The 99 Classics first appeared on my radar when I read @BloodyPenguin's review. Not only did his description of the 99 Classics sound intrigue me, but his images showed off the physical beauty of this amazing headphone. When I laid eyes on the 99 Classics, it was love at first sight.
When I saw that Meze was running a Canadian leg to their 99 Classics tour, it was pretty late in the application process. I'm not sure if it made a difference in @MezeTeam's selection process especially since I'm pretty inexperienced compared to the majority of their selected applicants, but I want to thank @nmatheis for putting in a good word for me.
When Meze contacted me to advise that I would be put on the tour, I was taken aback. This amazing looking pair of headphones would eventually serenade my ears, even if only for a short period. To say that I was stoked was an understatement. The best headphones I've heard/owned to date have been the UE6000, AKG K512 MKii, and my current favorite, the AKG K553 Pro. I was VERY excited to hear how the Meze 99 Classics would compare to these headphones which I have become very familiar with.
Disclaimer: The Meze 99 Classics were sent to me for seven (seemingly very short) days as part of their Canadian tour. I am in no way affiliated with Meze and receive no financial compensation for this review.
A little about me:
While I'm still pretty new to the world of hi-fi portable audio, my love of budget earphones and headphones has allowed me to more-or-less find my preferred signature. Don't think this means that I avoid variety, because that couldn't be further from the truth!
My gear is still pretty basic, consisting of the venerable Topping NX1, HTC One M8, and an Asus G73 laptop with Plantronics Rig USB amp. My current favorite earphone is the JVC HA-FXH30. I primarily listen to EDM (liquid drum and bass ftw), hip hop, and classic rock, but have been known to dabble in metal and jazz. While I enjoy a good sounding product, physical design is also key. If they look boring but sound great, that's cool, but I would like to have something interesting to look that is also great sounding. Since I have such an unnecessarily large collection of headphones and earphones, I spend just as much time listening to them as I do enjoying the variety of designs. Luckily, the 99 Classics had no problems nailing my criteria for beauty in both sound and design. Now, to the fun part.
I flip back the magnetically sealed flap after spending a few moments dissecting the subtle images of the 99 Classics printed on the front and sides of the box. On the inside of the flap I see foam has been glued, preventing the beautifully molded case from being scratched or damaged in any way.
I reach into the box and lift out the hard EVA case. It molds to my hands. The leather texture feels premium to the touch, smooth but not slick. The zippers, thick and durable, fluidly move their way around the case, splitting it in two.
Tilting back the top half of the case I get my first glimpse of the 99 Classics. They look great in pictures, and even better in the flesh. I lift them out and set them to the side, picking up a small velvet case about the thickness of two hockey pucks. Coiled inside I find two cables, one for mobile use, one for home use. Let's set that aside too. Also inside is an airplane adapter and a 6.35mm adapter. Very nice. I zip up the case and return my gaze to the 99 Classics.
Wow, what a glorious looking headphone. My eyes flow from the golden inserts where the cables plug in, across the flawless surface of the wooden ear cups, up to the leather headband that arcs gracefully between the two cups. I could stare at these for hours, but if they sound as good as they look that would be a waste.
I plug the cable into each ear cup, lift the 99 Classics onto my head, and let them rest around my ears. Perfect. The weight distributes across my head flawlessly. My ears fit just inside the ear cups, held snug by the memory foam. Now this is comfort.
So, what to listen to? Some Crystal Method? I don't think so. Rage Against the Machine? Not quite. Tool? That could be nice, but it doesn't feel quite special enough. Oh! I know. Supertramp's Crime of the Century, one of my favorite albums of all time. That's the perfect choice.
I lay down on the couch, lean my head back, close my eyes, and hit 'play'. From the sweet harmonica intro of "School", to the Wurli piano solo in "Bloody Well Right", to the intense journey through jazz, rock, and progressive that is "Rudy", to the closing moments of "Crime of the Century", everything is played without effort. The emotion immaculately portrayed, no detail missed. Bass hits just right. Treble is prominent and sparkles with gusto. Hodgson's voice effortlessly echoes across the soundstage. My smile widens. Let's throw on King Crimson's "Lark's Tongues in Aspic" next...
That was my intro to the 99 Classics, and an experience that carried over to practically every listening session I had with them. Their natural, slightly warm and mostly balanced sound, supreme comfort, and delicious good looks completely won me over. Not since first listening to the AKG K553 Pro, my primary headphone, was I so pleased.
Since the K553 Pro was the best headphone I'd heard to date, it was only natural that this review compare the two. Prior to the 99 Classics crossing my path, the K553 Pro met pretty much all my needs. At times I felt they could be a little bright and their sub-bass presentation leaves a bit to be desired since they roll off early, but they offer up lots of detail with clean, smooth mids. As long as you avoid unnecessarily high volume listening, the AKG K553 Pro can be a very pleasant listen.
To my surprise I found the 99 Classics and K553 Pro similar in many aspects, though they did differ in some important criteria, those being the areas where I had issues with the AKG. Treble provided just enough shimmer along with lots of detail, and never approached discomfort or sibilance. The 99 Classics don't have quite the same extension as the K553 Pro, but they never felt like they were lacking in any way. Mids were just as clean and clear, handling anything I tossed at them with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed them with male vocals and the lengthy guitar solos you find in many classic rock tracks. Sub-bass met the needs that my AKG K553 Pro fails to address. The 99 Classics have just the right amount of extension and rumble to work with all of my favorite music, something the K553 misses the mark on. Mid-bass is punchy and reasonably quick, never bleeding into the mids. I enjoy the snappy sound of the K553 Pro, but the 99 Classics retains most of that energy while being easier on the ears and more versatile across a variety of genres. I'll chalk that up to their additional warmth and slightly more relaxed treble presentation.
Listening to all my favorite tracks again and again was nothing but pleasant, and there really wasn't anything about the 99 Classics that I disliked. They're just a darn good headphone. Every listen was an event, from the time I picked them up to examine their curvaceous design and flawless construction, to the last note played before they were returned to their case.
If I were to make any suggestions for improvements, it would have to go to the cables. They look beautiful and feel wonderful, but being cloth-covered meant they could be a bit noisy, and will likely be subject to fraying down the road. Still, this is a VERY minor issue in my opinion, and is pretty much negligible.
I can't say much on isolation since they were used only indoors in a relatively quite environment (no way I'm taking a loaner outside!!). That said, they were able to adequately block my lovely fiancee's music and videos, so there's something.
The 99 Classics are my favorite audio device, hands down. The unboxing experience leaves nothing to be desired. Simple but effective. The accessories are of high quality. The headphones themselves are drop dead gorgeous. All that backed by amazing sound quality means the 99 Classics are just a stunningly good piece and worth every penny.
Thank you @MezeTeam for giving me the opportunity to try these out, and for exposing me to my new favorite headphone. I'm excited to see what you have in store for us later this year. If you ever run another Canadian tour, I'll be the first to sign up!
Thanks for reading!