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Review: Pioneer SE-DIR1000C Dolby Headphones

post #1 of 238
Thread Starter 
Equipment used:

Pioneer SE-DIR1000C Surround Processor/Wireless Phones
Philips 963SA DVD Player
Pioneer CLD450 Laserdisc Player
Senn HD600 Headphones (stock cable)
Corda HA-2 Headphone Amp
AR Digital Optical Cables


Video Material Used:

DVD:
Close Encounters OT3K- DD 5.1 /DTS (Chapter 5-Close encounter: 1st Kind)
Signs-DD 5.1 (Chapter 17-Its happening)
Gladiator-DTS (Chapter 1-Far From Home, Chapter 15-Battle of Carthage)
Saving Private Ryan-DTS (Chapter 2-Omaha Beach, Chapter 3-Rallying)
Swordfish-DD 5.1 (Chapter 2-Explosively Wrong Move)
Band of Brothers-DD 5.1 (Episode 2 Day of Days/Chapter 5-Disabling German Interference)
Bruce Springsteen & the ESB Live in NYC- DD 5.1 (Chapter 6 Mansion on the Hill)

Laserdisc:
Terminator 2-Dolby Pro Logic 2 (Chapter 19-Canal Chase & Chapter 20-Time Out)
The Power of One-Dolby Pro Logic 2 (Side 3/Chapter 2-The answer in nature)
The Empire Strikes Back-Definitive Collection Dolby Pro Logic 2 (Chapters 19-23 Imperial Walker attack & Chapters 28-30-An asteroid field to cave refuge)
X-Files Fight the Future-Dolby Pro Logic 2 (Chapter 5-an explosion in Dallas)

Let me first say that this is the first headphone review I have ever done. Although I have been a home theater and music fan for many years, I was only introduced to Head-Fi about a month ago. We all know what happened then...

This review will focus primarily on the Pioneer SE-DIR1000C Surround Processor and the included wireless headphones. However, I will also include observations made listening to film material via my Sennheiser HD600 cans plugged directly into the Pioneer processor unit. I also listened to the 14 test scenes with my Senns plugged into a Corda HA-2 headphone amp that was fed by the headphone jack on the Pioneer processor.

I won't get into the science of how the Dolby Headphone process works. That is explained much better by the folks who invented it:

http://www.dolby.com/dolbyheadphone/

I will let you know that I have fallen in love with Dolby Headphone processing over the past two weeks. In anticipation of receiving the Pioneers, I installed Dolby Headphone on my laptop and watched a number of films with my Senns & Porta Pros plugged into my computer's headphone jack. The 10 or so hours I spent auditioning the technology really paid off and by the time my Pioneers arrived, my brain was tuned into the Dolby Headphone processing. I found myself wanting to watch an entire film on my laptop-not a normal viewing experience for me.

My Pioneers were shipped quickly and professionally double-box packed from Audio Cubes. When first opening the box I was happy to find that the wire headphone hanger is removable (it comes unattached) and that the base unit can also be placed horizontally by moving the attached pedestal. An optical cable is also included in the box.

The cans themselves were a surprise as well. I was not prepared for how big they are. With their large brushed aluminum cups and battery and volume pods running up the sides of the headband, they look and feel more like a machine than a set of headphones.

The robotic look is further enhanced by double tubular frames that the band, pods and cups are held together with. The double "tubes" end in two pivot sockets on each ear cup. Can you say "I, Robot"? When placing them on my head I am reminded of those scenes in sci-fi films where our hero gets fitted with the dreaded brain transfer machine. Not that this is a bad thing

The foam pads are thick and covered in a black jersey material. When I place them on, my ear fits entirely inside the pad with my ear touching the cloth that covers the drivers. This may bother some. I got used to it in about 5 minutes.

What is a little more bothersome is the weight that is added by the "pods"on either side of the headband. The band itself does not have a strong clamp on my head to begin with, so the cans have a tendency to feel as if they may come off if I move too suddenly. Sitting relatively still while watching and they are just fine. I had an FM7 Walkman headset in the early 80s that was constructed like this with heavy pods on the sides. It gave me the same feeling.

