Yamaha YH-L700A put to the test: when premium features are not enough

Image source: Billy Steele / Engadget

With no 3D sound field, the YH-L700A is average-sounding noise-canceling headphones. There’s good clarity and detail, but the midrange can be overwhelming when you’re listening to a full band. There is a decent punchy bass, but a dash of highs would go a long way here to round out the sound and break the chaos of songs like Underoath’s “Damn Excuses”. Sometimes the lack of heights leads to an uncomfortable mushy mess. Even with more acoustic genres such as bluegrass, the double bass dominates, while the other strings take a back seat. This is the case in much of Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood & Juanita. It is obvious that Yamaha was careful to make its 3D audio function sound good, it is a shame that the “normal” listening experience is mediocre at best.

The YH-L700A offers active noise cancellation, complete with an ambient noise mode that lets you adjust to your surroundings as needed. Like Apple and others, Yamaha has engineered its ANC setup with technology that can adjust the audio as it changes with wear and tear. The so-called Listening Optimizer takes measurements every 20 seconds to detect deviations in the seal and air leaks. The headphones can then adjust the sound to accommodate issues. While I have no way of measuring how effective this is, I can tell you that the ANC does the whole job. It’s not as powerful as Bose or Sony, but most of the time it’s good enough.

Finally, there is a Listening Care feature that tries to maintain decent sound quality even at lower volumes. Normally, and to the detriment of our mutual hearing health, headphones sound best at medium to high volume. According to Yamaha, the YHL700A’s Listening Care analyzes the sound to get a full range at low volume. It takes into account changes in background noise during the process to provide the best possible sound, no matter how loud. And while it’s not as consistent as the company would lead you to believe, rock songs retain a decent frequency range, well below 50 percent volume. While some detail is lost as expected, it is still perfectly audible at these levels.

Billy Steele / Engadget

The marquee functions can be enabled or disabled using the Yamaha headphones app. There are options for 3D sound field, head tracking, listening care, listening optimizer and noise canceling. You can also choose your preferred 3D preset from your phone, as well as customize (or disable) the timer for the auto power off. The software also shows your battery level so you don’t have to wonder what the voice prompt “Battery high” means when you turn on the headphones.

The battery life is an important sticking point with these headphones. During my initial tests, I only managed ten and a half hours with ANC and 3D sound turned on and head tracking turned off. That’s 30 minutes less than the company’s 11-hour forecast. Sure, that’s a lot of tech at the same time, but most flagship noise-canceling headphones can run for 30 or more hours on a single charge. According to Yamaha, it can be done by disabling Sound Field technology and increasing the expected battery life to 34 hours. The range with the YH-L700A at full power should be at least 15 hours to justify the asking price. The company released a firmware update during the course of my review that supposedly improved battery life, but the results didn’t change when ANC and 3D Sound were both active.

Regarding the film- and 3D-focused competition, a few options come to mind. Apple’s AirPods Max have dynamic head tracking and support spatial audio through Dolby Atmos and Atmos Music. It doesn’t have a selection of presets to help you fine-tune it at the touch of a button, but there is an adaptive EQ that maintains sound quality as conditions and external noise change. AirPods Max also offers the most natural-sounding transparency mode of all the headphones I’ve tested. However, they are still $ 479 even though we saw them as low as $ 429 recently.

Yamaha tried to serve both movie buffs and music nerds with a number of attractive functions.  Battery life with these tools enabled is disappointing for a set of $ 500 headphones, and the presets can be clumsy.  As it stands, Yamaha has a solid set of headphones that still needs some fine-tuning.

Billy Steele / Engadget

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 is another excellent alternative. The company’s flagship model is packed with handy features like pausing while speaking, quick alert mode, and the ability to automatically adjust noise cancellation settings based on activity or location. The 1000XM4 impresses in both sound and ANC, including support for 360 Reality Audio over supported streaming services, making it our first choice for headphones right now. They don’t include dynamic head tracking, but they’ll save you a lot of money at the current price of $ 248 (full price: $ 350).

Yamaha made an interesting suggestion with their YH-L700A headphones. The company tried to cater to movie buffs and music nerds alike, with features that work for both movies and television, as well as options for casual listening. Battery life with the most attractive tools enabled is disappointing for a $ 500 pair of headphones, and the presets would benefit from some reluctance. A fully customizable EQ and a slight bump in the battery department would justify the high price tag here, but right now Yamaha have solid headphones that need some fine tuning.

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