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Over-Ear item created by MezeTeam, Apr 12, 2017
Pros - Great Design, Smooth Sound, Comfortable Fit, Non-Fatiguing
Cons - Plastic Driver Cups Feel a Bit Cheap, Bass Creeps Up to the Mids
Before I start my review. I have a treasure hunt for all of you.
Back when the 99 Classics came out, I believe I mentioned that it would be awesome if Meze came out with a Black and Silver version. I've searched for this post, but I have yet to find it (maybe it was a figment of my imagination). However, if it is out there and you do find it, I will give you 10,000 Head-Fi points that can't be used anywhere.
...On to the actual review...
- All Photos Taken by Me-
[Product Link]: Meze 99 Neo
[Current Price]: $249.00
**Disclaimer, I'd like to thank Meze for the 99 Neo sample unit, so as to complete this honest review**
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
Meze does a great balancing act of Form and Function with all of their products. That is quickly made clear with just the box the 99 Neo comes in. It is well thought out design and makes the un-boxing experience special.
- Meze 99 Neo Heaphone
- Carrying Headphone Case
- Case for accessories (cables)
- Longer Non-Microphone Detachable Cable
- Shorter Microphone Detachable Cable
- Airplane Adapter
- 3.5mm to 1/4 Adapter
Carried over from the original 99 Classics, the Neo shares the same basic layout. They share so much, that even the headband of the 99 Neo says: "99 Classics", not sure if this was done on purpose or by mistake. One difference to be seen is the use of black ABS plastic for the housings of the 99 Neo, while the 99 Classics opts for beautiful wood cups. The ABS plastic on the 99 Neo looks nice, though feels a bit on the cheaper side. Though this material difference seems to have allowed Meze to drop $50 off the price of the 99 Classics which is always good for an audiophiles wallet.
The detachable cables got an improvement from the 99 Classic versions. They now have less microphonics due to the braided cable only extending downward from the Y splitter. Above the split, the cable is now a smoother material that is much less noisy. Meze was smart to listen to its users to upgrade the cable with this new design.
Continuing the evolution of the 99 Classics, Meze also read about increasing concerns about the small radius of the ear pads. While they did release a set of new, larger internal diameter pads later, these come standard on the 99 Neo. The reviews of these new pads seem mixed. For me, I like them. Not that I have big ears, but I still find them to be more comfortable and less warming. Sound wise I am not finding them to change the signature much as some others do.
One of the best tweaked designs from the 99 Classics does not even have to do with the headphones at all, instead it is the carrying case. I love the look and tactile feel of the material used. Plus, with the slightly raised surface, it makes it much easier to grip as well.
- I will note here that I made it a point not to read any of the other 99 Neo reviews that came before mine, as not to influence my own testing. I will be curious to check out other members thoughts on the signature after I have posted this review. It will be interesting to see if they match my own findings or not. -
Lows - Bass comes through as smooth, though a bit on the slower side. Not exactly muddy, but not super controlled either. I wish there was just a little more sub-bass, as there is more of a focus on the mid-bass that creeps up into the mids.
Mids - The smoothness continues in the middle frequencies. Vocals are laid back and lack some energy. Though it must be said that there is something magical about the ease of how the mids are presented, that I have yet to hear in any other headphone. This special sound can only be described as fun and musical, a big reason why these headphones are so popular.
Highs - Roll off comes quick, but not at the expense of details. If anything, this has got to be one of the best headphones for extending listening as the 99 Neo is so easy on the ears. The upper regions are a highlight of the overall sound and tops off the smooth nature of this headphone.
Soundstage - While there is a perception of depth, there is also a feel of reverb as well. This does leave a slightly congested feeling at times when the music speeds up.
With an Impedance: of 26 Ohm, the 99 Neo itself is easy to drive. Though, lower level sources, such as the Benjie S5 or FiiO M3 only seem to add to the almost veiled sound.
My best results came when I used my most powerful and clean desktop setup of the Orb Jade Casa DAC/Amp pairing. This allowed the most detail and best possible sound of the 99 Neo to come through. Though, even with the big guns blazing, the sound was as described above, with a tendency for extended mid-bass and a smoother playback.
Despite a few of my less than enthusiastic descriptions of the sound signature, the 99 Neo is still a fun headphone to use. I'm always very relaxed after long sessions of use. The ease of playback allows there to be little fatigue and that does allow the 99 Neo to be very useful. While not the most analytical headphone out there, it does succeed in putting a smile on your face, as is presentation of music is fun and engaging.
Build and design are matched well, though I would like to see a slightly thicker and less plasticy feel to the cup housings. If I could convay anything to Meze, it would be while I understood why they kept with the same layout as the 99 Classics, though with a smaller price tag, would have been to make the 99 Neo a bit different than its older brother. My advise would be, to build the Neo as a open-backed headphone with velour pads. I think this would allow the sound to be more airy and maybe help with a little of the congestion. Plus, velour pads would add more to the already comfortable fit.
All and all, while I still see improvements to be made in future generations, the 99 Neo is a good headphone that deserves extensive listening time. Those looking for a smooth and engaging sound, look no further than the 99 Neo
Pros - Solid deep bass, warm signature, good sound stage. Decent isolation.
Cons - Bass bleed into the mids mixed feelings on new pads, rough around the edges, not much else.
Meze 99 Neo- A conundrum of listening proportions…
Playing Trees from twenty one pilots, through my MacBook Pro and iFi iDSD Micro Black Label…oh my…what a sound…such a huge sound stage! No tone fighting, it is as if I am mid-center at a twenty pilots concert, jumping with 5,000 other diehard fans, all in unison while Josh bangs and Tyler souls. Highly impressed…
There is a whole lot of hype going on around the Neo’s. And a couple of early reviews espouse the virtues of this closed-back headphone versus the “original,” the 99 Classic. We shall see how it stacks up against the competition…a little later.
@B9Scrambler made a comment on another review thread about how he does not like giving a review after only a week, because he feels like he has not had sufficient time to audition properly the device in question. He almost considers it a disservice to the manufacturer in question. I would wholeheartedly agree, but I will add that after about two days, I have a pretty good idea of what the critter sounds like, unless it is a brand new item. Then Brain-Burn or actual burn in is required (aka Audioquest and the Nighthawk/Owl headphones) like some manufacturers ask. I usually use the first two full days to listen exclusively to the device in question. I don’t even vary sources. I like the repetitive nature of the same songs, on the same devices. This gives me a baseline of comparison for the rest of the week. And it is damn fun to hear Trees 21 times in a row, listening for that subtle nuance of difference in tone…difference in stage, or separation that I may have missed the other 20 times (!).
After about 3 hours, I have determined, that this is one rocking pair of headphones. A completely different character to the one I just left behind. I find myself dancing uncontrollably as I type, so please excuse the missstttakeesss…
Coming off another review, where I considered the simplicity of the item to be one of the truest measures of that particular item, I am pleasantly surprised that the Neo follows in that same suit. While the music fairly shouts through the Neo’s, it does so without drawing attention to itself. Those of the old Magnepan speaker days will understand. A simple panel cannot possibly provide such musical quality that it does! It cannot be! But alas, yes it does. So far, the Neo’s are of similar vein. Albeit with the pomp and glitter of the 99 Classics leading the way. This would be the little brother who mimics everything the older does on the futbol pitch, but no one notices. That is until the younger becomes the better player, and simply lets his play show what he can do. So far, the Neo is the quiet little brother, quite happy to watch big brother lead the team, and happily run onto the pitch at halftime dribbling silly and scoring improbable goals. Ones he thinks no one sees or watches. But that proud Papa and Mama see, and they understand what is coming. That there is something to be cherished, something to behold in their second offspring. Both will be great, but in their own different ways. Both understated, letting their play show the way, speaking in reverent tones, not wanting to draw attention to themselves, but once the world sees; there is no taking back the fame.
This is how I look at Meze. You produced a near-cult-classic in the 99Classic; and knew you had to follow in that same vein. Gladly you did in the Neo. Both are worthy of your moniker. Both are worthy of that high regard, but in very different ways.
I want to thank @MezeTeam for the Neo review tour, and taking me on as part of it. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the unit. The Neo is a very good headphone.
Specs, from the Meze website https://mezeaudio.eu/products/99-neo:
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
A near-flat frequency curve shows a slight bump at about 120htz. This may account for the added bass heard by most.
Fit & Finish:
The build quality of the Neo is quite good, with even seams, good finish and a generally very good overall fit. I can comfortably wear them for a couple of hours, with minimal adjusting. After that, I have to adjust fairly regularly. And to me, the clamp pressure is a bit tight. Compared the Audioquest Nightowl, all else falls behind, so this isn’t really that bad. Everything fits well, and evenly. The rivets holding the drivers to the twin-metal frame are finished evenly, and tastefully. Overall, I would call the Neo an extremely attractive package, with no real failings in the “looker” department. Quite nice.
See my description of the pads later, for how I feel, suffice to say, that they are faux leather, and pretty decent in quality. No qualms here. And, since this is a pre-production model, it came labeled with the “Classic” headband as well as cables. One with mic (which works well), and one without. A smidge short for desktop use to me but, since this is aimed at the portable market, adequate in length.
I want to thank @PinkyPowers too, for the “borrowing” of his Meze 99 Classics. It was my initial understanding that he was GIVING me the pair (he led me to believe this, no really…)…until he yelled at me. I cannot repeat what he said, either…for it matches the area of town where we meet to “exchange gear.” There is a fair amount of “miscreant” behavior, which goes on at the McDonalds where we meet, and I always feel kind of shady when we meet, like we should be doing something illegal, to fit in…. Even though we were doing nothing illegal (unlike others at the locale), it feels like we are…really we aren’t…no, really…
As we were parting, I asked his opinion and for a quick comparison of the Neo against the Classics, to which he semi-politely refused (probably still agitated, thinking I was going to run away with his Classics…). I offered to buy him a Happy Meal if he would give me tidbits of a comparison, and he scoffed at me stating fairly agitatedly that, “only if it was a McRib Meal, with extra fries, SUPER-SIZE would I even THINK about doing that!!” It was then I, who politely refused the awful McRib counter, and begged his leave, not turning my back on him. It was an odd encounter, what with the “deals” going down, and the flat refusal of a free meal by both of us, essentially. I don’t like McDonalds anyway, and I’m pretty sure Pinky does not either…It made me hungry.
In my week, I ran many songs, and many combinations of gear. From Lindsey Stirling to twenty one pilots to Bob Marley to Dave Matthews, Los Lonely Boys, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I pretty much ran the gamut of music through my devices. I played some Ella Fitzgerald on what would have been her 100th birthday, and it really was a treat having that special voice chorus through my gray matter. If I had to choose two females to represent my musical repertoire, it would be Ella and Billy Holiday…wow…Happily the Neo took all in with the tenacity of a teenager, and the wisdom wrought by its elder, the 99 Classic.
I thoroughly enjoyed not only the comparisons of driving units, but also headphones. All four listed below (including the Neo) are worthy additions to your stable, and all should be considered for their respective strengths. It may seem like I was not happy with the Neo after you read further, but that would be an erroneous assumption. Taken alone, it is an outstanding example of trickle-down technology. Something that Meze should be quite proud of. Only when compared to big brother, and a much more expensive unit does it fall behind. As for the thinksound ON2? Well I will admit, that I fell in love with that the moment I heard it. I actually took a flyer on it, based upon a couple of reviews, and I could not be happier. That said, if I did not have the ON2 I would seriously consider the Neo for its qualities.
thinksound ON2 ($199) v Neo ($250):
My initial reaction is that the ON2 is harder to drive, has better top end, and a more open sound. Bass is superb…controlled, and deep. Fast decay allows for a good portion of the control, and does not bleed into the excellent mids. Vocals are more forward than the Neo. Better treble, too. While it is an over-ear, fit can be tricky. They are eminently comfortable, but with more pressure applied. I do have trouble when I have my glasses on, but this is alleviated, mostly when I wear a hat.
Vocals are more laid back on the Neo’s, but it does seem to have a more open sound than the ON2, which is a positive. Bass is still good, but less controlled. A more rounded sound, if you will. Of the four, the thinksounds have the most bass punch. It is somewhat untidy. A wonderful sound, though. The Neo would come in second in the bass department, and that is not a bad result for the second least expensive model, here. Good reach with that bass, but it tends to bleed a bit into the mids (to me), and because of the slower decay can be a bit boomy. Still quite a pleasant sound, though.
99 Classics ($309) v Neo ($250):
A clear, clean, precise sound from the Classics is hard to beat, here. The Neo’s win the bass “war,” but it is a less-tamed bass than the Classics. Where the Neo would be perfectly at home listening to a beat-heavy sound, or EDM for instance; the Classic is a much more refined solution. I hate to say, “mature” because that would be almost an insult to both. But that is a close comparison. Consider the Neo the semi-wild teenager, to the Classic’s college-aged student. They are similar, but arrive at the end in different manners.
