Sunday, April 05, 2015

MEElectronics A151P Gen. 2: Smooth Operator, Part 2

Intro


TL;DR: A direct successor to the A151(P) and a spiritual successor to the A161(P), this second-generation A151 provides a smooth, mid-centirc sound that always makes me come back for more.

Before I begin, I would like to thank Mike at MEE Audio for providing the review sample of the A151P Generation 2 in this review. Let me clarify that I am neither affiliated with MEE Audio or any of its staff, nor am I being compensated or paid in any form by writing this review. This review features only my own honest personal opinion and as such should be taken with a grain of salt. All pictures taken in this review are taken and owned by me.

So, a couple weeks ago, I wrote a review of the MEE Audio M6 PRO, an impressive new IEM from MEE Audio and one of their many cool new releases this spring. Now, MEE Audio was kind enough to also send me a sample of another of their new releases, and this week we’re going to take a look at it – the A151P Generation 2, an update over the original A151.

(A quick note before we begin: The review sample in this review is of the A151P and not the basic A151. The P version has an inline microphone and 1-button remote; aside from that there aren’t any differences to the base model.)



~~ Aesthetics ~~

Packaging, Accessories



The A151P Gen 2 comes in a simple printed box with basic information laid all around. An image of the A151P is printed out on the front. Specifications are on the left side of the box, features on the right, and more info about the A151 on the back. Nothing is lacking or overdone here; just a box that does its job of keeping your IEMs safe as they get to you.

Opening the package, you’re greeted with the IEMs and a soft carry case set in a plastic container. Inside the carry case are 4 extra sets of eartips and a manual, as well as a 1 year manufacturer’s warranty. Unlike the M6 PRO I previously reviewed, the A151P doesn’t have the lifetime replacement policy, which lets you replace the M6 PRO for half price, no questions asked. Given that the A151P Generation 2 is an amazing IEM (oops, spoiler alert!), it’s a bit of a disappointment. But otherwise, I have zero complaints.



Design, Build, Microphonics

If the A151P was placed in a contest of weirdest-looking IEMs, they wouldn’t make it past the auditions – the A151P means serious business, and it definitely looks the part. They have a very serious, matured look to them which I really like – a quality that shines through to its other aspects. They don’t have any outstanding colours or aggressive styling – just a shape that simply works. Durability-wise they seem pretty iffy with their all-plastic construction and rather concerning strain relief on the housings, but they are pretty durable and should hold up to everyday use without complaint. Their braided cable is very flexible and moves about as freely as you do; as such they have very little cable noise, even without a shirt clip in use. Overall very good performance in this sector.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

The fit of the A151 Generation 2 is easy and straightforward (I’m still looking at you, M6 PRO) – loop cable around ears, stick IEMs in ears, plug into source device, and press play. (Of course, if that doesn’t work, just try a smaller or bigger pair of eartips.) However, I did find them to get uncomfortable over longer periods of time due to their unvented design, making a pretty tight vacuum seal in my ears. On the other hand, this unvented design gives them excellent passive isolation, similar to that of my Final Audio Design Heaven 2.
                                                                                                                                       


~~ Sound ~~

Specs


Headphone Type
Closed-back in-ear monitor (over-ear only)
Driver Type
1x micro balanced armature driver
Frequency Response
20 – 19,500 Hz
Max. Input Power
N/A
Sensitivity
111 dB
Impedance
32 Ω
Weight
N/A
Cable
1.35m (53”) twisted  cable
Connector
3.5mm (1/8”) gold-plated right-angle TRRRS connector
Accessories
Soft carry case
3x sets black silicone eartips (S/M/L)
1x set black silicone bi-flange eartips (M)
1x set black silicone tri-flange eartips (M)
Product manual
12 month manufacturer warranty


Equipment, Burn-in

All my music listening is done on my PC and 5th-generation iPod Touch; media and games usage are spread out across a host of other devices. For the EQ test, I used Electri-Q on the PC via foobar2000 and the EQu app on the iPod. As always, my list of test tracks can be viewed here for reference, although I will mention a few songs in the review for a more specific point of reference. If a link is available, I’ll also link it below. The eartips used on the M6 PRO during the review are the large stock single-flange eartips.

As always, the A151P Generation 2 was burned-in for at least 50 hours prior to writing this review. Over that time I noticed the sound smoothed out slightly. It’s not a big deal, but it’s there. Anyways, let’s not waste any time and get right down to the sound review!