Setting up the unit is a breeze. The instruction book is in Japanese, but the illustrations are simple and setup is intuitive. First, I removed the pedestal from the base unit and reattached it to the side so I could position the processor horizontally alongside my headphone amp in my stack. Audio Cubes included a free voltage converter so I plugged it into my power strip, plugged the Pioneer's wall wart into it and then into the base unit. The cans are charged by another cable that runs from the unit to one side of the phones. There are two audio inputs on the back of the processor. One analog RCA set and one optical digital. I connected the optical out and analog pre-out from my receiver to these. 10 hours of charging time later I was ready to roll.

The first night I watched the entire Bruce Springsteen Live in NYC DVD. I had only intended to watch a couple of cuts, but it sounded so good to me that I ended up watching the entire two hours. Using the Pioneer headphones to watch the concert really drew me into it in a way I have not experienced before. At first I was trying to notice the processing and was observing the various directions of sound cues. But somewhere around three songs in, the headphones disappeared. I have always enjoyed this DVD but this time I really had the feeling of being at the show. Even stronger than when listening through my 5.1 speaker setup. It was similar to when I heard music through good cans for the first time. I was having a much more emotional reaction to the material because it seemed more alive and real. I have tried watching concerts and films listening through unprocessed stereo phones and the spatial gap between what I am seeing and what I am hearing is always too obvious for me to enjoy the experience. Dolby Headphone really does work. At least for me it does.

I gave my ears a 10 hour rest then brewed some coffee and started the show. I used the DH 2 setting for all the test scenes. According to the Dolby website, this is supposed to simulate watching a film in "a more acoustically live (or "wet") room particularly suited to music listening, but also great for movies" I used it because it seemed to be the "medium" processing setting.

I listened to all the test scenes at a comfortable volume that seemed to approximate what I would hear in a movie theater.

The headphones themselves have a bright character to them. Sounds and music seem very active. It is a clear and crisp sound, but not hard on my ears at all.

The sound field is large and seems to extend out from my head and well into the room. If I were to draw an imaginary sphere diagramming the sound area around my head, the front wall of the sphere would be about a foot in front of me with the circle extending several feet to my sides and several feet behind. There are times when a sound cue will seem to be coming from outside the perceived area as well. In the X-Files movie, the police sirens arriving at the explosion scene seemed to be coming from outside my apartment three floors below. In Signs, the sounds the alien is making upstairs seemed to be coming from the floor above me.

Directionality is superb for the side and rear sound cues. They are focused and specific.
Pans seem to go from one side of my living room to the other. Side to rear pans are dead on as well. There is one complicated set of sound cues in Band of Brothers where one military vehicle travels onscreen from upper left to lower right followed by another vehicle traveling from upper right to lower left. The "X" of sound was executed flawlessly.

I want to stress that it does indeed seem to be a 3D sphere of sound. And not just a circle. Side sounds seem to come from higher or lower as well as side-rear sounds. There are levels that my brain perceives.

For sounds that are supposed to be placed at the center and front sides of the screen, there is not as much focus. The forward sounds and actor's voices seem to be placed somewhere between my cheekbones and my eyes and a bit forward. When I watch the film, and focus on the actor speaking my brain seems to be able to make the leap and fill in that 5 foot gap to my television screen. After awhile, I am not even aware of the distance, but my brain did require burn-in time.

Because Pioneer just released an Xbox version of this set with a Bass Boost feature, I was concerned that I might feel the bass was lacking in this model. Film buffs know how important a strong bass soundtrack can be, particularly in action scenes.

I am happy to report that the 1000s sound pretty nice in the bass department. There is no headphone that will be able to simulate the growling, pant-leg flapping, heart popping slam of a good home theater subwoofer, but the Pioneers do just fine on the lows. In scenes like Roy Neary's UFO encounter at the railroad tracks in Close Encounters, the lows gave me a slight physical sensation that seems to be humming through my jawbone and down into my shoulders. Other bass heavy scenes like the T2 canal chase and Omaha Beach scenes in Saving Private Ryan also were rendered realistically.

One of the things I enjoy most about Dolby Headphone is what I like about headphone listening in general-the ability to hear the tiny details in the sound. I can hear all the various layers in the soundtrack-the music tracks, the sound effects cues, the actor's voices all with great clarity. There appears to be air around each sound making it easy to hear individually, if that makes sense.

