Tuesday, December 02, 2014

MEElectronics M9 Classic: Minimalistic. Animalistic.

Intro





TL;DR: The M9 Classic is overall one of the best budget IEM packages ever. I don’t think I need to say more.

First of all, I would like to personally thank Mike at MEElectronics for providing the M9 sample for review. Apologies if the review process took much longer than expected – a lot of things got in the way which considerably slowed down the process. Hopefully I get to make up for that with this review. As always, all opinions expressed in the following review are strictly my own unless otherwise specified, and much be taken with a grain of salt. Furthermore, I am neither affiliated with MEElectronics or any of its staff, nor am I receiving any compensation for writing this review (aside from the provided review sample).

Well, it hasn’t been very long since my last review, and already I have something new to write about. To be honest, though, this isn’t really “new” as the review sample arrived about a whole month ago. Yes, this may very well be the longest time I’ve taken to write a review, but I’m going to go ahead and blame it on my fellow reviewer, Blake. The primary plan was supposed to write a joint review with both our opinions combined into one review – but since that didn't work, I guess we'll have to do with this one.

Anyways, we’re going to take a look at an IEM in a price bracket I’m all too familiar with – the ultra-budget range. The MEElectronics M9 is a $10 IEM that looks to compete with what might be my favorite IEM – the $15 Xiaomi Pistons 2.0. Let’s see how they do.


== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Accessories


The M9 arrives in a very simple cardboard box, which MEElectronics markets as “frustration-free” and eco-friendly. The guarantee the packaging has “low waste, no clamshells, and no wire ties” – although if you look at the picture below, you might want to think otherwise. Despite it being simple, eco-friendly, and cheap, MEElectronics might want to consider beautifying the box a little to at least make them look more like an actual product and less like something other than a product. (No offense, you guys). The included accessories are scant – just four pairs of eartips – but essentially you get what you pay for.



Design, Build, Microphonics

Inside the M9 package. Note the wire tie.
Clearly MEElectronics paid no heed to the packaging and accessories of their M9, as they seem to have put most if not all of their focus into the IEMs themselves. And apparently MEElectronics was right on the money with the build quality of these 10 dollar IEMs. It’s got a very diminutive housing made out of aluminum – pretty damn impressive for an IEM at this price. The housing is also really small – to the point where you wouldn’t notice you’re wearing them. The cable is also nothing short of amazing at this price – sturdy, relieved pretty well, and has very little microphonics. If I were to nitpick on the build, I’d probably look at the rather flimsy Y-split, and probably the driver flex issue in the right channel (which only happens with silicone tips), but otherwise I have no complaints.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

Comparison with stock bi-flanges and
without. Note the size difference.
I’ve jabbed a lot of small IEMs into my ears before, like the Ivery IS-1 and the Philips SHE3590. And though the M9 is slightly larger than both of them, they still manage to disappear into my ears and deliver the music. Sometimes I forget they’re even in there until I notice the cable. They fit with practically all of the tips that fit me without complaint, and with great comfort to boot. They also manage to isolate well with a good seal. They can also be worn over-the-ear, although the strain reliefs on the housings are a little long.



== Sound==

Specs


Headphone Type
Closed-back vented in-ear monitor (straight down, around-the-ear)
Driver Type
9mm dynamic
Frequency Response
20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
Max. Input Power
N/A
Sensitivity
95 ± 3dB (1 mW @ 1,000 Hz)
Impedance
16 Ω @ 1,000 Hz
Weight
13 g (0.4 oz.)
Cable Length
1.3 m (51”)
Connector
3.5 mm (1/8”) gold-plated 90-degree TRS
Accessories
3x black silicone single-flange eartips (S/M/L)
1x black silicone bi-flange eartips (M)


Equipment, Burn-in

The equipment used for this review is an iPad 3 and my PC as the sources, running the M9 unamped (a barebones setup – but one you would see the M9 being used in). The amp used in the test is a Yamaha RX-V359 receiver through headphone-out. The EQ software used is the EQu app on the iPad, and Viper4Windows on the PC. Test tracks are available here for reference. The M9s were burned in for at least 100 hours before the assessments, mostly with music and games. The eartips I used in my assessment are the stock bi-flanges and Comply S-400 eartips.


Sound Quality


The M9s were pretty underwhelming at first listen. They sounded think, and too bright for my tastes. The bass lacked punch, body, and a host of other gripes. But as the review process proved to me time and time again, first impressions should never be lasting impressions (if you do that, you’ll probably end up not liking a lot of headphones). So I gave it time, and well, let’s just say I was blown away.

First, let’s start with the bass. It was thin, lacked punch, and wasn’t very full-bodied at first. But over time, I kinda realized I was looking for things that wasn’t there. The MEElectronics M9 presents bass in a very “audiophile” kind of way. It’s centered on the deep end of the bass (say, around 60 Hz), and forgoes the consumer “boom” for audiophile rumble and accuracy. It’s pretty damn impressive.

Next, the midrange. I was pretty surprised to hear a relatively cold tonality to it compared to a lot of other IEMs and headphones I’ve tried over my journey – in short, it’s a bit on the neutral side. It’s a very welcome surprise, though, and I find myself listening to these over a lot of other IEMs. The midrange has exceptional clarity for a $10 IEM, but is slightly peaky in the upper midrange (specifically around 5 kHz) which makes some instruments sound a little too sharp over the others.

As for the treble, I found it a little too bright at first. Eventually I did get used to it, and I started to appreciate its qualities. It’s sparkly, a little sibilant, a little bit splashy, too, but otherwise crisp and lively. I find Comply foam eartips to be a great counter to the treble if you find it too bright, as the foam soaks up a good amount of that treble, leaving you with probably one of the best sound signatures I’ve ever had the honor to listen to.

