When Joe Daileda, VP of Sales & Marketing at MEElectronics contacted me to say they were sending their balanced armature fitted A151 IEMs to test I became very curious. I had already tested their M31s and M16s, finding them to be good contenders within their price range, but neither are driven by balanced armatures like the A151s.
So “who’s the king of the hill”? Depending on whom you are speaking with, what the flavor of the month is and which way the wind is blowing you will hear various responses; JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, Sennheiser, Shure, 1964 Ears, etc. All kidding aside, let me clarify the statement here; this is a review about a single armature universal IEM in the sub $100 target range that competes with rivals in the $175 and under price target. Not the brands I mentioned above – but I got your attention didn’t I?
Are the A151s the best universal IEMs on the market today? No, but if you have never listened to armature driven IEMs and your budget is in the aforementioned range you could be short changing yourself if you do not consider the MEElectronics A151s as one of your options.
With that thought in mind, read on to take a closer look at the A151 IEMs.
- MEElectronics A151 Specifications
- Plastic housing
- Balanced Armature
- Frequency Response: 15Hz – 20k Hz
- Sensitivity: 111 dB
- Impedance: 27 Ohms
- Cable: 47” (120 cm)
- 3.5mm straight gold plug plated plug
- Nozzle Size: 3mm
- Accessories: 5 sets of silicone ear tips (S, M, L, bi-flange, tri-flange), zipper case
Design, Build & Specs
The A151 housing is comparable to a small oblong round black ball with a silver ring dividing its middle, reminding me of the Crossroads Mylarone X3i housing. Although the A151 design has a short leg (accented in silver) extending out to the stress relief and a 3mm nozzle that extends out .25” (.6 cm), making them easy to wear deep into the ear canal with the cable over the ear. The housing is made of plastic and seems to be quite durable compared to the X3is. I assert this as I’ve been rough on them, popping on and off various after market tips, in my quest to test various levels of isolation. Finally a little rubber sheath protects the braided cable entering the housing which appears to be more than adequate for stress relief. Although in all honestly only time will tell how well they hold up.
The cables are twisted black wires which are very soft, lightweight and flexible. These characteristics make them a pleasure to use and wear. While the cable appears comparable to higher priced IEMs it’s not the same thing. I could be wrong, but the wire gauge appears to be thinner, definitely lighter and possibly a little softer plastic jacket lining. I find the cable almost microphonics free when worn over the ear and very acceptable if worn down. Either way, microphonics is almost non existent. I also tested them biking, as I do with all earphones, and have noticed a little wind noise – but it’s minor, which may not affect some users, so they’re very good for biking in my opinion. It’s nice not having cable noise disturb one while listening to your favorite tunes.
My cable measurements vary a bit from the above stated specs. This could be due to them being somewhat elastic or possibly not manufactured to precise specifications. Total length is 55.25” (140.3 cm), when broken down from the straight 3.5mm plug to the Y-splitter 40.5” (102.9 cm), the Y-splitter is 1.25” (3.2 cm) long and from the Y-splitter to the housing stress relief 13.5” (34.3 cm). Not forgetting there is a very small cinch slider made of rubber to tighten up the slack behind the head. The Y-splitter is also very soft. It’s by far the best cable I’ve tested in the sub $100 category and definitely MEE’s best one yet. Two points to mention here: I would have rather seen them go with a right angled plug as they extend out less from portable audio players – and I’m not impressed with the stress relief on the straight plug, I could see it failing here first.
Although the overall housing design may appear a little funky at first, one can quickly become accustom to it as it seats well within the ear, is easy to achieve a good seal and is very comfortable to wear for extended use. Thus I would state the comfort level as very high and non-fatiguing, although not comfy enough to sleep in, but this varies between users. Furthermore, as previously stated both the housing and cable being of very light weight materials contribute to this comfortable listening experience.
The A151s are fitted with the SR series balanced armature from Knowles commonly known as a “Siren” armature. The SR series armature is housed in other popular IEMs but the specs can be different due to the tuning. Basically MEE’s Chinese manufacturing partner tunes the signature to their specifications. So even though you can purchase other IEMs that use a Siren armature, the sound signature will most likely be different.
