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Audeze isn’t the first headphone manufacturer to try to gain an advantage by enlisting a Grammy-winning audio engineer to endorse its product, but the open-back, over-ear Audeze MM-500 planar magnetic headphone might be the only one that doubles as both a professional-grade studio tool and an excellent option for home audio enthusiasts.
The “MM” in MM-500 is Manny Marroquin, who’s one of the most successful audio engineers of the past two decades with hundreds of sessions since the early 1990s with artists as diverse as Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, Imagine Dragons, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Lady Gaga, John Legend, Migos, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Kanye West, Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Leon Bridges, Ariana Grande, Juice WRLD, Vampire Weekend, Post Malone, Megan Thee Stallion, Ozzy Osbourne, Katy Perry, HAIM, and Elton John.
That’s a long list, but there’s a point. Even if you didn’t know his name before, you’ve heard his work on some of the biggest records of the 21st century. And let’s not forget that he mixed tracks on Jon Batiste’s We Are, which won the most recent Grammy for Album of the Year.
This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best headphones.
Audeze makes a big deal about the fact that Marroquin designed the MM-500 and didn’t just endorse or “tune” them. These cans sound like they were created by and for a professional engineer and Audeze says that Marroquin used the MM-500 to mix tracks on Kendrick Lamar’s 2022 album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, an album that joins Lamar’s other albums with its own Album of the Year nomination.
Spending time with this headphone has been a joy, but the MM-500 is at its heart a pro tool that won’t appeal to every listener. If my description of what they do catches your interest, you should find a way to check these out, because they offer a compelling alternative to other high-end headphones.
How the Audeze MM-500 are put together
The Audeze MM-500 are built for durability, with a metal band over the head and metal earcups. That means the unit weighs just over a pound. The MM-500 is fine for sitting in one place and listening to music for an extended period, but they’d be a burden if you used them to walk around with a phone.
Not that you’d be walking around with a phone anyway, because the MM-500 comes with a braided headphone cable that has mini XLR connections to the headphone and a 1/4-inch connector to plug into an audio source. You’ll be limited to using the MM-500 with stationary and relatively high-end audio gear.
These are over-ear, open-back headphones, so there’s going to be some sound leakage when compared to closed-back headphones. The MM-500 also use planar magnetic drivers instead of dynamic drivers. Without digging too deeply into the engineering differences between the more traditional dynamic drivers and planar drivers, know that planar headphones deliver a very detailed and precise signal with less of the dynamic driver artificial bass boost that many listeners prefer.
The MM-500 features a neodymium N50 magnet, what Audeze calls an “ultra-thin Uniforce” diaphragm, and a 90mm transducer. Frequency response is 5Hz-50kHz, impedance is 18 ohms and, the recommended power level is >250mW.
One design choice that might surprise some listeners is the fact that the earpads are glued to the earcups, so swapping them out on a whim is impossible. There are likely engineering reasons behind this decision, but it’s a choice that might surprise buyers of other headphones in this price range.
If you’re just looking to keep the dust off in a studio or your home listening room, there’s a luxe velour storage bag with a satin lining, but travelling audiophiles will appreciate the hard-sided road case with a protective foam lining, a carry handle, and a luggage lock. The case is a massive 7.25 x 11.5 x 9 inches (HxWxD), which is giant by consumer headphone standards but is in fact a miniature version of the experience you’d have traveling with a giant wheeled case full of studio outboard gear.
Listening to the Audeze MM-500
For close listening, I plugged the MM-500 into an RME ADI-2 DAC connected to a MacBook Pro via a USB cable. Since Manny Marroquin used the MM-500 for reference when he mixed the LP, I played a 24-bit 48kHz stream of Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.
The detail is remarkable and the ideas behind the collaboration between Marroquin and Audeze are immediately obvious. There’s an extraordinary amount of audio detail here, something that’s perfect for a mix engineer.
For comparison, I used the Focal Celestee closed-back headphone. The Focal has a more relaxed sound that some listeners will find to be more musical. The Celestee offers a less precise presentation of the music, which might count as “warmer” or “more analog.”
Who should buy the Audeze MM-500 headphone?
An ideal situation for all of us would be to have a half-dozen or so audiophile headphones in our collection, with each having slightly different strengths than all the others and deployed whenever we played music that perfectly matched those strengths. That’s not how things work for most of us, though.
The Audeze MM-500 was designed for a pro-audio environment where a need for clarity is paramount. As we move into a world where true high-resolution audio is available for streaming to the masses, listeners who are fascinated with the extra detail a higher bit rate can deliver will be attracted to the kind of detail the MM-500 was designed to reproduce.
Listeners who grew up with the lower resolution and distortion (aka “warmth”) of vinyl might find this kind of listening too intense and possibly even unmusical. High-res audio delivers an experience that might or might not reflect the intentions of artists and engineers who couldn’t or didn’t contemplate a future beyond magnetic tape, cutting lathes, and vinyl. Some of those old mixes deconstruct themselves at those higher bitrates. That offers a fascinating experience for hardcore audiophiles, but it might not be the best option for more casual listeners.
I’d absolutely welcome the Audeze MM-500 as a reference tool in a recording studio. They deliver the flat response that allows engineers, producers, and artists to dig into a mix. The fact that Audeze has partnered with a creative force like Manny Marroquin means that they realize there’s a market opportunity for this kind of presentation in the pro-audio world but also a growing number of home listeners who will enjoy replicating that in-studio experience as much as they possibly can.
The Audeze MM-500 headphone won’t work with your phone. Well, that’s not technically true, because you can track down an inexpensive 1/4-inch to USB-C adapter and use that with an external DAC, but there are no guarantees about sound quality.
Realistically, you’re going to need a home hi-fi setup or a desktop DAC that’s compatible with this headphone. If you record your own music and are looking for a way to mix from a laptop, buying the MM-500 would be an excellent choice because they’re versatile enough to double as your primary headphones when you’re listening for pleasure. If you’re into high-resolution audio and looking to recreate the in-studio listening experience at home, the Audeze MM-500 paired with a great DAC could be the answer. They’re tuned for active, critical listening and offer a remarkably immersive music experience.