The Meze 99 Classics, Very Fun, Very Tasty

Meze 99 Classics ($309)
This...is an awesome all-around headphone.

I've met the predecessor 88 Classics, which I found profoundly meh. But this new Meze 99 Classic is a whole 'nother story all together. This is a great headphone.

Build Quality and Styling
In headphones there's usually a clashing compromise between form and function somewhere along the line—design desires and costs mitigated by engineering feasibility and performance requirements always seem to deliver a sense of compromise. Few companies manage this balance; Sennheiser and V-MODA come to mind as companies that toe this line well.

The problem with strong design is that it's also divisive. I love the look of the HD 800, but many think it's too weird in an alien way. I don't particularly like the look of V-MODA headphones, but I do see how beautifully well designed they are and how well form is integrated with function. Just not my taste. The 99 Classic also has strongly characteristic design, tasting of luxury and jewels. This is also not to my taste, but the 99 Classics is obviously tasteful. This is a sweet looking headphone.

More importantly, in all the headphones mentioned above, the design sensibilities are strongly integrated with the headphone's structural and acoustic performance. The 99 Classic is not only terrific looking, it's well built to deliver the goods for a long time.

Meze_Classic99_Photo_Parts

Wood and metal parts figure prominently in the design. Ear pads are poly-urethane synthetic leather and, sure, it would be nice if they were real leather, but you'd pay for it in the end, and good synthetic leather these days has most of the desirable qualities of real leather...at a much lower cost. Though the cost would have been slightly higher, protein leather might have been a better choice for its breathability. None the less, the material seems quite good quality; doesn't feel "plasticy".

Also prominent, but not necessarily obvious at first glance, it the fact that these cans are primarily screwed together and can be completely disassembled. Should anything ever go wrong with your Meze 99 Classics they can be repaired. Despite claims of the cans not using adhesives in construction, I do have to say that the driver assembly itself does use adhesives and can't be disassembled. But that's a bit that needs glue in assembly, and certainly can be replaced as a unit. So I have no problems with statements like this from their website:

Besides the usual warranty everybody is offering, we guarantee that the 99's are endlessly serviceable if any parts would ever need to be replaced, because we did not build these headphones to break after just 2 years so you can go buy new ones. No glue, just nuts and bolts.

Maybe the most surprising thing to me is that Antonio Meze (pronounced "meh-zeh"), who founded the company is also the cheif designer of the 99 Classics. I'm going to have to make a point of meeting him next CES and spending a bit of time chatting about headphone design and where he learned the craft. There aren't many headphone designers out there, and the result of his work speaks volumes about either his previous experience as a headphone designer, or his extraordinary talent as a designer and engineer. In either case, this is an in-house designe and it's terrific. Rather than spending 10,000 words describing the innards of the headphones, I'll offer up this very cool video narrated by Antonio, which describes quite a bit of his thought process and build philosophy as he gives us a tour of the headphones within the 3D CAD program (Solidworks) he used.

An A+ from me on design and build quality.

Comfort
This one's a little tricky. Usually, about half way through a review, after I've got a solid first take, I read any threads in headphone enthusiast forums about a headphone. I find that I usually learn something interesting things that I might not have stumbled on myself but worthy of reporting. I found numerous comments that the 99 Classics were a bit small and uncomfortable around the ears. I'm not sure I entirely agree.

Circumaural headphones, it seems to me, come in two flavors: Some are built with very generous cup size and are very comfortable for use at home, but they end up being somewhat bulky and not useful for portable applications. Others seem to be built with a focus for being as small as possible for traveling convenience, but large enough to still warrant the "around-the-ear" classification. Most sealed circumaural cans seem to fit in this category. A legitimate choice it seems to me.

I measured a bunch of headphones of this type (sealed, around-the-ear cans that can be used portably), here's the numbers (width X height): Meze 99 Classic, 45mm x 55mm; Oppo PM3, 35mm x 60mm; NAD VISO HP50, 35mm x 65mm; Focal Spirit Professional, 37mm x 50mm; Master & Dynamic MH40, 35mm x 60mm; Bowers & Wilkins P7, 35mm x 60mm; Sennheiser Momentum, 30mm x 55mm. My point here is that the 99 Classics are actually more generous front to back than the others, and a little under average top to bottom. Depth is hard to measure, but it did seem the 99 Classics were on the shallow side in the group. So, yes, I find them cozy around the ear, but not cramped relative to others in the category. I had no comfort problems in long term listening other than them getting a bit warm after a while. But just a bit.

