Introduction to the Sineaptic SE-1 review
The SE-1 is clearly Sineaptic’s main focus, as it’s the only thing that’s showcased on their Instagram, as well as their webpage. Coincidentally, it is the first time I have come in contact with a device designed by Sineaptic, and throughout my encounter with the SE-1, I have been surprised more than once, and said surprises were varying in nature.
The first one came when I unboxed the thing – the box in which those headphones come in is of gargantuan proportions compared to the headphones themselves. When receiving the package from my courier, I thought to myself – I do not recall ordering a microwave oven. The package was at least four times as large as the box you may know from Hifiman Susvara or HE1000SE – truly a behemoth. All of that is for a good reason, however, as it’s the first sign of Sineaptic’s desire for innovation.
The second surprise was the sound signature. It’s quite evident that beyond the nuances of ribbon drivers, unique packaging, and innovation-oriented philosophy, reviewed Sineaptic SE-1 is also a unique product in terms of sound. I had no idea what to expect from those, and still, they managed to catch me off guard and surprise me. Both in an enjoyable, and not-so-enjoyable way, but I’ll explain that further down the review – this is a trailer of the tale of the third surprise.
Packaging of the tested Sineaptic SE-1
Inside the Sineaptic SE-1’s box is a hard pouch for your headphones in black, containing the paperwork, a dual USB type C cable, intended for charging the device, and another 3,5mm-3,5mm jack cable (three whole meters!) in case you prefer to use your SE-1’s in wired mode. All of this plus your headphones. Nothing more and nothing less than you need, which is perfectly welcome, especially if we’re talking about orienting the 200 USD budget towards the sound quality, and not necessarily towards fancy accessories.
The funny thing though, is the fact that the pouch is suspended in the air by four huge rubber bands attached to the pouch’s corners, reminiscent of Joerg Sprave’s most devious slingshot-like inventions. Sineaptic calls this technology AirGuard, and its purpose is to protect the delicate ribbon driver from any turbulence that may occur during shipping. Unfortunately, it’s a single-use solution, as the pouch is fastened to the rubber straps with zip ties, which you have to cut to detach the pouch from the rest of the contraption. Unless there are some more zip ties in your house, I don’t know. Nevertheless, I have to admit, it’s a pretty ingenious solution if you don’t mind the package’s size. Pause…
Build Quality, Tech, and Comfort
The build quality of the reviewed Sineaptic SE-1 is quite good, especially keeping in mind that we are dealing with a headphone intended for use purely indoors, as their delicate, open-back nature suggests. They are made entirely of plastic and the construction is lightweight, so if you want to jack up that neck strength before your next boxing title defense, this may not be for you. Those play music first and foremost. Check in on Audeze though.
The construction of those is in a way reminiscent of headphones akin to the Audiotechnica R70X, where instead of a full-size headband, there are two “wings” with smaller pads on them, that come in contact with the top of your head. It’s an interesting and ultimately comfortable way to handle the matter, however, the plastic from which those wings are made isn’t very elastic, which in conjunction with my big head makes for a just-right fit. Big-headed users, beware! The earpads are quite similar to what you may know from the HiFiMAN Sundara – a leather-like outer part, with fabric lining on the inside. I like that! If slight pressure on the top of your head is not an issue, the Sineaptic SE-1 may seem like it’s not on your head at all.
Tech is by far the most interesting aspect of the reviewed Sineaptic SE-1. When it comes to ribbon drivers in headphones, there are few and far between, especially if you compare the numbers to planar magnetic drivers or even electrostatic offerings. Here, not only do we have ribbon drivers inside wireless headphones, but we also have amplification modules tuned specifically for use with such drivers. Pair all of that with Bluetooth 5.2 and 13 hours of battery life, as claimed by Sineaptic, and it comes across as one of the most interesting releases of 2023. There is one caveat though – allow me to testify.
