The Meze 99 Classics, Very Fun, Very Tasty Page 2

Meze_Classic99_Photo_InCase

Sound Quality Overview
Regular InnerFidelity readers will know of my willingness to think the Harman Target Response curve is a step in the right direction. (Articles here, here, and here.) From what I can tell from measurements, the first category of headphones that seem to be approaching this tuning is the compact, circumaural, sealed, mobile headphone category. Headphones that most closely approximate this curve in their raw measurements are (roughly in order of best fit to worse, click for graphs): Oppo PM3; NAD VISO HP50; Audio Technica ATH-M50x; Focal Spirit Professional; Bowers & Wilkins P7; and Blue Lola. Measurements of the Meze 99 Classics would have me put it at or very near the top of that list.

To my ears, the above mentioned headphones are among the best sounding in this category where many headphones are too uneven; or have too much bass; or are troubled by too harsh or too rolled-off treble response. The odd thing to me is, despite their roughly similar measured response, how different they sound in character when performing comparative listening tests. In listening tests of these cans, questions of flaws in performance began to take a back seat as they're all fairly good, and what became more important—much more important than I've previously experienced—was the character of the sound. Some were fun, some were boring, some seemed cooler or warmer than others, all while having similar response measurements.

Intellectually I knew this of course, measurements don't tell the whole story. But this is the first time in my listening career that I've been able to assembly a hearty collection of headphones of one type that are relatively neutral and without fatal flaws. And what hit me upside the head was how different they sound, and how those characteristic differences are essentially unseen in the measurements. This is a very good thing in my view: Headphones, at least in this category, are getting quite good.

Meze 99 Classics Sound Quality
Wow....just wow. These cans sound great. Where to start?

Overall tonality is excellent. Bass response sounds slightly over-emphatic—I think the level is just about right, but modestly loose and mildly distorted response does bring it a bit more attention to it. Extension is good, but does not quite fully reach into the lowest octave. Even though this is the 99 Classics weakest area, the bass still seemed to integrate and add pleasure to the overall listening experience.

I think headphone enthusiasts have become used to headphones that may be flat in the bass, and generally feel that dialing in 3-5db more bass below 150Hz—which is what the Harman Target Curve suggests—is too much. I think this feeling will slowly shift over time as we get more used to this presentation. I certainly now prefer a slightly elevated bass response below 150Hz.

The midrange on the 99 Classics is superb. Very coherent and even throughout; voices are rendered with wonderfully balanced tone; performers are neither too distant or in your face. This is a marvelously organic and musical headphone.

Treble is well balanced with the mid and bass response seamlessly integrating with the overall sound. It's present and snappy, never straying into any undue harshness, though I find it ever so mildly grainy.

Imaging is outstanding for a sealed headphone. The image doesn't move as far out from my head as some other open headphones, but width, depth, and image specificity seem very, very good.

Dynamics are also quite good, though lacking the serious punch big planar magnetics can deliver with a powerful amplifier. On the other hand, the 99 Classics are very efficient, and an astonishing drive and dynamism can be had from a phone!

But this description, just like the measurements, doesn't portray the sum of the whole. The Meze 99 Classic is a ridiculously fun listen. In my reading I think it was said best by grizzlybeast in his Head-Fi review, "Everything pops, snaps, flickers, clicks, and sings on these set of cans." I have a very hard time thinking of a headphone I've had more fun listening to; the urge to bop my head and tap my toes was irresistible at time. Every track and every genre I tried left me feeling only one thing, "Very, very fun!"

99 Classics Compared
Oppo PM3 - The PM3 bass response is better extended, tighter, and punchier, but the level, while mildly emphasized, is a tad low and seems quite a bit less prominent and fun relative to the 99 Classics. Lack of treble extension and bass emphasis make it much less fun listening relative to the exuberant sound of the 99 Classics—in a word, boring in direct comparison. PM3 build quality is a bit more robust, fold flat features allow for more compact storage and transport; if I were purchasing a headphone primarily for mobile use, the PM3 ergos might sway me over the 99 Classics...might.

NAD VISO HP50 - My goodness, I've recommended this headphone a lot! But that's going to change. Relative to the 99 Classics, the HP50s sound somewhat uneven; a little bloated and papery; not as lively and fun in the treble. Imaging is more closed in, and dynamic punch just isn't quite there. A good listen, but just not nearly as fun compared to the 99 Classics. I'm afraid the HP50 will be knocked of the "Wall of Fame".

Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 - This headphone leans a little too far to the bright side for me, but has excellent transient response—something missing from a lot of cans in this category. It made the "Wall of Fame" for lovers of detail. But the 99 Classic delivers plenty of treble detail and overall response is more neutral than the slightly cool MSR7. Yup, another can knocked off the wall by the 99 Classic.

Sennheiser Momentum 2 - Not quite as even in the upper-mids and low treble where the Momentum 2 sounds as if vocalists are a bit distant or holding a book in front of their mouth. Bass is similar to the 99 Classic being slightly warm and loose sounding. A good headphones, but no, things just don't come together with the Momentum 2 like they do with the 99 Classics.

Summary
The Meze C99 Classics are simply a great headphone!

Styling is elegant and simple, luxurious and jewelry-like. A little over-the-top for my taste, but I recognize this is a tasty headphone. Build quality is very good with lots of cast zinc, steel, and wood. The headphones are fundamentally screwed together and can be disassembled with relative ease for repair. Hard-side clam-shell carry case and accessorization is terrific.

Comfort takes a slight knock for a slightly tight self-adjusting headband (for my head), and for slightly small and stiff ear-pads that tend to put more pressure at the top of my ears than the bottom.

Technically, sound quality is quite good, taking a small knock for slightly loose bass. But sound the quality as heard subjectively blows through all technical assumptions and comes together in a terrifically fun listening experience. Time after time as I compared these cans against others in its category I found them not only superior in balance and natural sound, but also delivering a far more fun listening experience than competitors. The Meze 99 Classic will be hitting the "Wall of Fame" with such a wallop that it will knock both the NAD VISO HP50 and Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 off and into retirement.

Video

Resources
Meze home page and 99 Classics product page.
Head-Fi reviews and appreciation thread.

COMPANY INFO
Meze Headphones
support@mezeheadphones.com
ARTICLE CONTENTS

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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