Pioneer SE-Master1 Headphones
Pioneer is a widely recognised behemoth in the audio industry. Starting off as a Japanese radio and speaker repair shop back in 1938, they have since grown into a household name. In recent decades, they have formed a firm grip in the vehicle entertainment market, and also are industry leaders in several areas of audio (such as DJ gear, and home receivers).
Pioneer's headphones are usually geared towards the DJ crowd - such as the closed back HDJ 2000 MK2.
Unusual to their nature, Pioneer have now stepped up their game into the high end audiophile market, with a very bold attempt to shake things up with their latest offering - the Pioneer SE-MASTER 1.
Coming in at $2500USD, local pricing has not yet been confirmed at time of publishing. This headphone takes aim squarely at the very top tier of audiophile headphones, such as the $2599AUD Sennheiser HD800S, the $3000AUD Audeze LCD 3, and the $3499AUD HiFiMAN HE-1000.
It’s worth mentioning that this is what we would consider to be quite a rare product. Each pair is hand crafted with care in Japan and has a serial number engraved on the side. StereoNET were lucky enough to exclusively review this one - and to our knowledge, it is the only pair in the country! Thanks to local Pioneer distributor, Powermove.
The Pioneer boasts some very impressive specs, a very interesting headband assembly, and is heavily priced.
A flagship product is more than just a fancy price tag and specsheet however - how will the Pioneer stand up to its stiff competition?
Packaging and materials
The SE MASTER 1 comes packaged in a very impressive silk-lined box.
Included inside is:
- Single ended (unbalanced) cable
- Two sets of headband tension rods
The SE-MASTER1 has quite a curious and unique design. First of all, the adjustable section of the headphone is actually the comfort strap - the headband itself remains the same length. When changing lengths, the strap locks and clamps into place, to avoid any accidental adjustment. A terrific idea, which keeps the headphone locked down to the position the user is most comfortable with.
There is also a removable and replaceable tension rod, to adjust the amount of lateral pressure (clamp) that the headphone delivers through its thick pleather pads.
There are lashings of both high quality plastic and aluminium alloy on the assembly. When being worn (with the standard tension rod), there is a gentle clamp, and the pads do not touch the ears at all. There is a little bit of movement and slipping when quickly moving the head, but this is quite a comfortable experience for a headphone.
The cup rotation is limited by a neat little cutout, one of the many finer details that Pioneer threw in.
Overall, the build quality is impeccable, and has some very satisfying features that other flagships could sit up and take notice of.
Pioneer claim that this is a “closed front, open-backed” headphone. The 50mm neodymium magnet drivers can be seen from the outside of the sleek black grills, and are connected to the source via a removable MMCX dual cable.
Pioneer U-05 amplifier
Pioneer recommend that we drive the SE-MASTER 1 headphones with their U-05 amplifier.
From their website:
TAKE THE SOUND OF YOUR HEADPHONES TO ANOTHER LEVEL WITH A HIGH RESOLUTION HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER
The U-05 headphone amplifier features a high-grade D/A converter to reproduce high resolution digital sound sources. Combine with the SE-MASTER1 headphones for an audio experience that is out of this world.
We were lucky enough to receive the U-05 along with the SE-MASTER 1. This unit has a brilliant range of features, including DSD capability, three headphone outputs (two of which are balanced) and several digital and analog inputs. It currently retails for under $1000, and after trying it with a few different staple headphones (LCD 2.2, DT880, HD800S) we were very impressed with it. It delivers a clean and flat signature with fine volume control, and has no nasty dips or spikes in its response. There is plenty of headroom, and even in low gain mode, the volume was rarely higher than 50% for most of our headphones.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.