That untamed bass is what can draw you into the Neo. It can be an intoxicating listen indeed. But sooner or later, that untamed nature will make you reach for either the EQ, or a different set. No, that is probably too harsh. I would gladly listen to the Neo all day, and be happy. Very happy. But when you compare that to the Classic, especially with the old pads (to me…), then a rotation would be in order. I could see using the Neo at the office, or on the commute, and come home to the Classics. That combination would be a very good rotation. That added bass on the commute would come in handy on a noisy commute.
Speaking of noise, to me the new pad does isolate much better, so that is a positive. I’m not sure if the wood has something to do with that, but I doubt it, as my ON2’s isolate VERY well from the outside world as well as leakage. So another benefit of the Neo is overall isolation. My wife rightly pointed out that she could hear my music from across the room just now (not happy, she was!), and I did not have the Classics at that high of a volume, either. So score another for the Neo.
Tyll thinks they quite possibly took a step backwards, with both the Neo and the “new” ear pads, according to his review, and after hearing both I would agree somewhat…As I mentioned above, to me the Neo is a very good headphone, in isolation. It is only when you consider others does it fall a bit behind. The Classic led the pack, the Neo tries very hard.
Audioquest NightOwl ($799) v Neo ($250):
The NO’s are simply put, a superb over ear, closed back with a fantastic laid-back signature. While the trebles are a bit too laid back (yes, even for me), the clear and concise mids hold up the quite adequate bass line. I fall for the NO more each time I hear them. And when AQ means 150hrs burn in, they mean it. They are the hardest to drive of the four, but that doesn’t really mean much, really. Just a stunning example of one company’s vision, they are. The Neo tries very hard to compete, but just cannot. One would not fault writing the Neo off, because of the price difference; but that would be unjust for what the Neo does really well. The Neo excels at providing an “edgy” sound as @DobrescuGeorge states in his review. I would agree, there is definitely some attitude there, calling it “street-wise” in sound. A bass growl, kind of overrides the rest of the signature. But not so much that it overwhelms the sound. The bass provides that foundation, which the mids and treble rest upon. Not bad mind you, just not up to the AQ’s sound. The NO provides that full, endless texture, which many try to pull off and many fail. The NO does it and does it well.
Source comparisons, Neo with: MacBook Pro/iFi iDSD BL & Shanling M1/M5:
My favorite combo was with the MBP/BL. The trio just oozed synergy. Especially what with the multi-abilities of the BL. If one cannot find a decent combination with all of the adjustments, then we have very different tastes. I would wholeheartedly concur with @DobrescuGeorge here, quite a good listen, this is…wow. I found that Normal power and Bass Boost on were where I spent most of my time. I did enjoy the 3D sound as well, but not as much as Bass boost alone. With more than enough power on Normal, I rarely ran the BL above 0930.
The big brother M5 is an outstanding mid-fi portable DAP, which I like very much. There is simply a plethora of choices here, and I think I have a pretty decent one at that. In many ways I prefer this to the Opus #1, which many espouse as THE mid-fi DAP to have. I like both…I like the M5 more…and paired with the Neo, the sound makes up for the harshness that can pervade the other combinations. I can really enjoy the full sound, deep bass (still takes charge, mind you), and the excellent sound stage. This would be a fabulous office/commute combo. And all for less than $600 US. An excellent compliment, where the Neo wants to take charge, but the M5 reigns the youngster in…just enough so that you enjoy the compliments of both. Lush slightly warm from the M5, and that wonderful bass brought back just enough to enjoy without trouble. A grand combo.
Listening the the M1/Neo combination, one would think this would certainly favor the other two more expensive combos…well….you would be mostly wrong. I think the most fun sound came from this combo. The two seem to frolic along swinging side-by-side on the swings, going ever higher, daring the other to go even higher. Not unbridled untamed sound, but a fun, warm bass-rich sound. Los Lonely Boys Nobody Else is an excellent example of that side-by-side cooperation. Soundstage is as good as the other two combos, and this could be my go-to commuter set up…If my commute was longer than the 6 minutes it takes to get to my school…All that does is leave more time in the morning (daughter-unit & I arrive VERY early so that I can work) to listen to all of this fine kit. And I have used the Neo’s with both Shanlings this week, with much enjoyment.
In other words, the Neo pretty much works with all I tried. And I like that versatility.
Running all four headphones through a headphone splitter allowed me to switch quite quickly while the same songs were playing. All four should be commended for what they do well. And all four do have their positives. All also have their negatives, albeit few. I would be happy with any of the four, and own two of them. I am thinking one of the other two may join my stable…I will not tell you which, just yet.
From the soothing solid sound of the Nightowl, to the mature full sound of the Classics, to the overwhelmingly excellent bass the ON2 provides, the Neo has a tough battle from the start. That street-wise edge does well to hold it’s own, but to me ultimately falls shy of the other three. I’m not sure if it is the new pad design, or simply the sound, but it does fall slightly behind the other three.
Now that may seem like a dig at a pretty decent headphone…it isn’t meant to be. It is a testament to how excellent, and congested the mid-fi market really is. And the Neo comes into the market with a chip on its shoulder from the get go. It takes that chip and presents itself really well. Darn well, to be honest. Shoving other headphones out of the way, the Neo states rather boldly that it is here, and should be reckoned with…and it means business. But, when one takes a closer look, this is when the rough edges start to show. That good thump of bass, which is slightly untidy. The pushed forward mids (compared to the other three, to me) tend to state rather loudly that the Neo is on the scene. If one is looking for a very good EDM headphone, then the Neo may just be your ticket, and an affordable one, too. What I would suggest is find a pair of Classics, which have the old pads. Or find a set on eBay or Amazon. Purchase those, then switch back and forth (CAREFULLY), until you decide which you like better. I did that, and can say I like the old pads (which are on the borrowed Classics) more. To me, they are more comfortable, and fit my head better. They also provide a really nice listening chamber, and a good tight fit. Trying the new pads on the Classics, had the reverse effect. I did not like the effect. So run both pads, and then decide.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the Neo, and I really did, it has a very tough act to follow in its big brother the Classic. And it mostly succeeds. With good reach down low of bass, and a good thump to boot; but one that bleeds into the mids can be overlooked by the pretty decent overall character and a good sound stage. The Neo is that little brother who tags along everywhere, insisting that he can play all the games big brother are playing. And mostly, he does but at a different pace. A pace where big brother (and his friends) get a bit agitated, but accept that little brother is trying hard. They do appreciate that. By and large, Meze is trying to bring the Classic’s sound to a different, more affordable level. And they did succeed. These are a very good over- ear headphone, and worth a good hard listen. Just don’t expect it to replace your Classics.
I thank the @MezeTeam for the opportunity to review the Neo. I really did thoroughly enjoy my time, and applaud them for a very good effort at bringing the Classic sound into a different price bracket. It was well worth a deep listen.
Pros - Great build quality, Overall warmth, Detailed sound signature, price/performance ratio
Cons - BASS alert in initial listen
a new or revived form of.
Meze 99 Neo - Preorder
· 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
I want to thank the Meze Team for supplying me with the 99 Neo. Lorand was communicative and an overall great guy to deal with. I have found their customer service to be top notch.
Anyone that has been on Head-Fi for the past year knows that a company named Meze made quite a splash in the Head-Fi world. With the release of their 99 Classics they received people’s attention and review accolades.
Anyone that has followed any of my reviews knows that I swing towards the portable side of things. While the 99 Classics checked many of the boxes it needed, to be considered a true portable device there were a couple of my own personal boxes that they didn’t check.
1) That entire headband contraption 2) They were a little too ritzy, gaudy looking for me, golden adornments and all.
I ordered the 99 Classics when they were first released and honestly, they didn’t stay long in my collection. I couldn’t get past the ornate gold accent look, it was okay, I would only wear them around my house. Certainly, not out exercising or walking my dog around the neighborhood for our daily hour long walks. Also, I live in Florida and we have a lot of lightning strikes and the whole lightning rod on top of my head just doesn’t cut it. That said I do have closed back headphones that aren’t portable and never leave the house, I will place the Meze on that same non-portable shelf. If you don’t mind the styling of the Meze they could be considered portable and are well driven from a portable device. If I worked in an office I would clearly use these as my work headphones, that said I can’t use headphones at work.
The other thing I didn’t like was that the pads were thin, shallow and too uncomfortable for longer listening sessions. So, I returned them and checked the Meze off of my list. Been there and done that.
Thankfully, as I generally do, I was scanning Head-Fi for something new to check out and I ventured into the Meze thread. They mentioned new styling and the fact that they were shipping with a new larger pad. I took the plunge for a second time on a Black Friday offering and ordered a silver trimmed pair also making sure they had the new pads. WOW it is now one of my favorite headphone purchases. They truly do perform above their price range and are a terrific closed back headphone, especially at $309.
This review however is about their new younger brother, the 99 Neo.
I won’t do a boring unboxing but I wanted to show you the packaging as I like their marketing. It is plain, yet modernly, hip and kind of says “Buy Me”. At the end of the day it is a freakin’ box…move along nothing to see here.
The case is nice, the outside is nylon covered, unlike the 99 Classics, and inside has space for the 99 Neo (without cable attached, kinda sucks) and a round storage thingie for your cables and the included adapters. The case is slightly different than their previous case but there was no reason for a major redesign. I appreciate the inclusion of a case with my purchase and do like it’s styling. Great job!
Other noteworthy things to discuss are the fact that the cable has been slightly modified, compared to the original 99 Classics release. My Black Friday model 99 Classics have the new cable so the change is not new to me but it could be to you. The difference between the old and new cables is that the old cable had a cloth covering the entire cable and now above the Y-split it is rubber. I guess it is an attempt to cut out cable microfonics. The lower portion, beneath the Y-split is still cloth wrapped.
The basic external design is the same sans the beautiful wooden cups. The cups have been replaced by ABS plastic. It is a black cup with some pebbling texture. I like the Neo styling more than the 99 Classics as they adorned the new cup with silver accents. To my eyes, a little less gaudy and flashy and more utilitarian and muted than the 99 Classics. I also noticed that there appears to be a new ear pad used on the 99 Neo even though the “new” one for the 99 Classics haven’t been around all that long. Hmm… I was a little curious about this change especially after Tyll was not to kind to say the least regarding the new pads and the effect on the Neo’s sound signature. New plastic cups and a different pad I need to hear this for myself and compare it to its older brother.
Let’s get right to it…SOUND
OH SNAP!!! To hell with tact …these freaking things have bass. Not just bass, a warm hot mess of bass. Bass splashing its bassy color all through my head. Bassgasm! Did I mention they are bassy?
I know I have painted a picture that might have described Beats, pre Apple, but not so fast there mister, patience.
When the 99 Neo were sent to me I was asked to do a proper burn-in of 48 hours of pink noise, being the compliant dude that I am I proceeded to set my DAP and pink noise file on repeat and left it alone to do its thing. The 99 Classics also benefited from a proper burn-in period so what the hell, I'm game.
After the burn-in period I returned to a wonderfully warm, thick enjoyable sound signature. I enjoy a warmish tone to my headphones but the initial listen caught me by surprise. Since I did not write a proper review of the Meze 99 Classics I will throw out a couple of thoughts to give you a bit of a comparison to the 99 Neo. The 99 Classics have a warm tone, with a slight bass focus but the details show through with a nice treble extension, never harsh or sharp. The treble in the 99 Classics provides a bit more air around the notes.
With patience waht can you expect from the 99 Neo compared to the 99 Classics? The sound of the Neo is warm, thick and bassy. After burn-in the treble shines through and provides more top end sparkle. They are not as detailed as the 99 Classics and I don’t feel the soundstage is quite on the same level as the Classics but really, surprisingly, it isn’t that far off. There is some nice layering in the overall sound and vocals have a force that is warm and soothing. I am not sure how Meze has done this. In my experience a sound this full and thick is usually a jumbled ball of mess appearing in the middle. The 99 Neo truly shatters that pre-conceived notion.
If I could sum up my feelings about the 99 Neo in a sentence it would be the sound presents itself as if the ear cup is cavernous, deep, and never ending, and I LIKE IT. It truly is a badass, powerful can.
I used both the Samsung S8+ and the Opus #2 for a comparison of sound and both were capable of driving the 99 Neo with authority. It probably goes without saying that the Opus #2 was my favorite pairing because of its pleasant sonics. but the S8+ and Poweramp beta utilizing 24-bit output sounds damn good as well.
With the differences between both of the Meze headphone offerings came some questions. I asked the Meze Team what their thoughts were behind the 99 Neo and Lorand from the Meze Team was kind enough to sum it up.
The dialogue is below:
“As I prepare to begin to write my review would you mind giving me Meze’s thoughts on the tuning vs. 99 Classics. There are some real differences, was it purposeful or is the difference in plastic cups or what?”
“There is no difference in the tuning between the 99 Classics and 99 Neo, the drivers are the same. The difference in sound comes from the ear cup chamber and because of the materials used. We expected the change and experimented with the material.”