Meze_Classic99_Photo_Colors

The 99 Classic is available in three colors: a dark walnut with gold or silver (not shown) accents, and a light maple with silver accents.

More concerning to me was the elastic headband and how it, in combination with the caliper pressure from the headband arch, cause the ear capsules to be pulled upward at the outer attachment point and putting more pressure at the top of my ears than at the bottom of my ears. The similarly shaped Sennheiser Momentum has a similar feel to me. Generally speaking, I don't like elastic suspension headbands as the proper tension is critical and will change depending on head size. I think the 99 Classics that I have is close to the right tension, but slightly too tight. (I do have a somewhat larger than average head size. Head circumference 23 3/8", hat size 7 1/2.)

However! I did find that after wearing them a bit and fidgeting with the fit some, they would settle in to the shape of my head better and the difference in pressure from top to bottom would become minimal, though the pressure of the headband at the top on my head remain a bit too tight.

Another related concern is the memory foam ear pads. I did remove one of the pads and disassembled it for a close look at the foam. (This can be done without any destructive disassembly—again echoing the repairability of these cans.) The foam is light blue in color and looked like memory foam, but it seemed to rebound much more quickly than, for example, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless earpad—which seems almost gooey in comparison. I have seen Chinese manufacturers pull a switcheroo on pad material before, and it wouldn't surprise me if that might be the case here. Or, maybe it is a grade of memory foam that has a faster rebound characteristic than I'm accustom to...don't know. I do think the earpads would benefit from further focus by Meze.

At 260 grams, the 99 Classics are a fairly light weight headphone. Isolation from outside noise is about average for a headphone of this type.

Accessorization
The 99 Classics do not have any folding features to make them more compact for travel and transport, but they do come with a hard side, clamshell carry case with zipper closure. Inside the case is a smaller zip closure pouch to store cables and adapters; both 3.5mm to 1/4" and dual 3.5mm airplane adapters are included. Like the headphone, the travel case is a very handsome and useful item.

Meze_Classic99_Photo_Accessories

Two cables are included with the 99 Classics: a four foot long cable with one-botton remote for portable use; and a ten foot long plain cable for use at home. Meze website says cables are Kevlar reinforced with OFC conductors. Cable-born noise from scraping your finger nail on the woven cable cover can be quite loud if you keep tension on the cable to the headphones, but I did not find this was actually find cable microphonics (technically not the correct term but everyone uses it) a problem at all in normal use. Compared to other headphones I used in this evaluation, cable-born noise on the 99 Classics was only slightly above average.

Cables are "Y" type with 3.5mm mono plugs at the headphone end and a straight 3.5mm plug at the amp end. Though I would have preferred an angled plug at the amp end, I find the cable build very esthetically pleasing; the shape and gold accents of the plug and "Y" junction are very tasteful.

DIYers take note: the 3.5mm mono plugs that go into the ear pieces are slender and have deep insertion. Aftermarket connectors to fit these jacks will be hard to come by if you're looking to recable these cans. Plug housing diameter is 5mm; and needs to insert about 13mm into the hole.

Bottom line: This is a very fine offering from Meze. Build quality is stellar; the look is fabulous; accessorization is exemplary; and while comfort isn't quite up to the level of it's other characteristics, I'd say it's better than average in this category—many circumaural, sealed, mobile friendly headphones do have earcups that are far too small.

Now for the really good part, sound quality. On to the next page.

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COMMENTS
gibtg's picture

I recently traded my HD600's for these cans *gasp* and although I was completely shocked by how excellent they sounded, I could not keep them as the comfort was just too poor. I found the ear pad materials completely sub-par, most notably in that they aren't breathable! That coupled with the tight clamp and shallow pads made these very troublesome for me. Keep in mind that I have tall ears that protrude significantly, a tall head, and a steep jawline though... For reference, I can barely get by wearing the Momentum M1, usually it's for short periods of time. For these I'd have to physically try to stretch out the elastic and pull my head right up against the steel outer rim to get them to stay anywhere near the bottom of my ears, and even then you could always feel the force upwards as it's very uneven across the ears.

