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Best SQ Clip-On Found: Pioneer SE-EX9 (?!)

post #1 of 56
Thread Starter 
Hi folks,

I held back from making this post for some time. I came across these Pioneer SE-EX9 clip-ons over Christmas whilst traveling. Much to my surprise, I could find next to no information about them online (except on Japanese websites) and nothing at all on head-fi(!). Since it was on special, I went ahead and picked them up for a gamble in the dark.

What made me do it? The big selling point is that these are the only clip-on earphones which feature 40mm drivers (typically only found on full-sized headphones).

And frankly, they looked the bee's knees:

They have cushion pads (come with a pair of spares actually) despite being more-than-semi-open. The clip pivots to an open or snap close position ala AT clip-ons:


Background:
(I find this important with online audio reviews. People online tend to spout things like fact: "it's warmer", "it's wider", "it's better", when so much of this is perception and dependent on how you hear and what your experiences and tastes are. Given my big claim in the topic title, I thought I'd put this upfront here so you can judge how much of my opinion matters to you).
  • I've always been on the lookout for good portable headphones that are easy to carry (small, fit in pockets) for day-to-day use.
  • I do not use canal/in-ear phones as I have sensitive ears and find pushing things into them unpleasant. I do recognize they sound great (and wish I could tolerate them) when I audition friends' UE SuperFi/TripleFi, Shures, etc. I also have a problem with the isolation and overall feeling of having fingers in your ears.
  • I have and used Koss KSC-35 (left channel broke) and KSC-75 for YEARS as my previous day-use favourites. Also the iGrado for awhile until I reverted back to the KSC-75 because it fit in my pockets and was more convenient.
  • I have listened to the Yuin G1 and G2. They were impressive for the price but not different enough from the KSC-75 to warrant purchasing IMO.
  • Other headphones I have and use regularly include Grado SR-60, Beyerdynamic DT-770 pro.
  • I love the Grado sound. If you don't, your tastes (and listening habits) are probably very different to mine.
  • Speakers I regularly listen to are B&W, Tannoy, and Mordaunt Short.
  • Music I listen to regularly would (for brevity sake) classify as rock, blues and jazz, with a deep penchant for the 60s and 70s (Blue Note/Rudy Van Gelder, Beatles, Neil Young, Dylan, Sinatra,...). Modern music tastes include Wilco (like I said, trying to be brief).
  • I'm a musician and record my own music.

Back to the headphones...
I've long decided that portable headphones are about compromises. And while I would love to wear my SR-60's all day, I simply omit to bring them out on short trips. The KSC-75 had a great sound for its size and though I tried others, I found myself usually returning to the KSC-75 for my daily routine, throughout the last 5 or so years.

That changed when I listened to the SE-EX9. It was abundantly clear how much I was missing with my KSC-75, even when I was just walking about town or sitting on a train. I used to figure that most of the details was drowned out by the fact that I was using semi-opens in noisy environments, but no, the 75's were simply scooped in comparison to these. The 40mm drivers really make a world of difference in the response that it is capable of.

I was never tempted to try Pioneer headphones previously and thought of them as perhaps more of a DJ brand. The shopkeeper insisted otherwise and that these were probably the most neutral/monitor-like 'phones on the portable market. I was dubious. But you know what? He's right.

Here's the KSC-75's response graph:


And here's the Pioneer SE-EX9's:


First, it's evident that the bass response is quite significant with the SE-EX9. Couple this with the tight-clip and the cushion pads and you really get a bass response that is akin to full sized closed headphones or even in-ear/canal phones. When I saw these graphs, I was worried they might be overwhelming, but those concerns were quickly laid to rest... they are not at all like that, but rather tight and fantastic. Kick drum details are resonant as is the room sound. It is really the natural sort of bass response I am more used to when monitoring than what I expect from consumer audio.

Second, the KSC-75's dip around 6k is really evident when put next to the SE-EX9. The details come up like a veil has been lifted (god forbid I use that age old audio cliche) but at the same time it doesn't have that harsh, somewhat fatiguing "please take the cymbals away from my ears" sound that the Koss exhibits on some material (likely due to the huge bump at around 8k). The SE-EX9's gentle bump towards 1k also brings out some fantastic guitar tones and really suit material recorded in the 70s, which feature both clarity and warmth at the same time (and often fantastic room sounds).

