Sound+Image

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.

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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.

In use

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.

Listening

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).

Conclusion

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?

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 ??  ?? ▲ Detachable MMCX-connector cables and a high level of constructi­on show the quality on offer here.
▲ Detachable MMCX-connector cables and a high level of constructi­on show the quality on offer here.
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