Realizing that the Sineaptic SE-1s need to be fully charged to work when plugged via the 3.5mm cable hasn’t been the most glorious revelation I’ve come to experience in this life. I’m not a big fan of having to worry about the battery level of my headphones even when I won’t be making use of their wireless functionality. That being said, none of that is without a good reason – being fully charged is simply a requirement posed by the unique amplification solution showcased in the Sineaptics. Thankfully, the charging process is quite fast, as it doesn’t take much longer than an iPhone to reach 100%. That’s a pretty significant upside, and to some extent, alleviates the issue.
Apart from that, tested Sineaptic SE-1 is a pleasant device for daily use – it connects to your wireless device instantly, with no unpleasant artifacts like an unstable Bluetooth connection. The controls are simple and the buttons are laid out in a way that makes it easy to discern which ones are for volume, and which ones you would use to turn the device on. Combined with the aforementioned ergonomics, this turns out to be a very pleasant and accessible pair of headphones for daily use at home – I find myself coming back to those quite often, with ergonomics and ease of use being some of the reasons why.
How does the reviewed Sineaptic SE-1 sound?
The surprises don’t end there, god forbid! Tested Sineaptic SE-1 sports a sound signature that stands out with its amazing technical performance, and that in general is what I would consider to be the pair’s biggest strength. Most people think of inventions such as Sony’s XM5 or AirPods Max when thinking of Bluetooth over ears, and the SE-1 is the polar opposite to those sonically, making technical performance its priority.
Other aspects of the sounds are no slouch either, but whether you like or love these will most likely be up to what kind of a sound signature you may be looking for – if you’re into a more lean, analytic yet spacious kind of sound, those will surely be up your alley. Thankfully, despite their penchant for detail retrieval, the Sineaptic SE-1 doesn’t make badly mixed tracks sound like a bunch of razors shoved down one’s ear. I take it as Sineaptic’s love letter to accessibility, which is impressive given the innovative solutions at hand. Let’s take a look.
The bass here has its strengths and shortcomings. The strengths include speed, cleanliness, texture, and extension – this kind of performance easily punches way above the 200 USD price point. If you’re into music with more complicated drum sequences, or, like yours truly, you are a fan of black metal, the speed and tightness of the bass will make sure you’re able to appreciate each drum hit separately, with each note having a distinct attack and decay, even if the hits reach incredible speeds and high variety, as it is often the case with my favorite BM band – Mgła. Check out “Exercises in Futility” if you haven’t yet, and don’t worry about the bass leaking anywhere.
The shortcoming within reviewed Sineaptic SE-1’s bass presentation, to my ears, is the quantity of bass – those sound a bit too lean to me. However, once again, your opinion may vary – less bass means more controlled and balanced impacts in bass-heavy tracks (as was the case with Key Glock), but is also damning for more bass-lean releases, like blues or classical, where there’s simply not enough punch and tactility. Nevertheless, I feel positive about the bass in the SE-1 – the technical performance in the lower registries is hard to match, even for more expensive headphone offerings, and is a welcome nuance in the wireless over-ear market.
The midrange’s greatest strength is its detail and clarity. Reviewed Sineaptic SE-1s carry a huge amount of information in the midrange, which is especially evident in vocals-focused recordings. Many of my friends enjoy using Amber Rubarth’s Sessions from the 17th Ward as a reference for testing qualities like soundstage, air, and imaging, but personally, I am also a fan of how Amber’s voice was presented. The Sineaptic squeezes out a lot from Amber’s vocals, revealing information and details one wouldn’t expect from a product at this price range. All of that complements the satisfyingly realistic and quite natural presentation of music, which is a recipe for analytic listening without fatigue involved.
The midrange is not perfect though. Akin to the bass, I would’ve loved to see more warmth and tactility in the mix, because while female vocals and higher-pitched instruments benefit from this kind of presentation, male vocals suffer from a shortage of punch, power, and tangible texture. Lovers of a more cold, analytic, and reserved midrange presentation will love the tested Sineaptic SE-1, as it carries some benefits as well – such mids make way for the best-in-class air and imaging qualities because the Sineaptic SE-1 is not one to lack control. Every facet of the sound is presented in a tidy and concise way, though I wish the clinic was a bit warmer.
