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Universal Fit item created by mike212, Jun 6, 2012
Pros - Lovely, lush midrange, quite comfortable, solid build, excellent accessory kit
Cons - Treble quite subdued, midrange tends to dominate signature, timbre not quite natural, difficult (for me) to get a proper fit
Note: this is more of an impression-style review, since I ultimately did not keep this set. I listened to it intensively, however, and feel confident enough to put together a few thoughts. At the end I mention some things I'd like to see from MEElec's next flagship.
The A161P by MEElectronics (hereafter referred to as MEElec) is the company's second single balanced armature-based IEM and the first to include a microphone for use as a smartphone/PC headset. The previous model, the A151, used the Knowles SR (Siren) series armature, whereas the A161 uses the ED series armature. MEElec mentioned on Facebook that they felt that the ED armature would produce smoother treble and less bass rolloff than the popular TWFK armature (used in the Fischer Audio DBA-02/Brainwavz B2, UE700, and Rock-It R-50). Without giving away too much, I can definitively say that smoothness is an overarching theme of the A161P's sound.
This section will be a little different this time because I didn't actually keep this IEM, so in addition to a general description of the more detailed sections that follow, I'm also going to summarize how I think the A161P's sound and presentation could be improved in a follow-up model. In a nutshell, the A161P is an extremely smooth, mid-forward earphone. I had some trouble getting a correct fit (the fit kit is quite generous nonetheless) and quite a bit of trouble with source matching (more on that later), but I believe I heard enough to say that the bass isn't emphasized at all. The overall sound is warm, mid-forward, and quite subdued in the treble. MEElec is positioning this earphone as neutral, which I think is off the mark. They are unabashedly sweet and lush, with treble that lacks both harshness and sparkle. Fit wise, though I never quite felt confident I had the best seal, they were quite comfortable once I had them in.
I'd like to see MEElec take their sound in a more truly neutral direction with their next flagship and to work out some of the usability issues, such as offering even more tips, working on the cable, and bumping up the impedance.
What's in the box, Build, Comfort, Ergo, etc.
In the well-appointed box you get the earphones themselves, six sets of tips (S/M/L single flange, double flange, S/L triple flange), a pair of cable guides for over-the-ear wear, several adapters for hooking the set up to various smartphones or your computer, a compact hard shell carrying case, and a handy booklet explaining how to get the best fit and the various wear style options you have. MEElec consistently stuffs their packages with extras, the fit kit in particular being quite extensive in comparison to what many other brands offer. There's absolutely nothing to fault here; MEElec products are almost always an excellent value and this one is no exception.
Build quality is solid for the most part. The earpieces are made from shiny, smooth, well-molded plastic with gold-colored metallic collars and nozzles. The nozzles are covered in a non-removable metal mesh screen. The cable is well relieved at both entry and termination. However, it's rather thin and plasticky and doesn't inspire a tremendous amount of confidence. I also felt that the ear guides were a bit stiff and the cable tended to pop out of them, which annoyed me when trying to get a fit.
Comfort was quite good once properly inserted. Unfortunately, I had some trouble getting a good seal and none of the stock tips quite felt right. I got on best with the large triple flanges, but I wish there was a medium triple flange, which I feel would have fit better. The double flange felt too large and hurt my ears almost immediately after insertion. It also didn't sound very good. The best sounding tips were the large triple flanges, which is lucky because they provided the best fit and are the ones I used to evaluate the A161P. Another problem I had was that the earphones didn't seem to fit my ears the way the designers intended: for over-the-ear wear the diagrams and pictures showed them almost flush where they enter the ear canal, with a bit of the gold showing. No matter what I did they stuck out of my ears at an odd angle. This might have been why I had so much trouble getting a proper seal and insertion depth, and it also precluded me from using them while sleeping, which was something I was looking forward to trying.
An ergonomic note: You can wear these both over-the-ear and cable-down.
