Yamaha YH-5000SE review

Expensive, but their performance is exceptional Tested at £4799 / $5000 / AU$7499

Open-back headphones: Yamaha YH-5000SE
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

Yamaha’s YH-5000SE are glorious performers that set the standard at this elevated level


  • +

    Exceptional detail resolution and expressive dynamics

  • +

    Spacious presentation

  • +

    Fine build and comfort


  • -

    Price puts them out of the reach of most

  • -

    You can’t skimp on partnering electronics

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Mention Yamaha to us and it is the brand’s enviable track record with home cinema amplifiers that comes to mind. Of course, Yamaha is far more than that and has its fingers in many more pies than Mr Kipling. The company is a dominant force in musical instruments, making everything you can think of from grand pianos and electronic keyboards to trumpets and drums. Then there are the motorcycles and pretty much anything you would need to deliver sound in a broadcast or concert environment. Given such a context, maybe it is no surprise that the company’s smallish domestic headphone range tends to get overlooked.

It seems like Yamaha is determined to change that with the introduction of the range-topping YH-5000SE. While there is a precedent for such a product in the form of the HP-1 of the mid-’70s, this is still a move that caught us by surprise. Having talked with the people behind the project, it is clear that Yamaha feels that there is a new market developing for wired headphones at this high-end level and would like to stake a claim before the sector truly takes off. We have to say that the Yamaha YH-5000SE is a fine way to do it.


Open-back headphones: Yamaha YH-5000SE

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

There is a link between these headphones and the 1970s HP-1, and that is the use of an orthodynamic driver. A what? It is an older term for what we now call a planar magnetic. This is where the diaphragm is etched with a voice coil and sits between opposing magnets. This arrangement has advantages compared to a conventional moving coil driver in terms of the potential for lower distortion because the diaphragm is driven over more of its surface area, and greater responsiveness thanks to its lower weight. 

The driver used in the YH-5000SE differs from conventional magnetic planar units by having a circular diaphragm with a spiral coil. This unit has been in development since 2016 and has carefully evolved over hundreds of iterations before arriving at this final variant. 

Build & comfort

Open-back headphones: Yamaha YH-5000SE

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The YH-5000SE is an open-back design. It carefully manages the pressure around the drive unit with the use of Dutch weave stainless steel filters and controls directivity with special shaping inside the earcup. The earcup housing is made of lightweight magnesium, while the rest of the headphone’s structure uses a mix of steel, ABS, leather and aluminium. The result is a surprisingly light pair of headphones that weighs 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 headphones we’ve worn.  

There is a choice of earpads. As standard, the headphones come fitted with perforated leather ones but these can be easily swapped for alternatives covered with Toray Ultrasuede. Comfort-wise the choice comes down to personal preference, with the Toray-covered option feeling lovely right up to the point our ears start getting too hot. The Toray option also makes the headphones sound a little fuller, though just a touch less transparent. We end up leaving the default leather pads in place.

Yamaha YH-5000SE tech specs

Yamaha YH-5000SE

(Image credit: Future)

Type Open-back, wired

Driver Planar magnetic

Sensitivity 98dB/m/W

Impedance 34 ohms

Weight 320g

Cable length 2m

Cable type 3.5mm (with 6.3mm adaptor), 4.4mm balanced 

General build quality is as good as you would expect at this premium price. These headphones feel beautifully engineered and are built with obvious care. But, unlike more luxurious alternatives such as the similarly-priced Focal Utopia (2022), they have an aura of being a functional tool rather than something to impress friends with. We’re fine with that.

That feeling of being focused on the job at hand extends to the packaging. While the Focals arrive in packaging that looks and feels beautiful and classy, these Yamahas come in something more ordinary. It does the job well enough, but it is something that you would quickly discard once you’ve got the headphones out. In the package, you get a dedicated metal stand and a choice of single-ended or 4.4mm balanced woven silver-plated OFC cables. Both leads are 2m long. 


The partnering system matters. A lot.

If you are buying headphones at this level be aware that you can’t skimp on the partnering kit. Don’t just plug these Yamahas into your laptop or phone and expect a performance good enough to justify that sky-high price. You just won’t get it.

In our book, these headphones are just so capable and transparent that the sky is the limit as far as partnering kit is concerned. Most of our testing is done using Naim’s ND555/555 PS DR music streamer and the Technics SL-1000R record player as sources. Amplification is provided by our reference Burmester 088 preamp as well as Chord’s Hugo TT2 DAC/headphone amplifier. Our trusty MacBook Pro (loaded with Audirvana music-playing software and plenty of high-res music) is also pressed into service. We have the YH-5000SE’s obvious rival, the Focal Utopia (2022) to hand for comparison purposes, as well as cheaper but still determinedly premium alternatives such as Sony’s MDR-Z1, Grado’s RS1x and the Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation).


Open-back headphones: Yamaha YH-5000SE

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

We give the YH-5000SE a few days of running before listening seriously. There are no two ways about it, these Yamaha headphones are exceptional performers. They come close to 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.

Beyond that, it is hard to think of an alternative that’s as insightful and balanced. The Focals certainly deliver more in the way of punch and drive when we listen to Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes set, but the Yamahas sound obviously more balanced and detailed. They reveal subtleties in texture and low-level information that the otherwise excellent Focals just don’t pick up on. More than that, 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.

Springsteen’s passionate vocals come through with grit intact. These headphones allow a microscopic analysis of his voice if required, but also let the listener sit back and just enjoy the experience. Rarely have we come across a piece of hi-fi that’s so capable of putting a spotlight on the smallest of details but still encourages the full musical experience to shine through. To top it all off, these headphones have a great sense of timing and rhythm. The Focals may deliver a bigger punch but it is these Yamahas that communicate the ebb and flow of music better, delivering the hard-charging beat of The Ghost Of Tom Joad with the full dose of momentum intact.

