Yamaha MT220 Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 2, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: Yamaha MT220 Monitor Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube

    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Gm1/Headphone_Yamaha_Mt220_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 MT220 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - in particular the 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 MT220 (i.e. my personal taste and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    When I first put the MT220 on, I thought it sounded very good, but not as 'rich' as the Pandora VI or the B&W P7, which have an enhanced signature at both ends of the spectrum. What I did discover was a realism and soundstage depth that I don't get with the headphones noted above, except for the very pricy Pandora VI. The instrumental and vocal tonality of the MT220 remind me of what I'm missing with most low to medium-priced headphones, even the $500 Shure SRH1540 and $300 Beyerdynamic T51p Tesla driver headphone. In the case of the Shure 1540, the potential resolution may be as high as or higher than this Yamaha MT220, but that resolution is partially obscured by a heavy bass and thick lower midrange.

    I was very happy about getting this quality of sound from a $250 headphone, but I was still curious about details such as how the frequency response/signature varied from 'flat' or 'neutral'. Running test tones for 30 minutes or so, I heard a drop of 3-4 db from 1.5 to 2 khz, an emphasis of about 3 db at 4 khz, and an emphasis of 4-5 db from 7 to 9 khz. The variances that I heard may be greater or lesser for different users, since for most people their sensitivity below 10 khz varies with different ear topologies. In any case, I think that most users will be delighted with the MT220 sound straightaway, 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 not everything else is equal, i.e. the tonal qualities of the MT220 owe to a quality of design that doesn't carry over to most other brands and models, regardless of price within 2x or so of the MT220.

    Bass response is a big ticket with headphones these days, and the MT220's bass compared to classic 'neutral' has more impact and detail from what I'm hearing. Since there's no bass bloat, muddiness, or other undesirable characteristics in the MT220's low end, I think it would make an excellent recording monitor as well as a great headphone for high fidelity listening. My impression of the MT220's treble variances above apply only to the treble itself - the overall strength of the treble is slightly less than what I've experienced with the so-called neutral-flagship headphones, which may be perfect for some users and not others. In any case I think most experienced headphone users know where they fit on that curve. Summing up the MT220 sound based on listening, running tests, and comparing to my other headphones, outstanding at this price level and excellent up to twice the price.

    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 MT220 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 MT220 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. MT220 isolation is good - better than 10 db at the treble frequencies but less less lower down, as it is with all non-noise-canceling headphones. Leakage is low - if used in a very quiet office next to other cubicles, persons in those cubicles won't likely hear disturbing sounds unless the MT220 is played at full volume. There's no significant difference in bass response when wearing the MT220 with eyeglasses on, but when wearing glasses while listening, the leakage might be slightly higher than otherwise.

    The MT220's build quality seems very good - partly metal and part plastic. The headband has a moderate clamp and stretches much wider than my average 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 MT220's earcups don't contact my chin when they're extended all the way down and I'm wearing the headphone around my neck, but due to the size and bulk of the headphone and the way the earcups flop nearly 180 degrees by themselves with neck carry, the MT220 isn't an ideal portable for my use. The earpads are extremely soft and spongy, the openings should surround most ears completely, and there's enough depth in the earcups that very few users should experience any discomfort related to their ears pressing against the metal plates that cover the drivers.

    The cable is single-sided (left side) and looks like it sits in an assembly that can be snapped out, but I haven't tried pulling it out. It's a rubber-coated cable and looks strong, but the ~5 foot length includes a 15 inch coiled segment that stretches a couple of additional feet, which adds to the cable weight and suggests home or studio rather than portable use. The terminator plug is a standard 3.5 mm miniplug with threading for a screw-on 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) adapter.

    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 MT220 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 MT220 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Yamaha MT220 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 MT220 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 MT220.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the MT220 are the strong bass impacts beginning 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 really feel 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 MT220 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 MT220.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The MT220 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 MT220 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 MT220 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The MT220 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 very realistic - much better than what I hear with most headphones.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The MT220 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 MT220 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 MT220 plays this music extremely 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 MT220. 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 MT220 provides very good 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 MT220 plays them 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 MT220 plays this perfectly.

    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 subtle but appreciable with the MT220.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the MT220, but the voice tends to overwhelm those background sounds - until the heavy bass impacts kick in. If there is any doubt about whether the MT220 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 MT220 listening with this track, you might think you were listening to a headphone that has a 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 MT220 reproduces these sounds faithfully.

    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 MT220 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 MT220 renders the tones and transients very 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 MT220 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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