As I said in the summary, these are not neutral. They're most certainly mid-forward, but they're quite smooth about it. I never found them shouty or barky or harsh. Overall it's a pleasant sound, with some mild warmth through the lower mids and very relaxed treble. If you're looking for neutrality and an analytical/brighter sound, you'll want to steer far clear of these. If you're looking for booming bass, similarly, these are not for you. If, however, you're after lush, liquid midrange, these may be just the ticket.
The chart they print on the box (and which Tyll at InnerFidelity can corroborate) suggests these will have impressive sub bass extension. I didn't actually hear much of this, though maybe I wasn't listening properly. In fact, when I was done listening to the A161P the DT880 sounded quite bassy in an immediate comparison, which is kind of amusing. There's some mid bass, and there's some overall warmth, and that's about as much as I heard from this part of the spectrum. The bass tends toward neither punchy nor boomy, but instead has a softer, smoother attack. Speed is decently quick but texture is somewhat lacking for my taste, which might be a symptom of using a single BA.
Without a doubt, both the A161P's greatest strength and its Achilles' Heel. The midrange is forward, smooth, and sweet. It is always the dominant feature in the presentation and tends to push the bass and especially the treble back in the mix. There is no harshness and very little grain (which can be eliminated entirely by EQ'ing away a single spike that occurs at ~5.1kHz). It's thick and warm and not entirely transparent, but it's always pleasant. It never gets shouty or barky, but it also ensures that the signature can never be mistaken for a neutral one. This throws off the timbre of a lot of instruments (snare drums in particular) and upsets the neutrality demon in me.
Continuing the theme established by the rest of the range, treble is very smooth. It's also quite laid back in the mix. Harshness and sibilance are almost completely absent (with the 5.1kHz spike and your individual resonance peak notched out, it's completely gone), but extension and presence suffer. There's virtually no sparkle and, IMO, the sense of energy is lacking. Still, if a non-fatiguing and relentlessly smooth sound are the order of the day, the A161P definitely delivers on that front. I just wish the treble baseline was higher, but I believe MEElec got everything out of this driver that they could when they tuned it. Adding a high shelf simply makes the sound harsher without noticeably increasing the treble presence, indicating to me that these armatures are giving everything they can and are at the upper limits of their extension and presence.
Presentation - Macro
The usual suspects of soundstage, imaging, and transparency are on the plate. First off, I was quite surprised by the soundstage. I had been led to believe that it would be quite small and confined, but that didn't turn out to the case. It's not large by any means, but there's a surprising sense of openness that belies the particular tonal balance MEElec selected. It's still wider than it is deep, but it's not a stifling presentation by any means.
Imaging is quite nice. Cues are presented clearly, and layering is better than I expected but still not on the level of my full-sized headphones. That's probably an unfair comparison, and for what they are, the A161P dissect a mix very nicely. I never felt like they were getting bogged down or overwhelmed.
Transparency is slightly lacking due to the tuning. That said, it's still quite decent for a mid-forward sound. It's more apparent when you're sitting and not doing anything than when you're active, which is a definite minus for my usage--I feel like I'm missing out on detail and straining a little to hear when I'm moving around.
Presentation - Micro
Texture is slightly smoothed over in favor of ultimate smoothness and lack of fatigue, but it's still there, just slightly softer and less in your face. Detail is similarly subdued, but listen closely and you'll find most of it. Unfortunately, the relaxed treble doesn't help in either case, making certain things like the popping in and out of tape hiss in a heavily overdubbed section of a song impossible to detect. Perhaps it seems a bit odd to want to hear defects like this, but these things are my benchmarks--my full-sized headphones both reveal these with ease, which means they render fine detail with similar ease. The A161P seems ultimately limited by the bandwidth and resolution of its single armature, as bass in particular lacks texture and sounds simplified, for lack of a better word.
Here's an issue I've never had before: the A161P sounded noticeably different on all four of the sources I plugged them into. It also hissed on three out of four and was completely unusable on two of them (both were computer outputs, including the one that didn't hiss). The main thing that changed was the amount of bass and lower midrange, but there were also swings in certain lower treble bands as well. My guess is that the low impedance (16 ohms) wasn't a good choice for an armature design, as armatures tend to have wild impedance swings which, when improperly damped, can wreak havoc on the tonal balance. What I got out of my iPod and my amp was, I believe, what these are actually supposed to sound like, though even there I heard a difference in bass and lower midrange output.
