MEElectronics HT-21 On-Ear Portable Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Mar 4, 2016.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6s+ with Oppo HA-2/FiiO K1 DAC/amps, various computers using the Audioquest Dragonfly-2/HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/FiiO E07k DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the HT21 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly other very lightweight on-ear types, but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the HT21 (i.e., my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues. The HT21 was purchased from MEE direct on 21 Feb 2016 on order #1030 for $17.59 USD.

    The MEE HT21, out of the box and after burn-in, sounds fine "as is", i.e. good enough for portable use without EQ of any kind. That's pretty amazing for any headphone under $200 USD, let alone this $15 headphone. How can that be? The bass for example is flat-to-warm, with no particular emphasis, so ignoring any details that are not as well represented as with the average $300 headphone, it's a small miracle. The critical analysis shows a significant emphasis around 1.6 khz, and an equally significant recess in the upper treble, and somehow they manage to balance each other out pretty well, for portable use at least. The EQ chart on my website tells the story, but it sounds much better than I'd expect, with just a tinge of that squawky on-ear sound that's common to headphones up to $200 or so. The bass does begin to lighten up some below 40 hz, but the weight and impact is still there to a large degree down to 30 hz. If the QC is good enough that all of the HT21 samples sound the same, very highly recommended.

    Isolation is minimal, and a very noisy environment will mask important musical details. Leakage is low, but the volume needs to be kept below audiophile levels in quiet offices and libraries, or people sitting close by will hear faint sounds coming from the headphone. The HT21 is all plastic except the steel part of the headband, it's very small and lightweight, the drivers are 38-40 mm and capable of very loud undistorted sound, the earcups fold flat and also into the headband for very small carry size, and the headband range of adjustment is 7/8 inch on each side, where my average-size head fits in the middle of that range. The non-detachable 4-ft cable is single-sided, is terminated with a standard 45-degree-angle miniplug, but looks more durable than the cable supplied with headphones like the Beyer T51p, Bose and B&W on-ears, etc. The plastic earpads are soft, but not especially squishy, so the bass seal may be compromised until the earpads warm up to the user's head - especially in cold weather.

    The HT21 is an ideal portable headphone in that it can be pulled off the head when not in use, and worn around the neck with the earcups pulled out and folded flat - no need for a carry case unless the user needs to stow it away. In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the HT21 compares with each individual track. Note that the comments below apply to using the HT21 without any EQ or tone controls.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The HT21 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled pretty well by the HT21.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel the weight they carry with the HT21.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The HT21 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled perfectly by the HT21.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The HT21 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The HT21 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the HT21 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The HT21 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The HT21 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The HT21 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a solid deep-bass response. Overall, the HT21 plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The HT21 plays this track very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the HT21. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The HT21 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the HT21 does those very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The HT21 plays the fundamental with a light weight but good detail, so that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the HT21 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle with the HT21.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the HT21 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The HT21 reproduces the 'clop' portion of that sound with reasonable accuracy.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The HT21 conveys some of that drama, but the extreme deep bass is a little weak.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the HT21 renders the tones and transients enjoyably, but somewhat softly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The HT21's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are good, and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The HT21 delivers the impacts with decent weight and good detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
  3. maverick1245

    maverick1245 New Member

    Mar 4, 2016
    Review looks great besides for that low price of the headphone. Will be giving this a shot.

    Thanks for detailed review.
    dalethorn likes this.

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