Love at first sight…
It was love at first sight the moment I saw a picture of the YH-5000 (YH5K for short), and it was then that I knew I had to own a set, despite the eye-watering $5k price tag. Maybe it was the dark steampunk vibe, the Focal Utopia and Sennheiser HD 800 S hybrid, or the exciting news that a venerable company like Yamaha would re-enter the audiophile scene that drew me to them. While I am enthusiastic about these headphones it’s more important how they sound overall, so I won’t hold back. I am not a reviewer. This is the sole opinion of one person on the Internet, who wants to share his experience with his shiny toy. But before that, I want to emphasize that the YH5K did change a lot over time so, like with any piece of audio gear, give them a lot of ear time!
The BIG Picture
hifiDJ’s audio chain:
Auralic Aries G2 (PSU mod) via AES —>
LinnenberG Satie DA Converter (IIR filter) —>
Crayon Audio CHA-1 (balanced in balanced out) —>
Yamaha YH-5000 (stock leather pads / Brise Audio YATONO-HP Ultimate via DHC adapters)
[all connected to a PS Audio Power Plant 3 outfitted with Allnic ZL Technology cables (from digital to analog to power) / all components are isolated with Gingko isolation products]
Side note: So far, the system used here is the best I’ve heard the YH5K. Thus, the following impressions were made using this system. Although I’ve tried my best to generalize, it’s impossible to get the same experience on an entirely different chain. So, YMMV.
Generally, the YH5K takes an “analytical clean” approach, meaning their goal is to showcase clarity and resolution to the max. While not the most natural-sounding or true-to-life, they’re impressively faithful to the recording while giving deep insight into the music. That’s not to say they don’t impart personal character and color (they do), but their ability to extract the minutiae in a recording is, simply put, the best I’ve heard (so far)–it’s a 1:1 representation. And that hint of expression prevents them from sounding uninspiring or boring. The natural downside of such remarkable accuracy is the notion that garbage-in equals garbage-out. In terms of tonality, I would label the YH5K as slightly W-shaped tuned headphones on this setup.
One of the YH5K’s standout traits is their impressively textured, engaging, life-like, and accurate treble presentation. They’re supremely extended, energetic, and airy coupled with a tasteful dose of delicacy, and sprinkled with a bit of sweetness. While the treble is front and center, it’s neither harsh nor piercing, assuming synergy is on point. Thus, I think the YH5K handles organic music very well granting it a great sense of energy and life. There’s almost this sense of “heightened clarity” but without sounding artificial as to cause any problems and, in effect, leads to a damn engaging experience with classical and acoustic music in particular. The timbre, energy, and bite of cymbals and stringed instruments, such as the violin, are accurately conveyed on these headphones, sounding incredibly life-like, distinct, and clear. How they pulled off this kind of tonal balance and refinement in the treble region while delivering so much is quite an achievement in my book. It’s treble done right!
The YH5K’s traditional yet open and accurate stage presentation is the next standout trait. Very defined stage boundaries are placed firmly on your left and right, following a direct line of sight toward the center stage. And within the center stage is a very open, deep, and layered view. Although their stage presentation isn’t that wide, the depth, height, positioning, accuracy, and focus more than make up for it. To clarify, the staging doesn’t always sound open and grand all the time (like an HD 800 S) but is greatly dependent on the material source. Using a simple analogy, it’s like looking through a set of binoculars, which leads you to look forward and into the stage rather than around you. It feels similar to properly placed monitors where the “phantom center” is positioned a few inches in front of you.
Finally, on the lower end of the spectrum (ie. the low frequencies), you’ll find clean and textured fundamental notes. The YH5K doesn’t have the kind of mid-bass boost found in some other headphones but instead offers a very linear and extended low-end, with perhaps a touch of added warmth in the very low frequencies. While they don’t beat the Final Audio D8000 Pro in terms of mid-bass timbre, texture, and shape (which I’ll elaborate further later), they dominate them in the sub-bass and, in addition, extract more low-end resolution. Being able to hear low-frequency energy oscillate between my ears is an impressive and insightful experience, provided your system is highly resolving enough–garbage-in equals garbage-out. The piano, for example, is an instrument capable of utilizing the full range of frequencies (well most of it), and the YH5K are the only headphones I’ve heard that reproduce everything from the highest to the lowest of octaves with complete accuracy, linearity, and control (piano sounds near perfect).
To briefly address their weaknesses, the YH5K’s stage width isn’t as wide-reaching compared to other flagships, so those who prioritize that may be left wanting more (I think it’s just right). Additionally, the YH5K decays a bit too quickly at times (ie. drier-leaning), but this is a personal preference as some will like it dry, and some will like it wet (I like how it is). Lastly, it seems that the YH5K is a bit too sensitive to quality amplification, specifically in the bass. I’ve noted my (limited) experience with this in further sections.
