Pioneer SE-A1000 Top of the Line Audio Headphone Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Pioneer SE-A1000 Top of the Line Audio Headphone Review

Pioneer SE-A1000 Top of the Line Audio Headphone Review

by Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver




MSRP: $149.00
Street Price: varies, usually $100 or under
Currently available from Amazon and Beach Camera

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Go to the Pioneer SE-A1000 Review discussion thread.

Introduction

Pioneer started out as an electronics repair shop back in the '30s. They grew to become one of the go-to receiver and speaker makers of the '60s and '70s, and are still a major player in the audio market. We know them as a prominent maker of Audio/Video Receivers (AVRs), and they make speakers, home theater gear, car audio, DJ equipment, all kinds of audio accessories... and headphones.

Anyone who has dealt with audio gear for long has run across Pioneer, yet the SE-A1000s are the first Pioneer headphones I have ever listened to. Pioneer's headphone line covers DJ phones, portables, and a few models aimed at the serious listening market. When Pioneer offered to have us review a set of their cans (headphones), the "Top of the Line" SE-A1000s looked like the ones to try.


Description

The SE-A1000s are an open-backed, around-the-ear dynamic design. They are not fashion phones, but then most high-end headphones are not designed for the trendy fashion headphone market. That said, they do have an updated look to my eye. The dual ball hinges on each earpiece allow them to fit comfortably on each side, and lend a unique and modern look to the SE-A1000s. Some reviewers have complained that those ball joints were creaky and noisy in use - that was not my experience, other than when there were being placed or adjusted.

The headband is flexible and very comfortable, with elastic tensioning straps that give just the right amount of support. The earpiece pads are wide and fit completely around the ear. Unlike the previously-reviewed Sennheiser HD 600s, the depth of the earpieces is shallow enough that the padded inner transducer assembly sits lightly against the ear. When I noticed this, I was concerned that the pressure might become uncomfortable over time, but it was gentle enough that this was never the case. All in all, they turned out to be very comfortable in long-term use.

The SE-A1000s come packaged in one of those tough, sealed plastic containers that you have to tangle with to open. Inside you find the headphones, a 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm screw-on adapter, the safety/instruction sheet, a Velcro cord wrap, and a soft fabric storage bag. The fabric-covered straight cord, measuring at 6 meters, almost 20 feet, is the longest I have seen. The phones appeared to be well designed, with good build quality, and tough enough to last with reasonable care. The elastic tensioning straps supporting the headband bear watching, as they are thin and look like they might possibly be a wear point over time.

How do they sound? Quite good. One area of the frequency response is worth some discussion. Other than that they scored well in listening tests.

Here are links to the Pioneer USA website and the Pioneer Europe website.

Features
  • Very Comfortable, Lightweight Design
  • Dual-Stabilized Hanger and Free-Adjusting Headband
  • Comfortable Jersey Ear Cushions
  • Powerful Bass, High Clarity
  • Rare-earth Alloyed Magnet
  • Braided Cord
  • Velcro Cord Wrap
  • 6.3mm Adapter, Gold Plated
  • Plush Carry Pouch
  • MSRP: $149.00
  • Street price: $100



Specifications

The frequency response curve for the SE–A1000s is pretty flat, with a slight downward tilt to the frequency response profile. They will be bright and forward sounding compared to many high-end headphones, but that downward tilt on the high-frequency end keeps the brightness under control. It is common for there to be a bit of a scoop out of the upper midrange, usually in the neighborhood of 4 kHz to 8 kHz, the result being an easier sound without loss of detail. With the SE-A1000s, that notch in the curve falls in a lower range, covering the octave from below 2 kHz to almost 4 kHz. For a lot of music, including most pop, rock, vocal, and electronic, this works just fine. But when I tried the SE-A1000s with tracks containing horns or strings, I was not crazy about the result. Saxophones especially ended up with a fake sound that was bothersome at times.

Here is the frequency response curve for the SE-A1000s, as measured by a prominent online source.



Specifications
  • Frequency Response: 10 - 30,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 45 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 102 dB/mW
  • Max Power: 1,500 mW
  • Transducer: dynamic, open
  • Driver: 50 mm
  • Ear coupling: around the ear
  • Cord: 6 meters, one side, not detachable
  • Connector: 3.5 mm with 6.3 mm adapter
  • Weight (without cord): 280 g

General Impressions

I was quite pleased with the SE-A1000s overall. Despite the light pressure on the ear, they never became uncomfortable. They are very sensitive and easy to drive. Imaging and soundstage were good, and they sounded fast and clean with most material.

Frequency response is a listening quality that the ear easily adjusts to and settles into, and that 2 kHz to 4 kHz notch becomes easy to overlook over time. This will depend on the listener, of course. Overall, the SE-A1000s are clean, bright, pleasant sounding headphones.


