ufospls2

Headphoneus Supremus
Meze Audio ELITE full Review
Pros: Comfort
Build
Weight
Sensitivity
"Natural" sounding
Cons: Not as detailed or technically accomplished as the top, top headphones
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Meze Elite
Hi All,

Today we are talking about the new flagship headphone from Romanian based Meze Audio. Meze are an interesting company, with great design chops, coming up with some very interesting headphones as of late. Up until the release of their former flagship headphone, which was released in 2018, the Empyrean, Meze had largely focused on more “consumer” type headphones. However, the Empyrean target the high end of “Audiophile” headphones, and was released at an MSRP of $3000USD, which is not insignificant. The design phase of the Empyrean headphones saw a partnership begin involving Meze Audio, and Rinaro Isodynamics. Rinaro is a designer of planar magnetic driver, and their roots actually date back to the soviet era. This combination of overall design from Meze, and drivers from Rinaro, has resulted thus far in 3 headphones. Today, we will focus on the new ELITE, but also talk about the Empyrean. The also recently released LIRIC closed headphone, will be covered in another forthcoming review.

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ELITE box (now just called ELITE)
Lets talk about the main thing that made both the Empyrean and now the ELITE somewhat different. The driver uses what Rinaro calls an ISODYNAMIC array. Essentially, it separates the low frequency, and mid/high frequency production from the driver into two separate trace and magnet arrays. The mid/high array is circular and centred right over the ear hole, and the bass array is larger and centred above the mid/high array. The general idea of using this array is a reduction in time delay problems that can be created from having the entire driver produce all the frequencies. This reminds me somewhat of what Wilson Audio talks about a lot in the speaker space. Focusing on time domain accuracy with their modular driver units, and trying to get all the sounds arriving at the listening position all at exactly the same moment. Whether or not this actually effects the overall sound is a topic of hot debate, but I’m open to it being an effective method of achieving “good” sound. I do think that in a headphone, it may not matter very much as the driver is literally right beside the ear, but I could see the placement on the mid/high array being right over the ear hole making sense, as the lower in frequency you go, the less directional the sound becomes. I have read some people who felt the overall sound of this ISODYNAMIC driver type was not as coherent sounding as regular planar magnetic drivers, but honestly, I have not found that to be the case. To me, it just sounds like other planar magnetic headphones, obviously with differences in terms of tuning and technicalities. Is this a case of solving a problem that doesn’t exist? It might be, but Meze and Rinaro have indeed got something good going on here, so perhaps that is not the case.

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The full package
Back in 2018 when the Empyrean was originally doing the rounds at shows in prototype form, it was all the rage. However, the community at large seemed to largely disavow the Empyreans sound signature as being too warm, too muddy, and not detailed enough. “$3000 build quality with $1000 sound quality” was something I read more than a few times. The ELITE seems to be trying to address the communities concerns about the Empyrean, and in my opinion, it does so very well. I will get to that more in a little bit, but first, I have to talk about the build quality of the Empyrean and ELITE.

Usually I would talk about this area later in a review, but the Empyrean and ELITE are so remarkable I need to mention it first. These are without a doubt the best thought out, best built, and comfiest headphones I have ever tried. This seems to be the impression of everyone who comes across a pair. They fit so well, are so comfortable, and not heavy, and just ooze quality in terms of feel. Aluminum, carbon fibre, sumptuous ear pads, leather, alcantara. Meze has absolutely nailed the ergonomics and build quality of both the Empyrean and ELITE. Truly superb craftsmanship and design. 10/10.

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Superb Build
Now, where the Empyrean and ELITE differ is the sound quality. The ELITE have an altogether new driver, which they have called the Rinaro “PARUS.” With entirely different tuning, both the Empyrean and ELITE seem to have a niche they fill, and I can entirely understand Meze continuing to offer both headphones in their lineup.

I will speak of the Empyrean first, then get to the ELITE.

