Note: Mee Audio graciously provided the Pinnacle P1 free for review
MEE Audio has been without a flagship for a couple of years, since the discontinuation of the very well received A161p. The A161p was single armature design with a balanced signature leaning to the slightly warm side. The A161p, along with the venerable Audio Technica CK10, were my gateway in-ears into a more neutral frequency response, and accordingly preserve fond memory in my portable audio journey. Consequently, I’ve been looking forward to the day MEE Audio found a worthy replacement at the top of their line-up. The Pinnacle P1 has been over two years in the making, and at $199 msrp, is $100 more than their previous flagship. Can MEE Audio still still remain true to their reputation as one of the better bang for buck manufacturers out there?
The P1 features a proprietary 10mm dynamic driver of higher impedance (50 Ohms) and less sensitivity (96 dB) than your average in-ears. It’s constructed with a copper-clad aluminum voice coil for lower mass and faster driver control. In addition to this new custom driver, the P1 also utilizes a new proprietary acoustic diffuser and sound chamber. The acoustic diffuser is claimed to force high frequencies to resonate before reaching the ear, with a resulting effect that offers a smoother, yet more extended treble, that still maintains plenty of energy without the typical associated peaks and harshness. The most interesting aspect of this delivery system is that the driver and diffuser are not visible in the nozzle. If one were to remove the protective mesh from the top of the nozzle, you would see nothing but a clear path leading to the open of the housing chamber. In other words, the driver is mounted at an offset angle inside the chamber.
Build & Accessories
The build quality of the P1 is very robust. The housings are die-cast from a zinc alloy with a polished, shiny appearance. The zinc alloy is said to be more rigid than aluminum and more impact resistant as well. While perhaps not quite as light weight as aluminum, it is lighter than stainless steel. The polished zinc alloy has an aged brass appearance. The housings are put together from two pieces, with the nozzles made from a separate metal. There appears to be a very small pinhole pressure equalizing vent on the underside of the housings, where the backside of the driver should be facing.
The P1 comes with two cables: a high grade audio cable made of silver-plated copper and an Android/iOS compatible microphone cable. Both cables utilize the mmcx connection. The cables feel more robust than your average stock cable; they are thicker, yet very pliable. They feature a twisted cable design that features a case friendly right angle plug and sturdy Y-split with neck cinch. The high grade audio cable is the same aged brass color of the P1 zinc alloy housings. Using this cable gives the overall appearance a kind of ‘mid-century modern’ design aesthetic.
The rest of the accessories round out as follows: shirt clip, 6 pair of silicone tips, 3 pair of Comply tips, 1/4” adapter and carrying case. The carrying case is an elegant, leather style case with a magnetic closure flap. The flap is topped off with a “Pinnacle” metal badge in the same aged brass look with inscribed serial number.
At the onset of my listening experience, I utilized the Comply tips but as I continued to listen over the coming weeks, I ended up reverting to the stock silicone single flange tips. Listening was conducted on an iPhone 6S+, Mezzo Soprano modded AK120, and AK100 feeding a Chord Mojo.
The overall sound signature of the P1 is that of a slightly downward slopping frequency response. The P1 is warm and smooth with good clarity. It delivers high levels of resolution with impressive driver control. The most notable feature of performance is its staging properties, which stand head and shoulders above most closed in-ears and rival, if not surpass, many back vented designs.
Bass is moderately boosted- bassheads will find it too light and your most ardent neutrality seekers will find it too boosted. The boost is centered around 150 Hz and remains strong until about 40 Hz before starting to significantly roll off. The P1 driver sounds pretty quick, especially when compared to other dynamic driver models which tend to extend decay much longer. Texturing is excellent with high levels of bass resolution. Notes are on the thicker side with a naturally rich and reverberant tone.
The lower midrange is full and delivers a very engaging and evocative male vocal. While there is a dip in the middle/upper midrange that gives some distance to the listener, the P1 is still able to convey very good vocal intimacy. This dip also gives a slightly laid back and fuller nature to female vocals for less energy than in-ears with a more forward upper midrange. However, the upper midrange is rising by the time lower treble kicks in, so rock guitars still have pleasing bite and crunch but with a fuller, more rounded presentation.
The P1 treble is best described as smooth yet crisp. After a rise in lower treble, it is quite laid back from about 6k to 8K, where it peaks again in middle treble and stays pretty present through upper treble with very good extension. This treble response seems to correlate fairly well with the manufacturer’s claims. Treble weight and tonality are slightly on the thin side due to the greater upper treble presence, however resolution and low level detail are very good without harness or being overly forward in the mix.
Staging properties of the P1 are simply fantastic. It is not an ‘airy’ in-ear, yet it’s able to present a class leading spaciousness with strong ambient cues within the stage. There is a great sense of blackness around instruments, giving everything room to stretch and breathe. You really do get a strong sense of instrument placement and room size in proportion to the instruments. Height, width and depth are all really very good with one of the best three dimensional presentations on the market for in-ears. I really have to think the offset angle of the driver to the nozzle and the acoustic diffuser play a significant role in the perception of stage, especially in a closed design. It’s not something you have to concentrate on but is readily noticeable upon first listen.
