MEElectronics A151 Review
Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample
First Impressions: The box is fairly non descript, the insides are a bit too. Nothing bad in that however, I do see something I like though. MEElec’s little case is always a very welcome sight as all IEM’s should come with cases and MEElec is one of the few companies that seem to now always do it. Inside the case is a heap of tips which is good. The buds look rather large, hmm why so big and it’s a bit of a weird shape too. I’m hoping that doesn’t cause any fit issues.
First listen and I’m not really that chuffed. I know it’s got a “Siren” armature in there but it seems to have been tuned to be a little soft and fuzzy. Hmm I’ll give them some hours just in case.
Source: 1G Shuffle, HiFiMAN HM-601 and the FiiO E7 + E9
Lows: Well I think this is where it all revolved around. Balanced Armatures are well known for not moving a lot of air and as such they are regarded as being rather bass light. While some view this as a huge problem others happily take the clarity as more than ample return for sacrificing some quantity. The tuning here has been taken to give the low end a little more expansion and fullness, in particular a bit of a mid/bass hump that leads the ear to think there more bass than there really is. It’s also tuned to create a softer and thicker bass than the quick and punchy that BA stuff is inclined towards. Hmm I’m not sure I like it. It’s sacrificed the great quality for a bit of quantity and has chosen a style of presentation that to me it can’t quite do. Sometimes going for the middle way works great, sometimes it misses and I just can’t seem to enjoy the bass here. Yes it’s better than what I’d expect form a dynamic at this price but it lacks their power and depth. Depth is what matters as here it just doesn’t go down deep and it can’t punch hard enough to make up for that deficiency. Maybe for you it would suit better, certainly its low end is much more present than say of the PL-50 or even the DUNU Ares. To me its just too soft for a BA but lacks the depth of a dynamic. A valiant effort but I feel it’s a little bit of a miss. I guess it could make for a good transition IEM if you want to move from a dynamic to an armature maybe.
So yes the lows are good, detailed, airy and articulate and arguably better than any dynamic would be at the price.
Mids: It’s a bit like the bass here too but more successfully. Mids are very good as you would naturally expect of a BA but again it’s like they have tried to make it very dynamic like. Make it sound big and make it a bit fuzzy rather than the more typical in your head sound. I can see why they would but I can’t help but feel I the process they have sacrificed a lot. Sure there is a place for the A151 but I feel the push to make it very dynamic like has been pushed to the extent it’s sacrificed more than it’s gained. The Ares did the same but not quite taken so far, it was more of a one for one exchange. This feels as it’s been pushed as far as it will go. So if I stop bitching for a moment the mids here are still quite good. They have a very open, dry airy sound that goes great with any dry vocalists. Nora Jones sounds great on these and probably rather better than and any dynamic of the same price. Guitars too are still quick and clean with a very open feel. Liquid and rich stuff though doesn’t quite have the creaminess that it ought to though. I’m finding it extremely hard not to compare these to the PL-50 given they have the same driver, I love them a lot and the best I can say about the A151 is that it’s entirely competition.
So yes the mids are good, detailed, airy and articulate and arguably better than any dynamic would be at the price.
Highs: Dry, crisp and honestly a little bit gritty. The grittiness is down to their chosen sound signature being relatively bright. I don’t really think any BA ever gets treble right (at any price) the trouble is armatures are clean enough that if they go gritty you will be able to hear it. A dynamic that can’t quite go there just become fuzzy and splashy so you don’t quite notice it the same. I notice it here plenty and I know it’s a very back handed compliment but that’s just how it is. I can’t say I love that it’s been tuned so but again I can see it being a type of sound that will be more of what’s expected by someone who’s only ever heard dynamics. So while its probably popular I feel it’s not playing to the strengths of the driver. Can you use a Ferrari to ferry kids around? Sure you can but if that’s what you want it to do then why not use a Renault Espace? In the same way you can stick a Formula 1 engine in an Espace, why would you choose to? (Note: Renault actually did this, thing was 800 bhp, top speed of 198mph and could do 0-60 in 2.8 seconds)
So yes the highs are good, detailed, airy and articulate and arguably better than any dynamic would be at the price.
Soundstage: Really rather good, big and very airy. It’s pretty much the opposite of what you’d expect for a BA. The stage feels big and expands out far and wide either side of you. It never really wanted to put anything in front of me at any distance. Instrument separation while decent wasn’t all I’d hope for. It’s all just preference though rather than one being better than the other.
Fit: Given they have a weird shape and big I worried a little but they fit perfectly. Get the right tips and it was easy.
Comfort: Given the size and shape I was concerned but it was unfounded. They fit me perfectly and melted away after a few minutes.
Cable: It’s a great cable, super soft and super duper flexible. It looks boring but I love the flexibility. MEElectronics always does great cables.
Accessories: A heap of tips that are all great, quality silicon a great assortment and their usual little case that I like so. No shirt clip but can’t think why you’d want one.
Amped/Unamped: These like a bit of oomph behind them an were noticeable bettor out of the HM-601 than the shuffle, the Shuffle being naturally gritty didn’t do its gritty top end any favours either. Really want did make a vast difference though was the adding of more impedance. I’ve seen a couple of things change dramatically with its use and this is one of them. It made them more resolving but removed any thickness or bass expansion too. If you have a bass boosting amp then you can experiment using more impedance and then using the boost to restore the low end. It really does improve the A151 greatly. However its price bracket doesn’t really incline it to the use of amps, still if you have an E3 or 5 or 6 already spending £10ish on a 75 ohm adapter will be worth it.
Isolation: Yey! A MEElectronics IEM that has no venting or air pressure issues what so ever. Ahh this is why I love BA stuff. They may not quite be Ety challengers but they easily isolate more than enough for to learn to look where you’re going or become a red stain on a road. I’d happily use these on the Tube or lengthy flight.
Value: Ohh ever the contentious topic. Assuming you have read all that’s above you will be aware I’ve not exactly fallen head over heals in love with these. Still these are a MEElectronic IEM and I’m not sure they know how to make anything that isn’t good value. These are going for just £40 and while I don’t know if it’s what I’d take as I prefer the flavour of the DUNU Ares and I adore the wonderful PL-50. I know what I like I love me those creamy butty mids on the PL-50. Still if I got these as a present I’d be perfectly happy to hear them every day. They aren’t perfect for me but are still excellent value for money. I think if I needed an isolating all rounder these would be in with a chance of getting my money, probably between these and the Ares I think.
Conclusion: I feel conflicted about these. When I ignore everything else I like them, I on the whole enjoy them. Okay I really wish they would sand down the treble a touch but otherwise they are nice. The trouble is I know what the driver inside can do and it’s a great driver, a truly fantastic little driver that’s used in a million things. It has been tuned to the very limits of where I think it can go, to make this BA not sound like a BA and I sort of see why but really I don’t understand why. If this had been the first ever Siren based thing I’d heard I’d be really pleased with it but I know just what can be done with it. Here it’s trying to do everything instead of playing to its strengths and I find myself being a little disappointed. It’s not fair as it really is a good sounding IEM but it can’t hold a candle to the mids on the PL-50. I know its lacking in the lows for many but honestly it’s a sacrifice I think is worth making to get something that excels so. The A151 is a compromise with a little too crispy highs. The A151 is all round very good but it doesn’t excel, it’s competent and capable rather than amazing and wonderful.
If I had to live with these day in, day out I’d be perfectly content to do so. They never really offend me or cause any unpleasantness but they never make me want to burst into song either. It is very good but so too is the competition.