Sineaptic SE-1 Wireless Ribbon Headphones – The Audiophile Headphones You CAN Afford!
It’s not hard to feel like an outsider in the audio world. The gear prices can quickly approach ludicrous numbers leaving all but the most wealthy (or most dedicated) doing little but reading reviews and dreaming of winning the lottery. Sometimes, a product comes along that offers that “audiophile” level of performance at a more sane price point. Enter the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones. For under $200, you can have dual-diaphragm ribbon headphones with audio quality on par with much more expensive headphones. Of course, you will be making some concessions. What are they? Let’s discuss!
Sineaptic SE-1 Wireless Ribbon Headphones Aesthetics
If there is a defining characteristic of the audiophile it is that they care about audio quality above all other things. This is especially true of aesthetics. The Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones fit the bill in this respect. They are made to sound good, not look good. You might like how they look in the box:
Sineaptic has packaged the SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones as if they were explosive. I doubt that’s the case. What they are is very large. Wearing them is a…shall we call it a statement?
These are the perfect headphones to wear around the house (for more than just aesthetic reasons). They are large and goofy-looking. If you are going to look like this, you’d better sound good.
Sineaptic SE-1 Headband Design
The Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones are very different than traditional headphones in many ways. The dual-diaphragm ribbon design requires a lot of space in the cans (which is why they are so large). Sineaptic has opted for a very different headband design. Most headphones have an adjustable headband which is padded. Many people complain that the very top of their head will “hot-spot” on the headband. To combat this, the Sineaptic SE-1 headphones have a dual-wing design.
This dual-wing design means that there is no chance that the band will create undue pressure on the top of your head. The downside is that the SE-1 headphones are not at all adjustable. With most headphones, you can pull the headband to extend the reach of the cans for larger noggins. These headphones don’t do that. For larger heads, the headphones can be pulled wider and they should fit fairly well. I found that the SE-1’s were almost too large for my melon. That said, I did let my 14-year-old try them and he said they fit.
SE-1 Open-Back Design
One important design note is the open-back design. Some of you may have had some experience with open-back headphones. Even if you have, I’m willing to bet you’ve never experienced headphones like the SE-1’s. Open-back headphones do not have a solid back on the earcups. Instead, they have some sort of grill or grate that allows air to pass through.
Putting on the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones blocks out very little outside noise. If there is someone else in the room, you can hear them nearly as well with the headphones on as off. This also works in the other direction. I’ve got open-back headphones as my daily drivers and I’ve never had complaints about other people being able to hear my music unless they were in arm’s reach of me. With the Sineaptic SE-1 headphones, I had people across the room singing along. And because the headphones let in so much outside sound, I could hear them!
You may be thinking that you can modify the SE-1 headphones to alleviate this outside noise intrusion. That will not work. Just putting your hands up to the backs of the earcups will seriously compromise the audio quality. These backs are as open as they can be and need full access to air for proper sound reproduction. If you decide to purchase these headphones, you’ll need to remember that limitation.
SE-1 Connections and Control
The entire audiophile crowd checked out the minute they found out the Sineaptic SE-1 headphones were wireless. To that, I say good riddance. The Bluetooth 5.2 (or 5.3 – they list both versions on their product page) wireless setup of the Sineaptic SE-1 headphones was easy and stable. There was no control app or access to high-res streaming codecs (like LDAC or aptX). Instead, they connect via AAC and SBC. You can expect up to 13 hours on a charge. At this price point, I’m not surprised.
There is a 3.5mm connection with an included 3-meter Aux cable. When you connect the Aux cable, the internal wireless connection is immediately disabled and the power is shut off. When you disconnect the cable, you’ll have to press the power button to reconnect the Bluetooth connection.
There are three buttons and two ports on the left earcup. The Aux port as well as a USB-C port for charging. There is a power button as well as plus and minus buttons. These buttons take on different functions depending on what mode you are using. If you are streaming music, for example, pressing the power button will pause or resume your content. If you are getting a call, the same button will answer it. A second press will disconnect that same call. What I’m saying is that the controls are fairly intuitive.