Not earth shattering but it is clear this is the sound they were seeking and are satisfied with the final product.
An enjoyable experience. Meze has delivered two products that perform above their respective price points. At $249 I feel you would be hard pressed to find any other product that delivers an experience equal to the 99 Neo. The 99 Classics are listed at $309 so Meze offers you a couple of terrific options with aggressive pricing. Those of you that already the 99 Classics will enjoy a different sound signature. Those of you that have no Meze products have a choice to make. You will be happy with either one. I wanted to leave this review with a final sentence regarding my preference between the two. I know the question is “If you could choose only one which one would it be?” Fortunately, I have both and don’t have to answer the question. Insert mic drop meme here.
Pros - Big Stage, Good Detail, Warm Smooth Signature, **Exceptional Value**
Cons - Bass May Be Too Much For Some
I am both a stereophile and an audiophile. I am an audiophile so as to further my enjoyment of the music I consider essential in life. Life without music isn’t much life at all, when I’m able to hear more detail or the song better rendered the reason for audiophile gear becomes is clear. I enjoy black metal, doom metal, death metal, stoner metal, sludge metal, technical metal, hard rock, synthwave, retrowave and all subgenres within those genres. I prefer high resolution/detailed neutral IEMs/headphones that sparkle in the highs and extend deep into the bass regions that also have a dash of warm to keep them from sounding bright.
When I heard that there was an opportunity to review the Meze 99Neo’s I immediately jumped on board the tour. I am grateful for Meze providing me this opportunity to hear the pre-production 99Neo’s.
The 99Neo is the latest iteration of the 99 Classic’s. The 99 Classics were well received across the audiophile community, their warm neutral tuning and spectacular detail retrieval was a hit. Building on this success Meze sought to create a more cost efficient version of the 99C’s in order to share their sound with a broader community. The 40mm Neodymium and Mylar driver between the two phones remains identical while the tuning slightly varies.
Meze spared no expense on packaging. The 99Neo arrives in a beautiful flip top box that magnetically opens from the side revealing the 99Neo secured in a sturdy hard mesh EVA zippered case that runs snug along the contours of the phones protecting them from impacts. A frequency response graph adorns the outside edge of the cardboard box while inside you find a nice small circular case that contains a braided Kevlar mic cable a ¼” adapter as well as a non-mic cable, airplane adapter and small instruction booklet. The cable has a button that allows you to take calls and a rubber piece designed to absorb microphonics. Dual 2.5mm male connectors mate with the female sockets on the left and right of the phones. The 99Neo uses soft black abs softly lined and swiveling ear cups to channel sound to the ear whereas the 99C’s used wood. Also the cups on the 99Neo were enlarged after complaints about the small size of the 99C cups. The 99Neo is setup such that is serviceable by the user with the driver coming out in a single assembly and the rest being bolted on. The 99Neo’s do not compress into a small footprint like the VMODA Crossfade 2. Weight wise the 99Neo’s are extremely light at approximately 9oz. Meze went with a suspension system that features a leather strap that widens toward the center. Don’t expect any blue tooth functionality as the Meze doesn’t have any, users of Apple phones will need a connector.
Please see below for technical specifications:
Headphone Classification: Closed Back
Transducer: 40mm Neodymium & Mylar
Frequency Response: 15Hz-25KHz
Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
Impedance: 26 ohms
Max Input: 50mW
THD: 0.03% (1kHz, 1Vrms)
When discussing stage I differentiate between headstage and soundstage. Head stage is the distance we actually hear the sound coming from as we consciously focus on that distance. Think of headstage as listening while holding your hand over the IEM/headphone (you are aware the sound is coming from inside it) and thus the size of the stage is diminished because of this awareness.
I experience a soundstage when I disappear into the music without thinking. It’s best done in a dark room with eyes closed. What the brain is consciously aware of about the visual, thinking and tactile processes affects how we perceive the soundstage and headstage.
Many things can affect our perception of soundstage. In the natural world the further away a sound is the less texture it will have. The texture is absorbed by land, atmosphere and obstacles on its way to our ears. The same is true of high frequency sound. Quiet sounds and sounds with reverb also sound further away. Highly textured sounds appear closer to us than sounds lacking texture.
Imagine a human head with a 3D axis placed in the center of it. The Y-axis is the height, the X-axis is the width and the Z axis is the depth. From these three planes we can form a 3D representation of both headstage and soundstage.
The general shape of the headstage is rectangular with the left and right ends of the rectangle being stretched outwards creating a “far away” sounding effect. Headstage size is large for a closed back headphone: the X axis extends approximately three inches outside the ear, the z axis extends approximately an inch in front of the face and equally so beyond the X and Y intersection. Headstage height is great, being approximately four inches above the X axis and an inch or two below.
With regard to sound positioning within the headstage, I hear vocals, drums and bassline being closer in toward the center of the head on the X axis. Vocals sound closest as they appear to originate about an inch inside the ears on the X while drums and bassline sound an inch or two outside the ear. Accuracy in stage isn’t pin point and it isn’t blurry.
The 99Neo’s soundstage is very wide for a close back headphone. I don’t get an enveloping sense of the sound wrapping around me, what I do get is a very wide stage that has good height as well. In fact the height is one of the best I’ve ever heard in a phone, a very dynamic and tall presentation. The bass heavy midrange and lower frequencies contrasted with the high end creates stage distance between the near and far sounds but the effect isn’t dramatic due to the polite treble. Texture detail is excellent in the mids and lows while bass decay is long as is treble decay. This effect of having highly textured mids with less textured lows creates the illusion of increased stage proportions because sounds with less texture sound further away especially when they are contrasted with highly textured sounds. The distance between vocals and instruments increases when I perceive the soundstage in the quiet dark without other stimuli. This is another trick the 99Neo uses to create distance in-stage, contrasting the positioning of the sound by placing the low end closer and the high end further away.
Resolution and Imaging
The 99Neo’s manage to be highly resolute despite their very warm tuning. I get very good isolation and seal from them which increases resolution. I hear the highs and lows as being less detailed than the mids. The sub and mid bass decay is largely responsible for this as the decay creates haze in the highs. Vocals are extremely detailed due to their closeness to the listener; breaths, throat clearing and all those little intricacies are all readily apparent. Imaging is precise, accurate and weighty; solidifying the inception of notes and pin pointing them.
If due to natural tone and transparency an IEM/headphone can disappear completely, at that moment it deserves to be among the top of the line monitors in my opinion. This transparent effect is more apparent in IEMs, especially CIEMs as they are molded to the skin and quickly assume body temperature helping them disappear. Every headphone must strike a balance between dynamism and transparency, the more dynamic the sound the more localized it becomes to the listener.
When I listen to the 99Neo’s I hear a very engaging, dynamic and thick sound. With regard to the balancing act between transparency and dynamism, the 99Neo chooses dynamism. That isn’t a bad thing as the 99Neo firmly preferences dynamism and put’s all effort into creating the most dynamic sound it can. It does this well by utilizing a number of elements that aid in creating a dynamic sound: a wide but more importantly tall stage, a low end with deep extension and excellent separation in-stage between sounds. Despite its’ thick sound it does not create congestion, the thickness does create a more concrete less airy sound.
Layering and Separation
Warm signatures tend to lead to congestion in the sound and a loss of separation between layers and a loss of in-stage accuracy with regard to the listener pinpointing the origin of a sound. This is not the case on the 99Neo. Layers remain encapsulated such that the listener can easily distinguish them even in very fast passages. Instruments stand out from each other but more so in the attack than in the decay. This is because of the aforementioned sub bass bump as well as the mid bass bump in approximately the 300Hz region. It’s easier to hear the origin of a high note in stage but less so to follow it’s decay, whereas the bass frequencies are both easy to spot and easy to follow. I don’t hear any heard breaks between the highs, mids or low and all of them merge seamlessly into a relaxed flow.
99Neo does not sparkle but it does extend well into the high end. I cannot fault a headphone for not having sparkle when that was never intention of the tuning in the first place and with the 99Neo I do not believe it was. If you are someone who enjoys warm smooth signature you will enjoy the 99Neo’s and you will never have to worry about sibilance even on the harshest recordings. In the high end attack is more emphasized and apparent than decay which can help treble to stand out against the warm background. The long decay is still there but it’s recessed into the background as the bass and vocal texture is brought forward. I was to apply a good amount of EQ to the highs without distortion.
I hear very detailed mids with the detail more concentrated in certain mid regions than others. By that I mean the vocals sound extremely detailed to me, midrange instruments less so but not by much. Much of this vocal detail is due to the forward positioning of the vocal range. Like the lows, the mids are thick and heavy. The 99Neo retains a natural tone and sound no matter if it’s upper, lower or central mids remaining warm and detailed throughout.
The slight bump in the mids at approximately the 300Hz region creates a full bodied sound that spills over into the rest of the sound and punches with authority. The 99Neo can rumble with the best of them and it doesn’t sacrifice very much detail to this bump, it remains an extremely detailed headphone. Mid bass and sub bass both exhibit excellent clarity and extension. When tuning a headphone everything is a tradeoff, if you want that visceral and tactile rumble, punch and slam then you’re going to have to sacrifice some detail/texture. I experienced no distortion when increase the quantity of bass via EQ.
At this time I do not have any headphones to compare the 99Neo to, soon I will compare it to the V-MODA Crossfade 2. For now, I’ll indulge some CIEM comparisons.
The A12 and 99Neo are extremely similar. Due to the fact that it is a headphone , the 99Neo obviously has a wider stage, however that difference is minimal especially when the A12 has an ADEL MAM module in it. They are similarly warmly tuned with recessed treble. With an ADEL module in the A12 they are nearly identical but with the apex M15 the A12 pulls away with more detail/texture, more high end and better imaging/separation. Vocals are also slightly further away from the listener on the A12 than the 99Neo. Drums are closer X and Y axis intersection on the 99Neo, much the same way it pushes vocals toward the center and toward the listener. A12 and 99Neo share a similarly slow but not identical “speed of sound”. The sluggish “speed of sound” effect is worse on the A12 than the 99Neo as the 99Neo is slightly more nimble. If you enjoy A12, you’ll love the 99Neo, 99Neo could even been seen as a cheap way of getting that liquid, smooth and dark sound of A12 at a fraction of the price with a slightly larger stage.
A18 has more detail across the spectrum, it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at mid bass or high frequency textures the A18 trumps the 99Neo in all of them with regard to resolution. A18 stage is obviously smaller with the gap being more apparent than the 99Neo stage vs the A12 ADEL stage. A18 is brighter by a significant margin than 99Neo but the A18 isn’t a bright monitor as it has a neutral tuning with a dash of warmth. Vocals are similarly positioned on both-being inward toward the center of the head on the X axis . A18 has much more high end extension, decay and especially sparkle. A18 has better imaging with its’ pin point precision and exceptional layering and separation. That isn’t to say that 99Neo is a slouch in these areas because it certainly is not it’s just that the A18 is better at it.
I like the Mojo pairing but it wasn’t my favorite. It remained very detailed but too warm and the dynamism seemed diminished. It was as if the headphone lost a few inches of headstage in all directions.
I liked the sound coming out of the CDM in DAC + amp mode with 99Neo much more than I did with Mojo. The CDM’s DAC is brighter than Mojo and as a result it didn’t darken the sound. It also retained and even increased the spaciousness of the stage. Stage itself was larger and the space between the instruments was greater as well. The already thick sound was even thicker and the midrange was more forward which was quite nice. Dynamism was also increased, a very nice pairing.
Mojo + CDM:
I heard the detail of Mojo and the dynamism, spaciousness and massive stage of the CDM’s amp however the sound was still to dark. CDM went a long way toward correcting the laid back un-dynamic sound of the Mojo but it just wasn’t enough as the sound was too warm. The 99Neo is already a very warm headphone and I just can’t find any pairing with Mojo that makes it tolerable for me. Perhaps a very bright amp when paired with Mojo and 99Neo would be great but I don’t know as I don’t have one.
Suggestions For Improvement
I always try to find improvements no matter how minor. The most apparent and immediate improvement was the realization that it would be nice to not have to disconnect the cables every time I place the headphones in the case. Sound wise I would like to see the mid and sub bass decay tightened up a bit and the sparkle increased-remember though that this is all preference as you may love the signature just the way it is. After reading Tyll’s review I see that he has found some issues with the cups so this may be the reason for the bass bloat.
I think it would be difficult to find a headphone in the price range of the 99Neo that can do everything the Neo does. You get a smooth warm signature with great detail, dynamic and thick sound, full bodied mids, authoritative tight and punchy lows, the largest stage I’ve ever heard on closed back headphones, exceptional comfort devoid of hotspot and excessive clamping pressure. With regard to comfort I found the 9oz Neo’s to be exceptionally light, they can get a bit warm around the ear after an hour so but most all the headphones I’ve tried that I get a good seal with do this so I don’t fault them for this. The real leather strap suspension is exceptionally comfortable. If you like a warm detailed signature I do not believe you can do better at $250 than the 99Neo’s.
