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Pioneer SE-MASTER1

Open-back high-resolution headphones

Item # 130SEMSTR1

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Our take on the Pioneer SE-MASTER1

After testing the Pioneer SE-MASTER1 headphones, I'm frankly surprised they aren't getting more fanfare. High-end 'phones of this caliber usually demand more attention from the hardcore headphone community. Of course, it could be because Pioneer can only release them in limited batches — each set is hand-built by a Pioneer master specialist in the Tohoku region of Japan.

Pioneer SE-MASTER1

The Pioneer SE-MASTER1 headphones are assembled by hand with high-grade, lightweight parts.

Best kept secret in headphones?

After testing the Pioneer SE-MASTER1 headphones, I'm frankly surprised they aren't getting more fanfare. High-end 'phones of this caliber usually demand more attention from the hardcore headphone community. Of course, it could be because Pioneer can only release them in limited batches — each set is hand-built by a Pioneer master specialist in the Tohoku region of Japan.

For those of us lucky enough to try them, the extra-large headphones are certainly a treat. Even the heavy-duty packaging is impressive, padded inside and covered with a soft cloth. And the headphones feel incredibly lush and comfortable. They deliver an effortless, natural sound with some of the hardest-hitting bass I've heard from an open-back headphone.

My hands-on experience

"I just can't get over how strong and well-defined the bass sounds. A great amount of detail at all frequencies. There's an openness in the soundstage that make them decidedly different than the Focal Utopias — my current reference point for this class of headphones. Where the Utopia headphones give you a precise, tightly focused experience, the SE-MASTER1s are more like listening at a live venue.    

Closing my eyes and listening to the outro of "Move on Up" by Curtis Mayfield, all the instruments had a sense of place. The potent percussion stuck right in front of me, while horns blared from off to my left. Then keys and guitar came in from the right. It was like the musicians were spread across the stage.

 — Jeff Miller, Crutchfield headphone guy

Pioneer SE-MASTER1 headphones

Pioneer uses the same "full basket" driver system found in their high-end speakers.

Built for premium sound

Just to be clear, these are large, high-performance headphones best paired with a robust headphone amp. You won't be walking around with them plugged into your phone. The science behind their stellar sound starts with Pioneer's lightweight 50mm drivers. Created completely from aluminum, the diaphragms have ribbed edges to reduce friction while they move.

The drivers are housed using Pioneer's "full basket" system, so they practically float in the middle of the earcup. This lowers resonance and also adds to the spaciousness of the sound. Each set of headphones gets shipped from Japan to London for fine tuning. You can thank the world-famous AIR studios — originally founded by George Martin — for the extra punch and energy.

Luxurious, personalized fit

I was able to get a fit that was firm enough to stay put, but never felt too tight. Pioneer uses a suspension system unlike any I've ever seen in a pair of headphones. They include two interchangeable tension rods you can switch out to adjust the amount of pressure applied.

It helped that the supersized leather ear pads completely enveloped my ears. The pads covered all the way from the top of my head on down to the bottom of my jaw — and I have a big noggin! Sound cumbersome or unpleasant? It really wasn't — maybe because it avoids that sensitive area right around the ear.

Product Highlights:

  • over-the-ear, open-back design
  • large 50mm dynamic drivers offer spacious sound with powerful, detailed bass
  • lightweight aluminum domes with ceramic coating for rigidity
    • ribbed, sturdy diaphragm edges for low distortion and wide frequency response
  • a separate headphone amplifier is required to properly power these headphones for optimum sound quality
  • assembled by a Pioneer master specialist in Japan
  • uses full basket driver system to lower resonance
    • modeled after Pioneer's high-end car speakers
  • "floating" housing structure helps improve stereo separation
  • snug fit for better noise isolation
  • two interchangeable tension rods let you choose the amount of pressure
  • wide, cushioned headband with 14 adjustable positions
  • soft, oversized ear pads for comfort and stability
  • 9.84' oxygen-free cable with gold-plated 1/4" stereo plug
  • frequency response: 5-85,000 Hz
  • sensitivity: 94 dB
  • impedance: 45 ohms
  • weight: 16.2 oz. (without cable)
  • warranty: 1 year
  • Our 60-day money-back guarantee

