NiceHCK ME80: Matey Eighty
Today we’re checking out the ME80 from NiceHCK, an online web shop that fairly recently starting developing their own products under the NiceHCK brand name.
Earbuds were a style of product that dropped out of favour for quite a while. I suspect it was due to the rise of inexpensive in-ear monitors (iems). They offered up big bass and great isolation more akin to a headphone, but in a portable package we were accustomed to thanks to earbuds. Bass and isolation were qualities the humble earbud inherently struggled to provide thanks to their unsealed, open designs. Iems also seemed to provide a more universal fit thanks to their use of significantly smaller drivers and their in-ear designs.
However, a few years ago Venture Electronics released the Monk, a 5 USD earbud that offered up sound quality which well exceeded it’s meager price tag. At this time the Chinese portable audio industry was really starting to pick up steam with various brands bringing to market hilariously inexpensive but great sounding products that nearly anyone could afford, though earbuds were a segment that was criminally underrepresented. Enter the Monk which almost single-handedly changed that, leading to the earbud segment seeing a massive resurgence and a growing fan base, especially among budget audio-conscious consumers that never really got on board with iems and their more intrusive design (niche, premium earbuds were already humming along just fine). Just look at how popular the Earbuds Anonymous page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/EarbudsAnonymous/) is over on Facebook (and be sure to join, it’s an amazing community).
The ME80 is not a premium earbud and comes in at under 20 USD. However, with it’s titanium-coated, 15.4mm diaphragms and powerful N52 magnets, as well as CNC machined aluminum alloy shells, you could certainly mistake them for something more expensive. If they sound the part too, then I see no reason why they shouldn’t be on every earbud lovers radar.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
What I Hear: NiceHCK has done a great job tuning the ME80. While nothing particularly new for the format, it’s overall a well rounded and detailed sounding earbud with solid technical ability that shines with acoustic and vocal-centric music.
Treble is clean and crisp with a skew towards lower treble. Upper treble has just enough emphasis to give chimes and whatnot some sparkle though, so the ME80 avoids coming across somewhat dry. Lower treble is slightly emphasized and somewhat lean in presentation giving the ME80 a fairly analytic feel. Thankfully it avoids coming across as clinical so it remains a fairly easy listen, much more so with full foams, even amidst tracks that can be somewhat piercing. Notes attack with authority and good control keeping the ME80 from sounding loose and splashy.
The mid-range also slots into that somewhat lean sounding category and to my ears feels best suited to male vocals and electric guitars. Notes and instruments are pleasantly organic and natural thanks to a fairly accurate timbre, with the lean-ish presentation feeling less suited to female vocals and woodwinds. Those in my opinion benefit from a more lush and bodied performance. At least the mids are quite forward without tipping over into shouty territory, and only occasionally come across sibilant.
Bass is fairly reserved in quantity as is often the case with earbuds. While roll off is certainly present, I was quite pleased with how well the low end extended on the ME80. Tossing on some of my usual EDM tracks tracks, I definitely felt that low end rumble, it just wasn’t as pronounced as experienced through iems or headphones, which makes sense to me (earbuds don’t seal). Still, I was quite impressed. Also a plus was the ME80’s low end texture with grungy notes from bands like The Prodigy displaying the right amount of grime and grit. Note that installing full foams or donuts notably reduces raw detail output, and skews the balance towards the mid-bass, which is why I prefer the ME80 bare.
Sound stage out of the ME80 is fantastic giving off a spacious and airy feel on even the most synthetic tracks. Imaging is less stellar and while channel to channel transitions are clear, finer details keep the ME80 from being suitable for gaming or other activities that require greater precision. The ME80’s layered presentation and outstanding separation keep congested tracks from bundling up into a mess of noise.
Overall a great sounding earbud with solid technical performance and plenty of detail. While not in the spotlight in terms of emphasis, the ME80’s low end is a highlight thanks to it’s better than average extension and pleasing texture, something I oft find lacking in products of this style.
Compared To A Peer: In this section the ME80 is being compared to a similarly priced but more stylish bud, as well as my personal favourite on the market thanks to it’s comfortable, if not plain design, and catch-all sound signature.
Auglamour RX-1 (23.00 USD): The RX-1 has a warmer, thicker presentation that focuses more squarely on general midrange frequencies which have a more natural timbre but tend to highlight existing sibilance more. Treble is more blunted with less upper treble emphasis and a reduction in clarity. The RX-1’s bass is more mid- and upper-bass focused with an earlier roll off and lesser extension. Attack on notes is more aggressive and engaging through the RX-1. The ME80’s soundstage is quite a bit wider and deeper, with the RX-1 coming across slightly claustrophobic, odd for an earbud. Imaging is improved on the ME80, as is layering and separation, likely due to it’s vastly superior soundstage. The RX-1 is a great sounding bud, but it is outclassed in this comparison.
