It’s been a while since we reviewed an Audeze product. This company has a special place in my heart, as their LCD-3 has once been the most expensive audio product I ever bought, back in like…2013 or so.
Since then, I tried most Audeze products, and last year we reviewed their newest revision of the LCD-X model, called the LCD-X 2021. This headphone has won our “2021 headphones of the year” award, thanks to its sublime craftsmanship, great sound quality, and tuning that is just easy to fall in love with.
A year has passed, and since then, Audeze has launched a few new models, including their new flagship LCD-5. I know many of you have requested the LCD-5 to be reviewed here and actually to be included in our “Battle Of The Flagships” article…hang on, we’re trying our best to finally make it happen one day!
Back to the topic though. The LCD-5 is a groundbreaking product for Audeze, as it marked a milestone for the brand making the biggest change to their products ever. Basically, the LCD-5 was a complete redesign of their previous models, sharing basically no parts with the (now retired) previous flagship, the LCD-4.
Also, the most shocking aspect is the tuning, which has been changed completely. Audeze has been known for its thick, dark, and lush sound signature for more than 10 years now, and the LCD-5 took a completely different approach to the frequency response. This was the first, truly neutral and reference-like tuned Audeze headphone in history (I only tried it quite briefly though), and I started to wonder, if this is going to be the new standard for Audeze, or if the LCD-5 was just meant to be different.
Some time passed, and Audeze came up with a new, highly interesting model – the MM-500. It is made in a collaboration with a 10-times Grammy winner, Manny Marroquin himself. And you guessed it…the MM-500 continues the trend of a new tuning for Audeze, sealing the question of whether it’s temporary or not with the LCD-5 for good now.
There’s one thing I want to express my thoughts on – the entire collaboration thing. See, people in audio don’t really believe in those kinds of situations, where an audio brand cooperates with a Music/Engineering star to launch a new product, and for a good reason apparently – there have been a few tries in the past, but all of them failed in a way.
There’s nothing to worry about though. Take guitars for example – most legendary guitar models ever were indeed created in a collaboration with an artist. Les Paul’s Gibson would be the perfect example of that.
So, it’s not an aspect of whether it’s a good idea to do it or not, but how you execute the entire thing. Manny Marroquin is a legend, but he’s also highly connected to the entire “audio thing”, so this collaboration doesn’t feel out of place at all.
Okay, let’s put that aspect aside for now, and let’s dive into the new Audeze MM-500 and see if it’s good enough to justify its rather high ($1699) price.
Let’s start with the unboxing experience. The Audeze MM-500 comes in the same box as the LCD-X 2021, which we have reviewed some time ago here.
So, we’re dealing with a pelican-style, hard case that is extremely secure and it gives a lot of protection to our new valuable headphones. Actually, this case reminds me of some studio equipment hard cases, and knowing that the heritage of the MM-500 is sound mastering, this feels like the perfect choice.
I always appreciate this kind of presentation. Some display cases are really cool to unpack and they often give you that luxurious feeling at first, but at the end of the day, they all end up in a closet or in the attic. This one is different – you can easily use it for traveling with your headphones or just use it as storage, and you don’t have to worry about what’s inside.
I’ve always been more of a “function above looks” type of guy, and this case is just my cup of tea – functional, protective, and useful.
Inside the case, you’ll find the MM-500 and a cable. The latter is a 2m braided cable made of high-purity OCC copper. This cable is very comfortable, it’s not microphonic at all, and it’s just a joy to use. We have all seen stock cables that are stiff, heavy, microphonic, and just bad. This one is totally the opposite, and you won’t really have to think about getting an aftermarket one unless you simply want to upgrade your audio game. Some other manufacturers should watch and learn.
Design, Build and Comfort
I’m going to start this paragraph with a bold statement – the Audeze MM-500 is the best-looking and feeling headphone in my collection.
