Affordable ribbon headphones? This is a first! Ribbon headphones are typically known for their high price tags and limited selection, but Sineaptic is shaking things up with a more affordable pair. You’ll find more ribbon-design tweeters within speakers than you will ribbon headphones overall. But Sineaptic is a company looking to draw a little more attention to the headphone type.
It is doing this by launching its SE-1 Wireless Ribbon Driver Headphones, aiming to be the world’s first “mass-produced” ribbon headphones. Allowing the company to lower the expected price of the headphones to just $200 and allowing the average consumer a chance to own a pair.
This model features array-based dual-diaphram ribbon speakers with an integrated amp to take them wireless. So although these can go wired, you can also take them mobile by pairing them to your favorite Bluetooth source.
In addition to this, there is is also a MEMS microphone built-in allowing you to make use of them if you decide to take or make a call from your mobile device. Which is, for me, another first. As I have never thought to myself that I would take a phone call with a pair of ribbon headphones (which are usually reserved for controlled listening room type scenarios only).
These headphones also take on a very unique design. Leaning into the double-headband approach that slides up and down to adjust to the size of one’s head. However, instead of a lower headband, it makes use of two seperate arms to achieve the same goal.
The outside of each muff feature an open-back design. So these too are designed for controlled listening spaces. So although they are wireless, you probably won’t be using them on the way to and from work on a bus (for one example). More for moving from one quiet room to another or simply enjoying them in a single controlled atmosphere without having to worry about wires.
The left side contains all of the controls, consolidated down to just three multi-functioning buttons. Including a power button that also controls play/pause and accepting/disconnecting calls, as well as two volume buttons that also control next/previous track selection (or switching between two active calls).
This is also where you’ll find a 3.5mm aux connection for going wired to source that doesn’t support Bluetooth and a USB-C connection for charging.
They come in a semi hardshell carrying case and the company also throws in a drawstring bag so you have a choice between the two. However, if I were to recommend anything, I would stick to the case for the best protection as these headphones aren’t going to be as rugged as your average dynamic-driven model.
Since these are designed to go wireless, I’ll start with that and then lead into the alternative after. That being said, these headphones can deliver up to 15 hours of listening and support Bluetooth 5.3 when used wirelessly, and offer the user a range between 15Hz to 20kHz.
These aren’t looking to take on the audiophile market. This is no surprise at this price and makes since when you put them on your head. They are designed to compete within the normal consumer market but using a rare/unique design.
When listening wirelessly and pairing to average MP3 or streaming formats, they actually perform the best (in my opinion). This is because they can easily be paired to more styles of music as it balances the range a bit. Even then, they are still ribbon headphones. They are similar to an audiophile pair of headphones where you find yourself looking for tracks to specifically match them to. Minus being an audiophile pair of headphones. However, they venture on the line of such when it comes to the details in the higher frequencies from time to time.
As for those frequencies, the highs are crisp and fun, yet sometimes slightly exhausting if the track relies too heavily on highs. Making them great for tracks with a lot of snare, brass, Spanish acoustic guitars, and certain vocals, as well as other variables that shine within these highs. The mids are present but just a little. I find that they are missing a bit of body. While the lows are absolutely there, but are never overwhelming.
We found a lot of tracks to pair them to wireless, like “Zilo – Keep Up Wimme”, “Bubba Sparxxx – Deliverance”, and “Conner Youngblood – The Warpath” to name a few. All of which sound decently good with these.
Then we switch over to wired use. At first, we attempted to pair them to a nice Astell & Kern DAP, which wasn’t really a good idea. Again, these aren’t audiophile and this forced them to work a little too hard on those highs. This is where we felt they became truly exhausting. So we backed down from that idea and paired them to a non-audiophile player that focuses on MP3s and streamed content (aka, my old smartphone that still has a 3.5mm port).
We found a long list of tracks we enjoyed listening to, but it did take some patience in pairing each one until we discovered those we liked best. To give an example of the SE-1’s strengths, I’ll list a few here:
- Future – Last Breath
- Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
- Jason Mraz – I’m Yours
- Daft Punk – Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
- Ariana Grande – God is a Woman
- Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia – A Friday Night in San Francisco
Really taking the final one into consideration as it sounded by far the best. Acoustic guitars are quite a lot of fun with these headphones. This is where those highs really came to life offering a fun listen and pushing us to find other tracks just like it.
Wired listening absolutely brought the best out of certain tracks, but we had to find them. Where Bluetooth listening allows a more balanced listening experience. Also, we found that there are some popping/static sounds when inserting or removing the 3.5mm cable as if the internal amps are hot at all times. This made us nervous to switch back and forth too many times for a given reason which I will cover in a second (just before I conclude the story).
Price point seems more than reasonable at $199.00 exactly (so they can say “costs less than $200). But when compared to the few ribbon options out there, it is a steal. As long as they last you a long time like any normal pair of headphones.
They are currently available from Sineaptic’s website and likely won’t appear in places like Amazon since they aren’t nearly as easy to manufacture. So although they are mass-produced in comparison to the few other options out there, they will only be available in limited quantities via the company’s website.
This is where I go into why we didn’t want to swap too many times between wired and wireless. There have been bumps in the road as the company seeks to make sure the headphones are delivered safely to customers.
For one, this is the first time anyone has tried to mass-produce ribbon headphones (as repeatedly mentioned above) and they are in their early release stages. It took us a few pairs before we were able to fully test them out with a consumer-ready release.
When it comes to shipping, ribbon headphones are clearly less durable than their dynamic counterparts (dynamic-drive headphones). So the company suspends the headphones in the box using bands on all four corners. They have a long distance to travel before they hit your doorstep and not all deliver companies or drivers can be trusted to “handle with care”. For example, the first unit we got in to test featured a box that was noticeably crippled during shipment.
So this helps to absorb most of the impacts the box may witness as it makes its way to the buyer. It can’t account for everything, but it at least helps.
As the company pushes forward, the manufacturing process should grow stronger and (hopefully) shipping experiences will be smoother with these companies.
These are by far the most affordable (the only affordable) pair of ribbon headphones out there. They offer a decent soundstage thanks to the open-back design and feature some really detailed highs. Great for MP3s and streamed music. The design features such a uniqueness to it and they are really comfortable/light on the head.
Those same highs can be a little too much at times given specific listening scenarios. Similar to the Tractrix horns found within Klipsch speakers. But again, this isn’t much of a issue if you keep it to normal MP3/streamed formats. The popping/static when inserting/removing the wired cable was a concern though and might be something to keep an eye on over time.
The scoring of this one was hard as we brought in some variables that aren’t always present. Like the uniqueness of being a pair of ribbon headphones while maintaining such a low price (for ribbon headphones). This helps bolster the score some since there isn’t really any competition (ribbon-wise).
It would be interesting to see where the company goes from here. If it will stay within the affordable consumer range or eventually venture into making audiophile solutions as it grows its reputation and technologies.
Are you a manufacturer or distributor that would like us to test something out for review? Contact us and we can let you know where to send the product and we will try it out.