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Over-Ear item created by MezeTeam, Apr 12, 2017
Pros - Warm, natural sound. Comfort and a classy style. Fully serviceable!
Cons - Not as natural and linear as I'd like.
I signed on for Meze Audio's Head-Fi tour a few months back, and their latest product arrived for a short visit this month. The Meze 99 Neo (US$249) headphones. Thanks so much to Meze for including me in the tour.
This is my first time sitting down with any of their products, though I did read some reviews of both the Classics and the Neo in advance. I will keep this short, as there are many exhaustive reports already available online. I'll try to get to what I think are the key characteristics before you grow tired of me.
Photo courtesy of Meze Audio
I love the look of the 99 Neo. The build quality is impressive, and the design is classy. The electroplated zinc alloy hardware combined with the plastic black cups and memory foam ear pads makes for a sleek look. The fact that all parts are serviceable is outstanding. Not many out there today that can make the same claim.
The hard shell carrying case for the 'phones, and the smaller accessory case are high quality. Both have a texture that is pleasing to touch. I assume the 99 Neo are aimed at users who are on the go. I did not have an opportunity to step out with the Neo.
The 99 Neo are 3oz. lighter than my main comparison for this report - the Audioquest Nighthawks. The Nighthawk's ear cups are slightly larger and shaped differently, so for my large melon, they're more comfortable. I've big ears too, so while the 99 Neo are quite comfortable, I've got more room in the Nighthawks stock pads.
Again, the 99 Neo are very comfortable headphones. I had no problem with them over longer sessions. Of course, the closed design is going to be warmer than an open one. Out here in the desert, it is something to consider. Of course, for their target audience, the closed back may not be negotiable.
Meze provide two cables - the short and the long. I used the longer cable the entire time, and appreciate having enough length to move around my office. My DHC cables are short, and keep me tethered to my source.
Both headphones have similar impedance - 26db (99 Neo) vs 25db (Nighthawks). The Neo is rated at 103db sensitivity. That's 4db higher than the Nighthawk. Wow. I'm sticking with my AQ Dragonfly Red paired with an AQ Jitterbug for power. Streaming cd quality tracks via Tidal the entire session. I listened with both a PC source and Android phone.
These are great sounding headphones. And fun. The bumped mid-bass, or bloom, is readily apparent. That bloom - and, maybe a dip in the upper mid-range - in combination result in a somewhat warm and close presentation. Intimate. Cymbals lack some of the overtones that the Nighthawks present. It's quite subtle, and overall they sound linear and natural. The 99 Neo are an energetic headphone. Dynamic, and driving. Punchy. At times, the shove in the low end brought to mind two channel speakers.
Based on my short time when them, I feel it's less about high frequency extension, and more about the slightly lifted low frequencies - this warmer, shadier tone. I really enjoy the sound. To my ears they are slightly less linear and natural in comparison to the Nighthawks with my Double Helix cable. You know, I would've have tried the DHC cable with the Neo, but the connectors did not fit. The Nighthawks are more relaxed, being a more open design.
Fiona Apple's voice on "The Idler Wheel..." illustrates my earlier point. Less head, and a tiny bit more throat and chest in vocals. And, cymbals lose some of their overtones. Acoustic drum stick attack and body are highlighted with the overtones slightly diminished. Pianos and other assorted keys on this record reflect this same downward shift of the stage. Again, this is subtle, and not necessarily a mark against the Neo. Just my own observations set down here for your consideration.
As for isolation - I don't have another closed pair available for a comparison. The 99 Neo seemed to isolate well. I was not able to test this in an office or elsewhere it might be needed.
The 99 Neo are a great sounding and stylish headphone. They were easily driven by my OnePlus3 phone streaming Tidal HiFi. Likewise with my pc in combo with the Audioquest Dragonfly Red. I wanted more time to test a more powerful amps affect on these sensitive phones. I am currently without my usual tube amps, so have stuck with the portable rig for the entire session. I think this may be more relevant for folks who are considering the Neo, anyway.
So, they are easy to drive, have a warm, natural voice, and are really comfortable. I think you can't go wrong if you are looking for a closed back and portable headphone in this price range. Add to this that they are stylish and fully serviceable, and they begin to compete outside this range. In a world of primarily recyclable products, one that has a higher probability of outliving me is very attractive.
In my reading I found that Meze has a devoted following, and I now know why. The 99 Neo are an excellent product.
Thanks for listening.
Pros - Beautiful with a neutral source, good separation, smooth, smexy
Cons - slight micro phonics with cable and metal head piece
Meze 99 Neo Headphones Review - Expatinjapan
Meze 99 Neo review
Meze 99 Neo and Opus#3 dap
Meze 99 Neo headphones review
`A fresh take on the 99 series for the uptown audiophile, 99 Neo brings together Meze Audio’s signature sound quality with cutting edge style.` - Meze website
Head pie has previously reviewed the Meze 99 Classics:
A headphone which we love and has a strong fan base.
let us see how the newer Neo measures up when compared.
Build and unboxing
The Meze 99 Neo packaging echoes the 99 Classic packaging.
The Meze 99 Neo packaging echoes the 99 Classic packaging.
The Meze 99 Neo packaging echoes the 99 Classic packaging.
Meze 99 Neo and CEntrance Hifi-M8
Some specs for that special someone who likes specs and stuff.
Repeating the name so it gets embedded in your consciousness.
99 Neo, 99 Neo, 99 Neo...
99 Neo! By Meze! Designed by Antonio Meze.
Its a box, Jim!
Ooh, nice hard ass case to protect your precious goods whilst commuting or traveling across the world. But we all know you will just hang them around your neck to look cool.
Whats in the soft circular pouch? Is it a tiny cat hat?
Exquisite detailing. Each piece specially designed to be replaceable If the need arises.
Those cups. Smexy styling for the audiophile about town.
As an earlier review unit my headband lacks the 99 Neo logo that the final version will have.
Buuurnn for Head pie *sad face*
Ah there we go, a detachable cable for the 99 Neo.
When you just want to look cool, hang em around your neck without the cable and tell everyone they`re bluetooth.
Bits and pieces of my broken heart, mind and soul.
Oops, my mistake. included bits and bobs of fancy.
*The retail version will not include the longer cable or airplane adapter. Buuurn for you this time.
As expected there is the obvious question of what is the difference between the two models?
The 99 Classic and the 99 Neo. Looks, material and sound in a nutshell.
Some will buy based on looks alone, one crowd preferring the natural and smexy wood finish of the 99 Classic, the others perhaps more cyber urban preferring the sleek black look of the modern commuter or inner city cyber punk.
Regardless one can`t be disappointed with either of these headphones by Meze. Like their earphones which echo the headphones look on a smaller scale having both would be ideal to match ones mood on any given day.
As usual I burned in the headphones for a a decent amount of hours before commencing on the review to keep the believers and non believers alike happy.
I used FLAC tracks of 16/44 mostly, and usually on a random shuffle mode. Daps employed for the purpose were the ipod touch 6G, iBasso DX200, Opus#1, Shozy Alien Gold and Opus#3.
Meze 99 Neo and Opus#1 dap.
Can`t got wrong with The Ramones!
Not a fan? GTFO!
The Meze 99 Neo differs from its predecessor in its cup change, from wood to black ABS plastic.
The sound differences happily echo the experiences I had with the 12 Classic and 11 Neo earphones.
Please see the earlier Head pie reviews:
Meze 12 Classics http://headpie.blogspot.jp/2017/03/meze-12-classics-review-expatinjapan.html
Meze 11 Neo http://headpie.blogspot.jp/2016/10/meze-neo-11-gun-metal-review.html
One expects a certain sonic signature difference from wood versus plastic, whilst this is most certainly true with these two headphones the valley between them both isn`t so wide. They share much in common as the general specs reveal.
Meze 99Neo and iBasso DX200. A bit of the sultry Lana del Rey.
Lets take a look back at the Meze 99 Classics
`Vocals: Neither too forward nor recessed the vocals on the Meze 99 Classic hit the sweet spot for me.
Bass: A slight slow decay is present, but overall is fast enough to please with most music.
Mids: As with most woodies the mids play an important part in the overall presentation, not overly warm as such, more on the liquid side of things rather than a deep lushness. fairly neutral and dynamic with a quick decay.
Treble: It is clear and offers the detail one expects, it veers away from being extended to the point of harshness or sibilance and is pleasing to the ears. It reaches far enough for a good balance with the bass and the mids, each not over stepping their individual bounds.
Instrument separation: Good separation, not crisp as such with a slight smudging at times. Overall very good.
Sound stage: A decent soundstage that feels larger than my head, good instrument placement.`
The Pixies, one of the groups along with The Smiths who redeemed the 80s.
And now lets look at the Meze 99 Neo
Vocals: nice and balanced with the music, not too forward nor back overall (mens vocals can be slightly forward at times), very smooth and even.
Bass. Is tight and fast. At times deep and with a punch to it.
Mids: Quite lush, present and defined. Very clear and smooth.
Treble: It is not as stretched as I would imagine it might have been. But is more than satisfactory. It has a nice reach. It balances out the overly dark leaning sound signature and is its saving grace.
Separation: Is crisp and well defined. Individual instruments are
are differentiated from each other.
Sound stage: It is above medium. It is a closed headphone so there are some limitations, but this didnt interfere with any enjoyment. Sound stage is more outside ones head, rather than inside it.
It has a bit of a xXx signature at times, a bit of a lil something extra in the mids. at other times a XXx signature depending on what music is being fed to them.
Meze 99 Neo and iBasso DX200
`Laaaana` - ABC Warriors.
Slipping in at a easy to digest US$249 - US$300 the Meze headphones are certainly an affordable entry point to high end sound, and high street looks.
Build quality is immaculate. And If not, If per chance any part fails all the parts are replaceable.
99 Classic versus the 99 Neo visually.
A comparison of the packaging between the Meze 99 Classics and 99 Neo.
Meze gave me a woody.
Old and new pads.
The new pads have a larger circumference and fit more comfortably over a more varied size of ears, also they are slightly thicker/higher.
Simply stunningly gorgeous in looks and sound.
The 99 Neo has some a dampener, the newer 99 Classic also have the dampener over the headphone speaker....mine does not `insert sad face emoji`. So whilst my comparisons may be `close enough`, perhaps they aren`t exact due the lack of dampeners.
The Meze 99 Neo are a great complement to its older sibling the Meze 99 Classic and both echo the sonics of the earphone series which also match up wood against synthetic materials.
Isolation is very good, so its handy for about town or commuting.
Slight micro phonics with the cable, but not really noticeable unless one is jumping about.
They are very easy to drive at 26ohms which is less than the 99 Classics.
I found the 99 Neo performed well when fed to the Opus#2 , but very much enjoyed them when paired with the more neutral Opus#1 which tamed some of the low end.
There isnt much between the Neo 99 and the 99 Classics being fairly near identical in build.
The 99 Neo has more bass, but not in a bass head sense, and also more mid heavy. Not to mention the obvious cup difference
It seems to handle most genres well, and my usual shuffle test rendered no complains, its a good all rounder as head phone.
I recommend a more neutral dap to pair with the 99 Neo to bring out its best.
I could listen to Mazzy Star for instance for hours with these headphones.
Smexy, stylish, superb lows and super smooth highs and vocals.
Thank you to Meze for sending Head pie the Neo 99 headphones for review
Pros - High build quality, comfortable, package, lightweight
Cons - average cup size, a bit bulky, they warm up after a while
Meze 99 Neo headphone review by Musicday
I would like to say a big thank you to Meze Romania, especially to Mr. Lorand that was kind enough to provide me free of charge a review unit of the relatively new 99 Neo headphone in exchange of my honest written review.
Meze Audio is a company from Romania who design and produces high quality headphones and IEMs at affordable prices and they have a great success among audiophiles and anyone who love to listen to music on headphones around the world. Their current flagship Meze 99 Classics was introduced to the market late 2015 and it was a huge success.
