When it comes to noise cancelling headphones, there are several effective options that will get the job done. It’s putting together great audio quality with powerful noise blocking abilities and other handy features that cause many companies to stumble. The likes of Bose and Sony have damn near perfected the craft while the rest of the pack attempts to usurp them. Yamaha is the latest to throw rocks at the throne by adding a collection of 3D sound options of its latest headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC). The YH-L700A has unique qualities, but $499.95 is a high price for Yamaha’s latest blend of design and features.
Yamaha created a unique aesthetic for the YH-L700A. Opting for square earcups over the typical oval shape. They’re immediately striking – for better or worse. But, the combination of leather, fabric, matte black plastic and silver accents create a refined look. The company also decided to attach the headband at the front of the earcups rather than at the center. This doesn’t make a massive difference in terms of comfort, but it does mean the headband sits further forward on the top of your head. Earcups swivel flat and fold in for easy storage, which makes the YH-L700A a decent option for travel.
- Solid design
- Decent sound
- Reliable physical controls
- Capable ANC
- Battery life
- 3D Sound modes are heavy handed
There are no touch controls here,Yamaha chose to go with physical buttons instead. On the back edge of the right earcup are power and 3D Sound Field buttons, with the former doubling as the Bluetooth pairing control and the latter allowing you to cycle through presets. On the outside of the right earcup, a small leather-covered panel holds buttons for volume, track controls, play/pause and activating a voice assistant. Those last two options are in the middle (single and double press, respectively) while the two outside arrow buttons adjust volume with a single press or skip tracks with a press and hold. Unfortunately these are difficult to find; they're not embossed deep enough to feel them easily. Over on the left, there’s a single button on the back edge for noise cancelling mode. A single press cycles between ANC, ambient sound and off.
The main attraction on the YH-L700A is Yamaha’s 3D Sound Field feature, complete with head tracking. Basically, the company has developed a collection of seven audio presets for music and movies or shows: cinema, drama, music video, concert hall, outdoor live, audio room and background music. Each one “transforms stereo sound into three-dimensional listening,” according to Yamaha, adjusting the parameters for each virtual environment in an effort to make things sound more immersive. Another aspect of this setup is dynamic head tracking, which gives the illusion of the audio coming from a stationary point in space when you move. It’s a bit weird for music, in my opinion, but it does add something to more cinematic viewing sessions.
It’s obvious that 3D Sound Field significantly tweaks the audio on every preset. However, all of the filters are very heavy handed, drastically changing the EQ and other parameters to the point that none of them work well across genres. Outdoor live, for example, accurately creates the feeling of being at a festival, with the heavy bass and subdued vocals you’d experience in real life. It’s okay for things like metal and rock, but for softer more acoustic styles it’s not great. If you listen to a wide range of music you’ll need to change presets when you venture to a new genre. Oddly enough, the cinema preset is the best all-around setting for tunes. Almost all of the music presets are loaded with reverb, which works for something like the concert hall preset, but it becomes exhausting elsewhere. All of the options recreate their stated venue, it’s just that none of them are really pleasant to listen to for an entire album’s worth of tunes.
When it comes to movies and television, the cinema and drama options are quite nice. There’s no content that highlights this prowess better than Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive. With a mix of spoken interviews, auto racing and dramatic overtures, there’s a lot for headphones and speakers to handle. The YH-L700A does well with the dimensional sound that’s typically best served by a Dolby Atmos setup in your living room. Everything sounds spacious, and the directional roar of the cars comes through nicely.