Pros - Great bass, a fun musical signature, lighter the the Neo Classics, a sexy headphone to wear out and about
Cons - Depending upon the dap / source the bass can be a tad boomy. The mids are lush but not as airy sounding as the Classics. I also felt the ear pads on the Neo are warmer and tended to make my ears sweat, if walking outside.
The Meze 99 Neo is a great headphone, especially for the money. The Neo has the same sexy steam punk sorta look / design, and ruggedly build, however the cups are made of this jet black plastic composite, and all the fixtures and connectors are a nice nickel color. The Neo like the Classic has has a slight steam punk look.These amazing headphones are lighter than their slightly more expensive big brother the 99 Clasics. The Meze 99 Neo is extremely comfortable to wear, especially if your taking a stroll in a store or some other air conditioned area, otherwise the earcups can make your ears sweat (I live in Florida). These rugged cans fit nicely into my leather audio bag. The case that comes with the Neo is nice like the Classic, but the outer shell seems easier to grip. I just wish the headphones fit into the case with cables attached.
The Neo like the Classic 's scales well with the audio equipment used. I primarily drove the Neo using my Questyle QP1R Dap. The Neo sounds amazing out of the QP1R, much better than using my tablet or IPad. But the Neo sounded really good out of my Schiit Audio Gungnir multibit and Mjolnir 2. I also was quite pleased when I used the Yggdrasil and Cavalli Liquid Gold. This combo allowed the Neo to sound so detailed and resolute. However I feel the Neo sounds best out of a tube amp.
The Meze 99 Neo sounds Great. It has a good , fun musical signature with more stress on the bass and lower mids than say my Oppo or PM-3. The Neo has more bass ( quantitative ) than the Classics or the PM-3's. I felt the bass in "Uncle Remus" ( Frank Zappa Apostrophe) was deeper hitting than when using the Classic 's or the PM-3's. The bass is deeper but not as nuanced ( qualitative) than found in the Classics, or especially in the PM-3. Depending upon audio equipment used, the bass could be a tad boomy.
Likewise I found the Midds in the Neo to be lush with a touch more emphasis on the lower end. However the midds on the Classic are more airy than the Neo. I loved the groups They Might Be Giants and Green Jello more on the Neo than the Classics. For instance "Intanbul" in They Might Be Giants album Flood is so much fun to jam out too, especially when I am walking through the park looking for the preverbial "bird house in my soul". And the Neo makes " Three Little Pigs" on Green Jello's Cereal Killer album sound bloody great. The treble on the Neo is rock solid and is not strident. I listened to Mozart and Tomita stuff and was impressed how good the Neo handled such music.
In conclusion I think the Meze 99 Neo is a great headphone especially for the money. It sounds great and has a sweet steam punk look. The Neo is easy to drive, and sounds great out of the QP1R dap. The Neo scales up well with the equipment used. The bass at times could be a tad boomy depending upon the equipment used. And the ear cups can be a bit hot, especially used in hot Florida weather.
My name is Andrew W Jones, I have been into this amazing hobby for about 3 years now. I did not receive and compensation for my review. I am just happy I was asked to participate in the Meze 99 tour. I hope sometime to be able to upload my pictures.
Pros - Slightly elevated bass than Original classic , unique black design is every bit as sharp as the original wood designed 99 Classic
Cons - the cable still has a slight microphonic issue, slightly less airy than the original Classic 99
First if I would like to thank Meze for including me in their review program. I did NOT receive these for free, like all other reviewers in the program I have been given a 1 week window to review the headphone, then ship them on to the next reviewer.
Ok, so now that I have dealt with the usual disclaimers let get into the review.
I am really taken in by the look of the Neo, I absolutely love the textured look of the cups, the classic black color, the accents on the edge of the cups and general over all look of the headphone. Meze simply has one of the best set of designers out there when it comes to making a good looking headphone. The Neo may be made from "inferior" plastic materials when compared to wood but it sure doesn't look or feel in any way shape or form inferior! In fact anyone who is not a fan of wood will LOVE the Neo alternative, and anyone who love the wood originals may love the Neo JUST AS MUCH! I personally would be more than happy with either one.
Aside from the obvious changes in cup material there also appears to be slight differences in the ear pads from my 99 Classic's. The Neo appears to have slightly wider and taller inner measurements This makes them slightly more roomy for the ears but also not quite as cushy. Having said this I have the original large pads sent out by Meze for the 99 Classic on my pair and that ear pad may have been modified by Meze since then so may very well be the same as what is on the Neo. I will let Meze comment on whether the pads truly are different or not. The case for the Neo is also slightly different than the 99 Classic as it is more textured and might be considered slightly less posh by some. For me I find both cases to be well designed and well suited for their purpose.
My photography skills suck but I thought I would post a few pictures of the Neo and the Classic.
So what's different sonically speaking?
When I first received the Neo I did an initial listen then let them cook for 24 hours and then did some initial impressions of the Neo compared against the Classic on a few select songs. I then let them cook for another 3 days as I went out of town. I then compared them again using the same songs and found my first set of impressions were essentially the same. I have copied and tweaked those initial impressions to help people decide which headphone is best for them.
In my testing I took a couple of songs and did a comparison between the Classic and the Neo. I left the volume unchanged, switching between the 2 headphones and replayed the songs in segments focusing on specific areas and pieces of the songs to determine whether I heard differences and if so what they were.
Fleetwood Mac - The Chain - First 32 seconds of the song. The Neo has slightly more thump and body in the kick drum and the guitars are slightly more warmer sounding with less crunch. The 99 sounds thin in comparison but in some ways more articulate and airy. I like both ways and the differences are VERY subtle. 2:30 to 3:15 of the song the 99 Classic has slightly more shimmery cymbals and the vocals are a bit brighter, the bass guitar that cuts in at around 3:05 lacks a bit of authority though. The Neo on the other hand has slightly starker contrast between cymbals and the drums and vocals are slightly warmer and when the bass guitar kicks in there is more authority and weight to the guitar.
Beckah Shae - Rest (song with a pretty heavy Bass), Hmmm this song has a pretty deep electronic bass but surprisingly both headphones went about the same in depth and weight. Vocally the 99 Classic is slightly brighter and cymbals similarly have a bit more shimmer. This seems to indicate the midbass of the Neo is slightly more boosted than the classic but they both have similar sub bass. At the 4:13 point in the song their is a simulated heartbeat section and the Neo definitely has more weight and presence and is also stronger contrast in the cymbal like percussion as well.
Hans Zimmer - Cornfield Chase - Intersteller, throughout the majority of this song there is a subtle deep bass that gains strength and urgency as the song plays. This bass presence is more evident in the Neo than the Classic.
Patricia Barber - Code Cool, this song has a heavy Double Bass beat contrasted with cymbals and fine drumkit work and Patricia's impeccable vocals. This bass is heavier on the Neo but also feels every so slightly more closed in. The drumkit work is more clear and shimmery on the Classic and vocals are slightly more airy and dry. I personally prefer the Classic ever so slightly for this song.
To my ears the Neo has a slightly more V shaped signature with a slightly bigger midbass hump that extends just enough to affect the midrange slightly, giving it more warmth. There also appears to be a small spike in the lower treble range where cymbals start giving them a bit more energy at the initial impact.
Now I want to be clear here these differences are not massive and if I was not able to A/B test I would have a hard time pointing out these subtleties.
So if someone owns the Classic or has heard it and wished it had a bit more oomph to it the Neo might be just the ticket for that person. Conversely if you absolutely adore the Classic sound you might find the Neo to be a bit to heavy and thick sounding. Personally I think the Meze team might be envisioning the Neo as a bit more of a road warrior with it's tougher cup material and the changes I am hearing are engineered to give a better listening experience in a slightly more noisy environment.
OK, now that I have discussed these subtle differences I am hearing. What do I think of the new Neo??
DAMN IF IT AIN'T ONE FINE PIECE OF KIT!
I love how it looks, how it fits, and how it plays. It is an amazing headphone that is every bit as wonderful as the 99 Classic which is work of art in my opinion. I love my Classics but would be just as happy owning the Neo as they both exude a level of sophistication physically and sonically. In fact their differences in appearance in MANY WAYS directly reflect the subtle differences in their sound...
Pros - Vivid Instrument Texture, Good Soundstage, Smooth Treble, Bass Punch and Slam, Natural Voices, Detail
Cons - Pads are still a bit small, Smooth Treble
Meze 99 Neo – The new classic headphone from Meze.
Meze 99 Neo is the new headphone, or rather a headphone with a twist from the Romanian headphone producer Meze. Meze created 99 Neo as a less expensive version of 99 Classics with plastic cups instead of wood that would appeal to those who prefer the black "edgy" looks of the ABS cups over the wooden 99 Classics. 99 Neo uses the same driver as 99 Classics, but there are a few changes here and there, like the cable included with the headphone being different (99 Neo comes with the microphone cable only) and the case is now made of a fabric woven material rather than the leathery smooth case of 99 Classics.
99 Neo is brought to this reviewer as a part of 99 Neo tour, organized by Meze Audio Romania. This is an honest review and there is no incentive provided, the headphone will be sent forward after the review is completed and this is a review made for fun and for giving an impression.
Hey there! My name is George and my friends say that I enjoy music. Some might even say that I live through music! I'd probably say that music is what made me who I am today, part of my DNA already!
My listening habits can be erratic, but they do include listening to music for hours on a row, listening to music while out and about, and listening to music while working.
Music has always been my sweet companion and it is always there when I'm working on the games of my company, https://www.facebook.com/seventh.heart.studios/ and https://twitter.com/7heartstudios . We invite you to check our projects and we guarantee that if you like Visual Novels and games, you're going to have a great time!
My hearing works well in the higher registers, the 8-18kHz area being quite important for me, but recently I noticed that I'm slightly sensitive to harshness in the treble. I am unbiased towards headphones and companies, but I'm considerably hard to impress since I own ie800 which are a formidable pair of End-Game, Top of The Line IEMs.
Since 99 Classics, I was actually enthused by Meze's interaction with customers and I had a few requests for them which were fulfilled nice and fast. I would say that Meze as a company is great and their customer support works well. I even needed a cable and it was shipped really fast, was well packaged and arrived really fast!
99 Neo packaging was thought pretty well as it comes in a cardboard box padded with a sponge to keep the other hard carry box safe. 99 Neo sits comfortably inside the hard carry box, which has a similar interior design to 99 Neo, the only changes seeming to be on the outer layer of the carry box.
Fast forward things, I was alone in my room with 99 Neo, admiring the great job Meze did with the looks. First time using 99 Neo, it sounds somehow similar to 99C, but somehow different at the same time. There is something about 99 Neo that changed in its sound, but it is pretty hard to name. The bass is strong and hits deep, the treble is clear and smooth and the mids are in their own place with a lush / thick tonality.
All in all, 99 Neo sounds good at first audition, but, as it is recommended, they were placed in a burn-in session, using pink and white noise to ensure that the results are going to be consistent. Some changes for the better were noticed with burn-in, especially in voice tonality and clarity. The signature is close to HD650 from Sennheiser and somehow to NightHawks with 99 Neo having a better texture and instrument definition. 99 Neo also has a considerably better top end as it is not rolled off and sounds crisp and clean. The soundstage of 99 Neo is similar in size to HD650 and Nighthawks.
Meze has lowered the price with 99 Neo since there is no more wood included in the build, so 99N goes for around 250$ instead of the 300$ of 99C. Given the difference in price going downwards, 99 Neo will be more accessible to someone looking for a Meze sound but who's on a tight budget, although given the difference, I think that both models are fairly accessible to any enthusiast or casual listener.
(The packaging is a beauty to behold)
99N comes in the cardboard box with a sleek design and a few bits of data about 99 Neo on the outside. Inside the cardboard box, you will find the hard carry case. Inside the hard carry case, you will find the headphones, cables for them, an airplane adapter (I think?), a pouch for the cables and a 3.5mm to 6.3mm golden plug adapter. The addition of the plug adapter is most welcome, but it should be noted that 99 Neo does not come with two cables. Regardless of that, I have been able to enjoy 99 Neo to the fullest with the provided cable. The short cable comes with a rubber termination upwards of the Y split, making things even better for those who complained about cable noise and microphonics, since the rubber termination effectively nullifies the microphonics of the cable. The short cable has a remote with one button that can execute multiple actions (depending on the number of presses) and a microphone to use 99N with your phone. I have been able to carry phone conversation with the provided cable, and the person on the other end actually told me that the voice comes through pretty clear and they could understand me well.
The fabric woven hard case is pretty sturdy as it didn't get damaged from being in my backpack with various supplies. The material of the case is not scratch prone and it doesn't look like it would get damaged easily, given that I held it in my backpack together with pens and a few sharp tools. The zippers work smooth and leave the impression of a high-end product and the inside of the case is padded with a fine material that will protect 99N against scratches. The case itself is pretty sturdy, so it can safely be thrown in a backpack and even placed under a few lighter things without any damage being done to the headphones. The cables of 99 Neo need to be disconnected before they are placed in the case (Just like 99 Classics).