The Empyrean is a warm and thick sounding headphone, that could be a bit shouty at time in the upper mids and lower treble. Some people found the upper treble to bright, but I didn’t have a problem with it at all. The bass was certainly higher in level than most “audiophile” headphones, and when I used the leather pads I didn’t find I needed to boost it via EQ at all, when with most headphones I usually do a small increase. Overall, I usually prefer headphone I don’t have to EQ beyond a small boost in the low end, but I did find the Empyrean benefitted from more EQ than I would usually do. In its stock tuning, for me personally, it was a bit warm, and thick sounding. If you like that sort of sound, then these are very much worth considering. If you don’t mind doing a bit of EQ, then the Empyrean is also worth considering. In terms of technical performance, I actually think the Empyrean has gotten a bit of a bad rap, and perhaps people are basing their opinions on reading about them, vs actually listening to them. Whilst they don’t perform as well as some other headphones in terms of technical performance, I do think they perform well enough to not be written off entirely. With that being said, if you are after detail, dynamics, and that sort of thing above all else, I would recommend looking elsewhere. The Empyrean makes a case for its use when you need a headphone that is incredibly comfortable, well built, warm sounding, whilst also being incredibly easy to drive and accepting of all types of amplification.

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The Empyrean in Jet Black
The ELITE is a very different animal to the Empyrean in terms of overall sound. It is largely a fairly neutral “audiophile” type tuning, whilst retaining a little bit of the musicality aspect that the Empyrean perhaps overdid. I much prefer the ELITEs tuning over all, but do find that I need to do a tiny boost with EQ in the low end. Apart from that, there is nothing about the ELITEs tuning that I don’t like. Its not too bright, its not shouty, its a very well balanced sound signature. The new driver from Rinaro is a heck of a lot better in terms of technical performance also. The ELITE bring more detail, better dynamic performance, and better overall coherency to the table. The Empyrean did quite well with the “macro” side of things, but I found it struggled with the “micro” side of things. Micro detail, microdynamics, the tiny things you notice which add up to a more involving and enjoyable experience are overall much better with the ELITE.

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Comparative Empyrean Listening
In terms of soundstage and imaging, both the ELITE and Empyrean have an extremely “natural” sounding presentation. The ELITE is much better in terms of imaging accuracy than the Empyrean, but both present a soundstage that is neither wide nor small. As I said, it sounds natural. The headphone disappears in this aspect, and you just listening to music. Whereas a Focal Utopia sound noticeably claustrophobic and small, and the Abyss 1266TC or HD800 sounds wide and grande, the Empyrean and ELITE are similar to the Susvara soundstage, striking a great balance right in the middle.

The Elite and Empyrean both have the best pad attachment system I have come across. Making it incredibly easy to change between their two pad options. The Empyrean sounded better with the Leather pads I found, but the Alcantara were more comfortable. The ELITE sounds better with the shallow leather hybrid pads, as I found the Alcantara pads reduced the bass far too much for my personal preference. Each headphone comes with both sets of their respective pads, so I would recommend trying them both out, as you may be different to me, and will find out what you and your ears prefer.

Both the Empyrean and ELITE are 100db/mW in terms of sensitivity, and 30hms. This means they are incredibly easy to drive headphones. Now, both headphones, the ELITE in particular, will sound better with better source equipment, but their easy to drive nature means that you can use them with such a truly wide variety of source equipment. Its actually one of their best features. I have had tremendous success with the iFi Hip DAC V2, and the Fiio Q3. Both very affordable and easily accessible source equipment. I would like to hear the ELITE from a top of the line tube amp, but they certainly sounded superb from my Boulder 866, that whilst being speaker amp, has a volume ramp up which allows the use of even the most sensitive headphones.

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Elite
The included cable with the Empyrean and ELITE is the same, and entirely serviceable in nature. However, Meze does offer upgrade cables for these headphones, that whilst not cheap, do look great, and I’m sure provide a better build quality and less microphonics.

In terms of comparisons. The Hifiman Susvara and Abyss AB1266TC are both more detailed and more technically accomplished. The Susvara has a very similar presentation of sound, in that it sounds very natural, and even throughout the frequency response. The ELITE has slightly more bass presence than the Susvara, but is very similar elsewhere. The 1266TC is much harder hitting, and punchier, whilst presenting a much larger soundstage. The 1266TC is a bit brighter, and has a crisper treble.

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The ELITE driver assembly
Overall, my take away of the ELITE (and the Empyrean before it, to a lesser degree) was one word.

.Unproblematic.

