Two awesome-sounding, yet very affordable in-ear headphones

The MEElectronics A151 ($80) and Thinksound ts02 ($75) in-ear headphones offer astonishing performance.

The MEElectronics A151 balanced armature headphone ($75) is the best-sounding in-ear headphone for less than $100 I've heard to date. The headphone's very flexible, 47-inch-long twisted cable looks like the wires used on expensive custom in-ear models from Ultimate Ears and JH Audio, but the A151 headphone's build quality is otherwise average. Comfort was good, so the headphone was easy to wear for long periods of time. It comes with five sets of eartips (small/medium/large silicon; double flange; large triple flange) and a clamshell carrying case.

The MEElectronics A151 in-ear headphones MEElectronics

Listening to some of the quieter tracks from Miles Davis' "The Complete Bitches Brew" album, the A151 decoded the texture of the percussion instruments, every rattle and shake was crystal clear. There's a lot of atmosphere on this recording, and the A151 let me hear it.

Davis' trumpet cut through the haze like a knife, and switching over to the NOX Scout in-ear headphones the sound was different. I could hear a little more of what was going on in the bass, but the trumpet, percolating electric keyboards, and the shimmering drums were nowhere as clear. The A151's bass-to-treble tonal balance was better.

The A151 was almost magical in the way it made the strings on Peter Gabriel's orchestral "Scratch My Back" album sound. I could really hear Gabriel digging deep into the tunes' emotional power, and he really shined on "Heroes." The A151's refined sound didn't hold anything back. The Scout acquitted itself better here than on the Davis tracks, but it didn't seem as transparent as the A151. That quality was readily apparent when I listened to Keith Jarrett's new "Jasmine" album; the piano's clarity and Jarrett's deft touch were beyond what I've come to expect from under $100 in-ear headphones.

The A151 didn't fall down on rock, so the harder-hitting tunes on the Elton John/Leon Russell "The Union" album weren't lacking in impact. Bass went deep, and definition was excellent. In the end, it was still the A151's resolution of fine detail that made it a winner for me. Highly recommended!

The Thinksound ts02 in-ear headphones CBS Interactive

The Thinksound ts02 has more bass than the Scout and A151, but it's so well controlled it didn't muddy the overall sound. On his "Driving Rain" album, Paul McCartney's Hofner bass was rendered with real precision, so every note's attack and pitch was never in doubt. I don't usually like overly heavy bass, but I have to admit the ts02's very generous bottom octaves were a guilty pleasure. Bass lovers take note, the ts02 should be on your short list!

John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" from the "MTV Unplugged Collection" album was very present and clear sounding, but a switchover to the A151 revealed more see-through clarity. It's certainly more accurate, but I'd be the first to admit that accuracy isn't everything. The ts02's bass fullness doesn't disappear when listening at very quiet levels, which is a plus. I found the ts02's tips made a snug and comfortable fit to my large ears, and it did a good job blocking external noise.

Thinksound also takes a very "green" approach to marketing its products, emphasizing the "hand-crafted sustainable wood" housings of the earpieces. The headphones feature an in-ear 8 mm high-definition driver and 50-inch-long PVC-free cables. Build quality and durability appear to be average. The ts02 is offered in silver cherry or black chocolate finishes, and they come with four sets of eartips in a cotton carrying pouch. The ts02 comes with a one-year warranty, and Thinksound doesn't charge extra for shipping.

 

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