Today we’re testing the Meze Rai Penta in-ear headphones. These high-end audiophile earphones feature a dynamic transducer and four balanced armatures in each ear piece. The Romanian manufacturer, whom we have to thank for the iconic Meze 99 Classics headphones, had impressed us recently with the remarkable Meze Empyrean hi-fi headphones and their exceptional audiophile qualities. Sold for €1099, are the Meze Rai Penta hybrid earphones just as captivating and powerful as the manufacturer’s other products?
Meze Rai Penta: the brand
Meze’s history is closely linked to that of its founder Antonio Meze, an industrial designer and music lover. The brand’s journey began with Antonio Meze’s quest for a pair of headphones that he could connect with in the same way he did with his Fender Stratocaster.
After failing to find the right model on the market, Antonio Meze decided to design a pair of headphones that were beautiful, had a strong personality and could bring music to life.
Meze Audio: design and craftsmanship in the service of sound
Meze Audio’s headphones and earphones combine technology and a premium style with high-quality materials and expert craftsmanship. The Romanian manufacturer is attentive to every aspect of production; engineering, material choices, precise workmanship and accuracy are at the heart of its process. This means that the parts that make up each product can be easily replaced. Every pair of headphones and every pair of earphones that leave the company’s production workshops is designed to last. All of these factors create a sense of trust for Meze Audio users.
Clarity, balance and harmony are the defining characteristics of Meze Audio’s headphones and earphones, which are suited to long listening sessions. The Meze Audio 99 Classics, Meze Audio Empyrean and Meze Rai Penta earphones that we’re focusing on in this review all feature this captivating sound signature that is never tiring.
2011: modest beginnings
Meze Audio was founded in 2011 in Baia Mare, Romania. The manufacturer’s beginnings were rather modest, acquiring knowledge by experimenting with parts that were already on the market, and searching for the perfect sound and sensations by testing different materials and technical solutions.
That year, the Meze Audio 88 Classics headphones were released: an audiophile, closed-back over-ear model. It featured large, 50mm transducers inside ebony ear cups.
The 88 Classics, which takes its name from the size of its wooden ear cups, is captivating with its warm, natural sound and wide frequency response (12Hz – 30kHz).
The same year, the Romanian manufacturer released the Meze Audio 73 Classics, a pair of on-ear, closed-back headphones that also featured ebony ear cups and 50mm transducers.
2013: first in-ear models
In 2013, Antonio Meze released his first pair of in-ear headphones: the Meze Audio 11 Classics. Featuring 8mm customized dynamic transducers inside cylindrical ebony shells, the 11 Classics are elegant, discreet and musical.
2015: Meze 99 Classics
2015 was a decisive year for the manufacturer with the release of the Meze Audio 99 Classics headphones, which were the result of several years of development. This beautifully designed object boasts an extremely refined build, with precisely machined real wood ear cups to accommodate the different audio components. With a very linear response curve from 15Hz to 25kHz, these headphones provide a balanced sound, in which no frequency range is predominant.
With many nominations and awards to its name, this pair of headphones remains one of the best stereo hi-fi models in its price range.
2016: new in-ear headphones
In 2016, Meze Audio decided to revamp its in-ear headphones, releasing the Meze Audio 11 Neo and Meze Audio 12 Classics earphones. Titanium coated mylar transducers, 7N (99.99999% pure) copper wire, shells in aluminum for the 11 Neo and walnut for the 12 Classics, an iPhone compatible wired remote control with integrated microphone. The high-quality components and elegant finish are accompanied by a transparent sound restitution.
2017: Meze Audio 99 Neo
2017 saw the arrival of the Meze 99 Neo on the market. This revamped version of the 99 Classics is characterized by its modified transducers which produce a brighter sound, as well as its plastic ear cups. The same professionalism and care that went into the design and production of the Meze 99 Classics were also applied to this model. The 99 Neo is also assembled without any glue, using only screws.
