Recently, Yamaha released its PRO line of headphones, and the PRO 300, at £139, is the entry-level offering. Its glossy plastic design is logo-focused, and not unlike the bass-heavy Beats by Dr Dre line-up, although the PRO 300's audio performance is far more in line with flat response, reference headphones.
The PRO 300 is a capable pair that can handle deep bass without distorting at high volumes, and yet it does so without deliberately boosting the bass to levels that destroy the balance of the mix. It's too bad, then, that the PRO 300 is uncomfortable to wear for long listening periods.
When I think of Yamaha, from a pro-audio gear standpoint, I think of no-frills products like the famous, industry standard NS-10 studio monitors. The design of the PRO 300 throws me off a bit. It's not ugly, but it doesn't look like no-frills pro gear. Instead, it has a glossy, trying-to-compete-with-Beats by Dr Dre look, flaunting the Yamaha tuning fork logo on each earpiece, with a shiny headband that comes in blue, black, or white.
The actual ergonomic design throws me off a bit, too. To get the major bugbear out of the way immediately – these headphones get uncomfortable pretty quickly. In the interests of full disclosure, I wear glasses, and the PRO 300 uses a lot of pressure to secure itself against the ear – and in my case, it presses my frames hard against my head, behind my ears.
With my glasses off, things improved, but only slightly. Adjusting the fit of the headband didn't seem to make any sort of improvement in terms of comfort. The fit isn't miserable, and the audio performance makes up for it quite a bit, but the PRO 300 is not going to win any awards in the comfort department.
The design is listed by Yamaha's website as on-ear (supra-aural), and indeed, that's what it seems closest to. But many on-ear pairs, like the Bowers & Wilkins P3, seem to have a slightly smaller circumference on the earpiece, so that the earcups actually do feel like they're sitting on the ear itself. The PRO 300 feels more like it's mainly on your ear, but it’s large enough to sort of sit off the edge at certain spots and press against your head. It may seem like a nit-picky distinction, but I think this is where the root of the discomfort lies.
My last gripe is that the cable should be removable, as it is on the PRO 300's more expensive sibling, the Yamaha PRO 500. Detachable cables are a relatively new trend, and they add tremendous overall value to a pair by allowing you to easily replace the thing that is usually the culprit when headphones stop working (rather than having to pay for repairs or a replacement unit).
The cable also has a microphone and controls for playback, volume, and calls on iOS devices. Used with an Apple iPhone 4S, call clarity was par for the course when it comes to inline mics. You'll be able to hear your call partner clearly, and vice versa, but we're still dealing with cellular audio quality here.
The PRO 300 ships with a soft, zip-up protective case that the headphones fold into, as well as a 6.3mm adapter, a cleaning chamois, and a couple of Yamaha logo stickers.
The PRO 300 does not distort on deep bass tracks, even at maximum volume – an unsafe listening level, but a good test of the pair's drivers. The Knife's "Silent Shout" and Thom Yorke's "Cymbal Rush" both contain different ranges of deeply resonant low-end frequencies – the former has some serious sub-bass content and the latter has some powerful lows just above the sub realm – but neither track produced distortion on these headphones.
On instrumental tracks, like John Adams' "The Chairman Dances," the balance of the PRO 300 serves it well. The bowing of the higher-range stringed instruments has a nice treble edge to it, without ever sounding harsh, while the lower-register strings are delivered with a richness that adds some depth to the mix without weighing it down or making things muddy. The highs are a bit less prevalent here than they are on some headphone pairs that boost the bass, and thus boost the high-end trying to match up. The end result is that wooden percussion hits and truly high-register instruments sit well in the mix, but don't quite standout like they might on a pair with more sculpted highs.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the attack of the kick drum loop, which can sound overly bright on a pair with sculpted highs, is delivered with a nice balance of its treble edge and the lower-register thump that follows the initial attack. The sub-bass synth hits that occur every few beats sound deep without taking over the mix. So, while the PRO 300 isn't going to trick you into thinking it's hiding a massive P.A. system in its modest frame, it certainly provides enough sense of the deep bass frequencies to give you a solid idea of the mix engineer's intent.
If it's deep bass on a booming level that you seek, the aforementioned Beats Pro by Dr Dre is a powerful option, but at £350 it’s way above the price of the PRO 300. For something more in line with the PRO 300’s £139 price tag, consider the Sennheiser HD 558, which offers an amazing all-around audio performance (and is a touch cheaper at £130). If you want to go cheaper still, consider the Shure SRH440 headphones, a fine option at around £60 with a bit more bass boost.
The Yamaha PRO 300 can't quite match the expanded sound field and rich lows of the Sennheiser HD 558, and I'm not a huge fan of its overall design in terms of comfort and aesthetics. That said, there’s no arguing that it nonetheless offers an excellent level of audio performance considering its price tag.
Manufacturer and Product
Yamaha PRO 300