I would like to thank Mike at Meelectronics for the review sample of their new flagship IEM the A161p. These are currently available for pre-order on Meelectronics website for $99.99, with the first batch shipping in a little over a week.
Pros: Excellent balance and clarity, good selection of tips, mic is clear
Cons: The cables to each IEM feels a bit thin, no volume control on remote, soundstage
Portable - iPod Classic
Home - iBasso D4 -> JDS Labs O2
The A161p is Meelectronics new flagship IEM so it didn't come as a surprise to me when the A161p arrived in an elegantly designed package that screams class. The box is covered by a thin sleeve which gives pretty much every bit of information you need to know about the A161p. The front shows the A161p with the remote/mic with a golden city background with the logo on top and the model on the bottom. I'm not usually a fan of gold, but the black and gold are really working here for me, it catches my eye without being gaudy. One side of the sleeve has the list of accessories while the other side has keywords that Meelectronics feel best describe the A161p. The back of the sleeve shows a frequency response chart and some more information about the headphones.
The sleeve slides off to expose a black box with minimal text with a book like magnetic opening on the right side. Once opened the inside of the box has a golden picture of a concert with some more keywords that Meelectronics feels best describes the A161p. The IEMs are seated safely in a velour coated plastic casing with a semi-hard clamshell case housing the accessories. Under the case is an informative user manual covering how to insert the IEMs, what the accessories are for, and other information that will be useful to those new to IEMs.
Speaking of the accessories, the A161p come with 3 sets of mushroom tips (S/M/L), 1 set of double-flanged tips, 2 pairs of triple flanged tips, cable guides, TRRS adaptor, headset to PC adaptor (to use this as a mic on your computer), a shirt clip, and the clamshell case I mentioned. I honestly can’t think of anything else I could want with IEMs, the amount of tips in various styles is a nice touch and should make everyone happy.
Other companies should take note of how to package an IEM from Meelectronics, it's not often that a company treats its IEMs with a VIP packaging like this, DUNU is one of the few other companies that comes to mind. The packaging gives a luxurious feel, which certainly adds to the user experience. This is a huge step up from past IEMs from Meelectronics such as their CC51 and A151, great job!
Design and Build Quality
I just gloated about how well the packaging was done and Meelectronics made sure to carry that elegance to the design of the IEM. The A161p are primarily black with an accent of gold starting at the half of the barrel and going through to the nozzle. An Meelectronics logo is stamped on the black half of the barrel. The nozzle is angled, rather than straight, which is a plus for me as the contour of the nozzle makes it easier for me to insert without the barrel rubbing my ear. The filter is an integrated metal mesh filter, and this is something that actually bothers me a bit. Apple may not have much going on for itself in the audio world, but they certainly had their design right with unscrewable metal filters. This allows for easy cleaning of them, certainly adding to the durability of an IEM. Still this is a feature I rarely see in IEMs, I just hope it starts becoming popular as I love the idea of it, hopefully Meelectronics can work this into future IEMs.
The stress relief has a left or right indicator on each and is long and semi-flexible, which is a good thing since the cables coming from them are rather thin and are my biggest worry about the A161p. The remote/mic is plastic, but doesn’t feel as it’s going to fall apart, though it doesn’t have a volume control. Still the remote works well and I never had a problem using it to control my iPod, very fluid. A cinch sits on top of the y-split and is stamped A161p in grey. A shirt clip sits below the y-split where the cables join together, feeling much more durable now, to meet a 45 degree angled 3.5mm plug.
The build quality seems solid overall, the housing is a 50/50 mix of plastic on the black part to metal on the gold and feels sturdy. In-fact everything about the A161p seems solid, except for my concerns about the thin wire going to the housings. I’ve been putting these through their paces though for the past two weeks and they’re holding up well. I do hope Meelectronics considers looking into screw off mesh filters though.
As for fit, the A161p sit semi-deep in the ear blocking out a decent amount of noise with no music playing, but when the music is on at a reasonable level I can not hear anything but the music, putting aside very loud sounds. Comfort-wise the A161p are middle of the road, and putting them in is a bit of a pain for me as I have to move them around a bit before getting an optimal sound.
Nothing about the build will blow you away, these don’t have the incredibly sturdy feeling of the DUNU Ares, but I imagine these holding up rather well to abuse. These look sharp though and I’ve had a few people compliment their looks already, very stylish and elegant!
I gave these 100 hours of listening time and about 20 hours of playtime when not wearing them before I formed an opinion on the sound. I made sure to try these unamped through my iPod Classic, as well as through my desktop set-up with a variety of tips from Comply to the triple-flanged tips included. I decided on the included mushroom tips over anything else.
The A161p are being marketed by Meelectronics as neutral reference quality IEMs using balanced armature drivers. The keywords that they’re using are clarity, accuracy, and detail. On the inside of the box Meelectronics explains what each word means to them, let’s take a look. Meelectronics defines detail as “fine musical nuances,” accuracy as “faithfulness to the original recording” and clarity as “purity and intelligibility of sound.” Do the A161p live of the these keywords Meelectronics has associated with them? I would say so, the A161p are the most satisfying IEM I’ve ever heard providing a clear neutral listening experience that has the musicality to match.
