Meze 99 Classics (Gold) review
Sony ZX1 Walkman, HP X360 Spectre with MS Win 10 laptop, Tag Mclaren DVD32R cd player.
Amp & Dacs used:
Chord Hugo & Mojo with QED Reference & Vertere DFI USB cables & Audioquest “jitterbug”,
Vorzuge PureII+ portable amplifier with Whiplash Hybrid V3 LOD
| Transducer size|
| Frequency response|
| 15Hz - 25KHz|
| 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW|
| Rated input power|
| Maximum input power|
| Cable make and material|
| Detachable Kevlar OFC cable|
| 3.5mm gold plated|
| 260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cables|
| Walnut wood|
For more insight and info please visit here>>> Meze - 99 Classics
The review model is Walnut with Gold finish.
2 other finish versions available: Walnut & Silver / Maple wood finish with silver.
My Meze story…
It all started for me when I was browsing Head-fi as usual a few months back and noticed the banner on the side of the page and noticed a uniquely different striking looking pair of headphones I had not seen before to the norm with the lovely wooden cup and gold accented metal which is cast zinc had me intrigued and thinking to myself these must be a £1K headphone just by the just on looks alone so headed on over to their website to have a look and was surprised to see the price was only 309 Euros.
I thought nothing of it after that hoping one day I might get to listen to these at a show or I bumped into another Head-fier who might own them to have a listen then I noticed the Meze tour and thought to myself I could not turn down the chance to listen to these for seven days and here is where I have to say thanks to Meze for letting me listen to these 99 Classics in the bliss of my own home for several days so finally my turn has arrived to have these unique looking beautiful headphones, but do they sound as good as they look?
Before I start on the sound of these without too much teasing I will firstly start from the beginning with the Ergonomics and design….
Ergonomics & Design…
(Please scroll down to “99 Classic sounds” for review on how they sound)
Firstly you are presented with a nice sturdy high finish printed box with which opens up like a book to reveal the EVA moulded hard case for storage & travel which protects the 99 Classics. This case is the start of the eye to detail that you see Meze apply to the headphones with the case been contoured as low profile as possible so the case is relatively bulk free for when in transportation anywhere. It has a double zipped entry and a nice loop hook for hanging the case.
Once open you will find the Meze sitting there in the velour glove like protection of the EVA moulded hard case with the cables and accessories stored in a clever round soft case which has zip up closure. I wish more headphone company’s had this rather common sense approach with eye to detail with thought given to how best to store the cables and plugs and the accessory case sits nicely in the gap between the headband and ear cups.
In the accessories bag they have supplied two cables, both copper OFC Kevlar cable one with a shorter run which has a remote/microphone cable for use with both Android and Apple phones as well as any other dap that has a 3.5 jack is 1.2 Metre in length and and has play/ stop button which doubles up as next and previous track and phone / end call buttons.
The other cable is a generous 3 Metre length for use at home and then they complete the accessories set with a Gold plated 6.3mm jack adaptor plug and Aeroplane adaptor plug. The Headphone drivers are symmetrical which means the left and right is in the headphone is determined by the L & R marked 3.5 mono jack plugs which are easy to hook up for listening.
Also the left hand cable jack input has a raised ridge to differentiate it from the right cable so can be identified without having to look for the marked L & R symbols which is another simple yet nice touch.
The Classic headphones are light to hold in the hand and are not big as conventional full size headphones making these ideal for travelling especially been closed back headphones although I know for hardcore commuters there is no foldable design or swivel on the cups to make them more compact for storage when travelling which for me would take away from the overall design and implementation of the build on these headphones.
First thing I noticed was how light they feel on the head and this is helped I think by the way the headband is also designed with a simple yet clever and effective way the adjustment works. The PU leather headband is fairly thick and nice soft and supple which contributes to the non-fatiguing fit for listening sessions.
It’s the least fiddling I’ve had to do with headbands for quite a while which becomes bit of a god send, like I say it is the eye for detail for the simple little things that having been taken into the design aspect of these 99 classic’s that makes you start to warm to them before you even put them on.
