These Yamaha over-ear headphones justify their mighty price with a depth of ability that we haven’t come across at this level before.
The YH-5000SE uses an orthodynamic driver, an older term for planar magnetic, where the diaphragm is etched with a voice coil and sits between opposing magnets. This has advantages over a conventional moving-coil driver in terms of the potential for lower distortion, as the diaphragm is driven over more of its surface area, and greater responsiveness thanks to its lower weight.
The Yamahas are open-back designs. Dutch weave stainless steel filters carefully manage the pressure around the drive units and directivity is controlled by special shaping inside the earcup. The earcup housing is made of lightweight magnesium, while the rest of the structure uses a mix of steel, ABS, leather and aluminium. The result is a surprisingly light pair of headphones at just 320g. Add that low weight to the combination of a wide leather headband, large, softly cushioned earpads and carefully judged clamping pressure, and you have one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones we have worn.
There are no two ways about it, the YH-5000SE headphones are exceptional performers. They come close to the equivalently priced Stax electrostatics when it comes to outright resolution and clarity, but in our opinion deliver the sound with greater verve, which makes them a more enjoyable listen.
It is hard to think of an alternative that is as insightful and balanced. The rival Focal Utopia certainly deliver more in the way of punch and drive, but the Yamahas sound more balanced and detailed. They reveal subtleties in texture and low-level information that the otherwise excellent Focals miss. We love the unforced naturalness of the Yamahas’ presentation and the precision with which they define every note. There is still plenty of muscularity here when the music demands, with the YH-5000SE rendering bass with impeccable clarity and articulation. We get a real sense of power where required, but also class-leading finesse where it isn’t.
The 5000SE allow microscopic analysis, but also let the listener sit back and enjoy the experience. Rarely have we come across hi-fi so capable of putting a spotlight on the smallest of details, while still encouraging the full musical experience to shine. They have a great sense of timing and rhythm, and we are hugely impressed by their dynamic ability; the way they can track large-scale swings or low-level nuances with equal ease is breathtaking. They sound organic and fluid in a way that makes most others sound pretty mechanical in comparison and there’s class-leading composure and control too.
These Yamahas justify their mighty price with a depth of ability that we haven’t come across at this level before, giving us little option but to declare them worthy winners of this year's special Temptation Award.
Read our full Yamaha YH-5000SE headphones review
Complete the set: read our hands-on Yamaha HA-L7A headphone amp review
And see our longer list of the very best audiophile headphones 2023
What Hi-Fi? Awards: See every Product of the Year 2023 winner