Now, you may think that isn’t a good description to come to mind for a $4000USD headphone, but, please hear me out.

Every single headphone at the top of the line bracket has some consideration you need to take into account before buying it. The Abyss 1266 is large, heavy, and some find it uncomfortable. The Susvara lacks build quality, great materials, and is extremely hard to drive. The Utopia has a small soundstage and the “mechanical clipping” feature. The ELITE has none of these concerns. It is incredibly easy to drive, it is incredibly well built, with the best of materials, and it is incredibly comfortable. It may not reach the absolute sound quality that the Susvara, or 1266TC reach, but it honestly isn’t far away from them. As a complete package, it is incredibly easy to recommend.

Now, for some people, myself included, the considerations of headphones like the 1266TC and Susvara are worth working around, for ultimate sound quality. However, there are also people who just want a “one and done” headphone, that makes it easy to enjoy their tunes at the highest level. The ELITE does this in spades, and has become one of my favourite headphones with ease. It has taken everything that made the Empyrean great, but improved on all the aspect that made it more of a niche product. If you can’t be bothered with speaker amps, comfort concerns etc…check out the Meze ELITE. Highly recommended. Well done to Antonio Meze, Rinaro, and the rest of the team at Meze Audio 🙂
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turbofeet
Good Review; thanks.

I love my Empy's and they are exactly as you describe but really lovely to listen to anyway.

I have been wondering about the Susvara and 1266 TC but as you pointed out you (apparently...) need a nuclear reactor to run the Susvara and the TCs look really cumbersome and uncomfortable.

I would love to experience the Susvara and TC but I'm not sure I could live with them day to day.

I tried the Stellia as well and found them too detailed and it kind of ruined poorer recordings for me. I suspect those other top tier cans would do the same. Not everything you listen to is going to be recorded well.

It's a pretty difficult balancing act these manufacturers need to try and achieve to please everyone...detail without too much harshness...fun without losing too much detail/separation. Plus audiophiles are pretty ruthless.

These are most likely my next choice of headphone...
reddog
reddog
A wonderful review very informative thanks
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Makiah S
Makiah S
Great review!

WaveTheory

100+ Head-Fier
Meze Empyrean Elite Review - by WaveTheory
Pros: Generalist tuning good for a wide range of music genres; big soundstage; 2 pad types that change sound signature; world-class build quality and comfort
Cons: Both pad types come with noticeable sonic drawbacks; leather hybrid pads are too shallow for ears that stick out; technical sonic performance falls short of $4K standards
INTRODUCTION

The Empyrean Elite, the new, open-back, top-of-the-line, “Isodynamic” planar-magnetic -driver headphone from Meze. It’s $4000 US and stirring up lots of conversation and buzz. It’s indeed intriguing. It has some strengths. It has some weaknesses – as all audio components do. What are they? Read on to find out…

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Get comfy, though. We again have a lot of ground to cover…

I should also get out of the way that I have not heard the original Empyrean. Therefore. the thoughts that follow will not be any sort of comparison to the original Empyrean, but a review of the Elite on strictly its own merits.

TL;DR

The Empyrean Elite has top-notch build quality and some ergonomic features that show a high attention to detail, and world-class comfort. It comes with two pad types that give meaningfully different sound signatures but also bring their own drawbacks. Trying to solve the drawbacks of one with EQ brings back the problems of the other. In the end, for many there will be a few too many sonic compromises as the overall technical sound performance is not on par with other $4K headphones, and indeed can be had for $3K.

