Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphones › On-Ear › KEF M500 Hi-Fi On-Ear Headphones, Aluminum/Black

KEF M500 Hi-Fi On-Ear Headphones, Aluminum/Black

Posted

Pros: Fantastic sound. Amazing value. Premium build quality. Very comfortable for an on-ear headphone. Very portable.

Cons: Isolation is mediocre.

Introduction 

Until now, my pick for the best sounding portable headphone has been the Sennheiser Momentum. While slightly mellow overall with a noticeably forward bass and laid-back treble, until now the Momentum has provided a naturalness and transparency unrivaled by any competitor I've had the chance to try out. This includes Sony MDR-1R, Focal Spirit One, Logitech UE6000, B&W P5, Denon D600, Bose QC15, Sennheiser HD25, Amperior, Audio technica ATH-M50 and even the expensive Ultrasone Edition 8 (do I even need to include any of the Beats by Dre?). Until now, the Momentum has effortlessly wiped the floor with all else I've heard in it's class. 

 

Until now.

So! In case you forgot what product page you're on, the star of the show for this review, and the contender to throw the Momentum of the throne is the KEF M500. It's the first (!) headphone offering by KEF, a larger British manufacturer that has a long history in making great sounding speakers. They also ship an in-ear monitor called the M200, which I've not yet heard. 

 

 

Let's talk hardware first! 


The KEF M500 unboxes folded into a case that looks like an XL-version of a glasses case. This case is about half the size of that of the Momentum. Inside the box you'll find two cables (one with a remote, one without), two adapters and some instructions. And the headphone itself of course! 

The first impression I got from holding the M500 was that it's solid. It's an all aluminum design which will feel right at home next to an Apple product of your choice and it has a nice, premium heft to it without being heavy to wear. The earpieces and headband are covered in a pleather material and the earpads are wonderfully soft. The cable goes into the back of the left earcup, instead of under it like most headphones. The pleather earpads do get a little warm and sweaty on a hot day.

In terms of comfort, the M500 is very comfortable for an on ear headphone. The earpads are so soft on the ears and the headphone puts a very gentle pressure on your head. I'm usually troubled by the headband pressing down on top, but that's not been an issue here. Take note though that because the headphone presses so gently, the fit is a little loose and I would not recommend it for headbanging. The headband also has a tendency to slide down when I'm lying in my bed listening, but a simple repositioning solves this. 

 

Me personally, I've found the M500 to be a little picky about where you position it for maximum comfort. Sound wise, it's not position sensitive, but if I don't place them "just right", they will hurt a little on my ears after an hour or so. Luckily, I've now gotten used to how to position them and the fit seems to have bettered a little with use. So now, I can have them on for long periods without discomfort. Very nice! 

Time to talk sound!


Bass

The M500 features an excellent bass response. It's impactful, has very good extension (those who worry because it's an on-ear design, don't!), it's very well defined and very well controlled. More so than the Momentum, which is a little less refined in the lows. Quantity wise, it's neutral-ish and offers a tad more than my LCD-2 which is completely flat. Compared to the Momentum, the KEF is a little heftier in the sub-bass, while the Momentum has more of a mid-bass bias which thickens the sound a tad. The bass of the KEF blends close to *perfectly* into the midrange and overall it's very flat for a headphone of this type. Impressive!

I'm actually really surprised at just how good the bass is on this headphone. I can nitpick and say that it's not quite as super-tight and natural as on my Audez'e LCD-2, but I see no point in doing so because the LCD-2 is a $1000 open, planar magnetic design and the M500 is a tiny little closed portable! The bass here has enough extension and impact to satisfy with electronic music, but make no mistake thinking these are bass-oriented like most of the competitors. This is natural, honest bass reproduction and bass-heads should definitely look into something else. 

 

Mids

One area where the Momentum has been especially superior to the others mentioned above has been midrange performance. With a very nice smooth, open, unforced and rich sounding midrange the Momentum has given me many hours of musical enjoyment while on-the-go. Guess what, the M500 is even better! 

The mids here are just wonderfully neutral, natural and open sounding! Not too thick yet not at all thin. Very clean yet not analytical. Very smooth, yet not overly so. Airy, yet full bodied. Neutral and transparent, these are the words that flow through my head when listening to the M500. On mids alone, the M500 is not that much less impressive than my LCD-2 in fact! Guitars, pianos, vocals (be it male or female) - they are all rendered very cleanly and realistically. 


