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Last Updated: July 30th, 2012

Like many technophiles, I have a soft spot for wireless audio gear. While cord-free is moving in the direction of Wi-Fi and mesh networks at home, the world of portable gear still belongs to Bluetooth. Earbuds, headphones, portable speakers - they're all different, and so far none I've tested are perfect. Once I find the perfect one in each category, I'll be sure to let you know.

A few months ago, I reviewed the MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32 - a full-size over-the-ear set of wireless headphones that ended up scoring surprisingly well while at the same time not breaking the bank. The other Bluetooth offering available from Meelec is the in-ear Air-Fi AF9, which is precisely what we're taking a look at today. In fact, I've been testing them for the last 2 months or so and had plenty of time to form an opinion.

But First - A Competitor

One of my all-time favorite Bluetooth audio solutions till this day continues to be the Sony HBH-IS800 (purchased for $70). It is incredibly small and portable, has zero cable mess, holds the charge a surprising for its size amount of time, pushes good bass and is overall almost perfect. It definitely has its flaws - for example, its BT receiver is very weak and cuts out way too often in certain situations, the volume levels are lower than ideal when watching movies, there is only a single action button, it pairs with only one device at a time, and its charging mechanism feels incredibly unpolished. But even with all its shortcomings, the IS800 absolutely destroys the competition in the most important aspects of them all - portability and comfort. Here is why:

is800-1 is800-2

Do you see how awesome it is? Can you even guess where the power source that provides about 3.5 hours of juice resides? When I put on the IS800 the way you're seeing in the photo on the right and head to the gym, I completely forget it exists. The cable does not get in the way - there's almost no cable to get in the way in the first place. Placed behind my head and attached with a provided clip to the back of my shirt, I don't see it, I don't feel it, I don't think about accidentally knocking it off with my hands - yet the music keeps coming seemingly out of nowhere. It's this unparalleled portability that makes a decent pair of earbuds great and irreplaceable. In fact, the IS800 has become so ubiquitous in my life that I now don't leave home without it. Keys, wallet, cellphone, IS800 - it's the new routine.

So, can our newcomer, the Meelec Air-Fi AF9, dethrone the Sony HBH-IS800? How well does it perform for the price? Should you even buy one at all? Let's see if I can answer those.

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MEElectronics Air-Fi AF9 Bluetooth Headphones

  • What is it? In-ear Bluetooth headphones with an Android-compatible remote control and microphone.
  • How much? $49.99 ($46.18 on Amazon).
  • What's in the box?
    • Headphones
    • Extension cable
    • Not 1 but 2 chargers (very nice touch)
    • Carrying case
    • 4 pairs of tips