Meze 99 Neo is based on the same philosophy and concept of 99 Classics with great build quality while the price was reduced and that make these headphones more affordable for anyone wants a great headphone and have a limited budget.
At the time of writing this review Meze 99 Neo price on Amazon.uk is £220.19
Box and accessories:
The headphones have arrived in a well packed box and their own box feels smooth and doesn't betray the relative affordable price.
In the box we find 1.2 m long Kevlar reinforced cable for extra durability. The headphones are very well built and will last you a long time.
They can also can make a very nice present to your loved ones.
Transducer size: 40mm
Transducer Type: Dynamic Neodymium / Mylar
Frequency response: 15Hz - 25KHz
Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
Impedance: 26 Ohm
Rated input power: 30mW
Maximum input power: 50mW
Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
Ear-cups: ABS Plastic
Weight: 260g (without cable)
For the retail price of 99 Neo what’s included in the box quite nice. The hard case to store your headphones is nice and offer protection. Also there is a small velvet like pouch to store your cable when not in use.
A 3.5 mm-6.3 mm adaptor is included and an airplane adaptor.
Comfort and usage :
Having a low impedance and high sensitivity makes them very easy to drive, straight from your mobile phone or laptop. But i recommend a powerful music player or a DAC for best results. They weight only 260 gr without cable and they are very comfortable to use, but unfortunately after a long listening time my ears got warm and pause was needed. More likely leather earpads had to be sacrificed to keep the cost down.
Music players used :
I have used when listening to 99 Neo the Tera Player, Shanling M2s and Chord Hugo 2 DAC paired straight to my laptop.
Tera Player with 99 Neo paired sounds good with warm and detailed texture, with punchy bass. The soundstage is not as opened semi opened headphones but it does a good job for a closed back headphone at this price point. I suppose the high impedance of the Tera Player didn’t help too much in this test.
A better pairing was with Shanling M2s. This player has enough power to drive 99 Neo load and clear. Mids are smooth and clear and both male and female vocals are well reproduced. I find this headphone to be a bit bright for my taste but the treble is detailed and extended. From my understanding Meze Audio recommend that the headphones need to be burned in for around 40 hours for the sound to open up and stabilize.
Foreigner: To know what love is being a good example of male vocals, and the higher mids clarity. Isolation is better than average for this type of headphones and there was no sound leakage when playing music next to someone.
When using Chord Hugo 2 things started to improve dramatically especially the clarity and the micro details that this headphone is capable of when paired with high quality gear. Is a pair that i have enjoyed using, being listening to music or watching a movie. 99 Neo offers more than one can expect at this price point.
I am glad that Meze Audio came along to decrease the gap between affordable good sounding headphone and expensive headphones.
Final words and conclusion:
Meze Audio created another fine headphone in 99 Neo. Is nearly up there with the 99 Classics flagship at a lower price. Once again has been proved that in the low end headphone market you can still get very good headphones, still affordable that sound more then they cost. You need to give them a try and hear yourself but at the retail price IMHO there is not much to ask for.
Well done Meze Audio !
Pros - Versatility; different new look; build and accessories; value; warm engaging sound.
Cons - Heavy mid-bass hump might not be everyone's cup-of-tea; some microphonics; not that portable.
Hailing from Romania, Meze are relative new-kids-on-the-block in the world of audiophile headphone manufacturing. Their first full-size offering, the 99 Classics were a “slam-dunk” first attempt at creating a genuine audiophile product, with a focus on aesthetics and quality. They’ve been hailed world-wide for their engaging sound as much as their head-turning looks, and have created quite the niche for themselves in that regard.
This reviewer’s ears pricked-up at the number of 4-5-star reviews the 99 Classics received from many trusted sources; and I was visually intrigued by the look of the superbly-crafted leather, wood, and metal construction. I pulled the trigger on a pair of Silver/Maple 99 Classics all the way from Australia without having auditioned them in person. Admission: I may have actually bought them for my girlfriend - she’s been taking somewhat of an interest in personal audio, and is a keen music-lover. However, she’d been somewhat put-off by the lack of a good-looking pair of cans that also passed my audiophile criteria (I’m can’t just let her waste her money on any old celebrity-endorsed fashion-cans now can I?). When they arrived she was thrilled with the way they looked, but I was blown-away – because they sounded bloody brilliant. As a result we’ve been tussling for head-time with them with one another ever since.
I’ve found the team at Meze are brilliant to deal with, in terms of communication and customer service. In only a short time, they’ve demonstrated themselves to be an impressive young company. When they announced a new version of the 99’s were coming out, I jumped at the chance to participate on a review tour and see what the “Neos” were all about (Disclaimer: I was sent the 99 Neos for one week in return for my honest and objective unpaid opinion).
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the all-new Meze 99 Neos and see (…hear?) what we have on our hands (…head?).
The Meze 99 Neos are a $249USD pair of circum-aural (around-ear) closed, full-sized headphones. While they’re not advertised as ‘portable’ cans, their form-factor as well as low impedance (26 ohms) lends themselves to on-the-go usage, as well as home hi-fi listening – a little more on this later.
A quick overview of the specifications:
· Transducer size: 40mm
· Frequency response: 15Hz - 25KHz
· Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
· Impedance: 26 Ohm
· Rated input power: 30mW
· Maximum input power: 50mW
· Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
· Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
· Weight: 260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cables
· Ear-cups: ABS Plastic
Packaging, case and accessories
The Neos arrive in the same high-quality packaging as the Classics - a magnetised flip-lid box: It immediately screams “PREMIUM”, and reeks of high-quality from the very first glance.
Inside the box sits a clamshell case that anyone familiar with the 99 Classics will immediately recognise:
However, instead of a polished faux-leather exterior, it’s a dense and premium-feeling woven plastic material. For those of you who like to throw your cans into a backpack, take them to work, or bring them abroad as a travelling companion, you’ll be pleased to know this feels a little more scuff-resistant and will keep its appearance if it’s “loved” a little too much.
Unzip the clamshell case, and sitting snugly inside at the Neos themselves, as well as a nice zipped-up carrying pouch containing the following:
- 6.3mm stereo adapter
- Two-pronged airline adapter
- 1.2M cable with mic + play/pause button, 3.5mm termination
- 3M cable, 3.5mm termination
The accessories are all super high-quality, extremely sturdy, and extremely generous for the $249USD asking price.
So what’s the difference between the ‘Classics’ and the ‘Neos’?
At a glance? The price-tag, and the look. The Neos are $60USD cheaper than their 99 ‘Classic’ predecessors – so what does this mean you’re missing out on? Well, not much really. Instead of the famed unique walnut or maple wooden cups, they are replaced with a black ABS plastic. It’s fairly sturdy and premium to the touch, although it does pick-up fingerprints rather easily.
Aside from the colour-scheme and plastic cups, the only other obvious physical difference is the material make-up of the cables. Below the Y-splitter is the same fabric-wrapped material, but unlike the Classics, it is now rubberised above the Y-splitter leading up the 2.5mm (proprietary) ear-cup connectors. While the fabric cables were nice to the touch, this led to one of my only major criticisms of the 99 Classics – they are terribly microphonic. It’s good to see that Meze have listened to some real-world feedback on their product which has been reflected in the new model. I’m pleased to note these don’t have the same problem of sending noise of the cables brushing on clothing straight up into your ears. +1 Meze.
Spec-wise, a quick comparison between spec sheets informs me that the Neos are slightly easier to drive, at 26 ohms versus 32 ohms. The Classics are easily driven by absolutely anything – I wasn’t able to perceive any volume difference with the same amplification, so take this with a grain of salt.
Meze themselves say the Neo represents “A fresh take on the 99 series for the uptown audiophile” that “brings together Meze Audio’s signature sound quality with cutting edge style”. So as far I can tell the decision to release the Neo must be about attempting to appeal to a wider group of potential customers by playing at a more competitive price-range, and offering a subjectively different look to the wood/metal combinations of the Classics.
And speaking of aesthetics, a few thoughts from me:
Look + aesthetics
Ok, so I think the Classics look amazing, yet a little ostentatious. I happily wear my (oops, I mean my girlfriend’s) Maple/Silver pair at home or at the office, although I’ve never wanted to walk around outside wearing a pair of white leather and silver coloured full-sized headphones. On the other hand, the Neos are a completely different subject – they look…cool, for lack of a better word.
Perhaps say, a little more James Dean than Frank Sinatra?
A little more Darth Vader than Obi Wan Kenobi?
A little more Berlin than Paris?
A little more Mustang than 300SL?
They’re altogether a different vibe to the luxurious look of the Classics, with more of an ‘edgy’ scheme that’s likely to appeal to a different (and possibly wider) audience.
I happily donned them on public transport and walking around outside during my review time. In fact, I think I like the look of them even more than the Classics, and I’d happily integrate a pair into my everyday-carry:
Oh, and they look more at home on my headphone “stand” than any other cans to-date have:
Comfort, and portability
Like the Classics, these feel great on my ears, and perched on top of my head. Earlier production runs of the Classics were found wanting in terms of pad size, with some customers feeding-back that they were a bit of a tight squeeze, resulting in pressure and “hot-spots” on their ears. Meze quickly remedied this in subsequent production runs, and my pair of Classics were shipped with the larger diameter pad-size. The pad-size of the Neos appears to be identical, and I’ll wear them for 8 hours at a time without a worry.
The self-adjusting headband is made from elastic and (protein?) leather, and distributes the extremely light weight (260g) of the 99 Neos over my head nicely. I notice this pre-production review pair still has the “99 Classics” moniker embossed on them, but I understand this will be updated to “99 Neos” for the retail release:
I’d call the 99 Neos one of the more comfortable headphones I’ve spent time with. So comfortable I forget I’m wearing them. Until one of two things happen:
1. I start walking around, or
2. Something touched the manganese yokes that stretch over the top of the headphones
Regarding the first point: the self-adjusting headband, which while it makes for superbly comfortable long-listening sessions at home, tends to shift up/down a bit if you walk with some pace. Meaning that a “creaking” noise is relatively present if you’re using them on-the-go, which is reasonably annoying.
On the subject of portability, these make great portable headphones, if you have the room to stow-away the case and accessories. They’re non-foldable, and that case does take up quite a bit of room in a laptop bag. They isolate reasonably well, but not remarkably. Glasses-wearers may experience some troubles getting them to fit while wearing sunglasses or spectacles, but the main problem hear is the seal. The sounds signature, which I’ll cover later, is very seal-dependent and the bass will be affected noticeably.
In short, more transportable than portable.
And the second criticism: that impressive metal (manganese) structure that dominates the physical appearance of the headphones is highly microphonic. A sure-fire way to interrupt yourself from a relaxing listening session is to bump into anything at all. They RIIIIIIING when touched, much like the Classics. Being a review pair I didn’t want to mess with them, although I have found that I have been able to reduce the level of microphonics on my own pair by tying some heavy-gauge string between the two bars, or squeezing a pencil eraser between them just above the ear-cups. I think the little button between the string on tennis racquets works in a similar way. Microphonics would have to be my only major criticism of the build/form-factor of the Neos.
Ok, so that covers it on the physical side of things – they get a massive ‘TICK’ on build quality, comfort, and looks, so now onto the sound. Which, after all, is where the “rubber meets the road”.
“Enjoy crisp, clean sound – natural, balanced, undistorted.” – Meze website.
So how accurate is this claim? Not entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sounds of the 99 Neos, and I think they are great headphones. But judging these claims depends on which world you’re approaching them from.
On one hand, if you’re very used to reference-style, neutral audiophile cans, you’ll be immediately surprised by the MASSIVE mid-bass hump, and may immediately put them (or dismiss them…) into the “FUN” camp.
If you’re coming from consumer audio-land, the amount of bass will be familiar (but of a higher quality and less distorted than what you’re used to), but the amount of detail in both the mids and treble will be both surprising, and hugely engaging.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to headphone tuning, and I’m no different. I prefer a more mid-forward presentation, with bright treble and well-extended, but non-boomy bass. My main daily-driver cans are Grado GH-1’s (which I sometimes swap-out for Sennheiser HD650’s driven by a Bottlehead Crack when I want a more laid-back listening session). On-the-go, I use Beyerdynamic DT1350’s. In the office, I tend to use Beyerdynamic DT770’s, mainly for isolation.
