By May 9, 2011

ME Electronics M6 Canalphones Review: From a Motorcyclist Perspective

About a year and a half ago I did a comparison of two Skullcandy canalphones from a motorcyclist’s perspective. I was fortunate enough to be contacted ME Electronics with a request to review their M6 canalphones from a similar perspective.

I think the M6 earphones are a great value, but they lack an important feature and exhibit some fitting issues that compel me to stay with my Skullcandy phones.

Read on for more details.

Disclaimer

ME Electronics sent me these earphones for review. I did not receive any compensation for this write-up, and I returned the canalphones after I completed my evaluation.

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Features

The M6 comes in a nice soft zippered case with six different sizes and shapes of tips! This is awesome, and is especially important for insuring the best fit possible. There are different diameters, and different shapes. The three-pronged “Christmas tree” will give you the best isolation, but it may be too uncomfortable for some. I wasn’t able to wear the full-sized Christmas tree, and the smaller diameter version was too small. However, it’s nice that ME gives you a bunch of options. Foam Comply-style tips were mysteriously absent.
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The canalphone wires are pre-curved to loop over the back of your ear. This is important for keeping the earphones in place in case the cord catches on something, or flaps in the wind at highway speeds. This is a nice feature. The Skullcandy Asym (a similar design) doesn’t have the pre-curved cord.

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The wires of the M6 should curve around the top of your ear when properly inserted.

The M6 has a cord length of around 53 inches. This is plenty long enough, no matter if you wear your device on-body like I do in a jacket pocket, or on-bike in a tank bag or RAM mount-type device.

There is also a clip on the cord, but it wasn’t strong enough to hold on during a commute into work. A clip isn’t very important to motorcyclists, since we’re mostly stationary once we mount up. However if you intend to run, climb, or bike with the M6s you may want to consider a different way to keep the cord close to your body.

Fit

The M6 is a canalphone, which means that the earpiece is supposed to fit very snugly inside of your ear canal. This is an important design for people who are active, as canalphones are more likely to stay put during motion. For a motorcyclist, this also helps to reduce road noise. They won’t be as good as real ear plugs, but on some motorcycle / helmet combinations they may do a good enough job. A good canalphone will have many sizes of eartips to fit the peculiarities of each individual’s ear canals. My right canal is a different size than my left!

The body of each earpiece has to sit in the ear such that they can’t be dislodged when putting on a helmet. Full-face helmets are the trickiest. You want to be able to pull a properly-sized full-face helmet on without bumping your earphones. If you nudge the earphones too much the seal may be broken. This will allow wind/road noise to funnel into the ear. Bad.

As I mentioned above, the M6s come with enough tips to provide a nice fit for just about any ear canal. Unfortunately, the earpiece body was too large for my ear. The entire assembly would often move once I put my helmet on. Sometimes it would move just a little, and I could fine tune the fit by stuffing my hand inside my helmet one side at a time. Other times the earpiece would move a significant amount, and I’d have to remove my helmet and start all over again.

After about a week of wearing the M6s I think I figured out why. The helmet pushes on the tops of my ears, which compress my entire ear slightly. My ears return to their normal shape once they make it past the soft helmet liner. I believe my ears are shaped in a way that they compress just enough to dislodge the M6s.

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It’s a little hard to tell in this picture, but the body of the M6 moves when I compress my ear down as if I were putting on a helmet.

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By comparison, the Skullcandy TiTANs don’t move at all, because of the “bullet” style housing.

I mitigated this somewhat by putting my index fingers on each canalphone when pulling on my helmet. I could stabilize the body of the phones enough that the liner wouldn’t dislodge them.

Short story: the M6s were problematic for me, but may be okay for you if you have a helmet with a different liner, if you wear a different type of helmet (flip-up/modular, 3/4, or beanie), or if you have a differently shaped ear. However you won’t know if they stay in place until you buy them and try them.

ME Electronics makes more “bullet” shaped canalphones. I think the bullet type would fit me a lot better, but all MEE ‘phones lack an important feature that I’ll get to in a moment.

Sound / performance

The M6s sound very good, especially in the price range. The difference in quality between the M6s and my Skullcandy TiTANs is evident at stops and at low speeds (50MPH or below on my bike), but once I hit the highway I can’t discern the difference as much. If your riding is mostly around town and/or at lower speeds then the M6 is a much better performer. However I spend most of my seat time on the highway.

Usage

I use my Android smartphone to listen to music and get directions via Google Navigation. I keep the volume at a reasonable level, but between the good fit of canalphones and my helmet it may be hard to hear people speak. My HTC Droid Incredible has a capacitive touchscreen. I can’t unlock the phone and adjust the volume with my motorcycle gloves on. Adjusting the volume is very important, and I rely on the onboard hardware volume slider on the TiTANs on a regular basis.

The ME Electronics M6 doesn’t have a volume slider (called an “attenuator” in the headphone world). In fact, none of their canalphones do. When I wrote ME Electronics about it, they gave me some good reasons for this:

One is that it adds extra bulk to the cord, which may affect how secure the fit is during physical activity. Another is cable integrity – it would have to be fully sealed against sweat and even then there is always the chance of something going wrong as it would introduce more soldering joints. And lastly, a passive volume attenuator adds resistance to the path of the electrical signal. That means that the sound quality of the earphones would have to vary depending on the position of the volume control. We understand that fidelity is not a prime concrn for someone purchasing a $35 set of in-ear earphones but our roots lie in the head-fi audiophile community and all of these considerations together have stopped us from introducing an analog volume control on any of our models. In addition, we are working on a 3-button apple-style remote for future releases, which is no consolation for Android users such as you and I but will work for a large portion of our customers.

I understand, but this is not enough to overcome my desire for an attenuator. The fitting issue is manageable, but I consider the volume slider to be a must-have.

Summary

At less than $25 shipped from Amazon Prime, the M6 canalphones by ME Electronics are a good deal. The six different tip types will help people find the fit that’s best for them, and I believe the M6s sound better than equivalent ‘phones in the same price range.

However, I would not recommend the M6s for motorcyclists. Even if you don’t have the same problems I did with pulling a helmet on over the canalphone housing, I believe an onboard attenuator is essential. Even though the M6s sound better, I’ll still recommend the Skullcandy Titans or equivalent.

The ME Electronics M6 may be for you if:

  • You wear a modular, 3/4, or skullcap-style helmet, or have a full-face helmet without much of a padded liner.
  • Do not have a capacitive screen on your audio device.
  • Your ears are shaped differently from mine.
  • You intend to use your canalphones for more than just motorcycling. I believe the M6s will be better “off-bike” than the TiTANs I’m keeping, and may be suited for other activities that don’t involve a helmet.

Not recommended for motorcyclists, recommended for adventurers.

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Posted in: motorcycling, review

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