First order of business, Shanling did confirm with me that the Platinum variant sounds different to the regular ME500, specifically within the treble. How so, I cannot quantify as I haven’t heard the original.
Listening to the Platinum revision in isolation, however, I hear a reasonably balanced sound with a brighter midrange well counterbalanced by a warm and organic tone throughout. It’s a noticeably more engaging and dynamic signature than the ME100, introducing more weight in the low-end without over-enhancing the top-end. Bass is warm and full but demonstrates sound linearity with wideband emphasis. Meanwhile, the midrange has well-balanced vocals with strong clarity followed by a sizable dip for smoothness. The lower-treble holds particular emphasis within the high-end with a small bump in the middle-treble aiding headroom and air. The result is a clear, rich and rather euphonic sound.
I was impressed by the low-end performance of the ME500 Plat which is fairly linear from sub to mid-bass, with both possessing modestly enhanced quantity. The earphone also showcases strong extension and, unlike a lot of cheaper hybrids, it isn’t overly pressurized bass that pounds the skull but tight slam and rumble that complements the rest of its sound. What strikes as curious is the upper-bass which sees slight emphasis and is mostly responsible for the warmer tone and fullness of the ME500’s low-end and midrange.
This is mostly redeemed by excellent driver control alongside natural decay and a smooth texture, enabling strong detail retrieval and tight impact. Definition is also good but slightly smoothed off by their additional warmth and note body. Of course, BA agility cannot be experienced here but detail retrieval is impressive considering the earphone’s warmer tuning. This is a sound execution of an organic low-end that contributes smooth, warm notes without stealing the spotlight in terms of quantity, excellent for easy listening while remaining strong under scrutiny.
A small dip in the lower-midrange serves to redeem bass/midrange separation. Nonetheless, a fair amount of warmth permeates from the upper-bass, producing full-bodied vocals. As there is fairly substantial emphasis through the centre midrange with focus at 2 and 4KHz, vocals are well-present and in-line with the enhanced bass. As the upper-midrange lies at the fore, vocal clarity is enhanced, ensuring that vocals are never muffled or veiled. Meanwhile, the warmer low-end prevents any iota of thinness from creeping into the ME500’s prominent midrange while a large dip between 5-6KHz smooths off articulation and prevents rasp.
Still, though resembling the tuning of the ME100 and vaguely perhaps the OH Oriveti earphones, I do find the midrange more contentious on the ME500 than any of these models due to its increased warmth. Specifically, vocal timbre is slightly off to my ears, with vocals sounding a touch too warm, chesty and lacking in extension on some tracks. Nonetheless, I can’t fault the balance showcased here and the enhanced clarity prevent veil too. Shanling has done a good job overall at creating a sound that is simultaneously clear, richly bodied and smooth if not expressly accurate.
The ME500 has a very unique and well-executed treble presentation that matches the organic presentation of its midrange. It has enhanced instrument body and a warmer tone that contribute to a rich and well-detailed image. This is achieved via sizeable upper-midrange presence followed by decreasing emphasis through the lower-treble and a subsequent peak in the middle-treble. The added upper-midrange presence bolsters instrument body while the trough around 6KHz smooths off crunch and edge. As there remains fair emphasis around 5KHz and as the middle-treble is forward, the earphone retains a very crisp and focussed image with plenty of attack but sibilance and glare are minimised.
Objectively speaking, instrument timbre isn’t perfectly accurate, however, the bolstered body and warmth do serve to enhance the experience by counterbalancing forwardness and brightness. In fact, as the ME500 is richly voiced, the middle-treble boost and brightness is hardly noticeably all the while providing healthy benefits to headroom. Extension is also quite impressive, some micro-detail is apparent and the background is nicely detailed. The earphone creates defined layers and has a touch of sparkle in the highest octaves that grants it additional energy and the impression of dimension. Altogether, a clean and well-put-together high-end that doesn’t overdo the brightness while yielding its benefits.
Whether it’s the unique material choice or some internal tech in the ME500 Plat, soundstage width is very impressive, with directional cues providing an out of the head experience. Depth is less immersive with forward vocals lying closer to the listener. Meanwhile, layers are well-defined and imaging is precise and accurate. Separation is quite good as the bass hasn’t been overdone and there is reasonable balance throughout. As they do lie on the warmer and fuller side, there isn’t a lot of space between each element yet each note is defined nonetheless.
The ME500 Plat features a 16-ohm impedance and 111dB sensitivity making this an efficient earphone that is effectively driven to high volumes even from portable sources and smartphones. Despite its multi-driver setup, the earphone is quite impervious to output impedance. I used an AB splitter to compare between the Hiby R6 (10-ohm impedance) and the Shanling M2x (1-ohm). From the Hiby, the ME500 sounded slightly darker, smoother and fuller. This was mostly as a result of upper-midrange attenuation with treble only becoming a touch smoother. In terms of power, the ME500 also isn’t hugely picky but does benefit in terms of bass control. As such, it is a great choice for portable users wanting to run the earphone from a smartphone or portable source.
