Pioneer SE-MS5T Headphone Review — HRM-5 Drivers Jammed Into a Cheaper Body?
The last time I randomly bought a pair of headphones from Pioneer, the HRM-5's…they blew me away.
Earlier this year, Pioneer announced the $69 SE-MS5T and the $129 wireless SE-MS7T, proudly declaring that they were the “least expensive hi-res headphones in the world.”
Well, I found some SE-MS5T’s randomly on a shelf at my local electronics store and bought them. I was excited. Could Pioneer do it again? Could they take on the “hi-res” market at less than half the price of the competitors?
They’re totally okay.
Great for the price, even!
And yet, I’m having a hard time getting really excited about them…because I think they’re just the HRM-5 drivers tweaked and jammed into a different, cheaper body.
I’m not gonna rip both headphones open to find out, but boy, it sure seems like that’s what happened here.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. The MS5T’s proudly display the Hi-Res Audio badge, which means they’ve been certified by the Hi-Res Audio Consortium to reproduce frequencies up to 40,000Hz.
This is well beyond the range of human hearing. And as a result, there’s some debate about whether hi-res audio is beneficial at all.
However, this certification does tell us that the underlying driver is probably at least decent, if nothing else.
Further, most models carrying this certification will set you back at least $200, so at $69, if the hi-res badge is important to you, this is indeed the cheapest way to get it.
So how do these sound?
A whole lot like the HRM-5’s.
The MS5T’s have a slightly-bright but mainly-flat frequency response that sometimes verges on the edge of boring. Since they’re a consumer headphone targeting budget audiophiles, I was expecting either the warm, slightly-bassy signature of the Sony MDR-1A, or the brightly clinical and magical sound of Audio-Technica’s stuff.
Instead these are just neutrally-tuned. The bass is present and accurately rendered, but not at all prominent or boomy. You won’t feel it in your chest but you’ll hear all the notes. Mids are nice and natural. Voices come forward and sound properly human without any hollowness or nasal qualities. Highs are a little strident and can approach the fatigue threshold with certain material…but they don’t ever cross it. Like the HRM-5’s and HD598Cs, I think this is actually the result of a slight peak in the upper-mids/low-highs. They are a little bit rough for badly compressed audio, but not as revealing as a more studio-oriented headphone.
It’s a sound that’s not artifically impressive or punchy or powerful…it’s just nice and accurate and good.
“You’re talking like that’s a bad thing!”
I know. And it’s not bad at all! They’re just…I was expecting something more different from my HRM-5’s. Those are designed for studio/monitoring use, so it makes sense that they would have a more neutral character…and it was cool that they were pleasant enough for everyday listening.
But the MS5T’s are marketed as more of a consumer model…so I was at least expecting a tiny bit more punch in the bass department or a tiny bit more sparkle/speed/air in the highs. Something!
The same good solid flat sound from Pioneer’s HRM5’s is back. It’s not particularly biased towards any one genre of music.
The soundstage is decent, a few ticks above narrow, but still firmly in the middle of closed-back headphone territory.
You won’t need a special amp for these, they are really loud and nicely-driven even out of my phone. Out of my Schiit Fulla they sound full and natural as well, even when powered up to ear-splitting levels.
I only ever do that for a hot second by the way, I’m not crazy.
These have the precise build that a $69 pair of headphones should have. Which is to say they’re just north of feeling cheap. The ear cups are a decently-solid plastic with a nice coating on them. The adjustment arms are metal wire, and surprisingly firm and tight. They won’t slip out of the positions you set them to…and in fact, I couldn’t even get them to slide while on my head. I had to manually set the size with the headphones off, then put them back on and see how they fit.
Normally this type of slider-style headphone adjustment allows you to just pull down on the headphones till you’re comfy, but you can’t do that here.
I don’t feel like I could break a hole in a wall with these or sit on them a bunch. They feel like a budget product. The ear pads are a little creaky, and the headband stitching on my unit is slightly crooked.
The 4-foot cable is permanently attached. Boo! It has a nice texture to it that should help with tangles, but I still find the whole thing a bit springy and bouncy. There’s a one-button remote and mic included on the cord. They work fine.
The headphones don’t fold down or collapse at all. They don’t fold flat. What you see is what you get.
The plug on the end of the cord is sharply right-angled, and has plenty of height and room for fitting around phone cases.
Pioneer touts their “retro-style” design, but I think they look just fine in a modern context. The backs of the ear cups are a little shiny and will probably attract fingerprints and scratches. You can get them in a few different nice colors.
So, they’re not built better than their price…but they’re fine.
Oh and like Pioneer’s other headphones….the name is pretty darn clunky. I think it’s trying to evoke Audio-Technica’s MSR-7?
I thought the MS5T’s were going to be really uncomfortable or have trouble sealing on my head…because the cups don’t rotate horizontally at all. They rotate vertically, but not horizontally. Normally this is a big issue because everyone has differently-angled ears, and differently-angled sides to their faces.
However, Pioneer compensates with heavily sculpted ear cushions. The ear cushions have a bit of a dramatic bump shape to their padding, with parts that stick out. The result is that the MS5T’s naturally hug my head in spite of their lack of cup rotation. Impressive!
Padding is good, though not memory foam. The leatherette on the headband and ear pads is okay, though my ears warm up a little bit when I’m wearing them.
The backs of my ears just barely touch the insides of the ear cups. There’s not much padding back there. Fortunately, they stay comfy for me. The ear holes are plenty large in diameter.
Clamping force is north of average. If you’re sensitive to clamping force, you might find these just a touch “huggy.”
They’re not as comfy as the HRM-5’s. But they don’t ever get painful. Basically, they meet the bare minimums for long-term headphone comfort.
Isolation is much better than I was expecting, given the cheaper feel of the ear cups and the pads. These will work totally fine in louder environments if you get a good seal like I do. I think it helps that the cups aren’t ported at all.
See this picture?
That’s everything you get with this pair of headphones! As I said above, the one-button remote works fine, as does the mic. The cable terminates in a 3.5mm TRRS plug and there’s no 6.5mm adapter included. No carrying bag either.
These are absurdly competent, totally good and fine headphones. They’re comfy for long sessions. They have a balanced, natural, flat sound that won’t fatigue you unless you really crank them. They isolate well. They have a build that feels exactly right for the price, and not a dollar more.
They’re just not a pair you’re going to be devoted to, probably. And for just a little bit more money, you can step into a range with some of the best headphones ever made…like the HRM-5's, the M40X, the MDR-7506, and the HD598Cs when they’re on sale.
And all of those come with more stuff.
For $69 you can’t do any better. But for $99 you certainly can.
I still like these enough to keep them around…but more as a throw-in-a-bag backup pair, and not as a “I’m going to use these all the time for fun/work because I love them” pair.
This was one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written. There’s nothing really wrong with these…they just didn’t speak to me like I hoped they would.