The ME100 is company’s first in-ear design, Paul Rigby takes a look as this single dynamic-driver IEM with a detachable cable
I’ve always known Shanling for its very nice range of CD players and, more recently, it’s solid state mobile hardware such as the H1 headphone amplifier. But earphones? Came as a bit of shock, I have to say.
Yet the company is not messing around here. It has developed its own custom 10mm dynamic driver for the ME100. Using a composite of PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone) materials. Meaty magnets and a lightweight voice coil back up the drivers.
Inside the TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) coating of the 1.3m long cable, you get an 8-core OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) with 18 strands per core. The cables are terminated with gold-plated MMCX connectors. On the other side is a gold-plated 3.5mm plug.
When installed into the ears, I found the fit to be fine. The chassis for each ear is meaty and lumpy but slots into the ear well. The earphones feature a stiff wire-type loop that sits over the ear to act as support. Fit can be enhanced by experimenting with any of the the 15 different tip variants that span the memory foam type to EQ-skewed tips to enhance bass or “vocal” (i.e. midrange-lead) to balanced. I wanted to review the earphones, not the tips, so spent the majority of the sound testing using the latter.
I began with a standard issue Astel&Kern AK120 and played The Pixies’ Bone Machine as a DSD64 file.
My first impression of the ME100 earphones was how easy they were to drive. I would say that even averagely powered digital music players will find these earphones no particular problem.
The next immediate feature to hit me was the open nature of the soundstage. There was so much air and space here that the drums sounded like they were being played outside the studio, in the garden outside, in the sunshine. Such was the fresh aspect of the percussion.
Frankly, this low noise presentation increased dynamic reach because drum strikes struck a low and powerfully bass thud while smaller drum hits and cymbal strikes encouraged a variety of reverb tails to fly hither and yonder. The bottom line, just for the percussion alone, was a complexity that was rarely heard on this track from earphones at this price point. A drum kit is full of varying tonal colours. Each drum has a personality and within that drum, there are minor variances depending on where you hit it. These subtleties were a highlight of the ME100 which helped to bring the music to life.
I was happy to hear the instrumental separation too. Bass guitar never once bloomed and veiled the drums. Both kept to their patch and did their own thing in their own space. They never once sounded lumped into one mixed-up, multi-coloured plasticine-like ball and that separation give the music a sense of grandeur and presence.
Similarly, the lead guitar offered real aggression. There was a sense of a person striking the strings here with force and energy. Finally, the lead and harmonic vocals could be enjoyed as a harmonic combination or, if you really wanted, you could easily tease the two apart and follow each in turn. The clarity and transparency from the ME100 earphones were positive boons because even shy details were visible to the ear and visible without the earphones having to resort to cheap and nasty compressive tactics. The ME100 earphones provided a stress-free and relaxing listening experience.
I then moved to my modified AK120 with the upgraded DAC chip, hooked up to a ATC HDA-P1 headphone amplifier. I also switched to Marianne Beate Kielland & Sergej Osadchuk and the melancholic little classical number, Come Away, Death over 24bit/96kHz.
This track is basically a vocal with piano accompaniment so the notion of space is just as important as the tonal presence. The low noise, high clarity nature of the earphones did ally themselves very well to the classical approach because they allowed the voice to carry and float which only enhanced and intensified the emotion because the vocal decay was tracked to silence. Hence, the slight nuances and fragilities were heard along with the stronger, belting-out-a-storm moments. Similarly, the resonant nature of the piano was displayed to great effect here. The sustain from the piano was also allowed to drift and come to its natural end which was even more effective when two or more sustained notes crossed and overlapped.
The Shanling ME100 Earphones look and feel like quality right from the box and that effect continues when they are successfully residing upon and within the ear. There is a balance and neutrality here that allows the music to perform properly and without any additional colour but its the underlying low noise performance from the design that allows the delicacy, the fragility but also the transfer of sheer power to be effectively translated. For the price? These earphones are a complete steal.
SHANLING ME100 EARPHONES
GOOD: build quality, transparency, low noise, neutral midrange, clarity
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Astel&Kern AK120 earphones