The Sineaptic SE-1: A Value Proposition that is Off the Charts!

Headphone technology has come a very long way over the past 15 – 20 years. When I started in this hobby of personal audio, there was typically one choice of headphone drivers: traditional dynamic headphones. That’s really it; sure, Stax offered an electrostatic headphone, but back then they were so specialized and so unique that most didn’t consider them as a viable option, especially when you throw in the requirement for a specialized dedicated (and often expensive) amplifier. Headphones were very much like the original Model-T by Ford, you can have any style of driver as long as they were “dynamic”. Over the past several years, however, companies like Audeze, Hifiman, Dan Clark Audio, and Abyss have come forward with truly stellar and revolutionary planar dynamic headphones. Then RAAL Requisite brought us their incredible SR-1a ribbon driver headphones; with their incredibly low levels of distortion and speaker-like presentation, these ribbon driver headphones continue to grow the list of options for headphone manufacturers to select for their products.  Sineaptic, a creator of cutting-edge ribbon speakers, has now entered the headphone marketspace with their recently released SE-1 headphones. Designed to offer an incredibly natural and immersive experience, the SE-1 headphones will not require a specialized dedicated headphone amplifier to drive them either. In fact, you don’t even require an amplifier at all. Giving the user a wireless option is very much something entirely new for ribbon-based headphones. The new SE-1 wireless headphones feature a dual-diaphragm ribbon speaker that produces incredibly natural and balanced sound that truly sets them apart from any product in the sub $300 price range. You did not read that incorrectly, under $300 USD! Simply put, these headphones are the best “audiophile” headphones that I’ve ever come across to offer such naturalness, build quality and incredibly transparent presentation!

The SE-1 integrates a ribbon driver that is independently and internally powered and provides an incredibly neutral soundscape that will have you hearing the music just as the artist’s original intentions. Everything from the build quality to the expansive soundstaging shows that a lot of care has been taken in developing these headphones by Sineaptic. Simply put, they sound and feel like headphones costing 3-5 times more! The list of the full specifications for these headphones are:

Type:Over-ear open-backed headphones
Driver Type:Dual Ribbon Array Driver
Frequency Response:15Hz – 20, 000 Hz
Charging Port:USB Type-C
Connectivity:Wireless, 3.5 mm audio port (self powered)
Battery Type:Lithium
Charging Time:Approximately 3 hours
Dual Device Support:Yes
Wireless Codecs:Version 5.2, AAC, SBC
Sampling Rates:8k to 96kHz
Microphone:MEMS Microphone
External DAC:Supported
Weight:412 g (0.9 lbs)
Package Contents:SE-1 Headphones 3.1 mm Audio Cable Type-C Cable Quickstart Guide Manual Hard Shell Carrying Case
Price:$273.00 USD

For my first critical session with the SE-1 headphones, I decided to use them in wireless mode played via Bluetooth from my iPhone 15 Pro. I decided to stream Qobuz and quickly settled on “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac (2001 Remaster). Setup via Bluetooth was a breeze and pairing it to my iPhone took seconds and as soon as “Second Hand News” started playing, I knew that I was going to be in for a treat! The overall presentation was incredibly balanced and surprisingly neutral. Usually, headphones under the $300 price tag tend to be bassy, a bit bloated with a distinct lack of treble extension and a sense of air. But what I heard with these headphones was a very natural and balanced signature with a very good amount of detail retrieval and openness. If you’re looking for a bass-heavy presentation for hip-hop, then maybe I’d suggest you look elsewhere, but if what you’re after is a very taught and detailed bass with a satisfying punch akin to the HD800S in terms of presence, then the SE-1’s are right up your ally. Conversely, the vocals by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were almost in perfect proportion to the bass and treble. Each frequency range was very well balanced and layered on top of each other such that I never once felt that there was too much of a predominance of one over the other. Finally, throughout the 40 minutes of this excellent experience, the comfort of these headphones was very good. They may not be towards the very top of on-the-go headphones that I’ve tried (like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra), but they were still very easy to use without a sign of fatigue or excessive wear.

This past week, I was lucky enough to attend an Eagles concert here in Toronto. They have always been one of my very favourite bands. So I decided to use their opus album: “Hotel California”. For this album, I decided to use my FiiO M11 Pro and pair it via Bluetooth to the SE-1s. Just as with my iPhone 15 Pro, setup was super-fast and quite uneventful. This is a lossless version of their 40th Anniversary Edition and definitely one of my treasured albums and is often in my regular rotation that I continually return to throughout the year.  As with my first session, the naturalness and openness of these headphones shone through. This just has to show you that you don’t have to mortgage your home and sell your left kidney to get an audiophile-like experience. Again, I found the bass, midrange and treble perfectly layered on top of each other without ever impinging on the other. The deep and nuanced bass melded impeccably with the mid-range and vocals. Hearing Don Henley sing the title track “Hotel California” brought me back to Scotiabank Centre from the previous week as these headphones just let the music shine through. The treble range was equally impressive and filled with life. It never once came off as shrill or overbearing. These headphones’ ability to resolve the frequency range was definitely impressive. Finally, the soundstaging and sense of “air” was quite good. In fact, this area bested many other portable headphones that I’ve listened to through the years many of which cost 3-4 times more.

I then decided to pair these headphones using the 3.5mm stereo cable with my FiiO M11 Pro and use them wired to this DAP (digital-to-analog player). I wanted to see how they would respond using the DAC and amplifier outside of a wireless mode of operation. “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis is in my top 5 albums of all time. This venerable classic has withstood the test of time and has become a favourite jazz standard to many generations over the years. Using the SE-1 / M11 Pro combination with this album was a real pleasure. The tonality and presentation of Miles’ trumpet playing were not only accurate, they were also musical at the same time. Oftentimes, “neutral” headphones can come off as a bit dry and boring (like the Sennheiser HD650s for me), but the SE-1s maintained a good amount of musical enjoyment that had me smiling throughout the album! I did slightly prefer the wired operation of these headphones using the DAC/amplifier in my FiiO M11 Pro, but not enough to want to give up the portability and convenience of using them wirelessly. The difference was so small, that I think I would use them via Bluetooth for the vast majority of the time due to the added convenience.

I was absolutely floored with the value that the SE-1 headphones brought to the table. Sineaptic has really knocked one out of the park with their first foray into the world of personal audio. At only $273 USD, you get an incredibly balanced and detailed presentation with a good amount of comfort that you can enjoy for hours. If you’re looking for a more “fun” and “bassy” presentation, then these might not be for you, but if it’s transparency, clarity and openness, they will certainly reward you for your investment. Being able to use them wirelessly is also an added benefit for increased portability and a cost savings in terms of a dedicated DAP (digital to analog player) or headphone amplifier.  If someone were to ask me for an audiophile signature pair of portable headphones at under the $300 price point, these headphones would be my top recommendation; they are that good!

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Peter Pialis

By day, I’m a husband, father and professional engineer. But by night, I’m an audiophile and music junkie. Many say that music is food for the soul and nothing works better for me than Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Rush and Miles Davis. For the past 25 years I’ve been on an audio journey that continues to this day.


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