the gentle fading in and out of each nuanced timbre appeared impressively distinct, and never to the point where they felt separate from the arpeggio bed and other textures that combine to make up this ambient composition. The straight bass punctuated the track and provided a clear foundation that gelled seamlessly with the overall mix. The same could even be said for the organic tape hiss and other natural artefacts of the recording process, displayed here in clear detail thanks to the IE 300’s remarkable breadth of delivery.
Coral from the same album showed off moments of breathy and birdlike reverse synth chirping that we’ve heard become backgrounded on other audio equipment. The space offered by these in-ears delivers tremendous clarity of individual elements without ripping them out of the mix.
At the other end of the musical spectrum, Gojira’s Remembrance from their sophomore record ‘The Link’ had all the attack and percussive precision required for groove metal when heard through the IE 300. The track’s stop-start nature was handled with precision by the Sennheiser in-ears, and the riffs were as crushing as ever with their low-mid clarity and weight. While as noted there is a slight push in the frequency distribution towards the bass end of the spectrum, the warmer profile is subtle and the balance never felt overbearing. And it’s worth noting that the foam tips emphasise these frequencies a little more than the silicon alternatives (from the fleeting moments we managed a seal with them) and also — from our experience — offer more passive noise cancellation (isolation).
Some prominent cable noise means that these aren’t necessarily the best headphones for the more active among us, but this issue only really presents itself with more nuanced or quiet audio. For the vast bulk of music and the majority of uses, the IE 300 proves Sennheiser’s ability to deliver an impressively natural sound balance even from buds so small and flush-fitting. And you’ll never have to worry about the degradation of Bluetooth transmission or the ever-depleting battery woes experienced by those who have gone true wireless. Harry Domanski
Why don’t Yamaha’s headphones get more attention? They’ve got the cachet of an established
Japanese audio brand.
They have the track record
— including a number of Sound+Image Awards in recent years. Yet they don’t often seem to make the recommendations lists that are stocked with the more usual candidates. Perhaps that will change with this move into the mainstream category of wireless noise-cancelling headphones, introducing this YH-E700A, launching at what can now (thanks to Apple’s eye-watering expensive AirPods Max) be called a midrange price of $499. There’s also a pair of on-ears, the YH-E500A at just $229, which we’ll be reviewing next issue.
Build & features
The YH-E700A are substantial headphones, their earcups 90mm in diameter, fully circumaural and spaciously so, with leatherette-covered foam earpads that are 25mm thick, sealing firmly yet lightly around the ears. While these earpads were very comfortable, we needed a tad more extension to the headband for our admittedly fairly large head: we had to pull the Yamahas down to get them fully centred on the ears, so that the padded headphone band pushed a little hard on the top pressure point.
The headphones both pivot and swivel, so they tuck away neatly into their hard carry-case, noting only that this case itself is substantially larger than those of competitors such as Sony and Bose, simply because the Yamaha headphones are so much more substantial.
The optional cable connection socket and ANC button are on the left headshell, with the ANC button shuttling between ANC on, ANC off and Ambient mode, the last of which adds surrounding sound to music playback. The right headshell hosts the power button, which invokes an announcement of battery level when turning on; there’s also the play/pause/ answer call button (there is a microphone for making calls, as well as external and internal mikes for noise cancellation). Volume up/ down operates using a small rocker switch which we found a little fiddly in use, and finally the USB-C charging socket lies amongst all these controls.
There’s an app available (see opposite) but it’s not essential for operation, and there’s little of the smart functionality in vogue on some competitors, such as auto-pause when you lift an earcup, or large touch surfaces on the housing, or even EQ available; nothing like that. We have to say we didn’t miss them. Yamaha seems to have music quality as its primary goal, and who would argue with that?