The ear pads themselves are also a PU leather which have a memory foam inside and for me my ears just fit inside the cups but for some of you who have bigger lobes (like my father who tried them on) may find these become more a case of “on ears” instead of “over the ears” pair of headphones. I will come back to the pads a bit more in the “99 Classic sound” section…
Everything on this headphone is meant to be serviceable in the long term and used no glue, just nuts and bolts so if anything was to go at some stage down the road it can be replaced although hopefully by the feel and look of the way these have been designed they should last a long time unless you are a professional rock star who likes to throw them around in room destroying tantrums then they should be okay.
So how do the 99 Classics sound?….
I am by nature someone that is mid centric with my listening taste and is the first thing I make sure this is the first stop in hearing the music if my ears like this area making sure it is not recessed at all but I am not adverse to a signature that delivers a bass happy signature as I do own the JH16pros as my custom iem’s which are tuned to something like +6 db if I remember rightly and then I have the Sony 7520’s which although not obvious with their bass authority do have some bellows on them in the lows after owning the too bass light EU version of the ZX1000 Sony made which was essentially the same headphone with edgy treble and very light bass response.
Then last year have been listening too a lot of top end open backs after longing for a nice pair of high end pair of cans I finally purchased a pair of Grado GS1000e’s which I love and adore and if I had the money could imagine two or three more flagship open backs I would love to own and have also still been keeping my ears on the pulse with mid-price cans like the Beyer T90’s which I was really surprised with last year how good they were for the money so with looks and the cost box been ticked already on these Meze Classics would the sound match its design & build or was it going to be a shallow listening experience with just a pretty pretentious pair of headphones trying to just shift numbers on its designer looks?
Please roll up finally for sounds from another galaxy far-far away, Well Romania to be precise for design and manufactured in China.
99 Classic sound impressions
First thing I had to try these with was to see if my Sony ZX1 would be enough too drive them as I’ve had a few apparently efficient headphones the ZX1 has struggled with (including my Sony 7520’s) to get the optimum from them so wanted to know if it would be enough to drive the 99 Classics 32 ohms and thankfully they also did not just drive them with ease and effort they still had plenty left on the volume scale if needed so was nice to know they could pair with my ZX1 if I needed to use this for a trip somewhere with just my Walkman without my Hugo or Pure amp.
First thing I noticed before getting into the nitty gritty details on the sound is once I had these on I noticed the cable does suffer from micro phonics, although I personally use them just sitting in my armchair I detect this were also designed to be used mobile given their size, isolation and remote cable supplied so could be an issue for the Meze commuter out there who would want to use them on the go. I personally love the feel and flexibility of the cable despite its micro phonics but the only other sticking point for me at the same time with this cable is it does tend to get tangled up a bit too easy and the 3 metre cable can be a separate game of un-ravel the snake before you get to have a listening session.
Back to how this sounds, first thoughts were WOW! The bass immediately stands out when playing these on my ZX1 and you know from the word go you will not be lacking any bass from these headphones ever! Meze state they are naturally balanced sound with no artificial tweaking but you cannot help but feel these are bass tuned driven from the front line with their signature and does set the stall out for these as been a fun and exciting sounding headphone yet after a few tracks I was starting to notice there was more to them than just been a bass hungry headphone which my fears are when you get a headphone with plenty of bass is; does this mean the mids are recessed or does it bleed into the mids at all but luckily the mids are pretty balanced.
The Meze Bass
What makes these different? Well the more I was listening to these although predominantly they feel like they are on a soul driven bass carpet ride - the bass on these is not just quantity here, bass = quality also on the 99 Classics and has plenty of layers and tonal balance to the bass makes these feel quite life like with plenty of punch and control and can easily differentiate the mid to low bass notes and can be subtle or brutal in their impact especially the sub bass kick it is capable of as the Classics with any recording will engage that into the delivery of what you hear.
When hooked up to the Hugo or Mojo the bass only gets better as it tightens up even more and becomes focused and even more controlled with even more detail nuances to be heard in the bass notes is what actually makes or breaks these headphones as there are plenty of headphones that can do bass but not with the level of detail, tonality and timbre which feels at home with almost any genre I throw at it.
