Pros: -Fantastic sound -Great style -Comfortable fit -Price!
Cons: -Cold winter weather causes the cable to go stiff
“The Atlas ushers in the future of headphones, utilizing cutting edge technology and advanced materials to deliver both substance and style in a way never before realized. The latest advancements in driver design create power, dynamics, and clarity for an exhilarating high-resolution audio experience that embodies our true passion for audio. Innovative in-mould labelling technology delivers vivid multilayer graphics for stunning visual appeal while the flawless, high definition finish and clean lines round out the forward-thinking design that will make the Atlas a timeless classic.”
Since the advent of portable music, mankind has strived to create the best possible listening experience for on-the-go, everyday life. For years manufacturers have innovated their technologies to bring us new and exciting products, many which have gone the way of the 8-track cassette. Dolby reduced hiss on cassettes, CDs brought us crystal clear digital sound, and digital music files allowed us to carry our entire music libraries in small compact devices. Only one factor has always been a constant; They all need headphones.
For years, many of us have been ‘Chasing the Dragon’ when it comes to finding the perfect set of headphones that sound amazing without ‘breaking the bank’. Having a drawer or box full of a giant mess of wires and plastic is common for a lot of people with myself being no different. Poor fit, uncomfortable to wear, bass too overpowering or lack there of, sibilance. The reasons are vast and in the end we just settle for something until the (seemingly) next best pair comes along. Today I am going to review a set of on-ear headphones that may just be ‘The Dragon Slayer’, Atlas: The NEXT headphones, from MEElectronics!
“If it were me, what would I want to buy and listen to?”
Born out of a passion for music, MEElectronics has a goal of delivering Musical Enjoyment to Everyone. We started out in 2005, making MP3 players with a desire to bring our customers exceptional sound quality at affordable prices. However, the sound quality of any player is dependent on the earphones used, so we developed our own. In 2010, we shifted our focus to earphones that provide durability, style, and exceptional sound quality. Our current lineup of headphones and earphones has won acclaim from audio enthusiasts and reviewers worldwide, but that hasn't stopped us from continually refining our lineup and developing new products; we won't bring anything to market if it doesn't meet our high standards!
First Look: IML
“The Atlas makes use of a unique IML printing process that has never before been used on headphones. This enables us to place multi-layer graphics on the headphones right as they are being made and creates uniquely striking, intricate, and high-contrast visuals that are resistant to scratches and won’t fade over time.”
The moment you first gaze upon the Atlas Carbon, you are treated with the stunning design of the IML (in-mould label) print on the headphones. The images on the screen do no truly capture the beauty of the multi layered IML finish on the Atlas Carbon; These have to be seen first hand. Without a doubt these are some of the most beautiful and stunning headphone graphics I have seen to date. Combined with a crystal clear, deep, smooth finish the carbon-fibre weave set against a brilliant blue background is striking to say the least. Be sure to carry a cleaning cloth with you if you intend to show off he Atlas Carbon as people will immediately start poking and rubbing the finish in disbelief, trying to comprehend the IML.
“The new ComfortZone™ ear cushions are ergonomically designed in order to remain comfortable and vented to keep your ears cooler during long listening sessions. When not in use, the Atlas folds into the included carrying pouch for convenient storage.”
The Atlas Signature Series headphones have one mission: To combine style and comfort with amazing sound. Being on-ear headphones the design is basic and straight forward. The drivers are mounted on a swivel attached to the main body, which attaches into the padded head band and can be folded for easy carry and storage. However the similarities end there.
After the striking finish, the first thing you will notice about the Atlas is their weight. At only 136 grams these headphones are incredibly light, yet very well constructed. Holding the Atlas in your hands you get the sense of a very solid design. I have full confidence in the construction quality and durability. The ear cups are lined with a metal ring, and both the size sliders and the folding hinges are re-enforced with an aluminium backing plate. Needless to say this is great forward thinking, ensuring the longevity of the parts prone to breaking. Another great feature to ensure a long life is the fact that the cable is detachable, meaning that it is replaceable as well. Most of us have experienced at one point the dreaded cable failure or accident, resulting in a worthless set of headphones; Never again! Kudos to the engineers who designed the Atlas!!
