Just looking at the complete Meze 99 Classics Walnut Gold package gives one a perfect idea of just how contended the headphone world has become. In the traditional hi-fi world, a package of this elegance and completeness simply wouldn’t happen for €309, or even €3,090.
Part of a range comprising two earphones and these over-ear, closed back headphone designs, the Meze Headphones from Romania (named after designer Antonio Meze, not a selection of Levantine appetizers) arrive in a nicely finished box, with a hard-shell case, with the headphones and a little free-floating pouch of detachable headphone cables, jacks, etc. There are two sets of Kevlar-wrapped OFC cables – one with and one without an inline microphone/media controller – and these cables dictate ‘handedness’ of the headphones. The cables slot into neat little gold or silver insets in the walnut or maple ear cup. These cables are prone to rustle a little against clothing, however.
Inside the ear cup is a 40mm full-range Mylar transducer with a Neodymium magnet system. The headline point though is those walnut earcups: these are solid blocks of walnut, CNC milled and then hand finished and polished; not in the high-gloss manner of the dashboard of a old Jaguar, but in an artisanal matt finish that gives the headphones a sense of almost organic ‘rightness’.
The headphone itself is joined to its V-shaped metal band at the centre point of the ear cup, and the size adjustment is a single flexible inner band with a comfy pleather pad, which fixes to the outer band, with a little four-legged ‘bug’ above each ear-cup. This is an extremely comfortable way of combining an adjustable headphone design without having the means of adjustment resting across one’s head. It’s worth noting that the outer band does conduct a dull metallic ring through the whole headphone if you knock it even slightly. This doesn’t impede listening, unless you are prone to fiddling with your headphones, and the whole experience is lightweight and successfully sound isolating – I found using the Meze 99 perfectly acceptable at cutting noise on a train journey. The C-word is perhaps the most vital component of the Meze 99’s physical properties: it’s comfortable to wear, comfortable to listen to, and plays at comfortable listening levels with consummate ease.
What the Meze 99 does exceptionally well is playing at a range of volume levels. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially when partnered with reasonably prosaic headphone outputs. We tend to assume the typical headphone listener is armed with the best quality source material, high performance DAPs, DACs, and headphone amps, but the reality is often very different. For every well-manicured feed to a pair of headphones, there are dozens of models being played out of the headphone socket of a smartphone or a computer. And it’s here where the Meze 99 shines – well-fed it’s an excellent performer, but it’s capable of delivering something very similar on the end of reasonably humble equipment. In fact, it’s only at very high levels – when the bass can overpower the sound – that cheaper equipment shows its limitations, though that has more to do with the limitations of standard issue headphone amplifiers than it does about the Meze 99.
The Meze 99 treads a very fine line. It has a strong, powerful bass, but one that does not predominate. This is coupled to an extremely clear midrange, and the kind of easy, unforced treble you can spend hours with. All this is best demonstrated by the timpani in the first movement of Beethoven’ Ninth Symphony [Von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic, 1963 recording on DG ‘Originals’ CD]. Here, the timpani is split between underpinning accented notes and acting like orchestral thunder.
Beethoven’s Ninth is a perfect example to demonstrate the Meze 99’s musical integrity: the repeated themes, moving from instrument group to instrument group, require a headphone of clarity, dynamic range, and great attention to detail. The Meze carries all this off extremely well.
I don’t want to make this sound like the Meze 99 is a classical music-oriented headphone, but it does such a good job of classical it’s hard not to be impressed by its performance. Nevertheless, the headphone is no slouch when it comes to other genres, too. ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds [Push The Sky Away, Bad Seed Ltd.] has a thick, swampy feel, with excellent vocal articulation and separation of instruments. Change this for the somewhat loopy but brilliant ‘Sake in the Jar’ by The Chieftains with Akiko Yano [Tears of Stone, RCA Victor] and the strange Irish-Japanese folk mix blends together, although there is a slight emphasis on the lower bass, making the vocal slightly more forward.
On a poor recording, this could tip over to sounding ‘shouty’ (Jimmy Cliff singing ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, for example). But, you would trade all of this for the absolute downright funkiness of ‘Georgio by Moroder’ by Daft Punk [Random Access Memories, Columbia], which is atmospheric, detailed (you hear the subtle changes in phase that sets Moroder apart from other synth disco-bunnies of the 1970s and 1980s), and just sheer fun!
The Meze 99 is an unexpected joy. It has a sensational musical performance, even when played with very humble audio equipment, and is comfortable enough (both in wear and in listening) to allow the listener to spend many hours at a stretch in the company of the Meze 99 without a care. In the company of good audio equipment and high quality music sources, this is real beaut. Very highly recommended.
- Type: Closed back headphones
- Transducer size: 40mm
- Frequency response: 15Hz – 25KHz
- Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
- Impedance: 32Ohm
- Rated input power: 30mW
- Maximum input power: 50mW
- Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
- Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
- Finish: Walnut wood (also available with silver trim, and maple with silver trim)
- Weight: 260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cable
- Price: €309 (free shipping to UK)
Manufactured by: Meze Headphones
Tel: +40 749 048138