The world of IEMs is vast, with audiophile-worthy models and being released at various price points. We just finished diving deep into the new 64 Audio U18s, a set of extravagant earphones with the price to match. This isn’t the only way to hear great sound through IEMs though, as there are plenty of brands that offer their unique sound signatures for so much less. The pricer brands will always have value to the niche community of listeners that appreciate the subtleties, but some want a detailed timbre without breaking the bank. That’s where Shanling comes in.
It’s been some time since we last looked into Shanling. The ME700 impressed me quite a lot at the time, delivering an IEM with great richness and versatility for half the price of one of the more high-end names. I’ve got to check out the ME80 recently, a set of earphones for only $99. Can they be held in similar regard, or is this a more consumer-level model?
What You Get
Shanling products always come in a neat and organized package, with all of the key items displayed nicely. There are of course the earphones themselves protected in their inserts, and underneath are a selection of ear tips. With Shanling, their ear tip selection is separated by a certain timbral focus that the tips help bring out. Three sets of tips are relegated to “vocal,” while another set is assigned for “balance.” Finally, you get a sleek leather storage case containing The ME80s premium silver-plated cable with a 3.5mm termination and MMCX connectors.
Look and Feel
Although the ME80 doesn’t feature some of the most vibrant aesthetics, the overall structure here is solid. The silver shell and black faceplate with insignia present a classy look for these IEMs. It doesn’t necessarily pop like a Kinera model, or have the lavish design of a Queen of Audio earpiece, but it still holds a significant level of uniqueness. It resembles a thicker version of a Westone earphone or one of Shure’s IEM selections, but with a fancier flair.
The most important aspect here is its size, as it strongly impacts the level of comfortability. Shanling sizes the aluminum body of the ME80 into a compact piece that is sure to fit well in anyone’s ear. For me, the fit was unobtrusive and very firm. The earphones stayed secure in my ear at all times, and the cable barely got in the way. The nozzle and ear tip provided a sturdy insertion that sat in my ear with little to no adjustment.
Inside of this aluminum body is a unique set of components that deliver the ME80s power. Shanling gives these IEMs a custom 10mm dynamic driver unit with dual magnet construction. The diaphragm uses a PU + PEEK composite that delivers sufficient signal flow management and aims for much better transient response.
It doesn’t take a lot to power the ME80. A 16 Ohm impedance is standard for an IEM of this type and will provide a comfortable loudness in most systems. Smartphones and laptops get plenty of volume, while DACs and amps give the ME80 more of an opportunity to offer more headroom and clarity.
In the past, I’ve heard a lot of similarly priced IEMs make a considerable impression on me with their soundstage and imaging. While the ME80 doesn’t necessarily stick out, it still has its pleasantries. Starting with the negatives, the ME80 doesn’t have the biggest imaging. Width is moderate but certainly lacks height, creating a more confined linear space. Genres that benefit from large soundstages like classical or jazz have proper positioning and are fairly accurate, but don’t contain that immersive quality from a more articulate sound field.
It doesn’t lack clarity but separation isn’t exactly a focus, even when the layering is doing a lot of the work making sense of the stage. When listening to tracks from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I never felt like they ever reached that grand energy you normally get on the ME80. You might get the width, but the body of it will be less defined.
The bass has a bit of resonance, but it’s not substantial. Its best qualities reside in its control and textural character. While separation in other areas isn’t as consistent, the low frequencies are spaced out nicely, giving room for some surprising clarity. Some details stick out, like the small punches on some bass synths, but texturally, the lows emit a smooth response that has a lot of feeling to it. The resonance is more subtle than it is dominant, but the timbre still exudes a natural timbre with an extra sense of lift.
Midrange response isn’t very articulate but is still given a timbre that feels rich and solid. The tonality here appears thick, and it gives instruments a bodied resonance that makes performances pop. The biggest standout here is vocals. With certain vocal ranges, you get an almost crisp resonance with a ton of clarity. The album “OH NO” from Xiu Xiu is the perfect example of this sensation. Here, multiple voices layer together with exceptional clarity and upper-mid emphasis.
The high-end normally lose some fidelity in the more budget IEMs, but the ME80 actually surpasses those models considerably. Much like the midrange, the highs have some sizzling crisp resonances, adding a ton of character to the overall sound signature. If the soundstage had a bit more height, the ME80 could really soar, but the treble still does what it can. It utilizes a colorful treble to bring textural sweetness to the highs without coming off as harsh or too bright. A real standout feature for the ME80.
There’s a lot to like about the Shanling ME80 beyond its affordable price. The design is solid and fits comfortably with a layer of security. The driver produces a structured signal that is distributed evenly and can work with any system. Soundstage and imaging might level much to be desired, but the ME80 makes up for it in its crisp timbre and resonance. If you’re a fan of colorful bass and treble, this is going to be one of the best options at its price point.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Natural bass, Crisp mids, and highs, Comfortable, Price
Cons: Limited soundstage
The Shanling ME80 is available from Linsoul.
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