I have been enjoying the MEElectronics (MEE) A151 IEMs now for around a year and they are still in great condition, performing as good as the day I received them. Recently Mr. Joe Daileda (VP of Sales & Marketing) from MEElectronics contacted me again, but now about testing their new balanced armature A161P in-ear monitor (IEM), which I quickly welcomed the opportunity. By the time of this writing I have been using the A161P IEMs for around 3 weeks and I’m ready to discuss them …
On first read I thought that the A161P would replace the A151 but according to Mr. Daileda, MEE has no plans to discontinue the A151. On another note, MEE has or is planning to discontinue the CC51 without current plans to replace it with another dynamic driver IEM. That said the A161P now becomes their flagship IEM.
Usually balanced armatures have better speed, accuracy, precision and detail versus dynamic drivers that are supposed to provide a fuller bodied sound signature. The A161P is MEE’s newest 2012 IEM release and their second introduction of a balanced armature driven IEM. In my opinion these should create quite a hullabaloo because the single balanced armature market keeps improving and the A161Ps do not disappoint.
With that thought in mind, read on to take a closer look at the A161P.
- MEElectronics A161P Specifications
- Plastic housing
- Balanced Armature
- Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 110 dB (1mW @ 1KHz)
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Maximum Power Input: 30mW
- Total cable length: 51” (130 cm)
- 3.5mm 45 degree angle gold plated TRRS plug (4 pin)
- Nozzle Size: approximately 4mm
- Accessories: 6 sets of silicone ear tips (S, M, L, bi-flange, small tri-flange and larger tri-flange), zipper case, shirt clip, ear guides, 3.5mm TRRS adapter for PC/Laptop and 3.5mm TRRS adapter for select phones.
Design, Build & Specs
As with all the headphones I test, I used the A161Ps biking, skating, running and walking around in crowded areas. Isolation is medium if you find the right tip among the many included ones, the small triple flange ones work best for me but your mileage may differ. As always, after market tips always work better than thin flimsy included tips with most IEMs these days, although MEE gives you plenty of options with a large selection of included tips. While biking or in windy situations they do produce some wind noise while worn in front. This could be due to the long stress relief on the housing, although this isn’t an issue when the cable is worn over the ear style. I also noticed a little noise from bone conduction while running but that depends on the seal, depth of insertion and shoes you wear.
The A161P housing is made from a smooth shiny black plastic connected to a metal nozzle. They are lightweight, attractive and sport a metal grill on the end of their 4mm nozzle. Over all they seem to be very durable and a match to the Chinese OEM SBA-03 housing by Fisher Audio, although I do not know if they share the same armature. The specs are a little different but that could be manufacturer embellishment and the SBA-03s are more expensive. According to MEE, their Chinese manufacturing partner tunes the signature to their specifications. So even though you can purchase similar IEMs, the sound signature will most likely be a little different. Regardless the housings are very comfortable to wear for extended use, so I would state their comfort level as very high and non-fatiguing. Although with long housing stress relief’s they are not comfy enough to sleep with.
Speaking of armatures, the A161P uses the Knowles ED series , which in my opinion is better than the Knowles Siren (SR) series used in the A151. Although MEE would not confirm with me if they are using the ED series that contains Ferrofluid™ which improves mechanical shock survival and provides peak damping to smooth frequency response. If so that would probably have driven their MSRP higher, so I’m guessing they did not. Although they do posses a very smooth sound signature.
The A161P nozzle has a slight angle designed for a better in-ear-fit which works well for me and allows a lower profile fit. The stress relief is a tad long in my opinion but at least they are flexible plastic and appear as they will hold up well for the long haul. There’s no issues wearing them over the ear and due to the longer stress relief the included ear guides are not really needed but a nice touch. I’ve had no issues wearing the cable over my ears without the guides but due to the longer stress relief they look a bit odd even though they function very well, but your mileage may very.