In terms of build and comfort, the RX-1 gets the nod. It too features metal shells but they are considerably more stylish and compact with a more cohesive and interesting design. The smaller drivers inside mean the face is notably more compact and as a result it doesn’t cause any hot spots or discomfort, regardless of the length of my listening sessions. It also sits less obtrusively under a toque, something I appreciate given the cold weather we’re experiencing locally. When it comes to cables the ME80’s is much better. The RX-1 cable is a fair bit stiffer and not quite as ideal in cold weather.
HE 150Pro (29.90 USD): Back when I originally reviewed the HE 150Pro in December of 2017, I said it was an earbud for those that dislike them. That was because it had a signature decidedly unlike your typical earbud. That is quite apparent when comparing to the ME80. Where the ME80 has a mid and treble focus, the 150Pro takes on a midrange and bass focus. Its presentation is thicker and more lush than the ME80, while outputting nearly the same detail, clarity, and texture, all while having a very robust and extensive low end that is unlike any other earbud I’ve heard. Treble is less emphasized on the 150Pro and doesn’t extend quite as well, nor does it product the same shimmer, but they still go head-to-head on micro-detail and clarity. The 150Pro’s tune does give it a more intimate presentation compared to the ME80 though, and as such it doesn’t provide quite as open and spacious stage. The ME80’s midrange is lighter and leaner and feels more at home with male vocals while the 150Pro’s more organic sound is great with both male and female vocals, female especially. When it comes to the low end, the ME80 is better than most buds with extension that belies it’s somewhat polite presentation. Texture is right there with the 150Pro. However, in terms of sheer quantity HE’s bud is untouchable. The low end is much more forceful and omnipresent, akin to an in-ear or closed back headphone. If you’ve hated the sound of most earbuds you’ve heard but liked the form factor, the 150Pro will likely be more up your alley. If you’ve always enjoyed the somewhat typical treble/mid-focused tune of earbuds but felt they were somewhat lacking in low end extension, the ME80 is the one to pick.
In terms of build they are both solidly constructed with metal bodies. Neither is particularly stylish with the 150Pro’s even simpler design coming across as the more suble of the two. Fit and comfort is similar between the two with the 150Pro’s lighter, more slender shells getting the nod. While I like the cables on both buds, the ME80’s takes the cake. The 150Pro’s braided offering is thinner and less durable feeling, and tangles much more consistently above the y-split. It is lighter and more flexible though.
In The Ear: The ME80 has well constructed, if not somewhat uninspired looking, aluminum housings. Left and right channels are helpfully denotes by blue and red bands at the end of each cable stalk. Fit and finish is in general quite good with no excess glue sticking out or misaligned parts. Strain relief leaving each earpiece is unfortunately absent, but given the cable NiceHCK is using I don’t mind too much. The cable seen here can be found on a few other products I’ve reviewed, like the Penon BS1 Experience and AK Light T2. In those applications it has proven to be very durable and resilient, even if it is a hint sticky and bouncy.
Fit and comfort are about average for an earbud. The large driver means the face of each earpiece is quite broad at around 17mm in diameter. Those who have had issues with the size of earbuds in the past will probably continue to have the same issues here. Those whom the ME80 fit fine will fine weight distribution good. While I still experience the occasional hot spot around the base after a while, a slight readjustment is all it takes to continue wearing the ME80 for extended periods.
In The Box: The ME80 comes in a small, plain white box. On the front is a fairly high res rendering of the earbuds along with the usual model and company branding. On the back you find the specifications in three languages. Inside you get;
- ME80 earbuds
- Soft carrying bag with NiceHCK branding
- Shirt clip
- Velcro cable tie
- Five set of foams in various colours (black x 2, red, and green full foams, blue donut foams)
While the unboxing experience is about as basic as it gets, I appreciate how many pairs of foams are included. It’s also nice that they’re of various colours since you can mix and match to make identifying each channel even easier, or simply to look more stylish.
Final Thoughts: The ME80 is another quality release from NiceHCK. It further contributes to the argument that the earbud design is entirely capable of providing a quality audio experience, and that they are worth revisiting if you’ve been slighted by them in the past. That pack-in pair of buds that came with your media player years ago, or that cheap replacement from some name brand at your local Best Buy are not even remotely competitive with a well-tuned, modern earbud. The ME80 is a great choice for the modern budget-conscious audiophile and will provide you with countless hours of listening enjoyment.
Thanks for reading!
Thanks to Jim with NiceHCK for sending over a sample of the ME80 for review. The thoughts here are my own subjective opinions based on time spent using the ME80 over the last couple months. At the time of writing it was on sale for 16.57 USD (21.24 USD regular price); https://www.aliexpress.com/item/33041694447.html
- Driver: 15.4mm titanium coated dynamic
- Impedance: 34Ω
- Sensitivity: 109dB/mW
- Frequency Response: 20-25,000Hz
Devices used for testing: Shanling M0, Hifiman Megamini, LG G6, Asus FX53V laptop, TEAC HA-501 desktop amp
Some Test Tunes: Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)