Yamaha 200BL Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 11, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube video: Yamaha 200BL Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube

    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Gm1/Headphone_Yamaha_200_Bl_01.jpg

    Sources: iPhone5, iPhone5 with FiiO E07k using LOD, iPhone5 with Decware Zen Head amp, various computers using the Microstreamer and Audioengine D3 DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the 200BL are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - in particular the Yamaha MT220, FAD Pandora VI, Shure 1540, B&O H6, B&W P7, v-moda M100, Beyerdynamic T51p, and notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the 200BL (i.e. my personal taste and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    When I first put the 200BL on, I thought it sounded a bit muffled, as though the treble were somewhat recessed. When I worked out an EQ curve with the Audioforge parametric equalizer - comparing the result sound to my other dozen headphones - I could see visually that there was an ~8 db recess at 5 khz and a fairly steep rolloff above 7 khz. With the EQ on, the sound had a realism and a soundstage depth that was comparable to some of the other headphones I have, but not as good as the Yamaha MT220 in terms of ultimate clarity and detail. Still, I was very happy about getting this quality of sound from a $150 headphone, and I think that most users will be delighted with the 200BL sound as is, and others may choose to implement a bit of EQ to adjust the sound to their tastes. Note that purchasing a different headphone to get a more preferred signature won't ensure getting a better overall sound, since certain of the tonal qualities are unique to each headphone.

    Bass response is a big ticket with headphones these days, and the 200BL's bass has a very moderate emphasis around 110 hz, making the sound slightly boomy on some music, especially jazz tracks that include an upright bass. Other than that there's no bass bloat, muddiness, or other undesirable characteristics in the 200BL's low end, so I think it would be satisfactory for high quality listening for users who accept the sound as is, or are willing to use an equalizer such as the Audioforge app mentioned above. Summing up the 200BL's sound based on a lot of listening, running tests, and comparing to my other headphones, it's OK at this price level but doesn't offer anything extra. What's really puzzling is the open-back design on a small portable headphone like the 200BL, since everything about it points to portable use, and open-back headphones outdoors or on public transport are severely compromised by the ambient noise levels.

    Reiterating the bass issue from the most common user viewpoints - the bass is good and detailed, but people who do gaming and require a heavier impact, or people who use the headphone on public transport where background sounds contain a lot of low frequencies - these users usually prefer a headphone with boosted bass frequencies, so for them I'd recommend a different headphone. Like most headphones, the 200BL sound improves noticeably with DACs and headphone amps as compared to driving the headphone with just a low-cost portable music player or cellphone, and the 200BL plays very loudly with the typical iPods and iPhones.

    To appreciate the difference a good DAC and amp can make, play music using the DAC/amp first, then switch to a portable music player and hear the difference. That difference is usually subtle and difficult to appreciate the other way around: if you listen with the portable player first and then switch to the DAC/amp. I think that's because it's easier to hear what detail is lost in the former example instead of what's gained in the latter example, unless what's gained is dramatic. 200BL isolation is essentially zero due to the open-back design, and leakage is nearly 100 percent for the same reason.

    The 200BL's build quality seems to be good - mostly plastic with a thin metal headband covered in soft plastic. The headband has a very moderate clamp and stretches much wider than my average-size head, the earcups have very handy click detents, and the earcups can be extended at least an inch further than where they fit my ears. The 200BL's earcups don't contact my chin when they're extended all the way down and I'm wearing the headphone around my neck, so it makes for an ideal portable headphone in that sense. The earpads are only about 9 mm deep, but because of the very light headband pressure and the velour earpad coverings, the on-ear comfort is quite good. The cable is double-entry and not detachable, it's about 4.5 feet long and rubber-coated (but a bit thin), so it doesn't look very strong or rugged. The terminator plug is a standard 3.5 mm right-angle miniplug, and a 6.5 foot extension cable is included.

    The music tracks below have been listed in a number of prior reviews, and are a selection of my most revealing tracks for headphone testing. Since these tracks cover a wide range of genres and were selected from my tests of very different headphones, there won't be a bias toward the 200BL with this music. I suggest that instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to the prior reviews and see how the 200BL compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Yamaha 200BL review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone with a satisfactory weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The 200BL plays this perfectly.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled extremely well by the 200BL.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the 200BL are the bass impacts starting around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't astound you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The 200BL plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the 200BL.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The 200BL plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The 200BL reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the 200BL renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The 200BL plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not sharp or edgy.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sounds realistic.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The 200BL reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The 200BL plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the subtle bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the 200BL plays this music very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the 200BL. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The 200BL provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the 200BL plays them very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The 200BL plays this very well.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is perceptible but subtle with the 200BL.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the 200BL, but the voice tends to overwhelm those background sounds - until the heavy bass impacts kick in. If there is any doubt about whether the 200BL will play heavy impactful bass with good detail (if such sounds are really in the recording), this track is the proof. If you were to begin your 200BL listening with this track, you might think you were listening to a headphone that has a very boosted but tight and detailed bass. Simply amazing.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The 200BL reproduces these sounds fairly well.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The 200BL conveys that experience in a subtle but convincing way. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the 200BL renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The 200BL delivers the impacts with proper weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

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