Sound Quality



The A151P Gen. 2 took me a little while to get used to its very mid-focused sound. But, having an immense craving for midrange, I eased into the sound pretty easily, and what I heard was honestly really, really good.


Bass:
Well, I guess this is fairly obvious, but I love bass. Bass with weight, impact, and rumble. But though I’m not the basshead I was in my earlier years, I still like a little punch in my music every once in a while. And if bass is what you’re looking for, you might as well read a different review because the A151P will most certainly not give that to you. The bass on these IEMs take a good step back from the spotlight, allowing lots of room for the rest of the frequencies to shine. They start rolling off pretty quickly from about 70 Hz down, but at regular listening volume I can hear a sine sweep down to a low 25 Hz, so pretty good extension. But even though it’s there, you probably won’t be able to hear the thump and rumble in bass-heavy songs (take any EDM song, for example). On the other hand, they exhibit no bleed into the midrange up and have a very accurate and speedy punch, so they have that going for them, which in my book is very good.


Midrange:
After my early basshead phase, midrange became my #1 priority. For instruments to shine, the midrange had to sound great. And as I study the piano, my earlier IEMs had trouble reproducing the nuances of piano tracks that I so often drift to sleep to. And, well, it’s pretty safe to say the A151P has absolutely no trouble doing that same thing. For a $50 IEM, I honestly haven’t heard a midrange performance of this calibre. They have a neutral tonality with a very slight warm tilt and a smooth, natural presentation. Detail retrieval is one of the best I’ve heard in this price range. It really makes vocals, guitars, and pianos come alive (Link, Link). If you’re looking for midrange above all else in a $50 pair, I don’t think you should look any further than the A151P Generation 2.


Treble:
From the get-go you can notice the A151P has a pretty laid-back treble. I’m usually not a fan of this as it obscures some details, but in this case the treble really works. It still retains a lot of detail and crispness while maintaining its smooth response. Crash cymbals are very nicely reproduced and mix well with the drums, which are also rather laid-back. Rim shots on drums and claps remain snappy and quick. However, I did notice that “S” and “SH” sounds are still pretty accented, and they do roll-off slowly at the very high end, but with performance like this, it’s hard to complain.


Soundstage/Presentation:
The A151P Generation 2’s soundstage is, to put it simply, amazing. It mixes so well with the sound signature that it makes me want to just kick back and listen to the music. It’s decently-sized, has a nice amount of air, and great separation between instruments – great for rock and acoustic music.


Summary:
I’ll admit, I’m not good at making analogies, but I felt that this time I needed to make one. The A151P Generation 2’s sound reminds me of a chocolate-orange shake I had at a restaurant. The name alone is a little intimidating, but from the first sip, it tasted amazing. The flavours were mixed so well together that it just felt right. The sound of the A151P is just like that. Everything – the bass, the midrange, and the treble – all come together and work in a unison unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They blended with each other so coherently that I found no excuse to put them down. The result? A sound that’s insanely addicting in an IEM so unassuming.


Other Media

Games:
I can’t say the A151P is very good for gaming – but on the other hand, it isn’t that bad, either. Their mid-centric signature allows you to hear more of the voices and other details over loud explosions and gunfire in FPS games, but they can’t really catch up to all of the action and leave a few tiny details lost in translation. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re unusable for gaming – I myself would use them – but there are other pairs that are better than the A151P here.


Movies:
The A151P’s mid-centric signature allows for a very intimate presentation when watching a movie, great for quieter love stories and whatnot. However, their lean bass response prevents me from recommending them for grandiose, epic action movies, where bass is important to give you that rumbling, immersive feel. In the earlier case, though, I can’t recommend this enough.


EQ Response

Balanced Armature IEMs like the A151P Generation 2 have always been known for rather weak and lean bass compared to dynamic-driver competitors, and I was keen on keeping it that way, but I tried bass-boosting the A151P anyway to see how they perform. And to be honest, I was very pleasantly surprised. Using my super bass EQ curve, I found the A151P’s BA driver to not even flinch or distort under a 10 dB bass boost.


Value

The A151P Generation 2 retails at the same price as its predecessor, which is $50. Well, as I don’t have the original A151P, I can’t really say much about their price-to-performance ratio, but I can say for certain that that ratio on the Generation 2 A151P is phenomenal. Now, I’ve tried a lot of other sets around this price myself, and these IEMs have definitely held up to each and every one of them. They have impressive value for the price, and I can’t recommend them enough for midrange lovers.