wm_IMG_1462 wm_IMG_1464 wm_IMG_1465

wm_IMG_1466 wm_IMG_1467 wm_IMG_1469

The Good

  • BT volume is plenty loud. This was a very important quality I was looking for because a lot of Bluetooth products are simply too quiet. Both the JAMBOX and the IS800 are not loud enough - for instance, even with sound isolation I couldn't watch movies while on a treadmill at a gym with the IS800 because I couldn't hear what any of the characters were saying. I'm glad to report that the AF9 definitely gets loud enough to hear a movie comfortably - I even have to hit the volume down button once or twice.
  • Good BT reception thanks to being positioned closer to your device and probably sporting a more powerful receiver. If you remember, one of the complaints I had about the IS800, and this goes for the majority of BT devices, is that they all invariably have connection issues at one point or another and start to cut out. I'm not talking 30 feet away - I'm talking phone in my pocket and headphones on my dome. The IS800 has terrible BT reception. While it works at a gym 100%, it constantly cuts out when I'm walking out and about around the city. Even if I hold the phone in my hand and walk around with it, it still cuts out, which gets extremely frustrating. The AF9, on the other hand, almost never has this problem - there were a couple of occasions when it did stutter, but they're so few and far between, they're barely worth mentioning.
  • Decent battery life. Compared to the 3-3.5 hours I get out of the IS800, the AF9 is rated for 6+ hours of music time (in my experience it was definitely on the longer side), 5+ hours of talk time (I could never talk this long, but I trust that it's an accurate assessment), and 100+ hours of standby. Full rejuicing takes about 2 hours, which is very fair.
  • Speaking of rejuicing, the AF9 comes with not one but two USB charging cables - subtle but greatly appreciated. This way I can leave one cable in my office and keep one in my backpack, or one at work and one at home. You get the idea. Of course, if it only used a MicroUSB plug, it'd be even more ideal but, alas, that's not the case.
  • Great sound - the AF9 actually consists of the M9 buds that plug into a Bluetooth receiver. The M9s have been on the market for a number of years and are generally well reviewed. I thought the audio quality overall was very good, with precise, not overpowering bass, decent mids, but somewhat muddy and too pronounced highs. After tweaking the equalizer settings a little, I found that I actually enjoyed AF9's bass precision over the Ultimate Ears Super-Fi 5 Pros, which are my daily corded drivers. Compared to the Sony HBH-IS800, I enjoyed the quality of audio on both equally, which was great because I did not want to compromise on sound.
    Remember: the sound quality will be highly dependent on the seal of the buds with your ears. If you don't get a good seal, the overall quality and especially bass will lack severely. Make sure you're using the right tips.
    One thing needs to be pointed out though - as far as the M9s (and most other buds) go, the volume needs to be a set lot higher to produce the same level of audio as with the Ultimate Ears. This is not too surprising - Ultimate Ears are notorious for their efficiency.
  • Modular design lets you use:
    • The BT receiver with the included M9 buds or
    • The BT receiver with your own headphones or speakers or
    • The included M9 earbuds without the BT receiver using any 3.5mm jack
  • Unexpected use cases - because of the modular design, you might end up using the AF9 in more situations than you might think. For example, you can add wireless audio capabilities to car and home speakers by simply plugging the BT receiver into your gear's 3.5mm jack.
    In my case, my Murano does not have A2DP streaming built-in even though it supports Bluetooth, so to play music in the car off my phone, I used to use a 3.5mm cable. With the BT receiver, I ended up freeing my phone from its leash.
    • A word of warning though: according to Meelec, you can't charge and use the receiver at the same time, though during my testing it seemed to charge but would enter pause mode any time I plugged or unplugged it.
    • Compared to dedicated music adaptors, like this one from Sprint/HTC that costs $60, the AF9 offers a better value while achieving in my opinion pretty much the same goal. You don't get a nice MicroUSB charging port though - bummer.

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  • Remembers multiple BT pairings. Some BT receivers only remember a small amount of previous pairings and require re-pairing after they start "forgetting." For example, one of IS800's biggest flaws is it only remembers one pairing and needs to be re-paired every time you want to use a different device. Thankfully, the AF9 remembers multiple connections - I tested 3 different devices, and it was able to connect to every one of them without re-pairing. It may support more, but 3 should be sufficient for most folks.
  • A 6-button remote with mic:
    • Previous
    • Next  (there's a downside to these two though - see the section below for more)
    • Play/pause
    • Volume up
    • Volume down
    • Power/call/hang up/voice command multi-function
    • Built-in mic
  • Affordable - for $50, you get both a modular setup with a BT receiver and a set of decent headphones as well as everything needed to charge in 2 locations and fit most ear sizes.
  • Good sound isolation with a choice of 4 different replaceable bud tips. Perfect for people with small ears, like the wife - she could never find buds that stay in until she tried this pair. However, there's a pretty big downside to these tips that I've never experienced in any other headphones before. More on that later.
  • Clip - the BT receiver/remote has a clip so that you can attach it to your shirt, backpack straps, collar, t-shirt sleeve, etc. To me, the presence of a clip already indicates there's a problem with the design - again, more on that later.
  • In the box:
    • 2 chargers - convenient, since they're proprietary, although I'd much rather prefer them to be microUSB instead.
    • Extension cable
    • Handy carrying case
    • 4 pairs of tips, as mentioned above
  • Auto shut-off after 30 minutes of standby - this is a critical feature, as without it the battery would be toast if you occasionally forget to turn it off.
  • Sturdy cable - I've used numerous headphones with cables that ripped within months, or sometimes weeks. The AF9's cable is nothing like that - the inner layer looks like it was made of tiny snake scales, later encased in sturdy clear plastic.