2018: Empyrean & Rai Penta
In 2018, the Romanian manufacturer released their flagship model. The result of a collaboration with Rinaro, a Ukrainian company specialized in planar magnetic transducers, the Meze Empyrean is the product of many years of research. Lauded by specialized press from around the world, this imposing pair of hi-fi headphones isn’t simply a technological feat. It is also a vector for musical emotion.
2018 was a year of high-end audiophile models for the Romanian brand, who also unveiled the Meze Audio Rai Penta in-ear headphones, the subject of this review. The fruit of three years of development, these earphones feature five transducers in a three-way configuration inside each earpiece, enclosed in an anodized aluminum shell.
Today, the Romanian manufacturer’s catalog includes three hi-fi headphone models and a pair of in-ear headphones:
- the Meze Audio 99 Classics headphones that propelled Meze onto the international stage
- the Meze Audio 99 Neo with its modified transducers for a brighter sound
- the Meze Audio Empyrean headphones
- the Meze Audio Rai Penta earphones
Meze Rai Penta: packaging & accessories
The Meze Audio Rai Penta earphones come in a black cardboard box which is adorned with stripes and the Meze Audio and Rai Penta logos in spot varnish. A black imitation leather carrying case with a metal badge bearing the brand logo is included in the box.
In addition to the earphones, the following accessories are included:
- The removable cable (MMCX connectors) with silver-plated conductors (Litz wire). The cable is terminated by a metal mini-jack plug with rhodium-plated contacts.
- 4 pairs of standard silicone ear tips (S/M/L/XL)
- 3 pairs of bi-flange silicone ear tips (M/L/XL)
- 1 pair of memory foam ear tips (M)
- 1 mini-jack to 6.35mm jack adapter (gold-plated contacts)
- 1 airplane adapter (double mono gold-plated contacts)
- 1 cleaning tool
- 1 hard carrying case
Meze Rai Penta: presentation
The Meze Rai Penta in-ear headphones get their name from their design, which uses five transducers per ear piece (the greek prefix “penta” means “five”). The earphones cover a frequency range from 4Hz to 45kHz. Their sensitivity is rated at 110dB per milliwatt and their impedance is measured at 20 ohms.
With a maximum input power of 30 milliwatts, the Meze Rai Penta are intended to be mainly used with a DAP. They can also be used with a smartphone if they are paired with a portable DAC such as the Audioquest DragonFly Cobalt or the Chord Mojo, for example.
Featuring a three-way design, the Meze Rai Penta earphones integrate a dynamic transducer to reproduce the lows, combined with two pairs of balanced armature transducers (one pair for the mids and another for the highs). The transducers are enclosed inside a shell made from a piece of aluminum that has been precisely machined and anodized.
Characterized by a very low mass, balanced armature transducers have a transient response that is superior to that of a dynamic transducer. Capable of reproducing detailed and precise high mids and highs, they accurately reproduce the micro-details in music.
The dynamic transducer is more suited to reproducing low frequencies, and the model used in these Meze in-ear headphones and can go very low.
Sound tubes & vents
To optimize the phase adjustment of the Meze Rai Penta’s different transducers, the Romanian engineers chose to channel the sound generated by the transducers in order to perfectly control their time alignment. Each channel therefore has its own sound tube through which the sound is guided from the transducers to the ear tips.
So that the transducers work together seamlessly, it was necessary to precisely determine the ideal length for each of the sound tubes for the time alignment to be perfect. Thanks to this very precise design, any phase shift between the different transducers is completely eliminated, as well as any resulting coloration or acoustic flaws.
The Romanian manufacturer also worked on airflow regulation and internal chamber pressure. Each shell of the Meze Rai Penta earphones features ventilation ports so that the transducers can work in an optimized environment, without any risk of distortion.
Ergonomics and comfort
The Meze Rai Penta earphones’ anodized aluminum shells are an unusual shape, designed to be as snug as possible in the ear. The shells are made of aluminum, a material that is both light and durable, which also meets the requirements for an audiophile design. As a result, the Meze Rai Penta earphones fit perfectly inside the ear and can be used for hours on end, without any discomfort or fatigue. The curved shape of the cable means it can be placed around the auricle of the ear, which helps keep the earphones in place.