It’s not totally perfect as there are some songs where it can sound just a tad over cooked with the low bass notes making it sound bloated, this is a hit and miss thing I encountered which seemed to happen with some good recordings as well as the more average ones so could just be a mix of the generous Meze bass colliding with the way it is mixed on that particular recording for whatever reason beyond my technical knowledge in the sound engineering department...
For the most part for someone that has been listening to a lot of open back headphones with a more neutral tuned bass in the last year I found these really addictive as it has an uncanny knack of just sounding quite natural to listen too musically rather than analytical listening sense although it is the ability they have to be analytical enough with details which is mixing well in the warm exciting dynamic fun melting pot with this seductive bass signature which is also in part to the rest of how Meze have built the building blocks of how this sounds overall has a sense of cohesion to everything.
After all it’s okay having a great bass presence which actually has quality as well as quantity but what about how it co- exists with the rest of the sound on these 99 Classics?...
[size=20.007px]The Meze Mids[/size]
The one thing I started to notice after a few tracks is that the Classics were not just a one trick pony with just been all about the bass as the more I listened the more it became apparent that what I was hearing with the amount of detail in the bass I was hearing across the mids on this headphone and even started to notice nuances in details on recordings I had heard a hundred times over down the years actually sounding different even after hearing those songs on some more expensive headphones in the last couple of years. It was like they had somehow paved a way in the mids for the little details in recordings to stand out quite distinctively on their own.
The mids in general have a good balance of been evident without been to aggressive or forward with a hump to them or recessed and sound clear with an ability for good timing, rhythm & speed which never makes a song slouchy or slow.
It did make me start to wonder how they were doing this as I thought I had heard it all before until now considering how much these classics are priced at so somehow they are finding a way for the detail to shine through that you will sit up and notice when listening.
The soundstage quite wide for a closed back considering it’s small cup size also and it is this soundstage with the excellent stereo imaging which gives these headphones a sense of 3D sound with plenty of depth and height which is contradictive to the small cup design appearance from the outside then putting them on is like taking a step inside the Tardis!
These are well insulated closed backs but have to say the imaging is done really well and placement of instruments still have plenty of space around each other and has a very clear presentation which I think lends to the micro details coming through in the mids really well, so well I am trying to work out how I have not heard some of this detail on more expensive cans in last couple of years in the way Meze have managed to do it.
Vocals are clear and focused in the centre and well placed to rest of the soundstage, like the mids they are not recessed and can clearly hear the lead singer at all times and female or male vocals sound equally as good with a fragile/ tender or powerhouse vocalist sounding just as impressive.
The mids also have a good sense of speed, rhythm and timing for a dynamic driver and seem to keep up easy with fast music and the more I listened to my vast eclectic library of Flac & WAV files the more I noticed these are suited to any music even classical as the classics portray very good sense of depth and height which the dynamics of the bass range helps give that sense of feeling with recordings.
The Meze Treble
One thing I did worry about initially was the treble which is smooth as butter at times as the highs were not harsh or edgy (which is always my biggest worry with a headphone or iem) nor forward started to think they may have been a bit lost in the balance of the mids and the powerhouse bass but with more songs that went by started to notice it was there but is evenly spread in the mix with complex songs with a lot happening but with something like acoustic music or more easy going music you can hear the top end very easily with a precision to the ringing echoes in micro details of hi-hats and symbols been struck and with very good recordings can portray an uncannily very realistic sounding treble note with Hi Hats & symbols.
Finger picking of acoustic guitars or sliding the fret board started to re assure me the treble can have a nice extension giving it the lively enough feel a treble still needs all though always though it doesn’t feel like the most forward of sounding treble sounding headphones it is there and with a refined smooth quality.
With a few straight days under my belt now although you know these are a headphone with a sense of bass on tap in its spades it has a nice balance although not a neutral one with a warmth to its signature and nice natural timbres with anything it plays as even Piano’s do not sound artificial so far but drums and guitar do stand out with this Meze yet it sounds on the most part clear and precise in its execution and delivery and have never heard them sound like they want to distort during music that is hectic, loud and fast and I have been known to listen to my stuff on the louder side of the moon to some out there although not to points of distortion to the ears with treble losing it composure and making the ears bleed.
