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Apple ME186FE/A In-Ear “Headphones” Review

  1. blazer78
    The ME186FE revision A is Apple’s 2013/14 refresh of their in-ear “headphones” (canalphones) with the primary difference being the softer material used for the strain relief and the inclusion of the larger in-line remote control as found on their signature “earpod” earbuds. As with the previous iterations of their canalphones, the driver arrangement is double BA, with a “woofer” and “tweeter” (or one LF and one HF BA driver).
    I may be old fashioned, but I tend to distinguish in-ears in two categories, IEMs  as having ergonomics consisting of the cable going over the ear (and having sonic characteristics that would be of sufficient quality to be considered monitors), and canalphones, being in-ears that have the cable worn straight down. In terms of portability, I still believe the straight-down cable to be easier to use on the go (just like earbuds), at the usual expense of some cable microphonics.
    So, am I drinking the kool-aid? Read on to find out!
    The front of the Apple canalphone packaging, simple and clean.
    The replacement mesh caps for the tips
    Opening the capsule reveals the silicone tips that are neatly impaled on a spike
    The canalphones inside their display case
    The back of the display case
    The new earpod inline remote is implemented in the latest refresh of the Apple canalphones
    Straight 3.5mm, 3 pole plug
    The canalphone tip without the silicone
    Packaging and Accessories
    The packaging is quite simple, a clear box, with a clear display case to hold the canalphones. A pill shaped capsule holds two of the alternate sized silicone tips. Medium tips are installed by default. The usual set of manuals and warranty information are included in a folding envelope along with a spare pair of mesh filter caps in case the installed ones are clogged with earwax.
    Whilst the display case is quite nice looking and made of hard plastic, I cannot see it being used on the go due to the complexity of the cable wind to fit the canalphones into the case nicely (the remote has to go in the middle cutout).
    Build Quality
    The build quality of the Apple canalphones are good, with the canalphone housing being made with plastic and metal. The tip that supports mesh filter and the silicone tips is made of metal, and this is a great use of material in order to prevent the “spout” from cracking when replacing the silicone tips (granted, this would be a rare occurrence even with plastic). The back-end of the housing uses smooth plastic, as found on the Apple Earpods. The stem of the earpieces is quite thin to keep their sleek and small profile design, as such, care must be taken to avoid snapping the stems (such as sitting on them in your rear pocket [ed. I hope nobody does that regardless of what earphones they use])
    The strain relief for the earpieces connecting to the cable is of sufficient length to resist damage. However, the strain relief length of the straight 3.5mm TRS connector is shorter than I would have liked, and may be prone to cracking over prolonged use (or abuse). Thankfully, the strain relief is of a similar softness to the earpods, and that should help to resist the cracking effects of strain relief as witnessed on their older earbuds (less ductile strain relief = higher possibility of cracking). There is also strain relief present at both ends of the in-line remote control, and this should help resist more extreme forces that may cause cable damage.
    Cable quality is good, they are fairly flexible and soft and don’t appear to have any significant problems on inspection. Have a feel of the earpod cables, they are exactly the same.
    Isolation and Microphonics
    Isolation of the Apple canalphones is very good. Due to the small profile of the housing, they can be inserted fairly deep into your ear canals (though not as deep as the typical IEM designs from companies such as Westone and Shure), forming a solid seal. There is a port present on the rear side of the driver housing, however I haven’t been lucky enough to use these on a windy day yet, and will update this review on the wind noise at a later stage.
    Microphonics are very minimal with the Apple canalphones, rubbing noises against a shirt are barely audible, however when the cable hits your shirt you will hear a slightly muted “thud” through the sound.
    Comfort and Ergonomics
    Due to the small profile and cable down design, the Apple canalphones are extremely comfortable. This is exacerbated by the soft silicone tips supplied with the canalphones. As a comparison, the silicone tips are roughly twice as soft compared to the standard Audio-technica silicone tips (achieved through a reduction in silicone thickness).
    There are advantages and disadvantages to using super soft silicone tips. The main advantage is comfort as well as the ability to retain a seal in your ear. With softer silicone, performing actions such as yawning, talking or jumping will usually cause the silicone tips to deform in your ears, rather than your ears pushing out (rejecting) the stiffer silicone tips. The disadvantage, being a decrease in durability, and over time the softer silicone tips may tear and crack. This is a worthy trade-off in my opinion, as the other alternative for a better fit would involve using bi/tri-flange tips, or foam tips which may result in less comfort due to an increase in insertion depth or might be more fiddly (and less hygienic). Ideally, great ergonomics should allow the earphone to be inserted and removed in as small amount of time as possible.
    In terms of the ergonomics, they are a simple and very lightweight canalphone design with cable hanging straight down from the ears, and can be inserted and removed with ease. The in-line remote control is very lightweight and won’t drag the right earpiece down. For iPhone/iPod users, the ability to use a remote to control the music / answer calls when the device is in your pocket, is a great feature, although not a new innovation (remember when MDs had a remote with a screen? And it was backlit?!).
    The Apple canalphones are a simple and understated (albeit typical) design. I think they are quite sleek and small profile and will allow you to blend in with any crowd whilst holding your iPad to take photos.
    Sound Quality
    Test Setup:
    iPhone 5S > Apple ME186FE/A (stock medium silicone tips)
    50% volume output of the iPhone 5S
    Listening in a quiet room ( < 25dB)
    Sitting in upright position
    The Apple canalphones can be considered as having a slightly warm to neutral sound signature. The sound is fairly balanced with a slight emphasis on the mid bass and the mid treble. Presentation of the sound is very natural with a fair sense of space and soundstage in the x and z directions of the Cartesian 3-dimensional space.
    The bass extension is quite good on the apple canalphones, although there is a noticeable rolloff in the sub-bass frequencies, as characterised by a decrease in volume exhibited by music with those frequencies. This is typical of “lesser driver BA IEMs” though, it is dependent on the selection of the driver model and size. The bass quantity is almost evenly balanced with the midrange and treble frequencies, is fast, detailed and does not bleed into the midrange. I used the word “almost” as there is a very slight midbass bump, although the bass presentation is fairly tight with natural decay for a BA earphone.
    The midrange does not appear to be significantly forward or recessed with respect to the bass and treble frequencies leading to an impression of a fairly neutral sound. As such, vocals are uncoloured in their tonality. This may be “less exciting” for some, but for those used to a neutral sound signature, this is welcoming.
    Treble presentation is natural for most part, with a good amount of sharpness and sparkle, leading to an increased impression of detail in music. In my testing however, I found that there was an odd mid-treble spike that excited instruments and vocals that resonate at the same frequency as the triangle. The frequency spike is moderate, so if your music contains young female vocals with piercing “ssss” sounds or your instrumental pieces use triangles a lot, the Apple canalphones will exaggerate these frequencies to you. For most part however, this didn’t affect the majority of songs I tested (ranging from pop, rock, hip-hop, classical, and jazz).
    It is likely that the use of a felt mesh (or acoustical grade foam) in the sound port of the Apple canalphones would have helped to smooth out the treble presentation.
    Concluding Remarks
    For $99AUD, the Apple in-ear “headphones” represent a decent value for money, however if you are after budget in-earphones with an apple 3-button remote, these may be considered as good value for money (as there are not that many quality choices in this price range with a MFI remote to begin with). Whilst you might not live very long listening to Hatsune Miku using the Apple canalphones, their neutral, generally inoffensive and natural sound make a strong contender when listening to music of a wide variety of genres. The best part of the Apple canalphones has to be the ergonomics. They are small, lightweight, can be inserted and removed from your ears effortlessly and have a slender lightweight remote that is a complement for owners of Apple devices.  
    getclikinagas and L0SLobos like this.
  2. blazer78
  3. L0SLobos
    Are these the same as the me186zm models from the north american market? The old version seemed to be model #ma850g/b.
  4. Dinerenblanc
    Great write-up for a product no one on Head-Fi seem to care about. [​IMG] 
  5. blazer78
    I believe they are the same model, just marketed for a different region.
    haha, I only wrote it to test the head-fi reaction. I was expecting maybe 50 reads in one year. [​IMG] 
  6. Ivabign

