Pioneer is no slouch when it comes to audio equipment. The firm is virtually synonymous with car audio whilst its mixers and CD decks are found in clubs the world over. I was excited, therefore, to be reviewing not one, but two sets of the company's newest and most high-end headphones.
We featured Pioneer's DJE-2000 and DJE-1500 ear-bud headphones for DJing earlier this year. The SE-CX8 earbud and SE-MX9 full-size headphones were announced shortly after that, at around a similar price point. The headphones retail for US$199.99 and US$299.99 respectively. As earbuds go, that puts them alongside the Shure SE315 and Sennheiser IE 80 offerings, whilst in the over-ear headphones market they line up against the Shure SH1440 and Sennheiser Momentum models.
Although Pioneer has a deservedly strong reputation where audio equipment is concerned, it's not really for its headphones. It actually scored very well in a recent FindTheBest headphone brand survey, but companies like Shure and Sennheiser are arguably just better recognized in the headphones market. This article looks at whether the Pioneer SE-CX8 earbuds and SE-MX9 full-size headphones are all they're cracked up to be in terms of design, specs and, of course, sound.
There's a chunkiness and a ruggedness about the CX8s that is noticeable the moment you unpack them. Coupled with being marketed as having a "superior club sound," there's little doubt that these are aimed at a young, electronic music-focused market. The thick rubber cable feels tough and unlikely to break, even at connection points.
The bits that feel like they might be most prone to being damaged are the headphone sections themselves. They're big and oddly shaped to fit all of the innards in, but feel a bit plasticy. I can't help but think that they could be snapped if kept loose in a bag. Fortunately, Pioneer provides a protective case with the CX8s, which itself is rather swish.
Despite their size, the CX8s don't feel too weighty when worn. The buds themselves are comfortable enough and have a reinforced central attachment that slots onto the headphone body. Perhaps my biggest qualm with these headphones is the plastic point that juts out of the casing and is meant to sit inside your ear and anchor the headphones in place. I'm not sure this is necessary, and found it to be awkward to get the headphones into the right position. I also found that the point would poke into my ear, and after a while would need adjusting or removing completely due to the discomfort.
The CX8s have a frequency response of 6 - 25,000 Hz, which is bigger than both of the Shure and Sennheiser models mentioned above. They also use a balanced armature driver unlike the usual dynamic drivers found in most headphones. This means they do not need an external air source to operate and can therefore be more finely tuned. The CX8s have an impedance of 20 ohms and a sensitivity of 101 dB/mW.
For all the engineering of the the CX8s, I can't help but feel that they lack a touch of balance. There's certainly a clarity about their sound, but it also seems very weighted towards the low-end. For headphones marketed around electronic and club music, this is understandable to some extent, if not entirely forgivable. At times the high-end feels a bit watered down, and the midrange of the vocals can be difficult to pick out. Nonetheless, the SE-CX8s are durable earbuds with a solid sound.
Unlike the CX8 earbuds, the SE-MX9 over-ear headphones could probably do with a bit more oomph. The high-end and midrange frequencies sound much better, it has to be said and, in fact, the overall sound is much crisper and cleaner. It's easier to pick out individual elements in a track and the balance feels much better. It does feel as though basslines and drumlines could be heavier and chunkier though.
The MX9s have a yawning frequency response of 6 - 40,000 Hz. That's far bigger than most headphones and far bigger than is probably required. Nonetheless, it does no harm. The headphones use 50 mm driver units and have a sensitivity of 106 dB/mW. Impedance is 32 ohms.
Like the CX8s, the MX9s come with a 1.2-m (3.9-ft) cable, which is thick and tough. They also come with a longer, non-tangle replacement cord. The cords can be easily swapped and can be plugged into either side of the headphones as required. The build of the headphones seems sturdy enough, although they do feel perhaps a touch plasticy. The extension and rotation aspects feel high-quality and strong. The material for the ear-pads feels pleasantly soft, too.
On the whole, Pioneer has put out two decent sets of headphones here. I can't help but feel like the balance was off slightly for both, but the sound was good all the same. I wouldn't part with my money for these without listening to some direct competitors, but they'd certainly be on the shortlist.
The SE-CX8 earbuds and SE-MX9 full-size headphones are available to buy at Pioneer stockists. To get more of a sense of what they have to offer, be sure to check out our photo gallery.
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