While most of their products are aimed at HiFi audio enthusiasts, headphones like the LCD-X have kept Audeze connected to the pro-audio world as well. MM-500 takes that pro-audio connection to the next level with a set of headphones co-designed by Grammy-winning mixing engineer Manny Marroquin. While they’re a clear hit in the studio, does the MM-500 have a place in audiophile headphone collections as well?
Build and Design
The box and case are the same as Audeze’s “creator package” for the LCD-X and LCD-XC, but the headphones themselves have a totally fresh design. When Audeze released the LCD-5, they took a ground-up look at the comfort and design of their headphones, and reinvented their look and the suspension system, with a result that was lighter and more comfortable. MM-500 is now the second Audeze headphone to feature the updated design which should prove to be a boon for anyone who loves the Audeze sound, but not enough to commit to regular neck workouts.
While the general design is the same as the LCD-5, there are some changes as well. The earpads are closer to a standard Audeze broad, cushy feeling than the unique tapered style of LCD-5. MM-500 has its own unique look with gray rings on the earcups and the Manny Marroquin branding on the sides. The clamp force is higher than other Audeze models as well, and it’s probably among the stronger clamp forces I’ve experienced in an open back headphone.
If you’ve heard a lot of Audeze headphones, MM-500 may sound a bit like a collection of Audeze’s greatest hits. It seems almost as if the creators were inspired by the best aspects of a number of different headphones, as you’ll hear elements of the LCD-2, LCD-X and LCD-5 in the tuning. The end result is headphones that deliver crisp detail and a wide-open sound in a highly engaging way, in spite of its neutral/reference tuning.
The focus of the MM-500’s sound is in the upper mids, where it delivers intense detail and clarity, along with excellent layering of instruments. The midrange provides a strong sense of realism to the instruments and an excellent sense of weight, with a natural timbre. The extension down into the bass is largely linear with the smallest bit of roll-off into the subbass. The bass is notable for incredible texture and articulation, along with a tight, punchy delivery. The treble provides more air than you might be used to from Audeze, but without compromising the sort of heft and note weight that you’re used to.
MM-500’s soundstage feels wide and three-dimensional, but not overwhelmingly spacious: a large hall, not a stadium. Like the LCD-5, imaging is a highlight, with the strong resolution and strong midrange adding to the holographic delivery of the stereo image. MM-500 isn’t quite as resolving as the LCD-5, but the imaging feels very close overall.
MM-500 falls into the category of headphones that you can drive with nearly anything, but that also scale up very well with high-end gear. Out of my DX170, they were a pretty solid set of headphones that maybe got a touch shouty in the upper mids. In the RME ADI-2 DAC, they smoothed out a little, gained some width and more dynamics in the low end. With the GS-X mini they really came alive, delivering more slam and power in the low end, widening the soundstage, and perfecting that feeling of non-fatiguing engagement that lets you peel apart the layers of a song with headphones that you just never want to take off.
MM-500’s presentation of the guitars on Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” is a guitar player’s dream. Every detail and nuance is crystal clear, and the layering reveals little bits of intricate interplay between the two guitars and bass. Of course, there are other instruments too, and MM-500 gives a somewhat restrained delivery of Axl Rose’s sometimes over the top vocal performance, with a great deal of emotion in the vocals, with making them too forward or grating.
You can practically feel the strings on the upright bass in the opening moments of “So What” off Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. MM-500 gives a spacious and lifelike presentation of the instruments with a stereo image that puts you on the stage. The texture and weight of the instruments makes it feel like you could turn around and start tapping on the ride cymbal or play a couple notes on the piano yourself. Details like the delicate piano chords or the articulation of each note in the ride are expertly delivered. Instruments that could sound piercing, like the alto sax, are present and forward without sounding harsh or sharp.
For an orchestral piece like Sinfonia of England’s performance of “Serenade to Music,” MM-500 delivers richly layered, cohesive strings and brass. The violin’s highs are emotional with a touch of visceral physicality, and the lows are warm with a bit of melancholy. The dynamics are excellent as the quiet details build into bigger, more complicated passages. With MM-500’s delivery, you can pull out each instrument or part to examine its textures or put it all back together in your head to just get lost in the swell of the orchestra.
You can always count on Regina Spektor for a raw, personal vocal and piano performance – and the odd quirky instrumental arrangement. “Two Birds” gives you a little of both, with Spektor’s soft voice, delivered in intimate fashion by the MM-500, and the percussive piano, which hits with palpable energy, flanked by strings, drums, and…a tuba. The somewhat unconventional selection of instruments mixes with Spektor’s spritely style, and the whole performance feels just a bit airy and dreamlike. MM-500 demonstrates a great sense of transparency in delivering the vision and imagination of the song, and in letting the personality of the performers shine through.
Comparison: Audeze LCD-5, Audeze LCD-X
The big question for this comparison is “Soundwise, where does MM-500 fit in Audeze’s lineup?” With a higher price tag, you’d expect improved performance over the LCD-X, but can it hit anywhere near the flagship LCD-5 level of spacious detail and resolution? To find out we brought an LCD-5 and LCD-X along to see just where MM-500 fits.
In terms of build and comfort, LCD-X generally lags behind, as the lighter-weight updated Audeze design is going to be more comfortable to most. One potential spot where the LCD-X might still be the most comfortable is if the clamp force is more of a concern than the weight or the pressure on top of your head, as MM-500 has a bit of extra clamp force. And while I’m sure the older, more industrial LCD-series design will always have its fans, I prefer the newer, sleeker look and feel.
In terms of sound, MM-500’s tuning is a bit closer to LCD-5 than to LCD-X. Where LCD-X has a little more midbass presence and can sound a little darker, MM-500 is more articulate and feels cleaner in the bass. The upper mids are an even larger source of difference as MM-500 delivers a much higher level of clarity to the sound, while LCD-X’s upper mids were pulled back a bit. Though from just below 1kHz down into the lower mids, MM-500 and LCD-X have a stronger similarity.
The difference between MM-500 and LCD-5 is more a matter of minutia and technical aspects than major differences in the character and tuning. LCD-5 feels faster and more resolving than MM-500. It also demonstrates a wider soundstage. MM-500 has a bit more depth into the bass, and perhaps a little less air at the top, though the upper mids into the treble sound pretty similar.
Doing various comparisons definitely reinforces my initial feelings that aspects of MM-500’s sound feels a little bit like the greatest hits of Audeze headphones. The bass is reminiscent of the LCD-2 Classic, while the midrange is closer to the LCD-X and the upper mids and treble are not unlike the LCD-5. Ultimately each of these elements combine into a singular cohesive sound that is both familiar and fresh for Audeze.
The Bottom Line
First and foremost MM-500 was designed to be a studio reference tool for mixing engineers, and as such it provides incredible detail, clarity, and a deep look into whatever music you use it for. However, that detailed, intricate presentation remains vibrant and also makes for immersive listening sessions for the audiophile who’s just here to enjoy the music. MM-500 is an incredibly versatile headphone that brings together aspects of Audeze’s past to point the way to the future.