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Audeze MM-500 Review and Comparison to the LCD-X

Audeze Teamed Up with Grammy-Winning Producer Manny Marroquin on the MM-500

The headphones are here, the new headphones are here! If you're familiar with the Steve Martin film "The Jerk," you know how giddy he gets when the new phone books arrive. It's like that with new headphones here at Moon Audio. I didn't run around the office screaming, but I was certainly stoked to get my hands on the new Audeze MM-500.

The MM-500, priced at $1,699.00, is Audeze's new open-back headphone for professional mixing. The MM stands for Manny Marroquin; Audeze teamed up with the award-winning producer/mixer on the design. And really, who better to collaborate with than someone who will actually be using the product you design together? Star power aside, I think the MM-500 is going to appeal to audio pros and audiophiles alike. It's got some parallels with the very popular LCD-X, which Audeze calls the Audio Professional's Choice, but MM-500 is definitely a new and different headphone.

About the Collaboration

Manny Marroquin fell in love with Audeze headphones several years ago. He's been in the business for awhile, having won 11 Grammys and mixing more than 40 No. 1 hits. He's listened to his share of headphones, but when he listened to his first Audeze, he said he'd never heard anything like it - never heard anything that "sounded like the studio." He said they were the first headphones that gave him the confidence that he was truly hearing all of the nuances in songs. Over the years, he's worked with Audeze, offering his input as he used the LCD-X, LCD-4, and LCD-5 to mix records.

In collaborating with Audeze to create his first signature headphone, Manny took prototypes with him wherever he worked. He used them mix and master efficiently and confidently, and they quickly became a key part of his workflow. He used a pre-production MM-500 headphone to mix Kendrick Lamar's #1 album "Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers" in early 2022.

Riff

Notes

Riff Notes  

Pros

  • Great imaging and separation
  • Natural, non-sterile sound
  • On the smaller and lighter size
  • Easy to drive

Cons

  • Tight clamp
  • Top-end energy may bother sensitive ears

Materials, Quality & Comfort

The MM-500 comes nestled in a sizable black metal case. It's like a lunchbox on steroids. The headphones are protected inside by thick foam. Size wise, the MM-500 more closely resembles the flagship LCD-5 than the LCD-X, with the smaller earcups and thinner, non-perforated head strap. However, the MM-500 and the LCD-X (well, the pre-2020 version) both have the dark gray coloring for the housings. I think it's a good-looking headphone. It looks stylish, and solid, and I like the more compact aesthetic.

The body of the MM-500 is made from machined aluminum with an adjustable spring steel headband. The head strap isn't cushioned, but it feels comfortable. The premium leather earpads are cushy. Clamping force out of the box is significant, so I'm curious to see if this lessens. (Update: It was still pretty tight after a few days, but maybe over time it will loosen up.) Manny Marroquin's name is etched on a small plaque at the bottom of the left ear cup, with "Audeze" on the bottom of the right cup.

At 495g, the MM-500 is lighter than all LCD headphones except the LCD-5, which is a mere 420g. Still, 495g feels noticeably lighter than the 612g LCD-X. Let's face it. The LCD-X is a great headphone, but it is on the bigger and heavier side. When it comes to ergonomics, the MM-500 may be a more appealing choice. That being said, bigger heads may prefer the size of the LCD-X.

MM-500 headband
Manny Mrroquin wearing MM-500 headphones

Let's take a closer look at the comfort factor of the MM-500. Now, a headphone should be comfortable no matter where and how you are using it. But I think comfort would be particularly important in a studio monitor, since you are likely going to be wearing the headphones for long stretches while you work. All things considered, I think the MM-500 passes the comfort test. I didn't have any pressure point issues on the top of my head, which can happen with some headphones after you've had them on for a while. The ear cushions are plush, and the leather is buttery soft, so they feel good against the ears. The aforementioned clamping force might be an issue for some people, but this is an individual thing. Some people want a tight fit. It depends on your head size and personal preferences. The only issue I had with the MM-500 in the comfort department was with the arm of my glasses digging in behind my ear (this only happened on the left side). I don't know if this is related to the clamp or the size of the earcups or an unevenness in my glasses, but it was an issue for me.

Sound Quality

"I feel like for the first time in my career, I can actually take the studio with me."