The packaging of the A161p shows a frequency response highlighting ruler flat bass response, which is something many audiophiles consider necessary in their headphones. I’ve put the A161p through its paces bass-wise from the quick sub-bass presented in James Blake’s Limit to Your Love to the thick bass in Sigur Ros’ Svefn-g-englar and am highly satisfied. The bass is completely flat to my ears, the sub-bass is just as accurately represented as the mid-bass in my experiences. The flat presentation of the bass gives an accurate representation of what the band intended you to hear, any coloration to the bass is simply how the artist wanted you to hear it. With that said the bass can feel a bit thin at times, with the DUNU Hephaes I could “feel” the bass, whereas here I’m simply observing it. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, it’s just that those who listen primarily to bass centric music may want to avoid these. Thus said, I’ve greatly enjoyed the amount of bass for everything I’ve put through these from Flying Lotus to Incubus. This is the best bass in quality I’ve heard in an IEM thus far, detailed and textured, this will satisfy non-bassheads.
The mids are designed to sound life-like and balanced, and despite many claims by other companies about their natural mids, the A161p actually follow through with theirs. Vocals sound clean and natural, listening to John Mayer’s Neon and his voice can best be described as smooth and intimate. Female vocals fair well here as well, Sara Bareilles Come Round Soon and the A161p are able to present her powerful vocals well, especially during her long held note toward the end of the song which simply rings beautifully giving me chills. Some sibilance is heard in the mids, but it’s not a fault of the A161p, it’s simply a fault of the recording, Sara’s album Little Voice isn’t mastered well and sibilance comes through due to the fault of the album, the A161p simply expose it due to their mildly detailed nature. To touch upon the female vocals again, I’m currently listening to Florence + The Machine’s song Cosmic Love and the vocals are simply giving me chills, she has some amazing pipes and the A161p present them cleanly with no grain. What about instruments though? Guitars have their proper umph for heavier genres, and acoustic instruments resonate well, very life-like. I’m currently listening to Modest Mouse’s Life Like Weeds to get a feel for just how raw the A161p can present a guitar, this song has quite possibly the most raw and assertive guitar part I’ve ever heard and the A161p doesn’t disappoint, the guitar wails through as it should. Coming from my Audio Technica Ad2000 I was expecting to be disappointed with the mids, now these aren’t in the same league, but they do a damn good job. Good clarity and detail provide a great listening experience, though the mids seem a tad dry at times though I think it’s more of an issue of the A161p highlighting poor recording than the A161p’s presentation.
The highs are well extended with good clarity, I haven’t noticed any glaring grain that I can blame on the A161p. Taking a look at the highs I decided to put on some of my audiophile grade tracks. I first put on Pink Floyd’s Money from the De-Emphasized Black Triangle version of Dark Side of the Moon. I’ve had problems with headphones in the past coming off as shrill or incredibly grainy during the saxophone solo, I can proudly say that even during the highest frequencies I do not experience any grain, no clipping, the A161p handle these incredibly well which is a feat. Switching over to some fusion-jazz I put on Miles Davis’ song Pharoah’s Dance from his infamous album Bitches Brew. Miles Davis is one of the greatest trumpet players of all time, but do the A161p do his playing justice? The trumpet sound incredibly life-like and again there’s absolutely no grain despite some high frequencies being hit. The A161p’s treble is fantastic with just enough sparkle to highlight instruments that need it, without being bright or harsh.
The soundstage of the A161p is average at best, there’s decent depth and positioning and good space for instruments, but it doesn’t have the 3-D like sound I’ve become accustomed to with my Audio Technica Ad2000. At times the sound seems a bit flat, as if there’s a wall and everything sound is coming from a different part of it. This takes away some depth of the music, but the sound isn’t muddled and that’s important.
As I said earlier, the A161p are the most satisfying IEM I’ve ever listened to. The mildly warm neutral and well-balanced sound has good musicality to it and while these are detailed, they aren’t overly so completely exposing bad recordings, though poor recordings will be highlighted. Usually by this time I find something I dislike about the sound, but really the only thing I dislike about these is the fit. For the price these may be the best neutral, yet musical, IEMs around.
It’s obvious I am in-love with the A161p sound. The clarity is fantastic, they have enough detail to pick out anything you’d want to hear while maintaining musicality, and are well-extended on both ends of the spectrum so you’re not going to miss anything. The soundstage is a bit flat, but it gives the instruments the space it needs to breath despite the intimate setting. I do recommend an amp for the A161p though, listening from my iPod directly just doesn’t compare to the desktop set-up.
The IEM world is such a confusing place, there are hundreds of options under $100 and the number keeps growing. Why should you buy the A161p then? Because I have not encountered an IEM that does so much so well as the A161p. I have not found an IEM, especially in this price range, with the musicality, clarity, and balanced neutral sound that the A161p deliver. The excellent customer service Meelectronics provides is simply icing on the cake. Now I don’t want this to be all praise, I do hope that Meelectronics sees my issues, if they happened to miss it, here’s a summary: More durable feeling cable going to the IEMs, screw-on/off mesh filters for easy cleaning, and find a way to bring some depth to the soundstage as long as you don’t sacrifice the sound. I highly recommend these IEMs for anyone looking for a neutral and accurate sound, I don’t think you’re going to find better in the price range.
The A161p are currently on pre-order for $89.99 which is a steal, get on it!
Come see more pictures of the A161p here.