MEElectronics’ earphones rode onto the scene last year with aplomb. Not only are they priced to sell, they sound good and in general, are made well. Now, MEEl have jumped on the wood bandwagon started by the venerable Victor FX500. The R-1 is a solid earphone which will rock the clocks of bass lovers who happen to have no more than 40$ in the bank.
Speaker: 10 mm moving coil (dynamic) driver
140 cm cord with gold-plated stereo 3.5 plug
Frequency response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
Impedance: 16 ohms
Sensitivity: 95 dB
Fit and Package
If you’ve seen one accessory package, you’ve seen ‘em all – this axiom is apt: each is a near perfect twin its brethren and comes with almost the same accessory package. In the box is a soft synthetic carrying pouch, 4 ear pieces, an airline adapter, and a chord winder. Considering the MSRP of 39.99$, this package, and especially the cheap pouch is unfortunately, underwhelming. Again, this prejudice comes from experience with Nuforce’s excellently padded NE7M headset which early on set a benchmark at TMA.
Fortunately, fit is quite A-okay. The R-1 is comfortable and light and although its cable is microphonic, it is a pretty resilient affair which will take a beating. Three of the ear pieces are acutely angled hard silicon which slip in quickly and out just as fast and are comfortable. One set of dual flange silicon pieces is included for those with very long ear canals. The earphone housing terminates in a flanged lip over which the ear pieces slip. As you can see, it is very shallow causing ear pieces at times, to dislodge in the ear.
Build Quality and Cable
There is hardly anything to bemoan about the R-1. It is light, comfortable and can take licks pretty well. Because the housing is ported wood rather than plastic or metal, it is best not to play basketball with the earpieces, otherwise you might end up with a splintery mess. But MEELectronics varnished the housing very well and the cable is pretty sturdily mounted inside the wooden base. MEEl have formed a fleshy niche inside my heart for their soft, multilayered cable. Outside is a pretty-well sweat-resistant rubber sleeve, and inside is a tinsel patchwork quilt which keeps the cable from kinking. Unlike some off-the-wall designs, the R-1 is a great handful of engineering and good looks.
While I hate to admit it, I’ve spent a goodly amount of time rubbing and tugging these badboys. Fortunately, the game as come to no ill effects: the strain relief is solidly anchored inside the housing and not subject to sudden breakage. The same is true for the right-angled plug. MEEl have more than done their homework on designing the R-1. This rather inexpensive earphone has very few colleagues who can stand toe to toe to it in terms of build quality.
Unfortunately, the R-1 is pretty microphonic and the sticky rubber tangles like a political rally. Pulling the cinch to just below the chin eliminates a lot of the touch noise, and even better, wearing the R-1 with the cable over the ear silences most of the rat-a-tat tat which filters through the cable at most times.
Ice Cube – Raw Footage
Again this album debuts to test a new earphone. The reason isn’t just because I am a fan of Cube’s smart, egotistical lyrics. Like a lot of contemporary American rap, it is completely low-fi: chalk full of poorly extended instruments, duffy bass, and to a fault, vocal-focussed engineering.
MC Solaar – Mach 6
This album remains my benchmark for well-engineered hip-hop. It is quick, lyrically tight, and varied in speed with a good selection of instruments and vocalists without throbbing for bass. Headphones should be able to jive with this album, but if they don’t it is because they are engineered for Ice Cube.
Braveheart – The Soundtrack
At once soft and tender, at times, this album crashes violently in sudden thundering crescendoes. Braveheart needs a delicate, yet mid-oriented earphone whose head stage is above-average and which renders bass deeply. But overstepping low notes will crash the delicate midrange – headphones must step lightly around this otherwise powerful album.
Phantom of the Opera – The Original Canadian Recording
While the London recording is good, the Canadian version, which debuted with Colm Wilkinson and Rebecca Caine is superior. Wilkinson’s Phantom: pained, wispy and haunted is translated admirably. There isn’t a better Phantom than in the Canadian cast.
