Hands on: Pioneer SE-Master1 headphones review

Master of the sound universe

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Pioneer SE-Master1 headphones aren't for everyone. But if you love audio and want to hear it in the best possible way, then look no further.

For

  • Well designed
  • Brilliant sound
  • Powerful.

Against

  • May be too pricey for some.

Pioneer used CES 2016 to show off its flagship SE-Master1 headphones, which it hopes will be perfect sparring partners for its recently launched high-res audio player - the XDP-100R.

The headphones are packed with audio pedigree. They have been tuned at the famous Air recording to studios in London and are hand-crafted in Japan. Pioneer told me that they are currently making two units a day.

Look and feel

Looks-wise, the SE-Master1's are gorgeous. They chassis is built from aluminium and this is topped off with a ceramic coating. The idea here is that this makes the frame that bit more rigid - which is exactly what you want, as any movement from the cans on your head will dilute the dulcet tones.

Pioneed SE Master1

To make them fit snug on the head, Pioneer has chosen to give the headphones two bands. One allows you to move the cups to the perfect height for your head, the other is a thinner tension rod. Again, this is to help with rigidity.

Pioneed SE Master1

Performance

The SE-Master1s are extremely comfortable to wear. These are headphones for the home, so you want really be walking around in them but it felt fine wearing them while standing up. There is a definite weight to them but they never feel uncomfortable. Instead the leather coated memory foam cups cushion the ears well and make for a really nice, tight wear.

Pioneed SE Master1

Powering the SE-Master1s are two 50mm driver units. And given we are now in the age of high-res audio, the headphones can handle music up to 85.000 Hz.

To try this out, we paired the headphones with Pioneer's high-res audio player, the XDP-100R, and played a number of MQA-mastered tracks.

Pioneed SE Master1

The sound was superb - warm and all encompassing. There was real power behind the bass and not a note was lost at the higher levels.

Pioneed SE Master1

Given these are 'phones that have been tuned at Air Studios, the quality was always going to be high and they certainly didn't disappoint.

With more and more audiophiles getting into high-res audio and the availability of new codecs like MQA becoming the norm, the next step to listening to this type of music is a decent pair of headphones.

Pioneed SE Master1

Early Verdict

Pioneer's SE-Master1s aren't just decent, they are a level above - a piece of reference-grade kit that looks great and sounds fantastic.

With this sort of quality, there is some expense though. The SE-Master1 headphones are out now from $2,500. Which is money well spent, if you have that sort of cash lying around.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Content Team Lead

Marc (Twitter, Google+) is the content team lead for Future Technology, where he is in charge of a 14-strong team of journalists who write many of the wonderful stories that end up on TechRadar, T3.com and T3 magazine. Prior to this he was deputy editor of TechRadar, had a 10-month stint editing a weekly iPad magazine, written film reviews for a whole host of publications and has been an integral part of many magazines that are no longer with us.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.