The cable is soft and does not hold coiling memory which is better than what many budget IEMs use but a little on the heavy side when compared to the braided A151 cable. The cable measures 37 inches to the Y-connector and from there 14 more inches to the housing stress relief for an approximate total of 51 inches. Above the Y-connector they have a small plastic slider cinch that works well. On the right cable there is an in-line microphone/remote approximately 4 ¾ inches from the housing stress relief. When worn down up front they do transmit a medium amount of cable microphonics but over the ear use eliminates that. MEE also includes a shirt clip for those that prefer not to wear them over the ear and that should help keep microphonics in check. The housing stress reliefs and the one on the TRRS 3.5mm plug are more than adequate and should not be a point of failure. The cable is terminated with a 3.5mm plug that has a 45 degree angle. I would rather have seen them use a right angle plug because they extend out far less on portable audio players. Finally I’d like to mention that the 3.5mm TRRS plug works fine in standard 3.5mm TRS female connectors on all my players and does not cause any damage to them.
The A161P incorporates an inline microphone/remote for either smart phone or pc Skype use, thus the “P” in their name. The mic also doubles as a remote when used with Ipods or some Andriod phones. While the mic height is fine, as a remote it’s a little high up but it worked fine. With the large growth in convergence devices, more specifically smart phones which have taken the place of a dedicated music players with some people, this could be a big win for MEE within this demographic. Whether a good or bad plan only time will tell and in my opinion while it is a good idea, including a non-phone version in their line up would allow covering more bases.
I tested the mic with my Samsung phone and it was a good idea of MEE to include their TRRS adapter with the accessories as the mic would not work on my phone without it. This is because the adapter reverses the microphone and ground pins, thus allowing the mic to function on certain phones. Nokia, Sony Ericsson and possibly a few others need the adapter; MEE is compiling a list on their website if you need to check look here. The mic worked well and picked up my voice clear with the IEMs worn up front. People I spoke with didn’t even know I was using a mic until I told them. Out of curiosity I also tested the mic while wearing the cable over the ear and I was told by the other party that it sounded like I was on a speaker phone. I did this testing outside but the environment was quiet and I doubt that wearing the mic behind your ear would work well in a noisy place.
I appreciate that MEE took the time to upgrade their carrying case as it’s definitely gone up a few notches in quality. Gone is the cheesy white printed logo on the old plastic case, I actually like the new case a lot! It’s a nice semi-hard cloth covered clamshell case with their logo embossed across the top elegantly in all black. It easily houses a few tips, the IEMs and my Clip Zip so I only need to carry one case.
I am not much for packaging as I view simple is best and the quality of contents within the packaging is what’s most important. But for those of you that packaging may be important, I would give MEE an A+ on their new packaging. The box is black and gold coloring, very stylish with clean pictures of a concert, well laid out information and a magnetic clasp to boot. Wrapping up this section, I would be remised if I were not to mention that MEE stands behind all of their products and they provide very good customer service from my dealings with them but don’t take my word for it, read around the net and you’ll see what I mean.
To test the A161Ps I used a combination of tracks from FLAC to 192 VBR MP3 rips and for testing gear I used: laptop with Headamp Pico/DAC, iAudio 7, iAudio 9 and Rockboxed Sansa Clip Zip without any EQ. Speaking of the latter, I played around with some EQ and while they do take well to it, these IEMs do not need it for me to like their sound signature. Another important point is that burn-in is not needed with balanced armatures. They should sound the same out of the box as they do a year later.
On first listen the A161Ps appear more forward than the A151s but they actually cover the full sound range effectively. They are closer to neutral than the A151s but portray a very slight midrange and treble emphasis. That said they do not miss out on the lows and cover them very attractively, which makes them appropriate for most genres of music in my opinion. Although I would not classify them to be warm as I’ve stated before about the A151s, however they are accurate with very good clarity, control and a nice texture. It’s important to note here that they will definitely reveal artifacts in poorly ripped music.