Marcus Schulz – Progression
It is hard to recommend a better benchmark trance album than this debut by the American DJ. From the deep introduction in Mainstage to the gripping melodies of songs such as Spilled Cranberries, this album is a winner in the world of trance and a great benchmark for just how well a headphone handles tight melodies.
So what does a 100% wooden housing sound like? A cursory glance at the hybrid earphones: Victor FX500 and Mingo WM2, suggests bass by the tonne and at worst, crispy hot highs. Wood though, comes in many flavours and grains, each of which have a unique effect on sound.
If you imagined gobs ‘o bass, you were right. The R-1 doesn’t hide its bottom end in anything else besides bottom end. It is one of the most massively bassy earphones I have ever heard. Low notes are strongest above 75 Hz, but belt out quite a rumble even to 50 Hz. And strong they are. Powerful soundtracks, dance music, and hop hop/rap are smashingly boisterous. Think about strapping sub woofers onto your ears then pressing them hard so your brain is inundated by low, jacking vibrations. A short listen to Markus Schulz’ Mainstage is like a trip to a helicopter landing field day where the air thuds in amping gyrations to to the proverbial ’11’. Tonality isn’t bad, but the softer wooden walls of the R-1 don’t define edges well enough to bring a low-voiced instrument’s true voice forward.
Moving up, the R-1 reminds that wood, while acoustically sound, needs a lot of engineering detail. The midrange plays third fiddle to bass and treble. Vocals and the bulk of instruments filter through a couple of decibels back, like a lip-synch service. Becase of its massive bass, the midrange is veiled. Despite this drawback, vocal and jazz don’t suffer too badly. But, bass plucks right through vocals, pianos, and strings, overpowering the most intimate of moments. This presentation will have fans, but it will probably disappoint more than it does satisfy.
The R-1 is warm and bassy, but it also kicks out a pretty active, if mature high frequency range. High percussion and strings come through with excellent placement and oomph. They certainly outrun the sophomore midrange and add a little extra edge to otherwise suppressed instruments. Still, high frequencies are quite a contrast to its middling sibling; the midrange drops everything to join upper frequencies which at times, can linger too long.
The R-1 does a good job of placing instruments and directing a soundstage. For the most part, sound is focussed toward the front of the head – speaker-like if you will – but nothing is ever mushy. That said, dynamics in this bottom-heavy earphone are just short of engaging. This woody doesn’t present the best contrast of frequencies, so vocals and mid range instruments tend to get pushed back, hiding some details which otherwise would peek out. Fortunately, the R-1 doesn’t suffer from the horrid echo problems of some competitors. Wood may not be a cure-all, but it does a good job of patching over bad portions.
Out and About
MEEl have concocted a good brew of quality parts, low weight, and to a certain extent, good sound. Sure, the R-1’s cables are sabre-rattling rapscallions, but that is hardly unique or threatening especially when the 140 cm length can curl up over the ears and still reach the depths necessary to stuff the headphone jack into a pocket-stuffed DAP. And, whilst studying at library, you shouldn’t be too bothered by the slothful youth all about you; this earphone can repel the most annoying of sounds while not confining you to a solitary existence. Don’t expect miracles where the noise of the bus and train completely fade to the background, but do expect to enjoy a small vacation from noise. Finally, as hinted above, the R-1 is a fairly strong design with a good cable which shouldn’t fall apart after a few weeks working out.
With an MSRP of 40$, the MEElectronics R-1 is a balancing act of good and not-good-enough. Considering the price, it is made very well, but it has to be: the carrying sack would rather rip asunder rather than protect the earphone. This earphone is a beast; it belts out low notes with little regard for anything else; midrange therefore, suffers and while high notes come through pretty clearly, at times they cling a little too much onto musical peaks. The R-1 isn’t a bad sounding earphone. It is relatively clear, but if the Head-Direct RE2 sort of sets the upper bounds for 40$ sound quality, the R-1 sets the lower. If you really like bass and want an earphone which will survive your bombastic treks through hip hop, then this MEEl is probably your best budget bet.
Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette.
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