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Meze 99 Classics vs. AKG K551

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by RockStar2005, Jul 8, 2017.
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  1. RockStar2005
    Meze is an audio company based in Romania which basically came out of nowhere and has taken the headphone world by storm! AKG is a true legend in the headphone industry as well, producing some of the greatest (and still greatest) headphones ever, like the AKG K550 (which sounds like 99% the same as the K551), the K702, the K812, and it's closed-back sibling, the K872. The AKG K550 was the first headphone I truly ever cared about, and it was the prime reason (aside from great interest I had in Hi-Res music) why I got so into Hi-Fi audio, and signed up for this website as well! Time and time again, I've seen the K55X series wipe the floor with headphones that cost DOUBLE TO TRIPLE its cost (which these days is roughly $130-$180), even highly-rated ones such as the $399 Oppo PM-3. And we're talking SEVERAL headphones up to the $400 mark.

    The only headphones that ever outdid it in my opinion was the 2nd Generation Bang & Olufsen (B&O Beoplay) H6s. The 2nd Gen H6 offered more detail than the K55X series (though it probably couldn't compete with the K702, and most certainly not the K812 or K872, which both cost $1000-$1500), and was more portable. The H6s should've lasted with me a lot longer than 2 months, but their downfall was comfort, or in their case, the lack of. The H6s featured a ribbed headband which would always poke into my skull, and although they were called over-ear headphones, to me, they hardly qualified for such a distinction. The tiny earpads BARELY fit over my ears, and so after a couple months, I'd had it, and sold them off. A friend of mine who happened to buy them based on my recommendation felt the same way about his, and he did not keep his H6s either. So after trying out another pair of "cans", I went back to AKG once again, but with the K551s. And that was that................until a friend of mine on here (akg fanboy) suggested I try out the (newer) Meze 99 Classics (Silver Walnut version). And so I did, using my trusty HTC 10 with its superior sound quality, and my ever-growing catalog of Hi-Res and CD-Quality music (mostly rock, both hard and soft) as tools for this comparison.

    Price: The Meze 99 Classics cost $309, and the AKG K551 runs about $160 (both per Amazon U.S.).

    Looks: The 99s came in and I was quite impressed by them right away. They are as striking in their looks as they are in their sound! Here Meze has created a masterpiece of sorts: a pair of headphones with style, premium design, and more! Everything about these headphones (and their accessories) is nothing short of luxurious! They come in a really nice box which opens up magnetically, and features the 99s, various OFC (Oxygen-Free Copper) balanced cables (about 4' and 10' long, with the 4' foot one including an in-line remote), a custom soft case for the cables, an airplane adapter, a 6.3mm adapter, and a SWEET hard case for the 99s itself, all for only $309! (Even the scent of the inside of the box itself smells expensive!) The 99s' design features NO glue or plastic. Everything is neatly held together using screws. The ear pads are made of synthetic leather and memory foam, and the ear cups are made from stained walnut wood. I've read that wood has better acoustic properties than plastic or metal do, so this was a plus! I'd also read somewhere else that the staining process the 99s undergo takes about 18 months to complete as well! I've been interested in headphones with wooden ear cups for some time now, but haven't found any that were highly-rated. Aesthetically-speaking, it doesn't get much better than this! The 99s have won both sound AND design awards, which it most certainly deserves. The Meze logo itself closely resembles a trident, which is the same logo used by Italian-car maker Maserati, which happens to be my all-time FAVORITE car maker too! So maybe it was fate? Who knows? lol

    The K551s come in a very nice box as well, which kind of resembles a TV or a stage, which I've always thought deserved high marks for its unique presentation style. It features a (fixed) 4' cable with an in-line remote, and a 6.3mm adapter. The K551s have some plastic on them, but also have a great deal of metal too. They also exude a premium look (Black/Silver model), and are quite nice to look at, though I slightly prefer the look of the K550 and K550 MK II. The ear pads are also made from synthetic leather and memory foam, and the ear cups appear to be metal and plastic. (see pics below)

    Comfort: I found BOTH headphones to be quite comfortable. They both fit on great with no noticeable clamping. The 99s win here though because of their design. While the K551s force you to adjust to its headband, the 99s come with an adjustable SMOOTH headband, which adjusts to YOUR head, making it a better fit. But it doesn't end there. While the K551s feature rounded (and large) ear pads, the 99s come with OVAL-shaped ear pads, which really make a lot more sense because human ears are not round, they're essentially oval in shape! So not surprisingly, these fit onto my ears better too. Now this is where the H6s failed, and the 99s ALMOST suffered the same fate as well. Initially, the ear pads were on the small side, and as a result, several customers complained to Meze about this issue. So apparently several months ago, Meze made yet another very WISE decision to LISTEN to their customers and enlarge the ear pads up to about a medium or medium-to-large size. I have absolutely NO doubt that had Meze not taken this action that I wouldn't have been as happy about the 99s as I am today!