    For the price they aren't a bad 2BA IEM - you'd be surprised how many Head-Fier's either own a pair or have owned a pair....
    sledgeharvy likes this.
  7. Dinerenblanc
    I would love to see Head-Fiers do a blind test with Apple In-Ears in the mix. I wonder what the reaction would be. 
  8. shch13
    I bought the previous revision last year, the dual BA drivers then was an all-ranger and a tweeter, not a woofer and tweeter. Guess that means we can expect a bit of a bass boost compared to the original.
  9. sledgeharvy
    I have the current iteration of these the ME186LL/A. For a Dual BA IEM they are hard to beat at the $80 USD price point. Especially using the i-Devices (iPhone, iPod, & iPad). I'm waiting for the Sony XBA-3ip to come in the mail.. I am excited to hear what they sound like, compared to the Sony XBA-1's that I currently have and the previously mention Apple IEMs.. :)
  10. dog
    Interestingly, according to goldenears http://en.goldenears.net/index.php?mid=GR_Earphones&search_target=title&category=112&page=13&document_srl=2130 they are on par with the reference headphones (ie800, k3003, hd650). One of 10 perfect sound profiles I found there, while the others cost 250-1000. Would like to try how the sound in reality. Yeah a blind test would be perfect :ok_hand:
  11. sledgeharvy
    What I did, was take RHA's approach to making the T10 & T20's bassier by adding some sound dampening cushions inside the removable metal tips. It sounds a lot better. Yes, it takes away from the bright Es of these, but they have enough highs to recess them a little to bring out the Bass a little. Even then, I'm not saying it makes these into Basshead levels of bass.. Just enough to notice it, and enjoy the thicker sound.
  12. SparkOnShore
    These IEMs are just perfect with the Sony Hybrid tips. More bass, detailed highs, more comfy than Apple silicone tips. A recommendation...

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