The low impedance, coupled with the relatively high sensitivity (110 dB), is responsible for the hiss, and an inline impedance adapter should fix both this and the source matching issues, at the expense of decreased sensitivity.
Overall, the A161P is a smooth, mid-forward IEM that makes for a pleasant but not neutral listen. Ultimately whether you'll enjoy them or not hinges on the signature. If you like your midrange lush and sweet, these might be your ideal set. If you're looking for balance and treble energy, you'll definitely want to look elsewhere. The fit kit is comprehensive, and yet I still had some trouble fitting these. They're comfortable and well-made, though the cable is a bit thin and plasticky for my taste. The overall accessory kit makes these a great value, as MEElec stuff usually is. I truly feel bad giving these up, but unfortunately the sonic signature just didn't work for me, and the fit never felt quite right. Hopefully MEElec will come out with another flagship that will better fit my sonic preferences (and my ears!). I'd love to test it if they do.
Suggestions to MEElec for the next flagship
In MEElec's next flagship I'd like to see them shoot for a brighter, flatter, less midrange-focused balance. I imagine a good place to start might be the TWFK armature, though it doesn't really matter which armature(s) they use so long as they tune the end result well. I'm looking for something that sounds like my DT880 and SRH440 in balance, but with better sub bass extension than both. I'd also like to see them work on the cable, which on the A161P is a bit thin and plasticky, and maybe develop a medium-sized triple flange tip to slot between their small and large triple flanges. Finally, I'd very much like to see them design the set with a higher impedance (at least 32 ohms) so as to counteract the source matching issues.
Pros - price - great value, sound, accessories
Cons - none
The A161P is a new single balanced armature from MEElectronics. Meelec markets their new flagship as:
“Relentlessly accurate to the source, the A161P delivers precisely what is in your music - nothing more and nothing less. High levels of clarity and resolution mean you won’t have to strain to hear the details while excellent handling of spatial cues delivers the ultimate concert-in-your-head experience.”
The A161P is a very competent entry into the world of neutrality but don’t let that word scare you. The A161P is a full bodied, thicker note entry that I find immensely pleasing and easy to recommend.
· Driver: High performance single balanced armature
· Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz
· Sensitivity: 110 dB (1mW @ 1KHz)
· Impedance: 16 ohms
· Microphone: Single button remote
· Connector: 3.5mm gold plated, 45-degree angle connector
· Total cable length: 130 cm / 51.2 in
· 6 pairs of silicone eartips (3pr single flange, 2pr triple flange, 1pr double flange)
· Clamshell carrying case
· Cable earguides
· TRRS adapter cable (for select smartphones)
· Headset to PC adapter
· Shirt Clip
I’d like to thank Joe, at MEElectronics, for the review sample.
Look and Feel:
The presentation of the A161P is definitely worthy of a flagship model. The box they come in is classy and very sturdy and the clamshell case follows those same design cues.
The housings are a two tone plastic. The back is black, leading to very sturdy if a bit large, rubbery strain reliefs and gold on the front of the housing and nozzle. The nozzle is covered by a finely meshed metal protective filter. Once again- very classy looking.
I’ve read a few complaints about the cable used, at least in comparison to previous Meelec cables. Since this is my first Meelec, I can’t compare it to other models but I really do like the cable. It is on the thinner side but is also pretty supple and very flexible. I’m not crazy about the 45 degree connector, as I’d much rather have it 90 degrees but it’s better than a straight one for my usages. The cable includes a Y cinch that works as it should.
The A161P is smart phone compatible and thus has a single button mic on the cable of the right earpiece. In my estimation, the placement of 4.5” below the strain relief is almost perfect, as it disappears, hanging just below the ear instead of flopping around against your neck or chest like many other smartphone compatible mics do. The single mic button can answer and hang up calls, as well as pause, play and skip songs on my iPhone. Call quality on both ends was as good as my home phone with no wind noise or echo.
