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Pioneer SE-MJ591 Stereo Headphones Review

by May 20, 2012
Pioneer SE-MJ591 Stereo Headphones

Pioneer SE-MJ591 Stereo Headphones

  • Product Name: SE-MJ591 Stereo Headphones
  • Manufacturer: Pioneer
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStar
  • Review Date: May 20, 2012 17:55
  • MSRP: $ 299.99
  • Newly designed 40mm drivers featuring aerospace-grade plastics for undistorted, powerful bass reproduction
  • High-quality Aluminum diaphragm for natural-non fatiguing high frequencies
  • Aluminum alloy components ensure durability and provide high-quality aesthetics
Cord 1.2 m (Detachable)
Driver 40 mm
Frequency 5 - 40,000Hz
Impedance 32 ohms
Max Power 1,000 mW
Sensitivity 108 dB


  • Sound quality
  • Removable cord
  • Transportable (folds)
  • Sturdy Case
  • High build quality


  • Comfort
  • Cord may be proprietary, limiting functionality


SE-MJ591 First Impressions and Build Quality

SE-MJ591_boxI have to admit, when I saw the press release pictures and even the image on the (rather large) box, I thought I was in for some over-the-ear headphones. Even now, I look at those images and the Pioneer SE-MJ591 headphones look like they should be larger. But they are on-ear. This isn't a knock against the headphones, I was just surprised.

Pioneer markets the SE-MJ591 headphones as "Top of the Line Audio Headphones." That's a lot to live up to. Pioneer has put all of their 50 years of headphone construction into the SE-MJ591s so, truthfully, I was very excited when I was told I'd be reviewing these. Pioneer is a great brand with a proven record though, honestly, I've really had more experience with their A/V receiver offerings.

In The Box

The Pioneer SE-MJ591 headphones came with a carrying case, a removable cord, the instruction manual, and the headphones. The carrying case is probably the nicest I've seen and features a hard, padded exterior with modeled spots for the headphones and a channel around the outside for the detachable cable. There is more than enough room here for a longer cable. The outside of the case has a small, mesh pocket. This carrying case is, without a doubt, the nicest I've seen with a set of headphones.


The headphones fold back on themselves so that they are just about as compact as they could be for easy storage and transport. While still large enough that you'll have to thing about where you are going to pack them (should fit in your laptop case somewhere), the protection of the case is formidable. While they couldn't take being run over by a car, if you dared me to throw the case, with the headphones inside, out the window of a speeding vehicle, I would do so without hesitation. This is serious protection.

The only thing missing was an adapter for a 1/4" plug. Every high-end set of headphones I've owned has come with an adapter. There is room in the box for an adapter; heck it would give that pocket on the side something to do (I really can't think of what I'd put in there that couldn't be put in the case). Perhaps Pioneer believes that their buyers will provide their own.


The included detachable cable is a bit shorter than I'm used to at 1.2 meters (the standard is 1.3 meters which means you lose about four inches). Of course, the joy of a removable cord is that you can replace it with something else. The only problem with this is that the end of the plug that goes into the headphone needs to be very thin as the plug is recessed. The other end of the cord has a more standard sized plug and it wouldn't fit. I'm not sure if this will mean you'll have to buy longer cords through Pioneer (I couldn't find any on their website) or if you'll be relegated to extension cables (a solution that audiophiles might resist given their aversion to adding any additional connections to their gear).

Build Quality

SE-MJ591_leftAs you might expect with a $300 pair of headphones, the Pioneer SE-MJ591 headphones have impeccable build quality. There are brushed aluminum panels on the outside of the headband with a rubber-lined section at the top for comfort. The ear pads are extremely soft to the touch and the entire unit feels well made and solid. There is a honeycomb plastic cage over the top of the drivers with a thin mesh fabric over the top. The back of the earpieces are constructed out of stiff plastic and metal. There are R/L markings on the headband as well as a red accent on the right earpiece. There is nothing about the construction of the Pioneer SE-MJ591 that doesn't scream "quality".

The rotation of the ear pads is extremely smooth. The band can expand to fit your head though it is a be stiff. I think this is a great choice as you are certain, not only that the headband will not move during use, but also that it will fit perfectly each time you put it on.


The Pioneer SE-MJ591 feature a closed-back design. This will reduce not only the amount of noise coming in but the amount coming out. From a purely noise isolation standpoint (something that Pioneer doesn't claim the SE-MJ591s do), they perform about the same as my Denon AH-D1000 over-ear headphones but not as well as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50S. Of course, they don't compete at all with the Sonomax PSC-250s which are sculpted earbuds. But, again, they aren't trying to. All in all, if you are looking to block out the outside world with these headphones, you better be prepared to turn up the volume as the design isn't going to do it for you.

