Great-sounding Bluetooth headphones? Really? I know. Up until T.H.E Headphonium (powered by Audio360.org) at T.H.E Show in Newport Beach earlier this year, I would’ve never imagined I’d be writing about Bluetooth-anything sounding like music. Yet PENDULUMIC has now presented me with a challenge. As I just said: I never heard anything Bluetooth-related to warrant Bluetooth to enter the signal path of my top reference systems.
The Audioengine B1 is a great performer. It’s a cute little package for sending music wirelessly via Bluetooth – and it also sounds pretty darn good, but I wouldn’t use it for critical listening. Sennheiser also has a wireless headphone, the MM 550-X, that I checked out a while ago and it sounded technically superb, but it didn’t grab me in the gut. And this just comes down to taste. Nonetheless, when I tried PENDULUMIC wireless cans at T.H.E Headphonium earlier this year, I was blown away. I don’t usually bring the cost of the components into my reviews – merely because I feel I should be focusing on the musical performance first and foremost. However, given that the Stance S1+ is only $200 bucks, I have to shake my head in disbelief. Really? That’s just nuts, just plain nuts.
Now, when I say I was blown away by the PENDULUMIC, it’s important to place that statement into some sort of context. Like I mentioned above, until I experienced PENDULUMIC, I was never taken with Bluetooth headphones. I’d heard ones that impressed me with their surprising sonic integrity, but none drew me deeply into the listening experience like the PENDULUMIC’s. So, I’m not saying the Stance S1+ is one of the greatest headphones I’ve ever heard – which the term “blown-away” might indicate to some. No, I was blown-away at the ability to capture the soul of the music and the emotive charge of the sound, all the while streaming via Bluetooth. I could’ve sat there all-day and listened to those wireless cans. And that blew me away! Not to mention the price tag – which I always ask about after experiencing a product. Hey, we’re human, who knows what biases I would’ve brought to the table had I known they were merely $200 bucks. So, after being impressed by the sound, I had to get one of these bad boys in for review. And here we are.
An important aspect of this kind of “streaming” headphone, at least to me, is user-friendliness. Since it’s Bluetooth, I know from experience with other Bluetooth devices that getting things to sync-up isn’t always as easy or quick as it should be. How many times have you tried to connect your iPhone or Android phone to a Bluetooth speaker and you end up having to click on the thing a million times in your settings menu before you get the magic beep that lets you know they’re tethered! Man, that really pisses me off – so often I just end up hard-wiring my iPhone or iPad to the speaker and forget the hassle. Well, I’m happy to report that the Stance S1+ connected with my MacBook Pros Bluetooth, my iPhone 4S, and my iPad2 with ease. It even connected to my wife’s ancient Android phone without issue. All I had to do was click the switch on the S1+, wait for it to show up in the Bluetooth settings screen on all the devices mentioned above, click on it when it showed up (usually within seconds) and bang, I was connected.
The PENDULUMIC has also been terrific with phone calls. Usually my cousin Kenny complains about the sound quality of the mic in a lot of my iDevice-friendly headphones. He hasn’t said a negative thing yet after a few long conversations. That’s a big plus. So, no hassle, no talkin’ dirty to it in order to get it to lock up with any source I chose. That scored a ton of points with me. Now, if you’d like to hard-wire the Stance S1+ PENDULUMIC provides a 3.5mm jack for you. I did the hard-wire thing a couple of times to check out the difference in sound-quality, and while there was a slight difference w/ CD-quality material (44.1kHz/16-bit) in the frequency extremes, and micro and macro-dynamic detail retrieval – the difference wasn’t so obvious that I felt I needed to stay plugged-in. After all, when you’ve got a wireless headphone, why not take advantage of it? Especially, when the sonic goods are delivered as well as with these cans.
PENDULUMIC had a clear vision from the start. They knew they probably couldn’t achieve this quality of sound with older Bluetooth standards – so they waited until they could incorporate the latest Bluetooth 4.0, aptX, and and A2DP technologies. Before I get into the sonic attributes of the Stance S1+, I need to share a story that speaks to the universal appeal of these headphones. As soon as I got back from CanJam (where I picked up a pair for review), I went over to see my friend Vince at his house in Sonoma County. I’ve been slowly infecting Vince with the personal audio bug, and I was anxious to share a couple things. The first thing I busted out was the PENDULUMICs and his 8-year old son Dominic, without a word from me, said “those are so cool Michael, can I try em?” I was actually surprised. I didn’t think the styling of these cans, which I happen to like very much, would appeal to a youngster like Dom, but he loved them! He asked me if he could “game” with them. He wanted a pair within a few seconds of listening. That’s a slice of your future customer base right there. Seriously, how often do you hear about 8 year-olds liking anything but Beats by Dre?