The A161P is a remarkably good full range armature driver. The notes are full and thick and there is very good extension on both ends. Simply put- it’s a joy to listen to.
The A161P bass is very punchy and tight with very good depth and body. Very pleasing! It is able present proper weight to instruments and voices with convincing texture. In contrast the SM2 hits much harder in the mid bass, however its bass sounds much slower and less articulate due to an exaggerated mid bass and note thickness. Next to the CK10 (which is my benchmark for armature performance), the A161P bass is a little slower with a feeling of extended decay. The A161P has a bit more overall rumble than the CK10 but loses out in articulation and depth. Based on the graph MEElectonics shows on their website (see above), bass response appears to be a couple of decibels over neutral but very linear, which accounts for the surprising rumble and weight, as well as its accuracy.
For me, the midrange is where the A161P really shines. It is aggressive, slightly forward and a little sweet. Distortion guitars sound absolutely fantastic with great bite and vocals are clear and crisp. In this regard, it reminds me somewhat of the JVC FXT90. I just love the vocal placement and aggressiveness, which makes the A161P very energetic and engaging. The A161P frequency response is balanced from the bottom of the midrange through the upper midrange. In contrast the SM2 has much more lower midrange emphasis and misses the ‘presence’ of the A161P in the upper midrange. The mids of the SM2 are lusher, more euphonic but also slower and too rounded, lacking a proper edge. Next to the A161P, the SM2 sounds overly dark and muddy.
The A161P treble is crisp and extended with a hint of sparkle but generally non-fatiguing and never sibilant. To get closer to neutral, there would need to be a bit more treble presence; though next to the SM2’s very laid back treble, the A161 sounds much brighter, if almost on the verge of airy. In comparison to the CK10, you can clearly delineate the difference of a more neutral treble presence, as the CK10 has a lot more air, and as such, is more revealing. Those seeking a more neutral earphone but are worried about too much treble emphasis should look no further than the A161P.
Instrument realism on the A161P is surprisingly very, very good and normally a hallmark quality of a good dynamic driver to my ears. As mentioned earlier, distortion guitars are excellent, rivaling previous favorites like the GR07, FXT90 and HJE900, but also acoustic guitar and drums sound absolutely fantastic and engaging as well. Each piece of kit is easily distinguished with excellent separation and impact and the crisp midrange lets acoustics breath and strings shimmer. Kicks, toms and snares are full of lively impact and are just plain fun and enjoyable. If I have one minor quibble, Pianos could have a bit more weight and reverb on the bottom end but that’s just a nit-pick on a seriously good sounding single armature.
The soundstage ranges from slightly above average in width and about average in depth for universal BA’s; nothing to wow but certainly nothing to disappoint. Imaging is good and I have no issues with location cues. The overall sound is very organic and cohesive. I think a little more treble presence would have helped improve micro-detailing, making it a more revealing earphone but really at this price, who’s complaining?
I’ve read some differing opinions on bass quantity, treble presence and soundstage size/depth. It’s worth noting that I’ve found more neutral IEM’s usually require a bit deeper insertion than most. The A161P will sound its best with moderate to deeper insertion depth. A shallow fit will not allow you to enjoy its full potential, weakening bass response, losing treble detail or flattening soundstage. I can get a great fit with the stock triple flange, single flange and the Jays silicone tips that have been popular with the GR07 and FXT90. Experimentation is recommended to find your best personal fit and sound with the A161P.
The A161P surprised me and changed me the moment I put them in. The sweet, yet aggressive midrange and forward vocal presentation is right up my alley but it also brought about an unexpected change in my overall preferences, which now lean towards neutrality. The A161P has opened my ears to a signature I’ve previously neglected and shied away from. Since receiving them, I have also now acquired the Audio Technica CK10, which is one of the more neutral sets available. The A161P comes off as fun, musical and just a little on the dark side of neutral. Both of these phones have worked their way into my heart and musical passions bringing immense listening pleasure; for this- I thank you A161P!