Thursday, 28 April 2016

MEE audio M6 Pro Review

MEE audio M6 Pro Review

Thanks to MEE audio for the sample

First Impressions:  These do look very much like there namesakes, the M6 (no Pro) but these come with a detachable cable.  You know I can’t help but cast the mind back to when the M6 first came out.  It was at the time, far and away the cheapest thing that was specifically designed to be worn over the ear.  You know, like a “professional” monitor type earphone.  I look at these, their price tag, and cant help but be impressed that these are not only over ear, come with two cables and you can buy each or any part as a replacement.  Yeah not only will MEE audio sell you a new cable if you kill these two but replacement buds.  Take a look, they have a whole page of bits. You can buy any ear tip, any cable, be it with or without a mic, hell you can a get a single terminated cable, if you want to just use one side for monitoring purposes.  Then to crown it you can buy either or both buds themselves!!!!  Yes that means if you break say the right one, you can for US$15 buy a new right one!!!!

Anyway… so as I’m sure you all know, I loved the look of the clear M6 and so no surprises that I think the clear M6 Pros’s look fantastic too.  I mean just look at them, don’t they look fantastic?

On to how they are in the ears, hmm I note that they could have put a bigger pair of Comply’s in the box as they sit rather shallow so I only just get a seal.  Hmm I may have to swap them at some point.  Otherwise they sound rather good.  Rather more monitor like in balance than the normal 6, or is it maybe the light seal but these don’t seem to be hardly bass boosted at all.  You know aside from the visual, I’m not sure why these are called the M6 Pro, to me that makes me think they are an M6 but with a detachable cable and they clearly aren’t that.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5, Lumia 735 and a Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.

Lows:   They are competent and capable.  I however am not particularly finding the love for it.  it’s good, it’s just not very interesting nor exciting.  It really does however deserve its Pro title, it’s so very even handed, controlled for a dynamic, polite and linear.  On its own I know I ought be praising it more but there is a strident spike in the upper mids and that comparatively makes the bass a little too polite.  Maybe it’s also a function of me getting a reasonably light seal?  The bass on something in this price I want to be rumble more, be a little bit more unruly and playful.  Still if you are 17, putting together your own band and you want to “pro” it up and get some “monitors” then great.  Their even handed and controlled composure will be just what you’re looking for.

Quantitatively they are highly balance, no real boosting to speak of.   If you throw on something bassy it will rise somewhat to the occasion but it’s never a bass beast, it just won’t do it.  With my sensible hat on I recognise its ability is high but my hearts just not feeling the love.

Mids:  Here things start looking up in terms of emotive capacity.  Still highly linear and controlled aside from that strident upper vocal, they are very good.  Mids are a touch upfront and I cold maybe even say a little forward.  They are highly noticeable, clean and have a slightly elevated prominence.  Again if you’re looking for a bargain basement monitor, grown up monitor balance and sound you’re on to a winner.  If you’re a vocalist primarily then this would work out very nicely I’m sure.  Me being a bit of a midhead I’d personally like a little bit more of a vocal bump, these really are good, nearing BA good for this sort of money.  They please me and make me smile.  Fire up a little Susan Wong, Tori, Beverly Craven, the Krall woman, etc etc and you’ll see what I mean.  These are just begging to be “My First Monitor” for vocalists.

Qualitatively they are good.  A BA would still spank them in forwardness and purity but these are great in the mid range, if they could just tame that stridency in the upper area they would be fantastic.

Highs:  Monitor esq once more in their balance and presentation.  The highs then go nicely up and are pretty tame in style.  No surprises (aside from the upper mid / tower treble spike) and they then can feel  alittle like the bass.  On paper and with my sensible hat on I recognise they are good, capable, well controlled, highly competent and so forth.  They aren’t however the most captivating listen, they aren’t fill with the joy of life that I so like music to bring.  They are good for sure and they don’t do anything wrong by any stretch…… they just aren’t captivating.  It’s a rather monitor like quality, monitors are for use as an analytical tool.  As such they are not supposed to add anything, to bumps, no flavouring, no influencing the musical output in anyway and that’s what they do. 