EL1 Upgrade Cable –
Shanling also offers a balanced upgrade cable available on separate purchase for $119 USD. It’s a nicely built cable for the asking price, featuring high-purity crystal copper conductors in an 8-core configuration. The cable is only available in 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced formats with MMCX connectors. The wire itself feels excellent, it isn’t overly bulky or heavy and doesn’t weigh down the earphones. Similarly, it feel sturdy with nickel-plated brass terminations and ample strain relief. The ear guides are pre-moulded as with the stock ME500 cable, hugging the ear effectively and comfortably.
To test the sound of the cable, I used Shanling’s own M2X. Bear in mind that the balanced output has slightly more power and a higher output impedance, otherwise, the circuitry is the same which should provide some indication of what users can expect with this cable. The EL1 produced a slightly cleaner sound. Most notable was the low-end, bass was quicker decaying and more controlled. The midrange became slightly more balanced, with a bit more separation and a slightly cleaner tone. Meanwhile, highs became more effortless with a touch more detail retrieval around the lower-treble.
Shanling ME100 ($100): The ME100 provide a brighter sound with lighter bass and a more neutral tone. Sub-bass extension is not as good, however the ME100 does sound more linear through the low-end, with a more neutral tone and higher definition, even though driver control is similar. As it has a touch more upper-bass, the ME100’s midrange doesn’t sound hollow or cool, but it also doesn’t sound as natural as the warmer and fuller ME500 either. Rather, it is clearer with slightly higher definition and female vocal bias where the ME500 comes across as smoother and more refined. Within the highs, the ME500 has a smoother tuning with less lower-treble bias. As such, it has noticeably more natural instrumentation with more accurate body and detail retrieval is considerably higher. Extension and headroom is also superior on the ME500 which translates to a more spacious presentation with more accurate imaging. The thinner and more neutrally toned ME100 has slightly better separation while the ME500 provides a more layered presentation.
Final E5000 ($270): The E5000 is a warmer and smoother earphone. It has noticeably more bass bias and greater extension, especially within the sub and mid-bass while attenuating the upper-bass to achieve cleanliness and separation. The E5000 nonetheless delivers warmer, larger bass notes yet its high driver control permits similar definition and detail retrieval. Through the midrange, the E5000 is also warm but incidentally not substantially more so than the ME500. The E5000 provides a more natural rendition and a more accurate timbre with its more linear midrange tuning. As its upper-bass isn’t overly present, the mids aren’t muffled or muddied but imbued with accurate body and pleasing cleanliness. The highs tell a similar story, both earphones feature a small dip in the lower-treble with a bump in the middle-treble for headroom and air. The E5000 offers almost the same level of treble extension and it has a bit more background detail retrieval while the ME500 has a touch more crispness.
Shozy BG ($280): The BG is more W-shaped with a more linear sound and neutral tone. It has noticeably less low-end emphasis throughout but is also more linear, lacking the mid-bass warmth of the ME500. The BG is still lightly warm, but cleaner and faster decaying than the Shanling at the cost of sub-bass extension. As a result, the BG has more detail retrieval while the ME500 has a more dynamic and organic bass. Through the midrange, the ME500 has slightly more accurate body, however, both aren’t perfectly accurate with regards to timbre. This is so as the BG has twin peaks that can make it sound slightly thin which contrasts to the warmer, more organic ME500. In return, the BG has more defined layers and greater vocal clarity and definition while the ME500 has more accurate body and is smoother in its expression.
Campfire IO ($300): The IO provides a considerably more mid-focused sound with a brighter top-end. It has less sub-bass extension but more emphasis, so it still provides convincing fullness. The IO has less mid-bass but sustains a bit more the upper bass. The IO is faster decaying but both similarly well-defined and textured due to the difference in tone. As the IO has a sharp centre midrange peak, it is noticeably more vocal forward. This is counteracted by increased warmth from its upper-bass. Both have upper-midrange emphasis, but the ME500 is more linear, sounding cleaner and more natural while the IO has a lot more clarity and presence but can sound a bit dry and strained. The IO has a sharper lower-treble with more crispness while the ME500 extracts a bit more body and detail. The IO has more headroom where the ME500 is cleaner. The IO has a bit more sparkle and more air, sounding a bit wider and more holographic while the ME500 is more layered and coherent.
The title of this review represents a double meaning. First, though trickling into a market flooded with myriad options, Shanling’s first generation of earphones have secured presence with their unique designs that harken back to Shanling’s stunning DAPs alongside their unique approach to sound. Secondly, the ME500 represents a warm, full and rich sound. Now of their first two earphones, the ME500 is likely the most accessible, with its greater note weight and size alongside a generally more euphonic signature. Special mention also goes to the Platinum plated housings on the limited edition version which are simply gorgeous to look at and feel thoroughly premium in the hand and ear. It does represent a coloured sound, and therefore, does not suit listeners pursuing neutrality or an accurate timbre. Yet, the ME500 remains a very enjoyable listen, especially for those wanting a rich, smooth yet well-detailed sound with strong technical ability.
The ME500 Plat and EL1 upgrade cable can be purchased from Shanling for $289 and $119 USD respectively. I am not affiliated with Shanling and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.