Bob Barrett is a versatile writer and knowledgeable hi-fi enthusiast whose work for HomeTheaterReivew.com runs the gamut from mid- to high-end home theater to audiophile components and speakers. He also specializes in high-performance and high-end headphones.
MEE audio may not be a household brand to many readers of HomeTheaterReview.com, but with the introduction of the new Pinnacle P1 in-ear monitors ($199.99), they are a definitely a brand worthy of your attention. I was first introduced to MEE audio's Pinnacle P1 at the CES and NAMM shows by Marketing Director Mike Jones. I heard enough potential in those short demos to pique my interest, so I requested a sample for review purposes.
For a bit of background, MEE audio used to be named MEElectronics, best known for marketing value-priced sports IEMs, wireless Bluetooth headphones, and accessories to casual listeners and budget-minded music enthusiasts via the company's own website or Amazon. In mid-2015, the small team of audio enthusiasts that make up MEE audio decided that a company name change was in order to better reflect the current product lines. According to MEE audio, the company name stands for Music Enjoyment for Everyone. In recent years, the company has expanded its distribution channels to now include a few well-known brick-and-mortar retailers (i.e., Best Buy) in the U.S. and internationally.
The introduction of the Pinnacle P1 is MEE audio's first IEM designed specifically with audiophiles in mind. Mike shared with me that MEE audio spent two years designing, developing, and refining the Pinnacle P1. During the process, MEE audio gathered considerable feedback from customers to help inform the final tuning decisions for the Pinnacle P1. When Mike spoke about the Pinnacle P1, it was clear to me that this is the space where the company has a special passion.
After sliding off the outer sleeve, opening up the Pinnacle P1 box reminded me of opening up an Apple iPhone box. It's obvious that a lot of thought went into the user experience when designing the presentation case that holds the Pinnacle P1 and all of its accessories. The all-black box has a linen-like texture to it, signaling that what's inside is a serious piece of kit. Everything is compartmentalized and fitted precisely within in the box. It's definitely an artful, high-end fit and finish package for an IEM at this price point.
So, what comes in the box? To start with, you get a pair of hand-polished, die-cast zinc alloy Pinnacle P1 earpieces that look both indestructible and opulent at the same time. Obviously built to last, the Pinnacle P1 comes with a two-year warranty. Zinc alloy offers advantages over stainless steel (lighter weight) and aluminum (greater strength), two more commonly used metals in IEM manufacturing. Also included are a hard-sided, leather case with a magnetic closure, a silver-plated, braided high-fidelity stereo audio cable, and a headset cable with mic and in-line remote. Both cables are detachable, have universal MMCX connectors, and are 51 inches in length. Six sets of silicone eartips and three sets of Comply T-200 memory foam eartips are included. The numerous tip options should provide a comfortable fit choice for nearly any size ear canal. Rounding out the numerous accessories is a shirt clip, a gold-plated quarter-inch stereo adapter, and an instruction manual.
Nowadays it seems everyone is manufacturing in-ear headphones, so what makes the Pinnacle P1 unique? Well, for starters, the unique design of the earpieces combined with the swiveling MMCX cable connections enables the Pinnacle P1 to be worn equally comfortably whether in the traditional 'cable down' style or in the more secure 'cable up' musician style. And the detachable cable is a welcome feature that's not that common at this price point. In addition, the Pinnacle P1 employs a 10mm moving coil transducer with 96-dB sensitivity and 50-ohm impedance, a higher impedance spec than the typical IEM. MEE Audio claims that the high-impedance dynamic driver coupled with the patented acoustic diffuser improves performance at the frequency-range extremes.
During the last several months, I used the Pinnacle P1 as my go-to IEM almost daily. During that time, I found that I obtained the optimal fit and noise isolation using the medium-size Comply T-200 foam eartips. With any earphone, getting a good fit and noise isolation is essential in order to achieve the best bass extension possible.
I utilized three different source configurations during my listening; connected directly to my iPhone 6 Plus, connected to the same iPhone via an Audioquest Dragonfly Red USB DAC/amp, and connected to an Astell & Kern AK240 portable audio player. Most of my listening was with just the Pinnacle P1 and the iPhone by itself, which yielded quite satisfying sound. However, the Pinnacle P1 seemed to really blossom when either connected to the iPhone via the Audioquest Dragonfly or to the AK240 DAP. Both have better DACs and identical output levels of 2.1 volts. Adding a better DAC/amp in the chain took the sound to another level of refinement. Music files on the iPhone were streamed using the TIDAL app at 16-bit/44.1-kHz resolution, while files on the AK240 ranged from the aforementioned CD quality up to 24-bit/192-kHz resolution.
Listening to the Pinnacle P1 revealed a slightly warmer tonal balance compared with my tonal reference, the UE Pro Reference Remastered CIEM ($999). The UE is specifically tuned to a perceived flat response. The Pinnacle P1's bass extension was full but not overemphasized, and there were enough subtle details and spatial cues in the upper frequencies to make the listening experience quite engaging. The soundstage may not have been as wide or layered as with other more costly IEMs I have, but within that soundstage there was distinct separation of individual instruments and voices. The soundstage width, the air between instruments, and the bass dynamics all improved a bit when using either the Audioquest DAC/amp or the AK240 DAP versus the iPhone by itself. There was a satisfying amount resolution and extension of the upper frequencies but never any harshness. The relaxed, slightly warm overall tonal quality made extended listening sessions a joy with never a hint of listener fatigue, and the effective noise isolation from the Comply eartips (combined with the very quiet cable design) made it easy to move about without affecting the sound quality.
• The slightly warm sonic signature of the MEE audio Pinnacle P1 will appeal to most audiophiles and music enthusiasts.
• Numerous eartip options, the unique design of the Pinnacle P1 shell, and the swiveling cable connection ensure a comfortable fit, whether worn in the traditional "cable down" style or the "cable up" musician style.
• The MEE audio Pinnacle P1 comes with a detachable cable and all of the accessories you could ever want.
• The high-impedance rating of these IEMs means you'll need to pair them with a headphone amp if you want to hear them at their absolute best.
Comparison & Competition
There are many competitors in the same general price range as the MEE audio Pinnacle P1. Three examples are the Shure SE315 ($199), the Klipsch x6i ($179), and the Audiofly AF120 ($199). Of these, I only had the Shure SE315 on hand to compare with the Pinnacle P1. I preferred the Pinnacle P1's slightly warm sonic character compared with the greater bass emphasis of the SE315.
Where some have fallen short, the MEE audio Pinnacle P1 succeeds at achieving legitimate audiophile-grade performance for a reasonable price. Whether you're looking for your first serious in-ear monitors or you just want to try something new that sounds great and will hold up to daily use, the Pinnacle P1 is an easy recommendation. It looks great, has robust build quality, and possesses the sonic signature and comfortable fit intended for extended listening sessions. MEE audio definitely lives up to its moniker 'Music Enjoyment for Everyone' with the affordable Pinnacle P1. You can find a list of MEE audio online and in-store retailers here.