KNOW YOUR REVIEWER

My preferred genres are rock/metal and classical/orchestral music. I’m getting to know jazz more and enjoying quite a bit. I also listen to some EDM and hip-hop. My hearing quirks include a high sensitivity to midrange frequencies from just under 1KHz to around 3Khz, give or take. My ears are thus quick to perceive “shoutiness” in headphones in particular. I describe “shoutiness” as an emphasis on the ‘ou’ sound of ‘shout.’ It’s a forwardness in the neighborhood of 1KHz and/or on the first one or two harmonics above it (when I make the sound ‘ooooowwwww’ into a spectrum analyzer the dominant frequency on the vowel sound is around 930Hz, which also means harmonic spikes occur again at around 1860Hz and 2790Hz). In the extreme, it can have the tonal effect of sounding like a vocalist is speaking or singing through a toilet paper tube or cupping their hands over their mouth. It can also give instruments like piano, but especially brass instruments, an added ‘honk’ to their sound. I also get distracted by sibilance, or sharp ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds that can make ssssingers sssssound like they’re forssssssing esssss ssssssounds aggresssssssively. Sibilance does not physically hurt my ears nearly as quickly as shout, though. It’s distracting because it’s annoying and unnatural. Finally, I’m discovering that I have a preference for more subtle detail. I like good detail retrieval and hearing what a recording has to offer, but I prefer what many would consider relaxed and subtle rather than aggressive or detail-forward. To my ear, more subtle detail-retrieval sounds more realistic and natural than aggressive, detail-forwardness. There is a balance here, though, because detail retrieval can get too relaxed and that can sound unnatural, as well, or simply leave out important aspects of the recording. Readers should keep these hearing quirks and preferences in mind as they read my descriptions of sound.

FEATURES & BUILD

BUILD

Let’s start off with the build quality and visual stuff. It’s of course subjective, but if you can’t at least respect the build quality and the attention to detail put into the fit ‘n finish of the Elite, then you’re wrong ;p. The aesthetic design is unique and bold. It works for me – I think it’s gorgeous – but the overall beauty is definitely a matter of perspective. However, from a visual standpoint it looks – and I’ll add feels – every bit the part of a $4K headphone.

Some of the aesthetic design is also a result of form following function. The oddly shaped suspension strap allows the strap to conform to the head and alleviates common headphone pressure points. For my head it works. It’s one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn.

The earcups are attached to the headband with a friction-based rod and sleeve system that strikes a great balance between being tight enough to stay in place but also loose enough to adjust for larger heads. There isn’t a locking mechanism but I never had issue with the headband elongating when I didn’t want it to:

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The earcups can also rotate 360 degrees:

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This ability to rotate does not feel sloppy at all. You have to be intentional to move it to that position, but the balance between resisting that motion and moving it there feels wonderful.

There is dual cable entry with mini XLR jacks on each earcup. I mostly used the stock cable, which is of reasonable quality but a bit on the stiff side. It doesn’t tangle, but is prone to kinking, and a little long for desktop use. It’s probably fine for stretching from an equipment rack to an easy chair.

And then there’s the pads! The Elite ships with 2 pair of earpads. One pair is a leather hybrid and the other velour:

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The velour pads are much deeper:

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Those listeners with ears that stick out may have some issues with their earlobes touching the inside of the driver housing. The velour pads have slightly less ear area but much more ear depth. Both sets of pads are soft and feel nice against the side of the head. The pad mounting system is very simple and very elegant. The pads are simply held on by magnets:

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Along the theme of excellent overall build quality, the strength with which the pads affix to the frame strikes a great balance between being easy to change and holding firmly in place. This is the quickest and easiest pad swapping I’ve ever been able to do on any headphone. The Abyss Diana Phi has a magnetic pad-mounting system but that one is far more difficult to get the pad off the cup – almost having to pry it off – but the Elite lacks the Diana’s ability to rotate the pads for different sound signatures. That said, the Elite’s different pads come with sonic differences as well, which will be discussed at length in the Sound section.

What Is This Isodynamic Driver Business?

The drivers in the Elite are made by a company called Rinaro. Meze/Rinaro calls the driver a “Isodynamic Hybrid Array”. It’s a planar magnetic driver that has the wire trace built in 2 different geometric patterns in different regions of the membrane:

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[Image from Meze’s website: https://mezeaudio.com/products/elite]

