Beautiful sound; very good price
Some cable noise; no volume control
We’ve been using the $79 MEElectronics A151s for the past year, always going back to them even after reviewing many more expensive earphones. There’s just something about the tone we love.
Now we’ve received the A161P ‘reference noise-isolating in-ear headset’ from Noisy Motel, and they’re so good we’ve reluctantly consigned the A151s to the bottom drawer.
The A161Ps use a better model of balanced armature than the A151, plus they have a classier black-and- gold look.
When you see the word ‘Reference’ applied to earphones you expect them to be as neutral as possible – which can kind of make them boring as well. But these have a really nice warmth to them, which makes listening an absolute pleasure.
The midrange is one of the sweetest, cleanest and most natural you’ll ever hear in a set of earphones. It’s complemented by a perfectly balanced bass and treble, which never make themselves too apparent but are there when you need them.
Balanced armature drivers are renowned for not delivering enough bass, but there’s no such problem here. It’s not an SMS Audio or Beats By Dr Dre doof-doof, but rather a natural bass that reflects what the audio engineer wanted you to hear.
The level of detail is astonishing. For example, we have a great recording of Stormy Weather by Ben Webster, and there’s quite a bit of audience chatter
in it (what were they thinking!) that you can only hear on top-quality audio gear. We could hear it all through the A161Ps.
And the chatter was also placed nicely in the gig by the earphones’ good soundstaging – another bonus.
The earphones have an inline mic/ remote on the right cable. The remote is a single-button model rather than the three-button job found on MFi ‘Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad’ remotes.
What this means is that it works by single-clicking to pause/play music or answer/end a call, double-clicking for the next track, and triple-clicking for the previous track. There‘s no volume control.
Noisy Motel’s Billy Mavrovouniotis says the advantage of a single-button remote for earphone manufacturers is that it’s compatible with more phones, such as most Android models.
Carrying on the non-Apple theme, there’s a cable in the box that reverses the mic and ground pins so you can keep the mic/remote functionality on a range of phones. Another cable splits the audio and mic signals to use with computers featuring separate mic and headphone jacks (Mac mini or Mac Pro, anyone?).
Rounding out the package are six sets of eartips, a shirt clip and a small, semi-rigid clamshell carrying case.
There’s but one small negative: The cables are subject to a degree of ‘microphonics’, or cable noise. This was particularly noticeable in the area where the cables meet the earpieces and rubbed against our ears.
We could mitigate this by turning the earpieces and realigning the cable, or by using the included Cable Guides to wear them over-the-ear, but it loses the A161Ps half a mouse from an otherwise perfect rating.
The A151s avoided microphics through the use of twisted cables – perhaps this would have been a better bet here, too.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice.
MEElectronics’ A161P earphones have a beautiful sound, look good and are very comfortable. At the price of $109 we reckon they’re the best bargain on the market.
They lost half a mouse for the microphonics, but still get an ‘Ed’s Pick’ button because they’re officially our new favourite earphones.