Yamaha has been busily proclaiming that it wants to protect our hearing health with volume-conscious tech baked in to headphones since 2020. Now, the successors to the company's October 2021 TW-E3B earbuds are here, and it's the same story: Listening Care promises to future-proof our hearing via a "4-band parametric equalizer (PEQ) to apply precise settings at each level in order to produce the best tonal balance at every volume" – which basically means you should not have to crank up the volume to hear those bass drops or cymbal crashes. Even if you want to.
And it comes in a premium guise too! The company's higher-end 2020-issue YH-E700A and EP-E70A wireless headphones went a step further by taking into account the loudness of the music being listening to, plus the background noise. In those models, Listening Care was apparently able to analyze the average volume of the content every 0.7 milliseconds and make adjustments slowly over time for a natural effect. Using the inbuilt mics on the headphones, it also calculated the signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio of the content to environmental noise to "subtly adjust the volume accordingly for an optimized listening experience".
Now, Listening Care is no longer the headline-grabber in the new and, it must be said, handsomely finished Yamaha TW-E5B earbuds. Top of the spec-sheet now might be the Qualcomm TrueWireless Mirroring support for a robust connection that's engineered to deliver a rapid, seamless swap in multiple use cases. Or it could be the 30-hour total battery, or the advanced mic design and Qualcomm cVc (Clear Voice Capture) for issue-free call-handling and Ambient Sound profile. But Listening Care, aka "intelligent equalization for full-range sound at lower listening volumes" is still there – and we wonder how popular (or even necessary) it really is.
Opinion: music is pure escapism. Listening Care applies restrictions
In a world where music serves as a break from the often cold, hard reality of life, Listening Care feels an awful lot like being told what to do again. That is not to detract from the otherwise admirable specs found in these true wireless earbuds – I'll gladly take the Yamaha TW-E5B's IPX5 rating as permission take them to the gym and thank you for it – but Yamaha does seem hellbent on persisting with homegrown tech that, let's face it, alters the balance of recordings and tampers with what the artist (and whoever was at the mixing desk at the time) wanted you to hear, all under the guise of looking after your ears.
The company would surely argue that Listening Care adds value at the level; an added, optional feature and that nobody is forcing you to deploy – but perhaps you might, if you were lending these earbuds to a child, say. Music-lovers may well counter that the consumer always pays – sometimes for something they did not ask for and likely will never use.
It could just as well be argued that if we simply listen at sensible levels to protect our hearing (or find a very good set of noise cancelling headphones to avoid cranking up the volume to drown out external noise) we should not have to tamper with the EQ balance of musical recordings. The new TW-E5B earbuds do not support active noise cancellation, despite the listed Ambient Aware feature.
Then again, for just $150 / £129 (around AU$209) and available in your choice of four striking colorways (the dark brown is particularly winsome, above) these Yamaha earbuds still look more than worthy of a second look.