It may be unfashionable these days to walk around listening to wired earbuds, but they're generally a better performance-per-pound proposition than their hipster wireless cousins.
So, for those who want the best sound quality for their budget, a pair of wired headphones is usually the answer. Chinese earbud and music player brand Shanling believes it has just the thing in its entry-level ME100 monitors.
‘Entry-level’ here means a three-figure price, with the company’s ME200, ME500 and ME700 models ranging from 1.5 to five times that. It’s a tricky place for them to fall – slap bang in between two What Hi-Fi? Award winners, the Klipsch T5M Wired and Shure SE425.
Do the ME100s do enough to be heard amidst such class-leading pairs?
If you value open, clear and boldly upfront presentations, they may well do. We start with St Vincent's Los Angeles and the Shanlings’ forward balance, which slightly errs on the tonal side of bright, reveals itself. The leading notes of the synth drums are crisp and taut, and Annie Clark’s vocal rides over the top in a clear, direct manner.
Shanling says it chose ‘special’ voice coils to enhance the mid and high frequency performance of the ME100s’ custom, single 10mm dynamic driver, and that effort is apparent. The chiming chinks throughout Mac Miller’s Good News are spry, even if the track’s bassy undertow lacks real depth.
Their balance won’t be for everyone; if you prefer richer sounding or bass-heavy presentations, you’ll be better served elsewhere. Their tonality doesn't give brighter recordings such as Suede's Snowblind anywhere to hide, for instance. What is likeable, however, is the ME100s’ open and spacious soundstage, which ensures there is decent separation between the overlapping synths and vocal delivery.
What also strikes us is how sensitive the Shanlings are to drive: through a phone and entry-level and mid-range Astell & Kern music players, they require considerably less power than other earbuds we connect for the same volume level.
But while the Shanlings impressively communicate the crispness and clarity of leading notes, they don’t quite manage to follow that initial analysis with the body and subtlety needed to suitably flesh out an instrument or vocal. They can draw a silhouette of a note perfectly, they just don’t really shade it in.
In comparison, the more affordable Klipsches reveal greater subtle insight and demonstrate a higher level of attentiveness to dynamics and timing. They better communicate the slight change of cadence in Miller’s rap delivery as well as the textures of the accompanying electronic sounds.
In terms of build quality and comfort, you couldn’t expect much more from earbuds at this price.
Eartips 3x sizes included
The lightweight aluminium alloy earpieces are each embellished with a coloured strip to denote left (blue) and right (red).
The three different sizes of eartips provided means you should get an ergonomic fit, with the buds nestling reassuringly, but not too intrusively, into your ear canal.
There is a piece of bendy rubber tubing covering the top end of the cable, which also helps keep the earbuds in place on your ear.
The MMCX connectors that fix the earbuds to the cable allow you to easily replace a damaged cable, too. But as you slide your fingers down the well-constructed 1.3m braided wire, you will notice the lack of an in-line remote.
While high-end IEMs can arguably get away with such an omission in light of their likely at-home use, it is less forgivable for a pair that you’d reasonably expect to wear on the go.
Perhaps it's for cost saving purposes, but we’d happily swap the ME100s’ faux leather box case for the ability to take calls and control playback through mic/remote functionality.
Despite wireless earbuds dominating the market, there are plenty of wired monitors leading the way when it comes to value for money.
The Shanlings ME100 aren’t leaders in that field due to their lack of outright transparency and absence of in-line controls, and there are more rounded performers on either side of the price spectrum.
But if you value an open and upfront sonic approach with premium build above all else, the ME100s could be worth a look.
- Sound 3
- Comfort 4
- Build 4
Read our Shure SE425 review
Read our Klipsch T5M Wired review