The Dandy MEElectronics A161P and Fischer Audio SBA-03
Separated at Birth: Fischer Audio SBA-03 ($119) & MEElectronics A161P ($99)
As is the case with most consumer electronics, earphones and headphones are typically built by large OEMs located in China. While these OEMs can build to spec, they also offer internally-developed models for their customers to rebrand. This sometimes results in the same product appearing in the lineups of competitors. Case in point---the following four headphones, all of which are a shared OEM design from Yoga Electronics Co., Ltd..
This sort of thing is not exactly a secret in the audio world but it's still interesting to see how different manufacturers present the same basic product, which is why we picked up the MEElectronics A161P and Fischer Audio SBA-03 for this review. Of course, it didn't hurt that these mid-range Balanced Armature IEMs perform well enough to compete with established audiophile favorites.
MEElectronics and Fischer Audio are two relatively young audio brands from opposite corners of the globe. Headquartered in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Fischer Audio has been in the headphone business since 2006 but wasn't known to audio enthusiasts in the US until this 2009 Head-Fi review. MEElectronics caught the community's attention a bit earlier with their value-priced but surprisingly decent-sounding earphones and headsets. Chances are neither brand is familiar to the average consumer, but the SoCal-based MEElectronics differs from Fischer on one key point---availability. MEElectronics products are sold on Amazon and can even be found at some brick and mortar retailers while fans of Fischer Audio are stuck importing the product via eBay or ordering from one of a few small international distributors.
So, let's see where the differences lie.
The Fischer Audio SBA-03 is packaged in a large, plain-looking box with 3 pairs of single-flange tips, a soft carrying pouch, and a faux-leather cable organizer. The MEElectronics box is smaller and packed with more accessories; most importantly---3 more pairs of eartips and a protective clamshell carrying case. The additional eartips---two sizes of triple-flanges and a bi-flange---give me a better seal than the Fischer tips and the clamshell case is a must-have for reasons I'll get to in a moment.
The A161P also includes a set of silicone cable guides, designed to aid in over-the-ear wear, an adapter for Nokia, Sony, and Samsung smartphones, and a PC adapter that separates the TRRS headset plug into conventional stereo audio + mic plugs for use with a computer.
In terms of actual design, the two earphones use identical housings and look pretty much the same. The slim shells are made of plastic and feature shallowly angled nozzles. The strain reliefs are long but flexible, and again very similar between the two units.
The cable is the only major difference and happens to be where both earphones fall flat. It really is a case of picking the lesser of two evils. The cable chosen by Fischer is hard, thin, and rubbery. It feels more durable and wouldn't bother me too much if not for the cable noise that travels through it while running, walking, or just breathing. Worse still, you are left on your own when it comes to mitigating the microphonics---there is no cable cinch and no shirt clip included.
The MEElectronics cable is different---soft to the touch but still thin and only slightly less microphonic. A cable cinch is included but its usefulness is limited by the inline mic/remote unit located at the right earpiece. A shirt clip is included as well, and does help mitigate noise, but I would still think long and hard about using the A161P during any activity more strenuous than walking. Not only is the cable still noisy but its thickness also fails to inspire a whole lot of confidence, making the protective carrying case a very welcome inclusion.
To sum up: the A161P has an inline mic, a more fleshed-out accessory pack, and a different, but equally mediocre, cable. Of real value are the extra eartips, protective case, and cable management features of the A161P---everything else I could take or leave.
The sound is a different story, however.