betula

Headphoneus Supremus
Meze Elite: endgame material*
Pros: - best available build quality
- best available comfort
- top shelf technical performance
- uniquely sweet and addictive tone
- well-balanced across the spectrum
- hard hitting bass when the recording calls for it, but never intrusive
- long term fatigueless (and fun) listen guaranteed
Cons: - might sound too laid back for someone who is pursuing a more aggressive presentation
- ludicrous price, but considering the competition it is actually a fair offer
Prologue

Without going into details three months ago I purchased the Meze Elite as I was so impressed by how perfectly they meet my personal preference in sound presentation. As a long time Empyrean owner the Elite also impressed me by the level of improvement in technical performance and balance versus its predecessor. For three months my Elites have been in daily use and I still cannot get enough of them.

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I write this review as a thank you to Meze for creating such a wonderful headphone and also for the benefit of the community. The more opinions we share the better overall picture we get. I will try to bring a lot of comparisons but at times this review will be slightly more biased than usual due to my emotional involvement in this headphone.

Sonic taste, background & gear

I always liked a smoother, slightly warmer sound with focused and impactful bass and gentle treble presentation. I was always looking for headphones which are suited for extremely long listening sessions but within that package offer the highest possible level of technical performance. I really like Audeze LCD2/3/X/4, Final D8000, Empyrean and now the Elite. My aim was always to keep only one pair of headphones (ok, sometimes two) of the highest possible quality I can afford. I am not a collector, not by nature and not by wallet.

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The gear I currently own is RME ADI2 + Burson Soloist 3XP with supercharger. I also tried the Elite on Chord TT2/MScaler combo.

Build & comfort

This section will be short. Both build and comfort are simply the best I have ever tried or experienced on any headphones. Perhaps the only other company that competes in build quality is Abyss, but to me they fall short on comfort. Meze really puts to shame some other multi-thousand dollar flagships in this regard.

Comfort is also unparalleled. The curved suspension headband distributes the light weight of 430g perfectly. For someone who often wears headphones longer than 2 hours (occasionally 6-8 hours) this is a major factor. To me almost every other headphone became uncomfortable after 2 hours including Audeze, Focal or Final. Not just because of the sheer weight, but the lack of thoughtful weight distribution and/or a poor ear-pad design.

With the Elite (or Empyrean) you enter the world of ultimate comfort. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. It is impossible to enjoy a good sound if you have to readjust the headphones every 5-10 minutes or start to feel the weight after 30 minutes.

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Sound

There is a unique, special quality in the Elite's sound which is hard to describe. A sweet and addictive tonality which makes you want to listen more and more. One thing is the non-fatiguing, relaxed and supremely natural sound; another thing is this lingering sweetness which spoils your ears. To me the Elites are a huge improvement on the Empyrean when it comes to technical abilities and overall balance. The new Meze flagship is well-balanced and a lot more neutral sounding from sub-bass to upper treble and it is a true flagship, top of the line performer when it comes to detail retrieval, speed, clarity and resolution.

There are other flagship headphones which do certain things better like an even bigger soundstage or even more obvious details or slightly higher resolution or even bigger bass impact, but to me at least none of those are this good in almost everything. The resolution, detail retrieval, speed and other qualities on the Elite are simply stunning and leave no further desires for the last 5% when the level of musical engagement is unrivalled. In this regard (as well as in comfort and build) in my opinion the Elites are the best of the best.

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Technical performance

The Elite is a worthy challenger when it comes to technical performance of the best headphones on the market today. Perhaps Meze is a tad behind something like the Susvara, Abyss 1266 or Solitaire P, but not to the extent anyone should be concerned about. In case you value one or two aspects of the sound a lot higher than anything else, you might prefer another headphone. If you value the overall performance package and coherence, the Elite is hard to beat.

I will talk more about technicalities when I get to direct comparisons. For now, let me just say I find the Elite to be a huge jump over the Empyrean in technical performance.

The Elite also has a significantly bigger soundstage and clearer imaging than the Empyrean. The stage has a lot more air, the distance between instruments is bigger and the overall picture is a lot clearer as well.

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Bass

I love my bass clean, impactful, extended and balanced. I recently realised, a lot of enthusiasts who describe themselves as 'bass-heads' are in fact 'mid-bass-heads'. They just want a relatively clear but strongly mid-bass emphasised bass tuning. I am not that kind of a 'bass-head'. What I prefer is a relatively linear bass with great extension to sub-bass territories which gives a contour to the low frequencies that everything is built on. I am after a sub-bass that is a foundation to everything else and hits with authority when needed. A sub-bass that is only present when the recording calls for it but when it calls for it, the dynamism and impact makes you smile. This kind of bass is equally good for orchestral music and psychedelic trance. This is one reason I absolutely loved Audeze bass and love the Elite.

The Empyrean's mid-bass hump is gone, the Elite's bass is similarly balanced to other TOTL headphones. I would call it a more elegant, more sophisticated bass tuning. That said, this bass can hit harder than you would expect. Harder than the Empyrean in fact, but only when the sub-bass in the recording hits hard as well. The Empyrean pretty much maintains a constant mid-bass level, which in comparison can be hazy and sometimes overbearing. The Elite is clearer and more impactful but only when it has to be.

I have to mention, despite the Elite being a very efficient headphone that can be run by almost any amps, they do appreciate better source and the very first sign of that is an improved fullness and quality of bass performance. (3D imaging would be second on this list.)

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Mids

Due to the very well balanced tuning bass never bleeds into the mids as opposed to the Empyrean. Mids on the Elite are extremely natural and have great texture. Coming from mid-tier headphones like the popular Arya or LCD-X the lifelikeness can be shocking in a good way. Listening to your favourite vocals has never been more enveloping. The sound is not thin but also not overly thick. The texture of the voices/acoustic instruments is almost tangible. This combined with the big and clear space allows you to very easily 'see' the performers in your head.

Treble

The treble is definitely clearer, brighter and more detailed than it is on the Empyrean, but it is still a relaxed and smooth treble. It is very clear and airy in a natural way. You do not perceive any artificial treble shine/shimmer or sharpness here. The Elite does not operate with artificial treble saturation in order to enhance fake detail perception. All details are there in a natural light. Like a walk in a sunny forest as opposed to the neon lights of a tech lab.

Comparisons

Meze Empyrean

I really like the Empyrean. Apart from the same level of comfort and build quality the Empyrean is the ultimate relaxing flavour headphone. A warm and smooth sound with enhanced bass, loved by many people including me. The Empyrean's strength is not its resolving capability or detail retrieval, but a very smooth, coherent and natural sound. While the former qualities may raise some questions when it comes to the asking price, the latter qualities in my opinion justify the Empyreans place. It is definitely a divisive headphone, but I think users just need to be more aware of what they want from a headphone and what the headphone offers.

The Empyrean is a fantastic smooth listen with enhanced mid-bass. The Elite is a well-balanced top performer with stronger sub-bass but flatter/better balanced mid-bass. The Elite has significantly higher resolution and bigger soundstage with better instrument separation, imaging and detail retrieval. To my ears the Elite is simply next level.

What the Elite retains from the original Empyrean sound is the smooth naturalness throughout the frequencies. A never fatiguing but very engaging and enveloping sound that makes it hard to put the headphones down. You always want to click for just one more track and finally this addictive Meze sound has no obvious technical faults or limitations anymore.

Those who generally like the tonality of the Empyrean but wish for a better balanced sound with higher resolution, bigger soundstage and an overall sound quality upgrade will simply love the Elite.

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Final D8000

Another headphone I really like. The sound is very much like an improved Empyrean with clearer, tighter bass and better detail retrieval. The bass on the D8000 is big, bold, similar in quantity to the Empyrean but better quality. Overall the soundstage is smaller than on the Empyrean but imaging is slightly better. Treble is clearer too. Mids are better on the Empyrean.

When we compare the D8000 to the Elite, to me the Elite sounds clearly superior in pretty much every category. The soundstage is huge compared to the D8000 and the instruments stand out better with more air around them. The D8000 suddenly sounds a bit claustrophobic. The Elite is also better balanced across the spectrum with higher resolving capabilities.

Both the D8000 and the Empyrean are very natural sounding headphones, clearly a higher category when we compare them to something like the Arya or LCD-X (which are also great headphones on their respective level) but the Elite simply sounds even more lifelike and natural than the Empyrean or D8000.

The biggest fault of the great sounding D8000 is its comfort. They become heavy after a couple of hours and the headband/weight distribution is far from perfect. Also the earpads are somewhat flimsy and not a great touch/feel on the skin. The D8000 can be impressive at first, but when you have to adjust, touch and move around the headphones on your head this often, that simply kills enjoyment.

