Friday, 5 August 2016

MEE audio Pinnacle P1 Earphone Review by mark2410

MEE audio Pinnacle P1 Earphone Review by mark2410

Thanks to MEE audio for the sample

First Impressions:  Okay, I forgot to at the time so this is from what I recall.  The box right off was unlike anything I’ve had from MEE audio, it’s much bigger.  Then you slide off the sleeve and you have a dual hinged opening.  I never seen that on a box before and while it’s a little thing, it does scream fancy.  Even more so with the wings being magnetically clasped shut.  It creates a really good first impression.  Inside you get the earphones, then at the bottom two little boxes of things, ear tips in one and cables and accessories in the other.  Hmm has someone been looking at JAYS packaging?   Oooh you get two cables for them, one with a mic and one without but they are both fancy braided cables.  Okay, visually this is all looking really fancy so far, not quite JAYS fancy but this is a clear change from the things MEE audio have been making.  By the looks of it it’s not going to be lower end, high value maker but a full range company.  So far everything looks pretty lush, the box, and those earbuds, oooh pretty.

In the ears and oh these are a bit quiet aren’t they.  At 50 ohms, they are usually high, though I like it, no hiss will make it through and it’s nice to see a company not pandering to cheap and crap mobile phone users on a high end product.  Oh these are pretty good, their balance seems great, like a baby W4 perhaps.  Oh my, this is all so very grown up sounding.  Burn in time.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5, Lumia 735 and a Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.

Lows:  MEE audio, have in the past make some cracking value stuff, I mean the M6 when it first appeared really shook things up but you know, they were bassy.  Pretty much everything from MEE audio has been bass centric.  The M6 PRO was a big step in the grown up / balanced direction but these, whoa.  These are so grown up, so even handed, they are a touch bassy to compensae for the way we hear and perceive lows but whoa, these are level.  So controlled too.  The things I’m going to mentally are the likes of the W4 and the UM3x.  Actually I can’t help but think this, this is what the UM3x should have been.  Slapping in the DN-1000 because in money terms they both sit about US$200 and while I am a fan of DUNU (omfg their DN-20002 is amazeballs good) so it’s not a little thing to say that, side by side, the DN-1000 and the P1.  The P1 with it’s only a single driver inside…. comfortably beats the 1000.  Very comfortably.   I know in the spec sheet it says these are just a single dynamic driver in them but this, this is what you can do when you say stuff making something so sensitive to it run off a phone.  These need power but god lord they are masterful.  Their bass presentation is pushing towards flawless.  You pick out some studio monitor that’s aiming to be ruler in line with human hearing, which for an earphone means the bass elevates because, reasons, it’s how our ears and perception work.  These are paragon like.  This is exactly what an IEM made for head-Fi should be.  The bass is very detailed, not clinically so, natural, just the right balance of punch and that little hint of bloom to fill out the bottom as it decays.  It’s so adaptable too, from Gaga to Yo Yo Ma in an instant it can go from one to the other and back again without the slightest slip up.

Its depth is, well it’s kinda “perfect” in that its declines along with one’s hearing curve but electronic bass production so often calls for a mass elevation of bass as it goes down like some truck stop whore.  The P1 is very much above such matters.  It yearns to play back Elgar’s cello concertos and sending shivers down your spine with the level of realism it can offer.  The quality of the bass here is excellent, excellent at any price. Perhaps not as taut as some would like or as snappy but it’s a mesmerizingly realistic bass.  Beside the W4, ahh while I’m usually a colossal fan of BA bass over dynamic, the W4’s just sounds that little bit over clear, a little soulless. The RHA T20 comes closer in terms of realism (it another dynamic) but the P1 has a greater texture to it.  Its bigger, a smidge more weighty and it ever so slightly rounds some detail.

Mids:  Wonderful.  New it’s not the kind of mids that usually sets my little heart a flutter, it’s not upfront in your face BA mids that flow like hot butter around your senses.  There are a bit back, a bit dryer.  There is however that realism sneaking in.  The SE530 pumps out a mid-range that is beyond glorious and so much so that it sounds “better” than the vocalist it came from.  There is that feeling of not being entirely natural.  The P1 captures the spirit and soul of a performance.  Good god its good stuff.  There is something slightly casual and nonchalant about their performance though.  They are wonderful but you don’t get that engagement you do with BA, upfront and direct mids.  These aren’t being sung directly in your face these are being focused out into to the entire audience.  You lose that directness and intimacy which is fine for lots music.  Thing is for some you want it to be just the artist and you, alone, close, intimate and almost naughtily provocative.  The P1 is much more laid back.  The detail levels are great.  There is such a degree of realism in the subtle nuances.  A touch detached, perhaps with it’s slightly out of reach location.  Still the layering and integration it’s got means that once you start listening to the P1 you seen forget that is any other way to present things.  Their clean separation for the rest of the spectrum while remaining soooo well integrated is fab.