The midrange on the M500 is so good, I almost need to pinch myself every time I think of the price as this headphone doesn't embarrass itself among some well-regarded headphones multiple times the cost! This could be just the portable headphone audiophiles have been searching for. Truly among the best I've heard anywhere near this MSRP, regardless of headphone type! 

Treble

The treble of the M500 is also very good. It's clean and detailed yet not harsh. I'm sensitive to brightness, and I feel the M500 avoids being bright sounding. But it's certainly not dark sounding either, it actually feels very neutral to my ears. Significantly more so than the Momentum. While the Momentum is preferable for poor recordings, the KEF does offer a clearer and more realistic presentation. 

BUT, the one complaint I have with the M500 sonically is that I feel it has a slight edginess to the highs. Again, not bright in balance to my ears, but there is a slight sense of hardness present. For the most part, the M500 is just honest and revealing of flaws in the recording, but I've listened to some great quality audiophile recordings and compared side by side to my LCD-2 and I just find the M500 a bit untamed and forced compared. This slight "hot" nature to the treble also has an impact on certain female vocals, where things can sound a tad shouty. 

To my ears, this is not a huge issue and it doesn't exactly bother me, even though I find myself very sensitive to treble issues. Sure, it's there and I definitely prefer the slightly smoother and more refined treble of the LCD-2, but again the LCD-2 is $1000 and the KEF is $300! I would feel bad about it if I let the overall impression of the M500 collapse just because it has one area where it's slightly less than phenomenal at it's price. 

 

In summary, fans of laid-back treble should perhaps try this out first. Most other people will enjoy how clean, extended and neutral the treble is. 

Soundstage

This headphone is surprisingly open and spacious sounding for an on-ear. It has a larger soundstage than the Momentum, especially in terms of depth. Just enough spaciousness and image specificity to not blur things together or making the singer sound right in your face. That's one thing that has bothered me with the Momentum, it has a fair amount of width but it really pushes things in your face and you feel you could use a little more breathing room. Well thanks KEF, problemo solved! My LCD-2, with it's angled drivers and open design does offer a greater sense of depth and image specificity, but the KEF puts on a surprisingly good show for what it is. 


A word on isolation

This headphone truly doesn't isolate very well. It provides a mild isolation against outside noise (they leak very little though, so people around you will likely not hear much) and if you walk around a lot in traffic or you work in a loud environment, this below-average isolation coupled with the fact that the M500 doesn't overdo the bass much to compensate for it could be an issue.


Summary

So what's the TL;DR? In my humble opinion, the KEF M500 is up there on the top 3-list of best portable headphone I've listened to. Unless you want unnaturally emphasized lows or crave good isolation capabilities the M500 will deliver the goods in spades. I really hope more people get to experience this headphone because it's just that damn good and KEF deserves some serious credit for that accomplishment! 




 

Posted

Pros: Excellent sound in all genres, very comfortable even with glasses, very efficient (no need for amp), build quality, foldable with hardcase

Cons: Slippery headband (not suitable for other active use than walking), isolation is a little below average (leakage is low though)

The search is over smily_headphones1.gif

For a long time I've been looking for a foldable closed headphones that sounds fantastic and is easy to carry around for my travels.
The KEF M500 has everything I need. First of all, it sounds great in all genres. I've tried pop, rock, classic, jazz, heavy metal, opera, and it handles everything well. The sound is much more open and natural than other closed headphones I have tested, it's quite neutral with a little tilt up in the upper bass and a little down in the upper treble, just enough to make it sound bigger than it is, and avoid any harshness of any kinds in the treble. There's a great "room feel" in the sound, to make it sound like floorstanding speakers, they almost rival my PSB Synchrony Two in sound quality.

Here's a list of closed headphones (not all foldable) I've had or heard in my search before purchasing the KEF M500:

Sony MDR-1R
Sennheiser Momentum
AKG K167
AKG K267
Logitech UE6000
B&O H6
PSB M4U2
Beyerdynamic DT770 (32/80 Ohm)
Focal Spirit One
B&W P5
Denon AH-D600
Martin Logan Mikros 90

My old reference are the Denon AH-D2000, which I own for a couple of years. The KEF M500 are first of all much more smooth than the Denons. Songs that have a tendency to sound harsh in the treble are smooth in the KEF M500. The bass which is one of the strong points in the Denons, is no match to the much faster and precise bass of the KEF M500, the Denons bass sounds boomy in comparison.

Conclusion:

The KEF M500 are not perfect, but they are the closest thing to perfect in my ears I have heard so far. Combining that with excellent comfort and a nice small foldable design (including case) with excellent build quality, the search is over...