With this points of reference in mind, I’ll try and comment of the sonic characteristics of the 99 Neos…according to my ears anyhow.
Source, chain, methodology:
I had a busy week testing on the 99 Neos. I’m not much of a believer in “burn-in” – all the same, given this pair had been to a couple of other reviewers prior to landing on my doorstep in Sydney, I can safely say they’ve had plenty of time to “settle-in”/”open-up”/insert other burn-in phrases here.
I logged around 50 hours of them, throwing every type of music possible at them, including classic rock; metal; folk/acoustic; EDM; hip-hop; and classical.
The rigs I tested them with were as follows:
Mobile: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (FLAC) > Audioquest Dragonfly Red/Black
Desktop: Macbook Pro > iTunes (ALAC) > Schiit Audio Modi 2U > Schiit Audio Asgard 2 / Little Dot 1+
Vinyl: Shure M91ED cartridge; Rega Planar 3; Schiit Mani pre-amp; Asgard 2 / Little Dot 1+
The low-end dominates the sound profile of these headphones…depending on the music you’re listening to. With a mid-bass heavy track such as “Show you the Way” by Thundercat, there’s an incredible ‘SLAM’ that’s unlike anything I’ve heard before. If you’re used to reference-oriented cans, it’s enough to put a grin of ‘guilty pleasure’ on your face:
The Neo’s bass extends reasonably well, but isn’t exactly the tightest nor most defined bass. It nearly borders on bloaty/boomy in some tracks, but that’s how it’s been tuned: for colourful, dynamic impact in the low-end. “Produk 29 ” is my go-to bass extension track, the Neos did roll-off some and weren’t able to dispatch the sub-bass with as much speed as a good planar (for example the Audeze Sine):
In addition to the mid-bass emphasis, the lower mids are forward, which creates a “wet”-sounding warmth between 100hz and 1-2000hz. The bass does bleed into the mids in bass-heavy passages, although with instrumental passages (electric guitar especially) there’s an amazing presence and body to the mid range. It works together like a big warm “hug”. Couple of standout tonal tests were the opening guitar passage on “Blood and Thunder” by Mastodon, and “Hummer” by Smashing Pumpkins:
Male and Female vocals sound perfectly natural. “Soothing” by Laura Marling was a particular highlight, with her voice sounding amazingly transparent alongside some remarkably lifelike strings:
Nothing remarkable or controversial to say here - not because it isn’t good (because it is), but because it’s neither fatiguing, nor rolled-off - it’s well-balanced and detailed. If anything, it’s the least “forward” of the frequencies in the 99 Neos, but plays its part in the overall tuning to create a warm, dynamic tuning.
Soundstage & Imaging
Reasonably good as closed cans go. Their bass-tilt makes it more of an intimate/in-head performance, but a studio binaural test demonstrated they throw a fairly wide soundstage (http://www.audiocheck.net/soundtests_headphones.php ). Imaging is again, fairly good for closed cans. Play a track like Mark Eitzel’s “Just Because”, close your eyes, and you’ll be able to point to the location of each band member like you’re sitting in the front row of a small club:
They sounded honestly pretty good straight out of a phone, but reward you with better separation, PRAT and tighter bass with amplification. Some quick thoughts:
1. Asgard 2 vs. Little Dot 1+
- Slightly richer bass on the tube hybrids; and tighter, cleaner bass on the Asgard 2.
- Overall I tended to use the LD1+ a little more often, as it probably suited their tuning more.
- I didn’t need to go past 9 o’clock on the volume pot for either.
2. Dragonfly Red vs. Dragonfly Black
- Both are able to power them with absolute ease.
- The Black had a drier, airier presentation and sounded a bit faster.
- The Red sounded richer, more layered, with more impactful bass.
- I probably preferred the Black to be honest (maybe also because they also look great together...)
A lot of headphone review time gets spent on DACs and digital audio as a source, but I tend to spend a good portion of my listening time spinning wax. I’m not even going to bother weighing into the digital/analogue debate, although I will say I thoroughly enjoyed listening to LP’s on the 99 Neos. Say what you will about it, but vinyl’s a more emotional experience, no question – we are humans after all.
If you enjoy the sound of a well-mastered album on vinyl, I can highly recommend the Neo 99’s. A couple of notable albums were Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”, and the self-titled album by grunge supergroup “Temple of the Dog” (with beer shown for scale…of course):
Overall thoughts on sound
These are versatile cans that are an exciting and dynamic pairing for nearly all genres. They’re “balanced” in that there’s no dips to speak of, but rather it’s a definite ‘L-shape’ with a heavy focus on mid-bass and the lower mids. Without being analytical, they’re great headphones to simply pop on your head, and enjoy your music (which is what it’s meant to all be about, right?), as opposed to say mixing, mastering, or analytically testing other parts of your audio chain.
I’ve chosen three pairs of closed cans for the sake of comparison here, because I think they might be relevant or interesting points of reference to someone deciding whether or not to buy a pair.
1. 99 Classics vs 99 Neos
I’ve chosen to compare the 99 Neos with the 99 Classics for obvious reasons – prospective customers are probably curious as to the sonic differences in addition to the aesthetic when deciding whether or not to spend another $60.
Other reviews have A/B tested these two models far more scientifically than I, but the short version is: they sound almost identical. I’m not sure whether it is due to age of my Classics, the pads, burn-in, or the cycle of the moon, but the Neos had a noticeably boomier, looser bass than my pair of 99 Classics.
I A/B-d them on a number of amps on bassier tracks, and found this to be the case every time. This got me thinking: if the drivers are the same, is it the pads? I did a bit of pad-swapping between the two, and found that it slightly altered the sound somewhat, but confusingly wasn’t the immediate source of the reasoning for the bass-tuning difference.
During this I did notice the pads on the Classics (white leather below) did have a layer of foam padding, whereas the Neos simply had a thin layer of fabric:
It was fun “cross-dressing” the Neos in the white pads from my Classics. Hey, it might be an interesting choice if you’re looking to swap pads down the track on your Neos, or perhaps an idea for a limited edition down the track from Meze:
So head-to-head: Is one ‘better’ than the other? It really depends on what’s important to you. Perhaps you prefer like the prospect of real, luxurious wood-grain (and that fact that no two are really alike in that sense) and a more ‘premium’ look. But if I were choosing again between the Classics and the Neos, personally I’d take the $60 change and be happier with the way the black-on-black colour scheme looks.
2. Beyerdynamic DT770 (80 ohm variant) vs 99 Neos
For many people these are the ‘gateway’ closed-back, full-sized audiophile headphones. Funnily enough, they were for me too. They’re worth comparing in that they’re in a similar price-bracket (although the street-price for the Beyers is often $100 less); form-wise they take-up about the same amount of room in a backpack; and they both offer an amazing sound-to-price ratio…although it is an altogether different sound and product experience.
The DT770’s have a classic ‘V-shape’ tuning, and straight away you notice the mids are very recessed compared to the Neos. This gives them a ‘drier’ sound, which is a little more relaxing, although there is also more pronounced sparkle in the upper treble. A lot of people complain of Beyer “Treble-murder”, but it sounds great to me.
In addition to the less-pronounced mids, one other thing you notice…is what you can’t notice – they isolate passive noise SO well. This is why they’ve been my go-to office cans for a long time. They also have a slight edge when it comes to comfort, the big pillow-y velour pads are just wonderful. People with larger ears will appreciate the extra space inside the cups as well.
The DT770’s are famous for being “bass-y” cans, but it’s a completely different bass experience. There is more sub-bass that is lower and cleaner hitting than the Neos, and it’s altogether more controlled and makes the Neos feel positively bloated in comparison.
The Beyers have the edge in terms of soundstage, in both width and depth. It’s a more open-back experience, with the sound feeling more ‘cavernous’ inside the cups.
Build-wise/accessories-wise, the Neos win by a mile. The cable sucks on the Beyers. It’s long, kinks easily, and is non-detachable. It also comes with a simple nylon thin bag which is almost laughable. But then again, philosophically these cans are like chalk and cheese: One is utilitarian workhorse and built like a tank; the other is a finely-crafted blend of form and function that’s as much an outward expression as it is an internal one.
All-in-all, the DT770’s make for better studio / desktop cans…if you’re not going far from said work-station that is. It’s a very different tuning, with the Neos being a more lively, warm and rich experience.
3. Beyerdynamic DT1350 vs 99 Neos
Many of you might want to know how these fare against dedicated portable cans, which is why I’ve compared the Neos with my Beyerdynamic DT1350s. I’ve had bad experiences with portables, in that they’re generally a compromise: they either sound compromised; or they’re built in such a way that they’re a) uncomfortable, or b) a bit too unwieldy.
The sound profile for the DT1350’s, to me, is almost perfect. The second I heard these, I sold my Audeze Sines (and pocketed a few hundred bucks too!). They are so balanced, they’re neutral, and the bass extends unbelievably low. How Beyerdynamic managed to squeeze this into such a small package is astonishing.
As you can see, the DT1350’s are simply much smaller headphones. They stow flat, and the cups swivel 90 degrees each way. In their semi-rigid case they take up about half as much room in a briefcase or backpack.
Form-factor wise, they are on-ears. So while they’re far more portable, they inevitably get a bit hurt-y on the pinnae after a couple of hours. Although on the other hand because they a decent clamp, and weigh nearly nothing they are great for strenuous activity – I’ve even managed some full-on road-running with them. They also work well with glasses.
Cable-wise, the DT1350’s have a non-detachable, Kevlar-coated permanently attached cable. It’s permanently kinked into the way it came folded, and tends to be very microphonic. Oh, and it has a laughably HUGE termination at the end – in fact it’s from the same parts bin as the DT770. At least you know it’s not going to break…
Sound-wise these are very different. Being on-ear it’s a fairly intimate experience with the DT1350’s, and being very neutral they have an almost ‘tinny’ quality, at a first listen (especially after some time on the Neos!). Settle into their timbre after a track or two, and it’s you’ll notice that it’s amazingly balanced with almost perfect bass. It’s tight, articulate bass that reaches deeper and hits cleaner than the Neos.
They’re overall better at being portable cans than the Neos, but simply aren’t “do it all” like the Neos are. It’s also a completely different SQ that depends on the user’s preference.
Meze ought to have another hit on their hands here with the 99 Neos. The fact that they’re $60 cheaper than the Classics means that the world of audiophile headphones has become even more accessible. They are an extremely versatile, well-built cans, and very might well be the only pair you might need – they simply have to be my go-to recommendation for a closed pair of headphones under $300. They might still be my recommendation for closed cans even at $500, but that depends on whether you like an all-black vibe, or can't resist the appeal of the unique wooden build of the 99 Classics...
Pros - Classics-like performance at a cheaper asking price, Black and chrome aesthetic looks sharp, Nice cable options and travel case, musical sound signature works with many genres
Cons - Not for those who want neutral and airy sound, Mid-bass can be overwhelming depending on the track that's playing, Headband microphonics
At the time of the review, the Meze 99 Neo were listed for pre-sale on their website. Here is a link for information and purchase:
Meze is a relatively newer headphone company. Last year they released their inaugural headphone, the 99 Classics. It seemed as though there was a new review of the product on the Head-Fi front page once or twice a week for a long period of time, with most reviews being very positive. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to review the 99 Classics, and was pleased with their price to performance ratio. Here is a link to the review:
The more I listen to the Classics, the more I can appreciate what Meze has done. They aren’t necessarily an audiophile or consumer friendly tuning. Their sound falls somewhere between the two and gives owners a pair of full-size headphones that are sensitive enough to be used with their smartphones and can also paired with a high end desktop rig. Considering the price to performance and unique tuning and sharp looks, their headphones appeal to a diverse crowd.
