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The Pinnacle P1 headphones achieve audiophile quality for $199

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pinnacle p1 earphones Vlad Savov

2016 has been a remarkable year in the world of headphones. The very high end has been shaken up by Focal and MrSpeakers, each setting new benchmarks for dynamic sound that’s enjoyable for both discerning perfectionists and casual listeners. Then, in the more affordable realm, the second edition of the $299 Beoplay H6 grabbed the crown for being the best portable over-the-ear headphones. And on a personal note, I discovered the headphone world’s best-kept secret in the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore.

Spoiled for high-quality choice in this way, I thought it’d be nearly impossible to get me excited about a new set of headphones before the year’s end, but Mee Audio has come out of nowhere and accomplished that task. This is a company that’s more practiced in doing sports and wireless headphones than high-fidelity stuff, but it set itself the immodest goal of delivering audiophile-pleasing performance at the attainable $199 price point, and I have to say it has succeeded with aplomb. The Mee Audio Pinnacle P1s live up to their lofty name.

pinnacle p1 earphones Vlad Savov

Like the $249 RHA T20is — which I still hold in high regard — the P1s come enclosed in a thick metal shell that makes them feel super sturdy and durable. If you drop them, you’re more likely to do damage to the surface they land on than their zinc alloy housing. Another similarity to the T20is is the over-the-ear routing of the P1s’ wires — Mee claims you can also wear them with the cable hanging down, but I’ve tried that and it’s just not comfortable enough with heavier earphones of this kind.

The P1s come with two cables in the box, both using a standard MMCX connection. The black one includes an in-line mic and a single-button remote control, while the gray one contains silver-plated, 99.99 percent pure copper "for use with high-end audio systems." All I can do is shrug a big shrug of indifference at the supposedly premium cable — I spotted no difference in sound quality, even when I had these headphones hooked up to a Chord Mojo and the Rupert Neve precision headphone amplifier. In any case, it’s great to have a backup cable on hand, and the two that are provided with the P1s are both ridiculously thick and rugged. Many will rightly consider their extra rigidity and weight downsides, but I actually rather like having a stiffer cable. It means I can walk out on a windy day without having to deal with the microphonics of my headphone cable being whipped up by the wind.

pinnacle p1 earphones Vlad Savov

The fit of the Pinnacle P1s is excellent. They come with six sets of silicone eartips and three sets of Comply foam tips. To get the best attenuation of external noise and the purest sound, you’ll want to use the Comply stuff, but I’ve been favoring the basic silicone tips because they’re quicker and easier to use. With the wire wound behind my ear, each P1 ear bud nestles neatly into position and causes me no discomfort at all. I’ve worn these for hours at a time while listening to music and podcasts, and I’ve never felt any fatigue from wearing them. Over the three months I’ve had the P1s, I’ve also made plentiful use of the in-line mic for phone and conference calls, and it’s worked perfectly well. Everything here just works.

pinnacle p1 earphones Vlad Savov

I wouldn’t be writing this review if the P1s didn’t sound good, but before I get to their audio quality, it’s important to make another note about their performance. These are high-impedance (50 Ohms), relatively low-sensitivity headphones, which means you’ll need a pretty beefy source to power them with. An iPhone 6S Plus or iPhone 7 (yes, with that aggravating dongle) can just about feed them at max volume, but many other smartphones struggle. The OnePlus 3, for example, isn’t powerful enough without the help of an extra amplifier like the AudioQuest DragonFly. Your best bet is to either go for an audio-centric phone like the HTC 10 or LG V20, or to indeed grab a DragonFly and start living the dongle life. I’ve been using a DragonFly to soup up my mobile audio for a few months now, both on iOS and Android, and I can heartily recommend it.

Once you’ve got yourself a good source of music and the right-fitting eartips, the Pinnacle P1s grant you entry to a great exhibition of balanced, coherent sound. A big part of why I don’t ever feel fatigued by them is their tonal balance. Bass is present and full, with none of the artificial boost or bloat that can make it grow tiresome over time. I’d say the fullness and depth of the bass are in fact the key strengths of these headphones. The P1s extend deep down to the lowest notes, and they are articulate enough to convey various tonalities within the bass region.

The P1s’ mids and treble can feel a bit thin and unrefined by comparison to its bass. They lack the microscopic resolution of something like the Noble Audio Katana or Etymotic ER4SR. But then both of those sets are more expensive, so that’s to be expected. Where the Pinnacle P1s can hang with the big boys is in their soundstage and spatial imaging. They have an uncanny ability to separate out the various parts of a recording and arrange them into a three-dimensional mesh around my head. Instead of congealing everything into a single ball of sound, they expand and open up the music so that it encircles the listener. Good stuff.

You have to love the headphones industry because of the ample opportunity it provides for newcomers to shine. No one can waltz into the smartphone world and suddenly be the best at mobile photography. Building a world-class laptop, tablet, or smartwatch is a similarly complicated affair and unlikely feat, but perfecting a crisp-sounding, comfortably fitting pair of headphones is actually an attainable goal. I like the Pinnacle P1s an awful lot, and the dearth of things I have to complain about speaks to their thoughtful design and creation. If they carried a more familiar brand like Bang & Olufsen or Bowers & Wilkins, we might be asking why they don’t cost more than their $199 sticker. Mee Audio is a company that hasn’t done premium audio before, which makes the quality of its first attempt highly commendable.