Quantitatively and qualitatively they are both highly monitor like.  The treble quantity is for the most polite unpronounced, even in quantity but they are lacking in any sort of a brutal edge.  This may make some feel the lack in abundance but it’s not, they just lack ear ravaging bight.  That’s great for me and in a monitor it’s exactly what you want.  If you’re going to listen to them all day then the last thing you want is hard cutting treble.  Detail levels are good at the price but it’s rather subtle so again some may feel its lacking because it’s not thrusting detail in your face.  It’s there, it’s just a little shy.

Soundstage:  For the most part they are rather upfront and err towards intimacy.  Most notable in the vocal ranges they want to be right there before you.  The bass and treble a little more diffuse, a little more in the background.  Instrument separation and such is so so but the inverse, the level of musical integration is very nice.  The bass and treble are pushed behind the vocals but it’s all highly coherent.

Fit:  Awesome.  I’m a great, huge great big fan of wearing things over the ear and these make you, they are also, despite having a memory wire attached, great.  I had absolutely no trouble at all getting them to sit perfectly in my ears.  The memory wire even can be used to really tightly hold them in place.  If your some crazy head banging rock band member then I dare say you could do your worst and these would still stay put.

Comfort:  Awesome.  They fit me perfectly and were perfect in my ears.  I could and did wear them for sever hours at a time and was always perfectly pleased with them.

Isolation:  As a function of them not sealing super tight in my ear, they sit rather shallow you see, accordingly they don’t isolate super great.  Well actually for a typical dynamic they are pretty good but for a sealed dynamic they are not as isolating as I might have hoped.  Still they would be fine for most uses, out and about, on a bus but as ever not probably my first choice for a Tube commute or flight.  However my warning still stands, they are more than enough to make you road kill of you don’t use your eyes when out near traffic.

Phone Use:  Awesome.  You know how not all phones use the same standard placement for the headphone jacks?  So getting volume controls that works is very hit and miss?  Well MEE audio have done the sensible thing.  Just stick a god damn variable resistor in the thing.  So you can use the little slider in the mic bit.  Use it in a phone or anything and you can control the volume nice and easily with perfect compatibility.  Otherwise the single button, which acts as a play / pause / skip button.  So I rang someone up and they reported they could hear me just fine, as I could them.

Accessories:  Well there is no denying you get everything.  Two cables, with shirt clips, one with a mic and one without.  A pair of Comply’s and a bunch of silicon tips too.  Then there is a 6.25 to 3.5mm adapter.  Then of course keep in mind that any singe component is replaceable from MEE audio.  Break one bud, no problem you can replace it on its own.  Why doesn’t everyone do this?  Lastly though there is that case.  Now it is a nice case, it looks nice and its nice to the touch but……its huge.  Sure if you want to stick an Ipod or something in there too but I’ve literally never once wanted to do that so I’d pretty much have to buy a sensible size case for them.  Now MEE audio will happily sell you a whole range of case alternatives and I like that but I fail to get why these come with such a massive case to begin with.

Amped/Unamped:  They barely need any power to sound good and if anything were on the whole more pleasing when coming out of a phone.  The relative lack of power meant that strident upper mid disappeared.  Seriously they if anything were better balanced when driven by a phone.  I presume that’s because they are designed to be a companion for mediocre sources, you know if you’re buying a “monitor” for professional uses that costs just US$50 then it’s a reasonable assumption you’re not going to be plugging them into a Solo Ultra Linear.  Something a bit warm, a bit meh like the Nexus 5 or Iphone 5 and the M6 Pro’s were perfect companions to them.

Value:  MEE audio have always been a very high value producer of things and the M6 Pro’s are not going be denting that well-earned reputation.  For something like this, not just how they sound, that they are pitched as a monitor and I think they can quite righty be called such.  That you get two cables, then the fact you get a totally modular system is amazing.  That they offer easy replacements for a cable, without a mic, with a mic, a gigantic 72 inch cable, then even a single sided cable, if you’re just wanting to use one ear for proper performance monitoring!!!!  Who else gives you any of that? 

