The Master & Dynamic ME05 earphones have been out and about for a little while but Paul Rigby took advantage of the launch of the new, all black, variants to stick them in his ears
Based in New York City, Master & Dynamic make its earphones largely from brass. These weighty (21g) designs feature in-house designed neodymium drivers coated in titanium with a PVD-coated chassis, laser etching and mirror accents plus a “tangle-resistant” 1.2m cable terminating in a 3.5mm plug with a seperate remote/mic combo controller. The new black models sit right alongside the brass and Paladium coloured variants that are available at the same price.
Also included are two replacement sound filters (a nice touch), a polishing cloth, an aluminium clothing clip and a leather storage box.
They look nice and you wonder, after browsing around the company website, if that’s the aim of this design. The impression is strenthengthed because most of the reviews for the companies products have appeared in distinctly lifestyle publications: Elle, Forbes, Mens Journal, The New York Times and the like. Would the design stack up to some hard core hi-fi testing?
I began with female vocal-fronted jazz and Patti Page’s No Moon At All from the stereo 1959 reissue of 1950’s The West Side, fronting Pete Rugolo’s orchestra.
From the off, I was happy to hear a comparatively low noise presentation which allowed me to up the gain to extract maximum detail. Page’s vocal presentation was nicely open and emotive. If I was greedy, there could have been a touch more space and air in and around her delivery but there was sufficient for the ear to follow subtle modulations in her voice.
Staying with treble-based subtleties, the cymbals had an admirable frailty. More space around the instrument would have given an extra lightness to the soundstage but there was still plenty here to get your teeth into which aided the overall tonality of this instrument and the drums in general. Bass never dominated – I really didn’t want it to on this jazz track – which smacked of a reasonable balance. The soundstage itself was both wide and open in terms of the elbow room that each instrument had to perform within. So, small interjections from the saxophones, tiny tinklings from the piano and the like were all captured by the ME05s, adding layers of rich detail for the ear to enjoy.
Looked at with a broad viewpoint, there were no decisive negatives from these earphones. There was no brightness, no midrange smearing or bass blooming. The ME05s or very well behaved.
Which is why I then turned to the high energy track from lead singer with Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson’s solo LP The Raven That Refused to Sing And Other Stories.
This side-long track begins slowly and uses lots of air and space to tell its story. The slight restriction in that area from the ME05s did mean that the earphones lost a little bit of the expected impact and grandeur. Not a great deal but enough to just clip the wings of the songs. Much of the essence of the arrangement remained, though, keeping a large slice of of the epic nature of the song. I was rather relieved that the rhythm guitar – which can be a touch strident – was tamed here, allowing other areas of the mix to peep out from its threatening upper mid smearing. As the track introduced other instruments, which joined to add layering and tonal complexity, the ME05s remained impressively in control, monitoring the potentially wayward frequencies with admirable aplomb. Drums were punchy and weighty in terms of mass while the accompanying synth provided a sense of majesty to the big finish.
The ME05s have been voiced not to alarm or to irritate or to annoy. Hence, potentially nasty, strident, glaring and intrusive upper midrange frequencies will, you will find, be controlled and kept on the leash. The downside is that the potentially soaring dynamic freedom of the music has also been caught on that same leash. The effect is not serious and certainly not crippling but it is there.
I don’t want to dwell on this aspect of the sound, though, because there is much more to the ME05s that should be praised such as its tonal balance, the impressive detail retrieval and the tonal realism, for the price, the injection of enough air into the soundstage to allow the instruments to relax, adding a foot-tapping rhythm and the firm bass response. A solid design that won’t let you down.
MASTER & DYNAMIC ME05
GOOD: bass response, tonal balance, spacious soundstage, detail
BAD: some midrange veiling