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Review of MEEaudio Pinnacle P1 hi-fi IEMs w/removable cables and lots of pics!!!

Discussion in 'Android Accessories' started by twister6, Jan 23, 2016.

  1. twister6

    twister6 Android Expert
    Thread Starter

    This is Review of MEEaudio Pinnacle 1 premium in-ear monitors. http://www.meeaudio.com/pinnacle, also available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01A60I4P6/

    The flagship headphones are not born overnight. It takes a lot of hard work, genuine passion, and accumulated experience to reach that level. Armed with these skills, MEEaudio spent nearly 2 years crafting their next big release. I actually had a number of discussions with Mike of MEEaudio (PR face of the company) over the course of last year about the progress of Pinnacle development and manufacturing, and know with certainty how much effort went into these headphones. As a matter of fact, they could have been released half a year ago, but MEEaudio continued tweaking minor details until everything was done to perfection.

    MEEaudio, formerly MEElec, is well known and respected in audiophile community, even though some of their headphones fall into a general consumer oriented budget category. If you focus on sound quality, “budget” doesn’t always mean a bad thing, where just recently I reviewed their RX18 IEMs (on Amazon for under $8 shipped) and found it to be worthy of “Giant Killer” level. Now, I got my hands on their new flagship model which again pushes the Giant Killer envelope, even at $199. MEEaudio named their new model “Pinnacle 1”, so let’s take a closer look to find out if they were able to reach the pinnacle level with their new P1 release.

    Unboxing.

    Starting with an outside sleeve, you are greeted with a glossy high def image of P1 that visually pops out of the cover. While taking a tour around the box to read the back and the sides, you can find a lot of interesting details about the design, the spec, and the included accessories. I personally enjoy analyzing the packaging while reminiscing a good old brick’n’mortar days when we were able to walk down the isle of a local electronics store, pick up a box, and indulge ourselves in reading about the product. But words are just words, so off goes the sleeve to reveal a gift-box quality storage box.

    After a brief moment while looking at the split in the middle of the top cover, I opened the box by flipping both sides up – quite an original cover design which I haven’t seen before. With the cover sides up, you’re greeted with a view of a beautiful leather case, a pair of P1 shells above it in a foam cutout, and two neatly stacked boxes below it with a proper labeling of the content. Even before starting to analyze the ergonomics of the shell design, I was still analyzing the ergonomics of the box by itself with a small pocket for 1/4” adapter underneath of the main foam insert and another indented opening for user manual under the leather case, and both accessory boxes. I often mention about the rewarding nature of unboxing experience, and here it was definitely worthy of the flagship status.

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    Accessories.

    Starting with eartips, you get a neat plastic tray with every tip in its own individual storage pocket. A total of 6 silicone eartip pairs were included: 3 pairs of S/M/L with a traditional single flange semi-springy cap, 2 pairs of M/L double flange, and a pair of M triple-flange tips. Also, included were 3 pairs of S/M/L genuine Comply foam tips, as well as 1/4” adapter and a smart shirt clip where one of the handles had a cleverly designed spring-loaded hook to attach to the cable. Not that you have to worry about microphonics, but considering you are dealing with a premium multi-conductor twisted cable – this was a nice custom accessory like I haven’t seen before.

    But my favorite accessory has to be a leather case with a magnetic flip cover. Everything about this case screams premium, from a quality of the leather to a neat stitching, from a polished metal tab with Pinnacle name and engraved serial number to a soft felt roomy interior to accommodate P1 with its thick cable. The size of the case was just perfect, not too big or too small, and the shape was slick and comfortable to slide in your pocket.

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    Cables.

    It's very rare to see a premium cable included with stock accessories. The reason is very simple – it adds to the cost. P1 was designed with a removable cable using industry standard mmcx connector, and it would have been enough to include just a basic audio cable and maybe a smart cable with in-line remote, leaving it up to a user to upgrade later. I have no idea how they managed to pull this off with $199 price tag, but they did include a nice 4-conductor copper headset cable with in-line remote and mic AND a premium silver plated pure copper audio cable.

