Today we are mixing things up here with the first bluetooth (BT) review since we have been under the inearspace.com domain. Why’s that? Well for the most part I am an audiophile purist and we like things sounding perfect and for the most part, a cable helps that happen. Fortunately I am also a tech geek and love things that show how the world is advancing. I think all the streaming stuff is cool and I like what is being able to happen over thin air. Josh on the other hand has never been as easily sold and he will be using a standard wired system to the day he dies. That being said we can’t move away from the fact the most BT cans suck, I remember the first Parrot Zik launch and how it could do all sorts of neat things with gestures on the cup, then I heard it, errghh, I wasn’t having none of it. The Logitech UE9000 was the first wireless headphone that began to change my mind, maybe there was potential to be had after all. That being said the market seemed to slow down and I couldn’t care for things like Beat by Dre’s and Bose’s latest offerings. Then I started to see some buzz coming from this company called Pendulumic, a new name born from Singapore that seemed to be driven by the idea of an audiophile quality bluetooth can. That was enough to whip up some interest from me but as always, we have heard these sort of claims before. It was only after meeting the owner Chris Chia on his visit to London with Uncle Wilson of Jaben that I got first hand experience with them and based off that I knew that these were to be my next review session with a BT can.
Taking a Stance
A first product for a company is often a big deal, it sets the tone for their future, builds a following and really shows what they are capable of and planning. By no means it should be perfect but what it does really will impact their future, or even cause a lack of one. Technically this is their second product but is more so just a revised version of the S1, showing how willing they are to respond to criticism. I think this is a great way to start things off. The price is modest at £169.95, not unusual for this sort of product but at the same time I respect them for starting with something more affordable than coming out with a £1000 BT headphone and justifying the value with the audiophile tag, hey certainly down the line I am open to this sort of thing happening and maybe Pendulumic will be the guys to deliver, but I don’t think that would have been the way to start. While of course the S1+ is going to be showing a lot of what it is made of in terms of sonic ability, being a wireless headphone the feature set is also going to be vital. Now from my smaller experience in this field of headphones, Pendulumic having seemingly done a great job of combining all the necessary standard features and added some cool things of their own.
Now if you’re buying a bluetooth headphone than by all means you must be planning on using it in that way but worth noting is that this comes with 4 usability modes and this certainly something adds a lot of options on how to use this, although, not brand new as the UE9000 had these same modes. To understand the modes you have to realise how a BT headphone works. As BT is a digital signal, the headphone itself must be equipped with a DAC and headphone amplifier to decode the 0 and 1s it receives through the air and so that the driver knows to play music. This come into play because as well as wireless mode, which I am sure you can guess what that entails, you have two types of wired modes. The first is reference and that is for you folks who probably already have a snazzy portable rig and are down with the idea of using your portable amp with these headphones for maximum sound quality, perhaps you even want to use them wireless on the go and plug them into the big rig when home. It also does not involve using any battery. Then you have amplified mode. If you were to plug into a weaker phone or something not designed for maximum audio playback, then you can use the S1+’s internal amp section to beef up the sound. Of course this does involve getting the batteries involved. Lastly you have phone mode that utilises the volume knob/button to control a phone call through the headphone and its built in mic. The included cable also has a remote/mic. I found the wired amp mode and wireless mode to sound almost discernible.
Talking of battery life and this implements a really cool system. For the most part you will be using the internal LI-ION battery that will deliver a whopping 18 (roughly) hours of use but say you haven’t hard time to get them back to a micro-USB cable (likely the same as your smartphone) to charge (I always have), then you can remove the back of the headphone and insert two AAA batteries for around another 12 hours of use. What more can I say than genius. They aren’t forcing you to use batteries but thats one hell of a good back up should you need it.
For the actual wireless function of the headphone it seems to be pretty good. It supports the latest standards of BT such as 4.0 and of course has the APT-X add on with its much lower distortion and FLAC ability. Range seems fine, not that you will ever be too far away from your source in most uses, I did leave my phone on charge at my desk and go up to my room maybe 10m away and only got a couple of glitches at the furthest point of my travels. That was with a lot of barriers as well. One of my biggest turn offs with BT has always been just how annoying and painful pairing two devices is, thankfully while I did have to reset the bluetooth on my phone about 4 times before the initial pairing, now my Oneplus One auto pairs with the Stance, giving me quick access to the headphones.