The Meze team is a group of nice guys from Romania who found a niche in the headphone market with the 99 Classics. Their success has led them to release a reasonably priced and similarly tuned line of in-ear monitors, the 11 Neo and 12 Classics. I have a pair of 11 Neo and they sound excellent in their own right. Having heard their entire lineup, it seems that Meze is sticking to a highly enjoyable “house sound” that many can appreciate.
When Meze contacted me to see if I was interested in reviewing a new headphone called the 99 Neo, there was no hesitation in accepting their offer. From how it was explained the 99 Neo was basically a new spin on the Classics, using ABS (high quality plastic) cups instead of wood. The more cost effective material would also help drop their asking price as compared to the 99 Classics. Let’s take a look and listen to the Neo.
The 99 Neo comes in a black and gray box with black lettering and glossy photos of the product. If you own a pair of Classics you will see almost identical information on both sides of the box, with the only difference being six Ohms variance in the headphone’s impedance.
Opening the box, I’m greeted with a travel case a-la the 99 Classics, but with a cloth jacketing as opposed to the synthetic leather material used in the previous model. Functionally speaking, they both are identical in shape and do the same job.
Specifications and Accessories
Transducer size: 40mm
Frequency response: 15Hz - 25KHz
Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
Impedance: 26 Ohm
Rated input power: 30mW
Maximum input power: 50mW
Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
Weight: 260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cables
Ear-cups: ABS Plastic
1X Pair Meze 99 Neo headphones
1X Cloth hard-shell zipper travel case
1X Cloth zipper accessories pouch
1X 1.2 Meter cable with mic/remote for Android and Iphone (version 6 and lower)
1X 10 Foot stereo cable
1X 1/4 Inch stereo adapter
1X Airline adapter
The build is identical to the 99 Classics but with one exception, the cups are made of black ABS plastic. Holding them in my hand, they have the same weight, and almost identical build quality. The ABS cups look more modern than the wood cups of the 99 Classics. If you are familiar with the build and fit of the 99 Classics you might want to skip ahead to the sound portion of this review.
The build quality of the 99 Neo is great in comparison to many headphones in its price range. They have a spring steel headband with a synthetic leather band that attaches via an elastic band on each side of the frame. Those who own AKG headphones, it's basically the same concept.
The frame of the 99 Neo attaches to a ball and socket design which connects to the ABS cups. The cups have ample oscillation which helps create a comfortable fit. Memory foam pads stretch around a ABS plate which holds the 99 Neo’s 40mm mylar drivers.
Each side has a 3.5mm mono terminal, meaning each channel runs separately without sharing any wiring in the headband. You can easily order an aftermarket balanced cable without having to do any modification to the headphone itself.
All in all (and just like the 99 Classics) I’m very happy with the build quality of these headphones and don’t see them breaking any time soon (if handled with a reasonable amount of care). I personally prefer the more modern black and chrome look of the 99 Neo over the wood cups of the Classics.
Cable, Cable Jacks, Strain Reliefs
Meze gives you all the cables you need to get started. The 1.2 meter mic/remote cable is Kevlar coated and has high quality and durable connections. The mic/remote is a single button variation (no volume control) that's made of metal and has a high quality rubber button. Strain reliefs are adequate. Also included is a ten foot cable that comes in handy when using them at home.
Comfort, Isolation, Microphonics
Between the stretchable PU leather headband and memory foam pads, the 99 Neo is better than average in terms of comfort. The 99 Neo is easy to wear and no adjustments are needed to achieve a secure and comfortable fit. Simply set the headphones on your head and stretch the cups down and over your ears. For a closed headphone, the 99 Neo works great for long listening sessions. They will get warm on the ears, but not excessively hot (unless used in hot weather). Under normal indoor conditions I was able to wear the 99 Neo for extended listening sessions without breaking a sweat or needing to take a break.
Meze has made a positive change in comparison to their older models of 99 Classics by making the circumference of the ear pads a bit larger. Just for the record, newer versions of the 99 Classics also uses a larger circumference pair of pads as well.
Isolation is better than a semi open design, but a bit below average as compared to other pairs of closed headphones. External noise is easily hears when music is not playing, but eliminated when it is.
Just like the 99 Classics, one of my biggest gripes about the 99 Neo is the amount of microphonics. Simply put, the spring steel frame creates a lot of of microphonics and noise inside the cups when they rub against or make contact with any other surface. Avoid making contact with other materials and you won’t have a problem. Give them a tap on the spring steel frame while wearing them and you’ll see what I mean. There is also noise from the headband when the amount of stretch on the headband is changed. I don’t consider this to be a deal breaker, but definitely something that can get annoying if you’re trying to rest your head against the back of a chair or wall while listening to them.
I did my demo with my usual gear. I used an LG-V20 for smartphone use, and either my Shanling H3, Fiio X7/AM3 combo, or iBasso DX80 DAP/Bushmaster D14 DAC/Amp for high fidelity portable use. For desktop use, I used my Toshiba Satellite Laptop in combination with my Aune S6/S7, or ifi micro iDSD playing at 32/192 kHz. I tested them with several other sources as well. I used Google Music in its highest download quality (320 KBPS), and also streamed FLAC via Tidal streaming service. I also used purchased and downloaded tracks in MP3, FLAC, WAV and DSD. I make sure that any gear I test has sufficient playtime before writing a review.
I used my usual same songs for testing gear:
“Limit to your love” by James Blake (bass speed, punch, response)
“Doin’ it Right” by Daft Punk (sub bass)
“Get lucky” by Daft Punk (bass to midrange transition resolution, male vocals)
“Madness” by Muse (soundstage, separation)
“Some nights” by Fun (soundstage and male vocals)
“The soundmaker” by Rodrigo y Gabriela (texture and imaging)
“Bassically” by Tei Shi (bass to midrange resolution, female vocals)
“Skinny Love” performed by Birdie (female vocals, acoustic playback)
“One” by Ed Sheeran (male vocals, acoustic playback)
“Outlands” from the Tron Legacy Soundtrack (symphonic presentation, imaging)
“Sultans of swing” by Dire Straits (detail, separation, balance)
“And Justic for All” by Metallica (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
“Ten thousand fists” by Disturbed (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
Note: Other tracks were used, but the listed songs were primarily used to assess and break down the gear’s response.
Coming in at 26 Ohms, the 99 Neo is easy to drive for a full sized headphone and can be used with a smartphone. It will sound decent with low power sources, but gets a boost in fidelity when used with added amplification.
The 99 Neo sounds best to my ears with a powerful and neutral source. My favorite sources used where the iFi micro iDSD in medium gain setting and Fiio X7/AM3. A lean and powerful source seemed to compliment the 99 Neo tuning and seemed to make them sound more responsive and natural than colored sources. The Meze tuning is very forgiving, and will sound great with any recording and genre of music you throw at it.
Have you heard the 99 Classics? If you have, they sound nearly identical to my ears. Meze uses the same drivers, pads, and cup shape. The only different effects on the sonics is the ABS housings. I did extensive A-B comparisons and found some very subtle differences. The differences are so subtle that it could be a matter of burn-in hours on the drivers, or variances in production models. I will however report this in the sound review and comparison sections.
The 99 Neo falls somewhere between audiophile and consumer friendly. They are slightly bass forward, have a slightly emphasized mid-bass and lower mid-range, warm tilted mid-range, and polite yet adequate higher frequency response. They sound good at low or high volumes and don’t discriminate any genre of music. These are a headphone that will work fantastic for those who enjoy an eclectic music library.
Bass on the 99 Neo is somewhat forward. The low frequency emphasis doesn’t venture into “basshead” territory, but brings enough thump and rumble to give listeners all the slam they need to enjoy almost any music genre. At the same time the 99 Neo has the refrain to not butcher stuff meant to sound natural and organic.
Sub bass is present but takes a small step back from mid-bass frequencies. I’m not sure if the ABS housings (or larger circumference pads) make the difference, but the sub bass of the 99 Neo seems a bit tighter and slightly more responsive than the Classics (this is a good thing). Even still, this isn’t the tightest and most responsive sub-bass you’ll hear. It’s better than your average pair of headphones, but not on the same level as the more elite planar or high end dynamic headphones I’ve heard.
Mid bass is somewhat bold and has a nice impactful punch. The forward nature does impact lower mid-range a bit but doesn’t make it sound overwhelmingly distorted or sloppy. It’s big and bold, with a slight veil that doesn’t seem to ruin the listening experience.
If the Neo had more bass I might be calling these things bloated or terribly veiled, but that’s not really the case. These headphones have a bold and robust lower frequency range, period. Bass heavy music will sound, well, bassy. Those looking for a neutral, linear and fast response, you’re not going to find it here. Those who like a splash of added dynamics and color will like what’s going on with these cans.
Mids are dynamic in lower registers, soft at upper mid tones and somewhat soft in attack. Overall the mid response is pleasant and easy on the ears. I would say that it is overall neutral with a bit of warmth and impact in the lower half.
Male vocals and lower midrange instruments take a step down from mid-bass frequencies and are still a touch forward. Mid bass does impact the lower midrange sounds, especially with bass heavy modern genres and complex music passages. Female vocals for the most part are natural. Higher pitches female vocals come across a bit soft and slightly distant.
All vocals finish smooth to my ears. Upper mid-range has a somewhat soft attack that isn’t significant, but noticeable during critical listening. Overall, I like the balance Meze provides. I can see some not caring for the lower mid-range and consider it to have unwelcomed and thick resonance while others will love it for the same reason and state that it has nice texture, color and warmth.
Treble is forward enough to prevent listeners from calling them dark, and has a clean delivery. Of all frequency ranges this is the clearest sounding. I’m not going to say it’s the farthest back in the mix, but the Meze 99 Neo avoids sibilance in recordings and still maintains an adequate and snappy presentation.
99 Neo’s treble isn’t the most extended thing you’ll ever listen to but won’t take away from your listening experience at all. Cymbal crashes are audible and clean, but a bit in back of the mix and don’t have a lot of energy or shimmer.
Overall I enjoy the the treble tuning of the 99 Neo and feel it’s one of their best attributes. PRAT is good with the 99 Neo, and at the same time they avoid harsh frequencies that would take away from the overall listening experience.
Soundstage and Imaging
This is the criteria where source and music genre matters most. With modern genres, synthesized bass lines and colored sources, the 99 Neo soundstage suffers a bit. With a leaner and more neutral sources and less bassy recordings, the soundstage is perceptually large and vocals will pop. The somewhat L-shape tuning and forward bass response doesn’t create a very good sense of instrument placement. To be honest, the less bass a track had, the more out of head the headphones sound. The more bass, the more “in-head” they became.
Meze 99 Classics ($309 USD on Meze’s website)
The 99 Classics are the original Meze headphone and the 99 Neo is it’s offspring. The Classics differ in terms of materials used on the cups (Classics=wood, Neo=ABS plastic). Both headphones have the same drivers, housing shape, ear pads, design and build (aside from cup materials).
In terms of sound there are subtle differences between the two. As I said earlier I can’t guarantee the difference is consistent because my pair of 99 Classics is older, so age of the product could be an issue.
Comparing my pairs, the 99 Neo bass seems a bit cleaner, punchier, and a tiny bit more mid-bass forward than the 99 Classics. The attack and decay of bass notes with the 99 Neo (primarily sub-bass tones) seems to be a bit more clean and responsive. Midrange of the 99 Classics is a bit more spacious sounding (partly due to the softer and slower mid-bass response). Treble is pretty much identical to my ears.
At the end of the day, I could easily confuse the two. The cup material may be whats causing a slight difference in impressions when comparing them, but it’s a small difference. I don’t prefer the sound of one of them over the other. The Neo has an improved bass response over the Classic, but loses a little bit of magic in the midrange as a result. To my ears it’s a draw. They both accomplish the same level of listening experience in my opinion. Those of you who found the Meze 99 Classic’s bass to be a little sloppy (especially at sub-bass levels) the Neo is the upgrade in this regard.
