Yamaha's new headphones promise ultra-clear sound (for a mind-blowing price)

Yamaha YH-5000SE on blue background
(Image credit: Yamaha)

Yamaha is going back to its high-end headphone roots after announcing a new set of top-of-the-line headphones featuring planar magnetic technology.

The new YH-5000SE are the first set of cans from the Japanese brand to feature orthodynamic drivers (Yamaha's take on planar magnetic tech) for more than 30 years.

The premium over-ears also feature a magnesium body, with Yamaha claiming the YH-5000SE are "one of the lightest, high-end headphones in the world" at just 320g.

As the SE in its name suggests the YH-5000SE are being released as ‘special edition’ and come complete with an eye-popping $5,700 / £4,799 / AU$7,499 asking price, 

A slightly cheaper version looks set to follow, with Australian dealers already stocking a non-special edition variant without some of the accessories that come with the limited edition YH-5000SE, which is priced at a still prohibitive AU$5,999.

Those added extras in the box include both synthetic leather and suede earpads, two types of silver-coated cables (3.5 mm and 4.4 mm) plus a nifty-looking stand. 

An optional XLR cable (the HXC-SC020) which doesn’t come bundled in will meanwhile set you back a hefty $900 / £749 / AU$1350.

Orthodynamic or planar magnetic headphones work in a similar way to the more common dynamic driver headphones that currently dominate the market by using the interaction of two magnetic fields to cause motion. 

Where they defer is that instead of having drivers that are "driven" by a voice coil connected a shaped diaphram, the diaphragm is driven over its entire area. This reduces the effect of momentum and vibrations on the diaphragm, giving the headphones tighter control of the final sound.

This setup means that the can size is usually bigger and heavier than what you would find on a regular set of headphones, but the payoff is that distortion is reduced to almost nothing, with planar magnetic cans usually providing a crisper, more controlled sound.

Yamaha YH-5000SE on stand

(Image credit: Yamaha)

Analysis: A welcome return for distortion-free headphone tech

Audiophiles rejoice! While brands like Audeze and HiFiMAN have kept the flame burning for Planar magnetic driver headphones, there’s been a growing clamor for Yamaha to get back to making its orthodynamic cans.

The Japanese manufacturer used the tech for an all too brief period between 1975 and 1990, but over time they’ve built up a growing reputation on hi-fi forums thanks to their superior distortion-free sound compared to most dynamic headphones.

Where you were once able to pick up a vintage pair of HP-1 headphones for less than $20, the last decade has seen prices go through the roof with a good condition example sometimes changing hands for hundreds of dollars.

The bank-troubling price tag of the YH-5000SE’s mean your average audiophile on a budget will still be left trawling eBay for more examples of vintage orthodynamic headphones – but their release nevertheless gives hope that we’ll start to see Yamaha employing the tech in more affordable new models, which could be serious contenders for our list of the best headphones.

In the market for some more affordable new cans? Check out our Black Friday headphones deals guide, which we'll be updating constantly over the period.

Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch is a London-born, Dublin-based writer and journalist. The author of Steve Jobs: A Biographic Portrait, Kevin is a regular feature writer for a number of tech sites and the former Technology Editor for the Daily Mirror. He has also served as editor of GuinnessWorldRecords.com and has been a member of the judging panel for the BAFTA British Academy Video Game Awards. Alongside reviewing the latest AV gear, smartphones and computers, Kevin also specialises in music tech and can often be found putting the latest DAWs, MIDI controllers and guitar modellers through their paces. Born within the sound of Bow Bells, Kevin is also a lifelong West Ham fan for his troubles.