Today we review the new Audeze MM-500 which is an open-back planar magnetic headphone designed in collaboration with Manny Marroquin and specifically for studio mixing. It is priced at $1699.
Disclaimer: This is a sample sent to us in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Audeze for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Audeze products we have covered on Headfonics click here.
Note, that this review follows our latest scoring guidelines which you can read up on here.
Audeze MM-500 Review
The Audeze MM-500 is going to appeal to a much wider audience beyond the pro-audio user with an enjoyable, high-energy tuning that works wonders with my own preferences such as hard rock, and, a design aesthetic that is simply gorgeous to hold and look at.
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Highly engaging tuning
Easy enough to drive
Might not win over the old-school Audeze 'traditionalists'
September is always a busy time of the year for new releases, particularly so with Audeze who announced the MM-500 back in June and is just rolling out the initial production units a few weeks ago.
Last year it was two flagship headphones, the CRBN electrostatic variant, and the LCD-5, both of which scored really well with us.
This time around we drop down a bit price-wise to something a little bit different. The MM-500 sits a bit closer to the LCD-X 2021 and LCD-XC 2021 in terms of affordability but it’s actually the debut launch of a brand-new MM Series. So, it sits on its own a little bit for now until they fill that line out a bit.
The key differentiator for these headphones is the collaboration tuning with Manny Marroquin who is a multiple Grammy Award winner and working with artists such as the late Whitney Houston, John Mayor, and Maroon 5 to name but a few standouts.
So the MM-500 is primarily a pro or studio headphone but I have to tell you now, this is going down as one of the most enjoyable headphone sound signatures for me this year.
An eagle-eyed reader cannot have failed to spot the fact that the MM-500 uses the same 90mm diameter transducer, (driver), size as the Flagship Series LCD-5. However, whilst MM-500 shares some characteristics with the LCD-5 it does not have everything.
In fact, you could call this driver a mix of the old and new but at its heart is the same consistent driver by Audeze to produce a highly efficient planar magnetic headphone.
The new is the 90mm driver size combined with the LCD-5’s more efficient and lower impedance single-sided Fluxor™ magnet array, (14 magnets in total). The old is the use of an Ultra-Thin Uniforce™ diaphragm similar to the LCD-X and the LCD-XC 2021 to further reduce distortion from the older designs.
Only the LCD-5 uses the new and unique Nano-Scale Parallel Uniforce™ diaphragm design hence it sits at the top of the pile though all aforementioned headphones continue to use Audeze’s current Fazor waveguide.
Some of the recent enhancements to the LCD series have also made their way into the MM-500 design. Among them is the ever so slightly lifted ear pad ring design which moves them a little further from the main housing to enhance the ventilation performance in line with the other 2021 revisions.
The proof in the pudding? A vanishingly low 18Ω impedance level and a moderate to easy 100dB SPL sensitivity rating. The MM-500’s relatively easy-to-drive profile should be considered a major benefit for studio applications as well as for most audiophiles.
The MM-500 adopts the new sleeker profile of the recent LCD-5 but like the driver configuration, there is a little bit more of the traditional thrown in.
I have to say though the design language for this headphone is gorgeous, perhaps one of my favorite to date from Audeze and aesthetically it does compete very well against the Tortoise shell finish of its bigger sibling. In fact, I would say some might prefer the gunmetal and lack finish a bit more but then again beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
The flipside though is the additional 70g weight with a slightly heavier mix of materials. You might feel that additional weight though it is not like removing from the LCD-5 to something like the older LCD-4.
The difference is less drastic. However, on the plus side, this might be a mix of more robust materials, and for studio use that might be a plus for some.
The materials include traditional spring steel and machined aluminum as opposed to lighter carbon fiber and polished acetate enclosures as well as the classic thickset and very plush leather earpads. The pressure strap is a bit stiffer though not by much and also non-vented this time.
Audeze has also retained the LCD-5 adjuster rod system that does away with the older LCD-4 pivot blocks further and is probably another factor in keeping the weight of the MM-500 sub-500g.
Visible screws return though this might be a consequence of using aluminum for the gimbals. I must say though they did a great job in keeping the gimbals as low profile and almost as seamless as the LCD-5 sloping right down to the connector.
The MM-500 also adopts a similar placement to LCD-5 to the rear of the cup for its mini-XLR connection system. It is also slightly higher up on the enclosure and close to the gimbals allowing for a less extreme angle to prevent cable-to-collar abrasion.
The MM-500 pressure distribution is more lateral than vertical which is no surprise really considering it uses the LCD-5 form factor. The clamping pressure is north of neutral, no getting around that but it does hold the headphone super steady when moving around.
However, a few pointers on why I find the MM-500 a more comfortable fit than its flagship sibling.
First, the use of the plusher and thicker leather pads with a wider contact surface mitigates that ‘squish’ a bit better for me compared to the thinner surface area of the LCD-5 pads. You get less focused pressure and a wider spread across the side of the head making this fitting less fatiguing.
Second, the MM-500 uses spring steel and you can shape spring steel a bit more to fit your head by pressing outwards a little to loosen it up. Over time also that spring steel band should loosen a bit more compared to the lighter carbon fiber alternative.
The MM-500 stock cable is similar to the LCD-X and LCD-XC 2021 variants with its use of a 20AWG high-purity OCC audio-grade copper for the wiring.
However, this time it is a little longer going from 78″ to 90″ and I believe this was one of Manny Marroquin’s requests to give him a little more room as a studio pro to move around his environment when mixing. It doesn’t add too much to the weight of the cable in all honesty and given my rather tall HiFi rack, I appreciate the additional length myself as well.
The stock cable finish is a tight PVC double-braided jacket and divided with a clean and light black aluminum ferrule tube for the splitter.
The cable connectors are the usual mini-XLR 3-pin barrels with channel color-coded strain relief. The connectors are angled so the length of the connectors will not drag on your collar during use. The jack termination is 6.35mm which is ok but I would prefer a 4.4mm or balanced 3-pin XLR choice at the checkout.
The double-braiding is nice and tight, the flex is supple and it is not too weighty either. You get next to no memory retention so it sits or behaves really well around you when using the headphones.
Importantly, you will not hear any kickback from microphonics traveling up the wire when using the MM-500. This is a very quiet cable both below and above the splitter.
Packaging & Accessories
There are no Creator or Premium MM-500 editions so you just get one choice in terms of accessories and carrying case. On a like-for-like basis, this is equivalent to the LCD Series Creator’s Package with the Economy case plus a new 90″ single-ended 1/4” to dual 4-pin mini-XLR cable plus a user guide and warranty card.
Mind you, the choice has always been very good with that thickset foam-lined economy case being one of the industry’s better headphone storage units though I do wonder if a studio pro would have preferred the weather-sealed alternative.
The black Economy case looks great though. It shoulders most of the older weather-sealed type case’s protective heritage but also included a bit more of a crafted box styling and a decent handle and latch on it.
The inner space also has plenty of protective foam lining top and bottom for both the headphones and the accessories so no chance of any damage en route.
The other unique addition to the accessory line-up is a soft and large MM Series branded drawstring pouch. It looks quite striking but obviously provides zero protection for bumps and knocks. I would use this primarily as a dust cover when not in use.