In terms of build quality, I guess I would have to give the 99 Classics a slight advantage because of the more premium material used for the cups. However, I find the black ABS cups of the 99 Neo to be a little more modern and visually appealing. The Neo cups don’t look or feel cheap whatsoever, and the finish gels well with the rest of the parts. Accessories are virtually identical.
There are a couple reasons why I think these will appeal to the headphone market. First of all, the 99 Classics have a mature look to them. Hold them next to a pair of Beats and it’s almost laughable how different they are in terms of style. The Neo however sits somewhere between the two. I think the appearance of the Neo will appeal more to a younger audience. Secondly, They perform on the same level as the Classics and come in at sixty dollars cheaper. I have to mention the increased price to performance ratio thanks to the drop in price.
Soundmagic HP150 ($130 to $150 USD on many sites)
The HP150 is a somewhat V-shaped tuning with a large soundstage for a closed headphone.
Comparing the two, the sound of these headphones are substantially different. The HP150 has a responsive sub bass focused tuning while the 99 Neo has a mid-bass forward lower frequency response. Midrange on the HP150 is thinner, drier and a bit more recessed on the HP150 while the 99 Neo mids are fuller, warmer and more fluid sounding. Treble on the HP150 is crisper and more extended as compared to the more relaxed and controlled highs of the 99 Neo. Soundstage on the HP150 is larger thanks to the V-signature. Meze’s 99 Neo has a smaller but more natural sounding stage. The HP150 sounds better at low volumes and the highs are harsh at louder volumes. The 99 Neo sounds better at louder volumes (with leaner and cleaner sounding sources).
Design and build goes to the 99 Neo. They are a more stylish and better built pair of headphones that is also more comfortable to wear. The HP150 does a much better job with isolation and handling of microphonics. I give a slight edge to the 99 Neo in terms of accessories. Their case is more sleek and stylish, and the cables Meze provides is superior to the what you get with the HP150.
Meze has brought to market a more affordable version of the Meze 99 Classics. The cups are ABS this time around instead of wood. The cup change appears to make a very subtle difference to the sound, but other than that they are a more affordable version of the classics. The Bass response appears to be a touch more responsive. The black ABS cups look pretty stylish as well.
Just like the last offering, the 99 Neo is a headphone that is easy to drive and works decently with almost all genres of music. Meze’s mid-bass and lower mid-range forward sound will probably be too emphasized for those who are looking for a linear and neutral sounding headphone. Those who like a little oomph and color at this range will like what’s going on here. Lows and highs are pleasant to listen to and don’t get in the way of enjoying them.
When rating a product I have to take all criteria into account (including price). I’ll cut to the chase with this one. I gave the 99 Classics four stars and the Neo gets the same score. They have almost identical strengths and weaknesses. However, I give the Neo a thumbs up for the sleek black and chrome look to go along with the drop in price. If you have been on the fence, deciding whether or not you want to buy the Classics and prefer the look of the Neo, the price drop and updated aesthetic might be the factors that push you over the edge.
Thanks for reading and happy listening!
Pros - Design/style, comfort, detailed and smooth sound, value
Cons - Bass may be too north of neutral for some
Meze Headphones is a company with a simple philosophy; Motivation, Values, People. With a passion for art and music, achieved through patience and dedication, Meze design timeless masterpieces. Ignoring current trends that come and go with the seasons, influenced by none, they create headphones as if for themselves. Consisting of passionate specialists, with backgrounds in sound engineering, design, crafting, and music, the team has stood by their company’s values since the beginning.
In late 2015 Meze Audio blindsided the headphone community with their release of the 99 Classics, a full sized headphone built from the ground up that combined a stunning and timeless fusion of wood and metal with an incredibly detailed yet smooth sound. The following year Meze introduced us to the 11 Neo, a balanced sounding IEM sporting an all metal construction, and soon after the IEM brother to the 99 Classics in both aesthetics and sound, the 12 Classics. Meze Audio once again showed us that affordability and style doesn’t have to compromise sonic fidelity. While the full sized Classics have the smaller companion Classics, the 11 Neo sat alone, seemingly longing for a kinship of it’s own. Enter the 99 Neo, a full sized headphone who’s design and sound is based around Meze’s current flagship, the 99 Classics!
As part of the Canadian leg of the World wide pre-launch tour, I had 7 days to audition the headphones before shipping them off to the next participant. Besides one week of pure listening enjoyment, I received no compensation or incentives for my words. As always, my review will be objective and free of bias.
38 years old, I grew up in a family consisting of musicians, broadcaster/sound engineers, and amateur DJs, I always had a deep appreciation and understanding of both music and sound. I was further educated in this self interest after taking courses in both electronics and sound (Electro-Acousto aka The Path to Golden Ears). While I believe a listener’s preference in sound is subjective, the science behind it is not. I am not swayed by buzzwords, hype, trends, brand recognition, or big numbers on charts; I am the nemesis of the commissioned salesperson. Opinionated as I am, my words are not only objective but honest. I view all criticism as constructive, as long as it is sincere.
Transducer size: 40mm
Transducer Type: Dynamic Neodymium / Mylar
Frequency response: 15Hz - 25KHz
Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
Impedance: 26 Ohm
Rated input power: 30mW
Maximum input power: 50mW
Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
Ear-cups: ABS Plastic
Weight: 260g (without cable)
1.2m OFC cable with 1-button control talk module
3m OFC cable
Headphone travel case
For more information and nice eye candy, head over to the 99 Neo website.
To read up on general discussion and impressions, check out the official thread here.
Design & Ergonomics
Made of high quality and durable black textured ABS plastic, the 99 Neo share an identical design to it’s older sibling the 99 Classics. The metal hardware is a cast zinc alloy with electroplated coating, and are fastened to the spring steel headband with screws and nuts; There is zero adhesives and plastics used in their construction! Both the memory foam ear pads and the headband are made of a soft polyurethane leather.
Due to the use of ABS plastic in the 99 Neo’s design, the headphones are incredibly light, weighing in at 260 grams. Thanks to the extra wide headband and the double-wishbone style of the spring, wearing the 99 Neo feel almost weightless; The headband extends to a perfect fit every time. Clamping force is extremely tolerable, with very little discomfort coming from the ear pads. Included with the 99 Neo are the new 3rd generation ear-pads. Listening to the community, Meze Audio increased the size of the included ear-pads giving the 99 Neo a more universal fit. This combination of design features ensures for long term wearability.
The detachable cables are of the Y-design, meaning that the left and right channels connectors are separate. With no cable running through the headband, not only is there less microphonic noise, but less potential for channel imbalance due to unequal cable lengths, all while making the 99 Neo more user serviceable. Listened to community feedback, once again, this time around the 99 Neo’s cables are a hybrid of sorts. The included cables with 99 Classics featured a cloth sleeve that ran the full length, where as the 99 Neo’s cable have only rubber after the Y-split. Because of this change, microphonic noise has been greatly reduced after the split, making it virtually silent when rubbed or knocked. All three of the jack plugs (2.5mm and 3.5mm), as well as the Y-split have silver and black metal housings featuring seamless rubber stress reliefs.
Like reuniting with an old friend, I was greeted with the familiar well designed mag-latched embossed black box featuring the outlined portrait of the “Classics”. Inside sat the re-skinned moulded hard carry case containing the 99 Neo, featuring a fibre weave design over the hard leather found with the 99 Classics; An unexpected yet nice touch that helps distinguish the two models from one another! I actually couldn’t help but pet the case as it’s texture is extremely pleasant to the touch. So smooth! Once again, Meze presented me with a quality product that radiated elegance!
Much like the box, the contents of the travel case was all too familiar but instead of a stunning pair of wood wrapped headphones sat a pair of Classics all dolled up, ready for a night out on the town! Damn the 99 Neo looked sexy staring back at me. Black textured housings highlighted by a subtle silver band, much like the carry case I couldn’t help but run my fingers across the surface. I didn’t think I would like the ABS plastic on the 99 Neo as much as I do the natural walnut wood of the Classics, but that assumption was quickly removed. While I had seen pictures, nothing compares to viewing in person as natural ambient lighting strikes the surface! This seems to have become my normal response to ALL of Meze Audio’s products; Open box, stare in awe, touch the product, drool, come to senses and place on head!
Since owning the 12 and 99 Classics, I half expected the 99 Neo to have a very similar sound to the 11 Neo, and I wasn’t wrong in my thinking. The 11 Neo offer a very balanced, smooth sound with a slight emphasis on bass whereas the 12 Classics had a little more control and refinement with a warm, crisp, organic sound very reminiscent of the 99 Classics. In other words, the 99 Neo sound like a full sized version of the 11 Neo, and I couldn’t be more pleased! I would have been very disappointed if the 99 Neo were simply a more affordable version of the 99 Classics. In my opinion, from a business point of view it would serve no purpose as it would cannibalize sales of the more expensive model while offering consumers nothing new.
Sound - The Basics
Bass - First and foremost, the 99 Neo are bass heavy cans. Not in the realm of bass-head territory, rather the bass can be described as somewhat omni-present. Mid-bass is fairly tight and quick, with excellent punch and the ability to slam with authority. While overall linear with excellent detail, it does poses a slight hump that does at times walk the line of spilling over into the lower midrange. I wouldn’t describe the mid-bass as boomy or sloppy, however it does somewhat lends a hand to the mids giving certain instruments and vocals an added layer of warmth. Gently rolled off, sub-bass is nicely weighted and has a fair amount of detail. Overall the sub-bass is slower and a tad looser than the mid-bass, but in no way does it overpower the rest of the spectrum nor distort.
Midrange - Warm and detailed with fantastic texture and resolve. The 99 Neo’s midrange ins’t aggressive or hyper-detailed, instead offering a very smooth and relaxed listening experience. Make no mistake, detail and resolution is there it’s simply not in-your-face. Lower mids are slightly elevated over the upper region, accounting for the added warmth to the frequency range. Both male and female vocals sound sublime, possessing excellent body and outstanding resolve, yet at the same time sound incredibly smooth. Likewise instruments sound very natural with great texture and resolve while at the same time posses a velvety smoothness that flows effortlessly within the soundscape.
Treble - Well detailed and extended with a gentle roll-off, treble does it’s job and nothing more. While the 99 Neo’s ability to render the finer details with just the right amount of sparkle and shine is done so with ease, much like the mid-range it does so with added warmth. In other words the top end does lack a bit of air, slightly tilting the 99 Neo’s overall tonal quality more towards dark from neutral. However this contributes to absolutely zero accentuation or peakiness to the sibilance in recordings, and adds to an absolute fatigue-free listening experience.
Soundstage - For a closed back headphone, the 99 Neo’s soundstage is far above average. Left/right and up/down have excellent width and height, giving the listener a good sense of hearing the sound “outside of the head”. Front and rear depth is there and can be described as above average, however it’s only so because it takes a back seat to the width and height. 3D and holographic imaging is spot on with excellent instrument separation; I never got the sense of things sounding congested nor cluttered. Overall, despite it’s hugeness, I found the 99 Neo’s soundstage to be natural sounding and not forced.
Isolation - In terms of passive sound isolation, the 99 Neo are basically average for a headphone of it’s design. Nothing exceptional but nothing garbage either. Wearing the 99 Neo out in public running errands or heading to work on public transit, they fall within the same range as my Sennheiser Momentums; Most sounds were blocked out to a moderate degree (dependant on the track and volume setting) with only the deep rumble of a Diesel engine while riding or passing a city bus being able to really penetrate and annoy my ears. In terms of sound leakage, the 99 Neo has virtually none! Sitting next to my wife while listening to heavy metal at a louder than moderate volume she heard absolutely nothing, which also meant I was not able to hear her! Ha ha, zing!! Of course, wearing glasses/shades and/or a cap of sorts may break the ear pad’s seal, thus causing both sound leakage (in and out) as well as slightly changing the presentation of the sound (i.e. less prominent bass). But like always, this depends on each individual’s head and YMMV.
