Kef M500 Build Quality, Design, and Fit
The KEF M500 headphones have a very minimalistic or industrial design which you'll either love or hate. The build quality, however, is absolutely top notch. The aluminum is perfectly molded with hard but not sharp edges. It always feels cold to the touch. The rings around the earcups have a hinge in the middle of the sides so that the earcup can angle to perfectly fit your head. While KEF didn't specify the material, it feels too soft to be real leather so I'm guessing it is some form of pleather. That said, it is incredibly soft to the touch.
Still looks weird but man are they comfortable
If I had a knock against the build quality, it is that the slide mechanism is a bit hard to operate. Many will see this as a plus as the M500s tend to be a "set and forget" headphone. Once you get them where you want them, you don't have to worry about them sliding out of place. You can both see and feel the slide mechanism work within the padding of the headband, but it doesn't make the band any less comfortable.
The cable is flat with in-line controls and right angle posts at both ends. The post that connects to your device is slightly extended so that it will work with many of the protective cases out there. Too often I find that headphone manufacturers (and case manufacturers for that matter) don't take into account that people will want to use their headphones with a phone or device that is in a case. The KEF M500 cable plays nice with all the different cases I own.
Flat cables, folded headphones, adapters, and extra cable
The design of the in-line controls are a little odd. The enclosure for the three-button control is very blocky. The buttons are labeled, for lack of a better term, by their shape. The volume up is in the shape of a plus sign, the volume down in the shape of a minus, and the center button is just a circle. The buttons are very small but spread out so they are easy to find and operate. There is not much travel on the buttons so it is hard to tell if you've actually pressed them. Curiously, there is no obvious hole for the microphone input but it seems to work just fine. KEF has included a second cable without in-line controls as well
Note the extended input on the 3.5mm post and the industrial design
In a unique setup, KEF has the cable connect to the headphone at the earcup hinge on the back of the left earphone. Most have the cable connect to the bottom. This solution makes, in my opinion, the cable a bit less noticeable as the connection at the bottom is puts more of the cable in your peripheral vision. But, more importantly to me, KEF has managed to do something that very few manufacturers have - their flat cable is pretty quiet. Frankly, even the traditional round PVC covered cables transmit some noise. My experience has been that the flat cables transmit much more. But the M500 flat cable transmits no more noise than a traditional (and well-implemented) round cable.
How do they Fit?
"On-ear headphones aren't comfortable," said me almost every day of my life. For the most part, that's been true. I've had many different styles of headphones in for testing and I've only universally found the over-ear headphones to be comfortable. In-ear are a pain (literally) and on-ear have about a two-hour window before the cartilage in my ears start waving the white flag.
This has happened with headphones from every price bracket. The KEF M500s, however, break this tradition by providing, for the first time in my life, on-ear headphones that I can wear all day. One of the ways I spend my nights is hours and hours of writing on one of my many novels. Unlike when I review gear or work on other Audioholics and AV Rant related content, I tend not to sit at a desk. Instead, I find a comfy chair and write on my laptop. I often lose track of time and will write until the battery in my laptop dies. I like to listen to music when I write so I'm always wearing headphones. The comfort test I use for every headphone is to use them during one of these marathon writing sessions. If I have to remove them because they are uncomfortable, I take note of the time and put that in the review.
I never had to remove the KEF M500 headphones. Comfort on par with over-ear headphones would not be an understatement. I've actually had over-ear headphones that were less comfortable than the M500s because they were tighter. Usually, such headphones would loosen up over time but this was not necessary with the KEFs.
The band is not overly padded but just enough so you don't really notice it up there
So, the obvious complaint would be that the M500s are too loose for the sake of comfort. If you are planing on exercising with the M500s, I'd say that was true. In more normal (sitting in a chair or walking around) use, the M500s stayed in place just fine. If I moved my head quickly, I could feel them slide a bit, but they never fell out of place.
The extension of the headband of the KEFs is impressive. I can't imagine how big a head you'd need to feel that the M500s were too small. I don't have an overly large head (I wear a small to medium motorcycle helmet), and I only had to extend the sliders a bit to get the right fit. There is plenty of play left for larger heads. I tried the M500s on my kids and, fully retracted, the fit was loose but usable.
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The semi-portable headphone market is becoming quite competitive and manufacturers are really trying hard. There's now a choice of nice models to choose from, all with different characteristics.
After some serious auditioning of the B&W P7, Sennheiser Momentum and Final Audio Design Pandora IV I went for the Pandora IV. I was looking for an over ear design, as I find on-ear fatigues my ears after more than 30 mins.
Sound with the Pandora IV is immersive, with the super-tweeters firing at you from the front they give a fully 360 degree sound (I've not heard this in other headphones). Instrument separation is truly amazing for a headphone.
Highly recommended that you addition the Final Audio Design before you buy.
The P5s were just an amazing set of headphones. I have never heard such crisp music w/o any shrillness even at loud volumes. The bass was stable but not concussive, I could hear all that was recorded w/o requiring the speaker to add it's own sound like some hip-hop is recorded to do, shaking the car. I only heard the track in it's purist form. Every selection I played on them was flawless unlike EVERY other headphone I tried, always some problem stood out.
Well, I didn't test the Parrots, but I am not a battery powered headphones guy, and I really don't want noise canceling. Why suffer with distortion ADDED by your headphones. So I spent the money and got the P5s for regular use and the P3s because they were so close to the P5s, slightly less bass presence, but quite a few less dollars. Then if the wife wants to listen to something at the same time I got no complaints.
Then right after they arrived the P7s came out. I was so angry until I got a chance to listen to them. They were even less bass than the P3s, although not as clamped on your ears either. Hopefully overtime that will not be so harsh.
Now it has been half a year and the KEFs are out. I love KEF. My 104A/B stereo speakers that I have had since I was 17 (after my sister took her JBLs to college) are still my main speakers. When surround became a thing I got the KHT 3000 series with subwoofer, rocks my world when watching BluRay. The review you did was epic and sold me on buying the KEFs, I just wish you had ever done a review of the P5s when they were new, I think they would have impressed. Certainly nothing else on the marketplace of stores I can walk into and buy/return.