I welcome others with smaller ears and heads however to pick these up because you'll undoubtedly enjoy them. The sound quality is remarkable for a closed can, I'll second Tyll's opinion on that!

zobel's picture

I too have "taller" ears and a "tall" head, size 7&3/4 hat, so another no-go for me. I'm grateful that you guys pointed out the comfort issue with these. Too bad, though, as efficient as these are and evidently great sounding, they might have been worth it.

tony's picture

Quality is good, still 720p, auto focus tracks nicely, a little slow but I had to watch closely to see your eyes go out of focus as a close object was put in from of the lens, betcha that lens is working at f16 . Color Balance was very good.
Your Organization is recognizing the value of Video, which is the the future of all useful reviews ( even my wife is watching stuff on her new iPad ). Alex Dykes is the greatest of Video Reviewers but Tyll is the best in Consumer Audio stuff. I wonder when one of those Stereophile reviewers will break-out and start working in this Medium?
People think that Video requires specialized people ( like my neighbor Jude with his Camera man ) but it isn't so, good video can be a One Man operation.
One man operations are catching on, I've seen folks doing Broadcast level work with iPhones and $400 GoPros!

Nice work,

Tony in Michigan

Metal-FiDave's picture

Tyll, you really need to review the new Sony MDR-1A. I spent a few weeks with the 99 Classics while I was reviewing them for my site (Metal-Fi) and I enjoyed them quite a bit, other than the annoyingly microphonic cable anyway. However, I think the MDR-1A is a VERY capable challenger, and deserves consideration on the WOF. It's lighter and much more comfortable than the 99 Classics, and the sound is a big improvement over the old MDR-1R. When driven by a very low powered device like a phone, it's a bit uneven and strained, but give it some juice from an amp and it really opens up.

potterpastor's picture

I second that notion, the MDR 1A is a really good sounding headphone, and more comfortable than any of the other sealed portable headphones out there. I still like the original Momentum over ear better than any of the portable phones out there, but it is not as comfortable as the MDR 1A

joneson's picture

...that I've seen other people recommending Tyll to review the MDR-1A but he keeps quiet about it. We all know he's reading this :) Maybe he dislikes them and doesn't want to hurt people's feeling? If it matters, I own them and use them at work. They may not be the greatest phone ever (not that I heard the best) but they're very relaxing, detailed enough and spacious sounding. I think that people bashing them (as I understand there is some hate towards the MDR-1As) are the types of perfectionists that love to find faults in things just because.

I also own the K7XXs and I'd choose the Sonys. The AKGs lean towards "audiophile" sound (as in nitpicking at the expense of enjoyment), while the Sonys just give you nice sound. Yes, they have emphasized and kinda bloated bass, they are dark sounding, the top end isn't there but at the end of the day I like them.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I just have a very hard time getting stuff from Sony.
von Schatu's picture

I am completely new on the site, but I read your blog frequently. I like your review about the Meze, and although it is not my style and price category it would be lovely to hear it somewhere.

But for now I would like to comment on your remark, that the character of the headphones differ a lot though the measurements indicate no big difference. I think - apart from the fact that each of us is sensitive to different frequency areas - the differences all lie in the subtle differences between the frequency responses.

I've been doing what you do, though on a whole lot of smaller level - walk in the stores with your graphs and my benchmark M50x to compare (for M50x haters: not that it is the best headphone in the world, but that is the one that I know the best), compare the headphones and try to analyze what I hear. On this weekend I have A/B/C tested the M50x the MSR7 an the HP50 for hours, and I think I have found some of the differences that may seem small on graph but give very much to the overall character of the headphone. For example the dip in the M50x curver around 300 Hz leads to the fact that it sounds dry and lacks some body compared to the MSR7 and the HP50. The concave form of the rise from 1k to 4k makes for me the HP50 more pleasing with vocals than the MSR7 which due to its convex form and plateau between 1,5k and 4k is sometimes very much in your face (I recommend listening a lot of J-Pop for that effect:)). I had the same impression with the PSB M4U1, it is very smooth with the vocals. Even the M50x sounds a bit more forward and plasticky due to the plateau between 2k and 4k. I think Bob Katz came to the same impression in his review, particulary with the MSR7. The accentuation of the tambourine in "The Road to Hell" lets me clearly identify the 8k peak of the MSR7 which neither the M50x nor the HP50 have. And the well extended treble of the M50x over 10k leads to the slightly aggressive metallic sound that many people find disturbing. Both the HP50 and the MSR7 go downhill over 10k which makes them more relaxed (and a bit more closed in) for listening.
Such are my thoughts on the subtle differences of the frequency response. It all may indicate some small differences which lead together to the different character of the different headphones. I am not sure that I am right with this kind of analysis, but I think when someone looks for such details, it will at the end make some sense. I learned a lot from your explanation about how to interpret the frequency response, and I am very grateful for that.

