What goes on inside your own head is your business—especially when you are flipping-off reality and holing up in your favorite listening space to get intimate with your most holy playlist. Once inside the sonic bubble created by a comfy pair of great sounding “cans” the troubles of the day just melt away. The auditory pleasures provided are personal and confidential. So, it pains me to no end to see that in recent years, over the ear and on ear (as opposed to in-ear) headphones have become more of a tacky totemistic fashion statement than a one-way musical ticket to Xanadu. Sad. Headphones are for enjoying music one on one. Period. They were never meant to be included in any conversation about earrings and tattoos.
So now that you have a deeper understanding of my arrogant, out-dated attitude on headphones, let’s move on.
Yamaha recently sent me three pairs to “evaluate”—Rather risky on their part given the loss of hearing that comes with being an aging sound guy and DJ. Whenever I get three of anything I can’t resist the temptation to compare them and share with you my highly valued (cough) opinion.
So what is the criteria here? The three things to consider when buying headphones for your personal listening or studio use are Comfort, Sound, and Value. Music is meant to be appreciated and there’s simply no better way to consume your favorite listenable than with a quality headset. As the comfort bench mark, I’m using 45 minutes, which is about the average time of a 10-12 track album. All three of these headsets are closed, around the ear type and effectively isolate the listener from low-level outside noise. They all come with a convertible 1/4” to 1/8” mini-plug and a handy bag that will probably get misplaced soon after your purchase.
To keep things consistent, I selected a wide variety of music from my iTunes library, all with a bit rate of 1411 kbs or better—not that I can really tell the difference.
How They Ranked (IMHO)
3rd place: The Yamaha HPH-MT7 (around $170). Because we all have different likes and dislikes s far as what constitutes a good sounding pair of head phones, suffice it to say that all three contenders here sound exceptional. They are designed for studio monitoring and therefore provide very accurate, well-defined sound. That said, they don’t sound alike. Of the three, the HPH-MT7 is the one I liked the least—your auditory impression maybe totally to the contrary. What I think we can agree on is that the 9.8 foot, fixed cord is just plain annoying. It was constantly getting wrapped around things. To convert it to a coiled lead would require cutting and splicing. The MT7 also scored last on the comfort scale. Regardless of how much I adjusted them I was unable to find that “sweet spot” where sound and comfort collide. They also seem to have a problem with four-eyed glasses wearer (like myself). You may find (as I did) that they pinch the bows and try to slide your goggles right off your face. A minor gripe is they don’t fold up, so between that and the untamable cord, whenever I wanted to use them they were always a mass of tangles. I also don’t like the price and in a moment you’ll see why. Bottom line: They sound fine, but are least favored for anything more than a short-term, casual relationship.
Runner-Up: While it appears to defy numerical logic that the MT7 would fall between the MT5 and the MT8, Yamaha says it’s because the MT7 was released a year earlier, and the MT5 and MT8 represent an expansion of the MT family. Okay, I’ll buy that, but in the end, the MT7 seemed like a dog from another litter. To their distinct advantage, the MT5 and MT8 have perfectly sized ear cups that are more rectangular in shape than the circular style of the MT7. Plus, (cue the applause) both the 5 and 8 have cords that are easily replaceable. The 5 and 8 will fit better too. Even after hours on this man’s noggin, they stayed put—a big plus for hours-long listening sessions. They sound better too—the bass is deeper, stereo separation is enhanced, and the overall experience is more real—much like sitting in a studio and listening to the tracks being laid down on the other side of the glass. When you get down to the specific differences between the MT5 and MT8, the MT8 has a wider frequency response (15Hz-28kHz vs 20Hz-20kHz) due to it’s 5mm larger driver, comes with both a 3.9′ (coiled) and 9.8′ (straight) cord and has a better “feel.” It’s also twice the price of the MT5— So, If you are buying just a single pair of phones for your personal use, that’s one thing—if you are buying in bulk for your studio, there’s a better option.
Winner: For me and my tinnitus, the HPH-MT5 is the best choice. On the downside, MT5 has a straight, 9.8 foot cable like the MT7—but it snaps right on and off, so if you break it or want to replace it with coiled cable, done. Like the MT8, they are far more comfortable and don’t mess with my eyewear—so like the more expensive MT8s, they are quite comfortable for long-term use. While I don’t want to step on anybody’s personal listening preferences, these sound the best of the bunch to me. While the MT8’s are a little better in terms of construction and materials and come with coiled cord, these are a tad lighter and priced at under a hundred bucks. That, in my book, makes them the clear “most bang for the buck” choice. Hey, they are your ears and it’s your money, so I’ll leave the final choice to you and your hammers, anvils, stirrups and wallet—but for a Benny plus tax, you can’t do any better than the Yamaha HPH-MT5. — Bob