Pioneer SE-Master1 Review

Originally meant to be a limited release, it’s proven so popular that everyone wants a piece of the action. Read our Pioneer SE-Master1 Review.

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Pioneer’s SE-Master1 headphone uses a fixed metal band to mount the large driver housings with a leather headband placed inside it that rests on the top of the head. It uses a push-and-release system to move the headband into place, which means it will stay exactly where you want it. The enclosures themselves can move freely in the vertical axis – thanks to useful hinges – but there is no lateral movement on the ear and the padding has to take the strain. This doesn’t work badly, but it does rob the SE-Master1 of a little long-term comfort in my tests. What the design handles brilliantly, though, is the weight distribution. As the heaviest model, it never feels like a load on the neck or head, which is vital when using it for extended listening sessions. The earpads appear to be fairly hard wearing, but no replacement options are available at the time of review.


PRODUCT: Pioneer SE-Master1


TYPE Open-back, over-ear headphone



• 50mm driver

• Quoted sensitivity: 94dB/mW

•  3m with 6.35mm jack

Built at the Tohuku speaker plant in Japan by a select group of audio engineers and craftsmen, every SE-Master1 displays a unique serial number that’s been engraved on it. Otherwise, the design is conventional enough, this being an open-back model employing a pair of 50mm dynamic drivers. The drivers are made from an extremely thin aluminium section, which Pioneer stiffens up by applying an additional thin layer of ceramic and then ribbing the outer edges. The magnet assembly is neodymium for optimal performance and Pioneer claims that the driver has an upper frequency response of 85kHz. The drivers are set well back in a large enclosure so that the rear section is clearly visible against the rear mesh of the housing. This rests on the head via a pair of deep leather pads, which together with the headband arrangement, make for a fairly comfortable listening experience (see boxout).

The SE-Master1 is supplied with a detachable 3m OFC cable that terminates in a 6.35mm jack. A fully balanced twin XLR cable is available as a optional extra to work with the company’s U-05 headphone amplifier/DAC (HFC 405). The appearance certainly looks familiar – there are little details that you’ll swear you’ve seen elsewhere – but it is extremely well made and some of the design touches are genuinely useful. You get a decent storage box included in the price as well.

Sound quality

The SE-Master1 needs more output than most from the Hugo 2 to reach the test level, but it’s still well within the ability of the Chord to deliver. The presentation is a touch more enclosed

Does its best work with high-quality recordings and careful partnering

than some of the other open-back models in the group, which tends to induce a very fractional sense of ‘cupping’ to the opening strings of Burn The Witch. This isn’t too severe, though, and the force and energy that it brings to the music is welcome and very engaging. Thom Yorke’s vocals soar over the top of the instrumentation without ever losing their relationship to it and you very quickly forget about the delivery system and instead focus on the music.

The SE-Masterl does a similarly good job with Stimela. Once again, there isn’t the truly vast presentation of some of the models in the group, but the layout of the performers and their relationship to the audience is rock solid and utterly self-explanatory. This is underpinned by truly excellent tonality with both voices and instruments. There is a texture to Masekela’s vocals that is better reproduced here than anywhere else in the test and his train whistle is effortlessly handled.

The slight constraint to the scale actually works to the Pioneer’s advantage with Take Five. Sciubba’s vocals are given a fractional sense of reproduction in the right speaker, which helps create the illusion that the presentation is in front of the listener rather than on either side, and the same realism and energy is present here too.

Beat It sits right on the cusp of being fractionally aggressive in the upper registers. It isn’t unmanageable, but it suggests the SE-Masterl is better suited to high-quality recordings and careful partnering. Once again, though, the timing and rhythmic immediacy is extremely good and it certainly doesn’t struggle to pull the listener into the music.


9 Total Score
Recommended Pioneer SE-Master1 Review

A talented headphone that is capable of an excellent performance

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Sound Quality
Value For Money
Build Quality
Ease Of Drive
  • Powerful and engaging sound
  • Comfort
  • Build
  • Price- slight constrained sound
  • Doesn't flatter poor material
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