SE-MJ591 Sound Quality and Comfort

SE-MJ591_caseBefore I go any further, let me say that the Pioneer SE-MJ591 headphones are, without a doubt, the best headphones I've ever experienced. Bar none. The Pioneer SE-MJ591 headphones feature a 40mm (1.5") aluminum driver. They have an impedance of 32 ohms and sensitivity of 108 with a frequency response spec'ed from 5Hz to 40kHz. I tested the SE-MJ591s with the Rives Audio Test CD 2 and found that, of the spectrum that I could test/hear, the Pioneer's sounded very smooth and clear. Nothing seemed out of whack or even a little askew. The bass wasn't the strongest but it was there. If you are looking for headphones that thump, these aren't them.

One thing you'll find with all high-end speakers, particularly headphones, is that they will reveal things that you never noticed before. Like how bad your MP3s sound. That's right, 128-bit compression might be fine for your car but it is not going to sound great in your SE-MJ591 headphones. All the clipping, all the harshness, all the distortion will be evident. But these are headphones designed for audiophiles. They aren't going to have compressed audio (I know I don't...mostly).


Pioneer markets their SE-MJ591 headphones for critical listening and I wholeheartedly agree. These are headphones that will show you all the flaws in your music. You'll find yourself reevaluating your music collection. If you are like me, you'll go to your music app and put together specific playlists just for your SE-MJ591 headphones. Because not all of it will sound as good as you remember. These headphones are revealing and unforgiving.

But when they are paired with a well-recorded track, you are going to find yourself wanting to just listen. When I first started my tests with the Pioneer SE-MJ591, I actually stopped what I was doing and paused the playback. I said to myself (out loud, mind you), "I've never heard that before!"

I know, it is trite and a stereotype in audio reviews to say that you heard something that you never heard before, but stick with me.

It was a recording with a pan and I had never noticed the pan before. So I jumped up and grabbed both of my reference headphones (Denon AH-D1000 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50S) to compare. Sure enough, the pan was there but it was much less noticeable. Switching back to the Pioneer headphones showed just how much more clear and distinct the pan (and many other things) in the recording were. I heard much more than I did with any other listening device. Part of it was that I was paying attention but, more importantly, the SE-MJ591 had much more depth than I was used to.

This leads me to my favorite thing about the Pioneer SE-MJ591s - the imaging. I've sat in a room with a couple of $20k a pair electrostatic speakers pointed right at me. It is an experience I'll never forget. This sort of speaker can make it sound like the music is coming from inside your head. While the Pioneer SE-MJ591s don't recreate that experience, they come as close as I've heard. The imaging on these headphones are as good as I've heard from any set of headphones or speakers outside of electrostats. Everything about the sound quality of the SE-MJ591s is absolutely top notch.


And here we come to one of the two most important factors when considering headphones. Along with sound quality, comfort is important for whether or not you'll use and enjoy your headphones. And here is where the Pioneer SE-MJ591s fell down for me. I've owned every type of headphone from over-ear to on-ear to in-ear. Each have their advantages and disadvantages and I really don't care which option a manufacturer goes with.


What is important is that they are comfortable.

SE-MJ591_onThe Pioneer SE-MJ591 just weren't for me. The ear pads were soft to the touch but the entire headphone, when place on my head, pressed a bit too hard. The padding on the top of the band (the part that would rest against the top of your head) was hard to the touch and even harder when I was wearing them. I could extend the band so that the pressure was taken off the top of my head which made it better but then the headphones felt less secure.

The real problem for me was the pressure on the ear. Even though the ear pads were soft, the pressure on my ears was so strong that it caused discomfort immediately and pain after any sort of extended listening session (I couldn't make it through an entire album without taking a break). I don't believe I have an overly large head (ego notwithstanding) so I don't think that was the problem. It may also be that, within time, they will loosen up. But in the few weeks I've tested them, they haven't. At least not appreciably. For a new buyer, I would highly recommend you try them on first.

Pioneer SE-MJ591 Conclusion

The Pioneer SE-MJ591 Stereo Headphones are, hands down, the best sounding earphones I've ever had the pleasure of testing. The imaging is phenomenal and rivals my experiences with $20k a pair electrostatic speakers. The sound quality is rich and vibrant and, if you are anything like me, you'll start rediscovering your music collection. They are designed for both critical listening and portability making them perfect for multiple applications. While they'll reveal all the flaws in your poorly recorded/encoded music, they'll also reveal all the beauty in high-quality recordings. I didn't find them very comfortable to wear, though you may feel differently. At $300, these aren't inexpensive headphones but, if you care about sound quality, you'll likely feel it is money well spent. While I had to bump the value rating down because of their comfort, if you like the fit, you'll likely find these to be a "five out of five" pair of headphones.

Pioneer SE-MJ591 Stereo Headphones

MSRP: 299.99



The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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