What I think are standouts:
- top-notch separation and a natural sense of dynamics
- treble texture, timbre, energy, extension, and air
- super clean, textured, extended, and linear bass
- impressive resolving power and microdynamics
- open and accurate stage presentation
- extremely clean response
- great sense of energy
- depth and focus
- accurate timbre
- precise imaging
What I think could be improved:
- stage width
- decay time/RT (ie. a bit more)
- sensitivity to quality amplification
I know what you might be thinking… “That’s a lot of standouts!” I thought so too, but I’ve gone back and forth trying to narrow it down (for months), and this was the best I could do. Keep in mind these standout traits were not made in isolation but in comparison to other flagship headphones mentioned in this article. The next section is an in-depth look at that.
Comparisons are Key
The following are a few select comparisons against the YH5K. These impressions are limited to what chains I’ve experienced these headphones with, so please keep in mind that they do NOT capture the nuance behind other peoples’ experiences with these cans on their chains. That being said, I think some generalities can be shared even on different chains but, to emphasize, YMMV. Also, it’s worth mentioning that my priority is (now was) to optimize around the MYSPHERE, but that doesn’t mean the chain here doesn’t work well with the other cans (it does but it depends on what you’re after).
Last thing I’d like to mention before these comparisons… There will be no “vs HiFiMan Susvara.” I am interested in comparing the two but, unfortunately, I don’t have one on hand. I have heard one briefly, but it isn’t enough to draft a full comparison. Maybe someday.
The YIN to my YANG (vs MYSPHERE 3.1/3.2)
I grouped the 3.1 and 3.2 in the title because it will largely depend on what amp you drive these with. Generally, tube amps work best with the 3.1, while solid-state amps work best with the 3.2. But in this specific comparison, only the 3.2 (with T frames) was used because they worked best with the CHA-1 amplifier I have. Although both have their sonic differences, they inherit the same kind of presentation and have the same set of goals. For more useful information and context, check out M0N’s MYSPHERE article on the site (or click here).
System used: same as above
Main takeaway: naturally true to life with exceptional midrange resolution/texture
Standouts: extremely natural presentation, anything midrange, realistic transient response, speaker/monitor-like staging (for headphones), low-level listening
Meh: absence of sub-bass, can be picky with recordings, not the most comfortable, very picky with placement/positioning of driver frames
What happens when you get something that’s uber natural and realistic, and pair them with something that’s extremely faithful and accurate? The result is two greatly complementary headphones that belong together as a set. The 3.2 and YH5K couldn’t sound any more different, so choosing between them boils down to a matter of taste and priority. Any of the two could serve as a substitute to the headphones mentioned here but in no way can they be alternatives to each other. Focusing on the bigger picture, the 3.2 do their utter best to present the music to you in the most realistic manner at all times. It’s as if the artist is performing TO you, outside, where there is no physical room to get in the way. Alternatively, the YH5K reveals all with stunning accuracy, much like how it was in the recording. It’s as if you’re performing WITH the artist in the current space they’re in. You’re fed with so much insight into the music that you know what microphone is being used, the brand of the instrument being played, and the type of room being occupied (exaggerated slightly for illustrative purposes). Tonally, the 3.2 are comparatively laid-back while the YH5K are comparatively energetic.
Midrange is the 3.2’s main strength so it’s no surprise that they have a good advantage over the YH5K. They have more resolution, texture, weight, and liquidity. That being said, the YH5K aren’t too far behind technically and I would still consider them one of the best, if not the best I’ve heard had the MYSPHERE ceased to exist. Comparatively, their midrange is on the cooler, leaner, sweeter, and upper-mid “focus-er” side of things. On the far two ends, the highs and the lows are technically superior on the YH5K. Hands-down they have the best treble I’ve ever heard, so it’s natural they would dominate the 3.2 in this area. While the 3.2’s treble is no slouch, the resolution, timbre, air, texture, extension, cleanliness, sweetness, and linearity of the YH5K are all at a higher level. The one thing I would caution about is the boosted treble response over the 3.2. Switching to the low end, the 3.2’s sub-bass extension is non-existent with the frames angled out. It’s a non-issue when you look at the bigger picture, but I understand why it would be a deal-breaker for some. Meanwhile, the majority of the mid-bass is excellent with a nice punch, superb grip, and great realism–three traits that slightly edge out the