Comparing the cases of 99 Neo and 99 Classics:
99 C comes with a case that has a different texture on the outside, but it seems to be similarly sturdy and provides the same level of protection against scratches on the inside. The main difference seems to be the external material
The two cases and the differences between them:
Ultrasone DJ1P comes with a considerably bulkier case, being bigger than the headphones themselves, but offering a good protection as well. 99N offers better ergonomics of the case, using very little extra space. The woven fabric is slightly different between the two, but the inside works out on both.
Sennheiser HD380Pro comes with a different storage mechanism entirely, its case being flat but wide. It offers less protection than the case of 99N due to the design, and HD380Pro should never be placed under heavy things and cannot be safely placed in a bag.
The set of accessories included with 99 Neo are the essentials to use the headphones, although the long cable can be purchased from Meze's site. Seems that Meze will also introduce a balanced cable for 99N and 99C later this year, as they promised a few times.
This pair of 99N is a pre-production, review tour unit, so the contents of the box might slightly differ. The booklet included with 99 Neo seems to be different from the one included with 99 Classics, the white booklet from 99C being replaced by a colored one that includes a little history of Meze Audio. Since the booklet included that "99 Neo promises to deliver the same audio quality as 99 Classics", I'm going to test this statement on the audio part of the review.
Rated Input Power
15 Hz – 25kHz
103dB (1kHz, 1mW)
Dynamic transducer, closed back
Power (load rating)
Weight without cable
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)
<0.03% (1kHz, 1Vrms)
3.4 N approx.
While 99 Classics were one of the classiest headphones one could find, 99 Neo looks rather Edgy, bringing something new to the table. The fact that Meze headphones cares about the looks of their headphones is great, especially as 99 Classics did hit a sweet spot with me when I got them. With 99 Neo, the fitting mechanism is the same, the biggest difference being the headphone cups being made out of ABS (plastic) instead of wood. Meze Audio quotes the look as being "Edgy" and they do manage to get this feeling right. 99 Neo might work better with a casual style of clothing rather than a costume, but the silvery ring around the headphone cups adds the right amount of class for them to work with a costume as well. The silvery parts that attach the headband to the headphones feature the same smooth construction and flowing angles like 99 Classics, flavoring 99 Neo with a modern look. The plastic on the cups is textured, similar to the texture of an orange, avocado or a leathery texture, further flavoring 99 Neo with a sprinkle of edgy aspect. The headband itself is the same as 99 Classics, and it feels quite sturdy and comfortable. The headband mechanism is actually friendly with long hair since it is not square and the headband is curved. I can shake my hair back in shape easily after wearing both 99 Neo and 99 Classics, but your mileage may vary here.
Meze advertises their headphone as fully serviceable and while the driver must be replaced as an assembly, the rest of the headphone is connected by bolts and to be indeed easily serviceable. The headphone cups on the review model seem to be slightly different from the cups on 99C, which might further contribute to any changes in sound, but Meze didn't advertise anything about the pads being changed between 99C and 99N so this might be caused by the fact that they are pre-production and the fact that the pads on 99 Classics are not new (I have been enjoying 99 Classics every day for a while now after all).
As I said before, the cables included with 99 Neo will be braided until the Y split, above which they will feature a rubber texture. This will help alleviate cable noise, and will add a bit of comfort. It seems that recent iterations of 99 Classics also come with this new cable. There is a small pad over the driver of 99 Neo, which might act as a treble attenuator, adding to the smoothness of sound. This little padding is not present on the 99 Classics headphones I own, but seem to be present on the latest 99 Classics as well.
Comfort / Isolation
(99 Classics pad left and 99 Neo pad right)
99 Neo is similar in comfort to their bigger brother, 99 Classics, but the pads feel ever so slightly different. The headband also feels a tiny bit tense, but it doesn't really change the comfort level of the headphone. The difference in headband tension can be caused by the fact that 99 Neo are brand-new while my 99 Classics are not.
The isolation is still very good, but 99 Neo are slightly less isolating than 99C. I could still crank the music very high before my wife had to tell me to turn it down, so 99 Neo does a very good job with the isolation as well.
Compared to Ultrasone Dj1P, 99N isolates far better and same can be said when comparing 99N to Sennheiser HD380Pro. At this moment, there are very few headphones that would provide a better passive isolation from the outside noise or that would leak as little as 99N. None of the headphones I tested to date doesn't provide a better passive isolation, although there are a few that provide a similar passive noise isolation.
After wearing Meze 99 Neo for a longer period of time, the pads can get a bit hot, and a little pause is required, but the situation is still better than most of the headphones in the same price range. The material of the pads is not bad when it comes to sweating and they can be worn well for long periods of time (for example a 3-hour train ride was no problem for them). Compared to Ultrasone Dj 1 Pro, 99 Neo is far more comfortable, Dj1P having a fatal flaw of placing a screw / bolt in an uncomfortable position, causing pain after one hour, while 99 Neo has no such flaws. There is no driver flex in 99 Neo nor in 99 Classics, and the headphones can be adjusted, taken off, or put on without any issues.
99 Neo offers two types of sound. One is their natural sound with no enhancements and no tweaks, and the other one is the sound after a little bit of Equalization. The Equalization profile 99 Neo needs is less aggressive than 99 Classics, but like virtually any headphone in this world, they can be helped by adding a few dB in here and taking away a few dB from there. 99 Neo responds well to different sources, but they can easily be driven from a smartphone, a laptop or virtually any source out there – even a Clip+.
After hearing 99 Neo with iFi iDSD BL, I can say that they respond really well to a better source and adding iDSD BL will surely help you get a better sound. The review of 99 Neo will be slightly different since instead of using FiiO X5ii as the driving component, I will be using iFi iDSD BL which deeply impressed me with its sound this time.
My Equalization algorithm is not overly aggressive this time, and the magic of iFi iDSD BL is so strong that 99 Neo doesn't really require equalization anymore, flipping the 3D effect on iDSD having incredible effect on both 99 Neo and 99 Classics. The treble is smooth with this setup, but the sound gains more space and better instrument layering, while the instrument textures stay at the same level of crispiness and definition.
The main sound characteristics of 99 Neo define it as a natural to warm sounding headphone, with sweet and lush mids, smooth treble, pretty good extension both ways and a pretty good soundstage. The treble extension is okay, but the treble itself is pretty smooth and will not offend, even if the song had harsh treble in the original recording.
Instrument separation is above average and they are able to differentiate a single guitar in a busy composition like those sang by Dance Gavin Dance. I like the enthusiasm the sound has, it can make almost anything sound energetic and happy. There is a hump in the mid bass to the upper bass area that makes the sound interesting, but this is easily solved by a tiny bit of EQ. The sound is fairly airy, but the rather smooth top end makes the sound focus more on the energy, life and fun element of the music.
There is no channel imbalance in the 99Neo I have in my hands.
99 Neo has a fairly sold bass that can hit as low as the music has it recorded, down to the lowest octaves. The bass is fast and can render bass textures with good agility and precision. Without any EQ, the 250Hz area is enhanced ad there is a certain lushness to the whole tonality of the headphone, but this doesn't affect the speed and precision of the bass one bit.
The euphoria resulted from the bass hump is similar between 99 Neo and 99 Classics – the drums have a great presence, forward drums are rendered forward and with good impact, while drum patterns that are supposed to play in the back as a support for the rest of the track are played as such. There is no bass bleeding in the mids nor does the bass feel overwhelming albeit 99 Neo could easily pass for a basshead headphone.
The bass is distortion free and I was able to apply a fair quantity of bass with no distortion making its way into the track. Compared to Dj One Pro, Meze 99 Neo presents more bass by default, and presents considerably less distortion in the lower registers. 99 Neo also has far better texture representation of the bass where the bass of Dj One Pro sounds loose and undefined by direct comparison.
99 Neo a good amount of sub-bass, to my ears having more sub-bass than 99C, while 99 C seem to have a tiny bit larger enhancement of the mid bass area, which might be caused by the wood cups.
Akira Yamaoka – One More Soul to The Call – The guitar at the intro of the song is full of texture and emotion, it is heard in the right area of the sound field as it should. It is easy to hear the struggle of the female voice and the breathing in between words as it is quite easy to hear the melodic guitar accompanying her in the left area of the soundscape. The drum crescendo plays with force, but doesn't protrude too forward in the soundscape, the whole arrangement sounding coherent. The top end is crispy and the cymbals pull through very well. The solo guitar is always clean and tidy and there is a good sense of space for the whole song. The emotion of the song is strong enough to give one shivers down their spine and the bass knits things together, creating an addictive involvement for the whole song.
Attila – Girls don't lie – The song starts strong and the first few bass notes come through with good strength and the whole song feels energetic, and there is enough air for the cymbals to breathe, but enough push in the bass to literally shake the earth around the listener. The lead guitars sound sweet and the flow of the song is as enjoyable as ever. The texture of the guitars is incredible as is the texture of the bass guitar which comes through with extreme clarity. The voices also feature a clear texture and enough air to breathe, the instruments are well separated, and there is no trace of struggling. 99 Neo has no problems in handling multiple layers of guitars, and manages to render the texture of every layer very well. On high volumes, effects like drums that are played in just one ear will have a tactile feeling to it, leading to a whole new level of realism for the songs of Attila.
Slipknot – Duality – One more metal song. Just one more. Everyone knows this one, no? The intro has the right amount of grain and texture. The guitar in the left ear sings independently from the rest of the song. The voices have enough power to dislocate the song from the listener, the attack and decay of instruments are spot-on as well. The cymbals play somewhere in the back, they are clearly not the highlight of the song, and the forward spot is taken by the solo guitar in the left ear and the drums, both of which play loud and clear. There is no smearing of instruments and every single instrument manages to play in its own layer and to not combine with the others. The scream is true again and I'm glad to say that it feels real.
Eminem – Space Bound – The guitar at the beginning of the song is clear and has the right tone for an acoustic guitar. Eminem's voice comes through clear and there's no lack of air. The bass notes are very deep and come through with the right strength. The lower notes extend down to the lowest registers and there's a clear feeling of power to the whole song that's easy to grasp. 99 Neo has enough speed to render both the bass and every other instrument without any kind of problems, for example it is possible to identify the bass notes, the guitar, the drum patterns, the voice and the flute / synth in the background.
The midrange of Meze 99 Neo is clearly similar to the midrange of 99 Classics, but for someone who hasn't heard either, it is complicated to understand what this means. The default midrange feels detailed, a bit forward, while the textures are vivid and well rendered and details are really good. There is also a lushness / thickness to the midrange that will make most music sound more fun and will surely satisfy the need for an intriguing sound. The signature is similar to a few 300$ headphones, but the most notable examples the signature reminds of are Sennheiser HD650 and Nighthawks. The soundstage by default is not the largest out there, but it is not congested nor are the instruments confined or smeared. Each instrument has its own place, but the smooth treble might make the soundstage feel a bit less spacious, this being typical of headphones sporting a smooth top end, like LCD-2. Happily, the tone of the headphone is fairly balanced and while the thick mids might sprinkle a bit of nuance over guitars, Iron Maiden's guitar solos are as crispy and lively as ever.
Since the main source driving 99 Neo this time is iFi iDSD BL, I should mention that it does make them sound open and natural / relaxed while the soundstage has a certain realism that's characteristic of iFi iDSD BL. FiiO X5ii is still a part of the setup, but this time it acts as either the DAC or the transport for the setup, but the snappiness of X5ii as a device helps a lot with the listening experience even when portable.
Rammstein – Ich Will – The first "Ich will" that's an error the microphone picked up from the monitors used by the singer is there, and the actual Ich Will (spoken) part doesn’t feel intrusive or offensive at all. This song has a few short segments that were recorded with some harshness to them and 99 Neo's smooth treble manages to iron those parts and render the whole song to a playful and enjoyable song. The whole song has good strength and while the bass isn't overwhelming, it sure has good speed and impact where it has to. The key effects sound fluid and while the cymbals are smooth, they are not lacking. The drum patters sound forward and come through with good strength, feeling real and even tangible at times.
Electric Six – High Voltage – This song is pretty interesting to hear on the BL + 99N combo since the song itself sounds pretty interesting already. There is a clear tendency for the bass to come forward and give the song a groove / fluid feeling to it. Even so, the bass keeps a very clear sound to it and its texture is easy to distinguish. The voices both have a true-to-life tonality to them and the effects play well in their own intended spaces. The guitars come through honest and undistorted and the right ear guitar plays well in its own space and moment. The cymbals of the song are not the forward point of it, but they're easy to hear and don't get subdued either, leading to a pretty funky and fun feeling to the whole song.
