First off, I’d like to thank the folks at MEElectronics for the review samples.
I hold in my hands MEElectronics’ two flagship in ear monitors which represent both the pinnacle of MEElectronics’ IEM lineup but also the two highest end offerings in their newly launched “Clarity” series. These IEMs are also a couple of firsts for the company as well, with the A151 being the first IEM on offer that uses a balanced armature transducer and the CC51 which not only uses a dynamic “microdriver” which sits the driver inside the user’s ear canal, it also features housings made of ceramic.
Of course, these are in ear monitors and, as fascinating as what they represent may be, what’s truly important is what they are and how they sound. Higher expectations than for any other MEElectronics products rest on the figurative shoulders of these two IEMs. So, with that in mind, read on for my review of the A151 and CC51P IEMs.
Packaging and Accessories
Both IEMs are packaged in nearly identical cardboard boxes with transparent windows to allow people to see the product. Inside, you’ll find that familiar MEElectronics carrying case and additional sets of silicon eartips including three sets of single flanges, a set of bi-flanges and, in the case of the A151, a set of large triple flanges. All in all, a good set of accessories, in both cases.
Design and Build Quality
The A151s are clad entirely in hard plastic, which isn’t my first choice in terms of long term durability but feels solid enough to last. The shells are a bit bulbous in design and feature long, slim nozzles. The cable is intriguing in that it shucks typical MEElectronics design conventions and instead opts for a braided cable that is similar to the cable seen on Westone IEMs, such as one of its direct competitors, the Westone 1. This cable is very soft, extremely flexible and seems very durable. When paired with the beefy strain reliefs at the Y-split and the gold-plated straight plug, you have an IEM that seems like it’ll stand up to some abuse.
Intriguingly, the CC51P’s housings are made of ceramic, an interesting, nontraditional choice for housing construction and also a very classy one. While I can’t say what effect (if any) the housings have on the sound these produce, I will say that it does feel quite durable, more so than plastic but less than metal, for obvious reasons. The driver, instead of being situated inside of the housings, is actually located at the very tip of the IEMs and rests inside of the listener’s ear canal and is sheathed in metal, giving the CC51P even more points toward durability. All in all, very nice housing design that’s as stylish as it is functional.
The stems are a bit long, nearly as long as those of the ADDIEM and end in rubbery and stubby strain reliefs which also have L/R indicators stamped into them. The cable is different from the typical translucent cable used on other MEElectronics IEMs and feels slightly cheaper but is similarly thick and flexible so I doubt the cable quality has decreased significantly.
It’s also worth noting that the microphone/remote module used on the CC51P is significantly different in design from previous MEElectronics IEMs despite retaining identical functionality, as shown in the picture below.
Comfort and Isolation
Despite their bulbous shape, the A151s are ergonomically sound and fit well in my ears. The nozzles are much smaller than average but the tips provided which include bi-flanges and large triple flange tips, should provide a great seal for most users. I preferred using Sony Hybrids in my testing but the small single flanges were great for my ears as well. These being balanced armature based IEMs, they lack the vents typically seen on dynamic driver based IEMs and thus provide better isolation than the average dynamic as well. Their over the ear design and great cable meant microphonics were virtually non-existent.
The small and slender housings of the CC51P, even with the sizable microdriver taken into account, are very comfortable in my ears. The small stock single flange tips provided a very comfortable and secure fit and above average isolation for me in my tests and remained comfortable for hours. Isolation is also quite good with the stock tips and should improve further with the stick bi-flanges as well. Wearing them over the ear wasn’t difficult for me but might be difficult for some users due to their long-ish stems and this fit nearly eliminated the already insignificant amount of microphonic noise.
The A151 has that typical balanced armature type of sound, delivering impressive speed, resolution, and clarity across the range. The signature is well balanced with a very neutral character and good presentation.
Starting at the bottom, the A151 is very typical of balanced armature IEMs in that it has fast bass attack, quick decay and is very tight and controlled, never intruding on the midrange. Bass is detailed and punchy but doesn’t have the quantity to really satisfy bassheads but should be adequate for most other users. At the lowest octaves, response is rolled off but there is still an adequate amount of sub bass rumble for my tastes.