First of all, the design. It’s very professional, industrial, and raw. These are not designed to be flashy or luxurious looking, these are tools, and they definitely look like one. I absolutely adore their design every time I look at them (which is well… every day). There’s just something about this color combination, the shape, the finish, and the materials used that scream “pick me up and touch me”, and I do so a lot. Actually, even when I’m not listening to them, I often just grab them and do a little touching, just to feel good. I might sound like a crazy person, but this is just my experience.
This leads us to the actual build quality, which is spectacular. I remember stating that the LCD-X 2021 feels like a tank in a hand, that it’s so solid and just big and bulky, but this is just another level. Nothing squeaks, there are no sharp edges, and everything feels extremely solid and just pleasant to the touch. Apart from the LCD-5, these are built totally differently than every single Audeze headphone ever created, which is essential to Audeze’s latest releases.
What makes me really happy is the headband construction, which uses a suspension strap. Some manufacturers are still using traditional headbands with no suspension straps, and I just cannot understand why. The strap makes every headphone so much more comfortable, it distributes the weight much better, and it is just superior to everything else on the market. I’m happy to see Audeze just going straight to suspension strap headbands in all of their headphones, this is without a doubt an excellent choice.
What’s not so excellent though, is the clamping force, which is quite brutal. These would have been one of the comfiest big planars on the market, but the clamping force is just a lot for many people, me included. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make the MM-500 unusable or even uncomfortable, but it’s definitely too strong for me, resulting in a slight discomfort after about an hour of listening to them. Not terrible, but would have been much better if the clamping force was reduced.
However, the clamping force was probably designed to ensure a proper fit, as (even though it’s an open-back design) the MM-500 actually requires a good seal to sound best. If this was intentional and it actually helps to ensure a proper fit, then I’d say that it was a fair decision. The headband is spring-loaded anyway, so you can actually stretch the headband a bit to loosen up the clamp, but if you’ll just grab them out of the box and put them on your head, you’ll be surprised by how hard they squeeze your head.
Now, let’s get to the earpads – these are more reminiscent of their older models than their new LCD-5 flagship. However, because the earcups are quite a bit smaller than their older LCD models, the earpads have been reduced in size as well. Don’t worry though, as these are plushy and still quite big, so they should easily fit your ears with some breathing room. The depth of the ear pads is actually great, and my ears never touch the drivers, which is very important for comfort in my book.
Overall, the MM-500 looks absolutely astonishing in real life, and it’s built just as well. This feels very solid in the hand, is a blast to look at and I don’t see them taking any damage even if dropped to the floor. This is what a studio-oriented pair of headphones should be – practical, functional, and most importantly, very durable.
The Audeze MM-500 is a mix of new and old Audeze in the tech department. It uses a driver of the same size as their flagship LCD-5, with the same magnet array called single-sided Fluxor magnet array, consisting of 14 magnets.
The old is the older style of the diaphragm, hence only the LCD-5 uses the new Nano-Scale Parallel Uniforce diaphragm.
All of this contributes to an incredibly low impedance at 18Ω and an SPSL sensitivity rating of 100dB. This means that the MM-500 is very easy to drive, and it feels pretty logical knowing that these will be used in studios as well. The good news is that you don’t need a powerful amplifier for these to sound great, so you don’t really need to invest a lot into your chain.
Now onto the most important – the sound. The Audeze MM-500 is a step in a new direction for Audeze, the way that was started with their new flagship, the LCD-5. For years, Audeze has been known for its laid-back, rich, and dark tonality, which was perfect for long listening sessions. This is the main reason why people really began to love Audeze – they just sounded different, incredibly pleasing, and highly enjoyable.
The “old” tuning had its cons too though. The competition, and most importantly, Hifiman has been pushing more and more detailed and neutral headphones to the market, being a more popular choice for people who want a more neutral and accurate sound. So, the decision was made, that with their new flagship model, Audeze will take a new, more neutral approach to their tuning.
The LCD-5 has been a great success, I only tried it once briefly and I really liked it immediately. That neutral and natural presentation, with a forward and intoxicating midrange presentation, stole my heart after 10 seconds. Well, the time might come when you’ll be reading the review of the LCD-5 on Ear Fidelity eventually.