Oh and then on top of all that they offer a “Lifetime Replacement” offer where if you kill your pair they will sell you a new pair for half price.  Toss on top of all of that the fact its IPx5 water resistance rated MEE audio must be pretty confident of its abuse surviving powers.

Conclusion:  The M6 Pro, is a great product.  I may not quite get its name, sure they share a look but when I A/B them they are nothing alike.  The Pro’s are on another planet better than the plain old M6.  Sure they cost different amounts so you’d expect the Pro’s to be better but I think their name does them a disservice.  I think you could easily be forgiven for thinking that the Pro is simply a detachable cable version and nothing more.  I know that is what I assumed by my first glance at their name.  Naturally the second I noticed the specifications it was clear they were different but not everyone may do that.  Honestly I think it’s a silly move on MEE audio’s part to name them so.

With that name out of the way, I’ve pretty much run out of negatives regarding the M6 Pro.  Acoustically they are very highly capable for the price tag and come with an insane level of modularity for those with specific needs.  These are actually deserving of their Pro naming.  In not just terms of that fit and their wild customisable modularity but in their acoustic balance too.  They aren’t consumer targeted, no hugely boosted bass, no ear and attention grabbing treble.  The mids are highly, very highly coherent and totally even.  Now while I can’t say these compare to something like the UM3x but then these cost not just a fraction but barely the slightest sliver of their price.  Price is what is core to the M6 Pro, they aren’t competing with the likes of the UM3x never mind going into the world of custom moulded IEM’s with god knows how many drivers in them.  The M6 Pro is what a bunch of guys starting out with their band in high school, the church that wants to kit out everyone in the choir with a pair of something, the people who want to use something as a monitor but still needs to count the pennies.

So should you get one?  Well if you’re just starting your own band, or you’re a budding YouTube cover singing or song writing, presumptive star in the making, then bluntly, yes.  They are made plainly with you in mind, they will perform evenly and balanced as one would desire of a monitor.  They are comfy to wear for hours on end and the acoustically kind enough to the ear that you can listen to them all day too.  They will do the job for a fraction of what anything else suitable costs.  Hover if you’re a consumer then it’s a more mixed bag.  They aren’t what most people might expect for US$50.  Their bass for one isn’t vast and beside the normal M6 is positively diminutive.  However if you want something that is what it claims to be, a monitor, a flat, evenly balanced, well behaved, a highly coherent and composed In Ear Monitor, then that is exactly what they deliver.

MEE audio M6 Pro Quick Review

MEE audio M6 Pro Quick Review

Thanks to MEE audio for the sample

Brief:  A bargain priced monitor

Price:  US$50 or £35

Specifications:  driver type moving coil (dynamic), driver size 10 mm, frequency response 20Hz to 20kHz, impedance 16 Ohms at 1K, sensitivity 100±3 dB (1mW at 1KHZ), maximum power input 30mW, Microphone Specifications directivity omnidirectional, frequency response 100 Hz to 10 kHz, sensitivity -42dB± 3dB, Product Details, ear coupling intraaural (in-ear), cable length 51 inches (1.3m), detachable, cable connector 3.5mm, right angle plug, weight 5.8oz (164g), water resistance rating IPX5.

Accessories:  Protective carrying case, eartips, shirt clips, spare cable, ¼" adapter

Build Quality:  Not just nice for the money but nice full stop.  Sure it’s all plastic but the cable with the transparent outer sheath with its bright silvered mesh weave underneath, it is one of the best looking IEM’s anywhere and at any price.  Its then all nicely put together and it’s all modular, the whole thing just exudes a quality level that is far in excess of its price.

Isolation:  Pretty good.  They may be dynamics but they are quite well sealed and thusly they isolate moderately well.  Absolutely fine for most typical uses, out and about, on a bus.  Tube and flights in a pinch but certainly not my first choice.  Obviously more than enough to get yourself run over if you aren’t paying attention.