YH5K. As I mentioned earlier, one of the big strengths the YH5K has is its bass linearity. With a very neutral slope down to the very fundamental frequencies (ie. sub-bass), a more complete (and warmer) bass is what you get over the 3.2. They’re overall more resolving, extended, accurate, separated, and satisfying. It’s hard to put the 3.2 ahead of the YH5K from a performance standpoint as they’re better in most technical aspects. But from a presentation standpoint, it’s all up to preference and priority. The timbre on both are excellent with the 3.2 being more realistic and the YH5K being more accurate. I think the majority of what makes timbre accurate is the interaction between the instrument or voice, and the room it’s being played in. For example, a violin played inside a tiny room will sound vastly different when played inside a concert hall, or even outside. The 3.2 is like playing that violin outside a room while the YH5K is like playing that same violin inside a room. This is what I mean when I say timbre is realistic (outside the room) versus timbre that is accurate (inside the room). For my taste, I prefer how the YH5K conveys it. In addition, for overall tone, the 3.2 has a richer tinge over the lighter shade of the YH5K. Moving on, the staging capabilities of both headphones are very impressive with the 3.2 taking the cake in terms of stage coherency, placement (within the given space), and width while the YH5K beats them out in depth, verticality, imaging, boundary (stage limits), openness, and airiness. Tying this into stage presentation, the 3.2 reaches closer to that of typical speakers or monitors. The YH5K goes for the more traditional and focused approach. However, I find that the YH5K has a more convincing “phantom center” similar to properly placed speakers out in the room. In the end, the staging capabilities and presentations of both headphones are unique, impressive, and complementary. Touching on dynamics, the 3.2 treats both macrodynamics and microdynamics equally in a more balanced way. The YH5K, on the other hand, is tilted towards microdynamics. Thus, the 3.2 edges out the YH5K in macro but not in micro. For best volume play, the 3.2 excels at low levels while the YH5K wants it at moderate levels.
Choosing between these two headphones is an easy task once I factor in my taste. The YH5K is the more complete, all-rounded, technically capable, comfortable, and engaging headphones–they’re hard to fault. And although a lot of the things I’ve said about the 3.2 make them seem like they fit a very niche and specialized experience (they do to a certain extent), the main points are (1) the things they compromise on aren’t deal-breakers unless you’re super picky, (2) the presentation is so natural and authentic, and (3) the experience is worthwhile once you’ve dialed in everything. Like I said, it’s an easy pick–YH5K FTW! But even taking all that into account, it’s harder for me not to recommend both because they go so well together.
What the 3.2 does better:
- stage coherency, placement, and width
- black background/low noise floor
- natural speed/transient response
- natural/life-like presentation
- midrange resolution
- low-level listening
What the YH5K does better:
- treble resolution
- low-end resolution
- extension both ways
- resolving power/overall technicalities
- stage depth, verticality, boundary, openness, and airiness
- comfort (I usually care more about sound, but this is an exception)
Same Roots, Different Masters (vs Final Audio D8000 Pro)
System used: same as above
Main takeaway: clean and natural with a sharp but wide stage, energetic coupled with quality bass, and somewhat U-shaped depending on the chain
Standouts: anything bass, textural prowess, great all-rounder, pretty good timbre (especially brass), relatively forgiving
Meh: lack of airiness and treble refinement, can sometimes be a bit too energetic depending on pairing, not the most resolving, not as dynamically alive as the other two, have to crank up the volume a bit (ie. not good at lower volumes)
This is a comparison I was eager to do and had many questions about. To my surprise, the D8KP and the YH5K are different sonically, despite my initial hunch that both might share some commonalities. To get straight to the point, the D8KP’s main selling point is their unique ability to present bass–mostly mid-bass–naturally with a defined shape and texture. This and their forward and hyper-textured presentation make them distinct from other TOTL headphones in the space. In addition, their more natural-focused and forgiving presentation makes them a departure from that of the YH5K, which goes for the more “analytical clean” and faithful approach. Performance-wise, the YH5K is a step ahead of the D8KP in almost all categories when pushed high with gear. The two headphones are somewhat similar tonally but are very different when it comes to presentation. They’re both somewhat U-shaped (YH5K closer to W-shaped), the main difference being the intensity at which the two ends are skewed. In other words, the YH5K extends lower and reaches higher, the D8KP is comparatively more compressed.
