Manny Marroquin is from Guatemala but he has lived in Los Angeles since a young age. He is a gifted sound engineer and mixer and has worked with many renowned artists from all musical genres, from pop to rock, R&B to hip hop, including Kanye West, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and many others who trust him because he puts emotional impact into every track he mixes.
In the Audeze MM-500 headphones, the initials MM refer to Manny Marroquin's name, which is engraved on the headphones because he was responsible for tuning this model's sound.
You have to pay for fame too, so the MM-500 will cost you the best of 2,099 euros.
A personal matter
Headphones are the most personalized component of an audio system. The way the ear cups adapt to our head/ears is fundamental for good performance. After that, so they say, it's all a matter of taste - hence three different people can have totally different 'opinions' about the same headphones. And they can all be right. It's that personal.
Manny Marroquin 'tuned' the MM-500 to his needs as a sound engineer and for the type of music he usually mixes: present, clear and clean voices; bass without too much extension, with some emphasis on the mid-bass to give body to voices and guitars; round treble, which sounds as the natural extension of mid-range, and does not become tiring after long hours of listening in the studio (or at home).
The Audeze MM500 are one of the few headphones that I didn't need to 'equalize' to feel comfortable. Does this mean that Marroquin and I have a similar way of feeling and hearing music? Perhaps.
But when Pedro Henriques heard the MM-500 in Munich, he felt the same sensation of the harmonic body and acoustic fullness and went even further: 'This tuning doesn't sound good just with modern music, the MM-500 must be awesome for gaming too,' he said.
What this actually means is that Marroquin 'mixed' the sound of the MM-500 to ultimately please millions of listeners worldwide, the same way he does with his studio mixes. Therefore, it's no wonder that Audeze presented the MM-100 at High End 2023, a more affordable model also tuned by Marroquin.
At first glance, other than at first hearing, the MM-500 looks like the top-of-the-range LCD-5. They're both circumaural, open-back planar-magnetic headphones that use a 90mm circular transducer activated by a magnet structure (14 in total) on one side only (single-sided Fluxor).
But the comparisons end there. The MM-500's diaphragm is the Ultra-Thin Uniforce, like the LCD-X's, rather than the LCD-5's Nano-Scale Parallel Uniforce, although both use a Fazor-type waveguide.
A pound of sound
Where the LCD-5 uses carbon, the MM-500 uses aluminium and steel and so is also heavier (495 g). In electrical terms, the MM-500 is more sensitive (100dB SPL) and has an impedance of just 18 ohms compatible with most good amplifiers.
The leather-lined cushions (you can opt for Alcantara) are thick and fluffy, surrounding the ears well without hurting them. But the spring is too tense (it should get looser over time) and the leather headband is stiffer than usual and not vented. However, the vertical adjustment graduated rods are identical to those on the LCD-5 and are equally easy to adjust.
The braided cable protected by transparent PVC is flexible, pleasant to the touch and a little longer than usual on the other Audeze models. The only cable supplied came with a 6.35mm jack and the plugs are mini-XLR type. Therefore, I could only listen to them with my Chord Hugo 2, which was an impeccable match anyway.
The hard plastic protective case isn't exactly portable, but it's light enough to be transportable.
Back to the sound of music
Returning to the sound, the MM-500 favours the midrange, and so the first impression is one of extreme clarity and instrumental separation, with voices present and rich with information, but without excessive sibilance or emphasis on fricatives.
The MM-500 sounds clean and energetic (bass is tight and fast), but also emotionally loaded, much to Marroquin's taste. I've already mentioned that it was tuned to sound good with electronic music, but classical music also ends up being favoured by the way the MM-500 reproduces the timbres without euphonic colourations.
I haven't listened to them for as long as I would have liked, but classical music lovers will just miss the 'stage width and depth' compared to the LCD-5s, for example. But you can always compensate for that with a twist of 'cross-feed'.
The Audeze MM-500 are perhaps the headphones that best reproduce the acoustic feel of listening to a good pair of studio monitors in the near field.
You only have to listen to Kendrik Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers', the first album on which Manny Marroquin used the MM-500s to do the mixing to understand what I mean by bass tension, emotional impact and the clarity of vocals (with a lot of Kendrik's swearing in the mix, of course).
Audeze MM-500 open planarmagnetic headphones
Distributor: Sarte Audio