Comfort/Fit:  Excellent.  They must be worn up which not everyone love but I do and they fit me perfectly.  They were perfectly comfortable to wear all day long too.  First rate on both accounts.

Aesthetics:  I love how these look.  They are for me one of the best looking earphones out there.  Not only are the buds fantastic looking but absolutely love that transparent sheath over that silvered mesh weave cable, stunningly good looking.

Sound:  Normal consumers may not have their expectations met.  I know I expected them to be very M6 like but other than visually they aren’t.  Acoustically they have nothing in common with each other.  The M6 Pro is a vastly more grown up, monitor like balanced IEM.  It really is an In Ear Monitor too.  The bass is competent and capable if a little boring.  The mids are very nice, a little prominent and forward compared with what many will be used to.  The treble is nicely refined, no edge, no brutality so some may find it not as in your face as they wish.  It’s not attention seeking at all, very plain and easy on the ear.  There is a bit of an upper vocal stridency but pair with something moderate, warm and don’t play silly buggers with the volume control and you’ll mostly be fine.  They really aren’t an exciting thrill ride.  They are grown up proper monitor like but for barely any money.

Not one for thrill seeking party people but if you’re a high school band, budding YouTube star, budding podcasting star, someone who wants an audio monitor but hasn’t tremendous wealth.

Value:  Just silly, the look fantastic, they come with two cables, detachable cables, you can buy replacement cables, replacement single buds and even a single sided cable if you only wantto use one side.  These should be pretty much at the top of the list for every budding audio based star starting out.  They then come with a craze lifetime, will replace for half price if you kill them offer. 

Pro’s:  Looks stunningly good.  Stupidly cheap real monitors.  Crazy levels of modularity.

Con’s:  Upper vocal tendency for stridency.  Bass will be too polite for some.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

FiiO M3 Review

FiiO M3 Review

Thanks to FiiO for the sample.

First impressions:  It’s been some time since I’ve had a FiiO product in.  I see and can feel that the quality of the box itself seems to have improved.  It’s a more professional feeling box, not that the box is all that important.  It may make a small difference if you’re browsing in a store but I can’t say I see it likely to bump into FiiO products on the high street anytime soon.  A shame that but it’s not like many places sell DAP’s on the high street anyway.  Opening it up, there in the player itself.  I’m instantly presented with mixed feelings.  The player is super tiny and I cannot help but think, oooooooohhhh.  However then I notice it’s flanked by white ear buds, white.  I’m not pleased, I don’t mind that they come with buds although I’d rather they didn’t.  I view DAP’s coming with earphones as a waste of money and especially given that anyone buying a FiiO product probably cares enough to not need or want them.  If they do want them then just let them buy them, separately.  Anyway with a black player as I have here if they must come with buds, they really ought to be black I think.  I know it’s not important but it’s a pet peeve of mine.

Returning to the player itself I’m again just struck by how diminutive it is.  I realise that its numerical dimensions indicate it’s small but I really hadn’t twigged just how small it is.  The thing is freekin’ tiny in my hand, compared with other DAP’s I use the only thing that comes close is the ancient 1G Ipod Shuffle.  It’s just so itty bitty!!!

Screen:  Well it’s DAP, a Digital Audio Player so the screen is only to navigate music and maybe to tell you the name of what’s playing right?  It does both those things just fine.  The screen is perfectly adequate for its use case.  What I mean by that is it’s kinda cheap and meh.  I have no problem with that as its perfectly fine for what you’re doing with it, it’s not a video player or anything. 

Battery Life:  The spec sheet says 12 hours playback and that to me seemed plausible.  It easily lasted through not just one days use but a few.  Unsurprisingly the screen getting lit up shortens that life but nicely, when you track skip or volume adjust the screen doesn’t automatically light up.  Yey!!!  I like to control my audio player with it either in my hard or in my pocket, where I’m certainly not looking at it so no need to power up the screen and waste power.

UI:  To date I’ve never come across a DAP from the Far East (excluding Sony) that was intuitive and a pleasure to use.  The UI here is functional but its pictograph’s aren’t always obvious and scrolling off screen likewise isn’t obvious.  I mean it’s not impossible and you get used to it but I’d suggest doing what I normally do.  Set the thing to shuffle the whole SD card and just track skip your way through things. 