Isolation is somewhat better than other IEMs in this price target, I’d say just above medium. I chalk this up to the depth the nozzle can extend into the ear canal. If used with the bi-flange or tri-flange tips it’s even better. Although this good isolation from deep insertion does come at some cost, because if you’re heavy footed you will note some bone conduction noise from one’s body that can be heard in certain situations. This may vary a little between users, but if you really want to take isolation to the next level, throw on a pair of black Shure foam sleeves, and the level of outside noise that is blocked out becomes impressive. On a side note, the current asking price of Shure foam sleeves is well over priced in my honest opinion.
Testing the A151s I used a combination of tracks from FLAC to 192 VBR MP3 rips. For gear, my laptop with Headamp Pico/DAC, iAudio 7, iAudio 9 and a Rockboxed Sansa Clip without any EQ or tweaks was used.
So how do they sound? First impressions are inspiring – very accurate IEMs with good clarity, good control, fast tempo and a nice texture. One can say all with a little warmth too, although this is not a big surprise coming out of balanced armature driven IEMs. As with other balanced armatures these require no burn in as they are supposed to sound the same out of the box as they do 50 hours later.
Starting out with the lows I find the bass impact good and precise, just not all that deep but with good texture. Within the rhythm section you can make out the bass guitarist tapping his finger on the strings or the sound of percussion instruments in Latin music being shaken or rubbed giving off a perceived vibration. Overall I find the bass enjoyable, and I believe this precision or control is due to the lower midrange helping out, as the lower bass does not extend all the way down. This might be inherent with this specific single armature not able to offer the full range of frequencies in the sub-bass and upper treble regions. Although you certainly can say the bass is clear and well defined to certain physical limitations.
The midrange is my favorite area next to bass, and it sounds great on the A151s. Here there is a warm tonality without missing detail or texture. If you like vocals and acoustic guitars, you’ll love this midrange. It sounds delicate, while still rich and powerful with great detail. There is no bleed up or down like I found on the M31s, just a smooth transition with good balance and great clarity. The vocals shine in this area and sound almost realistic, very accurate – only missing a little shimmer in the upper midrange as offered in some of MEEs dynamic driver IEMs, but overall very respectable and very pleasing to the ear.
As mentioned above, the upper midrange transition to treble is nice, soft, and sounds smooth, much to my liking. The A151s are very non-fatiguing here, they don’t come across as bright, but more on the natural side, with good energy. They don’t have any roll-off or sibilance that I noted, but rather a clear clean signal with good detail and clarity. Although just as the bass doesn’t extend all the way down due to balanced armature limitations, the A151s have a limitation as to how high they actually go – but overall they perform very well and to my old ears nothing appears to be missing.
The soundstage is a well-formed balanced arrangement with the armatures providing good instrument separation, giving the appearance of width and depth being actually greater than they are. Even though in reality the soundstage is small, with this good and clear instrument separation it’s overall very pleasing to experience.
So “who’s the king of the hill?” Hmm, all in all I really like these earphones; they have great value for the asking price and perform very well overall. What’s not to like with attributes such as: good isolation, comfortable to wear, lightweight and virtually microphonics free cable, accurate sound reproduction, good detail and a bit of warmth.
Honestly I’m a bit taken back that there’s not a lot of hoopla going on from the headphone enthusiast crowd about these earphones. I really think that MEE hit a home run with the A151s in this price point (sub $75.00 market). Ok, I’ll acknowledge they’re not “the king of their hill” when looking at the whole market, but if you’re budget is within this price point I would certainly recommend them.
- Great value for price
- Very comfortable and non-fatiguing
- Good detail and accurate sound reproduction
- Good light weight cable, almost microphonics free
- Minor point – I prefer right angle 3.5mm plug over included straight plug
- Poor stress relief on the 3.5mm straight plug
- Loss of detail in the sub-bass region and at the very top end of the spectrum