The Shanling ME80 is a universal IEM featuring a custom-designed 10mm dynamic driver with a PEEK diaphragm. It is priced at $99.
Disclaimer: The Shanling ME80 sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. We thank the team at Shanling for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Shanling products we have reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
The entry to mid-range IEMs market has been immensely competitive, but I personally think the Shanling ME80 has the chops to compete. The modern aesthetics, build quality almost makes me forget it is a sub $100 item.
While continuously releasing some of the best performing audio players, Shanling has also been building up a series of earphones that delivers some excellent value for money.
This time it is is the $99 ME80 dynamic driver IEM with robust CNC machined metallic enclosure, classily adorned with glass inserts, and comes with enhanced aesthetics over the previous ME100 that we previously reviewed.
This is a solid performer with great efficiency to be powered on portable devices and is worthy of some attention if you are looking for a potent sub-$100 IEM!
The Hi-Res audio-certified ME80 is a universal shaped monitor equipped with a single custom 10mm dynamic driver with dual magnet construction and PU + PEEK nano-composite diaphragm, aiming at enhancing efficiency and transient response.
The ME80 has a lightweight CNC machined housing which is sculpted from a 6000 series aluminum alloy. The pebble-like design looks smooth and is ergonomically designed with a smooth sandblasted finish that feels premium to the touch.
On the faceplate, you get a black base with a glass insert is fitted on top with the Shanling branding logo that contrasts nicely with the industrial-styled metallic housing. The inlaid glass insert is fitted without any gaps which is nice to see at this price point.
If you own or have read about the MW200 Bluetooth receiver from Shanling you can feel the inherited and consistent design language from their driver enclosures.
Comfort & Isolation
The passive noise canceling level is satisfactory with the ME80 tested on a busy train. You can still hear the ambiance possibly the vented dynamic driver design nature does not fully seal off the casing for an airier presentation. The design is sufficient to block out most of the noise and let you focus on the details in the tracks.
Putting on the earphones you can see the cable socket being tilted and that helps to relieve stress from prolonged listening. The rounded earphone body also sits on the outer-ear well and does not cause any pain for hours of listening.
A semi-transparent, dark brown silver-plated copper (SPC) stock cable comes with the ME80 and the color matches well the body of the earphones. The quality of the parts and finishing is a good match with the earphone body.
There is a bit of memory retention on the cables but it doesn’t get tangled. Heat shrinks are wrapped around the cable shaped as ear-hooks, which enhances the strength of the cable as well as takes away any potential for microphonics.
Packaging & Accessories
On a clean packaging design, the Hi-Res logo is imprinted, and inside you get 6 pairs of tips in S/M/L sizes. One set is for vocal optimized tuning and the other set is for a more balanced tuning.
Along with the tips, Shanling also supplies a professionally designed but slightly soft carrying case that seems standard for this price point for many IEM makers. It has a nice glossy finish and there is enough space for the drivers, cable, and tips.
The ME80 is well built for its price and I would also suggest metallic chassis seems to be shaping its sound properties going for a sound that is energetic, dense and controlled. The tuning has a small lift in the treble, adding more energy to help cymbals and softer voices cut through the mix in an exciting manner.
Putting the ME80 through weeks of burn-in tames its treble compared to when it is just out of the box. It is quite an audible change from memory, more tamed in the treble and opened up in terms of staging space.
There is a good level of transparency with a tight, transient response especially in the upper mids, and it works well to boost clarity and perceived resolution, even on my phones and iPad Pro.
When it comes to DAPs like the Shanling M6 Pro 2021 the clarity and firmness in the bass is enhanced, and you can feel the bass quality scaling when you feed it more current.
I find the ME80 on the bass light side having its upper mids boosted, but the bass does not feel lacking in body. It has the right level of bass to complement the treble and sound exceptionally transparent for the price, even when paired with bluetooth dongles that are relatively weak in power compared to DAPs.
Subtle rumbles around the 30Hz region can be heard, followed by agile attacks which have a smooth and moderately fast decay. The bass guitar is sustaining for a short moment and the resonance of the chamber is cleanly captured, though it does not sustain for long and maybe too light for somber, heavy atmospheres to be rendered.
The upper bass is on the shy side and that helps clean up the vocal and brings in more definition.
Testing with YouTube contents and my Tidal playlist, the bass feels very smooth, also naturally toned which sounds relaxing with BGM and modern pop. The light touch of bass contributes to more headroom and the ME80 never sounds boxy. It doesn’t stress the dynamics and will put your focus more on the vocal and percussion instruments.
To keep the overall output very cleanly outlined, the power of the low-mids is restrained. This adds a bit of swiftness and density to the mids, which feel light-bodied and naturally toned in turn.
Being very clean and slightly recessed in the mids it colors the output to the cooler side but it won’t feel skewed nor curtained in the mids. In fact, there is enough energy in the lower register to balance the output, and the upper mids beyond 3kHz are lifted making hi-hats, as well as synthesized tracks, sound well defined.
More energy is given to the upper mids so darker voices may sound light. Despite this fact, it works excellently with gaming music, club music, or other electronic tracks. The tuning also works well with some streaming content which has the mids boosted for more fullness, though I prefer some boosting.
The ME80 is at its most expressive in the treble frequencies where snares and hi-hats are clearly defined and good energy is captured. It may get a bit brassy with orchestras but when it is about casual listening or with well-mastered tracks, the treble experience is awesome considering the price of the ME80.
The protruding treble is well balanced by the extended bass and power deeper down, and again the transients are well presented and the upper registered sounds detailed and dense.
Together with the deep bass it sounds expansive and tense with Movie BGM and captures both thundering bass and crispy details, and the overall tuning is perfect for comedic, light-paced piano works.