Back to the MM-500 though. This announcement came out of nowhere and made quite a buzz. A new headphone, quite similar to the LCD-5, made with Manny Marroquin, studio-oriented priced at $1799. Wow, that sounded really exciting, and basically, no time has passed since I got the notification from Audeze that the MM-500 is on its way for a review.
So, after a brief experience with the LCD-5, I was about to try the new Audeze tuning for real now, with a lot of different gear, with no time limits.
The MM-500 was definitely a hit for me right from the get-go. It sounds fresh, very natural, and incredibly capable, but we’ll get there.
Let’s start with the bass. It’s very fast, firm, and well-controlled. There’s more emphasis on the midbass, with subbass being somewhat recessed. This does two things: give you that energy and kick, but the subsonic rumble is not the strongest. For a studio pair of headphones, this might actually be quite a good thing, as it gives you more control over the driver. At the end of the day, you can introduce a bass shelf under 100hz, as these drivers handle EQ incredibly well.
So, no matter the music you’re listening to, the bass is always snappy, and physical, and has a fantastic resolution. This proves to be a very universal type of bass delivery, with great handling of the majority of music genres. If you’re into hip-hop or electronic music, a bass shelf might be mandatory for you to get that rumbly and thick note presentation.
Where the MM-500 shines in terms of bass is jazz and acoustic recordings. Because of its highly technical and tight low frequencies, instruments sound very natural and accurate.
What’s important to note – even though the MM-500 is not really hard to drive, it does benefit a lot when plugged into a good quality amplifier, and actually, powerful ones proved to have a better overall bass presentation for me. Even though the MM-500 definitely doesn’t need the level of juice that the Feliks Envy outputs, it still sounds incredible out of it, definitely offering a better bass response than with other amplifiers I’ve tried.
The midrange is definitely the star of the show here. You’re probably aware of the fact that the LCD-5 is quite a mid-forward pair of headphones, and the MM-500 is no different. The vocals sound very forward here, and they have a beautiful tone to them, sounding rich and very accurate at the same time. Some people already called these a “planar HD650”, and I totally agree with that statement. The HD650 by Sennheiser had that lush and forward vocal presentation that just sounded incredibly natural, and the MM-500 sounds very alike. If you really like vocal in your music, these might be the perfect choice for you, no doubts about it.
And guess what – my absolute favorite part of music that I listen to is vocal, I have always been a fan of vocal-oriented music. This is why I immediately fell in love with the MM-500, as they do offer one of the best vocal reproductions in any headphones on the market, regardless of the price. I would say, my third favorite behind the Susvara and Meze Elite, and definitely in front of the HE1000se, D8000 Pro, or the Abyss Diana Phi. There’s just something intoxicating in that forward, smooth, yet incredibly technical and fast-sounding midrange that I find making me listen to more music, which is just the best recommendation I could give.
My classic test, the song called “A Thousand Shards Of Heaven” by Lunatic Soul proved the MM-500 to be incredibly natural and engaging sounding, with beautiful tonality and highly detailed presentation.
The upper midrange is even more elevated, which occasionally tends to sound a bit too forward. Once again, not a big deal, as you can simply EQ them to your liking if you find that frequency range too hot for you. Nonetheless, this slight emphasis helps female vocals come forward, even more, giving you that needed shine and presence with Diana Krall or Melody Gardot.
I must admit, while I’m personally not a fan of forward upper-mids, some Archive tracks with female vocals sound absolutely spectacular, thanks to that forward and highly technical presentation. It just all comes down to your preferences and the music you’re listening to.