The upper registries are where the reviewed Sineaptic SE-1 impresses the most, showing off its feathers each time the detail carried by the ribbon drivers is maximized. The headphones strike a perfect balance between elite technical performance and the pleasure of listening – I have yet to encounter a track or even a single instrumental passage where the treble would get too hot or sibilant. Instead, the treble impresses with its dynamics, allowing violins to shine with all their might, as executed on “A Victory of Love” from one of the best pop albums of the 80s – Alphaville’s “Forever Young”.
Amidst the liveliness and magical sparkle, there is one little caveat to the treble – in some vocal performances, the consonants “s” and “t” sometimes come off as slightly metallic, in consequence making certain voices sound slightly artificial. That, however, is a nuance – observed only in a handful of occurrences throughout hours of listening. Apart from that, it’s hard to point out anything wrong with the treble’s presentation. Reviewed Sineaptic SE-1 is simply a great performer in that regard, with clarity and air being off the charts, no ifs, buts, and maybes. You’d have to spend a significant buck to obtain comparable performance.
Tested Sineaptic SE-1’s staging abilities are cut from the same cloth as the treble – the execution is nearly flawless, and it would be difficult for me to pinpoint the exact price point of the headphones at hand had I been doing a blind test. However, my guess would surely not be 200 USD. The soundstage is quite massive, giving some midrange planar magnetics a run for their money. Wow, I never thought I would say that about a wireless over-ear, yet here we are, and I’m dead serious – live performances involving orchestras seem to be exactly what Sineaptic SE-1 was made for.
Reproducing the feeling of a grand concert hall coupled with realistic and precise imaging is an easy way to impress the listener, and the price point makes an even greater impression on said listener’s wallet. Another great aspect of the soundstage when it comes to the Sineaptic SE-1 is its three-dimensionality. The headphones reproduce depth and scale with ease, making for a well-put-together and clean presentation, even when things get complicated and a lot starts happening at once in the music piece. This lends itself to some impressive realism as well – the overall staging ability is almost like a party trick at this price point.
Well, this one gets quite tricky, as I don’t feel comfortable making direct comparisons with any other headphones in the market, be it wireless or wired, open or closed-back. The reason is simple – reviewed Sineaptic SE-1 is a unique product, unlike anything else you and I have seen in the past when looking out for new headphone gear to be released, with its one-of-a-kind technological advancements carrying their own compromises.
That being said, reviewing this product instilled hope in me, that the idea of ribbon drivers being used in wireless headphones will become more and more popular – I love to see innovation taking place, and the SE-1 has the “i-word” written all over it. While no direct comparison is made in this review, I will gladly take a shot at reviewing further products involving similar technology, and when that happens, you can bet your last freedom buck that the SE-1 will be there to serve as a benchmark.
Sineaptic SE-1 Review – Summary
Tested Sineaptic SE-1 shocks, surprises, and impresses all at once even before you’re done with your first hour of listening. While not without certain compromises or issues that require ironing out sooner rather than later, the SE-1 aims to impress, and when it does, it does so with flying colors. I can say with a clear conscience that the level of technical performance in those is unlike anything I’ve heard at the price point at which Sineaptic operates, all of it coupled with great comfort and ease of use.
Speaking of compromises, one of the things that impresses me the most is the innovation and courage that some manufacturers display when making new products. This is an aspect of Sineaptic SE-1 that won me over – it’s an interesting invention with a very impressive sound signature, and the level of craziness involved in designing this product is worth the compromises made along the way – after all, I’ve caught myself forgetting that I’m writing about a 200 USD product more than once.
If you’re someone who appreciates expansive staging and precision written with a huge P, as well as good detail retrieval, all packed into a comfortable and lightweight headphone, those may be right up your alley. Have I mentioned they’re 200 bucks?
Big thanks to Ari for providing the SE-1 for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion.