Meze headphones may currently live on the outer fringes of the audiophile market (my review sample was shipped all the way from Romania), but my experience with the brand thus far puts their latest personal audio efforts front and center in the already crowded market of $300-ish lifestyle headphones. To be exact, the new 99 Classics closed back cans ($310) pull no punches when it comes to build, style and performance.
At first glance, the 99’s may come off as a similar offering to the collective effort of Sennheiser, V-moda or maybe even some Beats, but Meze’s design and material selection seem to put it above the baseline set for more mainstream lifestyle efforts. The walnut earcups offer a solid interpretation of style and functionality while the headphone’s suspension borrows several useful queues from the recent Audioquest Nighthawk. While the spring steel headband is more susceptible to microphonics if you tap on it, typical usage wouldn’t cross paths with many outside collisions making it a very unlikely occurrence and substantially less intrusive than cable microphonic implications. The 99 Classics is also produced in two additional models with color and material variants (walnut silver and maple silver) for the same price that are currently available for preorder with an expected shipping date in March.
The metallic highlights on the walnut gold review sample I received where well distributed and eye-catching without being overly gaudy, not an easy feat to pull off. The overall appeal lands swiftly within the bulls eye of the general lifestyle category and the functionality exemplifies a solid culmination of design highlights from previous efforts in the market. The maple ear cups are a nice touch and their size is more like the Sennheiser Momentum and less the HD-650, that is, they don’t quite land all the way around the ear, but rather somewhere on the outer edges. This size seems to be somewhat common for the current market and in execution feels extremely comfortable for my head. Likewise the caliper pressure pushing in was equally enjoyable and was met no discomfort during use. 2x bonus points for comfort all-around.
The cabling is a somewhat standard detachable 3.55mm termination that is reversible to either side. The headphone comes with a shorter mobile-friendly cable as well as a longer audiophile-ish wire all packaged nicely within its own svelte container that fits perfectly within the included headphone case. While the headphone doesn’t fold up into a smaller package (less hinges to break) the casing and portable arrangement for transportation is among the best I’ve come across for this price point. The appearance of all elements involved is thoroughly flushed out and durable to the touch. 5x bonus points for a well executed build and accessory combination. The look and style of the headphones mirrors a high end or luxury look, even thought the price doesn’t come close to the high end of the spectrum.
The collective vehicle here for audio delivery is fairly easy to grasp. Many headphones who strive for the ultimate in neutrality can sometimes loose a bit of sparkle during playback. This applies not only to the high frequencies, but the sense of fun and entertainment can be rubbed to a dull edge if not enough effort is made to the subtle compromises. With the Meze 99 Classics, fun and entertainment is pushed to the maximum. This doesn’t come without consequence. Bass is slightly bigger than neutral, and the highs feel slightly different than your typical audiophile house sound. But the benefits are quite impressive. As with the build, it seems that Meze was able to somehow learn from previous efforts in the market and then push the cart forward even further. Imaging from the 99 is very well done. For a mid tier pricepoint the sense of spatial recognition from the soundfield is very concise and maintains a very capacious feel overall. This leans heavily on the unique treble which feels a little more filled out than most, as if the range has expanded to include more information. It has sparkle, it has pizazz, it wants you to pay attention and rewards you sonic jazz hands in return. It is not so atypical that the majority will find it obtrusive, but rather an interesting take on the subject that most should find definitely enjoyable. Its more – in a good way.
In a similar stroke the bass follows suit by redirecting your ears with a little more bump and grind than what most seasoned listeners would call flat. I was also able to detect a very slight augmentation in the low end over the course of a few days break in. While this reviewers opinion is that break in claims are very often wildly exaggerated, in this case a little extra time on the amp before judgment proved to be useful. The final rendering leaves the listener with a fun, yet still relatively tight bass response that doesn’t crowd the next person in line. It pushes that thump of the bass drum to a pleasurable point, without crossing the boarder into crazy town. Its still shares some of that “directness” that all closed back headphones carry (as opposed to open back options) but to a far lesser degree than any model I have heard in a long time. When compared to some of the best open back headphones available today, one of the most noticeable differences comes from the mids. In relation to the Audeze flagship planar magnetic LCD-4 ($4), the Meze 99 Classics didn’t quite share the same tonal density around the vocals, although for its category and price class, the headphone still ranked among the best. The mid presence of the 99’s may not be as ear grabbing as its highly entertaining highs and lows, but it still represents a solid creation across the somewhat even frequency range. Comparisons drawn against the more reasonably priced Sennheiser HD650 ($500 MSRP) landed in a fairly predictable fashion. The previously mentioned treble fill was still apparent and easily recognizable against the HD 650’s more laid back approach to the subject. In the bass regions the 99’s felt slightly bigger than the 650’s, which often strike a good middle ground between full-on entertainment and a typical audiophile signature. Even with the typical restrictions of the closed back technologies, the 99 Classics appear to rise above the waterline in terms of overall resolution. Detail retrieval is very much above par for the somewhat touch-and-go category of $300 lifestyle-ish headphones. 10x bonus points for excellent sound quality.
The Meze 99 Classics make for a very entertaining listening session. While the word “fun” may not fully elaborate what it is like to hear this headphone, it does subtly touch on what helps set it apart from its competition. The sum of the parts here is more than the singular breakout of mid, high and low. Headphone on skull, eyes closed and an open mind ready to receive information can be quite the experience with the 99’s stirring the pot as a catalyst. They have taken some of the best elements of headphones that came before them and harnessed them into a package that works well on many levels. The build is extremely solid and the comfort is about as good as it gets for this reviewer’s preferences. The sonics provide ample doses of juicy with a surprisingly high amount believability. With high marks across the board the Meze 99 Classics are my new recommendation for a lifestyle headphone in the $300 range. Very well done.