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Audeze LCD-5

While I owned both the D8000 and Empyrean, I only auditioned the LCD-5. I owned the LCD-2, LCD-X and heard the LCD-3 and LCD-4. As I mentioned earlier, I like Audeze sound mostly for its bass. When it comes to mids and treble, I actually prefer the Empyrean. This is true for the LCD2, X, 3 and 4. The LCD-5 is simply not for me.

The LCD-5 is a very, very different tuning compared to previous LCD models. Audeze took an extremely neutral U-turn in their tuning versus the former warmish bass king LCD-4. The LCD-5 to me sounds like the ultimate studio monitor. A perfect machine that delivers technical accuracy like nothing else. I admire it but can't love it.

Solitaire P

Absolutely fantastic sounding headphones. It is a shame they are a lot more expensive than the Elite and also do not showcase the same level of build quality. The sound is very well balanced and extremely detailed but in a very effortless way which makes the Solitaire P an appealing and unique offer. I really enjoy these headphones. Yet, I would still pick the Elite due to its engaging musical qualities. There is some sort of a sweet addictiveness in the Elite's sound which I cannot describe.

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HiFiMan HE1000SE and Susvara

I am admittedly not a HiFiMan fan. Build quality aside the sound of the Arya/HE1000 series is just not for me. They are good headphones, but to me the treble can be too bright. The vast and diffuse sound is an even bigger issue for my taste. Soundstage is good, but not when you loose focus. I prefer a more focused, more dynamic and more impactful presentation.

The Susvara is different from the other oval shaped HiFiMans; I actually like the Susvara's sound. It is wonderfully balanced, very detailed, a really impressive pair of headphones. Perhaps the Susvara has the more accurate presentation, but I still find the Elite more engaging and more pleasant to listen to.

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Conclusion

I hope those fierce objectivists will forgive me for a more personal and slightly biased write-up. At the end of the day I was reviewing my own Elite; my personal choice of TOTL headphones. Hopefully the members who followed my journey can see beyond my enthusiasm and take away the objective points I touched on to help them choose their bestie/(beast). At this level there are not really good or bad choices, good or bad headphones in an objective way. There are only personal choices just like in a fine-dining restaurant. The Elite is an exceptional combination of many outstanding qualities: build, comfort, a musical and enveloping sound with top shelf technical performance. To my ears the Elite surpasses its predecessor the Empyrean not just by a nose. I do not think there is a better all-rounder out there for someone who only wants to keep one pair of luxury headphones.

*As most of us know, ‘endgame’ is an overused term. Usually less experienced fellow enthusiasts use it when they hear a sound that astonishes them. After having a few epiphanies like that we, more experienced users know endgame is a mirage as there is always a better sound. The price of it is a different story. The reason I still used this term in my title is because I can see the Elite fulfilling most needs. Most audio lovers wouldn’t need anything more than this.
There was always something in my previous headphones I wanted to change or improve. Not with the Elite, which is a first for me.
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betula
betula
Haha.. Thanks, but it is admittedly a more personal review. Personal taste/need plays a big role when it comes to TOTL headphones.

The Solitaire P is fantastic and technically slightly better than the Elite. For orchestral music only I would possibly pick that one.

As an only TOTL headphone though the Elite is more multifunctional with different genres and I find the musical engagement level unique to the Elite. While it's technical level is still absolutely TOTL and more than satisfactory to me. The Elite's sound is just extremely pleasing.
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OCC7N
OCC7N
Thanks for insight :)

Im really close to pull the trigger on the elite. But the store only has it in XLR. I dont like interconnects….I also heard latency issues on the tt2. So on the dac side I dont have alot of options with XLR.

Is there a dac/amp you would recommend?
betula
betula
There are plenty of aftermarket cables available. This shouldn't be an issue to hold you back from purchasing the Elite.

Also, there are so many DACs and amps that I don't even know where to start. If you search the Elite thread, I am sure you'll find plenty of alternatives to the TT2. The Elite while scales well, also sounds good from almost anything. ADI2 plus iFi iCan was another decent combo. Good bass weight and texture from the iCan.

rev92

Reviewer at Ear Fidelity
Meze Elite
Pros: World's best build quality and comfort
Beautiful craftsmanship
Innovative technology
Unboxing experience
Goo included cable and two pairs of earpads
Beautiful timbre
Soundstage
Good detail retrieval
One of the best vocal reproductions in headphones
Pairs well with most stuff
Jack of all trades, highly universal with different music choices
Very easy-going listening experience
European audio at its best
Cons: Very expensive
Still not as technical as the Susvara/D8000 Pro/HE1000se
It looks huge on your head

Introduction​

Meze Audio is just a great “underdog” story in the headphone audio world. Founded in 2011 they started with some OEM headphones like many others. In 2015 they launched their vastly popular 99 series with the 99 Classics. This was the turning moment for the company, as the 99 Classics is still selling great in 2022, meaning it’s already 7 years old and still going strong.
Nonetheless, it was a good $300 pair of wooden, mobile headphones, nothing to really write a book about in terms of raw technical supremacy. After that, they launched the 99 Neo and two IEMs, The Rai Penta and a budget Rai Solo. There was some fuzz about it, but it still wasn’t anything revolutionary.
It all changed in 2018 when Meze announced their new flagship headphone, called the Empyrean. Boy oh boy what a launch that was. A rather small company with a few headphones in its lineup just created something to rival the big dogs of the industry. While its technical performance was and still is questioned by some people, it was without a single doubt the best-built pair of headphones ever created. It made all the multi-thousand dollars flagships feel and look cheap and unpolished, and that was very, very impressive.
Other than that, Meze has teamed up with Rinaro to create the most technically impressive planar-magnetic driver in the world. With its “HYBRID ARRAY DRIVER”, it was one of its kind in the entire world (more about it in the TECH paragraph though).
Three years have passed, and it was about time to put the Empyrean to rest as the true flagship of Meze. While having many strong points in terms of the build quality, comfort, overall technical advancement, and its one-of-a-kind design, it had its flaws as well. The tuning was definitely not for everybody with its rather dark character and its somewhat uninspiring bass response. Hear me out though – the Empyrean WAS and still IS a great pair of headphones, but it’s just not a Jack Of All Trades, something that should be expected by a $3000 flagship pair of planar headphones. While it was marvelously mellow sounding and just about perfect for chilling on your sofa, it was outperformed by its competitors when it comes to detail retrieval and overall resolution, mainly because of its specified sound signature.
What did Meze do about that? They’ve released the Elite in 2021, an improved Empyrean with a $4000 price tag. The first thing that came into my mind when I saw that announcement was…Woah, that’s a risky move. It looks similar to the Empyrean, has similar technology and it’s now $4000 instead of $3000. They had a lot to prove for it to be a success.

Packaging​

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The packaging and the overall presentation haven’t changed since the Empyrean, and it is a great thing. The Elite comes to you in a double box, to begin with. After getting through the first, default layer, you’ll get to the outer box with some cool and minimal branding. It’s what’s underneath that really matters though.
Inside the box, you’ll find the best carrying “case” you’ll find in this hobby. It’s an aluminum suitcase that looks simply badass. Every time I hold it, I feel like I’m a secret agent on an exciting mission. Audeze gives you great carrying Peli cases with their headphones, but as far as they’re brilliant in terms of security, they are not a match to the one that comes with the Elite. It just looks and feels so elegant, expensive, and in great taste. It has two locking hinges and a carrying handle, so it’s very comfortable to carry around.
This is the best type of packaging you can get with headphones period. It is rather large, but it is literally the only thing that could be criticized by anybody. It offers splendid security to the headphones inside, and there’s plenty of room for you to pack your spare earpads, a cable or two, and maybe a small DAP or DACAMP.
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Let’s dive into it and see what else you’ll be getting. When ordering the Elite, you’ll have to choose a cable to be supplied with it. You can get a 2.5m 6.3mm cable, 2.5m XLR cable, and a 1.2m cable with a 3.5mm jack. It would have been great if you could choose a 4.4mm cable or a shorter XLR/6.3mm version, but you can’t have everything. That would mean a lot of options for the manufacturer itself, and more importantly, for the distributors. They had to limit the choice somehow, so it is one of these three – basically, all of the most popular choices. You’ll have to spend extra to get a 4.4mm cable or a shorter/longer version of the XLR/6.3mm, but still, the choice is good. More on the cable itself later.
Secondly, you’re getting two pairs of quality earpads. When I say quality, I mean QUALITY earpads. Definitely one of the best in the game, if not the best when it comes to stock earpads. You’ve got one that is made of Alcantara, big, thick, and plushy. The comfort and feel of these earpads are just beautiful. If Alcantara is not your thing (or if you want a different sound signature – more on that later), you’ve also got new hybrid earpads. Significantly shallower than the Alcantara ones, they are made of leather with perforated Alcantara on the inner ring. Due to its different material and reduced thickness, you’ll be getting quite a different sound signature with these earpads, and spoiler alert…these are the ones to go with.
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Lastly, there’s a small business card with proof of authenticity (date of inspection, serial number) and a little catalog with the story behind Meze and the Elite.
All of that makes for an absolutely marvelous unboxing experience. It is both secure and luxurious, giving you all you need to start using the Elite and then more. A $4000 pair of headphones, and it definitely shows by the packaging. Well done Meze.