Sound - Music
Listening to the audiophile classic Spanish Harlem - Rebecca Pidgin is a must for all music lovers. I always turn to this song as a test of a headphone’s dynamics, and the 99 Neo handled this track with ease. Rebecca’s voice was well rendered, with a good sense of naturalness. The sibilance of her voice can pose problems for headphones of all quality, including ones that cost numerous times more that the 99 Neo, but not so here! Every note was pitch perfect with a velvety smooth naturalness. The bass, while a touch more prominent over neutral, had excellent definition and weight yet played perfectly, un-obscuring towards the rest of the sound. Each draw of the bow across the violins had great texture with a silky resolve. Every shake of the rattle sounded unique, and could be easily discerned, never sounding lost in the background. The piano was smoothly rendered without glare or congestion.
Colour to the Moon - Allan Taylor, is another great audiophile classic. Between the deeper octaves of the vocals and the lower registers of the acoustic and electric guitars, this song is a great test of both the male voice as well as separation of bass frequencies. Allan’s voice is beautifully rendered with detail and emotion, trenched with warmth it’s deep sound saturates the sound-space. The delicate picking of the acoustic guitars glistened with great texture and resolve, each pluck sounding clean and distinct. Possessing an almost holographic quality, the bass cleanly resonated from the back with deep, enveloping, and powerful detail, yet never sounding overwhelming nor overshadowing the rest of the spectrum’s sounds. Despite it’s somewhat strong bass, the 99 Neo smoothly rendered this song both truthfully and effortlessly.
Stravinsky’s The Royal March - Soloist New York is an excellent track to demonstrate a headphones ability to handle transients. Between the brass, strings, and percussion, this song features powerful transients. To fully appreciate the 99 Neo ability, (as always) I turned up the volume to above average listening levels. What I was presented with was an awesome sense of excitement! The drums were tight and taut, never sounding dull, sluggish, or lacking definition despite the 99 Neo’s somewhat omni-present bass. The horns sounded smooth yet crisp and clean, well defined with just enough ear-tickling bite! Cymbals splashed with very fast and accurate attack, sustain, decay, and release albeit lacking just a touch of air. The bass-strings resonated deep with both speed and definition, never overshadowing any of the more delicate sounds heard thought the track. Nothing sounded flat or congested rather I was presented with a large, well defined soundscape.
The trance/electronica track ‘Up On You’ from the Audiophile compilation by Audiomatic features both impressive amounts of elevated mid-bass and sub-bass as well as a plethora of 3D sounds. Thanks to the detailed mids and large soundstage, the 99 Neo rendered the computer generated and digitized effects with both speed and clarity. The electronic sounds filled the soundscape with a fantastic texture and a great sense of 3D imaging! The 99 Neo was able to deliver mid-bass punch with authority, yet still revealing the nuanced low frequency textures of the electronica sounds. Though rolled off in the extreme lows, sub-bass possessed impressive amount of weight and energy and was rendered with decent speed; Never did the bass sound too sloppy or sluggish. Simply put, the 99 Neo is more than capable of supplying ample but appropriate bass when needed, but nothing more. Bass-heads should be satisfied with the output quantity while audiophiles will pleased with the quality.
Sound - Movies, Games, and General Use
Movies - Admittedly, I was half expecting the 99 Neo to sound way too bass heavy or perhaps boring given their neutral-warm tonal quality, and thankfully my concerns were short lived! As per usual, 2013’s Pacific Rim, specifically the 15 minute intro, is my go-to movie for critical testing. Nominated and awarded in both audio and visual effects categories, this action packed movie brings to life Guillermo del Toro’s tale of giant robots vs monsters in an against-all-odds rollercoaster ride of humanity’s last chance for survival! Thanks to the slightly elevated bass and exceptional soundstage coupled with their well rendered midrange and detailed yet fatigue free treble, the 99 Neo deliver a theatre-like experience! Both Charlie Hunnam’s narrative overlay as well as general dialogue came across as both well rendered and well centred. From the rain drops pelting the Jaeger’s metal plating, the hydraulics, mechanics, and instrument inside the cockpit, the waves crashing against a massive Godzilla-like Kaiju, every nuance of the background sounds was easily discernible with excellent 3D positioning all while the epic soundtrack pumped excitement into my ears! Normally after the intro and the title credits roll is where I end things, bit I ended up watching the whole movie! From start to finish not only did I have an enjoyable listening experience but did so without any discomfort with either the headband nor ear-pads and I must note, for anything other than music I wear glasses.
YouTube/Podcasts - Lets face it, next to music streaming media would probably rank a very close #2 in terms of the general public’s use for headphones, myself included. As someone who used both public transit and a good set of runners to get around town I see it everywhere, even at work. Two key factors are a must here; Comfort and balanced sound. Combining both comfort and decent passive noise attenuation, the 99 Neo check off the first with ease. For the 7 days I had the headphones I used them as my daily driver. Sitting in my gaming throne watching various YouTube vloggers, both male and female of various ethnicity, in a room that not only has 2 lovebirds and a parrot but a wife watching TV while babbling on the phone, I was able to do so un-bothered by neither outside noise nor discomfort. Thanks to their smooth and balanced sound, the 99 Neo do a remarkable job rendering the human voice. I was worried that, again, the added bass would make certain presenters, especially the ones who like to add a “broadcaster’s” effect to their voice (you know the ones), would sound way too bass heavy and again, the 99 Neo proved me wrong and held their composure! For use as a pair of desk warriors, the 99 Neo do a fantastic job for daily use.
Games - Over the years, up until I took interest in true audiophile headphones (albeit mid-fi), I have owned virtually every top-tiered gaming headsets from Corsair to Sennheiser. I even pop in to my local computer centre and demo the latest offerings, and things haven’t changed much at all. Because of the gamer’s need to hear the most minute of detail, by design their sound signature is always very mid centric with rolled off (yet detailed) bass and treble. In other words, unexciting. Fantastic at hearing footsteps, great at hearing both in-game and chat voices, but there is a reason they all come with a software suit of sorts; To add some pizzaz! Well, I don’t believe in any of that jazz (though I do love jazz!) rather a headphone should be able to render what the game designers intended on their own. The 99 Neo absolutely destroy gaming headsets I have heard in their price range! Whether it be the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield, Forza, Tomb Raider, Witcher 3, Diablo 3, Prey, Doom, or Hitman, not only was I able to hear the minute details needed for pin-point accuracy and survivability, there was an excellent sense of natural 3D positioning as the environments came alive within a large soundscape! DolbyHeadphones or SBX be damned, the 99 Neo did a far greater job at rendering the sound engineer’s model than cheap sounding post processing! Because of the 99 Neo’s well extended low and top end, nothing ever sounded dull or uninspiring. Explosions hit hard but never overpowering, bullets sounded like they whizzed past my hears, spells dazzled and sparkled, the music was as clear and concise as it was dynamic, and voices/dialogue was smooth and clean! And of course, comfort wise, while wearing glasses and spending hours in front of my monitor with few breaks, absolutely zero issues what so ever! If the 99 Neo had an option for a boom-mic, I would argue that we’d have a new top contender in the gaming headset market!
Sound - Summary
Jack of all trades and master of none! What impressed me about the 99 Neo is their ability to handle every genre flawlessly. From Classical to Heavy Metal, Jazz to Electronica, gaming or watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, I was never let down by their evenhandedness towards the genres; None were fundamentally better suited for the 99 Neo! I would like to point out that if the track is poorly mastered, or an mp3 of a low bit-rate, you will notice the flaws. While not of the ear-screeching-in-your-face here-I-am sort, the 99 Neo will gently point them out. On the plus side, high bit-rate/High-rez music tracks sound fantastic! While not hyper detailed, the 99 Neo are detailed and resolving enough that one will benefit from the tracks taking up more space on their storage device.
Amping and Scaleability
With an impedance of 26 Ohm, the 99 Neo are efficient enough to be driven by virtually any source with a 3.5mm jack. This however doesn’t mean that the 99 Neo will not benefit from a higher end source, quite the opposite in fact. I always say that the quality of a headphone is determined by the user being able to discern the differences between not only higher performing hardware but higher quality recordings. While the 99 Neo sound fantastic straight out of my iPod listening to 256Kbs AAC, they are in a whole different league running out of my iFi stack listening to 24-bit high-res audio! I was easily able to hear a substantial gain in fidelity both in the source file and the hardware, something that simply can not be said about quite a few (over-priced) headphones at this price-point I have owned/heard, even from well established and well regarded competitors.
40 hours is what is recommended by Meze, and I highly encourage anyone to give the 99 Neo at least that amount of time before any critical listening. I am not only referring to driver burn-in but the breaking in of the ear-pads as well. Bass becomes more controlled, less loose and bloomy, and treble detail definitely comes up a few notches. Overall, after burn-in of both the drivers and ear-pads, the sound becomes less stiff, more natural, and balanced.
Sitting at the sweet spot of $249 USD, like all of Meze Audio’s products, the 99 Neo offer great value for the money that won’t break the bank. High quality hard travel case: √! Two high quality 99.99% pure OFC cables: √! Cutting edge style and construction: √! Incredibly smooth and balanced sound that is detailed yet non-fatiguing: √ √ √! At it’s price point, there is a lot going for the 99 Neo that would warrant it’s purchase over it’s competitors, and I would gladly shut up and give Meze my money!
It matters not if you are a headphone junky who wants to add to their ever growing collection, or if you are simply someone in the market looking to find a headphone that offers a detailed, fatigue free, and balanced sound, you can’t go wrong choosing the 99 Neo over the other more established brands. With a price of $249 US, Meze Headphones has another solid contender with the 99 Neo. Combining a smooth and natural listening experience that incorporates a visually striking modern-yet-timeless design while maintaining a comfortable fit, much like the 99 Classics there are few reasons not to fall in love with these headphones! Once again my hat’s off to you, Antonio Meze, and your awesome team; You have made yet another great headphone!
Pros - style, fit, build quality, bass
Cons - a bit recessed mids and highs
VIDEO REVIEW :
I have always been a fan of headphones with unique sound signature. A lot of you will agree with me on this, but sennheiser has been many’s favorite. I am afraid that changes today as I tried the 99 neo from a company called Meze. I’ve always thought sennheiser had great open back sound signatures but lacked in the closed back design but meze offers a closed back design with unique sound signature that I instantly fell in love with. Also, it is a much more affordable price. The best thing is that you can use these for both home & travel.
Meze is a Romanian audio company that has their values set right.
Meze Headphones had stood by its values since the beginning of the company, we did not follow trends and let them influence the audio quality and design of our headphones. They are timeless objects that will not go out of style the next season. We achieved this through patience and dedication.
And where there is values lies passion:
Our passion for music and art is the drive behind Meze headphones. We created our range of headphones and earphones with this aspect in mind. We created them as if for ourselves.
and their wood craftsman ship set above normal standards:
The choice of wood is an inherently difficult one. Obtaining the desired qualities for wooden parts is a long and hard path. The rich colors of walnut require the use of air drying, the longer and more expensive process. Steam or kiln drying are cheaper techniques, but the colors tend to be washed out and there are also structural risks. It takes eighteen months for the wood to dry properly. This is the timeframe needed only for curing and drying the lumber before any further processing can begin. We are patient: we know that the result is worth the wait.
Then, the process of shaping just a single pair of earcups takes up to 8 hours. The whole process of sanding, lacquering, and finishing lasts 45 days. We could cut corners, but we don’t sell ice cream. We fight time: this is the pride of the creator.
The craftsmanship of our designs is paramount. It allows us to show the world our products almost exactly as imagined. The wooden components are carefully inspected and no flaws are permitted to reach the final assembly. Aesthetics are as important for us as they are for you. We want you to wear a pair of Meze Headphones and know that you are enjoying a timeless art piece.
It is worth mentioning that all the wood that we use in our headphones is strictly harvested from sources with certificate of origin. That is, mature trees that have reached the end of their life cycle. This way, we are helping the environment and we're giving the old trees a chance to shine one more time in the shape of Meze Headphones.