In The Hand:  Pictures don’t do it justice.  Pics and the dimensions both told it me it was small but actually having it in my hard was a revelation.  It’s so itty bitty tiny!!!  The thing even comes with a lanyard whose length suggests it to wear round your neck.  Oh did I mention it weighs almost nothing?  The only thing though is I’d rather the front wasn’t so much screen but had the buttons more spaced out.  They feel all a little squished down together at the bottom.  Its corners are maybe a touch angular and sharp but being plastic they aren’t too bad.  Most of all the thing is just so diminutive.

Controls:  The buttons on the front, from a first glance they look like touch sensitive things don’t they?  That’s what I thought but gods be praised, they aren’t.  They are actually normal buttons you must depress to actuate, you cannot know how pleased by that I am.  It means no accidently pressing the wrong things and means I can operate the thing tactilely in my pocket.  Woo Hoo!!!  Love real buttons on DAP’s.  I change the volume and skip tracks all the time so real buttons are always welcome.   Interestingly it also has a hardware button lock switch.  You slide the lock and the buttons stop working, the idea being you lock it and cant accidently press stuff in your pocket.

One interesting control feature, by default the track skipping, it comes with a soft transition.  When you hit skip, the current track dips quickly in volume to nothing and then quickly climbs back up with the next track.  I found myself rather liking that, despite its making the process a little slower its was nice.  It made for a very smooth transition.

Format Support:  The spec sheet again is fairly comprehensive.  You name it, it can play it it would seem, including APE which to date I’ve never seen anyone use but apparently its more popular in the Far East.  The only slight caveat is that it can’t play the very highest bit rates.  Its tops out at FLAC: 48 kHz/24 bit and WAV: 96 kHz/24 bit.  That is technically a shame but in reality it doesn’t matter at all.  People who buy a DAP at this price are not intending to throw 192kHz /24bit files at it anyway, are they?  Otherwise it also supports MP3, WMA, OGG and M4A so pretty much about everything any reasonable person is ever likely to want to use.

Connections:  Here there is nothing fancy.  We have the ubiquitous 3.5mm hp output, the almost as common micro USB input (for charging and data transfer) and then lastly, the micro SD card slot.  That’s it, it’s a short list but really what else would you want?

Volume:  The dial goes up to 60, frankly I hate to think just how loud that must get, I got it as far as 40 before finding it getting uncomfortably loud.  Sure if you maybe have some very quiet piece or you have hearing issues then you might make use of it…….. me though, god no.  It’s capable of going stupidly loud.

Sound Quality:  So let’s be clear that the M3 is a tiny itty bitty sliver of a thing.  It’s not going to be rocking desktop amp power and it’s likewise not got the most complex and sophisticated innards either.  So if you think you’re going to get, world class, uber high quality audio you may want to think again.  The M3 is about being a convenient and crazy small DAP its intention is to take the battery strain off your phone and give you a bit of a bump in audio quality while it’s at it.  That is just what it does too.  Sure it’s a little soft, little warmed, a little bit of diffuse creaminess.  Its somewhat the typical FiiO sound and its one common to Far East players.  They all veer towards the warmer side of things, hey it’s just what’s popular in the Far East.  While I might prefer a bit more dry and clinical in a DAP, warmth coming from my earphones instead, it is what it is.

Lows:  They are nicely diffuse, a little softish perhaps as the power output on the little M3 struggles to drive the Oppo PM-3’s I’m playing with.  It not bad but in the deepest lows it just runs out of puff.  Swapping to the Finder X1’s and while the bass doesn’t need so much power they still are struggling at the deepest deaths.  They also are a little reduced in potency, they haven’t the hearty kick that a more powerful player can offer.  Swapping to more rich music that is very nicely complimented and playing with some very bass heavy earphones it’s a rather pleasant on the ear pairing. 