The Meze Rai Penta earphones come with many different shapes and sizes of ear tips. Most users will easily find the best tips for their ear shape.
It is vital to choose the right ear tips! They provide isolation from external noise, and improve comfort as well as sound quality. The wrong ear tips can ruin the low frequency response and completely unbalance the sound.
Silver-plated MMCX cable
The Meze Rai Penta in-ear headphones come with a high-quality cable that features Litz wire conductors made up of 20 strands of silver-plated high purity copper. This removable cable features gold-plated MMCX connectors that plug into the ear pieces. Its 3.5mm metal stereo mini-jack plug sports the name of the brand along with the indications “3.5mm” and “Rhodium”. The contacts are plated with this metal in order to optimize the connection and increase their durability.
- High frequencies: 2 x customized balanced armature transducers.
- Mid frequencies: 2 x customized balanced armature transducers.
- Low frequencies: 1 x dynamic transducer.
- Tuned sound tubes (metal) to achieve perfect time alignment between the transducers.
- PES technology (Pressure Equalization System): airflow control to regulate the internal chamber pressure via a decompression vent.
- Anodized aluminum shells: high precision machining, anatomical design for a good fit and comfort, milled logo.
- Frequency response: 4Hz – 45kHz
- Impedance: 20 ohms
- Sensitivity: 110dB SPL/1mW
- Max. input power: 30mW
- Distortion: <1%
- Silver-plated copper conductors (Litz wire, 20 strands per conductor)
- Gold-plated MMCX connectors
- 3.5mm mini-jack connector with Rhodium-plated contacts
Meze Rai Penta: listening conditions
For our review of the Meze Rai Penta earphones, we mainly used the FiiO M11 DAP to access Deezer (Family subscription, mp3 320kbit/s) and Qobuz (Sublime+ hi-fi subscription) and to play high resolution audio files (FLAC and DSD) stored on a memory card or shared over the local network.
We also connected these Meze earphones to an Android smartphone that featured a Qualcomm WCD9341 DAC compatible with 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD 64/128 streams. Consequently, we made sure to bypass the Android audio mixer (limited to 48kHz) by using the USB Audio Player Pro app.
Choosing the ear tips
Among the many ear tips included with the earphones, we first tried the standard silicone models (size M) before finally opting for the double flange models (also size M). The latter were a better fit in our ear canal and also provided a better passive isolation, which is essential for a test in an open-plan office with a dozen co-workers.
We cannot stress enough the importance of choosing the right ear tips when using in-ear headphones. As well as contributing to the comfort of the earphones, the fit of each ear piece in the auricle of the ear and the ear canal plays an important role in the sound restitution. In addition to leaking sound and a drop in volume, mainly in the lows, an unsuitable ear tip does not allow the sound to flow correctly into the ear canal.
Using the same ear tips with earphones from different brands does not necessarily solve the problem. The diameter and length of the acoustic tube isn’t the same in all earphones. Moreover, manufacturers usually develop their IEMs by testing ear tips from various companies (when they don’t make them to measure themselves) to find the most suitable models. These are the ear tips that come with the earphones and that should be used.
When we first tried the Meze Rai Penta earphones, we noticed that they were very easy to put on. It is easy to insert the acoustic tube with its silicone tip into the ear canal. Thanks to their unique shape, the shells fit easily into the auricle of the ear. The angled cable that goes behind the ear is not bothersome and limits the strain on the earphones. Consequently, it’s very unlikely that the earphones will fall out if the cable gets caught.
Meze Rai Penta: listening impressions
We spent many hours using the Meze Rai Penta earphones and we might as well tell you right away that it’s going to be difficult to return them…
In addition to the much appreciated comfort, we really enjoyed their character. When listening to music we could hear the many qualities that we had enjoyed with the Meze 99 Classics and the Meze Empyrean. The sound was warm, balanced and dynamic, with clearly delineated lows that were sometimes full-bodied, high mids that were slightly emphasized but never tiring, and detailed highs that didn’t produce sibilance.
