Without a 3D sound field, the YH-L700A is an audio average range of noise canceling 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, heavy bass, but a shot of the treble would go a long way here to round out the sound and cut through the chaos of songs like Andrew’s Damn Excuses. Sometimes the lack of elevations creates an unpleasant muddy mess. Even with more vocal genres like bluegrass, straight bass dominates with other strings taking a back seat. This is the case throughout most of Sturgill Simpson’s Dodd and Juanita song. Yamaha was clearly intent on making the 3D audio feature sound good, and it’s too bad that the “normal” listening experience is mediocre at best.
The YH-L700A packs active noise cancellation, with an Ambient Sound Mode that lets you adjust your surroundings as needed. Like Apple and others, Yamaha outfitted its ANC setup with technology that can tune the sound to changes in wear. The so-called listening enhancer takes measurements every 20 seconds to catch any discrepancies in seal and air leakage. The headphones can then adjust the volume to take account of any issues. While I have no way of measuring the effectiveness of this, I can I 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.
Finally, there is the Listening Care feature which attempts to maintain decent sound quality even when listening at a lower volume. Usually, and at the cost of our collective hearing health, headphones sound best at mid-high to high volumes. With the YHL700A, Yamaha says Listening Care analyzes the sound to keep the full range at a low volume. It takes into account changes in background noise during the process, to deliver the best possible sound no matter how loud it is. And while it’s not as consistent as the company thinks, the rock tunes maintain a decent frequency range well below 50 percent volume. It loses some detail, as expected, but it’s still perfectly listenable on those levels.
Marquee features can be enabled or disabled from the Yamaha Headphones app. There are options for 3D sound field, head tracking, listening care, listening enhancer and noise canceling. You can also select your preferred 3D preset from your phone and also set (or disable) the auto off timer. The program displays the battery percentage as well, so you’re not left wondering what the “battery level is high” voice prompt means when you turn on the headphones.
Battery life is the main sticking point with these headphones. During my initial tests, I was only able to manage ten and a half hours with ANC, 3D audio, and head tracking all enabled. That’s 30 minutes shy of the company’s 11-hour forecast. Sure, there’s a lot of technology at work at once, but most major noise-cancelling headphones pay 30 hours or more of use for a charge. Yamaha says this is possible if you disable the Sound Field technology, which extends the expected battery life to 34 hours. The range with the YH-L700A at full power must be at least 15 hours to justify the asking price. The company released a firmware update ostensibly to improve battery life during my review, but the results were unchanged with both ANC and 3D audio activated.
In terms of the film-focused and 3D-focused competition, a few options come to mind. Apple’s AirPods Max feature dynamic head tracking and support for spatial audio with Dolby Atmos and Atmos Music. It doesn’t have a bunch of presets to help you tune things out with the press of a button, but there’s an adaptive equalizer that maintains sound quality as conditions and outside noise change. AirPods Max also offers the most natural Transparency mode of any headphones I’ve tested. However, they’re still $479, although we’ve seen them go as low as $429 recently.
The WH-1000XM4 from Sony is another excellent alternative. The company’s flagship model is packed with useful features like pause when speaking, a quick attention mode, and the ability to automatically adjust noise-cancellation settings based on activity or location. The 1000XM4 impresses equally in the audio and ANC departments, including support for 360 Reality Audio across supported streaming services, making it the best all-round choice for headphones right now. It doesn’t have dynamic head tracking, but it will save you big money at the current price of $248 (full price: $350).
Yamaha has created an interesting show with the YH-L700A headphones. The company has tried to cater to both movie and music geeks with features that work for both film and TV along with options for casual listening. Battery life with the most attractive tools enabled is disappointing for a set of $500 headphones and the presets will benefit from some limitations. A fully customizable EQ and slight uptick in the battery department would go a long way to justify the high price here, but for now, Yamaha has a solid lineup of headphones that need some fine-tuning.
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