Manny Marroquin, about the MM-500

 

Yup, the MM-500 is definitely a studio monitor - and a headphone for anyone who enjoys critical listening. It's got a transparent sound with lots of detail and energy in the upper regions. The sound is clean, with great imaging, separation, and a low end that favors quality over quantity. To my ears, the upper midrange and high end are where the action is on this headphone.

The MM-500 uses a 90mm planar magnetic driver that features Audeze's Ultra-thin Uniforce diaphragm. While not as thin as the Nano-Scale Parallel Uniforce diaphragm used in Audeze's flagship headphones, it's still really, really thin: 1.8 microns. A micron is one-millionth of a meter, so you get the idea. The low mass of the diaphragm facilitates higher resolution and transparency. The MM-500 also features signature Audeze technologies like Fazor Waveguides and Fluxor Magnet Array.

The MM-500 brought out all the nuance in Elton John's voice, from the subtle grit to the slight lisp. Taylor Swift's somber and introspective vocals throughout her indie album "Evermore" were thoroughly enjoyable, taking center stage in many of the more spare compositions. On Jethro Tull's "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day," the MM-500 kept everything tight and defined, from the flute and xylophone to heavier instrumentation. It wasn't the most energetic or powerful presentation of the song, but the MM-500 is more about nuance, more about showing you what a song is rather than what the headphone thinks it should be.

The MM-500 has a little something in the engagement department that keeps it from sounding sterile. So it's neutral enough to be a mixing headphone, but engaging enough to appeal to anyone. That sounds like a win-win to me.

Obviously I am not using this headphone in a professional capacity (nor is that something I do), so I can only speculate about the attributes that make for a great mixing headphone. Instrument and vocal separation are logically quite important, as being able to isolate various elements in a mix is a big part of the job. This is something the MM-500 does really well; no blurred lines here. Bass that is tight and accurate is going to be better than big, booming bass. Again, the MM-500 favors the former over the latter. A natural timbre is also going to be a plus, since anything too warm or bright is not going to sound true to life.

The midrange, in particular vocals, on the MM-500 sounds natural, forward, and engaging. If the midrange is where the magic is, then the mixing engineer needs to hear it loud and clear. So yes, the MM-500 has the attributes of a good mixing headphone. And many of these attributes are going to appeal to critical listeners, the people who favor clarity and detail over warmth, bombast, or over-emotionality. But here's the thing: No one wants a dry headphone. (OK, I'm sure someone does.) But my point is that the MM-500 has a little something in the engagement department that keeps it from sounding sterile. So it's neutral enough to be a mixing headphone, but engaging enough to appeal to anyone.

With an impedance of 18 ohms and sensitivity of 100dB, the MM-500 is easy to drive. That being said, experience has shown us here at Moon Audio that planar magnetic headphones will always appreciate added power, so we recommend using a headphone amp/DAC for the optimal listening experience.

Sound summary: Neutral, transparent, detailed, upper-mid focus

"Billie Jean"
Michael Jackson
"Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day"
Jethro Tull
"Willow"
Taylor Swift
"Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy"
Elton John

Comparison to the LCD-X

This was a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with the LCD-X, which Audeze has called "The Audio Professional's Choice." The LCD-X, both the original and the post-2020 version, has a forward sound, with robust bass and sparkle in the upper regions. When I listened to "Skating Away" on the LCD-X vs. the MM-500, I got more zing from the bells and flute. The overall presentation was more powerful, more energetic. However, the MM-500 did a better job with detail and separation. In the latter part of the song when all of the instruments are competing, I was able to more closely track and distinguish the individual elements.

Bass definitely sounds bigger and fuller on the LCD-X. On "Billie Jean," I could feel the bass in my head in the form of a subtle vibration, giving me confirmation of the headphone's low-end heft. On the MM-500, I didn't get that visceral quality, but I got more detail in the bass. I perceived a hidden layer in the bass at the beginning of the track. I also heard subtle background sounds to my left and right throughout the track.

While the LCD-X bests the MM-500 in low-end oomph and top-end sizzle, the MM-500 takes the cake in vocals, detail, and instrument separation. It's the more neutral and transparent-sounding of the two headphones.