If it is not already evident from my emphasis on room sounds, the soundstage of these excel beyond any existing clip-ons. Sense of depth largely comes from higher frequencies so it is likely the larger drivers really helped in reproducing the details required for this factor.

Just for kicks, (and because I love the Grado sound) here's the SR-60's graph:


You can see that it much more resembles the SE-EX9's response than the KSC-75s. Some people (myself included) have previously said that the KSC's feature an in your face sound which is akin to the Grado family, and in some regards, yes (around 1k) but less in others (bass)... the graphs speak for themselves.

Of course, pictures and measurements only give you one aspect of the full story.

The excellent full-sized drivers, the tight fit, the fantastic build quality (easily the best of clip-on earphones I've seen) all add up to present the best sounding, musical, detailed and non-fatiguing audio I've heard from a clip-on/sub-sized headphone.

Downsides

While, I am quite content to give away the title of "Best Sound Quality for a Clip-on Earphone" to the SE-EX9, there are, unfortunately, shortcomings that hinder it from being best overall.

First, the ear pieces are heavy. The perception of this would likely vary depending on the strength of your ears, but to me, and coming from the feather-light KSC-75's, they were a strain. Whereas I could easily lay on my back with the 75's and feel no strain on my ears, with the SE-EX9, if I lay back, gravity starts dragging the pieces down and it's like having weights clipped onto your ears, pulling them down.

The difference in fact, is almost double with the KSC-75 at 33g and the SE-EX9 at 60g. Basically, there's probably a reason why 40mm drivers aren't often used for portable headphones.

Second, the clips are *tight*. It's excellent quality, and despite 4 months of heavy use, they have not worn out. I was really hoping to see whether my ears would get used to them (as with the KSC-35's which felt slightly awkward at first, but soon became second nature and I could hardly tell when I have them on or not). So far, no. While they are less tiring than the first month, I still feel the need to remove them after an hour or so.

Third, the fancy metal connector you see is a nice idea, but:
(1) It won't fit the headphone socket of your MP3 player's case if it has a tiny socket
(2) It is actually attached to only 0.6m cable.

They designed the cable so that you can attach it to your portable player's remote (like the Cowon's and the Sony's). But if you don't have this, then you use the supplied 1m extension cable.



Coming from my previous setup having no remote, to have this big heavy chrome connector+extension hanging from my head, it adds further weight to the ear pieces. Which means I have to hold onto it, or place it somewhere (in a shirt/jacket pocket). Every once in awhile it swings out and drags my ear pieces (and my ear) down.

Man, talk about coming down from a Trip.

Lastly, they leak as much as the KSC-75's did. Possibly a little less due to the cushion pads. But I was really hoping to find something that leaked less.

Conclusion

So I think it comes down to this. If you think your ears can handle 60g (30g each ear) tied to them (afterall, girls wear all sorts of crazy ear pieces regularly), then you can treat yourself to the best sound quality you can get for an earphone which can be tossed into your jacket pocket AND doesn't have to be shoved inside your ear canals.

Me, I continue to use mine every day. I'm far too attached to the sound, and find it hard to listen to my old KSC-75's now. I work my way around the less comfortable aspects. We'll see how it goes another 12 months down the road.

Hope you all get something out of that. If anybody else gets a chance to try these out, do drop a note here and share your thoughts.

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 56
That is very interesting. I am not a fan of clip-ons though. I rather use IEMs. But actually I prefer portable cans as well. The set I use that I can toss into my pocket is the Bose Triport OE. Yes! If you fold it up properly it fits into your pocket just like these do. Believe it or not.
post #3 of 56
Excellent and detailed write-up! Thanks for this. How much did you pay for them? Also, did you consider modding them? As in, removing the clips and attaching a headband?
post #4 of 56
Quite an old school looking clip-on, I like it.
post #5 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Negakinu View Post
Excellent and detailed write-up! Thanks for this. How much did you pay for them? Also, did you consider modding them? As in, removing the clips and attaching a headband?
I think that would defeat the purpose for him. He prefers it as clip on without the headband, from what I can tell.
post #6 of 56
I thought perhaps it would help with the whole gravity-yanking-his-ears-off-dilemma.
post #7 of 56
Thread Starter 
I paid about US$57 (at the current exchange rate). They should be pretty hard to find now because I think they're discontinued.