P1 vs Etymotic ER-4S
The ER-4S bass sounds quite light and tails off several decibels as it descends into sub bass. However, it is excellently textured despite being low level in the presentation. Bass speed doesn’t seem overly fast like some balanced armatures, and can sound surprisingly natural during bass heavier masterings. Surprisingly the P1 is more difficult to drive than the ER-4S, requiring quite a bit more volume to reach the same SPL. In comparison, the P1 bass is more visceral, carrying a stronger bass line with more rumble and extension in deep bass. While the P1 isn’t drastically bassier, the difference is certainly palpable when the recording calls for it. The other significant difference is in the longer decay of the P1. While the P1 may be considered quick for a dynamic, it does linger noticeably longer than the ER-4S.
The Ety midrange is quite clear with a noticeable tilt towards the upper midrange. Male vocals, while very resolving, are a bit on the thin side and slightly under weighted. The upper midrange tilt makes for very transparent female vocals full of raw energy and power. The ER-4S neither emphasizes, nor glosses over sibilance; you really feel like you’re getting what the recording is delivering. The ER-4S is forward in nature, providing an intimate vocal performance that’s very engaging. On the flip side the Ety can sound overly forward in guitar driven rock, taking the listener to the brink with thin and edgy distortion rock guitars.
The P1 midrange eschews some clarity for fullness and richness. Male vocals are clearly weightier and more powerful, without sacrificing resolution, and exhibiting wonderful texture and emotion. The P1 is nowhere as forward in the upper midrange and female vocals exhibit less energy and more weight. Rock guitars have good bite and crunch but don’t quite soar, as they are grounded with a fairly full lower midrange. The end result is a much more forgiving presentation than the Ety.
The ER-4S treble is one of my favorite. Unlike it’s upper midrange, it’s treble is neither hot nor laid back. It has excellent balance, timbre and sparkle, yet remains effortlessly smooth. Extension is also top notch as well. In companion, the P1 treble is not quite as evenly presented. There is more lower treble presence before a similar Ety dip in the transition from lower to middle treble. The P1 treble sounds crisper and not quite as smooth as the Ety. Extension seems fairly comparable between the two, which is to say, very good.
The ER-4S is not really known for its spacial qualities and as such sounds a bit flat in depth and height but has acceptable width. The presentation is very forward and close to the listener. As such, while imaging is excellent form left to right, there’s not much to speak of front to back. Even though the top end sounds open, the single driver delivers a more organic stage and doesn’t have the instrument separation that many multi-balanced armature designs portray.
The P1, while fuller sounding, presents things further back from the listener compared to the Ety. It sounds much larger in all directions, particularly in depth. It’s more reverberant and spacious sounding with strong ambient queues reminiscent of a concert hall type presentation. While similar to the Ety’s organic presentation, the P1 injects more space/blackness between instruments for much more lifelike proportions.
P1 vs FLC Technology FLC8S
FLC8S with the following filter choices: Clear ULF, Clear LF and Gold MF/HF
This set up was chosen to give the FLC8 the most linear and neutral frequency response possible with the filter choices available.
The FLC8S bass extends very deep and is still strong at 30 Hz in this set up. It has very satisfying rumble and impact. Bass feels linear between mid and upper bass and finishes with a rise in sub bass. As a whole it feels a little enhanced over neutral. Bass texturing is very good and decay sounds natural. Overall the FLC8S bass presence is pleasing with a healthy sprinkle of fun. At first blush, overall bass levels of the P1 sound fairly similar to the FLC8S but upon closer inspection, the FLC8S has a good bit more rumble, while the P1 bass feels fuller and richer. In overall bass speed, I’d give the nod to the P1 as it feels just a bit snappier.
Both have fairly full bodied male vocals with the P1 being overall richer and fuller. The FLC8S is more pronounced in upper midrange presence, producing more energy for female vocals and, at times, can accentuate sibilance compared to the smoother P1. Where the FLC8 leans a bit more analytical, pushing details forward, the P1 produces more depth and vocal emotion. This same difference translates to the presentation of distortion guitars- the P1 has a thicker more robust guitar tone, and the FLC8S is slightly lighter and thinner but with cleaner overall note for more palpable rock guitar bite and crunch.
While both treble presentations are crisp, the FLC8S produces more sparkle and air with greater presence in the mix. For the most, part the FLC8S treble remains fatigue free with the exception of some accentuated sibilance mentioned before. While the P1 can’t match this more open and airy sound, it remains smoother for a more laid back listen.
The open and airy presentation of the FLC8S is above average in all directions with a very pleasing and open presentation. Even without the FLC8S sense of air, the P1 still sounds somehow larger. The sense of depth is more tangible, more three dimensional. The P1 puts more blackness between instruments, allowing the mind to expand the dimensions of the stage, giving more precise placement in space from front to back.