This review unit was sent to be by Meze as part of the headfi tour. As usual, all my reviews will stay honest and unbiased
• Transducer size: 40mm
• Frequency response: 15Hz - 25KHz
• Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
• Impedance: 26 Ohm
• Rated input power: 30mW
• Maximum input power: 50mW
• Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
• Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
• Weight: 260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cables
• Ear-cups: ABS Plastic
THE BUILD QUALITY
The build quality is incredible for the price and I have no complaints. Might as well skip this section if you are looking for anything but praise.
The headphone is asymmetrical, allowing you to plug in the connectors any way you like it. Left & Right is irrelevant. This might seem like a small thing but it is extremely convenient in the long run.
Meze also decided to magically make the headphones more comfortable and fit large types of head sizes be making the headphone adjustments “auto-adjustable,” with it stretching mechanism. There is nothing you need to do to get the perfect fit, Meze says “this is our job.” The headphone fit perfectly with great comfort and isolation. I felt like the headphones were customized for my head.
Saying the cups are “plastic” is an understatement. These are high quality plastic that feels premium and rock solid.
I do not understand how Meze can automatically find a way to make great stock cables when most companies out there cannot. With that being said, they do come with two cables, one longer cable for home use and one shorter one with control buttons for travel. The cables are braided up to the point of the splitters and then splits into a plastic/rubbery material that also do not feel cheap. I prefer this kind of mechanism (as long as it does not feel like cheap plastic/rubber) because it reduces the microphonic.
The connectors are 3.5mm and terminates in a 3.5mm with a ¼ inch adaptor.
The case that comes with the headphones is very nice and sturdy however, the headphones do not fit unless you unplug the connectors. They do include a separate case just for the cables but this is very inconvenient on the go and I would like to see a case where you do not need to unplug the connectors.
The metal suspension seems sturdy and very solid. Although I felt like it was a little bit thin, I understand that the headphone needed to lose all the weight it can, for transportation use.
The pads are also very soft and surprisingly comfortable despite its small size. I did find that the cups were a little bit too small and may not fit everyone’s ears perfectly “inside the cups”
You want to talk about style. Let us talk about style. Hands down, my favorite looking headphones. Look at the picture and decide for yourself.
Lower Frequencies: I think the 99 Neo stands out in this frequency the most. Although it seems like the overall intent was for a balanced sound with emphasis on the bass, I found the bass to be not as tight as I wanted it to be, however this was after listening to other headphones that I’ve been reviewing and they are way above this price range. There is also sub-bass present and surprisingly very well presented. I would describe the bass to be punchy and even thumpy
Mid Frequencies: I found this area to be a little bit recessed, especially the strings and vocals but it is not like it loses much detail. I believe this was also part of the sound signature that Meze was going for. Guitars and vocals are not as much as in your face but still presents itself with detail. Although clarity might be an issue here, I found it to be more and more pleasing as time passed by, listening to these headphones.
High Frequencies: Not sibilant by any means, but also not that detailed. On the go, you wouldn’t here all the details anyways. However, there was nothing like “I hear stuff I never heard before,” it was plain old good treble that does not hurt your ears, it was much like the sennheiser HD6 - - series in this aspect.
Sound Stage & Imaging: Obviously not the widest since these are a closed back design however, if you hear my demo, these are surprisingly good for a closed back design. I would say it gets close to the AKG 550 but not quite. Imaging is quite good, it is surprising what it can achieve in the small space it has, it is not a imaging of left and right but more towards up, down, left and right BUT in a closer /intimate way.
Recommended song genres for the 99 Neo: Pop/Rock
I’ve never seen a headphone so stylish that fits perfectly with such great sound. The sound signature offered by Meze is something special and something to enjoy for a long time without getting bored. I think for $250 USD, these are a steal and if you are looking for a ALL IN ONE SOLUTION for both home use and on the go, look no further, here it is.
Pros - Rich and detailed. Great soundstage. Comfortable.
Cons - Too much bass, bleeds into the mids.
~::I first published this review on The Headphone List. Now share it with my Head-Fi fellows::~
:: Disclaimer ::
Meze provided the 99 Neo free of charge in exchange for my honest review, for good or ill.
The Meze 99 Neo sells for $249
I received an alert from Joker: Meze had offered The Headphone List a review unit of their newest spawn, the Neo. Did any of us care to tackle it? Quick on the draw, I was. The 99 Classics is currently my preferred portable over-ear. In fact, I wrote such a thorough, flattering review, Meze felt certain I had been part of the original tour. No Meze, I was merely doing what I do, celebrating exceptional equipment. The 99 Classics’ signature resonates perfectly with my tastes, and is one of my favorite things to listen to, at any price range. I simply adore it.
So I was eager to get my hands on their Neo variant. I expected… well, I don’t know what I expected. On paper, it seemed like Neo was nothing more than a plastic-cupped version of the 99C. But I don’t know of any headphone company which does that. When a manufacturer releases a new unit, and gives it a new name, they almost always retune the thing, if for no other reason than to appeal to a new segment. The broader the range of flavor on offer, the broader the potential customer base.
I just didn’t know what the Neo would be. It could go either way.
Everything about the Neo proclaims its new flavor. It isn’t Rocky Road to the 99C’s Neapolitan. Nothing so extreme. Rather, it’s Double Fudge Brownie to 99C’s old-school chocolate. Richer, chewier, and more adolescent.
You can see this even in the carry case. Meze didn’t have to redesign the case. Why would they? But they did it anyway, as a statement: Neo is not Classic. The case is neither better nor worse than the old one. It’s just different. Both are beautifully crafted and a great way to carry these phones about.
Look at the weaving! That **** gives the geek in me a stiffy!
The cable has been redesigned. Though, I think that is for the whole 99 line, not just Neo. The lower-portion of the cable is still covered in a nice cloth, but now, after the Y-split, the cord is sheathed in rubber. I think this is meant to reduce microphonic vibrations. Whatever the reason, the cable was well-made before, and it’s well-made now.
Just as the 99 Classics before it, the Neo is highly comfortable. The clamp force holds them secure, and the pads keep things soft and easy. I have no trouble wearing them for long hours at a time. Due to the plastic cups, Neo is a touch lighter, and will prove even friendlier for those long listening sessions.
Neo is using new pads. When the 99 Classics first released, they had small pads, which garnered more complaints across the web than anything else… by far. So Meze released new pads to go on their next batch. I have those larger pads, they came with my 99C. Yet Neo’s pads are bigger still. They’re wider, and deeper.
Certainly, these new pads play a role in what I hear. How much of a role, is hard to say, so we shall take on this challenge now.
Let’s not mince words here. The Meze 99 Neo is warm and profoundly bassy. Folk complain about the Classics’ low-end being too exaggerated. Well, **** just got real. The bass dominates everything else about these headphones. Fortunately, the lows are possessed of lovely tonality. There is a textured, chasmal feel about them. It’s huge, it’s thick, and it colors every goddamn thing.
Things like the vocals. I would never have called the mids on the 99C “lush”. But they’ve crossed that line with Neo. They aren’t as clear and vibrant anymore. They are thick, extremely smooth, and mighty warm. Yet there is still more than enough detail and articulation to paint a lifelike image. If you’re a fan of the HD650, you may fall in love with Neo’s vocals. They are a deep, soothing bowl of oatmeal on a cold day.
After some proper burn-in, the highs have finally come out to play. I no longer believe they’re rolled off, which was my first impression. Indeed, Neo has some lovely sparkle up top, with delightful extension. It’s not quite on the same level as the 99C, but close. I cannot express how paramount this is for Pinky’s enjoyment of these cans. Not because I’m a Treblehead, but rather that indomitable bass threatens to choke the whole presentation, and the treble brings a much-needed balance. It lets in the sun and the air, clearing out some of the stuffiness.
Blessedly, Neo is just as capable in the soundstage as the 99C, being one of the widest and deepest closed-back headphones on the market. Ok, it might have taken a little hit, but not much. These things create a grand sense of space. Instruments are well defined and positioned with good accuracy. Resolution is above average, but not jaw-dropping. What impresses me is how much air and layering there is, given the heavy-handed sub frequencies.
Even though most of this review has been a comparison to the 99 Classics, let’s take a paragraph to condense the differences.
The Meze 99 Classics are clearer. Greater detail comes through. The treble glistens more, giving superior air to the stage. Things don’t sound so excessively thick, as the bass is not trouncing over everything else. Instead of lush, the vocals are transparent and realistic. The soundstage is a hair bigger, though both are excellent.
I have marked a few physical differences, which might account for some of the disparity, beyond the wood/plastic of it all.
Neo pads on the left, 99C pads on the right.
The earpads are deeper, and wider on the Neo. And as I mentioned earlier, I already have the improved 99C pads.
99C pads on the left, Neo pads on the right.
While my 99C does not have a damper glued to the front of the driver, it does have thicker material in the pads themselves, which should have much the same effect.
What does it all mean? F**k if I know. Meze changed so much it’s hard to track. The bottom line is these two headphones don’t sound the same.
AudioQuest’s NightOwls are nearly three times as much as Neo. But since I don’t have many closed-back headphones, and I’ve really been crushing on these lately, why not do a comparison?
The NOs are cleaner. More liquid. That low-distortion AQ advertises is indeed audible. It’s weird how little grain or blemishes come through. The bass goes into the deepest registers, and can just hold it there, without pounding or booming. Its sub-bass doesn’t sound like drivers generate it, but rather like it simply exists. It’s the most natural low-end I’ve heard outside of the LCD-2. And it’s not too exaggerated, either. More like the 99C instead of Neo.
Those lows don’t bleed, either. While the vocals have a lush flavor, they are brilliantly detailed and clear. You get superior separation and layering than either Meze can manage. A level of refinement is conveyed by the NightOwl which elevates it beyond lesser options. Sweet Jesus, these are an elegant set of transducers.
Even after something like 60-70 hours of burn-in, NO’s treble is not as shimmery as Neo. It takes a little time to adjust to the darker tone. Once you do, the highs show themselves to be well-extended, soft as silk, and without any unnatural peaks. They remind me of the 64Audio U12 in this aspect. You have to sacrifice a little bit of brightness for the magic. If you can accept that, you get to enjoy a special treasure.
Soundstage is grander on all levels. Imaging and resolution don’t get much better than this. As one might infer from the price, NightOwl is on another level.
One of the best comparisons to make is the Sennheiser/Massdrop HD6XX (Special edition of the HD650). Neo has more bass, by a not-insignificant gap, yet the tuning has the same warm/lush quality. In spite of one being open-back, and the other closed, they feel cut from the same cloth. The lows on the HD650 are tighter, with superior texture. Meze goes deeper, though, with real sub-bass. Neo’s treble possesses more bite, whereas HD6XX is an easy, laid-back listen. The mids are alike in so many ways, with detail, prominence, and clarity awfully close. I may have to give it to Neo for soundstage, whereas imaging and separation are of a higher quality on the Senn.
Due to the open nature of the HD6XX, and its balance, you get a sense Sennheiser is a friend who loves you. Neo, on the other hand, is constantly kicking you in the stomach with bass, and flicking your nipples with treble. Only you will know which excites you more. I judge not.
Because of the Neo’s propensity for bass and warmth, I recommend a player that is as neutral as possible, or at least one that does well in the treble and has strong, clear mids.
My Opus#2 makes a great pairing with Neo. On its own, the Opus#2 is just slightly on the warm side. But it has outstanding dynamics and treble presence. There is tremendous body to the notes, and WAY more driving power than you’d ever need for the new Mezes. It’s also the widest sounding DAP I’ve heard, so Neo gets to stretch out to its fullest. You won’t easily find a smoother, more natural renderer than Opus#2, which gives Neo all the ingredients to become its best self. It’s very hard not to fall for these headphones when plugged into this music player.
Cayin’s i5 is a rather warm, thick DAP, with extreme bass presence. While it’s not a disaster for Neo, it does take it even further in the direction I’m trying to avoid. Nonetheless, I found myself digging this pairing. There’s something about rich, powerful musicality that defies prejudice. Is it my favorite signature? No. But I can’t deny it has its charms. And an ample supply, at that.