Design, Build and Comfort​

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I’m gonna start with a bold statement: The Meze Elite is the best-built headphone on the planet, just like the Empyrean.
See, I always look at the build with the function in mind, just like it should be. A headphone can be a piece of art, forged of the best materials with the greatest care, but if it’s poorly designed and/or uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter.
The Elite is designed and built to be comfortable, reliable and to last many, many years without problems. It has it all, and at the same time, its finish and overall design are just extraordinary.
I’ve been playing with the Abyss Diana Phi lately, and this headphone really made me re-think everything about the build quality of headphones. The Diana is built with unbelievable attention to detail, it uses great materials, it looks astonishing…and it’s broken. It REQUIRES some modifications right out of the box to be called anywhere near comfortable and well-designed, and even then it’s just poor in these regards.
The headband looks and feels great to the touch, but it literally has no padding, so hotspots on top of your heads are starting to bother you after like 15 minutes of using them. Of course, you can improve it by using some aftermarket headband cushions (ZMF for example), but it just shouldn’t be a thing in this price bracket, or any price to be specific. The earpads are not deep enough, so you either get the driver touching your ear, or you break your seal…or both. The cable uses proprietary connectors, so you’ll basically have to use either the stock cable or one of Abyss’s upgrade cables, and they come with a huge price tag.
All of the above made me just simply disappointed. I really wanted to like the Diana Phi, but I simply couldn’t.
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Back to the Elite. This is a completely different story. First things first – it is very, VERY comfortable. The weight distribution is perfect, mainly because of the carbon fiber, bent headband that is just designed with ergonomics in mind. The suspension strap has unique curves to it, and it makes the headphone simply disappear on your head, something that many headphones fail to do.
The earpads, just as I said in the unboxing paragraph are brilliant. They are great for the touch, are deep and plush enough to just comfortably sit around your ears without them making contact with the drivers. The build and finish make me sure that they will last a long time if you’ll take care of them of course.
Next up is the adjustment mechanism. The earpieces are attached to the headband by a superbly tight and smooth sliding mechanism with no steps. They do slide with a perfect resistance, so they will not loose-up on their own. I can’t comment on the longevity of this solution, as it’ll probably take me years of regular use to see how it ages, but at this time it works like a dream and is definitely one of the best adjustment mechanisms on the market.
Lastly, the earcups themselves. They are made of raw CNC aluminum. This is a great headphone for macro photography, thanks to its beautiful finish. You can see all the CNC passes throughout every single aluminum part of the headphone, and they are a true testimonial to why Elite takes over 20h to be forged. This is pure art.
Personally, I find the silver color of the Elite less appealing than some of the Empyrean versions, especially the black + copper version. There’s something warm and inviting in most of the Empyreans, while the Elite looks more technical and raw, industrial. This is highly subjective though, and I’m standing by my words – The Elite is the best-built and best-designed headphone ever. A piece of art.
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Let’s get back to comfort for a short while. The Elite weighs 430g, which is definitely not the lightest headphone on the market. It is how Meze has handled this weight though, that makes the Elite an extremely comfortable pair of headphones. The weight distribution on top of your head is perfect, the earpads are plush and pleasant to the touch, and the entire construction just hugs your head gently. This is a huge pair of headphones, but it is also designed with long listening sessions in mind. Definitely, one of the most comfortable high-end headphones ever made. Might as well be the most comfortable, but it will depend on your head shape and size. Of all the competitors, only the Hifiman HE1000se and the Susvara can come close to the Elite when it comes to comfort, and I’ll still give a significant edge to the Romanian flagship.
The cable included in the box is also of great quality. It is made of OFC copper and is great to the touch. While it is not the most tangle-free and soft cable in the world, it is still one of the better stock cables you can get. While some competitors give you cables that should have never been included with such an expensive and high-end product, Meze got you covered with something that is reliable, well-built, and good sounding. Meze also offers upgrade cables made of FURUKAWA PCUHD copper, as well as silver-plated. They do come at $349 and $499, which definitely don’t make them affordable, but this price is still fair for a quality, well-made upgrade cable. The competition offers upgrade cables even at $3490 for the same length, which is 2.5m. $499 vs $3490, let that sink in.

Tech​

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The Elite is not only built wonderfully, but it also uses advanced technologies that I can call revolutionary with no hesitation.
The heart of the headphone is the driver. Here, Meze Audio teamed up with Rinaro, a company that specializes in acoustic technology. Here’s a quick introduction of Rinaro, taken from Meze’s official website:
“Rinaro originated in the USSR (today’s Ukraine) during the Cold War as part of a state-funded acoustic technology research program. With government backing and access to advanced testing facilities, the team was able to focus all of its efforts on planar magnetics. A field they have continued to innovate in for the last 30 years, since the collapse of the USSR. In the last decade, Rinaro have expanded their capabilities and capacity with the development of state-of-the-art R&D and manufacturing facilities in Ukraine and Poland. The new facilities have been a driving force in the creation of the revolutionary Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology found in Meze Empyrean and ELITE headphones.”
What’s so special about this driver you’d ask. Well, let me explain step by step, with some help from the official Meze Audio site.
First of all, the most impressive and the most original approach of this driver has to be its hybrid voice coil configuration. A planar-magnetic driver has an ultra-thin diaphragm with a voice coil on it. Both the Empyrean and the Elite are the first headphones in the world to use two different types of coils on a single diaphragm. The Switchback coil is meant to reproduce low frequencies and it’s located on the upper part of the driver. The spiral coil though is more efficient in reproducing the midrange and the treble, and it is located directly next to your ear canal, enabling more direct sound waves to enter the ear canal to minimalize time delays.
This makes for improved phase delays and better time shifts of the actual sound wave, resulting in a cleaner, more precise soundstage reproduction and better imaging.
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The diaphragm itself is made of an ultra-thin biaxially oriented semi-crystalline polymer film to ensure the lowest mass of the diaphragm possible. This low mass, together with the Hybrid Array Driver technology, allows sound waves to be targeted with more accuracy around the shape of the ear. The weight of the diaphragm is 0.11g with an active area of 4650mm2. The neodymium magnets are placed symmetrically on either side of the diaphragm, and they create a 0.35 Tesla magnetic field. This might not say too much to you, but this is one hell of impressive technology.
Another great thing about these drivers is that they utilize the demagnetizing field generated to hold the earpads in place whilst also redirecting the magnetic field back into the driver and improving driver efficiency. Thanks to that, changing the earpads take a couple of seconds, thanks to its magnetic mounting technology. Every time I change the earpads in my Susvara I feel like I’m going to break something, I’m not kidding. Compared to that, changing the earpads in the Elite feels like a breeze, it’s super easy and convenient.

Sound​

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So far so good, the Elite is a wonderfully built headphone that is marvelously comfortable and it uses some ground-breaking technologies when it comes to the drivers. Every high-end headphone should be maximally optimized upon the sound quality though, as at the end of the day this is the single most important thing in audio.