PS: An iPod Touch fit in the case together with the headphones + cables.




Any questions, just ask below:

Posted

Pros: Amazing detail retrieval, decent soundstage for a small can, high end engineering and construction

Cons: Slightly dubious fit, can be a little wobbly on the head when walking around

KEF are a speaker manufacturer of the old heritage, stuffy hi-fi systems with mortgage level speakers. As has been the case with many audio manufacturers, the headphone sector is where it is hot right now and everyone (KEF included) are wanting a piece of the pie.

This is KEF's first stab at a headphone, and very good it is too.

Price point if around the £250 mark which puts it up against the benchmark in this area, the Sennheiser Momentum, themselves an amazing headphone that turns audiophile heads.

So, what does your money get you? Firstly, the KEF is well packaged, the box has a magnetic-closure opening flap that gives info on the cans. Open the box up and the cans are encased neatly in their lovely zip-up, semi-hard case. A previous reviewer compared the case as being like a large sunglasses case, a fair and accurate comparison. Everything feels pretty high grade at this point but one detail lets it down, the case sits in a cheapo plastic tray within the box. The Momentums rest in regal fashion in a die cut foam interior, probably more expensive to make but so sweet looking.

Anyway, nothing to freak out about, the cans themselves are the main attraction here, not the box. So, inside the zip-up case we have the cans themselves, two flat tangle-free cables (one with microphone and volume switch for iphone use), a 6.5mm adaptor and an in-flight adaptor. The package all fits in the case very neatly.

The cans themselves are very nice looking, made from brushed aluminum and black pleather. Opening removing them from the case the smart hinges unfold and the cans pop into place. The headband has friction adjustability but the even the smallest setting is pretty big, my noggin is by no means tiny and I barely need to adjust it from minimum to get a good fit.

The headband is well padded, maybe a little slick as it can move on the head a wee bit if you rock out too hard. Other reviews have mentioned that the KEF's don't sit too snugly on the head and I have to agree, the headbands' slippery feel and the fact that the cans don't grip your head that tightly make it a little wobbly at times. However, if you find the sweet spot on your head they sit not too bad.

The speaker units are very unique here, they are hinged within the aluminum surround and swivel slightly, the speakers themselves are pleather coated and sit on the ear. The padding on the ear consist of pleather covered memory foam and they are supremely comfortable on-ear. You don't get that closed in feel and the cans offer pretty good sound isolation, a pretty unique and well thought out combination of features.

The cable attaches to the rear of the left unit and is tucked out of the way, again a welcome and well thought out feature.

Okay, so what about the sound? Well, I was both excited and disappointed upon plugging these in. Let me explain.

I am firmly in the Sennheiser camp, I have used their products for years and love them. KEF come from a different angle, they make high end speakers and their technology has obviously filtered into these cans. Immediate impressions upon first listen were that the detail was there but not the sparkle.

As I burnt the cans in and listened to them extensively I began to realise that these cans are good, very good indeed. What makes them different is that they have a fairly flat response curve throughout the bass, mid and treble frequencies. There seems to be very little apparent flavour added to the sound, a move that is brave and leaves little room for error. Lesser cans will usually add bass hump to give the impression of better sound reproduction. KEF are going out on a limb by adding little to no flavour to the EQ of these cans, this seems to offer an all or nothing experience. Either the cans are excellent or they will suck, there is not middle ground here.

Initially my thoughts were that they sucked, they sounded flat and lacked sparkle, however, I am a firm believer of the burning-in of headphones so wasn't ready to judge them straight out of the box. After a good twenty hours of listening they seem to have opened up a good deal and a bit of life has come into them.

I am waffling here so lets get in to specifics. For listening I use the following lineage

ipod classic > rockboxed > Fiio amp from dock out > FLAC files
Sandisk Sansa Clip > rockboxed > FLAC files

As I type this review I am listening to the War of the Worlds on my Sandisk player. Detail retrieval is amazing, I can hear notes and weird alien purrs that have not been apparent before, even with my Momentums. There is no bias to the sound, the bass is tight and well rendered, mids are beautifully detailed and there is not a hint of sibilance to the treble. An involving and emotionally well rendered listening experience.

It seems to me that the voice coil in these cans is something to behold, the surety and presentation of the notes in the music is something that is so confident and assured that it takes some getting used to. As my ears overcome this lack of EQ bias I find myself reaching for these cans more and more. I am a bit of a detail monster, I love hearing the same passage of music on successively better equipment and hearing more and more from the original recording. The KEF's deliver on this in spades.