But for not being completely off with my comment, back to the Meze for a minute. Isn't it possible that the better extension over 10k leads to the fact that the Meze sounds more lively than the HP50? Maybe the same effect with the PM-3? Just a thought...

Overall, nice review, can't wait to here the Meze with my own ears.

ADU's picture

Thanks for sharing your impressions on all the above.

steble's picture

Beyerdynamic T5 2nd generation vs Sennheiser HD 630VB would be fun to read about . This is HIFI headphones for mobile use

cas's picture

Hi Tyll,
how do they compare to Shure 1540?

Mauro's picture

Ciao Tyll and all,

I am a happy of owner of the NAD HP50s, it seems that the main difference from the Meze's is dynamic punch. Could you explain what does it mean in terms of music/instruments/notes? are transients and attacks of notes better rendered or is it something different?

Sometimes it is difficult to understand differences if you have never used a high-end headphone.

Thanks.

PashedMotatoes's picture

Hi Mauro. I know it's a late response, and I'm not Tyll; but I do own both sets and here is what I've found:

Simplistically, the Meze have far more punch and impact down low (think kickbass), and a little more snap in the treble (though with noticeable headroom restraints at the top frequencies); but I've personally found the bass incredibly loose and overbearing, which, combining with a subdued low-mids and limited treble headroom, leads to a very fatiguing sound. The Meze have a DJ/EDM headphone quality that I'd compare somewhat to modern Beats models. It's not a refined sound like their aesthetics would otherwise suggest.

Comparing side-by-side, you'll most prominently note that:
- NAD has far less punch in the bass regions, but a much, much more controlled and accurate quality (and still extends well to the lowest perceptible octaves)
- NAD has far richer/heartier vocals, at times to excess; but contrast that to the Meze vocals which sometimes sound like they're playing through a phone speaker which, like I stated above, lends a fatiguing character
- Meze has more "open" sound in the highs (NAD sounds a little veiled here, due to the RoomFeel EQing), but assuming you still have the topmost range of your hearing, you'll notice their snap up top reveals their limited headroom at their highest frequencies
- Soundstage and resolution are practically equivalent between the two
- All told, I find the Meze sound more dynamic (though not always in a good way) whereas the NAD sound softer but more enjoyable in the long run (though in truth, I'd have a hard time speculating that either represent the "best" in their price ranges).

I'm glad I tried the Meze, but between the two, I have no question that I'd rather keep the NAD (I use them far more, and am looking to sell my Meze). Once you factor in the street prices (NAD can reliably be had for $60 less than the Meze), if you don't feel like you 'need' to try them (or if, based on my comparison, you believe you'd prefer the Meze sound character) I can comfortably recommend passing on the Meze.

hackmartian's picture

Tyll, is the interior cup measurement you posted for the Momentum the original or the 2.0?
I had the original Momentum, found them too small for my ears, traded up to the Oppo PM-3, but also find them too small. I tried the Momentum 2.0s on recently and while I didn't do an extended listening session, the seemed much bigger and more comfortable, yet your measurements show them as smaller than the PM-3...Help! I need something that'll cover all of my giant ears!

RussellD's picture

Hi Tyll,

These are exciting, especially now they have announced the silver/walnut variant. Nice review—I'm salivating!

One thing- in your distortion chart are the curves for 90dB and 100dB levels interchanged - 90db specs higher than 100dB...

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Signal to noise is better on the 100dB because it has higher signal. If the distortion is higher on the 100dB plot, then it's because it's distorting more at higher level and doesn't have as good power handling.
Dadracer's picture

I had a set of the 99 Classics on loan from Meze and found them genuinely delightful and excellent value for money even in the UK.I asked about a folding hinge so that they could be more useful as a portable set. It seems that they ARE working on such a thing separately which is cool and they also mentioned that they are looking at increasing the size of the ear cups for the future.

TomNC's picture

If they could make it a comfortable, full over-ear design, then these phones make an excellent alternative to the Grado phones which I want to stay away due to their poor pads and treble fatigue despite their otherwise appealing sound signature.