An observation: The cups move freely up and down on metal pivots that are attached to the headband tubes. Well...this does aid in the comfort level of the phones, but every once in a while if I move my head side to side, I hear a metalic "pinging" sound from the metal on metal pivots. This is only once in while and it does not spoil my listening experience, but it is unwelcome. I notice it if I adjust the cans on my head during listening as well.

It's a minor observation, but since we are talking about sound here....I felt the need to mention it as it may be bothersome to some folks.


In my tests, I played each scene three times in a row. First, with the unit as is with the supplied wireless cans. Then with the Senn 600s plugged directly into the processor's headphone jack. Finally, I played each scene using the Corda HA-2 between the Pioneer processor and the Senn 600s.

The sound through the Senns connected to the Pioneer processor is really good even without additional amplification. My first impression was that is sounded smoother and duller than the Pioneers, then I realized it was actually a more cohesive sound. Not as spread out as the Pioneer sound field, but still very present with a realistic simulation of space.

The Senns are even more realistic in the details department. The "pings" of the bullet casings in Saving Private Ryan sound like the real deal bouncing at my feet. There is a scene in Band of Brothers where Easy Company is crossing a garden away from the camera. A wind picks up starting behind the viewer and travels forward through the garden rustling dry plants. It is a very effective sound cue listening with the Pioneers. With the Senns, the breeze seemed to come from behind and pass right through me. The hairs on my arm stood up and I almost felt a chill. Similar with the opening wheat field scene in Gladiator. I could almost feel the wheat rubbing against me as Maximus walks through the field, touching the tops of the stalks.

Overall, the Senns provide a tighter and warmer sounding soundstage with more detail. The bass is also improved, with a more musical sound to it. This musical feel carries over to the middle range as well. The top is clear and crisp but never harsh.

Listening to the same scenes using the Corda amp
kept all the good things that the Senns brought to the sound and added more space. The tightening of the sound field seems to open up with the addition of the HA-2. The opening of Swordfish is very complicated with an explosion happening in a 360 degree camera pan. It is a monstrous tapestry of sounds. Explosion noise, car crunching, metal squealing, blast wind and the sound of the ball bearings in the bomb. The Pioneers and Senns alone presented a slightly muddy picture. With the addition of the amp, there is a clearer placement of the sounds in space. The ball bearings can be heard as separate sounds pinging about. Very nice. Where the additional amp really shined was the Battle of Carthage scene in Gladiator. It opened the whole scene up and the sense of place in the Coliseum is very strong.

Does the use of the Senn 600s nor Corda HA-2 amp improve on the placement of the front sound cues? No, not to my ears. But the added realism and detail can only help to allow your brain to make the space perception leap.

Why get Dolby Headphone? I got mine because I love movies and live in a NY apartment. I won't play my system after 9 in respect of my neighbors. For me, this is perfect-I can watch my movies in full glorious Dolby Digital surround till midnight and not bother a soul. They are also lots of fun as it turns out

If you have a computer with Win DVD installed..you can enjoy Dolby Headphone without buying a processor. Just make sure your version has DH or download the plug-in from the Win DVD site. If you have $4000 you can buy the new Denon AVR 5803 A/V Receiver..it has Dolby Headphone built in. Or, if you have very limited film tastes, you can watch Pearl Harbor over and over. So far, this is the only film title to come with a Dolby Headphone track encoded on it. The Dolby website lists other products and soft wear that utilizes DH as well. Like any new technology, it will probably find its way into more affordable receivers as well as time goes by.

If anybody is still reading this, I apologize for the length. As I said, this is my first review and I wanted to cover as many bases as I could.

UPDATE 9/11/03:

Just an update on my review of the supplied headphones with the unit.

I should have guessed that like any other headphones, these would benefit with burn-in. Well, I now use them 100% of the time with my DIR1000 and that is daily.

They have improved to the point where I prefer them over my CD3000s for film viewing. The effect of "being in a movie theater" is more palpable than with the other cans.