Next up on the listening list is Imagine Dragons - It's Time. Thoughts are that the vocals are badass, the singer sort of spits his words out and you can hear this with the KEF's, the strings are well rendered, the bass is tight without dominating. Again the feeling of slight flatness comes across, each section of the song is well presented and nothing is pushed forward, the sensation is slightly strange. But then the chorus kicks in and somehow you are drawn in by the notes.

Johnny Cash - Hurt - is up next. Guitar notes are lush and sweet, the vocals have amazing detail, the echo-less whispered Cash vocals that seem to be a signature of the American Recordings series are are just brilliant. The building sibilance in the notes can be detected very early in this piece. Beautiful, just amazing, a song that draws tears and the KEF's will have you pulled in.

Mumford and Sons - Awake My Soul - wow! Detail, nice echo to the vocals, strings are just wow. Yes. Bass sends shivers down the spine. Yeah!

Hurts - Miracle - again brilliant. A busy, complex piece that is well presented with no dubiety as to the place of each instrument in the mix.

Throughout my listening sessions with these cans I find myself consistently impressed with two things. First, the aforementioned detail retrieval and confident presentation, secondly, the soundstage is fairly expansive for cans with suck small drivers. This is an area that certainly outshines the Momentums by a considerable margin. I believe the soundstage is due, in no small part, to the earpads, they offer good sound isolation but don't feel enclosed and sealed like the Momentums, they are getting near open backed cans in soundstage width and depth without the concomitant issue of sound leakage and isolation. A very interesting and well engineered aspect of these cans.

So, what do I think about these cans? Well, the flat response takes some getting used to, having been so used to flavoured EQ it feels initially quite flat but, once you get used to the way these cans present their music you begin to understand how bloody good they are. The voice coil is very high end, the detail presented here is just fabulous. More vocal and string oriented pieces seem to be the forte of these cans. Everything is tight, well defined and just begs to be paired with good source material.

I would highly recommend using better than MP3 files on these cans or you may be disappointed, the detail retrieval is such that any lossy format will be exposed for what it is. FLAC files simply shine through these cans.

If you like your cans able to play busy, complex pieces of music with effortless ease, consummate style and a mature, grown-up presentation then gives these an audition.

I am tempted to throw an extra star up there as this is really is a high end package, the only niggle is the slight wobble of the cans on the head. The flat response is not a fault, more an observation and certainly nothing that can be held against KEF.

A brilliant and intoxicating pair of headphones.

KEF M500 Hi-Fi On-Ear Headphones, Aluminum/Black
By:
Description:

Light, robust and supremely comfortable, M500 hi-fi headphones are designed for people who are serious about sound. KEF's 40mm neodymium driver used in the M500 is tuned to deliver full range high definition response from 20Hz to 20kHz.

Details:
DetailValue
BindingElectronics
BrandKEF
ColorAluminium / Black
EAN0637203211201
FeatureThanks to KEF's unique multi-directional Smart Hinge, the lightweight aluminum frame automatically conforms to the shape of your head, sitting neither too tight nor too loose, and folds up neatly afterwards. Featuring an integrated in-line microphone and remote control on a tangle-free flat cable for iPhone and other Apple products, it allows you to operate the play functions or switch between calls and music. Elegant, compact and finished to the same distinctively high standard as your headphones, the cleverly designed matching case protects your M500 while you're out and about. For your comfort and safety, KEF headphones are designed to comply with the CENELEC standard EN60065/A12 for protection against excessive sound pressure. In the box: M500 headphones, tangle-free flat cable with gold plated connector and 3-button remote/mic for use with Apple products, protective case, extra tangle-free cable, 6.3mm converter
LabelKEF
ManufacturerKEF
ModelM500
MPNM500
PublisherKEF
StudioKEF
TitleKEF M500 Hi-Fi On-Ear Headphones, Aluminum/Black
UPC637203211201
WarrantyWarranty on parts
CatalogNumberList - CatalogNumberListElementM500
Item Height11 inches
Item Length15 inches
Item Weight13 pounds
Item Width16 inches
Package Height1 inches
Package Length1 inches
Package Weight1 pounds
Package Width1 inches
PackageQuantity1
PartNumberM500
ProductGroupCE
ProductTypeNameHEADPHONES
UPCList - UPCListElement637203211201
ReleaseDate2013-06-15
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphones › On-Ear › KEF M500 Hi-Fi On-Ear Headphones, Aluminum/Black