Comfort of the Atlas are on a whole new level. Most on-ear headphones have one inherent problem; Fit. Certain elements of the design such as the padding on the head band or the cups, the clamping force, or the materials used in the construction, play important roles in overall fit and wearability. What good is the overall sound quality if you can not stand to wear the headphones for any given length of time? I must admit I have stayed away from on-ear headphones regardless of their sound simply due to the fact that they hurt my head and ears to wear them. The Atlas has changed my opinion.
Starting with the ear pads, the Atlas features a unique and ergonomically designed shape. Most on-ear headphones uses a round or rectangular shape. As we all know ears are neither. The ear pads on the Atlas are actually shaped like the average human ear! This greatly alleviates uneven and unwanted stress. The clamping force of the Atlas hits the perfect sweet spot, never feeling overly tight yet stays firmly in place. The pads, both the ear cups and head band, are made of an unbelievably comfortable material that not only promotes greater air flow but cooler temperature as well. This allows for a much longer listening session. Believe me when I say this, there will be many long listening sessions with the Atlas. Once again, kudos to the engineers!
“The tangle-resistant flat cable attaches to the Atlas on one side for maximum convenience and provides seamless headset functionality. Take calls and control media with compatible phones and tablets using the remote button and adjust the volume of any device conveniently with the universal volume control.”
When it comes to accessories there really is not that much to talk about. Basically you get a nicely logo’d carry pouch, user manual, and of course the headphone cable. Nothing too fancy but then again, what more is needed? Although in my opinion, a cleaning cloth would have been a great addition.
Normally I would end my review of the accessories here, however the detachable headphone cable does warrant a closer look. If the cable gets damaged or lost one can easily replace it. This feature is also great if you want to upgrade the cable to any of your choosing, including other Control-talk cables, noise cancelling modules, or a fancy high-end 3.5mm connector. The cable’s controller contains a basic 1-button Control-talk, analogue volume slider, and mic. I had no issues at all controlling my iPod touch (5th gen.) whether it was iTunes or Siri. The volume slider is very smooth and easy to use. I do not normally use headphones that have volume sliders as they are not very precise. I usually find myself fighting to obtain the right balance between built-in volume and the slider. Not so with the Atlas. Crank the device volume to max and use the slider to adjust or max the slider and use the device to adjust; Both work equally well.
All said, I do however need to bring up a negative point about the material of the cable including the control/volume module and how it reacts to cold temperatures. From my experience, at temperatures -10’C and lower the cable becomes stiff. As well the button on the Control-talk becomes very unresponsive; Double-press to skip often results in play/pause making it almost impossible to change tracks by this method. In my opinion, the great engineers at MEElec really dropped the ball on this one and is disappointing considering the M-Duo’s I own hold up extremely well with full cable flex and fully working Control-talk at temperatures -25’C plus windchill. In all honesty, I picked up a $4, 3.5mm audio cable from 7-11 that has no flex at -25’C, let alone at -10’C. Perhaps a future revision will include a cable more suited to cold Canadian weather.
Before my final decision to purchase the Atlas I read up on user reviews, as any smart consumer would do before dishing out their hard earned cash. Being a huge fan of the M-Duo, my first headphones from MEElectronics, I was expecting nothing short of glorious reviews for the Atlas. I was not disappointed. In fact reading the dozens of real world accounts got me so excited before the day of my purchase it was hard to sleep. My local MEElectronics reseller had just got 2 more of the Atlas Carbon in the night before and I was determined to finally get my hands on a pair, after months of them being out of stock. I have been let down in the past from many of the higher priced consumer headphones from the ‘big guys’ that got glowing reviews. My expectations were high, and excitement was building!
Perhaps the hardest part of any headphone review is the actual sound quality. The reasoning behind this is simple; An end user’s listening experience is completely subjective. Everyone’s ears are different and one person’s preference may be completely different from the next. In reviewing the Atlas I am going to try and be completely honest and objective. For this review, the testing methodology is simple; I will be using my iPod touch (5th gen.) with all tracks converted from AIFF to AAC 256kb/s. The reasoning behind the choice is to replicate real world use. No up converting, no DAC, no external amp! I will not be making any direct comparisons to any other brand or model. If applicable, I will try and answer to the best of my knowledge any questions in the comments. That said, let the review begin!