As I mentioned before, the Empyrean was a marvelous product held back by its somewhat limited technical performance. The detail retrieval, resolution, and speed were a bit lacking when compared to the upper echelon of the headphone audio market. On top of that, it has that specific sound signature that surely won’t satisfy everyone, and it made the Empyrean a specialized headphone for a specific type of experience / or a limited choice of music to listen to. The story behind the Elite is to maintain the best qualities of the Empyrean but to offer a signature that is more refined and neutral, which would also allow for better technical performance.
This surely isn’t easy. After all, Meze Audio together with Rinaro has been working on the Empyrean for years and it requires a lot of patience and knowledge to sit to that project, re-do it, and actually come up with significant upgrades.
I’m going to say it right here and right now – the Elite is a significant upgrade to the Empyrean. Not only it is far better when it comes to technical performance, but its tuning has also been changed quite moderately, resulting in a complete shift of the use case scenario of these headphones. The Empyrean was great with some type of music, but it couldn’t have been called a good all-rounder. The Elite is the absolute opposite to that – ever since I got it, it became my most used pair of headphones, having the Susvara, D8000 Pro, 1000se, and many more.
The Elite is a Jack Of All Trades, but it manages that through enjoyment. It has that monstrous amount of fun of using it, listening to it, experiencing it. It is at the same time very involving yet forgiving and easy-going. It is a refined type of experience that just works well with basically everything, no matter the music genre or the quality of production. Let’s go step by step, shall we?
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The bass has been the weakest point of the Empyrean for many. While it was quite a boosted and rich type of bass, it lacked resolution and texture when compared to Top Tier headphones from the competition.
The Elite remains quite a bassy headphone when talking high-end, but it improved that frequency by a lot. It is still hard-hitting, deep, and thick sounding, but now it is wonderfully controlled, heavily textured, and nuanced.
Low frequencies do extend right into the sub-bass region with ease and they do that with authority. This is NOT a bass-light headphone, not even close. The amount of bass when compared to the Susvara is just a lot more pronounced and physical.
It does not cheat though, giving you an accurate timbre and the size of the bass instruments that is just right. It does great with bass guitar, double bass, electronic music, and percussions. Everything.
Let’s take a song called “Starboy” by The Weeknd as an example. This is a modern track with modern bass that is hard-hitting, big, and saturated. The Elite handles this track perfectly, giving us the bass that is both natural-sounding and super fun. The texture quality sounds great, and the beat that is present throughout the entire song is just physical, raw, and powerful. It adds that layer of excitement to an already insanely fun track (oh Daft Punk, that has to be one of your best). When listening to this track with the Susvara I can never get this amount of fun, excitement, and spiciness.
Switching to something more “true”, a song called “Long After You’re Gone” by Chris Jones. This is a wonderfully mastered music with some heavy-hitting acoustic guitar. Right at the beginning of the song, you’ll hear that they recorded that guitar from very close, showing the whole resonance box of the guitar itself. This bass can murder a lot of high-end stereo systems if the bass isn’t just right (been there, done that a lot of times). The Elite however handles that monstrosity of a guitar with such elegance and authority, it does sound huge, bold, and saturated, but there’s also control, a lot of texture, and resolution. The reverberation of the guitar feels natural and pleasant, even though it might seem on a heavier side, which it is. As I said previously, this is a bass-heavy type of experience, but the quality of this bass is just right this time, not giving us anything to be desired. This is the type of bass I would love to have on the Susvara, as it (subjectively) feels just a bit too lean for my personal liking.
Last but not least, “Sleeping And Household” by Felix Laband (shootout to Michał Sommerfeld who showed me this great album). This is an electronic masterpiece, the mastering quality is just out of this world, and the Elite works wonders here. The entire song is filled with heavy bass elements and the Elite never fails to deliver good control, texture, and impact. Actually, this is one of the most impactful representations of this song I’ve heard on a planar-magnetic headphone to date. It’s rich, deep, physical, well extended, and perfectly controlled. The Empyrean does a lot more mediocre job in this song, lacking in definition and being way muddier and slower.

The midrange is the star of the show here. When it comes to the natural timbre of human voices, only the Susvara comes out as more real-sounding of all the headphones I use on a regular basis.
It has that sweet, lush, and just real aspect to it, making vocals come alive in an unforced and pleasant way. The Elite is an emotional type of headphone that does everything for you to enjoy the music as much as you can. It does well with every type of vocal I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot), being full-sounding, rich, and accurate at the same time, which is far from being easy. The best aspect of the Elite is how easy to listen they are, I can easily spend an entire day using them, not only thanks to their sublime comfort but also the sound that is just smooth and pleasing.
The Elite is a masterpiece when it comes to rock recordings. I’m a big fan of Foreigner, and their music sounds really great on the Elite, being highly musical, melodic, and dynamic. Luckily, because of the smooth character of the Elite, you won’t have to make sure that the mastering of the music you’re listening to is good enough – it is, always. A lot of high-end headphones and IEMs struggle when it comes to poor recordings, especially with their hyper-detailed treble presentation. The Elite gives you all the detail, but they’re presented in a sublime and sophisticated way.
The Elite is not the most detailed headphone on the market, definitely not. The Susvara, HE1000se, and D8000 Pro from Final Audio all offer a higher amount of details, but to call the Elite not detailed would have been totally wrong.
You see, detail retrieval is not the most important aspect of the sound, because, at the end of the day, you’re listening to music, not to recordings. The Elite has that unique trait of making everything sound beautiful and engaging, and this is the thing that is the most important for me.
A great example for that is a song called “Cold Little Heart” by Michael Kiwanuka. I adore his voice for that rough texture and an absolutely sweet tone, and this song ain’t no easy task for headphones. He can easily start to sound too rough, or too sweet if the midrange is wrong. With the Elite, it’s neither, as Michael sounds just extremely correct and real. It is like a combination of the Audeze LCD3 with its beautiful tone and smoothness and the Hifiman HE1000se with its insane speed and detail retrieval. A great marriage of both, with no compromises.
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The treble response of the Elite is highly natural with great note weight and excellent texture. Once again, it is highly musical, making for a superbly smooth and easy listening experience. This is not a hyper-detailed treble presentation as with the HE1000se or the D8000 Pro, but a more musical approach to reproducing high frequencies. This further extends on a sound signature that is highly polished and just consistent throughout the whole frequency range. The Elite sounds like a pair of headphones that was carefully tuned in every single frequency to ensure a sound performance that is correct and just pleasing to listen to. Wow, I actually feel like a broken record, but this is literally the best way to describe the sound of the Elite. Let’s try with some music examples.
A song called “Chocolate Chip Trip” by Tool is one of my benchmark songs for the treble response. It is just Danny Carey AKA the Octopus playing his insane drums kit, and the amount of high-frequency splash and energy this song has makes it a rather hard piece to reproduce by headphones. First up, the Elite provides a perfect note weight for this song to sound natural and impressive, and the overall speed and resolution give it a pleasant “wow factor”. With drums, you definitely don’t want the treble response to be thin-sounding, as it would have been artificial and harsh. If you’ve ever sat by a drums kit and had a little fun then you know, that all the sounds it reproduces have a proper weight and thickness to them.
The Elite does a brilliant job in making sure that everything sounds as it should. Also, female vocals are engaging and highly hypnotizing, though they might not be as forward as some may desire.
Let’s dive into a band called Archive for an example. In 2020 they released an album called “Versions” with different versions of some of their all-time best tracks. I remember when I preordered this album on vinyl like half a year before its release and just simply couldn’t wait to get it and give it a listen. More so, since they gave as a single, the fantastic “Nothing Else” from their debut album Londinium. The amount of emotions in Holly’s voice in this song is just mind-blowing, and the Elite makes sure that it all goes right into your guts. Her voice sounds smooth, vibrating, and beautifully pronounced, making for a lifelike type of sound reproduction. Fantastic.
The soundstage is just as impressive as the rest of the sound. The Elite has that ability to create big instruments, resulting in a highly saturated stage that can be both big and intimate. The Elite is a brilliant headphone when it comes to the soundstage, as it can do everything well, and its staging capabilities will be a result of the song you’re currently playing. If it’s something huge and spectacular, like “Sorrow” by Pink Floyd, the Elite will give you a huge soundstage that is just epic to listen to. When it’s more intimate, like the legendary “Comfortably Numb” from their vastly popular album “The Wall”, the Elite will produce everything closer to your head, and the size of the instruments will get bigger and bigger. All of that makes for headphones that are capable of reproducing every type of soundstage with brilliant accuracy and separation. Speaking of the imaging, the Elite images like a champ, creating a very realistic type of experience and making it very easy to pinpoint the location and shape of different instruments.

Comparisons​

I will not make any direct comparisons in this review, since the Elite took part in our “Battle Of The Flagships” article launched in March. It is worth mentioning though that it has scored 85/100, coming second in the result, beaten only by the almighty Hifiman Susvara. The Elite scored 10/10 in Presentation, Build Quality and Comfort, and Musicalitycategories, basically meaning that they are the best headphones we’ve ever tried in these three categories.

If you are interested in checking out how the Elite scored in every category and if you’d like a more in-depth comparison with some popular competition, click on the image below to go to the “Battle Of The Flagships” article.


Summary​

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The Meze Elite is just incredible. The build quality and attention to detail are just above anything else on the market, making for a sublime and luxurious feeling of actually using them. When it comes to the sound quality, the Elite has that beautiful timbre that is just a true joy to listen to, paired with great detail retrieval, spectacular resolution, and soundstage. It is now my second favorite pair only shy of the Hifiman Susvara, which I consider to be the best headphone on the planet right now.
Meze Audio basically took their wildly popular Empyrean and improved everything about it regarding the sound quality, and this is the kind of upgrade I really like to see.
Wildly Recommended.

Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
  • Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman HE1000se, Abyss Diana PHI, Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX, Crosszone CZ-1, HEDDphone, Meze Empyrean
  • Sources– Topping D90se + A90, Ferrum OOR, EarMen Tradutto, Musician Pegasus, JDSLabs Atom DAC+/AMP+, Cayin N3Pro, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon PRO + iFi Zen Phono, xDuoo TA-26, XI Audio Broadway S, Musician Aquarius, Cayin HA-300, Cayin HA-6A, Fiio M17, Cayin N8 ii
Big thanks to Meze for providing the Elite for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. Meze Audio hasn’t seen this review before publishing it.
You can get your Meze Elite on Apos Audio here. This is an affiliate link.
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Would you choose the HE1000SE over the Elite?

tutetibiimperes

100+ Head-Fier
The Lifestyle Flagship Choice
Pros: Extremely Comfortable
Easy to Drive
Excellent Build Quality
Well-Thought-Out Design
Consumer-Friendly Sound Signature
Cons: Resolution/Detail Sub-Par for Price
Sound Signature Too Reserved (may not be a con depending on your preference)
Only One Colorway Available (as of this writing)
Carrying Case Handle Feels Cheap
I'd like to start off this review by thanking Todd at TTVJ for sponsoring this review tour. I was able to spend a week with the Meze Empyrean Elite in my home with my system with the only expectation that I present a review of my experiences.

On a personal note I have been in the market for a new upgrade for a TOTL headphone, and this one was in the running along with the other new flagships. I had never had the opportunity to listen to a Meze headphone before (other than a pair of Rai Solo IEMs) but I'd always heard good things.

Associated Equipment:

Source: Bluesound Node 2i Streamer (sources being Apple Music Lossless and FLAC CD rips on USB stick)

DAC: RME ADI-2 DAC

Amp: Schiit Ragnarok 2

Build and Comfort:

The Meze Empyrean Elite lives up to its reputation for excellent build quality. It's much lighter than expected, but made predominantly of metal, leather, and other high quality materials. The unit comes in a very slick looking aluminum case that reminded me of something a diamond merchant might wear handcuffed to his wrists on the streets of NYC in a heist movie (though unfortunately the handle of the case is made of rather cheap-feeling plastic that degrades the experience when picking it up the first time, an aluminum or at least leather-wrapped handle would go a long way towards making the unboxing experience feel more premium).

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The headphones themselves feature a quite pretty metal lattice design in black with silver aluminum supporting structure. The adjustment rods are of the infinitely-adjustable variety (as opposed to notched) with a friction hold mechanism. It would be nice if Meze would offer this in additional coloways as they have with the regular Empyrean. I've always found the black and copper version of the Empyrean particularly handsome, with the gunmetal version also being quite sharp.

While I enjoyed the ability to adjust the fit without pre-set notches, it also upset my innate desire to have both sides set exactly the same as there were no notches to reference, so I found myself taking them off and on to measure just how far each rod was poking out to make sure I had them even on both sides. People who are less neurotic about such things probably won't have an issue.

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The headband is a suspension strap design with cool looking carbon-fiber printing on the support arcs and a real leather strap that smells great.


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The default pads are a new leather hybrid exclusive to the Empyrean Elite. They are soft and comfortable with plenty of space so that my ears never rubbed the insides of the pads.

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An alternative set of velour pads are included. As you can see these are much thicker than the leather hybrid pads, and the ear opening is smaller. On my face these felt very similar to the velour Auteur or Eikon pads from ZMF. With the thicker pads the headphone does have more clamp force.

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One of the cleverest things Meze has come up with is their magnetic pad attachment mechanism. Switching pads is as simple as pulling one set off and popping another one on. Since they're not angled there's no wrong-way to do it. As I'll mention in my sound section, being able to switch pads quickly is very useful here.

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Finally, a little touch I really love about the way Meze does things is that they color code right and left channels on their cables. With angled cables as on the Empyrean Elite this isn't strictly necessary, but it's amazingly convenient for their IEMs, and doing it on their headphones gives a nice big of uniform brand design. It's also nice for being able to quickly attach them correctly without trying to squint and see tiny R and L markings.

The cable itself is thick, covered with fabric, and feels very nice in the hands. However, I didn't use it in my testing because it's too short to reach my system from my seat, opting for my 3 meter ZMF OFC balanced cable instead. Making their mini-XLR jacks compatible with the ZMF and Audeze pin-outs opens the door for plenty of replacement cable options.

Sound:

Bass -
The Empyrean Elites have a rise above neutral in the bass region (somewhat rare in open back planars) that gives them a full and rich sound. The rise extends up through the mid and upper bass into the lower midrange some, which does give them a bit of a thick sound signature. Bass texture and detail are about average across all of the planars I've listened to, which IMO is an underperformance for the price point, for example losing some of the string texture in Bela Fleck's Flight of the Cosmic Hippo. However, they are capable of some actual slam, and gave satisfying performance during the big bass drops in HA:TFELT's Ain't Nobody. Switching to the velour pads instead of the leather hybrid does result in a significant drop-off in bass.

Midrange - Midrange performance can best be expressed as inoffensive and safe. The lower midrange can be a bit thick, but that works well with male vocals such as in Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker. Female vocals on the other hand feel a bit too reserved for my lacking, mainly due to an upper mid-range rise that doesn't rise far enough for my personal tastes. Switching to the velour pads helps here, adding some upper-midrange emphasis and smoothing out the upper-midrange to treble transition. With the velour pads acoustic music in particular really comes alive, such as Alison Krauss and Union Station's Gravity.

Treble - I'll again go with 'inoffensive' which is a good thing IMO, there's plenty of air, and the treble overall feels accurate and enhances songs as it should without ever drawing attention to itself. Once again there is a difference in pads. I'd tentatively call the hybrid pads "Pop Pads" that are great for pop, rock, EDM, and other similar genres, while the velour pads are "Acoustic Pads" which are great for acoustic genres and classical. With the hybrid pads there's a bit of a rockier transition between the upper midrange and treble which (in addition to the extra bass they provide) can add some excitement. With the velour pads these headphones become more mid and treble centric while smoothing the frequency response up top making more more natural timbre of real instruments.

Soundstage and Imaging - Soundstage feels wider than average, while imaging is a bit less precise than average. Listening to orchestral recordings I could imagine the orchestra in front of me when closing my eyes, but I couldn't pin-point exact areas where each section or musician was like I can with the Beyerdynamic T1.2 or the Audeze LCD-5.

Overall Sound Signature and Technicalities - Overall sound signature is very pleasant and 'easy-going'. I didn't feel the need to reach for EQ during my time with these, so in my opinion they're well-tuned for the folks who prefer not to use EQ. They're consumer-friendly with a moderate bass boost and a relaxed upper midrange that will play well with many genres of music and not expose flaws or sibilance in poor recordings. Depending on your personal preferences the technicalities and resolution may be the Achilles Heel of these headphones. Detail retrieval and resolution seem sub-par for the price. I'd rank them similarly to my DCA Aeon Open X in that regard, which is a much more affordable headphone (though the Mezes do have them beat hands down in terms of build and luxurious feel). On the other hand that does make them rather relaxing to listen to, so if you're the type who just wants to lean back and enjoy the music without worrying about hearing every tiny detail and analyzing every element of the production, you may prefer this.

Comparisons:

Audeze LCD-5


This may be the most natural headphone to compare them to as they came out at about the same time and go for very similar prices. I was lucky enough to have the TTVJ LCD-5 tour loaner at the same time as the Meze Empyrean Elites so I was able to do direct comparisons.

Putting on the LCD-5s after listening to the Empyrean Elites gives the impression of a veil being lifted from off of the music. Details suddenly pop out that were missing before, female vocals come alive with rich harmonics and sparkle, bass develops surgical levels of detail and accuracy, and imaging goes from amorphous to razor-sharp.
On the other hand you do lose bass quantity and some slam (without taking EQ into account) going to the LCD-5 from the Empyrean Elite, and comfort takes a major nosedive as well.

For my personal tastes the sound signature and quality of the LCD-5 is overwhelmingly preferable to the Empyrean Elite, but the Empyrean Elite is overwhelmingly more comfortable to actually wear.

Audeze LCD-3

A pair I own, mine are 2015 vintage that received new pads and new drivers from Audeze in 2020. Stock to stock the Empyrean Elite is a much more rounded sound signature, as the Audeze memory foam pads kill the upper midrange response. With EQ the LCD-3s can hold their and even surpass the Empyrean Elites in technicalities, and are about on par in terms of comfort. The EQ'd LCD-3 can also trump the stock sound of the Empyrean Elite in terms of bass slam and detail. It's difficult to talk to much about an EQ'd sound signature vs an EQ'd one, as the Empyrean Elite does absolutely sound better 'out of the box' compared to the LCD-3 before EQ is applied.

Build quality wise the Empyrean Elite does have the edge again, as my LCD-3s, like many other wood-ring Audeze headphones, have developed the small cracks around the area where the wood rings meet the mini-XLR jacks.

Hifiman HE6se V2

Another pair I own, and the pair I purchased the Rag 2 to power, these fall to the Empyreans in Stock sound signature, sounding much leaner and a bit anemic without EQ present.

