Without 3D Sound Field, the YH-L700A is an average sounding set of noise cancelling headphones. There’s good clarity and detail, but the mid-range can be overbearing when you’re listening to a full band. There’s decent, punchy bass but a shot of treble would go a long way here to round out the sound and cut through the chaos of songs like Underoath’s “Damn Excuses.” At times, the lack of highs creates an unpleasant muddy mess. Even with more acoustic genres like bluegrass, upright bass dominates with the other strings taking a backseat. That’s the case throughout much of Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood & Juanita. It’s obvious Yamaha was intent on making its 3D audio feature sound good, it’s too bad the “regular” listening experience is mediocre at best.
The YH-L700A packs active noise cancellation, complete with an ambient sound mode that allows you to tune into your surroundings as needed. Like Apple and others, Yamaha outfitted its ANC setup with tech that can adjust the audio to changes in wear. The so-called Listening Optimizer takes measurements every 20 seconds to pick up any variances in seal and air leakage. The headphones can then adjust the sound to account for any issues. While I don’t have any way to measure how effective this is, I can tell you that overall, the ANC gets the job done. It’s not as powerful as the likes of Bose or Sony, but most of the time it’s good enough.
Lastly, there’s a Listening Care feature that attempts to maintain decent sound quality even when you listen at lower volumes. Typically, and to the detriment of our collective hearing health, headphones sound the best at medium high to high volumes. With the YHL700A, Yamaha says Listening Care analyzes sound to keep a full range at low volume. It accounts for changes in background noise during the process, to offer the best possible audio no matter how loud. And while it’s not as consistent as the company would have you believe, rock tunes maintain a decent frequency range well below 50 percent volume. You do lose some detail, as expected, but it’s still perfectly listenable at those levels.
The marquee features can be enabled or disabled from Yamaha’s headphones app. There are options for 3D Sound Field, head tracking, Listening Care, Listening Optimizer and noise cancellation. You can also select your preferred 3D preset from your phone as well as adjust (or disable) the auto power-off timer. The software displays your battery percentage too, so you’re not left wondering what the “battery level high” voice prompt means when you power up the headphones.
Battery life is a major sticking point with these headphones. During my initial tests, I managed just ten and half hours with both ANC and 3D sound enabled and head tracking off. That’s 30 minutes shy of the company’s 11-hour projection. Sure, that’s a lot of tech at work simultaneously, but most flagship noise-cancelling headphones are pushing 30 or more hours of use on a charge. Yamaha says this is possible if you disable the Sound Field tech, extending the expected battery life to 34 hours. The range with the YH-L700A at full strength should be at least 15 hours to justify the asking price. The company released a firmware update ostensibly to improve battery life during the course of my review, but the results didn’t change with ANC and 3D sound both active.
In terms of the movie- and 3D-focused competition, a few options come to mind. Apple’s AirPods Max feature 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 things ready at the press of a button, but there is an adaptive EQ that maintains sound quality as conditions and external noises change. AirPods Max also offers the most natural sounding transparency mode out of any headphones I’ve tested. However, they’re still $479, although we’ve seen them as low as $429 recently.
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 is another excellent alternative. The company’s flagship model is packed with handy features like pausing when you speak, quick attention mode and the ability to automatically adjust noise cancelling settings based on activity or location. The 1000XM4 equally impresses in the sound and ANC departments, including support for 360 Reality Audio via supported streaming services, making them our top overall choice for headphones right now. They don’t pack in dynamic head tracking, but they will save you significant money at the current going rate of $248 (full price: $350).
Yamaha has crafted an interesting proposition with its YH-L700A headphones. The company attempted to equally cater to both cinephiles and music nerds with features that work for both movies and television alongside options for casual listening. Battery life with the most attractive tools enabled is disappointing for a set of $500 headphones and the presets would benefit from some restraint. A fully customizable EQ and a slight bump in the battery department would go a long way to justifying the high price here, but for now, Yamaha has a solid set of headphones in need of some fine tuning.
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