The midrange is slightly dry in character but relatively smooth and is nicely detailed. Neither forward nor recessed, lush nor liquid, the midrange is very neutral, if a bit dry, which produces a very accurate sound and one that fans of analytical sounds should greatly enjoy. There’s a fullness about the midrange that isn’t present in the CC51P which can be misconstrued as warmth but isn’t really the case and doesn’t hurt the earphones’ sonic performance.
Treble performance is good, if very slightly laid back in general and even more so in comparison to the CC51P. That’s not to say it skimps on detail and/or clarity because it doesn’t, it’s just presented in an entirely inoffensive manner. In that sense, sparkle is on the low side but sibilance, both in the upper midrange throughout the treble range is virtually nonexistent. Extension is good but there’s some notable rolloff after 14Khz or so, evidently pushing the limits of the single balanced armature driver in the A151.
Presentation wise, the soundstage is a bit on the small side, with decent depth but average width. Imaging performance, on the other hand, is pretty good. The sound signature as a whole is quite competent, neutral, analytical and accurate but a bit on the “dull” side for my tastes due to its focus on remaining entirely neutral and accurate.
As the pinnacle of MEElectronics’ clarity series, it is expected that the CC51P will offer the best in terms of clarity and transparency that the company has to offer and, as expected, the CC51P lives up to these expectations, delivering an exceptionally clear and well balanced sound that can compete with some of the better IEMs in its price range. To see why, let’s start at the bottom.
The bottom end of the CC51P is well balanced as well as punchy, rumbly, detailed and smooth. The CC51P has more bass than the A151 without sacrificing tightness or detail to achieve that. The bass is never muddy and never intrudes on the other frequencies. I would classify the amount of bass on the CC51 to be just north of neutral which should be adequate enough even for casual listeners.
The midrange is free of bass bleed and is very well detailed and nicely transparent. At times, the CC51P can sound rather forward or aggressive in its presentation of the midrange, at times taking on a “hyper-detailed” character in which it seems to exaggerate low level details, which is similar in some ways to the Thinksound TS02 but not as much so. Overall, I found the midrange to be very nicely transparent and detailed but also smooth and relaxed when it needed to be.
Moving on into the upper midrange and treble, there’s a pretty prominent spike in the 7 – 9 KHz region, which does result in some harshness on vocals but it’s nothing that’s seriously unpleasant. It should be noted that folks who are sensitive to spikes in that region, like me, will want to EQ that band down a bit because it can and will exacerbate the sibilance naturally present in vocals and especially in poorly mastered recordings.
Treble performance is relatively even after the spikes in the upper midrange and keeps sibilance to a bare minimum from that point on. Clarity and detail are no strangers to the CC51P’s treble presentation and neither is sparkle. The treble tends toward brightness but, as I said, sibilance is rarely a problem.
Soundstage and imaging performance are slightly better with the CC51P than the A151 with a wider stage and better instrument separation enhancing the performance. What you have here is an extremely competent earphone in the CC51P that delivers clarity, detail and precision to hang with the best in its price range. It doesn’t reach the same level of HiFiMan’s $80 heavyweight, the RE0 in terms of pure technical proficiency or price/performance but it’s not too far off and, with its increased bass, should appeal to a wider range of users than the RE0.
A Word on the Microphone: The microphone and remote featured on the CC51P performed in line with my expectations, delivering good audio quality and remote functionality.
Without a doubt, at their respective price points, $75 for the A151 and $90 for the CC51P or $80 for the CC51 sans microphone, MEElectronics has created some very solid and competitive earphones. I don’t think they quite match up with the best of the under $100 crowd like the HiFiMan RE0 and RE-ZERO but there’s no doubt in my mind that they still offer a great value to accuracy and clarity lovers. The CC51P is my preferred earphone of the two simply because it seems more tilted towards “fun” and excitement rather than strictly accuracy like the A151 while still being slightly superior on a purely technical level but keep in mind that your mileage may vary.
Regardless, I enjoyed listening to both earphones for different reasons and I find them both to be compelling products that are worth more than just a passing glance. Simply put, if you’re in the market for a new pair of IEMs in the $80 price range, MEElectronics’ A151 and CC51P should definitely be on your shortlist.