The Empyrean Elite is also much more comfortable than the HE6se (which has cups that are just a smidge too small) and has much better built quality than the plastic-fantastic Hifiman.

In terms of sound EQ'd the HE6se can hold its own well, offering worlds more slam with blessed with 11db of bass boost below 100hz, and can offer a great amount of zing and edge when boosting up the upper midrange beak to be a broader plateau. In terms of technicalities overall I'd rank them fairly close, with the HE6se pulling ahead by a bit.

Conclusions

Opening, holding, and wearing the Meze Empyrean Elite is a pleasure. It feels as expensive as it is, and it's clear that Meze are masters when it comes to industrial design. In terms of sound quality they're easy to listen to, with no glaring faults. Unfortunately they're also not particularly exciting and don't bring the level of detail to the table that I'd expect from a $4,000 headphone. Listening to them back to back with the LCD-5 brought both the strengths and weaknesses of the Empyrean Elite to the forefront. If someone could design a headphone that's as comfortable as the Empyrean but sounds like the LCD-5 they'd be able to take the industry by storm.

As it is I'm going to call the Meze Empyrean Elite the "Lifestyle Flagship". It's the perfect headphone for anyone who prioritizes design, comfort, and an easy-going relaxed sound signature that sounds great out of the box with no need for EQ.
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Consumer Friendly sound signature?

What would you choose over the Elite?

AudioKeyK

Member of the Trade: AudioKey Reviews
Meze’s New Top-of-the-Line (TOTL) Star!
Pros: Detailed
Electrostatic-like
Engaging
Exceptional Resolution
Detailed
Treble Reach
Light
Cons: Expensive
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I count myself fortunate that I have experienced a number of incredible headphones over the past couple of years that have turned my listening world upside down. They have done this by rendering a level of see-through transparency, resolution, and detail—information from the various media (streams, CDs, etc.)—combined with a soul-engaging warmth and richness of timbre, tone and texture, that I did not think possible. An epiphany! And three-dimensionality?! Incredible.

Though for nearly the entirety of my life, loudspeakers were my go to and all I truly knew. And, yes, there were some incredible loudspeakers in the mix—Avantgarde Acoustics, Magneplanar, Living Voice, Verity, Avalon, Infinity, Quads ESLs, B&W, etc, etc.

The loudspeakers all had their own individual voice, their way of being in a room (coupling or not coupling), and the types of music—jazz, blues, rock, grunge, classical, etc.—that they considered their BFFs. They were, however, always at the mercy of the room in which they stood, and how they were placed respective to each other. A great room, great placement—a rarity—led to good to great sound. The standard, inevitably, was more often than not a horrible to adequate to decent to good room, and sound which paralleled each iteration.

When I first came in contact with the Meze Empyrean, I thought it a modern work of art that belonged, easily, in a modern art museum. And I encouraged Antonio Meze to make it so. How would that be for a marketing pitch? “Yes, it’s also in the New York MOMA, the TATE, the CENTRE POMPIDOU.” The design aesthetic of the Meze Empyrean Elite, though it retains the self-same ‘chassis’ as the Empyrean, is of a different aesthetic. Its aesthetic is futuristic, its patinas stark, clean, sci-fi oriented, and quite beautiful. Yes, they are easily discernible in this way from each other, and while some may prefer one aesthetic over the other, I intend to have them both, as I find them both truly gorgeous, but that’s only the beginning!

Unwilling to send the Empyrean back to Meze after its stellar review, its Diamond Award (our highest award classification), and its designation as the Best of the Year Product for 2020, I bought it, as a much needed reference product. I also have the Meze upgrade copper wires in 6.3mm and XLR versions, so as to compare the siblings directly and with the best possible ancillary wires. The question of the moment, of course, is how do they differ in sound?

REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start with how the equipment actually sounds and not the process of physically “undressing” it and/or laying out its various accoutrement, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a non-linear movie—Memento, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, etc—that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.

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The Sound

The major functional design difference between the Meze Empyrean and the new Meze Empyrean Elite is the new Parus® Rinaro Isodynamic Hybrid Array Driver, which is, approximately, thirty percent (30%) lighter than the driver employed in the Empyrean. The driver is, by the way, the equivalent of a speaker or series of speakers, collectively, in a loudspeaker. It is what allows the Meze headphone to make music.

Given that this was the main and truly only difference, as sensitivity, the surface area, magnetic field, Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) were all identical, save, again, the new Parus® driver. In truth, I was a bit skeptical of the magnitude of change to expect. Though keeping to the analogy of a loudspeaker and switching that speaker’s driver for one that was both lighter and faster would, no doubt, make a difference in the resultant sound, would this amount to a significant qualitative difference?

I needn’t have been worried at all! There were immediate differences between the Meze Empyrean and the Meze Empyrean Elite that were quite profound! The differences ranged from the rendering of the tip top of the frequency spectrum to the bass at the stygian depths of the Holy-Bass-Head-Grail to the soundstage to transparency and resolution! And the resultant clarity, clarity, clarity was stunning in that it would evoke, from time to time, shades of a quite different headphone technology—electrostatics—and this was completely unexpected and stunning! “This is not the Empyrean,” I would comment to self and sometimes aloud.

The Meze Empyrean Elite appeared to pierce the electrostatic sphere time and time again, as its transparency would lay bare microdynamic and spatial cues, air and ambiance, while finely parsing instrumental timbres and textures, together with a natural tonality that I had not believed possible of planar headphones. And then there was its layering and transient speed, the entirety of which separated it clearly from its sibling, and its sibling from its former flagship status, and it itself, to a larger degree, from all other planar headphones.

It all reminded me of the nearly past two years and the quite glorious time that I had spent in the distant and, for many, unexplored world of electrostatic headphones. Often when one visits a new, beautiful, gracious and giving land, one does not readily wish to return from it. However, I’m glad that I have, as there are new and exciting things happening in both planar headphones and dynamics headphones as well (see ZMF Atticus review).

What is strange, indeed, is how the Empyrean, our Best of the Year component for 2020, when placed in direct comparison to the Empyrean Elite now sounds rather dark, a tad bit closed in, of limited soundstage, and truncated at either frequency boundary. Though those who have not been exposed to the Empyrean Elite may well think of the Empyrean as we did—the Best of the Year for 2020. Things change.

The Meze Empyrean’s volumetric cube—its soundstage—is of immense depth, width, and height(!). Holographic, in sum, with exquisite layering and positioning and air and space. In truth, it seems easily able to encompass the Empyrean’s soundstage well within its own. And this as the result of a 30% reduction in the weight of the driver?! Incredible!

The Meze Empyrean Elite was paired, given its pedigree, with a number of extremely capable components. The Enleum AMP-23R (review coming), the DENAFRIPS Pontus II, the Mola Mola Tambaqui, LTA Z10e, and the PS Audio Perfect Wave SACD Transport and the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC (review coming). Additionally, the same music was used to further differentiate between the Empyreans Elite and the Empyreans and the Rosson Audio RAD-0, which won our Golden KeyNote Award for 2020 and was one of several Best Products of the Year for 2020.

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Bass

“Sacrificial Dance—The Chosen One” (Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), Sony Classical) cues and it is potent, powerful, and forbidding. The transients move at tachyon speed—greater than light speed—relative to the Empyrean. The stage is massive with musicians spread across its breadth and into its depth as punctuated by the resounding strikes of the assembled tympani. Whereas the Empyrean could, indeed, reach the Holy-Bass-Head-Grail, the Elite does so with a-matter-of-fact ease that even surpasses the Rosson Audio RAD-0 and with greater parsing of instrumental timbre across the entire frequency spectrum. If, as I stated, the “Meze Empyrean rumbled powerfully, with great clarity, extension, and detail,” the Meze Empyrean Elite overshadows its efforts, entirely. Does a 30% reduction in the mass of the diaphragm make this so? Yes, apparently so.

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Midrange

Andy Bey’s “Lush Life” (American Song, Savoy) cues and there is an anticipation that I would not have expected knowing this track so well. But not so well with the Elite. It begins and the clarity and the tautness of the plucked bass moves far beyond simulacrum. Andy’s voice is rich, resonant, full, and yet there is never overhang or bloat or a lack of articulation. The stage is wide, deep, the positioning solid, the layering and separation superb. All sit upon a black-quiet background that swallows noise whole. Cymbals and other percussion bear not the slightest hint of glare or glassiness or the “Scchhhccchsss” of poor to non-existent resolution. The resolution via the Elite is exceptional, natural, well articulated. I did not play VOCES8’s “Agnus Dei” (Enchanted Isle, Decca Music Group) in the Empyrean or the RAD-0 reviews, but I have become very familiar with it and have grown quite enamored of it. “Agnus Dei” now cues. A lone soprano’s voice reaches high for but a moment. She is joined by the seven in a glorious, harmonious and ethereal reading of Samuel Barber’s 1967 choral composition “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God). Via the Elite this composition is laid bare in all of its captivating beauty, as is the venue which encompasses it. In both instances the Rosson Audio RAD-0 has a beguiling warmth and weight and speed, but it does not have the transparency, nor does it convey the spaciousness of venue, nor the resolution, nor the speed of the Meze Empyrean Elite.