Starting with the bass, which was interesting to compare, the D8KP has the edge over the YH5K in realism, timbre, and texture… Well, only in the mid-bass. Instruments such as bass guitars and kick drums are effortlessly conveyed as if you’re imagining the instrument’s “shape.” But even then, the YH5K aren’t far off and they get close. The area where they one-up the D8KP is the sub-bass, likely due to the YH5K’s larger physical housing which provides ample space/volume for low, middle, and high frequencies to move. The byproduct is a more resolving, extended, defined, and controlled low-end. On tracks with very low bass notes, the YH5K reproduces them cleanly and accurately allowing each fundamental to breathe with ease. The entirety of their bass is linear in both presentation and extension with ample warmth down low. Meanwhile, the D8KP gives you an additional mid-bass boost, which seems to be a common trend on some headphones, perhaps to compensate for the sub-bass. Moving up to the midrange, it’s primarily the YH5K’s win here. While the D8KP can fill the lower midrange a bit better, the entirety of it is still recessed and laid-back by comparison. Factoring that and the already resolving and neutral-tuned midrange of the YH5K, they’re a clear winner. Climbing up to peak treble, there’s great texture and realism in the D8KP’s presentation, although they can sometimes come across as slightly too energetic, hot, and unrefined. On the other hand, the YH5K gives you a much sweeter, airier, delicate, textured, resolving, and accurate representation of the treble. It’s another clear win for the YH5K. The dynamics, both micro and macro, are more capable on the YH5K while the D8KP are more compressed overall. For staging, the D8KP are sharp and more capable in width, but in everything else, the YH5K are markedly superior in depth, verticality, focus, accuracy, placement, boundary, openness, and airiness. One final note I’d like to mention is the appropriate volume required for these two headphones to sound their best. The D8KP likes being played loudly otherwise, they sound a bit dead and flat. I’m not suggesting cranking them to the roof (please don’t) but just a bit more than you are used to. Alternatively, the YH5K is best played at moderate volume. Although each of us generally listens at various levels, take this as a general guideline.
While the YH5K stands head and shoulders above the D8KP from a performance standpoint, the D8KP’s unique ability to extract texture and convey mid-bass shape is their special trump card. Additionally, they’re also a great all-rounder and less demanding headphones to satisfy (ie. forgiving). However, if you crave performance and accuracy, the YH5K has them in spades, but if you want a more natural-sounding type of presentation the D8KP is the better pick. Just be aware that the performance of the two will largely depend on how resolving your system is. So, if you compare both headphones on lower-level offerings expect them to perform at a similar level. Without a doubt, I’d pick the YH5K over the D8KP for their stellar performance and worthwhile overall package. That being said, both are excellent headphones.
What the D8KP does better:
- texture forwardness (except treble/sub-bass)
- genre compatibility (ie. better all-rounder)
- command/grip (mid-bass only)
- mid-bass resolution
- high-level listening
- stage width
What the YH5K does better:
- overall timbre
- overall dynamics
- extension both ways
- treble & sub-bass texture
- black background/low noise floor
- resolving power/overall technicalities
- stage depth, verticality, boundary, openness, and airiness
Similar Goals, Different Paths (vs Focal Utopia pre-20)
System used: same as above
Main takeaway: forward analytical yet somewhat smooth presentation that’s focused solely on the recording
Standouts: exaggerated dynamics, plenty of slam, unique holographic/spherical staging, treble refinement/energy/extension, slightly extended decay
Meh: bass quality is just “fine” (more “one-note”), can sometimes smooth over texture a bit too much on some instruments (mainly brass)
Insight is the word that comes to mind when I think of these two headphones. They both do an excellent job of spoon-feeding you everything in a recording, providing you with a more micro-focused perspective. While not exactly true-to-life, they’re still a worthwhile experience for people that want a more analytical take on things. The two share a somewhat similar goal, but it’s in the execution where they differ the most.
Immediately, the Utopia evokes a more romantic, wetter, and richer tone over the YH5K. The contrast between their exaggerated dynamics and smooth profile is something I’d reference as “analytical-smooth.” Meanwhile, the YH5K’s raw and delicate personality is something I’d call “analytical-sweet.” These labels also extend towards both of their treble presentations. While both headphones have great extension, energy, refinement, and airiness the YH5K’s treble is on a higher level than the Utopia. Likewise, the story is the same when assessing the midrange and low frequencies–the YH5K outperforms the Utopia in almost all aspects. Tonally, the Utopia lays down a wetter and more intimate midrange while the YH5K are drier yet more faithful to the recording. Comparably, both share a slight upper-mid focus that draws more attention to female vocals. Down in the bass, the Utopia can offer extra hard-hitting slam over the more reserved but natural, YH5K. Other than that one aspect, the YH5K’s “ortho bass” slaughters the Utopia’s “dyna bass” any day of the week in extension, texture, grip, command, realism, timbre, and resolution. Moving on to more intangible things, the macrodynamics of the Utopia can be more capable than the YH5K, but their microdynamics take a back seat compared to them. Both headphones can be very dynamic but the Utopia exaggerates this more than the YH5K, which are more natural in their presentation. Lastly, the staging presentation is where things become more interesting to compare. One of the main selling points and reasons I find the Utopia charming is its unique spherical-shaped and holographic stage. It’s a very cool party trick that adds to the “engagement factor” of these headphones. Meanwhile, the YH5K takes the more traditional approach with hardly any wild tricks. However, their ability to convince the listener that the stage is beamed towards you is also unique. A quick mention of volume play reveals that both perform best when played at moderate levels.