The top part of the trace (blue) is called the “switchback” and the bottom part (orange) is called the “spiral”. The switchback is optimized for bass frequencies and the spiral is optimized for mids and highs and is also positioned to be aligned with the opening of the ear canal. In reading their website, Meze/Rinaro did not say exactly why they did this (at least on the Elite’s homepage, it may be written elsewhere), but I suspect this is done for much the same reason that loudspeakers often have multiple drivers. The laws of physics being what they are, it is very difficult to optimize one transducer to reproduce the whole audible frequency spectrum of 20 Hz to 20 KHz. So, multiple drivers are employed, each built and tuned to optimize a portion of the audible frequency spectrum. In a loudspeaker, most multi-driver speakers will have a crossover network to filter out unwanted frequencies from each driver. Here in the Meze Elite, I see no crossover (at least not that Meze is willing to show). It’s the geometry of each trace that does the optimizing. It also means that the Isodynamic driver is NOT a two-way driver in the same way that a two-way speaker is. There is one vibrating diaphragm that has the two trace geometries (again, that I can tell from pictures, I haven’t taken this unit apart because it’s a loan!). The whole driver will produce the whole frequency range, but the spiral will handle the mids and highs better and the switchback will handle the lows better. This dual-trace-geometry system functions something like a 2-way driver design but without having to have multiple drivers. This approach also brings in a new batch of problems to solve beyond what already exist with a planar-magnetic driver. With different areas of the membrane optimized for different frequencies and built different distances from the ear, phasing, time alignment, and wave superposition all become factors in ways that aren’t present in more traditional designs. Here’s a quick reminder on what wave superposition is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blur0MemUQA

Multi-driver designs are rare in headphones because the inherently limited space makes it very difficult to correct for those things. With loudspeakers and the listener sitting feet/meters from the speaker, it’s much easier. How well did Meze/Rinaro solve those issues? Well, that’s where we get to talk about…

SOUND

Test Gear

My high-end signal chain, and where the Elite spent the most time with me, is a Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha S2 DAC and a Violectric HPA-V281 headphone amp. The Alpha S2 is connected via AES to a Singxer SU-2 DDC and USB interface, which is in turn connected to a Windows 10 desktop computer. Audirvana 3.5 is my primary music app for critical listening, playing lossless and hi-rez local FLAC and DSD files, and streaming lossless/hi-rez FLAC from Qobuz. The Elite spent some time being driven directly by my Chord Hugo 2 transportable DAC/amp connected to my Cayin N6ii DAP via Cayin’s USB-C-to-coaxial digital interconnect cable.

Sonic Traits Regardless of Pads

Regardless of which pad type you choose, the Elite gives a sonic presentation that is more relaxed and smooth. There is reasonably good detail retrieval but the resolution and detail is not forward. The intent seems to be listenability over long periods of time. The soundstage is also big. The soundstage is reminiscent of HiFiMan’s line of egg-shaped planar-magnetic headphones where there is a grandiosity to the since of scale. The Elite isn’t quite as extreme as an Arya in that regard, but it’s on the bigger-than average side, with most of the staging happening out in front, as opposed to a Focal or Audeze-like bubble around the head. The treble is also sparkly and clean with good detail and timbre regardless of pad type. It’s in the overall frequency response, the qualitative aspects of the mid-range and bass, and imaging-separation where the differences in pads become audible. Let’s explore each pad type.

Leather Pads

The overall sound signature with the leather pads leans warm. There is good bass extension and punch/slam and good low-end pitch definition. The bass doesn’t seem to roll off, being nearly as present at 30Hz as 100Hz. The mid-range is also pleasantly present. The FR is overall neutral, but with that warmer tilt. Overall, I prefer the frequency response tuning of the leather pads over the velour. But there are some issues here…

The first issue with the leather hybrid pads is that there is a noticeable veil. When I first put the Elites on, I was struck but the pleasantness of the tuning, the warmth, the soundstage size, and general smoothness, but there was also something missing. It took me awhile to figure out what it was but there was a veil in the lower half of the mid-range, that gave the lowest registers of female vocals and the lower half of male vocal frequencies an odd muddiness. That impression usually faded after 30 seconds or so but would again become noticeable after returning from every listening break, and became nearly impossible to hear around or through when I started A/B-in the Elite with other hi-end headphones.

This veil also appears to affect the imaging. Sonic images are placed well but the separation between them is not what I would expect for $4K. The depth also appears to be somewhat compressed with the leather pads.

Velour Pads

With the velour pads the lower-mid-range veil almost entirely fades. If I ear-squint, I sometimes think I hear it, but I have to work really hard to do so. The sound signature with the velour pads tilts neutral-bright with very crisp and airy treble. They also dramatically improve the imaging and separation, creating a much more convincing and believable spatial presentation than the leather pads. Problem solved, right? Not quite. The bass aggressively rolls off below around 100Hz. It’s not quite a brickwall roll-off but it’s close enough to that that it made me think of the term. Furthermore, the bass that is present sounds one-note-y, lacking in some pitch definition.