PashedMotatoes's picture

I own both these Meze and Grados, and I would in no way compare the sound of these two brands (or even styles). The impact of the bass is far heavier on the Meze (but the quality and accuracy are severely lacking), and meanwhile the resolution, soundstage, and quality of highs of the Grades are in a whole new league. I think you'd be far better served by looking at the Fidelio line. They have much of the open and accurate sound of Grades but with a more traditionally-presented treble. Though for what it's worth, I used to find Grado treble fatiguing, but anymore I absolutely crave it. There seems an intangible quality that sets it far above anything else I've ever heard. It's like discovering a new favorite food if you give it a chance.

potterpastor's picture

The measurements would appear to show that the lower bass and treble are recessed. These are beautiful looking headphones, but can they compete with the more balanced Sennheiser Momentum over ear M1?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
t's not easy, you have to have a really good grip on the Harman Target Response curve, but I'd say the 99 Classic is better balanced than the M1...or M2.
brause's picture

These are way more expensive than the NAD Viso HP 50, they therefore should sound better. I am not so sure about the appeal of the golden ornamentation: cannot picture myself walking with those downtown outside the red light district without being looked at. Reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo's.

Comfort appears to be a problem from reading the comments.

In summary: certainly an unusual design. Let's see whether they will leave a fashion imprint.

Thorsten Mühler's picture

Because both of those variants are also available. Myself, I'd have more of a problem with the look of the clamping mechanism; nice in an indoor setting, not so much if you're up and about (so if they decide to actually use the modular nature of the headphones to offer a more conventional folding headband, sign me up).

(And they're $60 more than the NADs. Whether that counts as "way more" for headphones is subjective, though yes, in an absolute sense, that's 24% more than the NADs' retail price.)

brause's picture

Yep, Thorsten, would be better. And I agree on the headband...makes one look like a grasshopper. As to the (Canadian) pricing of the Canadian NAD product: $249 CAD vs. $309 USD. US difference is indeed smaller where the NADs are $249 USD. But the NADs are also quite bulky on the head. I therefore mostly use the Senns 100 II when downtown. Tyll could introduce the "Wall of Shame" for the weirdest looking headphones.

mikemercer's picture

Tyll,

Damn you sir - how can I write about these magic lil' cans now? Fantastic job grand puba.

I've been following Meze for awhile, and I loved the 99Classics outta-the-box, but they sounded a lil' light, and it also felt like that bass was there, but it didn't punch like I'd heard em at NAMM.

Well, after using my lil' homemade pink-noise generator on em for a few days - BANG - what I loved, that wonderful coherency in the mids and oomph in the bass that you more acutely described ;) - I'm havin' a blast writing about them right now - and I'm gonna point here sir for a better in-depth technical review cuz you do that like nobody...

Hope the sky in Montana is AWESOME

AJ's picture

Nice review and well assessed as always Tyll. I had a chance to audition these cans at CanJam Singapore and get an intro to them from Antonio. Came away feeling good about these and so bought a pair. I got them yesterday and first impressions match how I felt at CanJam and your review Tyll with one exception. While the ear cups are small, there is something about the pads that when the music starts playing you forget about them. They seal so well that bass impact isn't lost either. I did not find myself reaching up and pressing on them like I used to with the M-1 or the EL-8C. They are warm sounding but as my go-to daily use phones are a pair of JHA Roxanne, I am used to that tonality. Also they fit well on the head and are light. My 12 yr old took off his M100s and gave the 99s a try and said "awesome sound and super comfy". All in all am happy with the purchase so far and at $300 a bargain.

Another thought was how difficult it is for a headphone manufacturer the size of Meze and many others to get noticed in a cluttered market place, especially with a mad rush to introduce ever pricier headphone models. Sites like yours and reviews such as these are so important to get noticed and earn a trial. Keep up the great work.

meringo's picture

You are killing me, Tyll. You keep bringing up the Blue Lola in reviews/write ups, but have yet to talk about them. Why is there no comparison here? The lola would directly compete with these, no?

melrose's picture

I've had a few decent headphones, nothing super high end, but have begun getting into the audio game the past few months (the AKGs in particular opened my eyes to listening at higher quality).

I realize these are closed headphones, but given the soundstage I'm just wondering how they'd compare to the K240 MKII from AKG, or the Custom One Pro from Beyer (which are closed of course). I love, love, love the soundstage of the AKG but the bass is on the low end - or heck, even an entry-level Grado with vented drivers. I love the articulation on the Beyers but the closed back tends to suffocate my hearing - hence why the 99 Customs intrigue me for the soundstage on a closed headphone.

Thanks so much in advance for your help!

@custic's picture

Hi Tyll, any chance to hear Katz's opinion on these cans?

Akmax57's picture

The Meze 99 and the Oppo PM3. For good measure, add the Audeze Sine.

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