Let’s get to the treble now. It is once again – highly technical sounding with excellent detail and resolution. Just like the bass and the midrange, it isn’t really thick sounding, but rather it focuses on providing a fantastic speed and bite. What’s most important though is how the MM-500 manages to stay incredibly technical, while not being harsh or forced sounding at all, which further improves the overall experience. Once again, this is a fantastic studio pair of headphones capable of showing every single little detail in music without pushing it too much, which makes for a perfect choice for both audiophiles and sound engineers. I also find the treble uncolored in any way, resulting in a sound that is amazingly neutral and lifelike. Pair it with its great dynamics and quite a forward presentation to get a very engaging pair of headphones for rock, metal, and electronic music. The only thing you’re going to care about is the quality of mastering. Poor-sounding records might come down as lifeless and unpleasant sounding with the MM-500, but it’s not the headphone’s fault, quite the opposite actually. The latest Audeze model is just incredibly technical and neutral sounding that will never hide anything from the mix, but rather present every single flaw in the master on a hot plate. If you’re into an ultimate critical listening experience, the MM-500 is really hard to beat, even by many more expensive headphones on the market.
The soundstage continues the entire technical and studio-oriented sound. It focuses mainly on layering, accuracy, and imaging, but it does it in an interesting manner. See, the overall size of the soundstage is rather small, when compared to some of its competitors, but I actually believe that it was intentional. Once again, the MM-500 is a really forward-sounding pair, meant to present the music in the most neutral and studio-like way. This means that you’re getting everything pretty close to you, including the staging capabilities. Even though the soundstage is rather small, it is amazingly accurate and “right” sounding, which makes for a very pleasant and lifelike experience. Also, the MM-500 performs excellently with games as well, giving you very accurate imaging, that will help you locate the “other guys” from the opposite team. If you want the ultimate size of the soundstage, the HD800s is your guy, but if you want a highly accurate and forward type of experience, the MM-500 performs fantastically.
This is the first comparison that came into my mind when I received the MM-500. The LCD-X is the best-selling model in the history of Audeze, and its 2021 version has proven to be the best iteration of this model.
First of all, the build quality and comfort. The 8xx is the more comfortable of the two, but it’s not surprising for me, since I find the HD800 series headphones the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever used. Lightweight, literally no clamping force and Alcantara earpads all make for a headphone that I can wear for many, many hours without even the slightest problem.
It is with the actual build quality that the MM-500 wipes the floor with the 8xx. The latter feels just plasticky and not really durable when compared to the newest Audeze release. The MM-500 feels incredibly solid and it’s meant to survive a lot of abuse in the studio, which the 8xx would definitely not survive.
The Audeze MM-500 is very easy to drive, and thanks to its amazingly natural tone, you can basically pair them with anything you want. Yes, they still sound best out of a high-end system, but it’s not necessary for you to enjoy them. The MM-500 can be paired with a DAP like the latest iBasso DX170 and this pairing is going to give you a highly technical sound with a lot of texture.
If you’d like to introduce a bit of warmth, you could try pairing the MM-500 with Burson Playmate 2 or the Yulong Aurora. This will give you a little bit of body to the sound and transform the MM-500 into a slightly less technical-sounding headphone.
Also, you can just simply plug these into the Feliks Audio Envy to get that incredibly fast and snappy sound that just feels impossibly detailed. While I would most certainly recommend that, you don’t really have to have a $6000 amplifier for these babies to shine. Everything clean and detailed sounding will definitely do the job.
The Audeze MM-500 is the next step in the evolution of Audeze after the LCD5. The new design and build are just spectacular, and it is by far one of the best-looking and feeling headphones that I’ve ever experienced in my entire life (and I experienced a lot, you know this).
It is the sound that matters the most though, and once again, Audeze did an incredible job with these. The MM-500 has a studio heritage and it’s definitely present in its sound, which is hugely detailed, fast, snappy, and very natural sounding, with a mid-forward presentation. Even though they are very technical, they do not sound too extreme or forced, resulting in an experience that is not tiring or just “too much”.
Audeze re-enters the sub $2000 market with quite a fantastic product, and the MM-500 is now my nr.1 recommendation for a technical marvel in its price category.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman HE1000se, Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX, HEDDphone, Hifiman Edition XS, Hifiman Arya SE
- Sources– XI Audio K-DAC, Feliks Envy, SMSL SH-9, EarMen Tradutto, SMSL DO100 + HO100, Burson Playmate 2, Yulong Aurora