If there is one one word to describe my impression of the MEElectronics CW31 it is “surprise”. Which is fitting because when I entered to get a CW31 review sample I was not expecting to be selected as I have never written an earphone review before. Nevertheless, I have collected quite a few earphones since finding Head-fi and will do my best to review the CW31.
The packaging may be the least surprising thing about the CW31. For those of you familiar with MEElectricones packaging it the same design except thicker to accommodated a new case. Speaking of which, as you might guess from the packaging, the new case is slightly thicker than the clamshell case that comes with M series earphones. This is a pleasant surprise as the rounder shape makes it more rigid than the flatter clamshell design. The case is solid black except for the glaring purple zipper which might be an eyesore to some. One other possible downside worth mentioning is that the cable wrap commonly included with MEElectronics’ earphones is too big to fit in the smaller case--which might explain why the cable wrap was omitted from the CW31. Also worth noting is an improved shirt clip design. Not only pivotal for easier attachment, it can easily be removed without worry of damaging the cable--something that was a concern with older models. As far as tips go, the CW31 includes your standard small, medium, large single-flange, a small double-flange, and a small triple-flange. The single-flanges are nothing special, just your average stock tips. The double-flanges are smaller than the double-flanges MEElectronics includes with it some of its other earphones. The triple-flanges are the same as the small triple-flanges that are included with the M6. Accessory-wise, MEElectronics still includes more than many pricier brand name models do.
Left: M Series case; Right: New CW31 Case
Left: New CW31 shirt clip; Right: Old MEElectronics shirt clip
Left: stardard MEElectronics double-flange; Right: new small CW31 double-flange
Build quality is one of the many surprises of this earphone. The CW31 housings are made of wood and plastic which gives the impression of being delicate, but they are actually surprisingly sturdy. Strain reliefs are made of hard rubber and do their job. On the other end of the cable is a new lower-profile 45-degree plug that is big improvement over the old design found on the original M series. The cable is the typical gray MEElectronics cable. It is strong and low on microphonics. However, it can be stiff and is prone to memory problems. Still, it is one of he best cables in its price range. It does seem to be about two inches shorter than the cables of the M6 and M9, but at fifty-three inches should still be plenty long. So long has it is not abused the CW31 should hold up well.
Comfort is the biggest surprise of the CW31. This is due in large part to the light weight design, but there are few other design features worth noting. First, the angled nozzles make the CW31 quite comfortable--so long as you wear it cable down. Wearing it over the ear is another story. It is possible, but it is very subjective depending on the size and shape of the ears. Second, the CW31’s nozzles are oval shaped. As a result the normally round tips are stretched to become more oval shaped like those included with Klipsch earphones. This actually proves quite comfortable especially when paired with Sony Hybrids. Of course this, as is all comfort, is going to be different for everyone.
The CW31 is part of MEElectronics’ new “Clarity Series” which is a departure from their bass oriented M Series offering a more balanced sound signature. Despite this, the CW31 still packs a decent amount of bass. Nothing brain rattling, but enough to be enjoyable for most music. The bass is surprisingly warm for a model with the “Clarity Series” name. While the bass does not creep up into the midrange, the warmth does carry over. The result is vocals that are very warm and smooth. Unlike the M6 and M9, which have recessed midranges, the midrange of the CW31 is neither forward nor recessed. The treble is pleasant and not at all harsh like the M6 and M9. However, it lacks the sparkle of those earphones. Clarity is good across the spectrum just as the name implies. Sound stage is good, but nothing amazing. In the end, the CW31 does little wrong.
The MEElectronics CW31 retails for $49.99 making it one of the few balanced earphones under $50. The only other balanced earphones that compete with the CW31 in this price range that come to mind are the Brainwavz M1 and the Maximo iM-590. I have never heard the M1, but I do own the iM-590. The biggest difference between the two is the CW31 tends toward the warmer side while the iM-590 is cooler and more analytical. The iM-590 also has a slightly more forward midrange than the CW31. While I would not give either of them a edge in sound quality, the CW31 has the edge is user friendliness thanks to its low microphonics and comfort. My personal preference is the warmer CW31, but if that is not your taste the CW31’s cheaper sister the MEElectronics CX21 might be another good alternative to consider. So what is the verdict? I have truly fallen in love with the midrange of the CW31. As much as I loved the M6, there were some artists--namely female vocalists--that I could just not bare to listen to. But the warmth of the CW31 has caused me to fall in love with many of these artists all over again. Do not misunderstand me, the CW31 is not for everyone, but someone wanting clarity and balance without the cooler analytical sound, the CW31 is right up your alley. If I have a bone to pick with the CW31 is that the high-end could use a little sparkle. All in all though, the CW31 is quickly becoming one of my personal favorites in my collection--which is a nice surprise.
- Improved case design, shirt clip, 45-degree plug
- Strong and low microphonic cable
- Stylish wooden housing, but still sturdy
- Surprisingly comfortable
- Balanced sound at a low price
- Shorter cord
- No cable wrap
- Isolation is average at best
Edited by cnhardwick - 3/21/11 at 10:09am