P1 vs Jays Q-Jays (v2)
The Q-Jays have a pretty large rise in deep bass with less mid and upper bass presence. In direct comparison, the Q-Jays bass sounds thinner in the upper end with less impact, but rumble is much more readily apparent. The dynamic driver of the P1 is more overt in texturing, displaying a more nuanced detailing in bass. It also has a more natural timbre and decay next to the slightly speedier dual balanced armatures of the Q-Jays.
Male vocals on the Q-Jays sound thinner and recessed next to the P1 but they aren’t necessarily thin on their own. The Q-Jays contain good heft but overall just fall short in richness and intimacy when compared to the P1. Female vocals also sound a bit thinner and more recessed next to the P1. The Q-Jays definitely sounds V shaped with a greater perception of clarity next to the meatier P1. If not worn deep enough, the Q-Jays can accentuate sibilance pretty strongly. With deeper fit it falls to more tolerable levels, although recordings with heavy sibilance are still a bit tough.
The Q-Jays have quite a bit of treble presence. After it’s dip in the upper midrange, it begins a steady climb from about 5k all the way through a fairly large peak around 9k. Deeper fit helps to somewhat control the peaks but one needs to appreciate a brighter signature. Next to the P1, the Q-Jays treble is thinner and lighter in weight with the P1 sounding more balanced and even across it’s upper frequency response. Where the P1 is built for longer listening sessions the Q-Jays are built for excitement.
The Q-Jays much brighter presentation, while airier and plenty wide, sounds overall flatter and smaller next to the P1. The P1 has much more space between instruments with a much greater and obvious sense of depth and height. While the Q-Jays are faster and more precise in stoping and starting, the P1’s reverberation and sense of ambiance is just simply more realistic in staging and imaging properties.
P1 vs AKG N20
The N20 has a slightly thinner bass presentation but with a sizable rise in sub bass. While mid bass is pretty quick, sub bass has extended decay and sounds a bit bloomier. This elevation and extended decay in sub bass make bass texturing a little less precise compared to the more even handed P1.
N20 male vocals are very clear and very detailed, if perhaps just a hair on the thinner side. By comparison the P1 is slightly richer and weightier without sounding chesty or too deep. Despite sounding a little thinner, N20 male vocals are placed pretty similarly to the P1. Female vocals sound a little more forward on the N20 with more upper midrange attack for a lighter, more energetic presentation. The upper midrange energy is excellent with distortion rock guitars, and N20 forte, allowing them to soar and sizzle. In comparison female vocals on the P1 sound a weightier and less demanding; distortion rock guitars sound fuller, weightier and more grounded.
The N20 has very good treble sparkle and energy without sounding piercing or sharp, injecting a sense of openness and air. While the N20 sounds brighter than the P1, the P1 can sound crisper and sharper with some recordings. However, for most recordings, the P1 sounds more laid back and relaxed in treble energy.
While the N20 is in the realm of neutrality, it comes across as slightly U shaped next to the warmer and more even handed P1. This open and airy response gives the N20 a much wider presentation than it does in height and depth. By comparison, the P1 sounds more realistically proportioned and noticeably deeper with more space around instruments- the effect is a more overt holographic image.
P1 vs PSB M4U-4
The PSB is a more deep bass forward presentation with a steep rise below 100 dB. Overall bass quantity is somewhat similar with the P1 but is distributed quite differently. The bass of the P1 is more balanced and even between high, mid and low bass, whereas the PSB can sound lacking in mid bass punch next to it’s plentiful and extended deep rumble. The PSB bass is also bloomier and lingers a good bit longer than the more nimble P1. By comparison, bass texture is more revealing in the P1 and a bit more soft, yet more forward in the PSB.
Male vocals on the PSB sound more forward than they do on the P1, however note weight is thinner. This difference in richness gives the P1 a more evocative performance, even if not quite as inmate sounding. Female vocals are also more forward on the PSB with greater upper midrange emphasis and energy. However, with this greater energy, there is also a hint of a metallic edge in the PSB, which can be heard in Lzzy Hale’s voice on Here’s To Us. Rock guitars are thinner and airier sounding with greater bite and crunch with the PSB, whereas the P1 presents those same guitars with as weightier, smoother and more grounded.
The PSB gives plenty of treble sparkle, much more-so than the P1, yet remains fatigue free. An even bigger difference is in treble timbre and realism. The PSB can sound fairly metallic and tinny at times, especially with silicone tips. By comparison, the P1 treble is smoother and more natural sounding, if a bit subdued next to the livelier PSB.
The PSB sounds wider left to right that it does in height and depth, with a slightly airy presentation. In contrast, the P1, while not as wide, sounds more evenly proportioned for a more life-like presentation. The difference in depth gives the P1 more precise placement in stage, as well as more separation between instruments.
MEE Audio has brought a worthy replacement to the flagship spot in their line-up. While perhaps deviating a little further from a neutral frequency response, for a warmer, fuller, more commercially acceptable sound, the P1 brings substantial and impressive improvements to spacial and staging performance. The P1 is both a joy to use and listen to, as well as provide all the visual aesthetics a flagship should have. I believe MEE Audio has been successful in providing great bang for buck performance and value in a $199 in-ear and the Pinnacle P1 is something I can easily recommend.