Individual Test Scores

Measurement Methods

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Imaging
  • Test Scores
    • Very-High-Frequency: 8
    • High-Frequency: 8
    • General: 9
  • Weighted average (x1, x1, x2): 8.5
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Soundstage
  • Test Scores
    • Bluegrass track: 8
    • Funk Band track: 10
  • Average: 9.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Clarity
  • Test Scores
    • Cymbal, loud track: 6
    • Bass, loud track: 9
    • Cymbal, quiet track: 9
    • Cymbal, loud track: 7
    • Strings, loud track: 6
  • Average: 7.4
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Speed
  • Test Scores
    • Deep bass track: 9
    • Lows track: 10
    • Mids track: 9
    • Upper-mids track: 9
    • Highs track: 6
  • Average: 8.6
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Frequency Response
  • Frequency Response Profile: Scooped
  • Test Scores
    • Deep bass track: 9
    • Lows track: 8
    • Mids track: 10
    • Upper-mids track: 3
    • Highs track: 10
  • Average: 8.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4
Overall Listening Experience
  • Score: 7
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4

Listening Tests

Imaging: 8.5 - The imaging with the SE-A1000s's, while not perfect, was very solid. It was a little wider and less distinct at high frequencies, but this was barely noticeable with most tracks. I did find that I had to adjust the positioning of the earpieces to get ideal imaging, a minor annoyance. This is usually not necessary with other tight-imaging headphones I have used.

Soundstage: 9.0 - For some material, the soundstage did not move out of the head as naturally as with other high-end headphones, but generally speaking it felt wide and natural.

Clarity: 7.4 - The SE-A1000s get a fair-to-good rating for clarity. That nice, clear sound of well-resolved cymbal harmonics came across well except on loud, heavy tracks, where the cymbals lost some of that clarity. The test track with loud strings came across with only fair clarity, but this was a bit hard to judge because of the previously mentioned odd sound of the strings.

Speed: 8.6 - The SE-A1000s scored well here, except with the attack on a high triangle, which seemed soft.

Frequency Response: 8.0 - Frequency Response Profile: Scooped. While the frequency response curve for the SE-A1000s has a slight downward tilt, they sound pretty flat to my ear, with a bright, forward presentation. Points were deducted for Deep Bass being laid back, for Bass being slightly emphasized, and for the Upper Mids being very weak.

Track Hopping

An intended few minutes with the wonderfully-recorded Good Stuff album by the B-52s turned into track after track of listening. The synthesizer sounds on some tracks sounded unnatural, but to be fair, I have heard most of the these tracks a hundred times or more and it is difficult for me to expect less than perfection with them. For the most part, the B-52s sound great on the SE-A1000s.

I have always enjoyed the recording quality of the bass on this album, and it was handled nicely by the SE-A1000s. Bells, tambourines, and high percussive sounds came through with wonderful clarity. Having settled in with the SE-A1000s and their voicing, Vision of a Kiss, the buildup of acoustic guitar strums, bass and organ, female vocals, percussion, electric guitar, all presented in a way that turned this track into a listening FEAST. I actually used that word, all uppercase, in my notes. This kind of music is fun on these headphones. On the last track, Bad Influence, I could not resist cranking up the volume. As sensitive as the SE-A1000s are, it is easy to get them going loud, so handle with care.

Jonathan Coulton's Code Monkey sounded fuller than usual, but still well-balanced. The SE-A1000s, despite the appearance of the measured frequency response curve, comes across with a small boost in the range of bass guitar fundamentals. This was usually just noticeable, but occasionally boomy. This particular track benefited and felt more solid as a result.

I had a hard time getting past the fake sound of the strings on Prima Donna, from Phantom of the Opera. During the earlier evaluation tracks, while listening to the Beethoven Symphony, I found myself wondering if some listeners might like violins the way the SE-A1000s make them sound, extra-silky, like from a '70s British orchestral soundstage. Then I thought of Beethoven putting on a pair of these headphones, hearing the Symphony, and exclaiming, "What have you done with my orchestra! Those aren't violins!" My response would have been, "Apologies, Maestro, it's the headphones."

On Joni Mitchell's Help Me, while Joni's vocals sounded great, the low-register flutes were muted. Then on Free Man in Paris, the flutes, now in a higher register, sounded fine; again the vocals and vocal harmonies sounded good through the SE-A1000s. Vocals are handled well by these phones, as are acoustic guitars, like on the People's Parties track.

The low percussion sounds on various tracks from Todd Rundgren's Healing album received a nice boost from the SE-A1000s. Sometimes a little boomy, the bass response is usually solid, not overbearing.

