I have to admit, wireless bluetooth headphones are my weakness. Not just a principle of being able to listen to music without a wire attached to a source, but also a journey in search of wireless headphones with a high quality sound. Today a lot of the wireless headphones are designed for active lifestyle or other sports related activities and often come in small earbud sizes. As a result, manufacturers focus more on bass heavy tuning, ergonomics of secure fitment, and unique shapes'n'colors rather than a sound quality improvement. I have tested many wireless headphone solutions, but never dared to compare any of them to my wired collection of IEMs and full size headphones. At least not until now. What I discovered during my review of Pendulumic Stance S1+ opened my eyes and ears to a sound that I was used to hear only while reviewing wired models from Senns, Beyer, Audio Technica, and others. Is it possible for a newcomer to step up to the plate and to deliver wireless HiFi quality sound? You better believe it! Here is what I found.
Starting with a packaging, it's quite a large box with a lot of great info. Beside a regular description of the sound quality, all of which I absolutely agree with and find accurate, and the list of features and specification, you also get other functionality details with graphs and pictures. Though I usually give a quick look over the box, here I actually took some time to read it in more details. Opening the box reveals a flat storage case and accessories box. Included accessories are airline adapter, 6.3mm adapter, usb to micro-usb charging cable, 3.5mm audio cable with in-line remote/mic, and hard shell storage case with carabiner. Obviously, micro-usb cable is required for charging of the built in high capacity battery, and audio cable for a wired use of S1+. As a matter of fact, this is a decent quality cable with a straight 3.5mm gold plated connector going into earcup and right angled 3.5mm gold plated connector into output of your audio source. The cable is not too thick, relatively flexible, and has a cloth braided shielding resembling a shoelace. In-line remote with a mic is located close to earcup connector and has universal multi-function control with a single button for Play/Pause/Call which you can also double-tap to skip forward and long press to start Google Search, as well as being able to pick up calls.
I really like the included carry case and the detachable velcro storage pocket inside of it for extra accessories like a cable, and even some room left in the case for a small portable headphone amp. Of course the compact nature of this case is due to a flat storage of headphones where earcups rotate 90deg. Overall the build of Stance S1+ is very solid and has a mix of metal and plastic material. Starting with a headband, it has a split metal band design which contributes to a comfortable clamping force without too much pressure on your head. But this headband doesn't rest on top of your head, and instead you have a spring loaded leather wrapped inner headband for that functionality. I have seen such design before on some other pro-audio full size headphones, and now can experience it wearing S1+. The ends of metal headband are securely attached to a metal tab where earcups retract from for a fitment adjustment. It has a nice click action, and I appreciate the metal part of it for a higher durability of the attachment. The earcups are plastic and have a matching color with a headband tab, and from a distance resemble a metal finish.
Earpads are deep and plushy, attached to a floating inner frame, and have a bit of vertical tilt for a better fitment around your head. As a matter of fact, S1+ update over S1 was based on these new more comfortable earpads, as far as I'm aware of. Earpad opening is not the most generous, though was perfect for my average size ears. For comparison, the opening is about the size of Momentum over-ear earpads, so above average size ears will feel a bit of a squeeze fitting inside. But as you know, it's hard to make everybody happy. Also typical for a full size headphones, after awhile of wearing earpads do get a bit hot. Furthermore, the headphones are not feather light, but the design of the inner spring loaded band really takes a weight off since the main headband is not resting on top of your head. I did mention before about a comfortable clamping force and plushy earpads, but have to add that sound isolation is a bit below average, so don't expect to tune outside world completely while riding a bus or on a subway.
I was very impressed how much thought went into the design of Stance S1+. First of all, the controls are partitioned such that left earcup has all the batteries, charging port, and power select switch, while right earcup has audio controls with "crown" knob, mic, 3.5mm headphone port, and connection select switch. Starting with a left earcup, you have a standard micro-usb port compatible with any smartphone charging cable. The power switch is between built-in rechargeable and 2x AAA removable batteries. The earcup cover twists open to reveal a compartment for two batteries, while the rechargeable battery is hidden underneath. The combination of both power sources can give you combined 30hrs of operation, where internal rechargeable battery contributes about 18hrs of power and removable batteries another 12hrs. You can start on rechargeable battery and once you run out of juice, switch to external. Or let's say you are outdoors or on a trip without access to a power source or don't have time to wait for recharging - just add two AAA batteries and instantaneously you have 12 more listening hours! I haven't seen anybody else offering such an ingenious dual power flexibility.