Actually it is a feature of using a single drive to do everything, the integration levels are usually first rate and the way they have tuned them.  Their relatively higher impedance may be demanding on a source, for starters you really need to crank the volume dial.  The rewards though, ahhh, such versatility and even handedness in everything it does.  Though there is the most tiny of inclinations toward a teeny tiny bit dry.  It isn’t enough to have any real impact on vocals but it means that strings, especial guitars pluck achingly well.  This may not be a mid-head IEM but its mids are still first rate.  However, you know I’m just saying, if they wanted to bump the mid quantity a tiny bit, you know, I wouldn’t be exactly heartbroken about it.

Highs:  Take a guess, yeah that’s right they suck.  Lol, nooo just kidding.  They are pretty excellent.  I’ve always said that dynamics are capable of the best treble, BA’s can be too hard and brittle.  These are fantastic.  They are a teeny bit metallic and if you pair with a hard source like the Studio 3rd. Anv. then that hard edged source, meeting a hardly metallic P1 and its err, very metallic.  While it not entirely wrong to have cymbals exploding with a hard metallic edge it is not what I personally love.  It is for my little ears a little bit too metallic, too edgy.  So I whip out the HM-650 and that issue melts away.  They then tone down that initial impact, that metallic bight just a little bit.  Just enough for me to really start enjoying them and noticing how well that metallic shimmering trail goes on.  Oh these shine so nicely when you feed them a good source, good bit rates and good recordings.  They are a little easy to provoke into a blistering attack on your senses with all that metal flying about.  If you feed them low bit rate, brutally recorded, hard music……. Well don’t say I didn’t warn you.  However with not just their price tag but that impedance I’d be surprised if that happens in the wild.  Oh and their extension as is often the case with great dynamics, super great.

Detail wise these are pretty good.  They are nice, and they as much detail as I want really.  However if you are a massive detail junkie then they aren’t quite as cutting or explicit as some high-end things are.  However these cost half the price of many higher end things and these while I may possibly not classify then as “top tier”  they are so easily sufficiently good that you will not only not care, you’ll newer really notice.  At this level there really has stopped being one thing “better” than another.

Soundstage:  Wonderful.  They don’t give the vast breadth that the crazy IE8 can do but these, for a sealed IEM, a dynamic sure but these are pretty well sealed and you get a great array before you and around you.  Distancing is a bit middling but the acoustic integration yet with a level of instrument separation, the distribution of placement.  Squeeee!!!  It’s really bloody good.  The only hold back is that when you are playing stuff, uber vocal heavy stuff it does a lovely job, it does but….. it never seems to convince me of something acoustically intimate.  There is always a bit of distance, a little bit of space.  Nothing negative of course, it’s just how it is.

Fit:  Great.  No problems, in the ear with a par of comply’s and that was me set.  No driver flex or air pressure issues at all, ever.

Comfort:  Great.  No issues in the slightest despite they being sealed dynamics.

Microphonics:  Actually I did get some.  Not tons but it existed.  The chin slider fixed it but I was surprised to get any given the look of the cable. 

Cable:  Okay, really just look at the thing.  It looking at that cable doesn’t scream fancy I don’t know what would.  It theory it should be amazing but it’s a bit, well, I dunno it just seemed to love to tangle itself up.  Still, the cables are removable, so user replaceable and I would bet given the crazy, seriously crazy accessory and replacement option MEE audio have there will be a choice of cables on their way.  (I looked they have 3 options just now.)

Accessories:  It comes with a great bundle.  A nice case, 2 cables one of which is mic’d, a fistful of tips.  Oh then will you look at that, on their website you can get replacement three kinds of replacement cables. You name it they have it, actually MEE audio put everyone else to shame in this regard.

Aesthetics:  As I have said on more than one occasion, I am sucker for bare metal. These are bare metal, some Zinc alloy apparently and it looks good, looks really good. As earphones go these are lookers for sure……but…… I can’t help want to compare them to the RHA T10 and T20 which look stunning.  These are the hottest girl you went to school with, they are late 90’s Gillian Anderson.

