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Aspect 2: Build Quality & Cable Ergonomics
(see my evaluation process)
While the build quality doesn't impress as much as the accessories and packaging, it is still fairly well done. The shells are made of plastic, colored by a glossy finish. It makes it aesthetically more vivid, but unfortunately this means one has to be careful about chipping that may occur on the paint. The shells and strain reliefs attached are very stable though, well put together, they won't split apart unlike offerings from certain manufacturers.
As shown above, the A161P sports a metal mesh to protect it's interior from wax and dust. While it proves to be quite stable and does it's job quite well, it requires maintenance. Ear wax and dust can easily get trapped within mesh, so regular checks are suggested. One may use a cleaning cloth or a cleaning tool similar to this one. Matter of fact, it would have been nice if Meelec had included one.
The A161P has a long strain relief that protects the cable as it comes out of the shell. Unfortunately, the area above is of some worry. I feel a slightly longer, tapered strain relief protection would have aided here as general bending may eventually expose the innards of the cable in this configuration. I don't expect any real big issues here though, my pair is still doing fairly well. I do suggest users to be careful with this area of the cable though and suggest using the earguides when worn over the ear to protect this area.
Moving on to the cable, Meelectronics claims that the cable used on the A161P has experienced the least of amount of issues compared to their other cables, having been used on a previous Meelec model (?). They had this product planned a couple of years ago and were careful about their choice in cabling. Ideally the one on the A151 would have been used, but it didn't comply with the strain reliefs on the shell. This was their next choice, since it was proving to be durable among their line-up, despite it's appearance. The cable certainly feels flimsy and brittle, specially in it's upper portion where it happens to be thinner for practical purposes. Fortunately, the strain relief on the plug (shown below) is well made and j-plug configuration is a good compromise between an l-plug and straight one. While the cable isn't one of the most reliable ones in build, even at it's price bracket, I have so far experienced no issues despite months of use.
Cable Ergonomics & Microphonics
How practical is the A161P's cable in everyday use? This where the cable's thinness becomes a plus, it is lightweight and flexible due to it. It feels soft to the touch and has proper length. A neck cinch is provided, improving placement and comfort near the head. There are no major tangling issues, though mild tangling it can at times occur due to the cable's memory properties. The cable has a certain amount of "memory", basically meaning it tends to settle itself in the most common matter used. If it tends to twist in a certain area, it will continue to do so. You can change the way the cable settles by counteracting it's placement, this may at times be needed but it isn't of big concern compared to other models I have used.
The microphone included is well placed, calls are heard loud and clear. I specially liked it's big, practical, single button remote. Compared to Phonak 022s, the button just felt better to the touch, I didn't have to point my fingers as much due to the bigger button and allowed a softer touch. An issue that does arise for the microphone is due to the cable's memory properties. When in use, you have to make sure the portion pictured above is always facing forward to get a clearer reception. At times, the cable gets used to placing this portion backwards, this is when you have to twist the cable to revert it back in place and counteract the cable's memory. While it sounds bothersome, it easily settles itself. This is by far, superior to the memory issues I had with the Phonak 022's microphone which required lots of tinkering to finally settle in place. There is moderate cable noise when worn down without a shirt clip. Almost none if worn over-the-ear or with proper use of the included shirt clip.
Aspect 2: Build Quality (3/5 Rating) ***
Cable Ergonomics (3.5/5) ***1/2
Overall, I'll say the A161P's build quality is fairly average. There is definitely room for improvement, specifically in the cable. But as the rating shows, it is still quite decent, I don't expect any real constant issues with these but I suggest users to treat with care. Luckily, the factor that inspires confidence is the support backing the product.
"I feel Meelec's customer support is among the best industry, they dealt with all issues I have had with any of their products. Based on what I have heard from friends in this hobby, I'll say it's the best, based on my personal knowledge"
The cable is fairly practical. Thin, lightweight, low noise and with one of the best single button mics I've used. Full marks aren't given due to the cable's slight memory issues and tangling. To note:
"Even though the A161P doesn't have a non-remote counterpart, the mic is so discrete that I feel it shouldn't impose on users not needing the mic/remote"
A Possible Option for Users:
Modification to Allow Replaceable Cables?
A big possible bonus may be the option of having them modded by Brian of BTG Audio, to allow replaceable cables by Westone. It has yet to be done, but it looks likely to work. I hope to get the chance to send my pair for testing. If proven to work, not only are you backed very well by Meelec within warranty, this option allows even longer longevity outside of warranty. The mod costs 30$ plus the cost of the wanted cable. Likely around 50$, but it is nice to know that your pair may not be useless when faced with issues outside of warranty.
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Edited by Inks - 7/28/12 at 3:48am