    Headset cable is soft with a black shielding, a solid L-shaped molded headphone jack, a molded durable y-splitter, even a cable cinch despite in-line remote on the right side, and a durable universal in-line remote with mic and a single multi-function button for Play/Pause/Call and multi-press for track skip (I confirmed double click to skip next with my Note 4). Each wire connected to mmcx connector housing is twisted (two separate isolated conductors), and the connector housing itself has a nice rubbery grip and a proper “hard to see” labeling with ID bump on the right side. Y-splitter doesn’t combine L/R ground wires and continuous twisted with 4 separate isolated conductors down to a headphone jack.

    The silver-plated wire looks pure class. Featuring the same L-shaped 90deg jack, which btw in both cases has a slimmed down collar to work with heavy duty smartphone cases, and the same rubbery molded y-splitter which just passes a pair of conductors from each side and continuous twisted with all 4 isolated conductors down to headphone jack. You get a nice easy to slide cable cinch, and a solid rubbery grip mmcx connector housing with a proper L/R side labeling and ID bump on the right side. I did say “proper” labeling, but it wasn’t easy to read, thus I do appreciate the bump to feel the right cable connector, on both audio and headset cables.

    Labeling of the cable connector is very important here. The ergonomics of the design was crafted to accommodate either wire-up or wire down fitment of these IEMs. While in so many cases we try to adapt to wearing non-symmetric IEMs with wire down where shells are angled and sticking out of your ears, here MEEaudio intentionally designed the shape to work both ways. Since cable is detachable, you just unplug and swap the shells while keeping the same L/R orientation of the cable. That is also a reason why the shells don’t have any L/R marking on them, to eliminate confusion if you are going to swap them.

    The design of the cables, both the shielding material and the way how cables are twisted, yielded a microphonics free experience. But if you want to, you can always use the included smart clip which fits the cable snuggly. I also really like how the color of the audio cable had a matching color tone to go along with P1 shells. Furthermore, I took advantage of mmcx connector removable functionality to test P1 with my other pure silver and silver-plated cables – none of which yielded any significant improvement over the stock silver-plated cable. I’m a cable believer for sure, but in this case I found myself a little bit biased because I really liked the feel, the look, and the sound improvement of this cable - noticeable when you compare it to the other included headset copper cable.

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    #1 twister6, Jan 23, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016

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  2. twister6

    twister6 Android Expert
    Thread Starter

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    Fitment (wire up/down).

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    Design.

    The housing of P1 shell is die-cast from a solid zinc alloy material with a hand polished surface and a clear coat finish. With a weight of about 6g including eartip, they feel like solid nuggets in your hand when you first pick them up, but the weight disappears when you put them in your ears. I think a lot of it has to do with ergonomics of the design and distribution of the weight. The shell has a classic bean shape outline with nice design details, kind of reminding me of a golf club head. Worn with wire up, P1 goes flush in my ear to the point where I can put my head down comfortably on the pillow and fall asleep wearing them. But as I mentioned before, if you flip L/R sides – you can also wear them comfortably wire down where it doesn’t look or feel out of place. Furthermore, nozzle appears to be stainless steel and notched at the tip to keep eartips from sliding off.

    For a more secure fitment and a better sound isolation, I recommend a wire up fitment, especially when you are in the middle of your active lifestyle routine. But for a quick listening session where you get constantly interrupted and have to remove earpieces – wire down could be a lifesaver! Also for those who switch between glasses and contact lenses, you have an option to switch the fitment. The passive noise isolation is very good, even with silicone eartips, and it scales up when using Comply foam tips. The venting pinhole is strategically positioned facing in on the angled side of the shell, so it’s not obstructed, and at the same time doesn’t leak sound or introduces outside noise.

    When it comes to the internal design of the shell, MEEaudio sound engineers came up with a proprietary sound chamber and damping scheme that uses a patented acoustic diffuser to shape the sound. I would recommend visiting their website (http://www.meeaudio.com/pinnacle) to read more details with picture illustrations. Personally, I found it fascinating because we are talking about higher impedance (50 ohm), lower sensitivity (93dB), 10mm SINGLE dynamic driver which thanks to this clever engineering was tuned to perform at its full wide bandwidth potential with a performance typical of multi-driver IEMs.