Of course, the most important metric for an “audiophile” headphone is how they sound. If you are looking to dip your toe into the world of high-end audio, the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones should be your first stop. The dual-diaphragm ribbons provide a level of clarity that is fairly unprecedented at the $199 price point. The top end and midrange are impressively detailed. The bass is punchy and seems to be fairly well extended. When you first start listening with the SE-1s, you should expect to “rediscover” your music. That means you’ll “hear things you’ve never heard before” and think things like “a veil has been lifted from your music.” See, you are even starting to sound like an audiophile.
The open-back design gives the SE-1s an “airy” quality that is very unique even among similar headphones. Most headphones I’ve tested still essentially sound like headphones. They have an immediate character that you immediately identify as a headphone “sound.” The Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones sound much more like having a high-quality set of speakers in a room. Since you are still hearing a lot of the room and extraneous noises, the SE-1 headphones feel more like sitting very close to speakers rather than having headphones on your head.
So far, there has been a lot of praise heaped on the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones. Rightfully so. At $199, they perform very, very well. But you don’t get all that audio performance at that price point without giving something up. In this case, a couple of somethings. We’ve already mentioned that they headband isn’t adjustable. This may mean that these headphones won’t fit you and can’t be adjusted if you find them at all uncomfortable. But it is more than that.
Lack of Adjustment
The lack of headband adjustment is more than just a problem for getting the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones to fit. It also means you can’t change the fit at all. With me, the SE-1 headphones would nearly fall off if I turned my head too quickly. Even leaning my head back to sip a drink threatened to dislodge the headphones. Using them while walking would be okay, but forget any type of exercise. You may argue that these are not the type of headphones you use while exercising. I’d argue that you are not the boss of me and I’ll use my headphones as I like.
It was annoying to have everyone sing along with my music. It was more annoying when they wanted to “borrow” the headphones because they “really like that song.” The real problem is the complete lack of sound isolation. With every other open-back headphones I’ve ever used, there was always at least a little sound isolation. This would reduce the amount of sound that came into the headphones (and sound leakage from the headphones). Without any sound isolation, you need to be in a completely silent environment in order to have enough dynamic range to really enjoy high-end music. Any noise in your room will intrude on the quietest parts of your music.
When using the wireless connection, you are likely to run up against the maximum volume of the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones sooner rather than later. They just don’t get that loud. With the Aux cable connected to an external headphone amplifier, I still found the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones hard to drive. If your content is mixed quieter than usual, then you may find that the Sineaptic SE-1 headphones just never get loud enough for you. Ever.
This is also compounded with the open-back issue. When there is any noise in the environment, you risk it overshadowing your content. Think about listening to music in your car. The noise of the engine, road, and wind means you often have to keep adjusting the volume louder in order to hear your music clearly. The SE-1 headphones have the same issue…except you will run out of amplifier power. With an external amplifier, you’ll have more headroom, but even then these headphones don’t get very loud.
Sineaptic has claimed that the SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones are 420 grams in their promo material. I found them to be just about that. When you first grab the headphones, however, you are probably going to think they are too light. They just look like they should weigh more. From a comfort standpoint, this is a good feature. Light means you can wear them for a long time without discomfort. I definitely found this to be true. But they did feel like they would break fairly easily. Everything on the SE-1 headphones seemed to be made of plastic. I have serious questions about the durability of these headphones.
To hit a price point something has to give. If you want to make audiophile-quality headphones at a price mere mortals can afford, you have to expect that there will be some corners cut. Even with the tradeoffs I found, I can’t help but recommend the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones. For $200 you get about the best audio quality I can imagine for this price. Yes, you may have to baby them a bit. Yes, the fit and finish might be a bit wonky. But they sound AMAZING. If you ever wanted to own high-end headphones but didn’t want to shell out enough cash for a new iPhone, your prayers are answered. Get the Sineaptic SE-1 wireless ribbon headphones. You’ll love them.