We move to Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa and these cans sound right at home. They have a wonderfully spacious sound giving them an uncluttered and expansive feel with this recording. With the standard leather earpads fitted, these Yamahas sound wonderfully neutral and natural.

We’re mightily impressed by the YH-5000SE’s dynamic ability; the way they can track large-scale swings or low-level nuances with equal ease is breathtaking. These headphones sound organic and fluid in a way that makes most others sound pretty mechanical in comparison. You can add class-leading composure and control to the list of plus points too.

We play everything from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions to Nirvana’s Nevermind with various works of Ólafur Arnalds in between, and these Yamahas never disappoint. Despite their exceptional transparency they never go out of their way to emphasise flaws in recordings. As a listener, you’re well aware that some aspects of the recording aren’t spot-on, but these cans have a habit of putting the focus on the music.


Open-back headphones: Yamaha YH-5000SE

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

There are no two ways about it, these Yamahas are mighty pricey for a pair of headphones. Yet, in our view, they justify that price with a depth of ability that we haven’t come across at this level before. Provided your partnering electronics are talented enough to make the YH-5000SE sing we can’t help but recommend these headphones highly. They are exceptional performers.


  • Sound 5
  • Build 5
  • Comfort 5


Read our review of the Focal Utopia (2022) headphones

Also consider the Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Gen)

Read our Grado RS1x review

The best headphones you can buy right now

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  • Symples
    £4799 and they're damn ugly.
    Not that I could afford one ;)
  • Jasonovich
    I recently switched from conventional Dynamic speakers to Planar magnetic ones, and what revelation in terms of transparency, expansion of sound stage, sweet treble and real bass.

    I will not pay £5K for any headphones and I am a big fan of Yamaha products, though these bad boys are way above my league.
    Poor people and ordinary mortals like most people I know, need not spend guzzillions on a good pair of planar magnet headphones, there are quite a few manufacturers out there, selling PM headphones at sub £500 price range, Monoprice Monoliths 1060, 1060C, 1570 and 1070 are all good designs and the Chinese manufacturers such as Hifiman and Moon-drop, Gold Planar are excellent choice.

    I have recently purchased the Hifiman Edition XS (open back) stealth planar magnet for £407 (reduced from £499), truly tear evoking, 'I just want to hug somebody now and tell the world I found my true love speakers'. Really sold on the technology, so in addition to the XS's, I also got myself a portable Gold Planar (closed) headphones for my DSD512 DAP player. These costs a mere £85 including delivery. It's going to be a long wait for those, courtesy of AliExpress.
    These little planars are inexpensive but it does give you a flavour and if you want something bigger later on like the top end Audeze LCD-XC, it's worth starting small before you splash out.

    The Hifiman Edition XS's like many full size planar magnets need a good powered source, so fixing them on to your mobile, unless you use a portable DAC dongle, makes no sense, you won't hear it's potential. I'm using Topping E50 DAC with external linear power supply via Class A Lehmann's head amp, this is a magic combination in terms of dynamics and delivering sound that is faithful to the source.
    My current headphones are on eBay, as much as I love my Yamaha HPH-MT5 and Audio-Technica ATH-M40x headphones, I need to recoup some of the costs!
  • Northern Neil
    What about these against the Hifiman Susvara. I auditioned all the top end (except these) and the Susvara came out the best sounding. Although again you need a dedicated Amp like the Ferrum Orr to drive them to perfection.
  • dreamer
    I own Focal Utopia and Sennheiser HD800, and have listened to them extensively,, probably more than a thousand hours of listening time. The Focals is very capable in bringing out the details and positioning of the instruments and vocals on the sound stage, although its stage is an intimate one, smaller than the HD800. The Focals really packed a punch when it comes to bass, more than my HD800s. The HD800s excel in larger sound stage, even more revealing than the Focals. Comfort wise, I prefer the HD800s over the Focals as they are signficantly lighter, have larger ear cups and lesser clamp force. The Focals have thicker ear cups and feel like they are enveloping my ears in a cushy couch.

    Enter the Yamaha YH-5000SE. Long story short, these are simply the best headphones for me, bar none. I have listened to many high end headphones from Hifiman and Audeze before I landed with Focal Utopia and Sennheiser HD800. But man, these Yamaha headphones just simply tick all of the boxes, as if integrating all the good points of the Focals and Sennheisers and leaving out all their weaknesses. The Yamahas are extremely well built and robust. I have to change out my HD800s' ear pads becauase they started peeling. The headband started getting all sticky, probably due to humid weather where I live. The Focal Utopia's right earcup fail me 3 times!!! 3 times!!! The Beryllium driver was fried and no sound after a while, and each time I have to send in for repair, which took a few weeks. The Yamahas' leather was high quality as no degradation from hours of listening. The built is rock solid, yet miraculously light, even though some may say it looks weird. Trust me, once you hold them in your hand, you immediately can feel it is light but somehow it just feels extremely well built, the type that gives you great confidence of its built, compared to my Focals and Sennheisers. By the way, my Focals actually creak every time I move them or adjust them. I guess it's the extreme attention to details by the Yamaha engineers that made the difference.

    The Yamahas' sound is: detailed, transparent, big sound stage, accurate positioning of the instruments in front of you, with solid, accurate deep bass, no bass bleeding; nimble and fast rendition of whatever genre of music you throw at it. Its treble can bring out all the details of the high notes. All these qualities are delivered to you in a coherent and natural way, that focuses your attention on the content and soul of the music, rather than its technicalities. This, to me, is unparalleled.