Om – State of non-return – The song starts with the effects playing in their desired positions and the distorts guitar having a good vivid feeling to it. The cymbals play slowly in the background while the groovy bass lines are flowing right through the headphones. The bass is extremely strong for this song, and I'm glad to report that it is rendered well. The voice is clear and every single word is easy to discern and understand, the whole song being able to create an atmosphere of its own around the listener.
Female voices sound sweet and crisp and while the fluidity and melodic tones are played well, this doesn't make male voices lag behind either, the vocal tonality of 99 Neo without any kind of EQ being very good. I would even say that 99 Neo and 99 Classics both have a natural voice tonality even when driven from P775 ESS sabre solution, but adding iFi iDSD BL surely enhances things.
Kathy Perry – I Kissed a Girl – The drums at the start of the song sound crispy and clean. The guitar in the right ear has a nice tremolo and vibration to it without distortion while Kathy Perry's voice is sweet and melodic, but shows that it has been processed to some degree in the recording / mastering phase. The guitar tones playing on each ear come through with clarity and there's not one bit of distortion or lack of dynamism although the song is pretty compressed from a dynamic range point of view. The bass tones are clear and carry a good weight with them, being quite easy to start moving while listening to the song, the whole song feeling fun and easy-to-listen-to. The left – right panning that happens starting with 02:05 is clean and the BL + 99N combo has enough agility to make the effect feel fluid while her voice has good and true-to-life texture during the segment.
In stock form, the treble of 99 Neo is silky smooth and while there is a slight feeling of roll-off, the treble is pretty forgiving and there's not much it will fatigue the listener with. This can be translated to harsh sounding songs feeling silky or happy with 99Neo, with Jazz and classical the effect being interesting and giving the songs a very lean feeling. With metal, the silky smooth treble means that the bass is easier to hear and integrate in every song and with pop it means that both the bass and the special effects pull through and feel forward while the treble takes a second place. The tonality can be called euphoric and enthusiastic, but lean and relaxing at the same time. While this may sound like a bit of a technical impossibility, the euphoric and enthusiastic sound comes into play with songs that heavily rely on bass and mids to happen, while Jazz and slow music feels really lean and relaxed.
99 Neo feels like a pretty safe headphone to own at this moment, it is surely going to impress and satisfy a lot of customers and while the few who need and want more treble might not be fully satisfied at first, 99Neo can accept a high dose of EQ before even considering any kind of distortion in either mids or treble so it can satisfy anyone with a bit of play here and there.
For the record, I'm a bit of a treble lover, and I need a lot of treble before I'm happy and while for 99 Classics I used a pretty aggressive EQ profile, with 99 Neo I'm able to find happiness with just 99Neo and iFi iDSD BL + 3D switch turned on. The treble is not the same in this situation, but I like the sound and it feels pretty wholesome and while the treble still needs a few dB here and there, it surely feels energetic enough to satisfy a fun listening session. I have not experienced any kind of listening fatigue with 99Neo regardless of how long I've used them and I can safely say that they're a headphone fun to listen to.
Royal Repulic – 21[sup]st[/sup] Century Gentleman – The treble is easy to discern from the rest of the sound albeit it is not absolutely forward. The bass guitar is very forward and its texture is very vivid, feeling as if the bass player is closer to the listener than the drums are. The voice is somewhere in between, coming through with a great scream, but being a bit softer than the bass guitar. The drums are pretty clear and well defined, but they're not the forward instrument for this song, being left somewhere in the same line as the guitars and the voice. The spacing of the song is good and the stereo separation and agility of the sounds moving through the 3D space is impressive. The solo guitars have the right tone to them, feeling effortless and having a good drive. It's almost impossible to stop one's head from moving to the beat of the song – very fun to listen to. The song has multiple parts that should come pretty harsh but don't come with iDSD BL + 99 Neo, for example there should be multiple segments at the start of the song, especially on the voice track that should have sound harsh, but again, 99N renders those parts in a friendly way, the whole song sounding fun and lean.
Ylvis – The Fox – The song starts well and the voice has the right amount of sweetness and texture to it. The cymbals and higher registers information is not very loud and can be perceived as smooth while the bass comes through with great impact and slam. The mids are woven well with the bass and the speed of the headphones is high enough to render the textures of the effects while the cymbals will stay in their own layer, sounding smooth and a bit distant. The one word that would describe the song well is party. The song sounds exactly like it should sound for a happy party, not analytical nor digital, being a rather fun experience for the listener.
Rings of Saturn – The Heavens Have Fallen – The songs starts with good strength and hits deep enough to give the listener's mind a run of fear. The melodic tremolo is clear in both ears and while the cymbals are subdued, the bass notes and drums are pretty strong and manage to create enough impact for the whole song. The solo guitar is able to enter the song and resonate through the time and space like a beam of pure energy. The acoustic notes don't present the typical metal wire bite, but they present a good thickness and are accompanied by a great level of lower register information.
Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine? – The song already has a bit of too little higher register information, so it is interesting to notice how it sounds with 99Neo. The song starts with a clear voice, with the bass coming somewhere to a near tangible level, the textures being rendered very well and the cymbals being clearly heard somewhere in the back, but with a very smooth tone. The drums have a clear presence and will take a forward position together with the bass guitar, the song feeling thick and fun. The lyrics are easy to understand and the soundstage is very good, the instruments having a very good space to breathe even though the higher registers are smooth.
The Fratellis – Got Ma Nuts From A Hippy – The song starts with a good grove and the bass is pretty addicting while the cymbals are pretty clear and have a good bite for this song. The voice doesn't sound sweet nor cold, but has a natural tone to it. The guitars have a great tonality and are resolved very well. The bass and thickness of the song is clearly what makes it so lovely. The solo of the song is clear and the cymbals manage once again to impress and the way they are woven with the solo guitar makes them sound in the same layer. Certain drum hits have a rather tactile feeling to them, the whole song being forward and fun to experience this way. The soundstage of this song is not very large as the recording itself was made to sound forward, and I'm glad to say that 99 Neo manages to sound exactly as it should for this. The solo can be heard in multiple layers and the segment after the solo has a spacious feeling to it.
The soundstage of 99 Neo is very good and it is comparable to its bigger brother, 99C. The soundstage can easily rival that of open sounding headphones like Ultrasone Signature DJ or Dj1P, being well rounded and more open sounding than most ~250$ headphones. With a bit of EQ applied, or with 3D enhancement applied from iFi iDSD BL, the soundstage has good size and depth, having an almost spherical shape and expanding pretty far. The soundstage being bigger than most of its direct competitors, 99 Neo also features an airy presentation for its instruments and although the top end has little bite and doesn't offend, the instruments don't feel confined at all. They all feel like there is space, but a warm space where all instruments can safely come into play and where there's enough micro-space as well for textures to extend.
The instrument separation is easily one of the best in the 250$ price range and comparable with more expensive headphones and while the precision of the instrument separation is great, the signature itself gives a warm and very analogue / smooth feeling to the sound. It is pretty easy to tell the voice apart from the bass, the guitars apart from the synths and the pianos apart from the flues. The most important feature is that with iFi iDSD BL, it is extremely easy to tell guitars apart from one another, giving Meze 99 Neo a clear control over guitars and a space where every guitar can play its own notes.
Incubus – Calgone – This is one of the songs that's easy to call when you need to describe a soundstage as it features a lot of guitars that expand in more than one directions and a lot of special effect that need a certain space to travel through for the song to have the right immersion and emotion. The aggressive guitars sound aggressive and have great impact while the travel distance of each effect is as good as ever, the whole song being well rendered. The voices come through with great texture and stays vivid all the time, while the screamed parts have the necessary warmth to work well with this song.
Dope – Addiction – The song starts well and the special effects has the right placing in the 3D field (somewhere in the right – back of the listener), upon audition the effect being rendered precisely at its spot and in a healthy manner. Meze 99 Neo is able to render each guitar with good clarity and depth while the screams are sustained very well and have a natural tone. The song comes through with even more enthusiasm with the 99 Neo + iFi iDSD BL combo, a bit of sweetness being replaced by an enthusiastic bass control and great transient response.
Space electro – XXX – The song starts well and while the extended effect that relies on the the higher registers at the start doesn't offend at all, the song still has some spark to it, never being dull. The key effects are positioned well in the 3D space and the bass has the right presence, warmth, and control throughout the entire sonic space. The bass needs to envelop the listener and be able to move with agility around the listener for this song, and the BL + 99N combo manages to render this effect very well, the bass managing to move fast enough for the song to feel analogue and get the right amount of life. For the record, I couldn't stop my legs from tipping and my head from moving while listening and had to a great time while listening to it.
Infected Mushroom – Wanted to – The soundstage expands well, and the female voice has enough drive to sound sweet, fluid and melodic. The male voices also have a certain sweetness to them, the tone being true to the life tone the song should have. The effects play on a wide scale and there's enough depth to differentiate all effects and travel of instruments. While the bass attacks with precisions and has great impact, by default the treble is smooth and the song gets a bit less spark than 99Classics gets with EQ. Regardless of this, 99 Neo can be equalized to get enough spark in the treble and the BL + 99N combo manages to get enough spark with no distortion, the song managing to pull through both the very fast and very slow segments of the song with enough agility.
99N has been tested with FiiO X5ii, Xiaomi mi max, iFi iDSD Micro BL, Custom ESS DAC solution, and a few other devices as well. By default, and as the first impression dictates, 99N is fairly easy to drive even from weaker sources and needs little power to reach high volumes and a great sound. But after hearing 99 Neo with a high end DAC/AMP like iDSD BL, the difference in the driving factor is much more obvious. 99 Neo is about as similar to source changes as Dj1P, being slightly less sensitive to source changes than 99 Neo is, but still pretty sensitive.
99 Neo doesn't have any distortion within listenable levels, and pain will start to set it way before 99 Neo distorts its sound. They work well for both loud and quiet listeners, the music coming through with great detail and force in both cases. There is a slight tendency for average volume to sound the most balanced though, but only slight.
The transient response and ADSR is affected by the source, and it is slightly affected by the volume the music is played at. A higher volume will not result in worse transients, but the way they are rendered might slightly change.
The sound when driving 99 Neo from Xiaomi Mi max is pretty balanced, the textures are vivid, and the details are pretty good. The soundstage is not the best but still pretty large.
When adding FiiO X5ii to the mix, the soundstage instantly opens up to a new resolution and the dynamics of 99 Neo expand much better. There is a considerably better sense of detail and X5ii would be one of the best ways to drive 99 Neo in portable mode.
If you want to go one step further, you can add iFi iDSD BL, which will give one more step to resolution and soundstage, but the change that is most evident is the increase in authority and control. iDSD BL has a certain sound of its own, but it feels like the bass is considerably tighter and more detailed and it also feels like the whole sound becomes faster.
All in all, driving Meze 99 Neo can happen from virtually any source, but the sound does improve considerably with better sources. Since I already have 99 Classics, I'm used to the great transient response and textures Meze offers, so the best thing I can say about 99 Neo is that it keeps the same great sound and source scaling.
Ie800 – This is a hard comparison. When it comes to price, ie800 costs about 3 times as 99 Neo when new. Out of the box, ie800 sounds radically different from 99 Neo, ie800 having a more energetic presentation in the top end, a similarly deep bass, but less in quantity and a more dynamic sound in general. The 99 Neo versus ie800 debate takes a rather unexpected turn when comparing them both driven from iFi iDSD BL. This DAC / AMP not only impressed me a lot with its crystalline sound, but it makes Sennheiser ie800 sound like Sennheiser HE-1 and it makes 99 Neo sound like a new headphone. The difference in enjoyment, involvement and emotion between 99 Neo and ie800 is smaller this time, and I can say that there is a far bigger difference in the frequency response rather than a difference in the sound characteristics by themselves. Ie800 does have a bit better dynamics, a bit better separation between instruments and a tad cleaner presentation, but 99 Neo is no slouch and considering the price difference. For the record, I'm using both ie800 and 99 Classics (Neo's bigger brother) as my daily headphones, and I love both. They are complementary this time, and when I want to hear a relaxing sound and to forgive all artists for their mistakes I take 99 Classics, while when I want to hear the very cutting edge of sound, I take ie800. Serving different purposes, I can safely name them a great pair to have, if you can own both!
Ultrasone Dj One Pro – This time, things turned around in favor of 99 Neo. Both driven from ifi iDSD BL, I can now understand why some people criticize Ultrasone for their choices in sound. While I am a bit of a treble addict, I now dislike the shrill and cold presentation of Ultrasone Dj One pro as there is a ton of distortion in the upper registers when compared to Meze 99 Neo or Sennheiser ie800. Seems that this cold metallic distortion wasn't so evident for me before and I actually mistaken it for treble energy, but having heard a better sound, I now regress and call 99 Neo a more enjoyable headphone from every possible angle. For the record, I have not used Dj One pro at all since I got 99 Classics and having both DJ One Pro and 99 Neo would yield the same results. To compare their sounds, 99 Neo has a far more coherent bass, better texture, more precise control and far less bloating where Dj1P sounds loose and distorted in comparison. Comparing the mids, 99 Neo is more lush and has thicker mids, where DJ1P has a tad more vivid mids, which are sadly affected by a metallic shrill / resonance. Comparing the treble, Meze 99 Neo has very smooth treble, that comes through well, but is relaxed and will be smooth even with the harshest recording, while Dj1P has a metallic tint to the treble, having some treble distortion as well, especially after some EQ. 99 Neo + 3D soundstage on iFi iDSD BL has a similarly large soundstage as DJ1P has without the 3D setting activated on iFi iDSD BL.