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    Sound Analysis.

    It has been awhile since I had the opportunity to test and to review a purebred dynamic driver IEM without any BA sidekicks. Because of that, I forgot how much change a dynamic driver can undergo during the burn in. P1 will need at least 50hrs of burn in for lows and highs to settle in before you get to its true color. While I was going through burn in, I went back'n'forth between silicone and foam tips because at first they sounded a bit warm, then brighter, and finally cooked to perfection where I went back to large pair of silicone tips that works the best for me. To get a better idea of tonality and soundstage expansion, I used a few of my favorite summit-if DAPs, such as PAW Gold, FiiO X7, and L&P L5 Pro.

    I found P1 overall tonality to be neutral with a noticeable tilt toward the brighter side of a balanced signature. The sound is dynamic, with excellent resolution and transparency, and good layering and separation of instruments and vocals. Paired up with neutral-bright sources, the retrieval of details gets closer to micro-detail level without being too harsh or analytical, while with more neutral-warmish sources – sound was smoother yet still very detailed.

    One thing that impressed me right from the start was a soundstage expansion which I found to punch way above the average in all 3 directions of width/depth/height. Of course, this is true as long as you are not limited by your source where you can’t expect your smartphone or a budget DAP to yield the same results as some more advance reference quality DAPs. But one thing for sure, P1 is not going to be a limiting factor in that equation. Along with impressive staging, I found imaging to have a holographic quality 3D placement of instruments/vocals with a convincing positioning.

    In more details, starting with low end, you get a nice extension down to a smooth sub-bass layer where the emphasis is more on quality rather than quantity. You can still hear the presence of sub-bass, but more on a lower slightly rolled off level, just enough to build a foundation under the mid-bass which has an articulate punch. At the same time in tracks where the song calls for more sub-bass, I was surprised how P1 responded with extra rumble. It's not quite BA-driver fast, but definitely faster than average dynamic driver and also with a smooth analog feeling. Bass is well controlled, not even a hint of spilling into lower mids or adding muddiness.

    Lower mids have a good balanced body which gives sound a more natural feeling. Going into upper mids you are faced with a resolving and detailed sound which can reach micro-detail level, but doesn't sound too bright or sibilant. The performance of male and female vocals is excellent where you can hear every little nuance without going into analytical level of detail retrieval. P1 especially shines with instrumental vocal tracks.

    Treble is extended, bright, crisp, with a great definition and delicate airiness that adds expanded dimension to a sound. I usually don't get much into analyzing high frequencies or instruments that take advantage of it, but I couldn't stop admiring resonating details of cymbal crashes and snare hit. At the same time, P1 is not forgiving when it comes to a poorly recorded tracks with brighter upper mids/treble content. P1 is not going to mask or smooth out anything, but rather transparently point out all the faults especially in high frequencies.

    Those who want more bass or prefer a smooth warm organic sound with rolled off treble might not be entirely satisfied with P1, but for others who are craving a revealing detailed sound enjoyable during extended non-fatigue listening sessions - this is a golden gem!

    Comparison to other IEMs.

    It gets very interesting when you start comparing P1 to other headphones, since all the previous typical dynamic driver expectations are out of the window. After listening to P1 exclusively for the entire week, I was no longer able to box my listening opinion into one particular headphone category since they came close to matching various headphones from single dynamic driver to multi-BA drivers and even hybrids.

    - P1 vs DN2kJ - very similar low end where P1 has slightly better sub-bass extension while DN has a little faster mid-bass punch; P1 lower mids have more body and upper mids are more balanced and a little smoother. DN upper mids are more up front, brighter, and a little harsher. DN treble is a touch more crispy but otherwise very similar to P1. P1 is an excellent alternative for those who enjoy revealing detailed signature of DN2kJ but want a more balanced smoother sound with more body and without compromising retrieval of details. The soundstage was similar, though P1 is a touch wider.

