This week we tested the Meze 99 Classics hi-fi, portable headphones. This is the Romanian manufacturer’s sole model, and the company clearly only has eyes for design and handcrafted products. We gave these headphones a thorough listen.
Antonio Meze has won numerous awards for his Meze 99 Classics headphones: the latest award being the Golden A’Design Award, which he received just a week ago. The news of hi-fi headphones winning design awards may raise a red flag, particularly since design and musicality rarely go hand in hand. Moreover, the official Meze Headphones website is filled with gorgeous promotional pictures. Yet, the response curve of the Meze 99 Classics points toward the fact that Mr. Meze is not just a talented designer; he may also very well be knowledgeable in the domain of high fidelity.
Meze 99 Classics: presentation
The Meze 99 classics is a set of circumaural headphones fitted with a pair of 40 mm wideband drivers placed in earpieces which are composed of solid wood earcups and memory foam covered with synthetic leather. The Meze 99 Classics can be completely disassembled as no parts are glued together. The designer clearly chose this method of fabrication in order to be sure that his headphones would boast maximum longevity.
The Meze 99 Classics has a sensitivity of 103 dB at 1 kHz for 1 mW, 32 Ohms impedance and a frequency response ranging from 15 Hz to 25 kHz. On paper, these headphones can be powered by anything, from the least powerful smartphone, to an excellent handheld player or DAC.
Meze 99 Classics: accessories
The Meze 99 Classics headphones come with a molded plastic storage case. A very convenient zipper case containing a small, flexible plastic pouch for the two interconnect cables. One cable is three meters long and fitted with a 3.5 mm mini-jack connector, while the other is 1.2 meters long and features a remote control on the wire as well as an integrated microphone to enable the user to make or receive phone calls with a smartphone or tablet. A mini-jack to 6.35 mm jack adapter and a plane adapter are also included.
Meze 99 Classics: ergonomics
A complete success. The self-adjusting headband is very well made and the weight of the headphones is well distributed over the head. Moreover, no adjustment is necessary. The earpieces are very comfortable and the passive sound insulation is excellent. Weighing 260g, the Meze 99 Classics is very comfortable to wear and does not cause any troublesome feeling of inertia when moving the head. The 99 Classics is adapted for both sedentary use and on-the-go listening. It can also be used when lying down, as the solid wood earpieces do not transmit any interference when in contact with a pillow, for example, which is a problem most plastic earcups encounter. The only slight drawback is that the headband transmits noise when touched. Not a real problem, though, as we were never bothered by this during our listening sessions. The removable cables are covered with a kevlar sleeve and are therefore tangle-free.
Meze 99 Classics: finish
Difficult to find any flaws in the Meze 99 Classics. If the gold finish of our test model doesn’t suit your taste, this model is available in two other colors. If we wanted to be nitpicky, we could say that the smell of brand new synthetic leather is not among the most pleasant, but our ears couldn’t be happier. Every part of these headphones is well manufactured and we can only applaud the Romanian expertise they showcase.
Meze 99 Classics: transducers
Antonio Meze declared that he had to listen to many different drivers before finding the one that simultaneously met his standards in terms of sound and worked well with the wood used for the earcups. The 40 mm transducer used for the Meze 99 Classics has an exemplary response curve, a reduced sensitivity in the medium range compared to the low range and a slight emphasis on the treble.
On paper, this is the guarantee of a full-bodied listening experience, – not too aggressive and with just enough brightness to enhance the overall sound.
Let’s be clear, this type of curve has become extremely rare with headphones as the current trend (unfortunately) favors curves which put a distinct emphasis on the medium and high range. By accentuating these frequencies, manufacturers create the illusion of definition.
The curve of the Meze 99 Classics is physiological, which means that it is perfectly adapted to the human ear. Low frequencies (~ 20 Hz to 200 Hz), to which our ears are the least sensitive, are delivered with 2 to 4 times more intensity than medium frequencies, since human ears are extremely sensitive to this range. This curve results in a balanced sound with generous bass, but slight variations in the 20 Hz to 200 Hz range make for a more nuanced restitution. The treble range is also subject to variations beyond 5 kHz (which is normal for a wideband driver) but stays within a 3 dB range. High frequencies are well under control, which means that the overall balance is very good.
It is interesting to observe that this curve is very similar to that adopted by speakers hailing from the 70s and 80s. The medium range takes the backseat between 2 and 4 kHz (therefore avoiding harshness) while the treble and bass are almost on the same level, bringing brightness to the listening experience without becoming tiresome.
In a nutshell, the curve of the Meze 99 Classics is promising and it is no coincidence that Antonio Meze had it printed on the box in which these headphones are packaged.
Meze 99 Classics: test conditions
We listened to the Meze 99 Classics with various sources: Audioquest DragonFly Red and Audioquest DragonFly Black DACs, an Encore mDSD DAC, a HiFiMAN EF2C DAC, a Meizu m2 Note smartphone, a Xiaomi MiPad 2 tablet and a Cube i7 Remix tablet. When using DAC/headphone amplifiers, we connected them to a Raspberry Pi 2 with the Linux Volumio OS. The FLAC audio files we listened to were streamed from a Windows computer via the DLNA DMR protocol.