Isolation:  Good, for a dynamic they are bloody excellent.  These are sitting at the typical level you get from a good BA based IEM.  So that means, out and about, on a bus, you’re all good.  They would also do just fine for a Tube commute or a flight to New Zealand.  Not quite Ety’s but for a dynamic, spectacular.  Oh and that means you really won’t hear that wheeled death machine until you’re hearing your skull bounce off it so please, do remember to use your eyes when near traffic.

Amped/Unamped:  Well boys and girls, these days most things are uber sensitive, pandering to those persons that insist on using their phone as a source.  MEE audio it seems have said, balls to that.  I commend them for it too because I have found that in almost every case, in something without a crossover, that adding impedance has improved things.  The P1 coming in at 50 ohms is unusually high but it sounds glorious.  It has consequences though, namely you will need to get cranking that volume dial.  Whatever volume level you normally use, yeah you better have headroom for another few notches.  These then do want power, they do want it but they don’t “need” it.  Most notably the bass and the treble benefit most from a good power source but if you really really insist on using your phone, they still sound great.  However….. if you buy these and don’t at least get a little amp you’ll be missing out.  Seriously, buy a little amp and make them shine.  I swear if I ever see anyone using these running directly out on an Iphone I’ll slap them.  The clarity, the instrument separation, they just all become a wonder when amped well.  Sure it’s still “good” sounding out of a crappy phone but its sooooooo much better when you hurl power at it.

Notably what I found was a great little pairing was the P1 with my ancient 1G Ipod Shuffles.  They are known for being a mini power house and they were very pleasing when paired together.  Sigh,  back from before Apple realised they could put any old crap in their stiff and most of theirs customers wouldn’t notice.

Value:  Great.  Sweaty, dirty, grubby money, ever such an uncivilised topic for conversation but alas, we live in a world where money matters.  Now for the price of US$200 or I can find tn the UK for £180 they are I guess relatively expensive things, you know normal people will think that’s a massive amount of money for earphones.  Sure they won’t blink at a £600 Iphone but more than £10 for earphones?!?!?!?  So I can’t say these are cheap, however these are top quality beasts and the more than sufficiently hold their own against their competitors.  At this point it’s less about the exact price anyway and you can rest assured buying these you are easily getting your money’s worth.

Conclusion:   So no prizes for guessing that I’ve really liked these.  These are such a monumental leap from where MEE audio started out back in the days of the M6 and M11 et al.  They were going for a low price high value proposition and while they were great value, no one could call them high end products.  They were nice, but you know, cheap stuff.  The P1 is some serious grown up stuff.  Which is great, for the Head-Fi type user, those who want all of the detail and musical nuance that a piece can muster, these are great sounding and pretty great value.

The however aren’t perfect, not just in that they can’t be all things to all people, they are very, very talented in their flexibility, acoustically, they can turn their hand to everything and do it well.  The trouble for them is they are power hungry which means many users may not get the best from them.  Audiophiles of course will with their proper use of DAP’s and amps.  The biggest issue perhaps is that that THAT20 is (in the UK) the same price and it is also seriously bloody good.  While the P1 smacks them in terms of its layering and placing, that instrument separation and integration being so first class.  They however lack the 20’s filters so for me the P1 retains its more “natural” balance and thus has a smidge much treble for my ears.  That hasn’t stopped the P1’s from being my default IEM to pick up when I go out the door for, err, some time now.  I’ve listened to these all day, repeatedly, at length then the next day picked them up again for some more.  They are simply excellent.

So would I / should you buy a pair?  Me, yes no question I’ve greatly enjoyed them, they may not be perfectly matched my tastes but they are so well interpreted yet with such instrument separation.  Their tonality too with its delicate little metallic twang up top and its snappy, cutting guitar strings to its sweeping cello’s.  Love it love it love it.  For you?  Well really I can’t think of any reason you wouldn’t other than you are desperately wedded to using only your phone as a source with no amp.  In that case you probably want something easier to drive, but I can’t stress this enough, the failing there would be on your part.  The high impedance helps them to be all that they are and I like their counter consumer flow making things stupid sensitive.  High sensitively tends to make things overly dramatic like an unstable bipolar madman and the P1’s are paragon like in their stability and virtue.  They can do anything with equal capability.  They don’t have a “this is best suited for X music” they are suited for everything if fed well.  If you’re only going to have 1 great earphone and you’ve got a good source this should very much be on your list of things to look into.  They are supremely versatile and accomplished in every aspect.  Not to mention they isolate superbly too.

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