Jack of Cases
Accessories do the trick everything you could need. You get an airplane and 1/4 inch adapter for further versatility and then you get a nice sized hard case. The headphones fold down flat inside for a smaller profile case and inside you have a velcro pouch for anything you may want to carry with you on the go such as the jacks or more importantly the cable. You know in case you do all 30 of them hours this is packing! The case is not the most flash, or using any luxury materials but seems functional, even with a carbine clip on the outside if you want to have this dangling from your rucksack, I wouldn’t personally, but you never know.
The cable is covered in fabric and feels strong. I am a fan of the right angled jack it has on one end for with play back devices and the straight jack to go into the headphones.
A Retro Vibe
I always got that retro feel from looking at these, maybe you don’t but they certainly aren’t something as bright and futuristic as the UE9000 or modern and artisan as the Zik. Regardless of what you think the design cues are, these certainly have their own distinct feel to them, they aren’t a Beats wannabe or anything of the like, they are Pendulumic from the ground up and I like that. I must say while they look great to me (a black version could go a long way though) , when you actually get hands on with them there is a lot of plastic and that certainly is a gripe to me. All the on cup switches just don’t have a great feel to them and even though the use of plastic probably helps weight a fair bit, it just takes a bit of the class away. Yes I forced myself to remember the price and when you pack so much into a product, maybe using better materials would have forced them to have to rethink the price. Even though it is also plastic I love the feel of the little analogue pot on the back of the right cup. It is easily accessible, has a nice click to each step of volume attenuated and doubles up as a control with a click giving you a pause and so on, you know how these remote buttons work. It is the easiest control method I have ever tried on these type of headphones. Even though plastic certainly is the main used material they have dedicated some metal into the design, probably where the design team decided it was most vital, such as on the headband and the yokes. So while there is plastic, I have to agree they have safe proofed the areas most likely to fail, making these pretty solid still.
Looking at the headband a bit closer and it is a hybrid of a suspension band like you see on some AKGs and my ZMF Blackwood and also the classic pull mechanism to extend the headband. It makes for something completely customisable and rather comfy. The suspension headbands are always very nice as they don’t put much pressure on your head without having to make it too padded. I have to say all in all the headphones are super comfy and with them also being wireless they make for a very forgiving experience, no wires coming down, light headband and clamping force along with soft and pressure less pads. Its a good combo. I know the pads were something they changed going into this new + model and they do the trick for me. They are big enough to engulf my ears completely, are super soft and have a roomy feel inside. I don’t find my ears getting sweaty or stuffy, thats good.
Maybe due to the lack of pressure on your ears, these do lack a little in isolation and like my UE9000s, they leak a fair amount as well, so if your someone who is self conscious about the guy next to you on the bus, maybe that could be a concern, personally, I don’t care and will go back to listening to my music… maybe even turn it up a notch for good measure!
Can Wireless Sound Good?
Up to this point the unit has been fairly solid, not perfect and as I have pointed out here and there things could see slight improvements while not being game changing anyhow. That being said just from usability and features I am pretty convinced on this being a decent BT headphone. Of course though I could not care regardless if it can’t sound good and lets face it this is the big limiter for this breed of headphones. Even though I had briefly heard this when I met up with the owner, I was still dubious on how it would deal with a more detailed inspection, would it stand the test of time?
Well lets just say I am as impressed to this day as I was the first ever listen in a hotel just off Russel Square. I think they picked a spot on sound signature and I think its technicalities really do the headphone justice. This is all while listening to the headphone in full bluetooth mode, using the in built amp and DAC. Tonally the S1 is very natural, with a hint of warmth and richness through the mids and lows that make it every so pleasant and easy to listen to. While its certainly not something that has any huge stand out areas through the frequency range, the technicalities of the headphone leave it something that always ends up being musical, engaging and it gets on with your music choice without much discrimination.
