There's no shortage of expensive $300 headphones on the market. Beats started the fashionable headphone craze with its line of headphones including the $400 Beats Pro. Other headphone manufacturers like Sennheiser started building fashion headphones like the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless, but with superior sound than the Beats.
Pioneer, renown for its legendary plasma televisions, is late to the game with its SE-MHR5 headphones. But beyond being late, these headphones take a decidedly old-school approach, an approach that may not make everyone happy.
Features and design
The Pioneer SE-MHR5 feature a stunning design that just screams "Hi-Fi". Its chamfered earcup housings have a subtle circular texture milled into them and they do a great job of making the headphones feel like a premium product. Unfortunately, the texture also traps dirt so good luck keeping them looking clean.
The frame of the SE-MHR5 is made of plastic, which is a bummer considering its high price. It would have been nice to see actual metal used on the headband and forks instead of painted plastic that sort of looks like metal. The headphones are finished off with copper accents to give it some color.
I love the detachable cable, of which Pioneer provides two. There's a standard 3.5mm connector for hooking up to a smartphone and another 2.5mm cable to hook up to Pioneer's insanely expensive digital music players. The 2.5mm cable is balanced, meaning it feeds power to each driver individually. Audiophiles love balanced outputs for open sound and lower harmonic distortion.
What you won't find on the Pioneer's cables are a microphone or remote control. This seems like a big omission as these headphones are meant to be used on the go. I'd like to see Pioneer sell cables with a mic and remote attachment for those who want the feature.
The headphones come with a travel-friendly protective case, which fits the SE-MHR5 when folded down. The headphones can be folded flat or up for storage, but you'll need to remove the cable in order to fit the headphones into the included case.
On the box, you'll notice a "Hi-Res Audio" label, but what exactly does that mean? The Hi-Res Audio label was created by the Consumer Electronics Association and Japan Audio Society to label audio products that were capable of playing back higher than CD quality audio. Mostly, it's a marketing tool that doesn't tell you much about what headphones are actually capable of.
With a $300 (£199) price tag and a Hi-Res Audio label, the Pioneer SE-MHR5 should sound amazing. I'm happy to report that they do sound excellent, providing a wonderful balance and wide soundstage. They offer a warm sound that's not too analytical, so your compressed MP3 files will sound great.
The mids are what stood out to me the most about the SE-MHR5. Vocals are put front and center, but you can still pick out other instruments in the mix. Its spacious sound also means you can pinpoint where each instrument is coming from, which is impressive coming from a closed-back headphone.
I love the overall sound presentation of the Pioneer SE-MHR5, as they offer a foot-tapping energy that doesn't overwhelm the listener with bloated, inaccurate bass. More expensive headphones offer more detail and space but the balance Pioneer achieved is remarkable.
The Pioneer SE-MHR5 run fine directly off of your smartphone or tablet, but the sound really opens up if you pair them with an amplifier. I listened to music on the go using my Samsung Galaxy S6 and Fiio E18 DAC/amp combo and found the bass to slam harder and the highs more energetic. It's a subtle difference and you don't need an amp for these headphones to sound great by any means.
Noise isolation is decent for a headphone that doesn't have active noise cancellation. The earpads sit on top of the ear, which helps keep the headphones small and relatively portable, but it also makes the headphones uncomfortable during long listening sessions.
Comfort is actually the biggest problem I have with the Pioneer SE-MRH5. Its stiff earpads and tight headband put a lot of pressure on my ears and the headphones become unbearably painful to wear after a couple of hours. These headphones make my notoriously uncomfortable Grado RS2i feel like clouds in comparison. The earpads also get steamy after a while, so they're not ideal for taking to the gym.
Pioneer took an old-school, sound first approach with the SE-MHR5. You won't find any modern features like active noise cancelling, microphone, remote control, or exotic materials. What you get is a hyper-focused pair of headphones that aim to deliver audiophile sound on the go.
On that front, Pioneer succeeds as the SE-MHR5 sound fantastic. But in day to day use, its lack of features and uncomfortable fit make it hard to recommend for most people. Sennheiser's excellent Momentum 2 Over-Ears ($350, £270, AU$499) sound just as good and include a microphone and remote. iPhone users will want to check out the Audeze Sine ($499, £449 AU$799), which includes a built-in DAC and amp in its Lightning cable.
The Pioneer SE-MHR5 would be a hit if they were more comfortable and included a mic/remote. But they're just too expensive to compromise on basic features like these for me to recommend them.