A Band of Excellence

Oddly, with each pad type there was a narrow range of frequencies where the technicalities of the Elite were amazing, it just wasn’t the same range for each pad. For the leather hybrids the frequencies around the attack sound of a kick-drum and around the upper bass sounded amazing. A track that showed this off was The Chain by Fleetwood Mac. Mick Fleetwood’s bass drum had a punchy, dynamic attack followed by a satisfying and deep whump after the initial hit of mallet to drumhead. John McVie’s bass line also had lots of great impact, pitch definition, and texture. But, of course, there was the veil in the lower half of the vocal range. Switching to the velours and the bass drum and bass line become less dynamic and punchy and the whump of the kickdrum’s body receded significantly but Fleetwood’s snare and the vocals had lots of snap, texture, and detail. Outside of each pad’s “optimal range” the performance was usually good but there were those veils for leathers and bass roll-off for the velours.

But What About Equalization?

Yeah, so I figured it was worth a shot a try a bass boost with the velour pads. That should bring the bass back in and keep the veil at bay. That way I could have my cake and eat it too – it is $4000 cake, after all. I’m not a huge fan of EQ, but I wondered if it would help here. I first tried the Sonimus Free EQ VST 3.0 plugin (https://sonimus.com/products/soneq) for Audirvana 3.5 and added in about a 4dB boost at 30Hz. The bass boost worked! The punch and rumble came back, still not a lot of subbass texture, but the presence and slam returned. But, hello veil! Yeah, that veil in the lower half of the vocal range came back. Now, the Sonimus EQ is the free version and it introduced some midrange grain before when I used it with the Audeze LCD-24 several months ago so I thought maybe the veil returning was mostly because you get what you pay for and it was free. So, I busted out my Schiit Loki and gave it a quick listen with it in between my Alpha S2 and V281’s SE connection without any EQ active to make sure it didn’t introduce any artifacts of its own. As best I could tell, the Loki was clean as can be. I then tried an additive EQ by boosting the bass knob to around 2:00 (its 12:00 position is the +/- 0 position) and left the other knobs at 12:00. The bass started to come back, but that veil also started to come back. Turning that knob to 3 and then 4 and the bass got fuller and punchier, but then so did the veil! Past 4:00 and the bass just went sloppy altogether as the driver was being overdriven. OK, next I tried a subtractive EQ by leaving the bass knob at 12:00 and turning all the other knobs down to 9:00. VEIL! Even stronger than the additive EQ!

A Thinly Veiled Hypothesis

There are two issues coming together to create this veil, I think. It seems to be correlated with the relative levels of bass frequencies to the rest of the frequency spectrum. Then, the Rinaro Isodynamic driver in the Elite places the regions that emphasize different ranges of the audible frequency spectrum at different distance from the ear opening. The bass-emphasizing region is farther away. This creates a time alignment issue in getting all of the sounds to reach the ear at the same time, which can create some phasing oddities. I think what’s happening with this veil is that bass frequencies are interfering with mid-range frequencies in such a way that it’s creating an audible loss of clarity in the lower mids. There is a combination of constructive and destructive wave interference that’s happening because the time alignment of the two driver regions are off and the resultant waveform that reaches the ear is a bit dodgy in the lower-mids. And the more bass there is in relation to the rest of the frequency range, the worse the effect gets until the driver just flat bottoms out and can’t produce any more bass without distorting on its own. Similar effects can be heard – although not always in the lower mids – when you sit too close to a 2-way speaker that isn’t designed for near-field listening. Back up, where the makers intended the listener to be, and the design of the speaker takes into account that time alignment and the speaker sounds normal again. I’m sure Meze is aware of this issue and attempted to do something about it but hasn’t yet succeeded. Doing so in the limited space of a headphone is certainly a challenge. I am very interested to see if they can solve this going forward.