I usually do spout about different songs and artist I have heard along the way when listening as references but with just listening too so much across a broad range over last few days (as it’s been that addictive) suggests I actually am enjoying and liking these more than I thought I ever would.
Last few days of repeated listening to some artist as they sound so good on the Meze like I’ve heard guitars from Rodrigo & Gabriel which is very well suited with the way the hand slapping on the guitars comes through with a resonating wooden echo on the bass which I guess is complimented by it actually coming from a wooden cup driver in the 99 Classics.
Fine guitarist such as Antonio Forcione, Lee Ritenour, Kaki King, Joe Bonamassa sound great with good realistic string tones with good speed & decay and just perfect leading and trailing edges to notes with plenty of micro detail in the picking of each string been played with the likes of AC-DC, Muse, Foo fighters or Pink Floyd have that fluid speed, power and drive that makes electric rock guitars come to life.
Where the quality meets depth and slam with clarity on the Meze and can hear how life like the bass is with Imelda May albums with the string bass really hitting through the floor and another great recording with Imelda’s albums as there can be many instruments and harmony’s on top of each other when one of their songs is in top flight but every one of her band can be heard with ease due to the sense of space and soundstage the Meze lends to this good recording.
One of my favourite bands Fleetwood Mac rocks with the drive of Mick Fleetwoods signature drumming with the lower mids of Mcvie’s bass guitar sounding multi toned notes with good reverb and meat to the strings and Lindsey’s upper mid guitar sounds pin point without been overly sharp and the harmonys of the group are layered on imaginary clouds and correctly placed in the soundstage and re-living Rumours or Tusk remastered with the added studio outtakes & alternative versions of the album songs are meant for these Meze headphones as the 99 Classic 40mm drivers compliment that already rich punchy layered bass and laid back blues sounds Fleety Mac excel at time and time again.
Moving away from my world of Rock genres Dance music really has a kick and slam and this really is how you know how much bass these can throw at you as dance tracks like Sia with her last two albums 1000 Forms of fear & This is acting have bass lines that gradually work their way down to the basement or just a sudden explosion of bass impact like a subwoofer can really emphasis Sia’s vocals which are powerful in their own right but the Classics bring her voice to life with a very energized and clear engagement that is right at the front of the stage. I think I had goose bumps listening to Sia with a few of her songs on the Meze.
… Zola Jesus, Leftfield, Rob D or Daft Punk’s Tron OST has dimension and impact depth, power, height and control with sounding and feeling (yes, feeling) like a real club like Jamo or JBL bass through these CNC & hand crafted wooden cups as it resonates which some might not like but I happen to love it as long as the actual tonality and realism of the bass sounds correct to the relevant song.
This is also why live music really excels on the 99 Classics and really takes you to another place with that vast soundstage with the recordings actually making the Meze soundstage sound bigger than it usually does with studio recordings yet Fleetwood Mac – The Dance Live is where the Meze bass is at home as it makes the drum kicks just like they sound live as the drum sound travels around you as it pans out from Micks centre point on stage and the frequent use of chimes, symbols, hi-hats show how capable it can handle the treble as good as it does in the mids and bass on this album.
Stevie Nicks “Soundstage sessions” Live another example of this with her gritty V10 powered blues tilt into rock driven vocals.
Cream live at Royal Albert Hall especially the ten minute drumming showcase song “Toad” is exceptional to listen to on the 99 Classics and captures the spectrum of frequency ranges and instruments been played whilst capturing the feeling of actually been there with the soundstage presence of width and distance with the crowd in the background.
I am quite a sucker for female vocalist including Stevie Nicks as already mentioned but listening to female artist like Nina Simone, Sia, Birdy, Tori Amos, Ellie Goulding, Lissie or Florence & the Machines big sound all take control and the addictive bass presence with good textured mids takes a back seat whilst you become transfixed to the focus the 99 Classics vocals manage to capture with the sense of raw emotion and placement with timing and tonal rendering of the vocal pallet feel and sound real enough to captivate and belief allowing me to lose myself in the music.
