The Onkyo and Pioneer Home Electronics alliance is now official, and the latest job on their do-to list is redoubled commitment in the Hi-Res Audio market. This year they’ve been relatively low-key at CES but had plenty to show in personal audio.
There was a trend among the most prolific manufacturers to enjoy the fruits of cleaner sound, from networked stereo receivers (SX-N30) to Pioneer’s own premium SE-MASTER1 Headphones. These models, individually crafted and assembled by artisan hands (匠) were the epitome of the company’s efforts in providing uncompromised listening accuracy. With a concise floating design, reimagined 50mm driver units, and 25 µm aluminum diaphragm with an industry-first Parker Ceramic Coating (PCC) treatment.
This basically means that the SE-MASTER1 can theoretically reproduce sound quality of 85,000 Hertz (85kHz), which is close to double the minimum requirement of 48kHz. And another first is the AIR Studios Monitor Reference certification, making these the only headphones in the world to be approved by their professional standards.
Because my time was fairly brief I previewed a few songs with their newest MQA-compatible XDP-100R digital audio player (aka DAP) and a silver U-05 Amplifier; and if I were to describe the experience in one word it would be “magnificent”. The sound as a whole is well-grounded with more than enough warmth and atmosphere to replicate an encompassing aura. I absolutely love the MASTER1, but They’re currently available at a heavy $2500, and that’s a hell of a lot money for all but the most sophisticated audiophile to plunk down.
Onkyo had its own companion DAP in the form of the DP-X1, which like the Pioneer XDP-100R is one of the first to embed MQA lossless compression-based technologies. Also identical is the use of a separate SABRE ESS DAC and SABRE 9601K Amp, Qualcomm 2.2GHz APZ8074 processor, 32GB of storage with dual 200GB Micro SD card slots, 384kHz/24bit audio (ALAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV, DSD), and direct access to the OnkyoMusic download service. The appearance was at the very least more straightforward and cohesive with jacks and controls easier to find.
And finally, Onkyo previewed their Maiden Audio ED-PHON3S headphones. Born from the partnership between Iron Maiden and are balanced to specifically bring out the mid-ranges common in rock and metal music, a genre often overlooked in mainstream headphones. It took both the engineers and Steve Harris roughly a year of initial development to get everything just right, they certainly look the part and will be widely available in North America by this February—hopefully for us to review.