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Review: MEElectronics HT-21 – Loud & Clear!

post #1 of 56
Thread Starter 

 

Introduction

 

The HT-21 is the first portable headphone from one of Head-Fi’s favourite budget IEM manufacturers. Announced several weeks ago along with their new ceramic-shelled in-ear monitors, the HT-21 is Meelec’s foray into the populated field of entry-level portables. Historically, the best portable headphones in the <$50 range have mostly been open – Koss KSC75/PortaPro, Sennheiser PX100, iGrado, etc. Clearly the HT-21 has upper hand when it comes to isolation and, as it turns out, doesn’t exactly fall behind in other aspects, either.

 

Design & Build Quality

Meelec HT-21 Folded.jpg

 

The HT-21 is a compact supraaural headphone similar in size to the Panasonic RP-DJ120 and related models. One thing that sets it apart is the single-sided attachment of the cable – something rarely seen in small budget headphones. The cord itself is slightly thicker than average, putting the much-pricier AKG K430 and similarly-priced Sennheiser PX100 and Soundmagic P20 to shame. The hockey stick-shaped 3.5mm plug is similar to those found on some of Meelec’s IEMs and provides a good compromise between the more durable L-plug and the more convenient (at least for some devices) I-plug. The construction of the headphone itself is mostly plastic, with stainless steel used for the headband. The glossy finish of the cups does retain fingerprints but they are hardly visible on black. The folding mechanism is reminiscent of the AKG K430 and provides plenty of adjustment axes. I wouldn’t expect the thinner plastics of the HT-21 to be as durable as the much-beefier $100 DJ sets but for the price the build feels like it should last and, as many of us in the IEM game know, Meelec has a reputation for standing behind their products.

 

Fit & Comfort

Meelec HT-21.jpg

 

The pleather used on the pads and headband is of the thicker variety similar to that used by Audio-Technica headphones – namely the ATH-ES7 and ATH-FC700. The headband padding is quite thin but the headphones are light enough that it isn’t a problem. Clamping force is quite low and the multi-axis folding system allows the HT-21 to conform to the wearer’s ears comfortably at all times. Being supraaural the HT-21 never quite disappears completely but remains inoffensive for as long as I wear it. An additional plus is the 1.3m  cable length, which feels much less constrictive than the 1.1m cord on the similarly-sized AKG K430 even with my (average) height.

 

Isolation

 

Being a medium-sized supraaural headphone, the HT-21 is hardly noise-isolating despite the closed design. Much of the isolation is traded off for comfort with these, though they are still far ahead of open sets in isolation and especially leakage.

 

Sound Quality

Specifications

Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000 Hz

Impedance: 32 Ω

Sensitivity: 114 dB SPL/1mW

Cord: 4ft (1.2m), single-sided; 45º plug

Space-Saving Mechanism: Flat-folding, collapsible

 

Like Meelec’s multitude of reasonably-priced in-ear models, the HT-21 makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s a budget headphone when it comes to technical capability. The drivers are not the most resolving and lack a bit of detail and dynamic range compared to sets like the AKG K430, which shares the HT-21’s form factor, albeit at 2.5x the price. What the HT-21 does is make the absolute best of how it’s equipped, and that puts it head-and-shoulders above direct competitors such as the Soundmagic P20 and Audio-Technica ATH-FC700. On the whole the HT-21 is an aggressive headphone with reasonably impactful bass (for a small supraaural can) and slightly forward mids. The low end is controlled and quite accurate. The bass isn’t the most extended but there’s a fair amount of punch and good texture throughout. Impact is well ahead of that provided by the Soundmagic P20 and the HT-21 can take far more bas boost on the equalizer before distorting. Amazingly, the HT-21 can accommodate more equalization in the <150Hz region than the $100 K430, as well. Compared to the Audio-Technica FC700 the tables are turned – the FC700 has better depth and a touch more impact but sounds significantly muddier, boomier, and slower than the HT-21. In addition, the FC700 has its midrange, especially vocals, obscured by the low end on bass-heavy tracks while the slightly forward mids of the HT-21 work to prevent such obtrusions. The balance and overall sound quality of the HT-21 is much closer to the higher-end ATH-SQ5 than the entry-level FC700.