The Not So Good

  • Cable mess. This is probably the biggest downside of the AF9 for me, especially after using the IS800 which set a very high standard in portability. To me, there is little point in upgrading to BT headphones if you're going to continue dealing with cables and an extra controller on top of that. The cable is just way too long, and the addition of a second clip down the middle to help make it less unruly only highlights the problem more. More on this in next bullet point.
  • The whole setup is awkward to attach when wearing certain clothing, specifically t-shirts or hoodies. When working out, I couldn't even figure out where I can affix the receiver without the AF9 getting in my way. I ended up clipping it to the collar of the t-shirt on one side (which ended up poking my neck), then wrapping the cable around my neck a few times before inserting the buds. The cable is not long enough to reach my pocket, but if it could, I'd question the use of BT altogether. So the pant pockets are out too.
    With a hoodie, things got even more weird, and I ended up clipping the receiver to one of the strings.
    The bottom line is the cable got in my face in both situations, and that almost defeats the purpose of using Bluetooth. The Sony IS800 dominates in the portability department. An ingenious design that doesn't get in the way is what sets apart true innovators from the rest of the crowd, and Meelec, unfortunately, belongs to the latter group.
  • Crackling/crunchy bud tip noise when moving them around. Turns out, Meelec is aware of this phenomenon and even has a FAQ entry dedicated to it:

    Crinkling Sound: A crinkling sound experienced when inserting one or both of the driver housings is not unusual and is caused by air pressure in your ear compressing the very thin driver diaphragm. It can even lead to a temporary reduction or loss of sound after insertion. If you experience a reduction or loss of sound in one or both ears, you can pull on your ear lobe to relieve the pressure in your ear or pull the earphone out slightly, which should restore the sound. The crinkling while inserting will go away over time and use (typically 1-4 weeks with regular use). Using different ear tips may also reduce/eliminate the crinkling.

    The problem is, mine hasn't gone away yet, and I've never experienced it with other manufacturers. It's not a huge deal, but it does get annoying if you adjust the bud tips in your ears from time to time.

  • Remote lacks rewind and fast forward capabilities. This was particularly surprising considering the AF32 was able to rewind and fast forward. The AF9, however, cannot.
  • As with the AF32 and most other BT headsets, the controller uses a separate volume control rather than integrating with Android. This is a little annoying, but by far not a deal breaker. I'm not sure if modifying volume via BT is even possible without an app, so this could be a limitation of the BT protocol or Android, or both. However, this is something I thought was worth mentioning.
  • BT audio lag. However, read this bullet in its entirety as it's not Meelec's fault. The audio sync issue is not a problem with the AF9, as after trying multiple headphones by multiple manufacturers, I came to the conclusion that BT lag is present no matter what and is dealt with on an application level. For example, the only app that consistently adjusts for BT and syncs audio perfectly was actually Samsung's stock video player on the Galaxy S II. Every other player I tried on the Galaxy S II and the EVO LTE which doesn't even come with its own video app, was subject to BT lag. This is highly frustrating and, if you don't have an app that adjusts for BT lag, makes using a BT headset for videos/movies useless. It's perfectly fine for music, however, as there's no video to sync audio with.
    Again, BT lag is not Meelec's fault, although if modern headphones are actually capable of reducing it to almost nil, I'd definitely like to hear about them. So far I haven't seen them.
  • Balance issue, "clipping" - my first set experienced a really weird issue after a little while which could be described as audio clipping - if volume were to be turned up to 70-100%, the audio would start cutting in and out, and the higher I went the worse it got. Around the same time I also noticed an imbalance between the two sides. I sent the earbuds (without the receiver) back to Meelec and received a new set which did not suffer from clipping. Looks like the initial set of buds was defective, which doesn't necessarily reflect on overall quality (sample size of 2 is far from scientific), but it was worth a mention.