Quantity wise, while the lowest reaches diminished there is an overall little bump to the bass.  That hint softer, bigger, more full and wider.  Something that would pair well with something warmly sumptuous like the Sony EX-500’s.  They made for a great pairing.

Mids:  Once more they are a slight bit creamy and smoothed.  It makes for a nicely pleasant rendition on the ear.  Particularly with the warm EX-500’s they are very smooth, level and melodic.  They aren’t so great with a more airy presentation song wise.  They just don’t want to push towards open, breathy, clarity so they sort of sound a little bit enclosed, a touch suffocated.  As is ever with a warmed presentation the best vocally you find when playing back warm and creamy vocals.  They are softly smooth, richly sumptuous and the just ooze round your ears.  It’s a very pleasant style to relax to.  If however you push them, towards say fast paced gym type music (a place where you may well want a cheap and tiny little DAP.)  Then you get that Sony esq big warm bombastic sound.  It’s not one I’m wild about but Sony Hi-Fi’s have long sold well and are well loved by the general public.  It’s a big potent, powerful and weighty sound.  It likes to just power on through everything. 

Quantitatively they are a smidge behind the bass I think, just a faint tiny bit.  They do come with a dollop of cream though, which is nice but not entirely for me all the time.

Highs:  They are that faintly warmed, slightly smoothed out style that we have seen elsewhere. It’s an ever popular and easy on the ear playback style.   It really does pair nicely with the Sony EX-500’s.  Neither are wildly great at great at the treble end so both conspire to give a delicate little dusting of shimmer, keeping it all rather vague but it works.  Neither are about vast detail retrieval and they both you might think, are pushing everything too much in the warm direction but like I say, it works.  Neither are analytical tools.

Quantitatively they are a smidge reduced and a little tiny bit diffused. 

Hiss:  I cannot say I noticed any.

Accessories:  You get a rather weird selection. The micro USB cable isn’t a surprise, the earbuds are a little bit of a surprise to me but the weird one is the neck lanyard.  Not that I have any problems with it, I actually rather think it’s a nice, fun idea but it’s just not something you often see.  Indeed I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a DAP come with one before.  The earbuds though, I’m a little disappointed with.  Now I get that FiiO may have a more “high street” presence in China and so it’s then a little bit more expected that a player should come with some earphones.  However, I cannot imagine anyone in the west who is buying a FiiO device isn’t going to be using their own earphones.  So to me including them is a just a waste of money.

Value:  This is where FiiO traditionally shine and here is no exception.  While the M3 isn’t the world’s most thrilling DAP its star quality is its price tag.  The thing comes in at just US$55 on Amazon US, which is just £38 though the UK price I found was £50.  (Slight grumble.) The fact is at its price, either price it’s a great value product.  It’s not going to challenge proper high end DAP’s but it’s not meant to, its phone battery saver, it’s a gym companion, it’s a little gem.

Conclusion:  So you may have noticed I’ve not been wild about its audio quality.  It isnt anything particularly acoustically special.  I can’t even say it’ll be definitively better than your phone either.  Phones have been getting better and when I compare it to my Lumia 735 I actually prefer the colder, crisper presentation of the 735.  I generally do prefer colder DAP’s it’s just what suits me better.  So the M3 is being pitched at a more typical and mainstream user.

The Warmer and more smooth presentation it offers is generally exactly what a typical, normal phone using listener is after.  They want big, smooth, expansive bass.  They want that big weighty sound.  They want something that weighs nothing.  They want something that will got through a weeks’ worth of gym sessions.  They want something that isn’t going to eat any precious phone battery life.  The M3 does a grand little job of all those things.

So should you buy one?  Well if you want a diminutive DAP for working out, or you just want something tiny to replace your phone for battery destroying commute listening then it’s a fab little thing.  It’s so small and it weighs practically nothing.  Throw the lanyard on it and hang it round your neck so even if you’re a girl with no pockets you can still use it unencumbered.  Aside from the music playing you’ll instantly forget it’s there it weighs so little.  It’s a highly functional little DAP with excellent battery life that would be perfect as a diminutive gym or a commute companion.