When Yamaha unveiled the YH-5000SE headphones – a high-end open-back pair – we were surprised. Yamaha isn’t typically known for its headphone portfolio, but these new top-of-the-line headphones certainly proved to deliver exceptional performance.
Yes, they’re expensive at £4799 / $5000 / AU$7499, but the depth of their capabilities is astounding and they set a new standard at this elevated premium level.
Of course, you need a suitably talented rig to drive these headphones, and Yamaha has taken it upon themselves to create a headphone amp to match its talents as well. And that’s how the Yamaha HA-L7A came to fruition. This headphone amplifier is still in its infancy and has so far only been seen at trade shows. We first saw it at the Australian Hi-Fi Show in early May, and most recently got our second look – and listen – at the amp at High End Munich 2023, where we managed to find a little more information about it.
But even as a prototype, the HA-L7A is a compelling proposition. Born from the same team that developed the YH-5000SE, we’re already more excited than usual about a headphone amp. full edition.
The utilitarian look of the YH-5000SE headphones needed something to match, and the HA-L7A certainly looks good. It looks unlike any other headphone amp we’ve come across. The all-black aluminum housing looks well-built and designed, offering a more ‘functional’ aesthetic than flashy or luxurious – just like the headphones it’s designed with. That’s okay, of course; we prefer the industrial look of the two-box setup.
The rather strange looking part with the two cylinders is the power supply unit. Those protruding cylinders that stand proudly on the top panel house a pair of internal mains transformers – one powering the preamp section and the other the power stages.
The audio part and the power supply cannot be used separately, so we can imagine that you have to free up quite a bit of space on your desk or hi-fi rack for this. The two are separate units, so the high currents and resulting magnetic fields from the power supply don’t disturb the sensitive audio circuit and spoil its performance.
The main unit has a small black and white screen which again is more functional than flashy and shows basic information such as volume level and selected input. There are simple buttons for input and output selection and using the menu. The two dials on the side – one for volume, one for sound mode – add a bit of design interest. They are placed in the body of the device and slightly overhang to the side. The dials are illuminated by a yellow light that gives the HA-L7A amp a rather subtle, retro-futuristic analogue look.
The volume knob is surrounded by small white LEDs that light up according to the volume level – it’s a subtle, neat touch and works smoothly at every step of the volume change. Overall, the HA-L7A build appears to be solid, with a signature aesthetic that puts quality and functionality high on the priority list.
As previously mentioned, the one we’ve seen at the show is a pre-production prototype and full technical details are scarce as the product isn’t launching until later in the year.
What we do know, however, is that the HA-L7A has been designed from the ground up and will be paired with the excellent high-end YA-5000SE headphones.
The output of the headphone amp is said to be “very powerful” with a claimed power of 1,000mW + 1,000mW (at 32 ohms with 1 percent distortion). It should power a variety of pretty high-end headphones, not just those from Yamaha.
The headphone amp can also have a DAC module, with USB, digital coaxial and optical inputs on the rear panel, in addition to an RCA analog input pair. The DAC section houses an ESS 9038Pro DAC chip, ensuring compatibility with Hi-Res Audio files up to 32-bit/384kHz PMC and DSD 11.2MHz.
There are also switchable analog RCA and XLR pre and line outputs on the rear panel. And it comes with a remote control.
For use with headphones there is a balanced XLR socket, a balanced 4.4mm socket and a standard 6.3mm socket on the front panel. We listened to the YA-5000SE headphones plugged into the XLR connector.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice the “Pure Direct” button and a “Sound Field Mode Selector,” indicating the ability to adjust the sound of the headphone amp. While details of this are thin and “undecided” at this point, Yamaha suggests that the sound field correction technology used in its AV receivers may also appear on the HA-L7A. This is certainly an interesting and potentially exciting feature, and could open up “new ways to enjoy headphones,” says Yamaha.
While a busy trade show isn’t the best environment for critical listening, we’re familiar with the YH-5000SE’s considerable talents and it gives us a good point of reference. With the headphones connected to the HA-L7A amplifier, it certainly sounded like a harmonious combination.
We listen to a few tracks via Qobuz (classical instrumental, female vocals) and we get the impression of smooth dynamics, clear details and a wonderfully open, spacious sound field.
It all sounded rather effortless, and we’re having a hard time pinpointing exactly where the headphones ended and the HA-L7A amp began, which is rather the point. We listened to a more famous song – Snuff by Slipknot – and the depth of every guitar and bass note was impressive, as was the amount of texture and nuance coming through with Corey Taylor’s heartfelt vocals.
It’s a rather potent combination and even our short time with this pairing makes us think this could potentially be something really special. Of course, we’ll have to wait a few more months for the final production sample of the HA-L7A to be ready and we can listen to it for a longer period of time to make a final judgement.
There’s also no word yet on price, but we expect the headphone amp to be similar to the YH-5000SE headphones – meaning we’re looking at a possible £10,000/$10,000 combined price for the set. That’s a lot to live up to. But we can’t wait to get full details of the Yamaha HA-L7A when it’s released later this year and to get a test sample in for a close listen to see what it’s really capable of.
Read our five-star review Yamaha YH-5000SE
What is a headphone amplifier and why do you need it?
Want an alternative headphone amp? Check out the new iFi iCan Phantom
Check out all our news and highlights from High End Munich 2023