Official Video

Conclusion

The Meelec AF9 is the company's first foray into the world of Bluetooth earbuds, and for the price ($50) it does a great job, as long as you don't mind one, fatal in my eyes, flaw - too much "wire" in something that's supposed to be wireless. Such hybrid half-BT/half-conventional earbuds designs are great for certain situations but lose out to truly portable solutions every time (see the first two bullet points of The Not So Good for more info). As I was writing this review, I got the Sony Wireless Headset Pro, and while its cable is shorter, I experienced the same frustrations with its design. Argh.

Otherwise, my experience with the AF9 was quite enjoyable - its sound, while not the best I've heard, is definitely better than average. Battery life was definitely sufficient at 6-7 hours, though it certainly not best in class (the Sony Wireless Headset Pro lists 8.5 hours of BT streaming in its specs, for example).

However, I realized the real value of this headset when I utilized its modular design to play audio wirelessly in situations where wireless audio was not possible, the best example being my car. The AF9 was cheaper and arguably better than dedicated BT car dongles, and once the cable mess was out of the equation, most of the negatives disappeared.

I'm not sure if there is a perfect Bluetooth headset out there - I haven't found it yet. Until then, the AF9 will park itself in my car and serve as a wireless A2DP BT streamer - one of its many alternate uses.

Full Specs

  • Bluetooth version: Bluetooth specification v2.1 + EDR (A2DP/AVRCP)
  • BT profiles:
    • Hands-free Profile (HFP) 1.5
    • Headset Profile (HSP) 1.1
    • Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) 1.2
    • Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) 1.0
  • Operating range: 30ft - standard for all BT receivers
  • Standby time: 100+ hours
  • Talk time: 5+ hours
  • Music playing time: 6+ hours
  • Charging time: about 2 hours
  • Driver: 9 mm high performance drivers with neodymium magnets
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20KHz
  • Sensitivity: 95 dB (1mW @ 1KHz)
  • Impedance: 16 ohms
  • Main cable length: 28.4 inches (72 cm)
  • Extension cable length: 22.8 inches (58 cm)
  • Total cable length: 51.2 inches (130 cm)
  • Weight: 115g
  • Warranty: 1 year
Artem Russakovskii
Artem is a die-hard Android fan, passionate tech blogger, obsessive-compulsive editor, bug hunting programmer, and the founder of Android Police.
Most of the time, you will find Artem either hacking away at code or thinking of the next 15 blog posts.

  • Knlegend1

    Um does she come with it? Lol

  • David Becker

    With that kind of battery life I can't see them being that much more useful over regular corded headphones.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      The battery life is usually sufficient for at least a full day of music - unless you listen to music nonstop for a full business day. Even I, who has something plugged into my ears almost everywhere, didn't run out of juice by the end of the day.

      The main reason to use BT earbuds is to gain convenience and get rid of the cord. For example, with corded buds, I constantly send my phone flying at the gym (when running or using the elliptical). This doesn't happen with BT buds, even the AF9s.

    • Sorian

      Unless you are talking about the Sony HBH-IS800, which has 3.5 hours use. The AF9 is near double that, better than the BT headset I am using for music and calls.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tdrussell1 Trent Russell

    Great review!

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Thanks, Trent.

  • Forrest Erickson

    I have a pair of Motorola S9 bluetooth headphones, as well as testing a friends bluetooth audio receiver, and the volume up and down controls the audio volume on my android phone, has since I had my original Moto Droid. Not sure if it is something that Motorola has done, but I thought it was part of Android.

    • Sorian

      Not quite sure what you mean.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        He means that rather than controlling its own volume level, it controls the phone's, so there's only one volume to worry about.