Sennheiser HD650 and LCD2 – Meze 99 Neo sports a pretty similar signature to both, with 99 Neo coming on top of both HD650 and LCD2 in terms of soundstage and texture of instruments. The HD650 I've compared Meze 99 Neo to had less bite on the top end, feeling rolled off, where 99 Neo felt smooth but not absolutely rolled off. LCD-2 sports a bit more bite in the treble than 99 Neo, but once again 99 Neo wins on the instrument texture, especially the guitars. Comfort wise, HD650 and 99 Neo are similar, while LCD-2 is not bad, but it is way too heavy leading to fatigue after half of an hour. The bass is a bit tricky to compare because both HD650 and LCD-2 are open back while 99 Neo is closed back. By design, 99 Neo will have better impact and better slam than HD650, but the natural bass of LCD-2 being pretty close. The way bass hits is different between Meze 99 Neo and LCD-2, at this point being pretty complicated to describe (I would need more time with both). The midrange is different between all of them, with 99 Neo having the thick / lush midrange, HD650 being a bit colder and less involved in the mid range (due to the less midbass hump), and LCD-2 having a more neutral midrange. The sole fact that 99C is closed back makes it an amazing fact to say that it has a larger soundstage than LCD-2 and HD650, the air between the instruments feeling similar but the space around the listener being larger on 99 Neo.
Audio Tehnica ATH A-700X – This comparison is interesting because Meze 99 Neo are in a similar price bracket and it is only natural that Meze 99 should be compared to a similarly priced headphone. The first difference noticed is in the build quality, where although both are made out of Abs – plastic, meze 99 neo feels a bit heavier, more secured and doesn't feel nowhere near as finnicky as A700X feels like. The comfort is pretty bad on A700, not because of the headband but because of the pads which are both small and shallow. The depth of the pads is more important than the size in general. One can live with smaller pads, but it is almost impossible to use shallow pads as they make you touch the driver plate and this usually causes pain. The sound is very different between the two headphones, A700X feeling like a very light headphone, while 99 Neo is a lush headphone with a thick midrange. 99 Neo has considerably more bass in quantity, it is better defined, better layered, better textured and will have considerably better and more realistic hit and slam. By comparison, A700X feels pretty anemic and loose. The midrange is different as A700X as a bit more natural midrange tonality wise, but 99 Neo comes in force with considerably better textures, considerably better details, and a similar soundstage. By direct comparison, A700X feels a bit smeared in the midrange, a clear, natural midrange, but with instrument texture smearing where 99 Neo has a thick and lush midrange with vivid and clear textures and great soundstage. The top end is where A700X has a slight upper hand, having a bit better treble extension and energy, but the bass to treble ratio making the whole sound thin. 99 Neo has less treble by comparison, but a similar amount of detail. Since 99 Neo favors having a strong and imposing bass, the sound comes off as more enjoyable and fun for 99 Neo although I personally like A700X as well. The two headphones feel complementary more than they feel like direct competitors, the sound being quite different between them.
Audio Tehnica ATH M-50X – This should be a fair comparison since the two headphones are priced similarly, and this time they target a similar audience. From the start, both headphones feel fairly well build, although M50x feels a bit heavier. The clamping force is pretty different as M50x has way more clamping force at times, up to the point of feeling uncomfortable while 99 Neo has just the right amount of clamping force to ensure a secured seal. The sound tries to be similar, with the biggest difference being in the soundstage. But until there, both M50X and 99 Neo feature a similar amount of bass, but 99 Neo has better bass quality, and better bass texture. Meze 99 Neo features considerably more natural mids, where the mids of M50x feel rather V-shaped and have an uncomfortable dip that makes them sound shrill / cold / metallic. The top end of the two is a bit different, with m50x having more treble, but rolling off at some point, resulting in a metallic tint to the treble. The big (huge) difference between 99 Neo and M50x lies in their soundstage, where 99 Neo has a natural to large soundstage, airy sound and great instrument positioning / rendering, M50x having a really claustrophobic soundstage and featuring far less air between instrument. The separation between instrument is similar, but M50x has less textures than 99 Neo, making 99 Neo feel vivid, where M50x feels smeared by direct comparison.
99 Neo is even cheaper than their bigger brother, 99 Classics and given the sound quality of 99 Neo and what you get in the box, they are a sweet deal.
The value is great, but they will always be endangered by a great headphone. Their biggest enemy at a close price range is their own brother, 99C!
Given the quality of both, I would suggest hearing both before making a purchase and seeing them in person as 99 Classics and their wooden construction is more beautiful than any luxury furniture while 99 Neo comes in as an edgy / modern looking headphone that will leave you in shock with their awesome presentation. I generally prefer to avoid recommending a headphone based on its looks, but 99 Neo and 99 Classics make an exception from this rule as they both sound great, but their looks are more of a difference than their sound. All in all, at the price of 250$, you're getting a very solid package and a very sold headphone. I would gladly call this a sweet deal at this moment and a deal that you don't want to miss!
(Edgy look for a conclusion photo?)
After hearing every single headphone that I could hear to date, I am quite hard to impress. You can say that headphones don't really impress me anymore, and when I listen to headphones, 1000$ headphones don't have a wow effect anymore, and it is rare that I get enthused about headphones anymore. I was rather curious about the second installment of the 99 Classics made by Meze and I was not expecting them to hold their ground given that the ABS sound is usually perceived as less desirable than the sound of headphones with wood cups. I was quite wrong and it seems that in the end Meze kept their promise and 99 Neo fares very well, especially when compared to their bigger brother, 99 Classics.
Considering the sound quality of both 99 Neo and 99 Classics, a buyer should make his choice based on his aesthetic preferences instead of going for the sound since Meze managed to keep a great sound for both. The fact that I tested 99 Neo with iDSD BL this time and I didn't feel the need to EQ them anymore tells a lot about how great this combo and be and the fact that a source can make a big difference in how a headphone is perceived.
At the date of writing this review, 99 Neo is one of the best headphones one can buy for 250$ and in my personal experience, I haven't found a better closed back headphone in the same price bracket. The competition is always strong in this area, and I'm looking forward for what other marvelous things headphone makers will come with and I do hope that Meze will be able to hold their ground in the future as well.
You can safely enjoy 99 Neo straight from your laptop, your smartphone, or even an ultra-portable DAP. But adding a higher quality source will surely make your day better. FiiO X5-3, FiiO X5ii, FiiO X7, iFi iDSD BL are all great ways of powering your Meze 99 Neo and I'm sure that every one of these sources will make someone fall in love with their sound, you just need to find which has the best sound for you. I can't wait to see what FiiO comes up with next, but right now either FiiO X7 + AM3 or iFi iDSD BL are the best ways possible to drive 99 Neo from pretty much all of my tests.
I hadn’t had the chance of testing Balanced as I didn’t have any balanced cables yet, but I'm really curious about it and will make sure to test it as soon as Meze releases the balanced version of their cables and return with impressions!
Once again, I fully recommend giving 99 Neo a chance, especially if you are looking for a headphone in this price bracket, as it is one of the most interesting entries you can find and you might fall in love with the sound! Also, please remember that burn-in does make a difference with 99 Neo and you should let it do its thing to fully enjoy this beauty of a headphone!
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Pros - Fantastic Earpads and Headband Mechanism, Comfortable, Linear, natural tuning, Soundstage, Great design, Case
Cons - Midrange a little thick, More laid-back high-end not for everyone, Omnipresent bass
Meze has made quite the entrance into the audio field with a great reception to both their in-ear and over-ear headphone line-ups. I know a lot of readers are familiar with Meze’s 99 Classics, it was a great contender within the $400 portable headphone range that brought some unique features, a very appealing design along with highly competitive sound quality wrapped within lush tuning; immediately rocketing to the front pages of Head-fi. So I was immediately excited to hear that Meze had released a new headphone, the 99 Neo, bringing that same iconic design and sound within a slightly cheaper ($60 cheaper), more contemporary package.
Though personal experience with all of Meze’s products, I have found much to love within their warm, smooth house sound and keen eye for both attractive and pragmatic designs. But I also have extensive experience with a lot of the top performing portable headphones around this price, either through long-term loan or ownership, so I’m not too quick to fawn over the latest models. With that said, let’s see how the 99 Neo stands up to the best headphones in the business.
I received the Meze 99 Neo from Meze’s review tour. There is no monetary incentive for a positive review and despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases
I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.
The 99 Neo comes within a nice box that thankfully bucks the low-key all black trend instead, with a tasteful white/grey scheme. The box magnetically latches open to reveal the headphones and accessories within a very nice hard case, the same included with the 99 Classics.
It’s one of nicest included cases I’ve seen in a while, perfectly fitting the headphones with a small zippered pouch for accessories/cables and a nice embossed metal meze logo up front. I would like a little more room to keep the cable attached to the headphones while in the case though the design of the 99 Neo’s does not permit the cable to be easily wrapped up anyway.
In addition to the case, the 99 Neo comes equipped with a 3.5mm to 1/4″ adapter, gold-plated aeroplane adapter and two cables like the Oppo PM3. One is a 3M audio-only cable and the other is a 1.2M cable with single-button remote and mic for use with smartphones. Both are OFC with the same diameter, they were sonically identical in my testing and it’s great to see Meze including both cables from factory.
The 99 Neo really provide a nice unboxing experience. While the packaging might not be as lavish as something from Bower and Wilkins for example, the included accessories and the quality of those accessories are far more impressive. In particular, I believe that every portable headphone like this should come with a solid hard case and the one included with the 99 Neo’s is sturdy and pragmatic, unlike the fabric pouches that come with the Denon-MM400’s, B&W P7’s and Sony MDR-1A’s.
Those familiar with the 99 Classics will find solace in the 99 Neo’s almost identical design, carrying the same iconic looks and comfortable, ergonomic fit. Of note, they do have the larger, plusher earpads found on later 99 Classics revisions and I did find the Neo to be that much more comfortable than early 99 Classics that felt a bit cramped.
Visually, the 99 Neo compounds upon Meze’s fantastic craftsmanship and design with the 99 Classics; they are an evolution of the retro design popularised by the Sennheiser Momentum. The 99 Neo’s aren’t a compact headphone, but their tapered earcups and unique headband enable a surprisingly low profile fit on the head when compared to similar models despite having especially spacious earcups.
The 99 Neo might look frail due to those thin headband rails and small earcup adjustment mechanisms, though in the hand, the headphones are very solid with a reassuring rigidity to every component. The unique headband mechanism also grants the headphones with a very low centre of gravity, making them far more stable on the head than even the Oppo PM3 and strongly clamping Denon MM-400; they are one of the only headphones that have stayed put on my head when lying down. But coming back to comparison with the Classics, while the leather textured PVA earcups on the 99 Neo do look great, they still fail to match the in-hand feel of the wooden Classics and feel inauthentic compared to the lambskin encased B&W and Bang and Olfusens. That being said, they don’t seem prone to scratches nor smudges and are perfectly well-finished.
When it comes to fitment, portable headphones have always struggled to find the balance between comfort, convenience and portability. The Oppo PM3 and B&O H6 are, to my ear, the best fitting portable headphones on the market, though the 99 Neo might just match them in overall fit, making them superior to headphones such as B&W P7 which had a stiff, thin headband and Denon MM-400 which had thin, shallow earpads. In fact, the 99 Neo is almost a combination between an at-home and portable headphone, working well for both due to their great long term comfort and isolation/tuning.
This outstanding comfort begins with those swivelling earcups and absolutely fantastic earpads that are roomy even for those with large ears such as myself and stuffed with extremely plush memory foam. They’re coated in a soft, slightly grippy pleather that provides some extra fit stability but doesn’t feel as rubbery as that employed on the Denon MM-400’s nor as fragile as that used on the Sony MDR-1A’s (though I would assume that they wouldn’t age as well as real leather in the long term). The pads completely engulf my ears unlike the MM-400’s and ATH-MSR-7’s, forming a perfect seal with nice passive noise isolation comparable, if not slightly superior to other sealed headphones like the Denon MM-400 and B&W P7, but still a little less than class leaders like the Oppo PM3 and B&O H6. Comfort still isn’t perfect, the drivers protrude a little, just contacting my outer ear though I didn’t find this to be an issue unless I wore the headphones for days on end. Still, this isn’t something that affect the PM3’s nor the H6’s though they are far more comfortable than the Sennheiser Momentums and B&W P7’s.