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Treble+

Jordi Savall’s “Troisième Leçon de Ténèbres à 2 voix” (François Couperin) (Tous les Matins du Monde, Aliavox) cues, and whereas the voices of Montserrat Figueras and Maria-Christina Kiehr dueled and soared with the Empyrean, they lift off now and soar above the stars as their duel continues with the Empyrean Elite. The hall itself is now more present than it has ever been, and the soundstage, the envelope of the performance, has taken on greater dimension, air, and space as I listen through the Elite. The Veress: String Trio’s I. Andante & II. Allegro molto (Veress: String Trio & Bartók: Piano Quintet, Alpha) is immediately energetic and a good deal more transparent than with the Empyrean, as the players rap (with knuckles), drum, pluck, and, of course, bow their instruments. Timbre too is a step above with the Meze Empyrean Elite as are spatial cues, the solidity of positioning, layering, and overall clarity. There is much more air present now. The Rosson Audio RAD-0 can, indeed, scale the treble heights and it can beautifully resolve both timbre and tone, but again it cannot keep pace, nor does it have the transparency, nor the resolution, nor does it free the tiny, buried details that the Meze Empyrean Elite so easily and readily frees.


The Wrappings and Accessories


The Meze Empyrean Elite is housed in an outer white ‘gift box’ that bears the “intricate, geometrical pattern” of the Empyrean Elite’s and the Empyrean’s meticulously designed and CNC’d sculpted grill. Within the gift box is a white-silver, high-strength, aluminum case, that is printed with the MEZE AUDIO logo, the Empyrean Elite, and RINARO and designating information of it as the developer of the Isodynamic driver. The case is clean, bright, stylish and professional.

Within the case and seated in the cut-out of a foam insert are the Empyrean Elite, two sets of ear pads—one hybrid leather set, one Alcantra, and a 1.2 meter OFC cable with 4-pin, mini-XLR plugs which terminate with a 3.5mm jack connector. Though given its pedigree, one imagines a 6.3mm jack connector included as well.

Cable termination options for the Elite (all have 4-pin, mini-XLR plugs at the headphones) are:
  • 6.3mm jack connector/ 2.5m meter cable ($349)
  • Balanced 4-pin-XLR/ 2.5m meter cable ($349)
  • Balanced 4.4mm/ 1.3 meter cable ($269)
  • Balanced 2.5mm/ 1.3 meter cable ($249)
Note: I would highly recommend the Copper PCUHD Upgrade Cables, as they make a rather incredible difference in fidelity!

Design—Look, Feel

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Like its sibling—the Meze Empyrean—the new Elite is also modern art with more of a space age feel and a color palette to match. Though it is nonetheless stunning and quite elegant.

And like its sibling, its outward, jet black grills are milled from a solid block of high-precision aluminum, which Meze reports takes approximately twenty (20) hours of time to complete.


Technology and Specification

“With ELITE, we've created something that transcends all barriers of headphone design and engineering and moves to a new, artistic, graceful level. Following in the footsteps of a successful partnership, together with Rinaro Isodynamics we managed to exceed our expectations once again and create something for the ages. It’s not mass production; it’s the craftsmanship that sparks the magic and wonder in ELITE, what makes it exciting, and these are values that we choose over any shortcuts.”
—Antonio Meze

The technology for the uninitiated is somewhat complicated and for the sake of both brevity and readability I will not repeat it here, but provide a link for further information to the Meze Empyrean Elite’s page. The Details

Suffice to say, as I have mentioned above, that the only significant difference is the new Rinaro Parus Diaphragm which at 0.11 grams is thirty percent (30%) lighter than the Empyrean’s Rinaro Diaphragm (0.16 grams). And in this one difference alone, there is, literally, a world of difference. Below are some of the other differences between the Empyrean and the Elite:


Specifications: Elite Empyrean

THD: <0.05% <0.10%
Weight Diaphragm: 0.11 grams 0.16 grams
Frequency Res.: 3Hz-112Hz 5Hz-110Hz
Sensitivity: 101 dB (1 mW/1 kHz) 100 dB (1 mW/1 kHz)
Impedance: 32Ω 31.6Ω

The Meze Empyrean Elite’s low impedance (32Ω -Ohms) and high sensitivity (101dB) make these headphones very easy to drive though you will want to pair them with the very best equipment to tease out their prodigious talent.


Conclusion

The Meze Empyrean Elite represents something new. New in that it appears to sit at the crossroads of a hybridized sound and technological profile—planar magnetic as wed to electrostatic. Perhaps the loss of 30% of the driver’s mass was sufficient to couple it to, at the very least, the boundaries of the electrostatic universe. I say this, again, after having been deeply immersed the past two years within the electrostatic universe via a number of electrostatic headphones and electrostatic headphone amplifiers, that were the best on offer. I have come to know this world quite well.

That said, I am somewhat bewildered. I had become quite the cynic when it came to that which was not electrostatic, but this has now been corrected and on two occasions! Most recently with the Meze Empyrean Elite and prior to that with the dynamic headphone, the ZMF Atticus, which at moments, however brief and fleeting, showed glimpses of the selfsame electrostatic universe.

Well, this is easy. Like its sibling, the Meze Empyrean Elite is very highly recommended and we gladly award it our DIAMOND AWARD for excellence in the superb rendering of music via its incredible, electrostatic-like transparency, resolution, and its extraordinary natural musicality.


The Systems


1.
Roon Nucleus Plus
PS Audio Perfect Wave SACD Transport
PS Audio Direct Stream DAC
Mola Mola Tambaqui (as Headphone Amplifier/DAC)
MEZE EMPYREAN
Rosson Audio RAD-0
ZMF Atticus
ZMF VÉRÍTÉ
Enleum AMP-23R
ANTI-CABLE/CARDAS cabling and wires
TORUS RM20

2.
Roon Nucleus Plus
DENAFRIPS Pontus II
Audionet DNP/EPX
STAX SR-009S
Dan Clark VOCE
MEZE EMPYREAN
Rosson Audio RAD-0
ZMF Atticus
ZMF VÉRÍTÉ
LTA Z10e
ANTI-CABLE cabling and wires
TORUS RM20

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Ichos
Ichos
Hey, at last another reviewer who is listening to classical music.
Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
Aaaamazing photography!

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
A masterpiece handcrafted by the finest artisans
Pros: + Music playing as close to reality as it gets
+ Immersive and holistic listening experience
+ Natural timbre with the finest texture
+ Utterly resolving
+ Excellent technical performance
+ Very comfortable and lightweight
+ Masterclas build quality
+ Beautiful and luxurious
+ Two different types of earpads
+ Fully serviceable
Cons: - Only one stock cable of mediocre quality
- Eye watering price
- A compact carrying case should be handy
The Meze Elite was kindly loaned to me for reviewing purposes but in the end I decided to buy it.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.
The selling price is €4000 and you can buy it directly from Meze Audio.

Introduction

It was about three years ago when I tested and eventually bought the Empyrean, the previous flagship headphone of the Romanian Meze Audio, which with its sound performance changed once and for all the perception I had about headphones.

And while someone would expect the Meze team to rest, reaping the laurels of success, instead they continued the hard work to achieve the seemingly impossible, to improve the Empyrean.

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The Elite

Finally and after three years of intensive research, they have succeeded in doing so and the Elite was born.
The new open back flagship of Meze Audio is a planar magnetic headphone which, like its predecessor, is using the innovative, Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology but this time with a new low mass acoustic diaphragm constructed on an ultrathin biaxially oriented semi-crystalline film.

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The MZ3SE driver builds on the pioneering technology of the flagship MZ3 driver found in the Empyrean headphone.
The innovative Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology delivers a more selective acoustic performance to the various areas within the structure of the ear.
Advances in diaphragm materials have opened the doors to even higher resolution and accuracy of the sound reproduction, setting a new benchmark in headphone design.

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This review is mostly focused on physical and sound impressions so for the full technical breakdown kindly visit the Meze website.

About the ear pads

The Elite features an innovative design developed by Rinaro, the Isomagnetic® earpad attachment, which utilises the demagnetizing field generated by the driver to hold the ear pad in place whilst also redirecting the magnetic field back into the driver and improving driver efficiency.
The Meze Elite headphone comes with two uniquely shaped ear pads developed by Rinaro to allow for personal calibration of the sound signature.

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The well known deep Alcantara earpad, originally developed for the Empyrean headphone without any changes regarding the shape and construction.