        • Sorian

          Ah, thanks.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Ah, good to know. And you're sure you don't need a special Motorola app to do this?

      • fixxmyhead

        i have a pair of fake s9 and u can control the volume through the phone or the headphones u dont need an app. there ok for 10$ (im a cheapskate on headsets). they came with what i believe to be a real motorola charger cuz they had electrical tape covering the motorola brand sticker and the logo on the charger

    • fixxmyhead

      i have a pair of these but there the fake ones. ok for 10$

  • Mitchell

    I found the plantronics backbeat go to be the Bluetooth headset that is closest to perfect. You should do a review of those. They just came out a few months ago.

  • ericl5112

    I had the M9 buds. Absolutely despised them. The crinkling (which didn't go away after 2 months, when I got fed up with it) and the really stiff cable that wouldn't just lay down, it almost coiled itself in midair and got tangled with stuff. I would recommend anyone getting this, you may want to bring your own buds. I'm actually considering this set because it allows you to do that.

  • Simon Belmont

    Does this headset have the ability to pair to multiple devices at once (i.e. a multipoint connection)? I have a headset (LG Tone HBS-700), that I can actually pair to my laptop to listen to music, watch videos, etc, while it's also paired to my phone to answer calls and do voice commands. It looks like this one might not have a mic though, so my question may be moot. But I'm curious.

    I know it's a weird scenario, but I actually sought out the headset I have now because it can pull that off. Apparently, ones that can pair to more than one device at once are still fairly rare, so I'd love to find another headset that does it, though I love my current one.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      I don't think so, but I'm testing one now that does - the Sony Wireless Headset Pro (linked in the story as well). It connects to 2 devices simultaneously - for instance, my phone and laptop.

      • Simon Belmont

        Thanks for the heads up on that, Artem. I wish more manufacturers supported this.

        It seems like a no brainer to want to connect to multiple devices at once. Hopefully, we'll see that gain prevalence.

        • http://profiles.google.com/cedric.berger74 Cédric Berger

          I think the Samsung HS300 does support 2 connections, but jave not really tested. Manual is available on their site, it is mentioned in it (including what the limitations are).

  • Confuzzled_Consumer

    Wish you can review Nokia BH-111. That's the only sub-$50 bluetooth earphones available here and I can't for the life of me find a retailer that carries the AF32. The only other BT headsets/headphones available here are old Jabra, Motorola, Sony Ericcson and Sennheisers which are either old, overpriced or both. I'm currently using an M6 and I love it. Haven't made the jump to bluetooth and I don't really want to spend to much on it.

  • Elliot Powell

    It appears to be arebrand and repackage of this:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0064YPSMQ/ref=ox_ya_os_product

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Nice, $20 and you can use your own headphones. Not bad. And Satechi is a pretty good brand.

  • Montygue

    Wow. I want these! I have been looking for a set of ear buds for a while. I ride a motorcycle, so I want something that I can wear under my helmet, but most get caught on my jacket since I have my phone mounted. I use earbuds a lot with my laptop, which doesn't have bluetooth(Yeah, I can get an adapter but I'm picky.) And I love having the remote, but most earbuds have the remote in a weird spot so it doesn't work on my bike, or no volume control.
    I think this set has matched all of my wants and needs. Now to get employed so I can purchase them! *added to WishList*

  • http://profiles.google.com/cedric.berger74 Cédric Berger

    Need to buy a new one and was almost convinced to try... but I may just buy again (already have one) the Samsung HS3000 which is quite similar.
    The deal breaker is the charging cable, where it is microUSB on the samsung headset.
    Greeat weakness of the Samsung : the wires (similar to their standard kit sold with their phone, as well as the hearbuds), really too thin/fragile (lasted about 3 months in my case !). But then you can always replace this part, which is the big plus of this design (both AF9 and HS3000).

  • Stefan

    As I read it, you still think that the IS800 is the best. Is that correct?

  • geek

    awesome

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