What's in the Box:

  • Over-ear headphones
  • 2 Tensions rods (1 installed)
  • 10.25' Audio cable (straight 1/4" plug)
  • Storage case
  • Operating Instructions
  • Warranty (US/Can)
  • Warranty (EU)
  • Warranty (Australia)
  • Cable connector caution statement
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Hands-on research

Features and Specs

Earcup Type Open
Earcup Width x Height 4.45" x 4.45"
Noise-canceling No
Bluetooth No
Mic For Taking Calls No
iPhone Control No
Lightning Connector No
Android Control No
Frequency Response 5-85k Hz
Sensitivity 94 dB
Impedance 45 Ohms
Weight 16.23 ounces
Cord Length 124"
1/4-inch Adapter Included No
Volume Control No
Parts Warranty 2 Years
Labor Warranty 2 Years

Product Research


Overview: The Pioneer SE-Master1 audiophile-grade headphones are the flagship in the lineup. Each set of headphones is hand-assembled by a master craftsman at the Tohoku Pioneer Plant in Japan. Each unit has it's own unique serial number engraved above the left ear cup. The SE-Master1 comes with interchangeable tension rods to tailor the fit to your preference, a 10.25' fabric-covered cable, and a beautiful, padded storage case.

50mm Drivers: The SE-Master1 features the industry's first aluminum diaphragm with ceramic coating. These 50mm diameter, 25µm-thick aluminum diaphragms are treated with a Parker Ceramic Coating (PCC) to eliminate distortion and deliver superb sound quality. The edges of the diaphragms are made with a sturdy poly-ether-ether ketone (PEEK) film to deliver a smooth sound. Computer-aided engineering (CAE) is used to design and test the diaphragm and magnetic circuits to ensure the best possible performance. The headphones are capable of reproducing high-resolution audio up to 85 kHz so you can hear every detail of your high-res music.

Design: The SE-Master1 has an open-air dynamic design with a closed front and an open back. They are tuned by technicians at the world-famous AIR Studios in London, and were selected as their Monitor Reference headphones. An AIR Studios logo is located just above the right ear cup.

Ear Pads: The soft ear pads are made with thin memory foam at the front and thick memory foam at the rear to fit the contours of your head. This gives you extra comfort for long listening sessions, and creates a good seal for better bass response. The ear cups are covered with a soft leather-type material for an elegant look and feel.

Tension Rods: The Pioneer SE-Master1 features interchangeable tension rods, another industry first, enabling you to select the amount of lateral pressure on your ears. The headphones are sold with a 1.6mm tension rod in place. If you desire more lateral pressure, the 1.6mm rod can be easily removed and replaced by the supplied 2.0mm rod.

Cable: The SE-Master1 flagship headphones come with a tangle-free 10.25-foot cord with dual MMCX-type connectors and a sturdy gold-plated 1/4" plug. The cable has a braided cloth jacket that helps to reduce contact noise and eliminate tangles. An optional 3-meter JCA-XLR30M balanced XLR cable is available from the manufacturer.


  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 85 kHz
  • Impedance: 45 Ω
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB
  • Maximum Input Power: 1500 mW
  • Dimensions: Ear Cup Diameter: 4.45" Depth: 2.18"
  • Weight: 16.23 ounces

Our Product Research Team

At Crutchfield, you'll get detailed, accurate information that's hard to find elsewhere. That's because we have our own in-house Product Research team. They verify what’s in the box, check the owner's manual, and record dimensions, features and specs. We stay on top of new products and technologies to help people make informed choices.

Q & A

Customer Q&A

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Why did you buy this?

Excellent specifications and review.. [ ROBERT  Feb 17, 2018 ]