Meze 99 Classics: listening impressions
The last time we were this impressed by headphones must have been at least 10 years ago. The Meze 99 Classics delivers a wonderfully balanced sound, with an outstanding energy from bass to treble. Yet, the listening experience is never tiring and each track is perfectly delivered. The extraction of the finest details is absolutely surprising for headphones in this price range and, to be perfectly honest, even high-end models from major names in the world of headphones are far from being this enjoyable. Icing on the cake, the Meze 99 Classics is just as satisfying when used with a Meizu smartphone as it is with the small Audioquest DragonFly Red and Black.
Bass: A lot of energy! The Meze 99 Classics is spot on, going down low without cheating and always with great dexterity. The low range is never overemphasized or too quiet; it is just impeccable. Bass guitars and upright basses are delivered with a lot of energy and substance. Absolutely excellent.
Medium : A little bit in the background on the curve measured by the manufacturer, its levels are actually very well adjusted and blend in perfectly with the bass and treble. Here again, the transient response of the driver is remarkable: everything is clear, detailed and highlighted without ever being harsh.
Treble: Crystalline, not overly bright and perfectly calibrated to bring clarity without compressing the sound stage.
Ziggy Stardust (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust), David Bowie – PCM 88.2
We have never heard this song like this. Extremely immersive, the acoustic guitar on the left, one electric guitar on each side and the listener right in the middle. The bass guitar stands out and Bowie’s vocals are clear and detailed.
My Home is in the Delta (Folk Singer), Muddy Waters – FLAC 88.2
If you read this blog on a regular basis, you have probably noticed that this album is one of our favorites. The delivery of the Meze 99 Classics is close to perfection. Once again, we have never heard it like this before. Each range is well integrated into the spectrum, the guitar strings are perfectly identifiable and the timing is exceptional. Whether the sound level is low or turned up, the result is incredible.
Urgent (Live, The Best of Foreigner 4 & More), Foreigner – MP3 16/44
A very tricky sound take with thundering drums (the bass drum is monumental), a real festival from start to finish.
Plug in Baby (Live At Rome Olympic Stadium), Muse (FLAC, 16/48)
Despite the recording’s dynamic compression and the oppressive nature of the track, the restitution is completely serene. The sonic assault brought upon by the guitar and the drums does not cover the synth and bass. The crowd is audible even during the most intense moments. The audience singing the chorus is breathtaking and the guitar solos sound great. A truly incredible show.
The Same To You, Melody Gardot, FLAC 24/44
Incredibly punchy! What we find interesting with this track is the behavior of the transducers at high volume during the bass drum rumble. It is common for the drums to benefit from a powerful delivery while completely lacking control, and too much bass drum can actually be detrimental. The Meze 99 Classics passes this test with flying colors. Right from the introduction, we enjoy a powerful impact which does not cover the brushes on the snare on the left and the cymbals on the right. The micro-details, impacts and resonance from the cymbals are simply wonderful.
Duel of Fates, John Williams, FLAC 16/44
An epic track. The choir is intelligible, the singers are surrounded by a wide space, the brass section is well integrated and there isn’t an ounce of harshness. The drum rolls go down low, yet maintain their power and breadth. Absolutely majestic.
Princes of the Universe, Queen – FLAC 24/88.2
A roaring restitution of this track. The bass drum is expressive and reaches very low frequencies. This is also proof that the small Audioquest DragonFly Red is a very resourceful DAC. A great rock track which takes the listener on a thrilling journey.
The World (is going up in flames), Charles Bradley – FLAC 16/44
A difficult soundtake to handle due to the fact that both ends of the spectrum are not especially generous, but when the balance of the Meze 99 Classics comes into play, the track is easy to listen to and the medium frequencies don’t feel forced. Mission accomplished.
Godzilla (2014), DTS stéréo 24/96
At high volume, the result is extremely impressive. The extension of the bass range offered by these headphones is a major asset. The listening experience is comparable to using a (very) good, well-adjusted subwoofer. The notes are held with firmness and density over the whole bandwidth. These headphones go very low with an unusual amount of power and without ever sacrificing the medium and treble range. The liberation of the Muto sent chills down our spines.
The Meze 99 Classics is highly recommended for a home cinema experience.
Meze 99 Classics: conclusions
What we liked
- The sound balance
- Its capacity for analysis
- The “dashing” transient response from bass to treble
- The low power requirement
- The comfort and the self-adjusting headband
- The materials used and the finish quality
- The passive insulation
- The transport case
We would have liked
- We’re still looking for something…
A brilliant set of headphones with a remarkable finish, this wonderfully musical model can be enjoyed all day long and even before tucking in for the night, as it will lull the listener to sleep at low volume. These headphones will turn any sound take into gold. A fierce competitor, the Meze 99 Classics challenges headphones 5 times its price.
This post is also available in: French