Based on raw performance, it’s evident there are many things the YH5K does better than the Utopia. However, there’s always more to the story, especially when you factor in synergy and taste. There’s a lot of charm to be had with the Utopia for their great contrast and unique stage further enhance the listening experience, and their slightly wet (ie. extended decay) character makes them very engaging for genres such as classic rock. While I still appreciate the Utopia’s charm and strengths, my desire for them has run its course. Looking back and reflecting on this audio journey revealed and solidified many likes and dislikes. For instance, my priority for quality, linear, and extended bass unknowingly became a pillar for quality sound (to me), and the Utopia doesn’t provide that. Of course, there are many more factors to consider when striving for your ideal sound, but there are some parts you can’t ignore. Perhaps my view would change on a different system, but currently, my soul yearns for the YH5K.
What the Utopia does better:
- holographic stage
What the YH5K does better:
- overall timbre
- traditional stage
- energy and texture
- extension both ways
- overall resolution/technicalities
- black background/low noise floor
- stage depth, verticality, placement, boundary, openness, and airiness
Good Artists Copy (vs Sennheiser HD 800 S)
System used: same as above
Main takeaway: super wide and open-sounding with great resolution and delicacy
Standouts: impressive wide and grand stage, resolving power, microdynamics, delicacy, speed
Meh: stage can be too diffused and lacking in focus, timbre that is not-so-great, can sometimes sound a bit too lean/dry, lacking in engagement
I’ll make this comparison short and sweet. While all the headphones mentioned above can be meaningful upgrades to the 800 S (depending on the chain) in most aspects, the YH5K are the ones that copy some of their distinctive traits the best. So, if you are coming from an 800 S and are looking for a direct upgrade, the YH5K might scratch that itch the closest. Just be aware of the associated costs to optimize that naturally come from upgrading to flagship headphones. Don’t expect the YH5K to immediately wipe the floor with the 800 S without putting in some work on your system. To clarify, the YH5K does NOT sound similar to the 800 S but instead shares some of their sonic characteristics. To cut to the chase, both headphones are on the leaner, drier, cooler, quicker, airier, tighter, and analytical-er side of the rainbow. Both are also very open-sounding headphones, the main difference being the direction of how the stage presents itself. The 800 S focuses on a much wider and diffuse stage while the YH5K prioritizes depth and center focus. In addition, the 800 S sounds grand and open all the time. The YH5K, on the other hand, accurately presents how it was in the source recording. That’s about all for similarities, and as for everything else, the YH5K outperforms the 800 S in all aspects, as they should for the price. Even the comfort, one of the more compelling reasons to own an 800 S for some people, is bested by the YH5K (on my head at least). That being said, after all these years, the 800 S are still value-driven headphones that will remain a legendary classic deserving of respect and one that will continually reward you the more they scale with highly resolving gear. Some loyal people love them for what they are, quirks and all. To them, that won’t change.
What the HD 800 S does better:
- a wide and grand stage (all the time)
What the YH5K does better:
- everything else
Much like the comparisons section, I won’t be able to capture the nuance behind the strengths each amplifier carries with various DACs, headphones, and cables. So, this will be an exclusive commentary on ONLY the YH5K. While these amps can work well with the headphones I mentioned earlier, depending on what you want, they won’t be accounted for when evaluating the YH5K. The LinnenberG Satie DAC is the only DAC I’ve used for the following amps. If you have specific questions on any one particular pairing here, join us in the forum (sign up here).
Warmth, Speed, Resolution, & Control (Crayon CHA-1)
Generally, the CHA-1 is on the warmer and smoother end of the spectrum while showcasing impressive technicalities, liquidity, speed, and control. So, pairing the CHA-1 with energetic-sounding components would give it appropriate bite and energy. In addition, bypassing its volume pot as much as possible (ie. turning it close to max) and cranking it to high gain (+6dB) tones down a bit of that ingrained smoothness which can be a tad overdone. A DAC with a built-in quality pre-amp would be a solid way to go like the Satie DAC used here. I swear, I hate how some of these high-dollar amplifiers cheap out on such small, yet important, components such as the volume control. They can annoyingly hold things back to their full potential… Anyway, I digress.
The pairing with the YH5K is fantastic and one of the finest examples of synergy I’ve heard thus far. It balances these headphones well resulting in a straight neutral-warm, yet soulful, experience with awesome energy, speed, and control. The one lacking sonic trait is that this amp doesn’t slam as hard as others. So, if you’re specifically looking for that look elsewhere. While the CHA-1 works well with the other headphones mentioned here, the YH5K has the edge in synergy and performance to put them out on top.