The bass is warm and a little soft and while the mid-bass is rounded and fairly confident. It doesn’t stand too forward and dominating and that is so vital to me. Even the UE9000s which I found good, were way to bassy and if you want to crack into this audiophile market, a too bassy can is a quick turn off for most of us, it just isn’t hifi enough. This is still pleasant and will keep a wide range of people happy with the quantity and the rich quality it has. That being said it is not the most outstanding bass mainly due to it lack a lot in the deep registers. It lacks the texture and rumble that presence under 100Hz gives and while above that you have decent body, this won’t do complete justice to electronica or house music, probably the genres this finds hardest. Even in the mid-bass it probably could hit a bit harder. Regardless of the roll off the bass is rendered very well and they have picked its position in the headphone so well to keep this headphone balanced and appealing to even the pickier of folk.
The midrange sticks with the bass well and just seems part of the music. It handles itself well and doesn’t lack body. The midrange goes through motions smoothly and clearly. This is one of the least problematic headphones I have listened too and while it doesn’t seem to be super in any area, I don’t know where in the midrange I would fault. The balance between upper and low mids is great, timbre is clean and it coheres great with the treble and bass respectively. Being so musical I find the midrange does a great job of drawing you in without any signs of being forward. Now when it comes to technicalities these do seem to lack clarity and are not the most vivid or dynamic, being a little on the soft and fluid side of things. Details as you may expect is also not the last word BUT not because this is a wireless headphone, just because thats what you should expect at this price range.
Like the bass I did find the treble to show a little bit of roll off as well but before that we get a very polite peak up at around 10kHz, giving a zip to the treble that would otherwise not be there. I certainly think the treble is the most unbalanced area of the sound though, with something around 5kHz feels a tad empty. I do think that as a trade off for that this headphone does without sibilance completely and the treble continues that smooth and not fatiguing sound of these headphones. They don’t rip recording apart, they are listenable for hours and most of all they are fun but not in the sense of bass over all else. They are by all means a good headphone, not a good wireless headphone but a good headphone, regardless of their one up when it comes to usability over all else. They don’t even feel claustrophobic sounding for a closed back, maybe the soundstage is better though because they don’t isolate so well. I am always impressed by its width, which is rare for me to say about a closed back!
Using these headphones with an AK380 via bluetooth is one thing but when you are using such a capable player, it would seem a shame not to plug in a reap all the benefits would be a shame. I went without the amp of the headphones and put this in the so called reference mode. The sound quality difference was certainly bigger than I though and even in tonality, not just in technicality. Now obviously these were now more refined and detailed, but I think that is more down to using a 3 grand player instead of the tiny in built DAC/amp combo of the headphones. The rest of it seems much more on purpose because the bass shrinks without the battery power and the mids, especially upper areas, come forward. The sound is leaner,more precise and clearly the more transparent and critical of the two. It well let you scale better with different equipment (it was not very efficient I must say) and will give you a more analytical sound with more treble energy with the wireless or amped mode were to musical and soft.
The ability for the headphone to change so dramatically was certainly very cool and unexpected. On top of that they actually fit their purposes well. For wireless all the time use I like the more easy going signature but if I want to plug into my dedicated gear, be it my desktop or portable system, I want the best transparency and technical ability, and thats what you get without the internal components involved.
A Great First (Mark 2) Offering
I am very pleased about Pendulumic’s existence, they have changed mine, Josh’s and I am sure many others perception of wireless cans and in doing so created a headphone with strong value and easy use. If you want a bluetooth headphone at this point in time this is the way to go and I am excited to see where these guys go in the future. I have already tried their upcoming more expensive on-ear, which was actually more v shaped than this when I tried but tuning was not final and beyond that we have a sports in ear (complete with multi drivers) that will of course also be wireless but thats a bit further off. I would love to see something a bit more expensive down the road. Maybe premium materials, closing in on flagship sound (if possible), and a bit more expensive, I think while this is impressive, that could be a revolution. For now though, they should certainly keep up what they are doing! There is no reason why this does not deserve our Good Buy award!