Comparison

Versus HiFiMAN RE-300h ($50):
The HiFiMAN RE-300h is a $50 budget competitor hailing from the east, whose two remote-including brothers have polarized opinions and sparked debate and discussion not too long after release. This no-remote H version seems to be the best-sounding one from all three, and against the A151P Generation 2, they make a pretty fair match. Both IEMs have a smooth, non-fatiguing sound that you can listen to for hours on end, but each have their distinctions. The RE-300h has a warm, slightly bass-emphasized sound, whereas the A151P has a much more neutral, mid-centric sound. Both have amazing price-to-performance ratios, and to those with more consumer tastes, the RE-300h will more than please those types of ears, but to me, the A151P takes the cake with its addicting, lifelike midrange.


Now this IEM is a special one. When I reviewed it, I gave it the highest score I gave an IEM at the time. To me, they were that good – and, well, they still are. Their performance is comparable to some of the best IEMs in my collection, and against the A151P, the challenger seems to hold up pretty well against the Heaven. Both are excellent mid-centric IEMs, and have some distinct qualities that separate one from the other. The Heaven 2 is slightly warmer, fuller, and has a more intimate presentation, while the A151P is more neutral and has a wider, airier soundstage. Like I said, either way, both are excellent mid-centric IEMs, and if you love midrange, you can’t really go wrong with eithcer of them.


~~ Conclusion ~~



I can say with certainty that the MEE Audio A151P Generation 2 is one awesome IEM. Though I can’t say it’s outstanding in its build or looks, it makes up for its shortcomings with a smooth, relaxing, and highly addicting mid-centric sound. Though this isn’t the IEM to recommend to the bass connoisseur, if you’re a midrange-lover on a budget, look no further.


Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
7/10
Simple packaging and a great host of accessories. Not much more to say there.
Design, Build, Microphonics
7/10
The A151P’s over-ear wearing design, lightweight plastic build, and twisted cable reduce microphonics to a whisper while maintaining great build quality.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
7.5/10
The A151P fits my ears easily and provides excellent passive isolation, although at the slight cost of comfort.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
7/10
The A151P’s bass is very linear, which will easily shoo away bass-lovers. However, they still retain a decent amount of punch for most genres.
Midrange
9/10
I have never heard such midrange prowess at this $50 price point. Smooth, natural, and lifelike, it gets me hooked every time I put them on and press play.
Treble
7.5/10
Their laid-back presentation allows for a more relaxed listening session, but they still retains lots of detail that doesn’t leave me wanting.
Presentation
7/10
The A151P’s presentation perfectly complements the mid-centric sound signature with a good-sized soundstage that places instruments around you like you’re in the room with them.
Gaming, Movies
7/10
Although their mid-centric sound signature is not what I’d recommend for non-music media, they perform pretty well in those aspects nonetheless.
EQ Response
8/10
A bass boost really gets these things kicking, giving you a very enjoyable sound signature that I can’t put down.
Value
10/10
For $50, they’re easily one of the best IEMs out there for me.
Total
7.7/10
Do you want a smooth, relaxing experience? Are you on a tight budget? Look no further than the A151P Generation 2.

Shout-Outs, Gallery

First of all, I would like to again thank Mike at MEE Audio for providing the review sample of the A151P Generation to for this review. I got to say, MEE Audio has definitely raised the bar for their IEMs, and I can’t wait to see their upcoming Pinnacle P1 flagship coming soon!

Anyways, this is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading!


About MEE Audio

“MEE Audio is home to a group of audio gear enthusiasts who enjoy hearing our music at its absolute best. We believe that high quality headphones don’t have to be expensive and that a great listening experience should be available to everyone at an accessible price. We want to spread our appreciation for music by building quality headphones in hopes that they will let music inspire everyone as it inspires us.

Since 2005 we have been committed to pursuing the ultimate listening experience, winning acclaim from casual listeners and audiophiles around the world. Our expertise and manufacturing capability allow us to develop and market headphones for serious audiophiles and casual consumers, men and women, young and old. We strive to bring our customers exceptional performance at affordable prices through cost-effective marketing and well-managed distribution channels, all accompanied by an unsurpassed customer experience.
Headphones are our passion, and every day we work to provide Music Enjoyment for Everyone.”

Link to site: http://www.meelec.com/



Changelog

05/22/15: Added pictures.

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