The big downside is availability and rarity. The CHA-1 has since been discontinued, and good luck trying to find one in the used market. Unfortunately, this pairing is something most people won’t get to experience. I’m sure there are other amps in the market that will do the YH5K justice, so it’s not like this is THE headphone amplifier to get. Nonetheless, the pairing has left me satisfied in many ways and I’d be reluctant to let them go, unless I hear something better, of course.
Worthwhile tweaks: This is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall into and there are a myriad of tweaks to explore, but I’ll mention what I’ve tried anyway. If you’re into power cables, the Allnic ZL-8000S is stupidly good. It’s a neutral and very clarity-focused cable with impressive amounts of detail, control, dynamics, blackness, and directness while being extremely natural and organic. It’s a cable whose sole purpose is to please and impress. This cable takes advantage of the YH5K’s strengths by doubling down on its energy-driven sound and full-range capabilities. It’s certainly an expensive cable so I would caution those who have not heard a difference in power cables (yet).
Straight down the middle / A solid all-rounder (Modwright HA 300)
The HA 300 is smack down right in the middle of everything. Its sonic character avoids leaning or catering towards one side over the other. It’s not overly wet, dry, cool, or warm but very balanced and organic in how it presents things. While it doesn’t have the most directness, it has a great tonality that I think the majority of audiophiles will find pleasant. It’s also fairly dynamic overall with ample slam/impact.
The HA 300 pairs well with the YH5K giving extra meat on the bone, particularly in the midrange. Those who want a more heavy-handed and weighty presentation that’s not too overbearing will appreciate this pairing. There’s a bit of softening, but it’s not to the point where it causes issues. So, if you want maximum directness this is not the amp for that. Another criticism is that the HA 300 fails to fully bring out the potential bass quality possible from the YH5K. While there’s good slam/impact, it’s somewhat lackluster in grip, extension, command, definition, and control. As a result, the entirety of the bass can come across as flabby, but fortunately, it doesn’t encroach on the mids and the highs. Coming from the CHA-1 was a noticeable step down in resolution, blackness, extension (both ways), tightness, cleanliness, control, texture, and staging. It makes sense as the CHA-1 is the technically better-performing amp. There’s also something extra special about the YH5K and CHA-1 pairing when it comes to synergy–there’s less in the way and more of a connection to the music. That being said, the YH5K and HA 300 pairing still offer solid synergy (from the midrange up), and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. To be clear, the flabbiness I mentioned only applies to the YH5K, and not the other headphones in this article.
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, Modwright seems to have exited out of the headphones space as the HA 300 is no longer being offered. It’s another amp that the majority won’t get to hear, and I’ve also never seen one on sale in the used market. For reference, I think the HA 300 pairs well with all the headphones mentioned here, the Final Audio D8000 Pro being the standout pairing. They all perform similarly to each other when paired with this amp, meaning no one pulls ahead over the other, but it’s a different story with the CHA-1.
Worthwhile tweaks: This amp takes in 2 types of tubes: 300B and 6BM8/ECL82. I didn’t roll a ton because 300B tubes are expensive and I didn’t want to fall into tube-rolling hell like I did last time. So, for the final configuration, I went with RCA/Philips Holland 1968-1969 6BM8/ECL82 and Elrog ER300B. I also have a WE300B and it was nice, but it is less to my preference which leans toward more balanced, clean, and clarity-focused things.
Herbie’s SuperSonic Stabilizers are another tweak I’ve tried and with great results. With a single stabilizer placed atop all 3 transformers, the sound image becomes much more focused, the bass tightens up noticeably, and the presentation leans more natural. But be careful when stacking and adding more stabilizers to avoid deadening the sound and flattening the stage–three is enough for the HA 300, specifically. This tweak requires some experimenting because it doesn’t work for all components and in all scenarios. It’s a subtle difference, but once you know what to listen for it becomes hard to “unhear” it.
Clean, Dynamic, Forward & Technical (Allnic HPA-3000 GT)
The Korean-based company, Allnic Audio, is well known in the 2-channel scene but not so much with head-fi gear. The 3000 GT was my first entry into tube gear, and it has served me well for a long time. A big reason for that is its ability to scale well with higher-end equipment. Out of the three amps, this Allnic fits my taste best as it has a squeaky clean, and dynamic sound that’s forward and direct in its presentation. If it weren’t for the meaningful gap in performance between it and the Crayon CHA-1, I’d still be driving this amp as my daily. Fortunately, I have an Allnic HPA-10000 headphone amplifier to save up for (it’s sexy)!
Side note: The 3000 GT uses a 41-step attenuator built in-house which means sensitive-to-drive headphones won’t get much volume play. To manage this, you either (1) need a DAC with a relatively low output, (2) need a DAC with a built-in pre preferably of good quality (an external one works fine too), or (3) need to acquire some attenuators (I have Rothwell XLR attenuators).
