Yamaha YH-E700B Review: Awkward Flagship Headphones

In the ongoing cage match of premium travel headphones, Sony is the reigning champ. The company’s WH-1000XM3 splashed onto the scene in 2018 with fantastic noise canceling, plush comfort, tons of features, and great sound, and the company never looked back. The latest models, including the WH-1000XM4 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) and the newer XM5 (9/10, WIRED Recommends), have each improved on the formula, forcing Bose, Sennheiser, and even Apple to raise their game.

Within this fierce market, Yamaha’s new YH-E700B wireless headphones arrive feeling underpowered. A revamp of 2020’s YH-E700A, the YH-E700B look the part and offer very good sound quality, but their features and overall execution are outmatched by others at their price–especially when it comes to their so-so noise cancellation.

The YH-E700B are still solid enough office or travel headphones, and at $200 to $250, they’d be worth considering. But at their current $350 retail price, it’s hard to find good reason to choose these over competitors that are at the top of their game.

Flagship Style, Budget Execution

Photograph: Yamaha

The YH-E700B arrive in a package befitting their premium price point. A stout travel case unzips to reveal speckled ear cups in black or tan, folded in on adjustable hinges in the headphone fetal position. Like Sony’s WH-1000XM5, Yamaha’s new cans feature longer, more oval-shaped cups than their predecessor. That makes their travel case bulkier than my favorites, but it’s still compact enough to fit in most bags.

The hefty ear cups adjust to fit on dual hinges, including wand-like arms that stretch down from the padded band to the middle of each cup for a distinctive touch of style. Spray-on speckles along the matte finish and a glossy Yamaha logo are the only other real aesthetic markers in what are otherwise fairly nondescript headphones. Then again, that can be said for nearly every major rival these days.

On the interior of each cup, you’ll find heaping memory foam pads covered in soft leatherette with long, narrow openings at the center for the 40-mm drivers beneath. My first experience with the fit was one of confusion; my ears aren’t huge, but they’re too large to fit within the pads’ elliptical holes. Instead, the earphones sit in a sort of hybrid position between on-ear and over-ear that feels pretty awkward at first.

It’s this odd design that apparently causes one of the E700B’s most notable performance issues: completely erratic auto-pause. Like others in its class, Yamaha’s pair have built-in sensors to pause and unpause audio as you remove them, but it rarely worked as advertised.

I had some listening sessions where auto-pause worked fairly regularly, others when sound would pause but fail to unpause, and still others when it flat-out didn’t work at all. Wondering if it was just my ears, I asked my wife to have a go, and she had the same results. After a week or so, I realized if I jammed my ear into the right pad, the sensor would pick it up consistently, but that was more awkward than simply clicking the physical multi-button to pause.

Is this a big deal in the grand scheme? Not really. But the inconsistency made me increasingly frustrated when it failed. It’s not an issue with any of the other models I’ve tried, while Sony’s XM4 and XM5 go further, adding conveniences like Speak-to-Chat to pause sound with your voice and Quick Attention, which turns on transparency mode when you hold your hand over the right cup.

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