MM-500 has been developed by and for studio technicians, to reveal everything that is in a recording. And it also provides pure enjoyment for “ordinary people.” We hear it repeated time and time again: A pair of high-end speakers or headphones are designed to bring the music to you as cleanly and unadulterated as possible, so that it feels like the musicians are in the room and playing for you, and only you.
Almost everyone who manufactures hi-fi equipment says the same thing. Yet all products sound different. Therefore, not neutral at all. The fact is that most speakers and headphones for hi-fi use have a frequency response with a so-called V-shape. In other words, the bass and treble are slightly reinforced compared to the mid-range. A made-up version of the truth.
Studio products even for listening to music?
The best studio products have such a ability to reproduce details, timing and resolution that they are not just tools for technicians. They also suck in “regular” listeners into a magical music world. Where it feels like you are in the recording room with the musicians. And with a midrange that brings out vocal and instrument timbres in a completely different way than most hi-fi products do.
Audeze MM-500 – by technicians, for technicians
- Sleek design and solid build
- Highly engaging tuning
- Neutral tonal balance in lows and mids
- Clamping a bit on the high side
- Need a high-quality amplifier to drive
- A bit expensive compared to competition
MM-500 quick features
- Style: Over-ear, open-back
- Transducer type: Planar Magnetic
- Magnetic structure: Fluxor magnet array
- Phase management: Fazor
- Magnet type: Neodymium N50
- Diaphragm type: Ultra-Thin Uniforce
- Transducer size: 90 mm
- Maximum SPL: >130dB
- Frequency response: 5Hz – 50kHz
- THD: <0.1% @ 100 dB SPL, 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 100 dB/1mW (at Drum Reference Point)
- Impedance: 18 ohms
- Diaphragm type: Ultra-Thin Uniforce
- Min recommended power: >100mW
- Recommended power level: >250mW
In the development of its first dedicated studio headphones, American Audeze turned to Manny Marroquin from Larrabee Studios in Los Angeles. Hence the letters MM in the product name. He has directed the sound for greats such as Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, SIA, Eminem, Taylor Swift and Alicia Keys – the list goes on almost endlessly.
For Manny, “world-class sound quality” is important. A reliable sound that reveals everything in the mix, from a pair of headphones that can also be used on the go, without amplifiers, when needed. You must be able to hear music in its purest form, exactly when you need it, whenever and wherever.
Comfort also becomes an important factor. The headphones should, after all, be able to be used for very long working hours. You can easily sit and listen and work much longer than the planned eight hours minus lunch break. And then you need open headphones like MM-500. Closed cups become too sweaty over time, besides open headphones often sound best.
Please note that open headphones should not be used by musicians during recording, as the microphones pick up leakage from the headphones. No, these are made for mixing with.
Mixing a Grammy-winning album from the hotel room
Manny Marroquin himself claims that the open MM-500 delivers on all points. So much so that he was able to mix what would become a Grammy-winning album from his hotel room on the Bahamas.
- We were at a wedding on the Bahamas. I was finishing DJ Khaled’s album Father of Asahd. The album was already mixed, but then we made a few big changes at the last minute. Among other things, by adding rapper Nipsey Hussle to a song. I had to finish the mixing in my hotel room on the Bahamas, with a pair of headphones. That’s something I wouldn’t normally have had the confidence to do. But the MM-500 delivers.”
Audeze sticks to planar magnetic headphones and MM-500 is no exception. The construction is very similar to the flagship LCD-5, with large 90-millimeter elements. But the finish is a bit rawer, with metal gray details where the LCD-5 has polished wood. The pads are also thicker on the MM-500, which is also slightly heavier. But the resemblance is unmistakable.
Planar magnetic elements have a thin film suspended between two magnets, where the film vibrates with the electrical signal and creates sound. They are faster and lighter than dynamic elements, but because they have a much shorter “stroke length” they need a corresponding larger diaphragm area to create bass energy. Therefore, planar magnetic headphones are often much larger than dynamic headphones.