Anyway, the pairing with the YH5K is excellent. It capitalizes on the already analytical and accurate headphones without being too pushy in its presentation. It has a neutral-clean and no-nonsense sound with expressive dynamics and a fairly forward disposition. For those who want something richer and more relaxed look elsewhere as the 3000 GT might be too clean for your palate. In addition, the staging presentation has satisfying space, depth, and coherency. On occasion, the treble region can veer a bit hot so sensitive listeners be wary, although a good chunk of it is also gear-dependent. Ah, the bass… Is OK and more desirable than the Modwright HA 300. The mid-bass is competent with sufficient grip, texture, definition, and control. While the sub-bass extension is quite good on the 3000 GT, the YH5K is still susceptible to some bloat and muddiness which results in the sub-bass intruding on the mid-bass slightly. For the price of the amp, I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker and I’d still be somewhat satisfied pairing the two (I enjoyed it), but it seems like the YH5K are too sensitive to the bass quality of amplifiers. I guess you need something with outstanding control and texture in the bass to bring out their potential. To clarify, this only happens on the YH5K and not to the other headphones when paired with this particular amp.
The 3000 GT has also been discontinued much like the other two headphone amps. However, the silver lining is that they pop up in the used market from time to time. If you see one for a good price, make sure to snatch it up. I can assure you that it’s a quality amp that won’t disappoint despite its unpopularity, granted you like what it has to offer. If you’ve heard of the Allnic brand then you know they’re well respected and they make quality stuff. Allnic makes almost all its components in-house for optimal integration, synergy, and control, which I think is impressive and respectable. The 3000 GT goes well with warm and rich leaning gear, although you can also double down on what it’s already great at. For standout headphone pairings, I like the Focal Utopia, the MYSPHERE 3.1, and the Yamaha YH-5000 which makes them lean technical and clean. It also works well with the others provided its sonic profile fits your taste.
Worthwhile tweaks: As I’ve mentioned, the 3000 GT scales well with higher-quality gear and it will reward you accordingly. To no one’s surprise, all the Allnic ZL Technology cables synergize well with this amp (I’ve tried most of them). The ZL-5000 power cable, in particular, is a very nice pairing to inject some warmth, body, and smoothness without sacrificing its technical ability, into its already clean nature. The ZL-8000S power cable, on the other hand, doubles down on the amp’s directness, extension, dynamics, and technical ability while maintaining great naturalness. Their Mu-7R and Mu-8Rs interconnect also provide great synergy. The latter is much like its power cable counterpart, the ZL-8000S, where it emphasizes what the 3000 GT is great at. The former is similar to the ZL-5000 which pulls back the amp a bit and imparts desirable qualities on it.
I’ve rolled a LOT of tubes on the 3000 GT, but I only found three 6EM7 tubes that were worthwhile over the stock Zenith I had: GE, RCA, and Sylvania. The GE tubes are worth it if you want something more forgiving and mid-focused, the Sylvania tubes are great if you want something more analytical and lean, and the RCA tubes are fantastic if you want something that has it all. So, RCA all the way, trust me on this.
This section is for any random thoughts or observations I might have about the headphones, basically anything not worth writing a whole section for.
- The yellow accent is a nice touch, and I don’t fancy the color yellow all that much (I know, not important)
- Their comfort is as good as they look, that is to say, they’re exceptional and hands-down the most comfortable headphones I’ve put on my head
- Likely not the best for individuals with larger heads, the YH5K are quite smol
- Unboxing the origami-style box was also a nice touch, but I’d also like it if they included a fancy briefcase (really not important)
- Stellar for classical, acoustic, and electronic music but not so much with classic rock, depending on how you listen
- They can be very unrelenting and brutal if you feed them crap recordings, but when they hit they reward (garbage in equals garbage out)
- Good at lower volumes, great at moderate volumes, and just OK at higher volumes (ie. similar to a Utopia, if you know what I mean)
- They’re the least isolating open-back headphones I’ve tried, about on par with the MYSPHERE
- I don’t usually specify specific tracks in a write-up (for many reasons), but I think the track, GLBTM (Studio Outtakes) by Daft Punk, encompasses everything the YH5K does so well
- I’ve seen the graph for these headphones, but it’s not what I’m hearing, so YMMV
“SE” Special Edition:
You get 2 sets of pads–one leather pair (HEP-5000LE) and one suede pair (HEP-5000SU).
This one’s easy… My advice is to skip the suede. Sure, if you wanted a more relaxing, forgiving, warmer, and smoother presentation maybe you might like it. However, compared to the leather, the suede pads aren’t as airy and the imaging suffers slightly, which leads to a bit of haze. My main criticism is that the suede overdampens and recesses the midrange too much which, in turn, deadens the sound. As a result, it’s not as natural-sounding as it can be, especially in human voices. Suede, as a material, didn’t offer any worthwhile sonic benefits in this case, so it seems like comfort (which is superb) on the skin was Yamaha’s main priority when it came to the suede pads. Regardless of preference, I think the leather pads play to the YH5K’s strengths better than the suede.