So, with Dominics approval of course, I took the PENDULUMICs back home and started putting them through their musical paces. I looked forward to throwing lots of different tunes at em’ – because, with the added luxury of no wires I wanted to be sure the S1+ could handle a wide variety of music. After all, when we’re out in the world (which is where I planned on using them most of the time) our moods can change from minute to minute depending on our environments. So many of my bigger cans live at home. However, with a nice, sturdy carrying case, its lightweight design and sharp looks, the Stance S was going to ascend to my number one go-to headphone in my messenger bag. That is, as long as it past the musical mind-field of varying sonic adventures I decided to test it with. So, let the audible games began…
I know this song has been played to death, but Daft Punks’ “Get Lucky” off of Random Access Memories, is still one of my current favorite reference tracks for testing gear. It’s not a complex musical number by any means, but while the song is straight up future disco (a constant four on the floor) the musicianship is tight, the sound is spacious, and of course, that groove – it’s nearly impossible for me to stand still while bumpin’ this track! Yet this doesn’t happen with every headphone I’ve tried (far from it, actually). But the PENDULUMIC Stance S1+ kept my feet movin’ when seated, my ass shakin’ when standing, and I never missed an iPhone call. Sorry, I just had to toss that in there because it’s true. Then I ventured to the other side of the electronic music world. So, I chose Goldies’ classic Timeless for my next sonic adventure with the S1+. Now that track (more-so an audible story – as it’s 21 minutes long) sealed the deal for me. The music was deep and wide through the S1+. The sound was excitable and velvety-smooth from top to bottom. There’s so much space in “Timeless”, so many dark corners, occasionally lit by speedy percussion and heavy synths. This track means a lot to so many people I know, in fact one of my buddies in the hi-fi industry said that it was this record that hooked him into designing better headphones! So, naturally there’s a lot of emotion caught up in Goldies’ “Timeless” for me. On the S1+? It carried all of those emotions with it, in a good way. I must of hit repeat at least five or six times, and that’s also sayin’ something, as I’ve spent my adult life trying not to burn myself out on that brilliant track. I only play it during special occasions. This time the special occasion was the audible litmus test for the PENDULUMIC Stance S1+ and it excelled in stunning fashion.
Then came Tori Amos’ Unrepentant Geraldines (Mirror). I love this recording. As a longtime Amos fan, Geraldines sounded like Amos returning to her ethereal roots. It’s one part Under the Pink, two parts To Venus and Back. Her voice is maturing beautifully, thank God. It’s sounds a touch deeper and even breathier, but it’s as seductive as ever. Her powerful piano playing style is back with a vengeance – and it’s easy to hear her evolution as a musician on Geraldines. The reason I often choose Tori in my listening sessions is that it’s vital for a system to be revealing enough to capture the wonderful nuances of her voice. As I worked for Atlantic Records during a couple of her releases and having seen her live many times, I know my Tori recordings intimately. Even though Unrepentant Geraldines is her latest release, I’ve listened to this album all the way through many times now, and I’ve had never-ending hit-repeat sessions with a couple of the songs – ever done that? You wanna hear a song so bad you’ll play it over and over again? Hopefully it’s not just me. Anyway, listening to Tori’s “Wild Way” off Geraldines – a soft piano ballad, framed in the subtle power of Amos’ voice – was very enjoyable on the S1+. That was a pleasant surprise. They nailed her voice: Very impressive, and with it, the soft touches on her piano. It was terrific! Honestly, I wasn’t planning on being this gaga for any $200 pair of Bluetooth cans.
The $199 segment is getting very interesting with the new Sennheiser Urbanite (love it), and the only Beats headphones I can recommend (Beats Solo2s). And now PENDULUMIC has perhaps risen to the top of that short list for me. Well, actually I need to do more A/B-ing with the Urbanite to see which grabs me the most, but I’m looking forward to that. One of my favorite songs of 2014 is Thom Yorkes’ “A Brain in a Bottle” off Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (which I reviewed for Positive Feedback). The song is cosmic. It kicks off with these wildly panning bass stabs that gradually grow in gain level as the tracks percussion drops. So you have this simple, snappy percussion framed in these spacey noises – the soundstage is wonderfully dimensional. Next thing you know, this bass heavy, warbly synth line drops down the middle of the sound-field, a wavy sound, that opens the gates for Yorks’ vocals to come in and hover around. The overall presentation is so textural and sleek, I get lost in this song every time I hear it on a resolute system. With my iPhone 4S (yup, not even a new one) as my DAP, or my stunning Astell&Kern AK240 player, the PENDULUMIC Stance S1+ actually held it’s own.
Now, when I say it held it’s own, I mean it competed against other cans, and some were literally up to ten times the S1+’s price. That may seem like a cop-out to some – not listing the names of the expensive headphones they out-performed in my opinion. But, frankly, too much of that comes down to taste and I wouldn’t want to make any blanket statements like “which are the best headphones out of this bunch” because I don’t believe there is such a word as “best” in the hi-fi and personal hi-fi worlds. Because my best may not be your best, and our moods are constantly changing, so there’s no way to determine an actual “best” standard for everybody because we’re all individuals. However, some of us have been fortunate enough to hear a lot of gear. And this is what we do here at Guru. We dedicate ourselves completely to the advancement of the audio arts and music. And the PENDULUMIC Stance S1+ represents a giant leap for Bluetooth headphones.
While I certainly can’t call them the “best wireless headphones”, I can say, and be totally comfortable with it: The PENDULUMIC Stance S1+ is the most musical wireless headphone I have heard, period. No more audiophile buzzwords or flowery prose. PENDULUMIC achieved what I once thought impossible by designing and building a Bluetooth headphone for $200 bucks that sounds like music. All my buddies were bugging me to hear these cans for some time, but when I finally got to spend some serious time with the Stance S1+, it felt great to know all my buddies were right! If you’re looking into wireless cans: Check these out now.