First, I’d like to thank the folks at MEElectronics for sending me an HT-21 sample for review.
MEElectronics is one of my favorite manufacturers of IEMs. Seeing how far they’ve come in such a short time (it was only a year ago when I was reviewing their M9P, which I bought on a whim after reading a bit about them) is rather inspiring. This is a company that has gone from one with only a few truly compelling products to one with many, catering to just about any budget. MEElectronics has previously limited their product line to in ear monitors but now, they have taken their first step into the portable headphone market with the HT-21.
So, does their first portable headphone perform well enough to be worth note or does it simply trip up right out of the gate? Read on to find out.
Packaging and Accessories
The HT-21 arrives in a fairly standard cardboard box with a plastic window, allowing buyers to see the headphones. Inside, a plastic insert holds the headphones in place and underneath it lies a black carrying pouch, a welcome addition given their portable nature.
Design and Build Quality
The HT-21s are a good deal smaller than I was expecting. The earphones fold flat and the earcups fold in, toward the headband, to make them easier to carry. Their diminutive size does mean that they give up a bit in terms of build quality for the sake of being so easily portable. My review sample actually arrived slightly damaged, as you can see in the picture below, with part of the headband leading into the right earcup missing. I imagine this is a rare manufacturing defect though, and doesn’t impact their performance or wearability, at least in my case. The cable is thick and flexible and is well relieved with a hockey stick shaped L-plug, similar to those featured on older M-series models like the M9.
Being supraaural headphones, these never truly disappeared on my ears the way certain circumaural sets can but their clamping force is minimal, but adequate, so they won’t slip off during regular usage but are light enough that they don’t feel painful to wear over a long period of time. The light padding on the headband is almost a bit too light but considering the lightness of the headphones, this is really a non-issue.
Isolation is below average for me, and I found I needed to turn my music up louder than I would’ve liked in order to defeat the ambient noise of the cafeteria in the student center of my University in my testing. Compared with the Sennheiser HD-228s, my go-to portable headphones for quite a while now, the HT-21s lose some points in terms of comfort (but not much) and more so in terms of isolation.
Burn in: Naturally, these headphones were given upwards of 50 hours of burn-in time prior to evaluation.
The HT-21s surprised me at first, as their sound signature was far from what I was expecting, given my experience with previous MEElectronics products. To elaborate on this, I’ll start at the bottom. Bass is tight and carries a good deal of impact but doesn’t have that weighty resonance I’ve experienced from previous MEElectronics IEMs such as the M6 or M11+ but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What there is appropriately detailed and has a nice bit of rumble, albeit there is some roll-off in the lower registers.
The midrange is the most surprising aspect of the sound signature in that it is surprisingly forward, lively and aggressive. It doesn’t hesitate in the slightest to throw things in your face. Treble tonality is similar in that it can be a bit peaky and occasionally sibilant but doesn’t sound as forward or aggressive. The HT-21 is no slouch in terms of detail in either frequency range but I do get the sense that some of the finer details of a piece are sometimes glossed over.
The whole of its presentation centers around the midrange being as forward as it is and thus, vocals and certain instruments are often perceived as very close to the listener while others are firmly in the background. For that reason, imaging isn’t the best but the soundstage is nicely deep sufficiently wide enough that the presentation isn’t hampered too much by it.
The HT-21 is interesting in that its biggest strength, the forwardness of its midrange is also its biggest weakness. At the higher volumes I found myself listening to the HT-21s at in order to drown out the noise of the cafeteria, some songs were downright painful to listen to. Songs with powerful, cracking snare drums and sparkle of chimes actually caused me to wince on several occasions. Compared to my HD-228s which feature a laid-back, dark and bass driven sound signature, the HT-21s and their forward, aggressive sound signature are their polar opposites. The HT-21 are rather good when it comes to technical proficiency but whether or not you’ll enjoy them will be entirely based on personal preference.
While the HT-21 is not really in line with my personal listening preferences, these are still a capable pair of portable headphones that don’t slouch in technical capability, portability or comfort. I imagine the bright(ish), forward sound signature will appeal to many users and the $40 asking price is certainly appealing, as they compare favorably with Sennheiser’s HD-228s on a technical level, a headphone that retails for $100 and has a street price around $60. I’d like to see MEElectronics explore creating other portable headphones in the future, as the HT-21 proves that they have a solid understanding of how a good set is made.