While the bass does not have as much intensity as the treble and the midrange is quite shy, the perceived staging is average to moderately large.
Playing some tracks on YouTube recorded in a church good depth is detected, and instruments are fairly well separated from each other. With the clean tuning, it sounds very uplifting with church hymns also Christmas Jingles, though I prefer slightly more bass energy to color the staging experience immersive and expressive when it comes to anything more bass intensive.
While there are breathtaking treble details, there is one caveat. Imaging for the vocal and instruments within the mid-range frequencies is the weak link of the design as a trade-off for smoothness in articulation.
When it comes to voices that are supposed to sound full and broadly imaged it doesn’t cut through the mix with enough power, and the acoustic guitar does not sound very holographic on small outputs. Though when it comes to uplifting music it may get you into the mood easier.
When I tried to boost the mid-bass with an equalizer or pump up the volume the bass image still holds up quite well but you can hear the image being more dispersed.
The ME80 at rated at 16ohm impedance with 111dB SPL sensitivity so it is quite easily driven off my phones and dongles. There are good dynamics putting it on the latest FiiO BTR5 2021 as well as the Luxury & Precision W2. The background is very dark with little noise picked up even on their respective high gain modes.
Considering the positioning of the ME80 I am pairing it up with my phone and tablets, also dongles and entry to mid-end DAPs such as the Shanling M3X to simulate real use cases. The overall performance is excellent considering the price and positioning of the ME80, also its scalability with better gear.
With my iPad Pro, the output is effortless and clean. The vocal is slightly laid back and is very enjoyable when playing working BGM and some low-fi playlist, where the soft and punchy bass sounds soothing and will make you tap on your feet.
Moving on to the FiiO BTR5 2021 you can hear the bass being firmer and the vocal and treble being more strongly outlined. The cool signature on the dongle is stronger than on the iPad, and the treble is brighter and thinner.
Pairing with the Shanling M6 Pro 2021 empowers the bass with more energy and texture, as well as giving the ME80 a boost in dynamic range. With a stronger source that is textured in the mids, the resolution feels much stronger. At the same time, the treble is more well-defined and polished, still exciting, and sharp at times but without getting too hot for most tracks.
In all cases, the output is on the bright side and the ME80 shows good potential to scale up with more current and better control in the treble.
The ER2SE is a single dynamic driver IEM from Etymotic which builds the most accurate IEMs in the market. The design comes in a rugged CNC machined aluminum case and has a flat response engineered into it. Measuring in at 15ohm, [email protected] SPL, the ER2SE is not as sensitive as the ME80.
The ER2SE offers replaceable filters on its straightly inserted design. Though it does not stress the ears, it is not as comfortable as the ME80 that has a shallower fit and an over-ear design.
At the same time, the cable on the ME80 is fancier in design with a more user-friendly common MMCX socket implementation compared to ER2SE’s proprietary MMCX design with straight insertion.
The overall design on Shanling is more stylish and the fit is more comfortable though ER2SE can provide a much stronger level of isolation with its deep-reaching flanges.
I decided to select the ER2SE for comparison since the moment I put on the ME80 I felt there are some good similarities between the two in signature. However, they behave differently to power on different sources.
The ME80 displays strong detail retrieval even when the source is weaker in power, and sometimes these sources are boomier in tuning. The ME80’s tuning gives the right balance to the output to sound becoming more defined and opened up. It feels more audiophile-targeted than ER2SE’s monitoring sound approach, and such makes it sound more exciting and textured in the treble.
As said the ER2SE is designed as a studio reference monitor. It sounds more consistent across different sources and is flatter in response. At the same time more refined in the top end and could accommodate more amping power that allows it to sound punchier than the ME80 in the bass.
Final Audio A3000
The Final Audio A3000 houses a custom-made f-Core DU 6mm Dynamic driver. The design is highlighted by a new sound evaluation method by analyzing the relationship between sound quality and physical characteristics.
Brass is used for the driver housing, unlike the conventional aluminum material. The voice coil employs a 30μ ultrathin CCAW with minimum use of adhesive to reduce weight.
The A3000’s origami-like design is certainly some aesthetical eye candy and it rests very well on the outer ear causing zero stress after long listening sessions. The aluminum enveloped ME80 is almost as light, noticeably the stock cable is less plain looking compared to the A3000’s black stock cable which doesn’t feel as sturdy.
The Final A3000 has been a great performer for the price though the ME80 comes head-to-head in a few areas, feeling meatier in the bass. The A3000 would require more raw power from the source as it is not very sensitive. The ME80 is quite a bit easier to drive and sound very dynamic even on the phone.
Firing up some R&B the bass has a stronger punch on the ME80 and it extends deeper, contrasting to the A3000 that sounds more fun and energetic though not as dense and impactful.
Mids on the A3000 are very clean, slightly thinner than on the ME80, sounding very rounded in the upper vocal range. This makes ME80 sound hotter compared to the A3000 when it comes to sharper voices.
Testing with different gears, the more sensitive ME80 sounds more extended in the upper register and impacts with more density in the bass.
The A3000 sounds relaxing and forgiving on smaller outputs and could scale up quite a bit with higher amplification power. If you have strong sources to start with the A3000 could yield better performance, and the ME80 can output decent quality with any gears.
The entry to mid-range IEMs market has been immensely competitive, but I personally think the ME80 has the chops to compete. The modern aesthetics, build quality almost makes me forget it is a sub $100 item.
Not only does the ME80 match well Shanling’s own devices it is also diligently tuned to sound defined and highly dynamic on dongles, laptops, and even over the phone’s output.
The ME80 may not be for those who seek big bass and a huge stage, but if you are looking for a great transient response, exciting clean tone, and smooth mids, this may well be a good budget choice.