Pioneer SE-Master1 Headphones
For the purpose of this review, we used the U-05 for amplification as recommended by Pioneer. It’s worth noting that the headphones were easily driven by our smartphone (Galaxy Note 7) and was comfortably driven with authority by our DAP - The FiiO X7 (with medium power AM2 module installed).
Of the three sources tried, the U-05 gave the most control, and seemed to be best suited for the task.
The most immediate stand-out feature of the sound signature is the incredibly strong bass. Often, flagship headphones in this price range will back off on the midbass to leave way for the midrange to shine through. Pioneer have chosen to take a different route, blasting gobs of midbass and deep reaching sub-bass through all 50mm of the SE Master 1 drivers. Straight out of the gate, this headphone is definitely boasting a fun signature. The bass alone means this headphone is intended for pleasure, not business. Three key factors of a “basshead” headphone have been reached here: closed front, large drivers, and a bass heavy signature. Even without EQ, the sheer sound pressure from the mid-bass is immense. Aside from that, the bass is adequately detailed, dynamic, and scales very well with a range of sources.
Moving up through the frequency range, the mid bass hump does intrude into the lower mids a little. From there, the midrange becomes recessed, to make way for a “U” shaped sound signature. Mids have a noticeable dip around the 500-800hz mark that can tone down vocals, which then comes back to peak around the 1.5k mark - which can produce some honky effects with particular vocal tracks.
Upper mids are quite heavy, and start to really ring from between the 2.5k to 3.5 mark. The powerful bass is able to keep up, and creates an almost “smiley face” shaped frequency response. Soundstage is comparable to some higher end closed-back cans, but the partially closed nature of these headphones leaves it with a soundstage that may struggle to compete with other completely open offerings. The upper mids sound a little awkward, and there is some noticeable ringing with vocal-rich or accoustic recordings.
Audeze LCD 2..2
The LCD 2.2 requires a lot more power to drive - this is one of the immediate disadvantages to a hungry planar magnetic headphone. Predictably, the LCD 2.2 has a far smoother and darker signature when put head-to-head with the SE Master 1 - but the sheer mid bass slam of the Pioneer definitely keeps up (and perhaps even rivals) the impact of the LCD 2.2 .
The Pioneer is also infinitely more comfortable - despite having a similar weight (give or take 50 grams). This just goes to show how effective the Pioneer headband assembly is.
The Audeze offerings are also infinitely more fussy with sources and pairing, leaving the Pioneer as the more versatile option in this regard. Detail and soundstage, however, are both in the Audeze camp this time.
Despite Sennheiser increasing the bass quantity on the HD800S, it too can’t keep up with the murderous slam of the SE Master 1. The HD800S bass does have some texture and quality that the Pioneer does struggle to retain, however.
Instrument detail, separation and detail are definitely in the HD800S basket however - and it’s a similar story when it comes to soundstage and realism.
Despite having a fantastic assembly, the Pioneer does weigh a good 200 grams more than the Sennheiser - and also has thick pleather pads. Both of these are noticeable key features when comparing comfort, and Sennheiser gets the nod here as well.
However, isolation is a different story. The HD800S both leaks more, and allows more outside noise in. The HD800S also comes with a balanced cable, where the Pioneer does not.
The Pioneer SE Master 1 is a beautifully crafted, well oiled machine. If you’re after a flagship with great physical presentation and incredible bass rumble with a fun sounding signature, this unit is for you.
However, the issues present with the midrange and highs may not be palatable for everyone's taste, and faithful reproduction of music is not quite the key to the SE-MASTER 1 game.
- Type: Open-air dynamic(Closed-front, open-back)
- Driver: 50 mm (neodymium magnet)
- Sensitivity: 94 dB
- Frequency response: 5 Hz to 85 000 Hz
- Maximum input power: 1500 mW
- Impedance: 45 ohms
- Cable: 3.0 m OFC litz wire
- Plug: 6.3 mm standard stereo plug (gold plated)
- Weight: 460 g (without cable, tension rod)
Pioneer is distributed in Australia by Powermove Distribution.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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