Kate Bush - Aerial is another very well recorded album although there are some oddity tracks on these two cd’s which really exemplifies the spaces and airiness of this album which makes even the obscure tracks on here interesting too.
Tori Amos Crucify & Under the Pink remastered it really shows what the 99 Classics can do with recordings that are mastered really well and can perform on a level of reference listening in terms of detail and natural feel of music that connects when you listen to these which let you just enjoy rather than analyse the music so must be something about how they have struck a balance despite the uncanny ability to be one of the really bass pronounced sounding pair of headphones I’ve heard for a while but it’s how it handles the mid bass and sub bass with distinction of tonal accuracy and timbre reality has helped me relive these remasters of Tori Amos like the first time I ever heard them.
Despite these been a warmer sounding pair of cans with that Meze sound classical music is really suited to the 99 classics also because although warmish it has the clarity room to breathe with detail to still make symphony’s like Mahler No.5 have authority yet a spatialness and air without It becoming trapped or muffled in the horn section when during the lively passages and the higher than average detail for the price tier can be heard during the quite passages in the background gives the sense of how big the venue is with sound reverb from various movements of sounds made by people rustling and moving.
Wood kid big wide open power sound with Tracks like Run Boy Run and Iron becoming addictive in the mid-range building layers as the song develops and the sub bass again excels with Woodkid recordings and his crescendo high that builds continuously towards the end of Run Boy Run never loses control even when at a high volume lending to the impact the final section of that song builds up too.
Again there are a few songs that have at times when the Meze shows the tendency to bloat with the bass it can bleed a little to the lower mids and muffle or cancel out the clarity of the song yet with Nina Simone it shows the 99 Classics are capable of the nailing it when it keeps the bass in check rhythm and timing really captivating and the classic song “Sinner Man” on the 99 Classics shows the Meze’s ability to shine with the treble section on a track like this.
The piano seems to flow quite naturally and sounds good when it hits the breakdown section at approx. 8.30mins before the final melee run of all the instruments portrays the piano keys not overblown on the bass note edge and the upper mids to highs of notes the timbre sounds natural enough to me so the warmth of the Meze does not ruin the spacious trebly feel of this song or ruin that mid to high driven rhythm & timing that had me tapping my feet along with this 10 min journey of a song.
The reason I think the 99 Classics is managing to pull at my heart strings is because of the way Meze have made this have a cohesion of sound which although warm and no matter how they say it is tuned it has a more than neutral or studio flat tuned feel bass about it to my ears yet there is a lovely balance to these headphones which is only really set apart from the amount of detail they manage to somehow extract in the right areas at the right moments to compliment the overall exciting bass driven signature.
With all this Meze have managed to really gel this into sounding a *non fatiguing fun & enjoyable yet accurate enough for serious listening headphone at the same time which has left me feeling perplexed in a happy way!?
*denote is for as many hours as they are good to listen to with plenty of listening time with them the PU leather pads can get a bit warm at times so not sure how that would bear for people who it will fit on the ear over a prolonged listening session.
Finally what album I find will pretty much try any headphone in all departments in their songs is an old favourite of mine that I almost forgot to try until the 11th
hour of having these on loan and have down the years used: Yello – The Race album as one of my demo track cds for auditioning my speaker Hi-Fi seperates and now use in same way in the head-fi world with trying out equipment which I now have the luxury of now days having the much improved remaster version and have to say listening to this really did blow my mind as it was just spot on as if I was hearing this through my B&W floor standing speakers.
The balance between the different frequency’s is very coherent has an amazing sense of speed and clarity in the mids whilst this bass impacts with a sub bass rumble is continuing in the background to the soundtrack of major drum rolling and and the hi-hats resonate just perfectly as they clash repeatedly.
The Race track is a very dynamic track and the Meze is faithful to this and adds that meat to the bone where a lot of neutral headphones will lack in reproducing how this track should sound with a really slick and fast presentation with plenty of dynamics and a proper sub bass feel which makes the most of the soundstage and imaging with the sound of old racing cars panning from side to side.