 

The midrange of the HT-21 is crisp and clear. There a small amount of warmth imparted by the bass (more pre-burn-in) but the headphones lean very slightly towards the cool side of the spectrum on the whole. The Soundmagic P20 is cooler and brighter still, boasting slightly better detail than the HT-21 but giving up some smoothness in return. Clarity is similar between the two – very impressive for a pair of <$40 portable sets. The slightly aggressive presentation and good clarity of the Meelecs mean that there is no veil over the midrange, making the softer-sounding Maxell DHP-II seem ‘blanketed’ in comparison. As presented by the HT-21, vocals lack the thickness of fuller-sounding sets such as the DHP-II but guitars have plenty of presence and natural-sounding ‘bite’. The HT-21 is quite energetic on the whole so those looking for a laid-back listening experience should be looking elsewhere.

 

The treble of the HT-21 is similar to the midrange but a bit less forward. It is crisp, clear, and reasonably detailed. Extension is decent – better than with the Koss KSC75 or Sennheiser PX100 but not as good as with the K430. The HT-21 is a fairly well-balanced headphone on the whole and the sparkly treble works to balance out what would otherwise be a slightly warm signature with boosted mid-bass. There is a bit of unevenness in the upper midrange and lower treble that results in the HT-21 accentuating the harshness and sibilance in some recordings, especially at high volumes. Properly-mastered tracks usually sound fine but the HT-21 isn’t one that will work to smooth out an audio track. Things like mp3 compression artifacts, on the other hand, are easily forgiven by the moderate detail level and average dynamic range of the HT-21.

 

The soundstage of the HT-21 has surprising air for a closed set but layering is mediocre and depth is lacking compared to open sets. The overall sense of space, however, is still quite good, especially next to similarly-priced closed sets. The Soundmagic P20, for example, is made to sound distant in comparison and its 3-dimensionality is far less convincing. The HT-21 does a better of job of differentiating between a track’s background and foreground and sounds neither closed-in nor tubular. On the whole the HT-21 is not something one would purchase for the soundstage alone – its true strengths lie in clarity and control – but as a secondary characteristic the spacious and airy presentation is quite enjoyable. 

 

Value & Conclusions

(MSRP: $39.99)

 

Yet another reasonably-priced piece of portable audio equipment from Meelectronics, the HT-21 is a set that places as much emphasis on convenience as it does on sound. Lightweight and comfortable, it is a highly portable headphone that will fit easily in laptop bag or simply rest unobtrusively around the wearer’s neck. Clamping force is fairly low, resulting in average isolation, but the HT-21 stays in place securely enough to be usable while running. Meelec’s usual attention to detail is seen in the design, with a sturdy angled plug used at the end of the single-sided cable and grips on the headband for easy adjustment. The construction of the headphone itself is solid as well, with above-average plastics quality and a simple but functional folding/adjustment mechanism.

 

The sound quality won’t land them in direct competition with my high-end portable sets any time soon but puts up a very good fight against budget-minded competitors from mainstream brands. The balance is skewed very slightly towards the bass and midrange, with punchy, controlled notes down low and energetic guitars and vocals. The treble is bright and sparkly but usually inoffensive. Granted, I have a relatively high tolerance for prominent (but not harsh) treble but so far I’ve managed to use the HT-21 for six hours straight without fatigue at moderate volumes, which says good things about both the sound signature and comfort. The verdict? The HT-21 is a great headphone for those who can enjoy a prominent upper midrange or who listen at moderate volumes like I do. The clarity is truly class-leading and the fairly airy presentation may finally work to kill off the stigma against closed entry-level headphones (here's to hoping!). In my opinion the HT-21 is another budget set done right by Meelec.

post #2 of 56

WIN. I've been looking for something with "a prominent upper midrange", and I probably listen to music at the most moderate volumes of anyone on head-fi :D

Thanks for the review, yet another masterpiece by ljokerl! *applause*

post #3 of 56

This is good to hear. I'm thoroughly enjoying my M6 and R1 IEMs, and have been looking forward to the HT-21. Sounds like a winner for the price, though I'm slightly sensitive to harsh/sibilant treble.

post #4 of 56

Meelec you impress me in so many ways. :)

post #5 of 56
Nice. Got to love MEELectronics. I wish I could tell you guys the huge favor that Simon from MEElec did for me today. Let's just say they have unbelievable customer service along with great products.
post #6 of 56

Looks like good bang for the buck. Thanks for the review.

post #7 of 56

Dude, magnificent review :)

 

Now that I know their mids are on the forward side, I'm really tempted to buy them, although I don't use supras!