Right earcup is where the audio magic happens. You have 3 different ways to connect to your audio source. First is a direct unamplified cable connection which doesn't require any power. I would consider this as a reference connection since it's a direct wired one. One interesting observation, connected to headphone output (HO) of my Note 4 it sounds loud enough, but connected to HO of my low impedance DAP I had to crank up a volume quite a bit which might have something to do with these headphones trying to meet EU volume limiting standards. Perhaps volume limiting only goes in effect with low impedance source since smartphones typically have a higher output impedance. The 2nd listening option is also wired but with a built in amplifier. For that option you need to have power turned on. Personally, I wasn't too crazy about coloring of low frequency content and wasn't a fan of a consequent bass boost which spilled into lower mids. I would rather see an amplification with a narrowband bass boost, and hopefully Pendulumic guys will consider that in future releases.
The 3rd listening option is a true STAR of these headphones - wireless bluetooth connection. Pair up was fast and easy, and afterwards every time you switch to BT and turn the power on you get a greeting beep with instantaneous connection and wireless freedom of almost 50ft away from the phone. It was connected to my phone and media audio supporting all BT 4.0 protocols. Call quality was clear thanks to a rather large mic located next to a headphone input, though I found it to work better indoors than outdoors due to less background noise. The multifunction control was provided in a form of a very unique "crown" knob which has a continuous turning action and also push button click action. Once paired up, the current position of the knob becomes a default medium volume where you can turn 4-5 clicks up or down to maximize or minimize the volume until you hear an audible limiting beep. Beyond that, you can continue turning but volume will not change. I found this setting very useful since you don't have to think about the position of the knob when you turn headphones on or worry about blowing your eardrums. The Play/Pause/Call with a single push/click of the crown and double click to skip the track is different from other BT headphone implementations, but I actually found it more efficient. I only wish there would have been a support for triple-click to skip back. Also the physical placement of this crown control knob was in a perfect location at the top of the earcup on the back for easy reach with an index finger.
Now, about the actual audio performance of S1+ (as tested wireless). Its sound signature is nicely balanced with a good extension at both ends of the spectrum. Starting with a bass, it does extends down to sub-bass but with a very little rumble, and mid-bass punch is present but not as aggressive. The quality of the bass is excellent, but the quantity is just a little north of neutral. Bass is very clear and detailed with a perfect control and separation, and gets tighter after about 15hrs of burn in. Mids are very clear and detailed as well, slightly upfront in comparison to the bass, and have a perfect balance between being bright and smooth; no harsh peaks in upper mids. I absolutely love S1+ delivery of vocals with a nice full body and natural timbre. Treble has a great extension, bright and crisp, and at the same time with no sign of sibilance, just a perfect non-fatigue sound for extended listening pleasure. Overall, very impressive layering and separation with a great smooth retrieval of details. Soundstage was borderline of 3D in both width and depth.
Keep in mind, that description above was in wireless mode. It's not often you get a chance to do a true comparison of the same headphone performance wireless and wired, but this was a perfect opportunity. Actually for the wired comparison I ended up using my portable headphone amplifier to get it up to wireless performance level. Using X5 DAP as a source connected directly to HO, I had to boost a volume by 20 more clicks in comparison to my usual setting, so I ended up using LO with E12A amp where I found a perfect synergy to bring it up to a full audiophile quality. To my ears, there was no difference in wireless vs wired performance straight from my DAP, and maybe a slight improvement in low end using external portable amp.
In conclusion, or as I usually say "Overall", I'm still in disbelieve how well Pendulumic guys implemented wireless fine-tuning of S1+ to match their wired performance. I know they took advantage of Bluetooth 4.0 protocol and aptX codec, but others have access to the same resources without an equally successful results. I mean, this is a great HiFi full size headphone to begin with that can go head-to-head in sound comparison with some of the more expensive pro-audio headphones, and yet it can deliver this wireless without reduction in audio quality!!! Add to that a solid build, a comfortable fitment, an amazing dual power source with a combined 30hrs of playback time, and a flexibility of using it wired - and you got yourself one serious smart headphone gadget! What makes this ironic, previously I tried to get away from a smartphone while using my dedicated DAP with external headphone amp and wired headphones to enjoy a high quality sound. Now, I can go back to my smartphone as an audio source and let Stance S1+ do all the heavy duty audio lifting!!!
Here are the pictures.