    - P1 vs RE600 – Right away you can hear RE soundstage being narrower and with less depth, also with a warmer smoother sound, less transparency, and a little flatter in comparison where P1 sounds more dynamic. RE upper mids are smoother, treble is not as extended and not as bright, and mid-bass speed is a little slower. RE takes a little step back from P1 in a more neutral, warmer, smoother, and less revealing direction.

    - P1 vs Savant – Savant has a more intimate soundstage (narrower and closer), similar sub-bass extension though Savant is a little more articulate in that area. Also Savant has a little faster mid-bass punch and overall tighter low end – typical of BA performance; very similar lower mids, while upper mids in Savant are a little smoother and warmer; upper treble is what sets them really apart where P1 is brighter and splashier while Savant is smooth and rolled off. But overall, I couldn’t help but notice how close these sound throughout low end and mids.

    - P1 vs DITA – I don’t have IE800, but DITA is the next iconic single dynamic driver wide-bandwidth IEM which begs to be compared to P1. Unfortunately, I updated The Answer with a replacement gold-plated silver cable which changed the sound signature, making it bassy. As a result DITA’s sub-bass and mid-bass are tilting the balance, sounds warmer, but the speed is similar in comparison. When it comes to mids, they sound very similar, but P1 treble is brighter and a little splashier in comparison. With soundstage, DITA has the same depth and height, while width is a little narrower.

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    I already mentioned that a sound signature of the source will have a noticeable effect on P1 sound since Pinnacle doesn’t mask anything. This makes P1 a great pair of IEMs for critical listening. Also, slightly higher impedance (50 ohm) reassures that you don’t have to worry about background hissing and you are still in a friendly zone with portable mobile or less powerful sources. But you do have to realize that lower sensitivity will require pushing your volume higher to get to a more comfortable listening level.

    Here is a brief rundown of how well P1 paired-up with some of my sources.

    PAW Gold - very transparent and detailed sound, excellent extension of the low end and the top end, yielding the widest staging in comparison to all of my other sources.

    X7 – it has a little less low end impact (softer in comparison), but the same top end extension; very transparent and detailed with a wide staging.

    L5 Pro - transparent and detailed, a little more body in lower end, and the best sub-bass extension and texture, a little smoother top end, and wide staging.

    X5ii – still transparent and detailed but not exactly on the same level as other summit-fi daps (but close), fast mid-bass speed, revealing bright top, though a little smoother then X7, and a nice above the average staging.

    X3ii – still with plenty of details but less transparent, overall smoother/warmer, and also narrower staging.

    DX80 – holographic 3D staging, detailed, a bit less transparent, excellent extension of low/top end, and overall smooth sound.

    Galaxy Note 4 - smooth detailed sound, average soundstage (limited by HO of N4), less transparency. Due to higher impedance and lower sensitivity I had to push the volume closer to the max.

    Galaxy Note 4 + Oppo HA-2 - had to switch HA-2 to high gain while pushing the volume to the max. Surprisingly didn’t find this pair up any better than Note 4 by itself.

    Thankpad laptop – probably my worst audio source straight out of the motherboard HO where a sound is smooth and warm, but loses a lot of details. This is another example of how well P1 tracks the sound of the original source.

    Conclusion.

    In my opinion, MEEaudio completed their design mission with a success, and definitely have a flagship product worthy of Pinnacle name. They didn’t just push the envelope of the price to deliver a premium pair of headphones for under $200, but also pushed the envelope of a single dynamic driver performance. If you are looking for a sound with more bass or craving a more sterile analytical revealing performance, P1 might not satisfy you. The same if you are used to dealing with forgiving headphones, relying on them to mask poorly recorded tracks, especially with harsh upper frequencies. But if you are looking for a neutral-bright tonality, a balanced sound signature, a natural revealing sound, and an expanded 3D soundstage – P1 will be a pinnacle of your search. Adding to that a solid build with zinc alloy material, unique design with either over ear or down wire fitment, variety of quality eartips, premium leather case, two sets of removable cables including one with headset control and another with a premium silver-plated wire, and 2 year warranty - $199 price tag is a bargain, and in comparison to other headphones MEEaudio added another Giant Killer to their product portfolio.
     
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