The Opus#1 is my choice for best mid-fi audio player. With Neo, it brings in more air, giving a better sense of space and separation. The highs are nice and glistening, the mids are more vivid, and there’s solid kick down low. The Opus#1 is amazingly neutral, without ever being cold or analytical. It’s the best version of neutral, where everything shines, due to exquisite dynamism. I’ve said it before, this DAP brings out the best in every headphone, no matter the profile, and Neo is no exception. Opus does an admirable job balancing this bottom-heavy gorilla.
The new Cayin N3 is currently in my possession for testing. It’s only seen around twenty hours of burn-in. So much might change as the days roll by. Right now, however, it gives Neo a thin, weak sound. Warm, but not much going on at either end of the spectrum. It’s quite lifeless right now, with a tiny, boxed-in stage. Let us hope the N3 will open up with time.
Even my pathetic Galaxy S6 gave Neo a FAR better spring in its step. Together they sound… okay. Get well-loud. Plenty of energy. But, this is not a great smartphone for audio quality. I suggest you choose a different one, or better yet, a nice DAP.
So that’s the Meze 99 Neo. Pinky is fond of these headphones. They are a terribly fun listen. Too much bass! For sure! Give me the 99C any day of the week. Yet Neo is decidedly sweet nonetheless, and knows how to delight a fellow. There’s no way around it, Neo’s got the goods. Coming from Meze, I’d expect nothing less.
Pros - style, build, price, sound
Cons - none for this price
I think it would be pretty fair to call Meze 99 Classics last year's sensation. Appeared early 2016, they quickly prove themselves being an excellent price/quality performer. Meze engineers decided to sustain those achievements and released a more affordable model.
First of all, I'd like to thank Meze for providing me a review sample in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
Luckily, Meze doesn't have a big marketing department like some other companies do, so instead of "clipping" their flagship to create it's younger sibling, Meze merely tweaked Classics a little bit and released 99 Neo.
As usual, I'll try to make a part with box, accessories and design description as brief as possible.
Box has the same size as Classics one, but polygraphy is done in more "hi-tech" style, representing the shift in Neo's design. Inside there is a hard case with zipper, but this time it's done from nylon. In this case, you'll find headphones, cable, 6.3 mm adapter and "airplane" adapter with dual 3.5 mm mono jacks.
Design-wise Neos are absolute doppelgängers of Classics: same headband, same stylish casted details, same comfortable earpads, and head pad. The only difference is cups material, in Neo, they're made of qualitative ABS plastic with a pleasant texture. Other truly minor difference — model's name on the head pad. In theory, wooden cups of Classics should look more "luxurious" than plastic ones, but in practice, Neo looks as stylish as it's more expensive brother. Even more, if you're looking for a pair of headphones for street usage, Neo will be a better option as they are less conspicuous.
I must admit that 99 Neo are also comfortable and provide reasonable sound isolation (not superb, but good for almost all circumstances) and they are pretty comfortable (at least for me).
But let's move on to the most exciting — sound. The sound of this version is close to Classic's one, it's not surprising as Meze used same drivers, but cups materials causes a small difference in the form of a more forward upper mids.
Lows in Neo still has a charming accent in the mid-bass region. Deep bass is present but isn't so noticeable. Low frequencies aren't the fastest ones, but they don't sound bloated and boomy. Instruments separation and textures rendering are at a right level. Bass has a decent body and gives music a solid foundation, causing a bit darkened sounding but without the excesses.
Mids are very musical, and a bit smoothed, giving 99 Neos a hint of warmth. Microcontrast in this headphones is "reduced," so lovers of "hearing any tiny nuance" should look somewhere else, but the actual level of details is right. Simply put — all details of music is here, while different noises, recording imperfections and so on won't bother you. Small upper mids accent in 99 Neo causes a little less relaxed sound, compared with classics and very rare can sound a bit sharp (really, really rare and just a bit!). The imaginary stage is not bad for closed back headphones but can't compete with open models.
Treble range is absolutely the same as the 99 Classics', they are just as well developed concerning quality, but slightly subdued in attacks for general "non-fatiguing" sound. This treble fits well with the overall presentation of the model, providing a good balance of tonality, which is the main advantage of these headphones. The resolution of HF is better than average, but it does not reach the ideal but is magnificent for this price tier.
Meze 99 Neo sounds pretty good even with smartphones and tablets (besides those which sound totally sick), but they do benefit from good mid-level DAPs. Style-wise, these headphones are pretty universal, but keep in mind that over-compressed recordings will sound miserably with them.
To summarize, in my opinion, Neo is a no way worse then Classics both sonically and aesthetically, so Meze could easily ask for it same $310, but they've selected more affordable $250.
As usual, I've made a video with initial impressions.
Pros - Light construction, self-adjusting headband, comfortable, natural and detailed sound, good soundstage, good cables
Cons - Can get uncomfortable after three hours of use, bass-light
Meze 99 Neo: Budget and Performance: the Fine Line
Meze, though a relatively young company, is well known in the audiophile world. With a solid IEM range and the famous 99 Classics under its belt, to audiophiles, Meze is a household name. After a brief break in releases, they are back to impress us again with the new 99 Neo, a more wallet-friendly version of the 99 Classics. Did they pull off threading the needle between cost cutting and maintaining performance?
You can find the 99 Neo on pre-order here, on Meze’s official website, for $250.
Disclaimer: This unit was provided to Resonance Reviews free of charge for review purposes. I am not affiliated with Meze beyond this review. These words reflect my true, unaltered, opinion about the product.
Apology: I would like to issue Meze a public and formal apology for my lateness on publishing this review. It’s unprofessional, and is a mark on my reputation.
Preference and Bias: Before reading a review, it is worth mentioning that there is no way for a reviewer to objectively pass judgment on the enjoy-ability of a product: such a thing is inherently subjective. Therefore, I find it necessary for you to read and understand what I take a natural liking to and how that might affect my rating of a product.
My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, mid-bass. The mids should be slightly less pronounced than the treble, but still ahead of the bass. I prefer a more bright upper range.
Source: The 99 Neo was powered like so:
Nexus 6P -> earphones
Hidizs AP100 3.5mm out -> FiiO A5 3.5mm out -> earphones
HiFiMAN SuperMini -> earphones
PC optical out -> HiFiMe SPDIF 9018 Sabre DAC 3.5mm out -> earphones
All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC.
After being spoiled by the 99 Classics for so long, the 99 Neo was welcomed by my ears. Meze tried quite hard to imbue that magical tonality that the Classics into the 99 Neo, and to a large degree succeeded. The treble is crisp and forward, but not brash and harsh. The mids are clean and sit right behind the treble. The bass is slightly less emphasized than the mids are, making it the more balanced of the two 99-series headphones.
Treble: Songs used: In One Ear, Midnight City, Outlands, Satisfy
Treble is sweet and forward. In both Satisfy and Midnight City, the treble was able to push through the din without being sibilant or sharp. Extension is great, as is the placement of treble-bound instruments.
The treble is very detailed and able to convey minute differences in the tonality of the violins of Outlands well. The litany of treble-bound background elements also come through the song well enabling a decently symphonic experience.
High-hats and cymbals sound great and are easy to pick up in the mix. I never once felt as if they were distorted or overblown. Treble attack and decay speeds are good.
Mids: Songs used: Flagpole Sitta, Jacked Up, I Am The Highway, Dreams
The attack and decay of the 99 Neo is great. Guitars have a wonderful timbre to them. Electric crunch and growl is on point, a favorite feature of mine from the 99 Classics that I’m glad carried over.
Pianos sound full-bodied and dynamic. The 99 Neo’s mids are clean and clear without being boring, a testament to the skilled individuals who tuned it. The lower mids are present and well-toned without being overbearing and thick.
Vocals are above-average in terms of intelligibility and have a fantastic weighting to them, male and female vocals alike. This is really the cherry on top, making the 99 Neo a quite compelling headphone. It’s great mixture of detail retrieval and balanced sound is a big plus for me.
Bass: Songs used: Moth, Gold Dust, In For The Kill (Skream Remix), Leave Me
Bass guitars are clear and dynamic within the mix. While shaping and emphasis were more to my personal tastes with the 99 Classic, the 99 Neo’s more light-handed approach may appeal to those who seek something different.
Bass wetness is more on the dry side, indicating a linear amount of mid and sub-bass. While drops are still satisfying and certifiably “filthy” in electronic music such as Gold Dust, the bass-head in me wants more. Again, that judgement falls under the personal taste category.
In For The Kill really highlights the 99 Neo’s bass extension. I get a pretty good “sub woofer-esque” feeling from the overall bass signature. While sub-bass rumble isn’t quite where I’d like it to be (nor where it was with the 99 Classics), the Neo’s performance is still quite good, and should appeal to those looking for a balanced and natural sound.
Packaging / Unboxing
The 99 Neo comes in packaging identical in structure to the packaging of the 99 Classic. A nice and sturdy cardboard box with some internal padding surrounds the 99 Neo’s case. Inside the case lies the 99 Neo and its accessories.
The 99 Neo’s build is as impeccable as the Classic’s was. The ear-cups are made from a very nicely-textured ABS plastic, meaning they will be durable. It appears to be color-injected, meaning color-wear is essentially not a concern. The plastic construction means the 99 Neo’s ear-cups are both low-maintenance and light, an essential feature of any headphones you might want to take with you on a road-trip or in your backpack as you go to class.
Lining the ear cups is a tasteful metal band. It contrasts wonderfully with the otherwise dark construction of the 99 Neo. More metal can be found in the left and right-channel inputs and on the top of the swivel joint between the headband and the ear-cups.
The headband assembly is entirely metal as well, and is identical to the assembly found in the 99 Classic. It’s self-adjusting, sturdy, but still flexible. The headband itself is made from leather, or a convincing alternative.
Note that my version of the 99 Neo is incorrectly styled. Meze is aware, and the production units will have the correct labeling.
Meze prides itself on its fully-serviceable headphones. I am really excited by the notion of a pair of headphones that I can repair in my bedroom that don’t require a heat gun to be opened. While I commend Meze on this, there is still a single sticking point with the headband assembly that I would appreciate changed: the use of Torx screws. While I understand the rational behind them, they are fairly difficult for the average-Joe to remove. Please Meze, just use a small Philips-head.
The 99 Neo’s cables are different from the Classics inasmuch as the upper-half of the cables are rubber rather than Kevlar. This is a change that was definitely made to cut costs, and I approve of it. It doesn’t compromise the physical integrity of the cable, nor does it significantly impact the enjoyment of the product.
The shorter of the two cables has inline controls, which works well on both iPhones and Android phones. You get the standard pause/play/skip functionality on both platforms.
Yes, I am aware they say 99 Classics. This is a flaw limited to the pre-release review units.
Here’s some pictures comparing the 99 Neo to the 99 Classics. If there’s anything specific you want me to capture, let me know in the comments.
The 99 Neo is slightly less comfortable on me than the 99 Classics are. While I can wear it for extended periods of time without complaint, I do begin to feel them on my ears after about three hours, a fault not existent in the 99 Classics. This is likely due to the fact that Meze has iterated the earpads again since the second revision of the 99 Classic’s earpads.
The 99 Neo comes well-stocked with accessories. Inside the box you will find:
1x hard carrying case
2x half-Kevlar cables
1x 3.5mm to 1/4in adapter
1x airline adapter
The carrying case is slightly smaller than the one that comes with the 99 Classics, and I see that as a good thing. The less space taken up by the case the better.
The accessories all feel pretty sturdy, but are nothing to write home about. They do the job, and do it reliably.
The 99 Neo is a great addition to Meze’s lineup. As Meze’s “entry-level” headphones, I find it to have a pretty great value, especially for those who don’t particularly want the extra luxury of wooden ear cups or fully-Kevlar cables. All in all, I can say I recommend the Meze 99 Neo. However, I would still definitely recommend that you check out the 99 Classics if you have the money to spare. In my mind, it’s well worth the extra cash.