-Introduction- I’ve reviewed for Meze once before, and gave their new 11 Neo earphone high praise. However, it was the release of the 99 Classics that really gained Meze the notoriety it has today. I’m lucky enough to be able to bring you a review of said headphone. Enjoy.
The 99 Classics can be bought directly from Meze for $309 here.
Disclaimer: This review is based upon a sample unit provided to me by a manufacturer or distributor in exchange for my honest opinion and un-edited words. I do not profit in any way from the writing of the review. I would like to thank Lorand at Meze for sending me this review unit.
Preference and Bias: Before reading a review, it is worth mentioning that there is no way for a reviewer to objectively pass judgment on the enjoy-ability of a product: such a thing is inherently subjective. Therefore, I find it necessary for you to read and understand what I take a natural liking to and how that might affect my rating of a product.
My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, bass. The mids should be slightly less pronounced than the treble, but still ahead of the bass. I prefer a more bright upper range.
Source: The 99 Classics was powered like so:
PC optical out-> HifiMe SPDIF 9018 DAC 3.5mm out-> earphones
AP100 or AP60 -> earphones
All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC.
As per Meze’s recommendation, I have burned in the 99 Classics for around 50 hours to get them “broken in”. While I intended to do a before-and-after comparison, it turns out my aural memory is too poor to pass judgement on such subtle distinctions between sound. I’ll have to trust Meze on this one.
-Sound Signature- Initial Impressions:
I’m hearing a balanced middle and upper range with a slightly elevated mid and sub-bass. Vocals are pulled out of the mix slightly farther than the bass, making them the most commanding part of the song (at least when present). It’s a very natural presentation that really shines no matter what I throw at it.
Treble: Songs used: White Flag, Midnight City, Outlands
Treble is definitely present, and lends a good amount of clarity to the presentation. It is placed slightly in front of the mids, and is slightly behind the bass. In both White Flag and Midnight City, the treble was able to cut through the mix without sounding overbearing or sharp. When played through poorly or aggressively tuned headphones, White Flag tends to become sibilant, regardless of source. But Meze was able to give the 99 Classics decent extension and treble emphasis without decreasing the overall long-term listenability of the headphone.
The treble is very detailed and able to convey minute differences in the tonality of the violins of Outlands well. The litany of treble-bound background elements also come through the song well enabling a decently symphonic experience.
Mids: Songs used: Flagpole Sitta, Jacked Up, I Am The Highway, Good Life
The attack and decay of the drums and guitars is quite good on the 99 Classics, as are their respective tonalities. A lot of detail comes through, and the instrumental separation is good.
Jacked Up was similarly good. The pianos, while not necessarily hard-edged, sounded pretty lifelike. The guitars in the background weren’t as tight and defined as I would have liked, but that’s simply because I hold Meze’s creations up to a higher standard, as its price should suggest.
The vocals of all my test songs were presented very well, with I Am The Highway and Flagpole Sitta taking the cake as best performers. While not pulled too far forwards, the vocals never loose control of the song, even when they are at their busiest. But my favorite feature of the vocals is their seemingly effortless integration into the dynamics of the song.
Bass: Songs used: Lights, Gold Dust, 99 Problems (Hugo Cover), Leave Me
The 99 Classics emphasizes the bass more than the 11 Neo does, and in my humble opinion, does so rightly. The kick-drum of Lights and 99 Problems resolves with a tight thud, having what I consider to be a near-perfect level of wetness.
Gold Dust and Leave Me’s drops, as described by my roommate, are “filthy”. For those of you unacquainted with such youthful terminology, that’s synonymous to “pretty great”, and I’ll have to agree. The wetness that graces Lights and 99 Problems gives the aggressive bass sculpting in electronic songs a great tonality. However, please don’t confuse my comments on wetness for quantity of bass. While there’s certainly enough bass to go around, the 99 Classics are not a basshead’s pair of earphones, rather, they are somewhere around medium levels of bass.
Clarity: Songs used: Throne, Map of The Problimatique, I’m Not Alright
The 99 Classics performed decently across the board on my clarity test songs. My only point of concern is the articulation and range of the treble when the drivers are busy taking care of a lot of other sounds. In other words, the treble could be more resolving in busy songs.
The sound stage of the 99 Classics is above average, but not large. This puts it at a nice middle-ground for listeners looking for a more energizing and intimate soundstage, but who don’t want to sacrifice the sense of airiness that a large soundstage can produce. Instrumental separation is good.
-Packaging / Unboxing- Please excuse the unsightly sticker residue. I tried my best to get rid of it without damaging the box. Click on the images to expand them.
-Build- Construction Quality
I have to say, the 99 Classics is built rather nicely. The outer frame is made from what appears to be aluminum, while the inner frame holds the cushy leather headband in place. Hidden underneath the stitched leather is a self-adjustment system for the headband’s length, effectively eliminating the need to fiddle with the headphones to find the correct size to wear them at; an annoyance that I’m glad is gone. Then inner frame is secured to the outer frame using what looks like Torx screws. While I personally don’t see why they Meze couldn’t have gone with standard consumer-friendly screws, I still think the mechanism is quite secure, and feels solid. The Meze logo is emblazoned tastefully on the golden frame connector, and doesn’t appear to be wearing off any time soon. The real wood ear cups/driver housings are affixed to the frame via a ball joint that enables free rotation on two axes (not the tool, the plural of axis). Attached to the driver housings are medium-density memory foam ear pads. It’s a very impressive package that screams premium, with almost no real flaws.
The 99 Classics does come with a cable that has inline controls on it, which consists of a single pause/play button and a microphone. It works well, and the button has a nice softness to it.
I find the 99 Classics to be very comfortable. This is due mainly to the self-adjusting headband. The new, larger ear pads are just the right size for my ear, which is slightly above average in size. The 99 Classics isn’t very heavy, so expect it to disappear soon after you put it on. Natural, I have to put the disclaimer that my experiences won’t necessarily reflect yours given the fairly large number of possible anatomical differences between our heads.
One thing to note about the new earpads is that they are only found in 99 Classics that have the updated packaging. If you bought an older pair, contact Meze about getting the larger ones, as they really do improve the long-term comfort of the cans. In some cases, they also help solidify the bass a bit.
-Accessories- Meze bequeathed the 99 Classics with a solid set of accessories including:
- 1 comically long 3.5mm cloth cable
- 1 well-sized 3.5mm cable with inline controls
- 1 semi-hard headphone case
- 1 1/4inch to 3.5mm adapter