Its soundstage and imaging capabilities are not far off, either. The M9 presents its sound in a pretty intimate way, kinda like sitting front row in a small jazz lounge. The key part of the presentation is how they give you a defined sense of space. While a lot of other IEMs sound like the sound gets absorbed into the “walls” like in a studio, the M9’s sound seems to bounce right back at you. And it’s a lot of fun to listen to, I have to say. If I were to list a drawback to its sound, I don’t think I could list any, really. Everything just sounds so good I couldn’t say anything bad about it. And to think, all of this for 10 bucks. Freaking amazing.


Gaming, Movies

Playing a little bit of Far Cry 4, I was pretty much blown away by what these little things could handle. So far, they’ve passed every music test with flying colours, and this one was no different. Their treble was a little sharp (especially noticeable with silenced guns) but was otherwise a lot of fun to play with. Their positional audio isn’t phenomenal, but isn’t bad either. Movies are also enjoyable to watch on these, mostly because of their midrange, which is presented nice and clear amongst the soundtrack – a stark contrast to the bass-centric path of immersion.


EQ, Amping

With some amping tests, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the M9 – if at all. Playing around with the EQ did, however, produce some interesting results. Apparently controlling the treble basically gives you control over the whole signature, as it radically changes depending on how you equalize it. Reduce the treble by about 3 dB, and you get a significantly better-rounded signature without the sharp treble. Reduce it by 6 dB, and you have a basshead-friendly signature that will wow your non-audiophile friends.


Value

I’m sure I already mentioned this several times throughout this review, but let me say this again: The MEElectronics M9 retails for about 10 bucks. Ten. Dollars. Now, for what you get, I feel they’re probably one of the best bargains on an IEM I’ve seen since the Pistons – and to be honest, I think they are. In this winter that is only getting colder, you can either get a scarf, some mittens, and other winter accessories for $10, or get an MEElectronics M9. If I were me, I’d gladly take the M9 over any winter clothes – I’ll just put up with the cold with my winter outfit from last year and some tunes to jog out to.


Comparison

Versus Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 ($16)

Against the IEM I dubbed “the ultimate earphone under $20,” I feel that the MEElectronics M9 goes toe-to-toe with the Pistons. In fact, the competition between them is so close, I could say it’s “driver-to-driver”. From an aesthetic standpoint, I could say the Pistons gain the upper hand with his luxurious gold-coloured aluminum and chocolate brown accents. On the other hand, I could see how people would prefer the M9 and its simple and subdued aesthetics.

But let’s get to the most important subject at hand – the sound. To be really honest, again, I don’t really have much of a preference between either. The M9 has a very clear “audiophile” signature to it, with more clarity in the midrange and treble, and bass aimed for more accuracy. The Pistons, on the other hand, is aimed for more fun, with a more rounded-out low end with significantly more power and a smoothed-out treble. Like I said, I myself can’t pick one over the other, but I could very well see a lot of other people will.

== Conclusion==


The MEElectronics M9 is an amazing budget IEM. It’s got one of the best overall packages I’ve ever seen since the Pistons. I don’t think I need to say more – if you have the money to spare and you’re looking for an amazing budget pair, don’t go anywhere; the M9 is one of the best choices out there.


Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
7/10
The simple eco-friendly packaging doesn’t really make the M9s look like a finished product. Its accessories are equally simple, but you get what you pay for.
Design, Build, Microphonics
8/10
With full aluminum housings, and a high-quality, non-microphonic cable, the M9’s build quality is unprecedented at this price.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8.5/10
A straightforward fit coupled with great comfort makes for an IEM that fits virtually all ears. Isolation, like all other universal IEMs, varies with the eartips used.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
8.5/10
Deep, clean, and accurate – those three words make up the amazing bass response of the M9.
Midrange
7/10
The M9 aims to please audiophile tastes with its exceptional clarity and neutral tonality – much unlike other IEMs at this price.
Treble
7.5/10
The treble, to me, is a little too sharp. It’s nothing some Comply tips or a little EQ can’t fix, though.
Presentation
7/10
The M9’s amazing sound signature is laid out across a decently-sized soundstage with a lot of air into it, giving it a very defined sense of space.
Gaming
7.5/10
The M9, unlike common “gaming” headphones and IEMs, aims for competition-grade sound, with great clarity and stereo imaging.
Movies
7.5/10
Just like its gaming performance, the M9 goes against the typical consumer fare with a clean sound that centers on the vocals more than the bass.
EQ, Amping
7.5/10
Equalizing the treble drastically alters the overall balance of the M9’s sound, which makes it easier to adjust the EQ. Amplification doesn’t improve its sound, however.
Value
10/10
This is the first time I’ve ever given a perfect score in the Value section, but I feel it is perfectly warranted. The MEElectronics M9 simply has one of the best, if not the best value of any IEM I’ve ever seen.
Total
7.8/10
The M9 is overall one of the best budget IEM packages ever. I don’t think I need to say more.

Shout-Outs, Gallery

First of all, I just want to again thank Mike at MEElectronics for providing me with a review sample of the M9. I also want to again apologize for having the review get delayed way past schedule. I hope this review could make up for that. Also, thanks to my sis for helping me out with the pictures. As always, here is the link to all of the pictures taken during the shoot.


As always, this is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading!


Changelog

01/13/15: Changed scoring.
12/23/14: Added a new scoring category (Presentation) to the score table on all reviews since the Brainwavz R3.
12/04/2014: Changed link of image folder on all reviews, as part of a migration of files from DropBox to Microsoft OneDrive.

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