 

Thanks for the review, ljokerl :)

post #8 of 56

Thanks for another great review, Joker!

The HT-21's are right in my price range for my next purchase (entry level portables I can recommend to friends).  

Can you briefly compare them to the Maxell DHP II or the the JVC HA-M750? (the other two on my radar).

 

Thanks again!

post #9 of 56

MEElectronics will knock $5 off the price if you pre-order. :)

http://www.meelec.com/MEElectronics_HT_21_Portable_Headphone_p/hp-ht21-bk.htm

post #10 of 56
Thread Starter 

Thanks, everyone. Looks like the HT-21 is up on Meelec's site now. Not seeing any estimated shipping dates, though.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by os2k View Post

Thanks for another great review, Joker!

The HT-21's are right in my price range for my next purchase (entry level portables I can recommend to friends).  

Can you briefly compare them to the Maxell DHP II or the the JVC HA-M750? (the other two on my radar).

 

Thanks again!



The HT-21 has now been added to my portable headphone review thread (here) which may give you some idea of how it compares to those in practical aspects. I'll be happy to answer any residual questions you may have. All three have pros and cons obviously so I don't know if you can make one blanket recommendation - the DHP-II won't work for those who abuse their headphones, for example.


Edited by ljokerl - 1/10/11 at 12:33pm
post #11 of 56

Estimated shipping date for the HT21 is 7th Jan. on AMP3.

post #12 of 56

Just received my pair and I must say I'm REALLY enjoying these out of the box. Great deep bass, nice crisp mids and yes a nice airy soundstage as described.

The build quality is quite great I must say - very nice thick cable, good use of the materials on the pad and they're really lightweight! I'm going to burn these in and give another go - but truly impressed. For $35 this is a really nice pair of headphones.

 

Seems the guys over at MEElectronics are about to get very competitive. Really looking forward to their IEMs as well, especially the SP51 and A151 - which should be an interesting BA IEM.

post #13 of 56

About time to talk about the HT-21. I'm about to send them back to Joker.

 

Not really anything different to add. A well balanced pair. Good to be pushed in either direction for your preferred sound. They'll take on a bit of sparkle with a bright player and/or some EQ. They can be bass heavy in the same manner. So many of the previous ultra-portables were either boomy and muddy or thin and lacking bass/fullness. I'd assume they wanted them right down the middle to appeal to as many customers as possible and they accomplished that. A safe bet for a likable sound signature.

 

The build is solid. Not loose or creaky in any way and has good fit and finish. Agree about the cable being a confidence inspiring thickness yet supple and well relieved going in to the housing. The pads are made of a thicker material which would seem to last longer than some other pairs. They get a bit softer when worn for a while and I'd assume will soften with extended wear. I, myself, don't like it as much as softer pleather or vinyl pads of some other phones. I don't get that good a seal and fiddle with them a bit more but the fit is subjective and, as I said, they should wear in after a while.

 

Same as others, I like the large stage and nice balance of fullness and clarity. Throw in decent extension on both ends and a nice bit of detail and and they pretty much sweep all the important areas without flaw. The mark of a good can when all the bases are covered and perform worth their price. Well done. Better than many other first attempts from other brands. I agree that MEE are hitting their stride and I look forward to their other releases. I go way back to when all there was available was the M2 and SX-31 and the M2 at least, wasn't very durable/reliable. Now they have gone past/further than other brands who had a head start on them. 2011 should be fun!


Edited by jant71 - 1/11/11 at 1:49pm
post #14 of 56
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the impressions @knivesout & jant71

post #15 of 56

How is the sound leakage on them?  Good enough for the library?  I've been looking to pick up a pair of quality portables and these look like a great buy so far.

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