Compact but heavy
The MM-500, on the other hand, is more compact than many others, for example, the HiFiMAN Arya. This is because the diaphragm extends all the way to the edge of the cups. The outer perimeter is the same as the LCD-5, but thanks to thicker padding to make them sit more comfortably around the ears, they still look a bit larger.
When Audeze talks about comfort, it is definitely not the weight they are most concerned about. It is not uncommon for a pair of headphones from them to weigh over half a kilogram, some can reach 700 grams. The MM-500 weighs 495 grams, which must be said to be quite a lot. But Audeze also has the ability to distribute the weight evenly over the head so that it is not felt as much as it could be.
The MM-500 has soft pads, but is securely fastened to the head. The headband ensures that the weight is distributed evenly between the top and sides of the head. If I were to complain about something, it would be that they may clamp a bit too tightly, but I still don’t mind. Not even after a few hours of music in the ear. With or without glasses makes no difference, thanks to the thick ear pads.
Sufficiently high sensitivity
Audeze emphasizes the importance of being able to plug the headphones directly into the headphone jack of any equipment you might have. And the MM-500 works really well directly in the output of my MacBook Pro and even with my iPhone and Apple’s headphone adapter. In this price range, however, it must be considered a necessity, as even though the sound level is sufficient, the sound is not as controlled and dynamic as with a proper amplifier. But it is still an important detail that it works, as it means that you can actually work on the go, even if all you have nearby is a laptop without an external sound card. Just remember to bring an adapter that makes the large 6.3mm jack plug fit into a small mini jack contact.
In terms of sensitivity, the MM-500 is more easily driven than its big brother LCD-5, but there is still a bit left to the cheaper LCD-X and even the Sennheiser HD 800 S, which despite a high impedance of 300 ohms and on paper only moderately higher sensitivity than the MM-500 (102 dB) manages to play much higher with the same amount of amplifier effect. Even the HiFiMAN Arya gets more out of a little power than the MM-500. But the MM-500 is sensitive enough.
So how does the Audeze MM-500 sound?
Listening to music in MM-500 is like removing a veil from the music. Everything is clear and the focus in the midrange is of a different class than almost anything else I have heard. If I compare with HiFiMAN Arya, the latter has a lower midrange that makes voices thinner and the sound from the guitar body is not as present. Arya has lots of air in the top and a lovely bass, but I miss the midrange.
MM-500 also has significantly more attack in rhythms. But even though LCD-X also has it, it is coarser in the overtones and can seem a little harsh in the midrange. That is not MM-500.
In Chasing Storms, Lola Marsh’s voice is hardly as clear as it is here. Yes, with the LCD-5, but the MM-500 actually has more energy in the bass register, and even though the LCD-5 has more micro-details in the overtones, the MM-500 has some advantages that will probably make some choose it. Not least, it costs less than half!
Billie Eilish’s guitar in the ballad The 3rd sounds so close and realistic, and the piano played by Iyad Sughayer in a duet with violinist Esther Abrami on their wonderful interpretation of Swan Lake sounds so large, powerful and natural that I don’t want the piece to end. The violins also have a fantastic warmth, and there is also a much larger space than I am used to from planar magnets. We may be approaching the sound of the Sennheiser HD 800 S in size, plus the MM-500 has a greater glow in the sound image where the HD 800 S is more clinical.
The Audeze MM-500 is the company’s first pure studio headphones. But if you thought that means you shouldn’t use them for pure listening pleasure, you’ll have to think again. The fact that they sound neutral doesn’t mean they sound boring. On the contrary.
The midrange is the first thing you’ll notice, it’s big and prominent, with exemplary dynamics. Voices and instruments really stand out. But what impresses the most is the overall sound. The neutral sound, with dynamics and warmth that more hi-fi manufacturers should strive for. Here you get the truth. The downside is of course that not all recordings sound good from the beginning and since the headphones are designed to reveal everything, it will also be heard. But good recordings give so much more, when you get everything out.
The headphones are comfortable enough to sit with for hours and they are easy enough to drive to be used with even relatively inexpensive equipment. As an emergency solution. Because as with everything else of high quality, it is with a proper amplifier and a good DAC that the MM-500 really shines.
Must be experienced!