This positive impression continues onto the exemplary headband which is by far one of the best I have used among the usual thin, stiff or inadequately padded units; portable headphones just have bad headbands in general. The 99 Neo differs in that regard, by employing a suspension system identical to that on the 99 Classics; it’s the type of basic convenience that makes a world of difference in daily use. While headbands like this are not unique in general, it’s still a very rare feature among portable headphones and Meze’s implementation works especially well. The headband itself is a thick, soft and slightly padded leather strap that conforms perfectly to every head shape. The suspension system automatically adjusts every time though elastic tension, guaranteeing a reliable fit without the need for a clicking or sliding headband adjustment mechanism. I found the headband tension to be just slightly higher than I would prefer though the large surface area of the band evenly distributes pressure and the elastic is sure to loosen up slightly over time. Clamp force was also well-judged but, being a portable headphone, they still clamp quite firmly. That being said, the thick, plush earpads disperse the pressure and clamp force is quite even throughout its range so they won’t clamp too hard on those with larger head sizes.
The cable is dual entry, unlike most other portable headphones that use a single side cable though it is removable, connecting via two regular 2.5mm mono connectors. Of note, the headphones are perfectly symmetrical which makes swapping the cable just a little easier. Both the 3M and 1.2M cables carry the same design with a tapered aluminium straight jack, braided lower segment with basic rubber sheathing above the y-split. The cables are Kevlar braided for longevity though they could still do with more strain relief near the jack. Thickness is well-considered for portable usage though the rubbery texture above the y-split does tend to catch on clothes should you want to route the cable through your jumper. Being a dual entry headphone, the 99 Neo also isn’t compatible with any kind of Bluetooth adaptor meaning that the headphone is not viable for usage with the iPhone 7 or other jack-less smartphones unless you can find a third party lightning cable.
So ultimately, the 99 Neo is a rather exemplary headphone in terms of fitment. Every aspect is incredibly well thought out and far more pragmatic than the vast majority of portable headphones that struggle with at-home usage due to over-emphasis on portability. The headband mechanism is unorthodox but finds great usability in simplicity while the super plush earpads and low COG enable both long-term comfort and stability when out and about. The headphones look the part too, with a design that is no less intriguing if less relentlessly opulent than models from B&W, B&O and Oppo. The plastic earcups do feel a little cheap but every other aspect of the headphone is solid.
Though Meze’s website states a different impedance of 26ohms on the 99N vs 32ohms on the 99C, to my knowledge, the Neo’s employ the same 40mm dynamic driver as the 99 Classics that came before. As such, they pursue a very similar sound, if not one that is identical due to differences in housing materials affecting acoustics; perhaps the difference in impedance is an attempt to compensate for these changes. But for the most part, the 99 Neo performs quite predictably with a sound that is laid-back, warm and mostly familiar. They aren’t nearly as balanced as the Oppo PM3 nor are they quite as sculpted as the B&W P7, sounding more linear throughout their midrange. They are a very natural, dare I say analogue sounding headphones that retain the organic characters of the wooden 99 Classics despite employing ABS earcups. In fact, they are perhaps even more laid-back and warm to my ear.
The Meze 99 Neo’s carry a tasteful L-shaped sound similar to that employed on earphones such as the Klipsch X10’s. However, the 99 Neo’s have no issue with end to end extension and treble prominence imbues the sound with a little extra crispness over smoother portable headphones like the Oppo PM3. The 99 Neo’s actually sound quite similar to the Denon MM-400 overall though they assume a slightly warmer, more laid-back tone with the Denon’s having a little more unevenness in the treble that creates a more aggressive sense of detail. As such, the 99 Neo’s can be described as having a darker tonal tilt with bass possessing the most emphasis.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –
When I first heard the 99 Classics, the first thing that stood out to me among the closed back portable headphones I had heard, was the exceptionally wide soundstage. The 99 Neo, perhaps due to the differing housing materials, doesn’t quite possess the same level of space though it remains one of the better performers in this price range, more akin to the B&W P7 over the more intimate Oppo PM3 and to a lesser extent, Denon MM-400. And despite having quite a warm, thick sound, the 99 Neo never sounds congested; it’s a nice presentation that flatters almost every genre of music from pop to rock to classical. That being said, while the 99 Neo does sound large, this thicker tuning does prevent the headphones from sounding particularly open or airy, something the B&W P7 and B&O H6’s excel with.
I also found the Neo to have quite a well-rounded soundstage, better rounded than the 99C due to their reduced width, resulting in impressive imaging performance. Though neither the 99C nor the 99 Neo has any issue with instrument placement and imaging, the Neo sounded slightly more coherent to me with precise instrument placement that made the B&W P7 and Sony MDR-1A’s sound vaguer. So overall, the 99 Neo’s are a warm headphone, though their large soundstage prevents congestion and separation remain quite commendable even when compared directly to some of the best headphones within this class.
The 99 Neo’s were designed for portable use with a sensitivity of 103dB and an impedance of 26ohm, making them very easy to drive. They aren’t the most sensitive headphone I’ve tested but achieved similar volume to the Denon MM-400’s and Sony MDR-1A’s at the same level. They were also more sensitive than the planar magnetic Oppo PM3’s which I found to be one of the pickiest headphones among those I had on hand. They actually pick up a surprising amount of hiss from my noisier sources but even modestly noisy sources such as my Oppo HA-2 had no issue. The 99 Neo’s didn’t scale spectacularly with the sources I had on hand, sounding relatively similar from my iPod Nano, HTC 10 and Oppo HA-2, where the B&W P7 and Oppo PM3 scaled up considerably with my better sources. They did achieve some improvements with a slightly tauter bass performance and clearer midrange from my HA-2 though they will play happily from any decent smartphone or standalone DAP.
The 99 Neo’s are one of the bassier audiophile orientated portable headphones, beating out the PM3, H6 and Denon MM-400 in terms of quantity. Luckily, they aren’t nearly as bombastic as the sub-bass boosted B&W P7’s nor are they bloated like the Sony MDR-1A. They are closest to the MM-400 in tuning, with a more linear bass boost that retains pleasing quality and definition with a slight bump in the mid-bass that provides a little extra fullness and punch. There is some midrange spill though lower-mids are never overwhelmed by bass and remain quite clear considering the extent of the bass boost. They also have really great sub-bass extension with rather outstanding definition of sub and lower-bass notes. Rumble is visceral and electronic genres of music have satisfying impact and slam without inducing a bass headache. While I would still prefer slightly more balance, the 99 Neo’s provide a very organic, natural listen that is adequately full when in a noisy environment but remains tasteful enough at home to maintain an enjoyable listen.
Of course, bass isn’t perfect and due to the boosted tuning, the 99 Neo’s do miss out on a bit of texture and definition when compared to more linear sets like the PM3 and MM-400. Bass also suffers from slight bloat and tubbiness, notes aren’t as taught as I would prefer though I’m sure many will enjoy the extra punchiness and fullness provided by the Neo’s bass response. When listening to music with rapidly transitioning basslines like Steve Conti’s “Call Me Call Me” or Toto’s “Roasanna”, the 99 Neo did well to keep up with complex passages without becoming overwhelmed like the looser P7. While bass drums didn’t quite possess the same PRAT as the super snappy PM3 and MM-400, the 99 Neo’s provide a great balance between quantity and quality, sub-bass notes didn’t get too muddy and mid and upper-bass provided a sense of fullness without imbuing a veiling character. So while bass is rather omnipresent due to the headphones accentuated tuning, notes don’t drone and remain articulate. They are an engaging headphone that values dynamics over transparency though they never overstep their boundaries in regards to bass quantity and bass quality will be sure to impress.
With a slightly darker tone, the 99 Neo’s aren’t the clearest sounding headphone though they don’t lack clarity per say. On poorly mastered or low bitrate songs, the 99 Neo does tend to sound a little muffled throughout its midrange, especially with genres such as hip-hop. That being said, the headphones also sound surprisingly clear when the track calls for it. For instance, the vocals in Vance Joy’s “Riptide” were appropriately forward and didn’t sound chesty or veiled at all. So rather than veiled, I would argue that the midrange is simply full-bodied, making vocals sound a little thicker. Instruments such as acoustic guitar really benefit from this, sounding rich and lush without coming across as bloated and the headphones retain enough resolution to flatter piano and string instruments. They actually had more clarity than the Denon MM-400’s but still fell short of the Oppo PM3’s and B&O H6’s which are both cleaner and more linear. That being said, the Neo’s had no dips or spikes in their midrange and all notes and vocals sounded natural if more full-bodied than neutral as opposed to the brighter B&W P7’s which had plenty of clarity and detail but also sounded unnatural and uneven with some vocals and instruments such as piano. Meanwhile, the Denon MM-400’s are still more balance throughout their midrange though, as aforementioned, they also had less clarity.
The 99 Neo’s also have pretty great detail retrieval even if their more natural, darker sound favours smoothness over aggressive detail and clarity. This was highlighted during The Cranberries’ “Linger”, where the Neo’s did a fine job picking up the subtle clicking of picks on strings that are easily lost among portable headphones. So while resolution is actually quite impressive overall, they don’t bring details to the fore like the B&W P7 and especially Oppo PM3. I think the Denon’s are probably the closest competitor to the Meze’s, and in terms of midrange performance, it’s a pretty fair trade-off with both being equally enjoyable and tasteful to my ear. These are simply different manufacturer’s twists on the same kind of sound.
With a somewhat L-shaped tuning, the 99 Neo’s do produce a more laid-back treble response, though they have very good extension for a portable and don’t miss out on the higher details. Listening to my usual treble test songs, Radiohead’s “Creep”, “Paranoid Android” and “No Surprises” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, and the 99 Neo’s produced one of the better performances among my portable headphone collection. The B&W P7’s have a really nice treble response with air, sparkle and extension, for lovers of a brighter sound it is one of the strongest performers within this price range. On the opposite end of the scale, the PM3 and MM-400 are more natural and also more in-line with the 99 Neo. High-hats had nice sparkle without sounding overly thin while cymbals had shimmer and realistic texture. High notes were missing that last bit of air and openness that the P7’s provided though treble notes sounded less rolled off than both the PM3 and MM-400’s. Treble notes were actually quite clear despite the thicker nature of the 99 Neo’s sound and the slightly boosted treble crispness does well to balance out the more relaxed nature of the headphones. Again, in terms of tuning, natural is the word I would use to describe the 99 Neo’s treble performance. And though high-notes are still not forward in any way, they are quite even throughout; portable headphones usually have a lower treble spike to add the impression of detail making the 99 Neo quite a rarity. While I still would have preferred slightly more air and quantity, the treble tuning is really well done on the Meze’s with great extension, linearity and texture.
I went into this review quite the sceptic. The 99 Classics were simply too well-reviewed, I was suspicious and my expectations were too high, making them seem inadequate upon real-life testing. And as with anything, a true testament to greatness is retained quality under scrutiny, something one could argue that a one week review tour cannot offer. But I’ve maximised my time with the 99 Neo’s, they are an important product in an ever increasing market, and I’ve found that the Meze’s are too laid-back to be immediately impressive anyway; especially when compared to the gorgeous B&W P7’s or B&O H6’s and even the very revealing Oppo PM3. But strip away the initial “wow factor” of these headphones and the 99 Neo retains its charm through its well-rounded sound while the P7 and H6 come off as somewhat unnatural. That’s not to say that the P7 or H6 are bad headphones, not at all, but they are no longer the best around; that title goes to the next generation of innovative portables, the PM3, MM-400 and now, the 99 Neo.
And I do feel that all of these headphones are quite mature in their sounds. All of their respective manufacturers set out with intent actualised through different styles of tuning which will no doubt match different buyer’s preferences; the H6 and P7 for those who love clarity and the MM-400 and 99 Neo for lovers of a more organic, natural sound. However, the fit on these headphones is not nearly so developed and a lot of these manufacturers have struggled to adopt an over-ear form factor, many coming from a rich heritage of speaker design over portable gear. And again, long term usage reveals the shortcomings in design that a brief listen may not. Luckily, the 99 Neo is quite exemplary here too. While it lacks the unrelenting rigidity of the P7, H6 and PM3, the Neo is more ergonomic, has the best headband and forms no hotspots. It’s also a very unique looking headphone that bucks the usual design trends that tend to homogenize “fashion” headphones into minimalist leather clad omegas, with a retro inspired design that’s an instant modern classic.
Overall – 9/10, Meze have proven that you don’t need lambskin leather, stainless steel accents or chromed chamfers to create an appealing design, nor do you need complex folding mechanisms to achieve portability and a reliable fit. But perhaps, most pertinent to this review, Meze have provided us with a great, natural, organic sound that demonstrates how linearity is just as impressive as neutrality. Meze set out to recapture the magic of the 99 Classics at a cheaper price, within a more contemporary shell and that’s just what they’ve achieved with the 99 Neo.
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