John







post #2 of 238
That was pretty long and I tried to read as much of it as I could. Here are some questions for ya:

How does it compare to true 5.1 (5 speakers and sub)
Can you use other headphones with it?
How much is that?
post #3 of 238
Awesome review, J. Totally worth the read. Lots of good, meaningful information.

My curiosity is totally piqued. I would love a chance to hear a system like that. Any place you know have demo units setup? Do any processor units have dual HF-outs for those times when you want to share?
post #4 of 238
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by jpelg
Awesome review, J. Totally worth the read. Lots of good, meaningful information.

My curiosity is totally piqued. I would love a chance to hear a system like that. Any place you know have demo units setup? Do any processor units have dual HF-outs for those times when you want to share?
Glad you enjoyed it-thanks for the thumbs up.

I think I read somewhere that one of the trade shows had these set up with several video game consoles. Because it is only available in Japan right now, I doubt audio/video stores here in the US would have them for demo.

The two processing units Pioneer has out right now only have the one headphone out. But two folks could listen with one using the wireless cans and another using a corded set of phones to the jack. Pioneer also sells additional headsets. I imagine a splitter could be rigged for the headphone jack as well.
post #5 of 238
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by OriginalReaper
That was pretty long and I tried to read as much of it as I could. Here are some questions for ya:

How does it compare to true 5.1 (5 speakers and sub)
Can you use other headphones with it?
How much is that?
It's very different than my 5.1 speaker setup. It is more intimate and involving. My speaker setup has more definate front positioned sound cues thanks to the center speaker above my display.

Yes, my corded Senns sound great with it. I would imagine different headphones would bring with them their specific qualities.

Audio Cubes has it for $409 plus shipping.
post #6 of 238
Any idea how the Pioneer processor/headphones compare to the Sony packages? It seems like the Sony's are really open, like the MDR-F1's, whereas the Pioneers appear of a more closed design. Why'd you go Pioneer instead?
post #7 of 238
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by jpelg
Any idea how the Pioneer processor/headphones compare to the Sony packages? It seems like the Sony's are really open, like the MDR-F1's, whereas the Pioneers appear of a more closed design. Why'd you go Pioneer instead?
I went with the Pioneer because they use the Dolby Headphone processing and I liked how it sounded when I tried it on the laptop with Win DVD.

I thought about the Sonys, but they use a different processing method and I did not have anywhere to try that type of surround processing.

The Pioneers are actually open as well...the cups have lots of perforations on them and I can hear everything in my room perfectly along with the film sound.
post #8 of 238
Waitaminute... so the reciever doesn't have a line out with which to connect to a headphone amp?
post #9 of 238
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by Gluegun
Waitaminute... so the reciever doesn't have a line out with which to connect to a headphone amp?
The unit is actually a decoder/transmitter. There is no line out. Just RCA analog and optical digital inputs for the sources. The "line out" is either the IR transmission to the included wireless headset or through the headphone jack.

John
post #10 of 238
I'll get one this summer. I'll probably get the XBox one for the extra Bass. It's only $20 more, and I'll have too much "What-If" syndrome if I don't get it. It'll come just in time for Halo2.
post #11 of 238
Hi John,

Thanks for the great reivew.

I have been thinking about getting this dolby headphone. After reading your review, I'm convinced that I'd like to buy a pair to try it myself!

post #12 of 238
Thanks for the first rate review, JMedeiros! This is exactly the kind of information I've been looking for regarding this unit. I'll order one immediately.
post #13 of 238
first interesting non-Beyer/AT-thread in a while. THANKS!!
post #14 of 238
Quote:
Originally posted by Spad
Thanks for the first rate review, JMedeiros! This is exactly the kind of information I've been looking for regarding this unit. I'll order one immediately.
Hi Spad,

Please let us know what you think of it after you get yours!

I'm going to buy it next month while I'm travelling in Japan. It'd be nice to hear more opinions before buying.

Thanks!
post #15 of 238
Excellent, thorough review, John....thank you!
The only time I heard Dolby headphone was at the NYC Stereophile show, with some huge-ass Grados. They sounded incredible, but were never produced due to, according to John Grado, the failure of Dolby headphones to take-off as he had anticipated.

This review is headed for the Full-Featured Section!
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