“The 40mm drivers of the Atlas are tuned to produce deep, powerful bass while maintaining clarity across the rest of the spectrum. This creates a dynamic, high-resolution sound that brings out the energy and impact of any music track and provides an exhilarating audio experience that embodies our true passion for audio.”
The moment I put the Atlas on my head and pushed play I knew right away that these were a huge cut above the rest. For a pair of headphones at the Atlas’s price point, I was expecting merely good. Instead I was pleasantly shocked at the overall sound quality, rating them not great, but rather FANTASTIC! The Atlas possess a very fun yet detailed listening experience. The overall signature has a slight U-shape, meaning the bass and treble are slightly boosted while the mids a remain relatively flat. One would expect (assume) the bass would be overpowering while the treble sounding artificial, washing out the mids in the process. Not so with the Atlas.
The overall sound signature of the Atlas is very detailed. The right balance between transparency and dynamics have been masterfully met. Instruments and vocals are layered with great separation while none of the frequencies overpower each other. Bass is tight and accurate, mids are smooth and not recessed (too much), and treble has excellent sparkle to it. Nothing sounds out of place or artificial. While not the most accurate headset in terms of a ’neutral’ sound, the Atlas is very fun and greatly enjoyable to listen to.
Soundstage is above average in regards to width and height. While instruments and vocals are nicely layered and transparent, the placement is not as accurate as one would find in a larger set of over-ear headphones. Sound isolation and leakage are average as well. While not as loud (and annoying) as the standard white earbuds included in virtually all portable devices, people upwards of 10’ away will be able to hear what you are playing. You will also be able to hear sounds around you such as traffic, doorbells, or a phone ringing. In no ways is this a negative towards the Atlas, rather indicative on-ear design in general. I actually don’t mind being “aware” of what is around me and in no way inhibits the listening experience.
While the Atlas does not have the most detailed bass, it is by far some of the most powerful, yet accurate heard in any headphone style. The bass is fast and tight with the sub bass having excellent rumble. Kick drums hit hard, bass guitars resonate with precision, and electronica comes through like a beast. Where there is bass in a song, there will be bass; The Atlas does not artificially add bass where there should be none. There is no bloat or muddiness to be heard at all, nor is there any overpowering of the rest of the frequency spectrum. Bass-heads will be more than satisfied while purists will appreciate the accuracy. I believe this is accomplished due do the fact that the Atlas use cobalt magnets vs the standard, more mainstream neodymium.
Midrange is where the Atlas really out performs the competition. Although the midrange is slightly recessed, it isn’t so by much. Vocals come out very clear and clean, not overly warm or veiled; Voices in a choir can be easily distinguished from one another, female singers high notes come through with power while not showing any (unnatural) sibilance, and raspy male voices sound, raspy! No matter the style or range of the vocals, the Atlas performs very well. I will note, at higher volume levels (max level on my iPod) there does seem to be a bit of a spike in the upper midrange. It is not annoying unless you like to have your music dangerously loud.
In my opinion the hardest frequency spectrum to get right is the treble. Too much can hurt the ears, too little lowers the perceived detail. The Atlas manages to do everything right. While the treble is emphasized, it is never over bearing or harsh. Detail extends well and sparkle hits the sweet spot for me. A true test of treble in headphones would be the chimes test. Each chime should come through clearly defined with it’s own ring and sparkle, and the Atlas handles this with ease. Cymbals crash with excellent sustain and decay, overlapping each other in a transparent yet dynamic way, electronica slices through with laser like precision, and flutes resonate down to your soul.
If you are looking for a neutral, accurate sounding pair of headphones then look elsewhere. If you want a fun, detailed sounding pair of on-the-go headphones, the Atlas is a prime example of what a company can do when they mix a passion for music while keeping the end user in mind. Not only has MEElectronics released a product that has style, comfort, and superb sound quality, they managed to do so at $100 MSRP. The Atlas easily out performs other headphones I have personally listened to which are double or nearly triple the price. I purchased the Atlas Carbon going off from nothing more than company reputation and user reviews, and was not disappointed. The Atlas not only meets my personal preferences in headphones, but exceeds them. If you are in the market for great on-the-go headphones and are considering Bose, Monster/Beats, or some other hyped up over priced headphones I would highly recommend you seriously consider the Atlas.