COMPARISON WITH THE HIFIMAN HE1000v2

My other hi-end planar headphone on hand is the HiFiMan HE1000v2, or HekV2 for short. It costs $3000US new and can often be found used as low as $1500. Its signature is more v-shaped than the Elite with either pad type but it is also a more warm, relaxed, smooth-presentation headphone.

The Elite definitely has more mid-range presence than the HekV2, with either pad type, but I give the edge to the HekV2 in mid-range timbre. The Elite has slightly better treble timbre, I think, but not any noticeably better detail retrieval in the treble. The HekV2 has more present subbass than the Elite with either pad type, but that was doubly or triply true when the Elite had the velour pads on. With the leather pads the Elite punched harder than the HekV2 did between 100 and 200 Hz, but the HekV2 punched harder below 100Hz. The HekV2 also had noticeably superior subbass texture where the Elite with leathers had better texture in that same 100Hz-200Hz range.

As far as detail retrieval goes, it was in the comparison with the HekV2 that I noticed the Elite’s tendency to have a narrow band of frequencies where it was amazing but then fall off outside of that range. Two tracks really brought this out. The first is Afraid of Time from the Interstellar Soundtrack and the other is Pain by The War On Drugs. In Afraid of Time there is a piano played one key at a time. However, there is also something else happening simultaneously with each key strike. There is a muted xylophone or a plucked and muted string-based instrument of some sort that’s striking/plucking right with the piano key hits. In my initial A/B I had the leather pads on the Elite. I was actually listening to Mountains, the track immediately preceding Afraid of Time to check for dynamic range differences (none that I could tell on that, btw) and then this track came on. I was wearing the HekV2 when I went to jot down my notes. The HekV2 showcased the wooden sounds of the piano’s mechanical action, resolved the reverb, and that simultaneous low-level striking/plucking sound. The Elite with leather pads comparatively struggled. It was not nearly as clear or clean on those sounds. Switching to the velours though and that resolution and clarity were arguably just slightly better than HekV2, but only just barely.

On the track Pain, which has a very active bassline, the Elite would have that great bass texture above 100Hz, but as soon as that bassline walked below that level, the tone would still be present but the texture would all but vanish. The HekV2 maintained the same level of texture it had above 100Hz all the way down as deep as that bassline would go. It was also this track that helped me figure out that the veil on the Elite was happening in the lower half of the male vocal range as the lead singer’s voice was definitely veiled on the leather pads and with the bass boost EQ until he would hit higher notes, where suddenly it would become clearer again.

Here’s the takeaway here: the Elite, at $4000, is not clearly technically superior to the HekV2 at $3000, throughout the entire 20 Hz to 20 KHz audible range. There are some brief windows where it is superior, but they are small and infrequent. On the whole range of technicalities – resolution, extension, dynamics, timbre, soundstaging, imaging & separation – the HekV2 actually outperforms or is dead even with the Elite more than the Elite outperforms the HekV2, and I can’t think of an example where the margin by which the Elite is the better performer is larger than the margin by which the HekV2 is the better performer. There are signature differences, notably in midrange presence, where some listeners will simply prefer the tuning of the Elite, but that doesn’t make the Elite better.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Empyrean Elite has a driver that has an interesting twist on how to reproduce the entire audible frequency spectrum. That driver tech introduces its own set of challenges, and to my ear, the Elite has not overcome all of those challenges. With the included pads one has to choose between a veil in the lower mids or an aggressive bass rolloff below 100Hz. That veil appears to come back if the levels of bass are adjusted higher, either with a boost or by attenuating everything else. Furthermore, the overall technical performance doesn’t decisively better, and in many cases lags behind, a well-known headphone that cost 75% of the Elite’s asking price. That aside, the build quality and fit ‘n finish are spectacular. There is a pleasing and generalist sound signature that plays nice with a wide variety of musical genres and many will still find much to like about the elite. I’m hoping that Meze is able to sell enough of these that they can take another meaningful crack at solving what I think are some phasing issues creating that lower mid-veil.

Thanks for reading all! Enjoy the Music!

Check out my video review of the Elite here:

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WaveTheory
WaveTheory
@Noobzilla stock all 'round for direct compare. I normally use a Plussound Poetic GPH for general listening on HekV2.
geta123
geta123
Nice review
C
CruickEsso213
Great review
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