The MEElectronics HT-21s have a balanced, warm, middly sound that's forward, making vocals and guitars sound as if they're close to your ears. By contrast, headphones with scooped-out mids leave instruments sounding as if they're further away.
Bass is well-mannered for a headphone of this low price, only showing its hand when required. It doesn't boom or dominate, but supplies enough of a beefy rumble to do justice even to dance and electro music.
Detail is also good, but high-end resolution is limited. The treble rolls off at the very top end, so vocals, cymbals and other high-register sounds don't sparkle as much as they would with a set of brighter headphones.
String-led classical music suffers most from this sound signature - the violins of Bach's Air from Ouverture No. 3 in D major don't sound as sweet as they should, for example. Music requiring more punch sounds great though. The staccato guitars of Tool's 2001 Lateralus album are insistently aggressive, while the bass line underneath is given plenty of weight without encroaching upon the other instruments, which would happen with a more bass-heavy set.
The powerful, balanced sound can muddle complicated arrangements, but for less than £30 the sound quality is excellent. How the headphones are placed on your ears is very important though.
If placed too far forward or back on your ears, the sound isolation, bass response and overall sonic balance are ruined - leaving the HT-21s sounding brittle, harsh and frankly horrible. We found them to be even pickier than many inner-ear earphones, which are similarly affected if the correct seal isn't made with rubber or foam tips. Some experimentation is needed for the best results.
Once they're at home on your ears though, the sound quality on offer is far greater than the price tag would suggest. They're well-suited to rock and pop music that can make full use of its good bass response, as lighter or more refined music could do with a little more high-end fidelity. You'll need to spend significantly more to get this leg up to the next level, as you won't get this from the more bass-driven Sennheiser PX100 or Koss PortaPro, the closest on-ear alternatives. If your music collection isn't all sweetness and light, with more serrated guitar riffs than sweet, serene violins, the MEElectronics HT-21 represent a bargain.
The MEElectronics HT-21 on-ear headphones are very picky about how they're placed on your ears, but get it right and they offer a detailed, powerful sound that's easily merits the £20 price tag, and more. The materials used in its construction are the usual budget fare, but they're robust enough to stand the trials of a morning commute.