They were pretty much top of the portable line for Pioneer and originally retailed for 7143 JPY (US$76 at current exchange). It was released exclusively for the Japanese market. I think I saw some sites like YesAsia still stocking them a few months ago, but that seems to have changed.

Yes, indeed, replacing it with a handband would defeat the purpose of having it fit in my pockets and be readily available. This was the problem I had with other non-IEM portable headphones. I had an AKG K26P awhile ago and even that was too big (and the sound was also subpar).

It'd be interesting to know if this sound quality carries to some other Pioneer's larger headphones. But of course, with the larger size, I'm quite content with Grado and Beyers.

But for anyone out there looking for the most tricked up clip-on experience... they need to hunt down a pair of these
post #8 of 56
I like my KSC-35's/75s, but I've had some pretty painful step on the cord moments with them too. I dunno, these do look interesting, but also sort of...dangerous? Not that there would ever be any risk of any real damage, but I can't deny the song "Stuck in the Middle With You" comes readily to mind when thinking of snagging the cord with these on my ears.
post #9 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wrist-Fi View Post
I like my KSC-35's/75s, but I've had some pretty painful step on the cord moments with them too. I dunno, these do look interesting, but also sort of...dangerous? Not that there would ever be any risk of any real damage, but I can't deny the song "Stuck in the Middle With You" comes readily to mind when thinking of snagging the cord with these on my ears.
Clip offs....
post #10 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kees View Post
Clip offs....
post #11 of 56
Great review, thanks! Though 60g is really heavy, compared to the ATH-EW9 which are 30g and at the upper limit of what I'd call comfortable.
post #12 of 56
For around $60 they seem very interesting, but I was unable to find a single online retailer stocking them so unless a person was traveling and could buy them in Asia I think this one is in the novelty category.

Too bad you don't still have a Yuin G1A to listen to, I would have been very interested in a comparison between the two.
post #13 of 56
Thread Starter 
I remember and think of the Yuin's as being a variation or flavour of the KSC-35/75 sound. Ultimately they are using same size drivers, clipping mechanism and very similar casing. The Yuin G2A I remember as having, a slightly more prominent (or full) bass than the KSC-75, and a more refined treble. But the KSC-75 had more "energy" in some other aspects (like for guitars). Of course, this depends alot on what you listen to.

The SE-EX9 is a whole different beast simply by having 40mm drivers. The detail and range that it is physically capable of is just a different ballgame IMO. Couple that with a musical (but relatively neutral) signature and it's really amazing coming from clip-on's. I notice room detail on these that I normally hear sitting in front of studio monitor speakers at my mixing console. It's quite something to notice these sort of details, when you're casually sitting on a train with just your "walkabout" rig, on semi-opens no less, and with all the city sounds around you.

I regret not posting about these sooner when I noticed they were still available from YesAsia... I didn't think they would drop off the planet like this. Hopefully someone else can get them, I'd love to hear other opinions.
post #14 of 56
Besides being more capable all around in terms of detail and speed, the biggest difference the G2A presents from the Koss is, IMO at least, midrange response. The KSC75 has none, and the G2A almost has too much. The G1A on the other hand is a very mature and balanced sounding phone that I personally think is underrated. Most of the people who have tried them didn't amp them seriously if you ask me. They are probably a bit too polite in the treble for some people's tastes but it suits me perfectly. There is no denying the limits of a smaller driver though, as you note. Their dynamics and low end are limited by their physical design, though I think they do awfully well given those limitations especially when it comes to preserving dynamic range. The overall sound isn't "big" like a full size headphone is though and this only becomes obvious through a direct comparison.

These Pioneers seem like they have one foot in the fullsize circumaural headphone world which makes them interesting.
post #15 of 56
Whoa, sexy

I wonder if you could add a headband to these suckers to make them true portables? If they're that heavy it might be worth it.
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