On Adam's Murmur, by Cynic, the hard "S" vocal sounds were downright harsh. The SE-A1000s might end up voiced on the bright side for listeners who are used to a laid-back headphone presentation, but I like their forwardness. Only occasionally, like on this track, did they seem too forward. The rapid double bass drums were handled very well. I enjoyed the way the 1000s dealt with punchy percussion.

Porcupine Tree's Deadwing starts out with soft synthesizer and quiet background sounds from a train or subway station. Some of those sounds were unclear, perhaps an indication that the SE-A1000s might be lacking in dynamic range. This was the only track I heard that gave such an indication. The guitar and cymbal tones were definitely affected by that frequency response scoop. And the hi-hat was not always as clear as it should have been. There I am being supercritical on a favorite track again. The well-recorded cymbal sounds through the rest of the track were handled nicely.

I put on several John Coltrane tracks from a Rhino Very Best Of album, not sure what to expect for the saxophone sound. At this point I had been listening for over an hour, and with the settling-in of the ears, they had pretty much tuned out that frequency dip. The saxophone sounded fairly natural. It was not hard to detect that missing frequency band if I thought about it, but it did not stand out like I expected it to. Our ears can get used to a lot if we give them the chance. I expect there will be those who like that sound, but if precise realism is what you are after, these headphones might not suit you. Another point: these tracks might not be the best to judge the SE-A1000s by, as the micing and mixing were innovative, perhaps even odd to some ears.

The Sheffield Labs track That's Not Me from their Drive test CD is the track I heard with saxophones that really stood out as odd-sounding with these headphones, way back when I first cracked them out of the box before burning them in. I returned to that track again.

Critical listening is a funny thing. While there are details that we get better at hearing over time, there are other details we might like to hear that our ears are busy covering up for us, keeping us ever ready to hear something new or different. Stopping for a half hour and then putting that same track on fresh ears - I did this several times through the evaluation of the SE-A1000s - gave me an immediate "What IS it with those saxophones?" response. At this point, after listening with them for a couple of hours, the saxophone sound was barely objectionable, but still not hard to catch when I listened for it.

I finished up with Close to the Edge, an old favorite by Yes. Percussion and cymbal sounds stood out fresh and clear. Drums, cymbals, and percussion are handled with punchiness and clarity by the SE-A1000s's on tracks like this.
Overall Listening Experience: 7 - Settling on this number was a struggle. There is a lot to like about these headphones, but every once in a while that dip in the upper mids stood out again. But that is accounted for in the Frequency Response score, so this score shouldn't get dinged for it, too. But it DOES get in the way on certain types of music. See what I mean? Without that characteristic, they would get an 8 or 9 here. With it, if I listened primarily to orchestral and big band music, they might only get a 5 or 6. Splitting the difference makes it a 7. Wanting to ere on the side of generosity, feeling the need to be honest. Sigh. Seven (7) it is, still a solid score for a likable set of headphones (Scoring: 7 - 8 = Good, "I like them").
Non-Listening Scores

Comfort: 9 - The headband and surround pads are very comfortable. While the transducer assembly sits lightly against the ear, the padding and fabric cover were comfortable enough that this did not bother me. A user with ears highly sensitive to pressure might find this to be a problem.

Design: 8 - Well-designed, not compact by any means, but this is typical of high-end headphones. The design is sturdy and easy to work with. The supplied plus bag is roomy and easy to use. The headband is a bit floppy and the elastic support straps look flimsy, but neither of these minor complaints was a problem in actual use.
Overall Performance Score: 8.0 out of 10

Other Factors - not part of the Overall Performance Score
  • $100 reference headphone: No
  • Drivable with portable media devices: Yes
  • Usable without equalization: Yes
  • Isolation (if closed design): n.a.


Conclusions

The $100 mark is where the headphone market really starts to open up in terms of there being lots of good sounding models to choose from. The street price for the Pioneer SE–A1000s varies, but there always appears to be someone with a retail price of $100 or less, and it has dropped down to $50 on occasion. At that price, they are cans worth considering for serious open-phone listening.

The Pros:
  • Bright, forward presentation
  • Very sensitive, easy to drive
  • Performed well in all tested categories
  • Solid design, extra-long cable
The Cons:
  • Frequency response not ideal for brass and strings

Performance Summary and Overall Performance Score
  • Imaging: 8.5
  • Soundstage: 9.0
  • Clarity: 7.4
  • Speed: 8.6
  • Frequency Response: 8.0 (Scooped Profile)
  • Overall Listening Experience: 7
  • Comfort: 9
  • Design: 8
  • MSRP: $149.00
  • Street Price: $100
  • Overall Performance Score: 8.0 out of 10

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Go to the Pioneer SE-A1000 Review discussion thread.

by Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver




Last edited by AudiocRaver; 03-21-13 at 06:19 AM. Reason: Added link, minor corrections.
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