Review: Master & Dynamic ME05 In-Ear Headphones
Master & Dynamic ME05 In-Ear Headphones
Great sound, mellow with excellent bass and superb isolation. All kinds of music sound wonderful—even podcasts. Driver housings are machined from solid brass. Luxe looks. Weight of the brass isn’t really an issue.
Well OK, weight might be an issue for some people. At $200, price is a little high—excellent-sounding in-ears can be had for $50 less.
I was deeply conflicted about these earphones from the moment I opened the box. The ME05s are the new in-ears from Master & Dynamic, the New York audio company that makes the amazing MH40 over-ear headphones and a few other models that also get great reviews. The company has an excellent reputation for headphone design, so I expected these new $199 ME05s to sound very good.
I did not, however, expect them to be all that comfortable.
Reason being, the ME05s are machined from solid brass, and when I took them from the box, they felt heavy as sin. Why brass? Well, it’s very dense, and adding density to a speaker housing helps isolate vibrations. Metals also impart their own particular resonance. Brass in particular “sings,” proponents will tell you, citing the fact that trumpets, tubas, and sackbuts are made of brass—though they’ll leave out the part where actual science explains how it makes the music in your tiny in-ear headphones sound empirically better. Maybe because the gains are immeasurable? I don’t know, so I’ll leave it at this: Brass is a luxurious material that feels much better than plastic or aluminum, and it looks like serious business. It will probably look even better over time as it develops a patina, like your Apple Watch Edition.
But my god, that weight! We can assume Master & Dynamic knows what’s up, but whose stash were they smoking when they decided to use brass? I’ve seen brass in-ears before—namely the Vibe Brass Balls, which are popular among audio nerds despite being heavy and unwieldy. These ME05s can’t be any better, I thought.
So here’s the part where I eat my hat. They feel great in your ears. Yes, the all-metal design is heavy when you’re holding them, or when you slip them into your shirt pocket. But cram the ME05s into your ears, and the weight disappears. They are perfectly balanced, so it never feels like the weight is dragging them out of your ears. There’s a barrel-shaped remote at the crook of the Y in the cable, and a small mic nub on the cable below the right earpiece, and these things do add to the weight. But walking around with the buds inserted, the weight feels stable and controlled. Part of this is due to the strength of the seal within your ear canal, so if you can’t find a good seal with these earphones, the fit and the sound will suffer. Luckily, there are four sizes of tips in the box, and the 6mm posts are friendly to aftermarket options.
Within those solid brass housings (hand-polished, M&D likes to point out), are 8mm titanium-coated drivers. These aren’t off-the-shelf options from an OEM, but custom drivers tuned by Master & Dynamic. In fact, the ME05s are tuned very similarly to the company’s venerable MH40s. It’s a tough piece of engineering if you consider that the MH40s are over-ear cans with 45mm drivers inside, and the ME05s are little brass bulbs with 8mm drivers. But there are many commonalities in their sound profiles, so if you like the way your MH40 over-ears sound, you’ll like the new in-ears. The biggest difference I found was in the treble. The full-size MH40 headphones exhibit substantial treble roll-off, but that lack of a crisp high end isn’t as prominent in these earbuds. Sure, there’s some tempering of the highs on the ME05s, and otherwise the in-ears have the same mellow audio profile you find with the MH40s and many other luxury over-ears.
But these buds sparkle; more so than Master & Dynamic’s over-ears, and more than the company’s other in-ears, the ME01 and ME03. And much like every set of M&Ds I’ve tried, these earphones have a sound that is so very very smooth. The bass doesn’t suffer in the least, and a stunning level of midrange detail shows up in every style of music. In the six or so weeks I spent with them, they became by go-to headset for listening to podcasts because of the excellent mids. They also offer tremendous isolation from outside noise, as a good in-ear should. They’re great on the bus.
Given the multiple sizes of silicone tips in the box, finding a size that works for you is pretty easy, and I can’t stress how important it is to experiment until you find the best fit. Also, you don’t really have to jam them into your meatus to get a good seal. They feel better and stay put better if you press them into your ears just enough to feel the seal, then stop. Some in-ears require you to do the little dance where you pull on your earlobe with one hand and wiggle the ear-piece in with the other. These ME05s are easy to wear.
They’re also easy to take care of. The flat cable is essentially tangle-free, and it comes with a spring clip to keep it stuck to your shirt. The box also includes a couple of extra filters, so you can swap out the replaceable pieces that cover the sound chamber when they get clogged with wax.
I certainly recommend them. For $200, you get it all: Top-shelf sound, supreme comfort, dramatic isolation, excellent craftsmanship. Not to mention the beautiful look and feel of the brass housings. Sure, maybe the delicate glint of the polished brass is a little ostentations. But if you don’t think these earbuds look really cool, I can’t convince you.