Love That You Had, Tracy Chapman (Qobuz, 16/44): the scene was set with impact from the kick drum in the very first seconds, clear and aerial cymbals, and depth from the answering percussion instruments. The soundstage unfolded horizontally and vertically. The reverb in the recording helped create a three-dimensional soundstage. It was easy to situate the different instruments. The highs were somewhat attenuated, resulting in a slight loss of definition. That said, the risk of fatigue during long listening sessions is eliminated as a result.
Dreams, Fleetwood Mac (saved on the DAP’s internal memory, DSD 5.6MHz): the Meze Rai Penta earphones did justice to the energy of this track. The bassline and the drums were reproduced with intensity and excellent tempo. The singer’s voice rose above the instruments with ease, and was delightfully transparent. The guitar was clearly present at the left in the foreground. The backing vocals were spread out and contributed to the soundstage’s spacious feel.
Devil Inside, INXS (DLNA, FLAC 24/96): with this dynamic track from the Australian band, the Meze Rai Penta earphones never stumbled and managed to keep up the pace. We were effortlessly carried away by the guitars and drums in this song, which can be a real nightmare to listen to on a poor quality audio system.
Catfish Kate, Pixies (Qobuz, 16/44): the bass was omnipresent, the guitars resonated, the drums packed a punch, but Frank Black’s voice rose effortlessly above them. Aerial during the subdued verses, it remained audible during the choruses, which were teeming with electric guitars and generous drums.
Meze Rai Penta: compared to…
Shure SE846: precise and balanced, the Shure earphones impressed us with their clear and detailed sound, as well as lively and full-bodied bass. Also balanced and precise, the Meze Rai Pentas aren’t quite as detailed in the highs, but they can go deeper and pack more of a punch in the lows. They also provide a wider and deeper soundstage.
Visually, even though it is a matter of taste, we preferred the Meze Rai Penta earphones.
Earsonics Purple: offering a restitution with lows almost as deep as those provided by the Meze Rai Pentas, the French manufacturer’s Purple earphones have the advantage of including tonal balance settings (cold, normal and warm) to customize the sound to suit your taste. The restitution is just as balanced as the Meze earphones’. However, the latter benefits from a wider range in the highs, which is ideal for enjoying high resolution audio files.
Meze Rai Penta: conclusion
The Meze Rai Penta earphones impressed us with their ability to accurately reproduce the energy of the tracks we listened to. Even at high volume, complex songs were restituted with a wide dynamic range, without becoming muddled. Moreover, the spatialization was remarkable for in-ear headphones, both in depth and height.
We also appreciated their largely uniform tonal balance. The lows are deep and lively if the right ear tips are used, as is the case for all IEMs. These lows rhythm the sound without overshadowing the other frequencies.
The mids are realistic and full-bodied (the high mids are slightly emphasized), and the highs precise and smooth. However, we noticed that this frequency range was attenuated somewhat over 9 or 10kHz, which resulted in a very slight loss of clarity in the highest notes. This is not frustrating to listen to and can be corrected via equalization, but the listener would enjoy more detail with a slightly more gradual curve at the high end of the spectrum (these earphones are far from being sibilant).
Comfort hasn’t been overlooked. Once you find the right ear tips, the Meze Rai Penta earphones stay put. The shells fit naturally in the ear’s concha for hours of music without any fatigue.
We were also impressed by the look and finish of these earphones. The shells in blue anodized aluminum are both beautiful and durable. The silver-plated Litz wire cable is very appealing and optimizes transmission of the audio signal. The fact that it is removable means that you may use a balanced cable with DAPs featuring a balanced 2.5mm or Pentaconn output.
What we liked:
- The design and finish
- How comfortable they were to wear
- The dynamic restitution
- The spaciousness and spatialization
What we would have liked:
- A slightly lower price