 

  • Headband: Smooth steel
  • Driver size: 90mm
  • Housing: Aluminum
  • Weight: 495g
  • Impedance: 18 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 100dB
  • Frequency response: 5Hz-50kHz

  • Headband: Pre-2020: textured steel; post-2020: carbon fiber
  • Driver size: 108mm
  • Housing: Aluminum
  • Weight: 612g
  • Impedance: 20 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 103dB
  • Frequency response: 10Hz-50kHz

Comparison to the LCD-2 and LCD-3

The LCD-3 is the warmest of the LCD headphones. It's got a huge bottom end, but it's also a very musical and detailed headphone. The overall presentation is smooth, and there is some top-end roll-off. It's a great headphone for bass-heavy genres like EDM, and it will work well for jazz and classical if you enjoy a smoother presentation. The LCD-2 is similar to the LCD-3, but it's not quite as resolving. With their copious bass and smoother top end, these headphones are going to appeal to a different type of listener than the MM-500.

Dragon Cables

I chose to pair the MM-500 with a Black Dragon Premium Headphone Cable. The MM-500 is already a very detailed headphone with lots of top-end energy, so I didn't need to add anything there. What I wanted was a little more bottom-end weight. The Black Dragon adds a subtle warmth to the low and middle frequencies, making music sound fuller and vocals more emotive. Now, if you were using this headphone in the studio and wanted to max out on detail and top-end energy, I would recommend a Silver Dragon. Or, if you wanted to just "clean the sound" without altering the sound signature, I would recommend a Blue Dragon.

Why Dragon Cables?

Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon cables are handcrafted to the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.

Silver Dragon Sound Signature: The Silver Dragon is the original cable. Silver strands clarify instrument separation, increase the soundstage, and find previously lost high and mid-frequency sounds. Transients appear more cohesive and the bass tighter for a more controlled sound. The detail and clarity of the Silver Dragon make it a perfect match for classical music and other genres with many nuanced instruments.

Black Dragon Sound Signature: The Black Dragon is warm and smooth with a musical presentation. Copper strands enhance the body, shape, and immediacy of the music. The detail and expansiveness of the Black Dragon make it a flexible fit where a broad range of musical genres are played. It can also improve bass frequencies on bass-light headphones. The smooth, musical quality makes it a perfect fit for headphones that tend to sound a bit edgy or bright. Despite its warmth, the Black Dragon does not have a laid-back, lush sound. It is much closer to neutral, making it a very natural-sounding cable. For more information on finding your signature sound, visit our Sound Signature Guide.

The Verdict

The MM-500 is not your typical Audeze headphone, that's for sure. With a smaller and lighter form factor and studio-appropriate sound profile, the MM-500 works equally well for mixing and mastering and for simply enjoying—and critically listening to—your music. Pros will enjoy the ergonomics and the transparency of the sound. For non-pro use, the MM-500 is going to appeal to listeners who enjoy neutrality with lots of detail and nuance. You'll find a focus in the upper mid frequencies, which is going to make vocals stand out.

I very much enjoyed the MM-500 most with acoustic rock, folk, and anything where vocals were the star of the show. The bass is punchy and articulate, but it's not a bassy-sounding headphone, and some listeners might wish for more lower-end heft. In that regard, the LCD-X has more oomph. But the MM-500 bests the LCD-X in detail and precision. It's all about your personal preferences. If you like the LCD-X but wish it had a smaller, lighter form factor and a more nuanced sound, the MM-500 will be a great change. But don't take it from me. Take it from Manny Marroquin.

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What's in the Box

  • MM-500 Headphone
  • Braided Cable 6.35mm
  • Economy Travel Case
  • Carrying Bag
  • Certificate of Authenticity and Warranty Cards

Video

Audeze MM-500 Headphones Review & Comparison

Specifications

  • Driver type: Planar magnetic
  • Driver size: 90mm
  • Magnetic structure: Fluxor magnet array
  • Magnet type: Neodymium N50
  • Phase management: Fazor
  • Diaphragm type: Ultra-thin Uniforce
  • Maximum SPL: >130dB
  • Frequency response: 5Hz-50kHz
  • THD: <0.1% @ 100 dB SPL, 1 kHJz
  • Sensitivity: 100 dB/1mW (at drum reference point)
  • Impedance: 18 ohms
  • Max power handling: 5W RMS
  • Min recommended power: >100mW
  • Recommended power level: >250mW
  • Weight: 495g

 


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