The new hybrid pads specifically designed for the Elite, are not so deep and they combine a real leather exterior with perforated Alcantara at the inner part.
With a soft, yet durable outer finish, the hybrid ear cushions are a new addition to the earpad family that perfectly balances the qualities of Alcantara and leather into a single design.
Besides the high wearing comfort, this unique combo lowers the bass pressure and delivers an airy sound signature, in which sound waves appear to transcend the space around you to create an immersive experience.

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Build quality

The Elite is, in my opinion, the only flagship headphone in the market with materials and build quality worthy of the eye watering price.
This is the best, most premium build headphone in the market and the rest of the competition just pales in comparison.
Other brands should watch and learn a couple of lessons about headphone design, material selection and manufacturing quality.

The frame is made from one piece aluminium through a CNC milling process that takes more than 20 hours to complete, while a deep black grill with intricate carvings completes the ear cup.
A carbon fiber headband with a real leather headrest is added to the frame, for an ultra-light feel and maximum durability.

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The patent-pending suspension wings support system is elongated and curved at both ends, descending further on the side of the head and distributing the weight of the headphone evenly, for an utmost comfortable listening experience.

Wearing comfort

The Elite along with the Empyrean are the most comfortable headphones I have ever tested.
The perfect fit and the excellent distribution of the weight make them suitable for long listening sessions, you can listen to a three act opera without a single sign of discomfort.

One thing of note is that with the new swallower ear pads there is a chance for some users that their ear fins may slightly touch the inner part of the ear cup.

The Elite is also fully serviceable: from the replaceable earpads to the high-performance materials used, every part on the headphone chassis is available to be easily disassembled and serviced.

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Accessories

The Elite comes in a high-strength aluminum suitcase with foam inserts and with only one cable, with a termination plug of the buyer's choice.
You can choose between a 2.5m OFC cable with 6.35mm jack or 1.2m OFC cable with 3.5mm jack or 2.5m OFC cable with 4 pin XLR connector.
No 2.5mm or 4.4mm options for the stock cable.
The cable itself is of good quality but nothing special, if you need something better or the 2.5mm/4.4mm plugs then you have to pay extra for the upgraded PCUHD Furukawa custom cables that are available in pure or silver plated copper.
For €4K one should expect at least all the three standard cables or at least one cable with the extra adapters.

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Sound impressions

The Elite is very easy to drive, so the user doesn't need to have powerful amplifiers.
With an impedance of 32Ω and a nominal sensitivity of 101dB it can be used with portable and stationary gear of medium power output.
Of course top quality is a prerequisite per se and it would be rather naive to pair the Elite with anything else but the creme de la creme,

During my listening sessions I have cycled between various audio devices like the FiiO M17, iBasso DX300, Violectric V550, V226, Feliks Audio Euforia, Fluxlabs FCN-10, Denafrips Venus II, Audiolab 8300CDQ, Lab 12 dac1 reference and Cayin C9 among others.
The Meze Elite and the FiiO M17 is an excellent combination and ranks easily as an end-game cost - no object set up.

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Listening to the Elite is a unique experience even for the most experienced listeners, it doesn't take too long to realize that the presentation has nothing to do with the typical sound of good headphones but it is rather reminiscent of a top-tier 2 channel set-up that radiates space filling sound into the room in the most holographic way, only this time the room is the listeners head.

Performers rise in front of the listener to become real human beings, singing and playing their instruments while the headphone does an exemplary job arranging them into the stage as the sound diffuses like a faithful imprint of the recording session.
The listener gets traveled into time and space to be seated somewhere in front of the performers as an imaginary member of the concert audience.

Listening to Pergolesi's Stabat Mater is like being seated in the faintly dark cathedral, barely lit with candles, while the singers sing their mournful psalm.

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The Elite excels like no other headphone in space and time allocation, it draws a naturally wide and proportionally correct soundstage that is never stretched as to become artificial.
Here not only the single instruments get their precise positioning but furthermore there is an amazing rendering and arrangement of the various instrumental groups of the large scale works.
The depth along with the holography are exemplary, so is the projection and gradual fading of the sound waves from the moment they are born till they reach the ears of the listener.
The presentation is immersive and multi-dimensional with perfect timing regarding the decay which adds a lot to the already magnificent portraying of the recording venue with all the inner reverberation, something extremely difficult for a speaker system to reproduce let alone a headphone.

The Meze house sound is here, the Elite focuses on the most natural possible reproduction of the music with an ultimate emphasis on the correct pitch of the instruments as they would be heard in real life.

Indeed, with the Elite, timbre and realism reach their heights to eventually transform into pure truth, playing - and not merely reproducing - music with the fullest harmonious richness, the most vibrant tones that draw nuances and small contrasts through a colorful sound palette.

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In order to achieve the desired tonality, Meze made a couple of adjustments to the already great tonal balance of the Empyrean, bringing the sound to a more neutral level of reference, balancing the individual proportions, while maintaining the purely musical character of its predecessor.

One noticeable difference concerns the low end, giving it this time a more linear response in terms of tonal accuracy, leveling the mid-bass emphasis while maintaining great sub-bass extension.
The absence of additional coloration combined with the more technically capable driver, results in a bass reproduction which shines with the best possible clarity, the excellent control and the exemplary layering while being visceral and full bodied.
The timing is excellent, the Elites are fast and agile, they have an inherent sense of rhythm and the ability to resolve the most difficult bass lines at a blink of an eye.
Dynamic contrast is fantastic, rise and fall are done in the most lifelike way while the presentation is impactful and muscular.
The listener is able to hear all the individual instruments playing one over the other, without the slightest trace of masking, there isn't a single note missing, the details retrieval is just amazing.

Mid range is larger than life, unique moments of harmony flow from the drivers with voices and instruments standing out with the finest quality of the articulation.
Here again, the tuning is perfectly natural with excellent timbral qualities, every part of the region is heard with the utmost reality, full bodied with rounded edges, no artificial hue, nothing shouting at the listener, no annoying cup reverb, no fatigue even for the most sensitive ears.
The sound is very addictive and musical, delightful, the mids breath and stay connected, inline with the rest of the frequencies, nicely blended without any unnecessary emphasis.

The treble is smooth and controlled, without any alarming peaks or frequency response irregularities.
Meze doesn't care about presenting the listener with an impressively analytical headphone.
The Elite isn't screaming - "hey I am analytical, I am impressive, I can do better than the competition, buy me".
The main idea here was to balance the details retrieval with the correct instrumental timbre and they have succeeded in doing so.
The Elite is very resolving due to the driver properties and not thanks for a boosted treble response, so you get a deeply detailed headphone that doesn't sound analytical and doesn't induce any treble fatigue.
It is not of a surprise that higher frequencies stay naturally toned, without aggressive brightness, without harshness while at the same time have plenty of air, energy, breadth, agility and are shed with diffused light.

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Pad swapping

The listener can micro - manage the frequency response and the overall presentation thanks to the interchangeable ear pads.
If you want to stay reference balanced as described previously then you should stick with the hybrid pads.
But you can always swap for the Alcantara pads which offer a slightly less focused sound, more smooth and laid back presentation with lesser bass intensity.
They slightly roll off the bass and have some differences regarding the mids and highs overall tuning.
A nice option to have that can better suit certain musical genres and diverse tastes.

Frequency coherency is absolutely stellar, all parts of the audible spectrum sound with the equal intensity, blended together in the most natural way, in a holistic approach that gets well appreciated and admired while listening to grand scale orchestral works like the Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

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Vs the Empyrean

The Elite is a more balanced tuned edition of the Empyrean with better technical performance.
The Elite sounds improved in various individual technical points and although the differences are not so dramatic, and scattered in such small quantities, when combined together then we can safely conclude that Elite is technically superior to Empyrean.
It is definitely more resolving, detailed, faster, with better driver control, of much finer texture, with improved articulation and fluidity, of better overall clarity and way more refined.
Still the Empyrean holds its own, it is a true TOTL headphone, with some great technicalities and in the end it is the different tuning that should be the main criterion for someone to decide which one to choose.
If you like a more fun and relaxed tuning, with some extra bass thump and quantity, increased mid - bass warmth and a touch more forward mids then you should stick with the Empyrean.
It is a great high end headphone and much better suited for some kinds of music and musical preferences.

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In the end

Meze Audio has exceeded all expectations.
The Elite is a unique headphone, a rare musical instrument crafted by the hands of a master maker.
It stands out simply because it offers a shockingly holistic listening experience, creepingly close to reality.
Ulysses has finally reached Ithaca.

Test playlist

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2022.
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szore
szore
Heard this at Canjam and loved it.
Ichos
Ichos
It is difficult not to fall in love with it.
Let me express my sincerest apologies to your wallet!!
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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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T
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
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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