Instead of focusing on any one sound trait, the A161Ps balanced armature surprises with a smooth even response across the whole frequency range. While extension on the top and bottom is not that of multi-armature IEMs, their sound representation is more than acceptable for a single balanced armature and will please almost all listeners. That said; I can see some bass-heads finding them a tad light on bass but they make up for any loss of thump with their detailed imaging and bass control.
Since we were discussed bass above, let’s continue with their bass; it’s fast and clear allowing you to distinguish between instruments types, clearly hearing the individual low notes. I was listening to a recording of an upright bass player, wow, the A161Ps easily transmitted the force and impact the musician is relaying when you hear the plucking of strings with rhythmic complexity in a very nice fashion. The “pop” he achieves by slapping his finger or the plucking sound from his finger slightly underneath the string and pulling it away from the fresboard – you know that nice twangy sound. The depth extension is much better than the A151s, the bass quality is great while the actual quantity is medium at most but that is easily overlooked because they keep the clarity and detail very nicely. In order to get any more quantity, one would most likely need to go to a multi-armature IEM. Overall I really like their bass response and if I had to pick one word to describe it, I would say the bass has “body!” On the graph it looks “neutral, flat” but that doesn’t tell the whole story and with good recordings one would be remissed to not notice its level of impact and punch in the lower end.
To me midrange frequencies are very important for IEMs because it’s the most significant part of our hearing. Thus the midrange sound helps define the overall accuracy of the IEMs and if something is off, we’ll note it here first. Be it the vocals, piano or guitars, you can easily hear the detail of each and the notes are crisp. It’s just no good to have great bass or sparkling highs if the midrange is bleak or undesirable. In my opinion the A161Ps do not disappoint here, they are a little more detailed (analytical) than the A151s and slightly more forward. But they sound smooth, lush, clear and detailed while reproducing midrange sounds making them inviting and just plain fun to hear. The midrange on these IEMs balances well between their lows and highs providing good resolution.
The treble is a fast clean signal with good detail that allows hearing a little micro detail. The clarity and sparkle at the top is good and sounds pleasant. For example, I get energized listening to good female or male singers, they sound first-rate and realistic. Furthermore the high notes on horns, electric guitars and cymbals come across crisp, clear with good separation and detail order. While I did not find any evidence of sibilance, there is a mild roll-off at the very top. Thus the armature has a limit as to how high they allow sound to crest or peak in the upper treble region but suffice to say they extend higher than the A151s. Finally I find the soundstage a little below average although this does not hinder them due to their ability to separate instruments very good and vocal positioning is very pleasant. Overall there is noting not to like about their overall sound qualities and I have been certainly enjoying them.
Hullabaloo or not, single armature IEMs keep getting better & better and these are no exception. Like stated above, the single armature IEM market is starting to get crowded and if the A161Ps aren’t setting at the top of the heap, they certainly should be! They’re fast, detailed and give a nice even response across the whole frequency range. With all the included accessories they’re priced fair and they are very fun to use. Even though I’m coming from the multi-armature camp, I am certainly enjoying the heck out of these and they have now replaced my A151s for one of my favorite IEMs to grab on the go.
For those that know me, you know I’m not a phone user, but I don’t even care that they have the in-line mic. Aside from testing it, I don’t even notice it’s there. On the other hand if you’re a phone user and that’s your player of choice, I can see where it comes in handy having it. That said, I haven’t removed the A161Ps from my favorite rockboxed Sansa Clip Zip for weeks and they’ve now found a new home paired with the Zip. Again, if you are one of the few who has not given balanced armatures a test drive, I would highly recommend the A161Ps.
- Very good sound value for price
- Well balanced sound signature with good detail and accurate sound reproduction
- Comfortable and non-fatiguing
- Plethora of accessories
- 45 degree 3.5mm plug, right angle plug is better
- Flimsy silicone ear tips, especially the regular tips
- No option to buy a none phone version
- Stress relief on housing are a tad long
The A161p can be purchased direct from MEElectronics with a MSRP of $119.99 but they sell them for $99.99