Once you dip below the $50 mark in the portable headphone market, you're generally going to be looking at a noticeable drop-off in construction and sound quality. That's why we've been pleasantly surprised lately at the offerings in the budget price range. One example is the MEElectronics M6 earphones, a $40 set that offers a shockingly durable design that looks good and fits well. Better yet, they provide plenty of bass and generally good audio quality--if you're willing to make a small sacrifice in clarity and balance.
Unlike most inexpensive earphones, the MEElectronics M6s have an impressive, seemingly durable design. You can choose from red, black, or clear models. The first two feature respectively colored earpieces combined with a black cable and black eartips. The clear model, which we think is the most attractive of the three, has clear earpieces that let you see the technology inside and give the headphones more of a "professional audio" look. Descending from the earpieces is a 52-inch cable that is double coated in silver and then clear plastic, which gives it a bit of a shine and also makes it impressively thick and reasonably tangle-resistant. The cable terminates in a gold-plated L-plug that features an ultraflexible, reinforced housing.
In addition to the rugged design, the M6 earphones offer a very secure fit, thanks to an expanse of memory wire found at each earpiece. This allows you to loop the cable over the top of the ear; in fact, the earbuds must be worn this way because of their shape, so if you find such an arrangement uncomfortable these aren't the headphones for you. During testing, we had no problems getting the M6 to fit securely and comfortably, though it does take a bit of tweaking to get the earpieces seated just right. MEElectronics includes four sets of silicone eartips--three sizes of standard and one triple-flanged pair--in the package to help in this regard. Other welcome additions include a hard-shelled, zippered case, a cable wrap accessory, and a shirt clip that's integrated into the cable. There's also a dual-pronged airplane adapter, though those are becoming somewhat obsolete these days.
When a pair of earphones at such an affordable price point inspires this much praise in the design and features departments, one can't help but presume that corners were cut in terms of sound quality. Luckily, this is not the case with the M6 earphones, which offer very good audio for the price. Those who are itching for more bass in their lives will certainly be satisfied, as the M6 definitely pumps on the low-end. The downside is that some tracks suffer from distortion, and the bass is loose and a bit mushy, meaning it can have a tendency to overpower songs. Still, there are certainly plenty of listeners out there who prefer this.
The upshot is that the M6 earphones aren't totally lacking in high-end detail, and most individual instruments and sounds are well-defined despite the forward low-end. That being said, if you prefer brighter, crisper, and slightly cooler audio, these will not fit the bill. The mids also seem ever-so-slightly flat to us, but on the whole, the headphones offer up warm, enveloping sound. Electro-pop, indie electronica, hip-hop, and dance music all performed nicely. In the final analysis, the M6 is a fantastic value for anyone who is not overly concerned with totally clean and balanced audio.