Headphone Cable Pairings
Yamaha HBC-SC020 (Stock) – In my opinion, it has OK performance off the bat and is a solid stock cable, although I wish it was more technical for the price. However, depending on how resolving your system is, I felt this cable was a significant bottleneck to the YH5K. It might be enough for most people but since these are flagship headphones, they deserve better.
Danacable Lazuli Reference (via DHC adapters) – This is a solid option if you want a warm, rich, and relaxed tilt. It has good grip in the bass, an organic sound, and solid stage depth, although the stage width is on the narrow side. While it’s on the more colored side of what I consider neutral, it’s still an OK match. And I’m sure many will enjoy the Dana “house sound.” I felt this cable didn’t take full advantage of the YH5K’s strengths and noticeably upset their tonal balance, but it was still a “fun,” albeit exaggerated pairing.
Brise Audio YATONO-HP Ultimate (via DHC adapters) – A cable that is on the neutral, ever so slightly relaxed side. The YATONO elevates the YH5K from top to bottom, taking excellent advantage of their strengths (ie. stage openness, treble texture, sub-bass texture, resolving power), and it provides a more coherent stage with improved width and insane depth, adding even more to their openness and blackness. This pairing is superbly balanced, controlled, mature, dynamic, and refined with awesome energy and sweetness. On top of that, the entirety of the bass has excellent heft, texture, and command. In my mind, this cable completes these headphones well and there’s nothing for me to complain about. It’s a worthwhile pairing in my opinion, and worth its cheddar (assuming everything else in your chain is up to snuff).
Brise Audio OROCHI-HP Ultimate (Custom) – Same as above but better. The OROCHI has a bolder and more confident sound, especially in the low frequencies. While it’s a touch more neutral than the YATONO, the additional body and weight in the midrange offset the slightly dry and lean nature of the YH5K. The trade-off is a slight reduction in their sense of air but in exchange, a more natural and organic sound is achieved. The OROCHI creates a very solid foundation for the YH5K and demonstrates a mastery of balance and refinement. The YATONO pairing was so good that I decided to get a custom version, the OROCHI. I also wanted to get rid of using DHC adapters which degraded the sound a tiny bit. This pairing is sublime, and one of the finest examples of synergy that I’ve heard.
It’s a well-built and sleek-looking headphone stand (HST-5000). No major complaints, though I wish it were adjustable.
A statement piece, these Yamaha headphones are.
In my opinion, the YH5K are the best I’ve heard and are headphones with hardly any glaring flaws, gaps, or compromises. Regardless of personal preference, the YH5K are exceptional performance-driven headphones that don’t neglect the “soul of the music.” I’m not so naive to call them perfect because they’re not, but they’re the epitome of what I consider an outstanding performer.
After almost a year of ownership (at the time of this writing), I’ve contemplated why I adore these headphones so much. I think the reason is the sense of “energy” the YH5K brings to the table. Because of their clarity-focused approach, clean response, and full-range capabilities (for headphones), a solid foundation of sound that allows each fundamental and harmonic to live and die of its own volition is built, leading to that “energy” I mentioned earlier–a feeling only encapsulated through live performances (good-sounding ones). The result is an incredibly engaging and addicting experience that makes other headphones (mentioned here) boring by comparison. It’s as if I’m hearing the purest sound devoid of any distortion, which also makes adjusting to other flagship headphones slightly challenging. The only thing I find lacking is that sense of “power,” but that would be extremely difficult for headphones to reproduce convincingly because of their current limitations. Go to speakers for that or better yet, a live performance (the good-sounding ones). I know this paragraph here is an “in my head” (and subjective) explanation, so it’s not practical or relatable, but I hope it might help some people imagine where I’m going with this.
So, what’s the big catch to all this?! Your taste and your gear. Don’t skimp out on your electronics because these aren’t headphones you turn to when you want something convenient or forgiving–there are better options for that. They reflect the characteristics and nature of an audio chain more than any flagship headphone I’ve heard to date, but they will reward you the more capable and resolving your system is. Naturally, the synergy between your gear also plays a substantial role. Not everyone will fancy the YH5K’s presentation, which is a given. However, if you crave performance, energy, focus, clarity, accuracy, insight, comfort, and completeness there are no others than the Yamaha YH-5000. Sweet words of flattery, I know. But the proof is in the pudding, and if I hear something better I’ll update this. Do listen to one, they’re worth the effort… And investment.
Have anything specific to ask about the YH5K? Discuss here!
Just another random person on the internet into this very niche hobby…