There are few headphones out of all of them that have managed to capture this album just right like always hearing these track on a pair of big speakers and I can truthfully say I have heard it on only two or three headphones that were two open backs and one closed back costing between £500-£1700 which really done this song justice so was in my element listening to this album again to how the recording is across the spectrum.
The Classics also sounded really competent when I heard trumpets and trombone’s with Trombone Shorty’s “For true” album and the trumpet having a focused centralized point of sound delivery with plenty of body and verve blasting the air with a feel of power which gives a very 3D dynamic feel in listening as if been at a parade in New Orleans which then gave me the bug to listen to more blues music orientated music on these 99 Classics.
The 99 Classics have really surprised me after first visually liking these with intrigue through to hearing them finally thanks to the Meze tour coming along.
Though at first hearing these can predominantly just sound bass accentuated with not much treble end but after listening to this for prolonged period they are more balanced than they appear as my biggest dread is a recessed mid in a headphone so having just the right amount of mids which do not seem to humped or recessed helps build the foundation allowing the really low bass to work on these.
Oh yes that bass, which really would not work if not so much attention had been paid to getting them to sound very detailed with a good sense of accuracy of timbre, speed and space leading to good separation with that BASS and have a good frequency sweep with clarity from the upper mid bass all the way down to the sub bass floor all with a smooth cohesion of dynamics which makes these become addictive despite not all tracks benefitting from this it is few and far between with its warmish tint but not overly warm sound that it becomes a bit fuzzy and sluggish sounded is the quality of detail that is combined and intertwined into this quite inconspicuous fun, rich, dynamic and responsive open sounding closed back cans.
It all adds up to meaning you can just sit back and relax to the music on these and hear a great amount of detail retrieval at this level the Classics are set at without it been over analytical in the detail department that makes these sound good with lesser recordings and sound really great with superior recordings whether Red book or Hi-res tracks so they scale well.
I really think this maybe be the headphone that could ween the bass happy Beats generation onto a headphone that still can do bass but with a natural balance to the order of putting tonality and detail in the music first with a dynamic feel and engagement that has made me rethink that headphones at this price can and maybe still have a place when you own more expensive offerings.
So for that young Beats owner making the jump they might not need to upgrade to the next level for a while before the day comes they feel ready to go flagship level if they ever go that far which then does make me also wonder if Meze can produce this build, design with this sound for this price would and could they do with a bigger budget for a flagship model one day?
Will be keeping my eye on Meze in the future for sure but for now will seriously consider getting one of these later on despite owning the very talented detailed Grados which I love and my current Sony 7520s feel the urge to still have a pair of these for sure which has surprised me as I went into this really thinking they cannot sound good as they look! How wrong I was, sorry Meze, somehow I find myself listening to the 99 Classics happily for hours (when pads do not get to hot) and do have to remind myself I am listening to a pair of headphones that are priced at only 309 euros currently.
… they may not be totally perfect after all there is room for improvement in some areas the 99 Classics are a lot closer to overall cohesion perfection musically than others at this price point and the few negatives I pointed out would not be a deal breaker for me especially at this price and sure this is a company which will work on those things in time with the amount of attention and effort they pay putting into the design and build as well as most of it has been a common sense approach with a reasoning behind the design to have a use and not to just look pretty so look forward to the future offerings as I feel Meze could be one to watch grow over time into a bigger player if they can cook up more headphones like this.
Although as you can tell by now I am concluding to liking these Meze I will say this with an impartial approach still, if you like your bass in your music you will like these with the added benefit of still sounding fairly balanced still with clarity and more than average detail at this price point with good eye for detail and great thought behind the build.
But if you are the type of person that likes a more neutral flatter bass like studio monitoring style reference of bass reproduction or a lighter bass not so much bottom end then you might want to try something else but if you like a real sense of how music is not about analytics in details only and more about emotion and soul with dynamical power and excitement to its signature on tap then these my friend are for you (probably!)
Thank you for the opportunity to have these for seven fast and fun days that opened my eyes once again to how the audio world can still surprise and is evolving at all levels.