    The oval shape of these ear pads also have other advantages. One of which has to do with volume and potential hearing loss. Rounded ear pads let more of the sound leak out, which in turn forces the listener to raise the volume up, which can put the listener at increased risk for (unnecessary) hearing damage. But oval-shaped ear pads isolate sound better, and therefore less sound is likely to leak out, and the urge to raise the volume up higher vanishes immediately! This is a wonderful idea, and just one of many wise decisions the 99s' creator, Antonio Meze (pronounced "Mez-zahh"), made while putting the 99s together. But why the 99s are so phenomenal only BEGINS here........................................

    Bass: I came to realize how much I really loved a neutral sound signature because of AKG. Other headphones never quite sounded right to me really. Either too much of this or too little of that. The H6s even at times could sound too boomy. So I never thought I'd want anything but neutral, until the 99s came along! Although not as neutral as the K551s, the 99s feature a more "balanced" bass sound that digs even deeper than the K551s do, and so you get a stronger and better bass sound, and NO apparent leakage into the mids and treble regions either. This is KEY, because SO many of the other headphones I've reviewed failed when it came to this. The PM-3, the B&W P7, the Sony MDR-1A........either too much bass and/or the bass would tend to sometimes leak over into the mids & highs! The Blue Lola contained bass however with industrial strength, but fell short on the treble end when it came to detail. The 99s however get bass right at every turn!

    The OTHER advantage to having oval-shaped ear pads makes its appearance here, where it is more appropriately placed. By offering better isolation as a result of the oval shape, I felt the bass even more closely than I did with the K551s. I really think ALL headphones should feature oval-shaped ear pads.

    Mids & Highs: Both headphones are great here. It's hard to say that one was better than the other. With the right EQ, you get the best sound that each can offer.

    Soundstage: The 99s prevail here as well, and this was NO small feat! One thing that AKG is known for being SUPERIOR at is offering a WIDE VAST soundstage with its closed-back headphones. I mean, they took that design to a whole new level, even being comparable with open-back headphones on this front! So when I was told the 99s had an even wider soundstage, I definitely felt some doubt. But that doubt disappeared within minutes of this comparison taking place! Thanks to the way the speaker drivers are angled, and some fantastic tuning as well, the 99s manage to outdo the K551s in soundstage, even with them having smaller speaker drivers than the K551s (40mm vs. 50mm) do. Truly amazing!!

    Clarity: The overall clarity of both of these headphones is great, but once again the 99s prove victorious here as well. The 99s were odd in not one but two different ways, but these were "good" oddities: 1) Despite having the same impedance rating but a LOWER sensitivity rating than the K551s, the 99s were somehow LOUDER, though they shouldn't have been! I have no explanation for this, but perhaps someone reading this does and can offer it up in this thread?! 2) I heard details on the 99s that I never heard with ANY headphone I've ever auditioned!! In one particular case, I was playing a Hi-Res version of the Fleetwood Mac song "Second Hand News" (from the legendary Rumours album), and during the intro, I noticed what sounded like a background percussion echo of some sort right before the vocals kick in, which I swear I've never heard before! I then played that same part on my K551s, and the echo sound was COMPLETELY ABSENT, even at the same and even slightly higher volume! The 99s apparently don't let ANY details get passed it! lol

    Misc: In addition to the sheer awesomeness of the 99s, Meze itself is a force to be reckoned with. The few times I had contacted Meze for answers to questions, they were more than willing to help out and tackle each one, and always within a day or two at most. And when I reached out to them to help me come up with a suitable custom EQ to really make the 99s shine (because out of the box I did not feel they compared with my K551s), they not only replied back, but they told me they were ALREADY working with someone on that. That person is George D., and he is also a Head-Fi'er! We worked together and also with akg fanboy's help & encouragement, I was able to take their advice and come up with a custom EQ on Poweramp (also see below) which REALLY makes the 99s shine!! The fact is, had I not been able to come up with such an EQ, the 99s wouldn't have done it for me personally. But fortunately, I did!

    Conclusion: The Meze 99 Classics are quite an elegant pair of headphones. With these headphones I realized that even when you think you've heard it all, it's possible you haven't, so don't be afraid to be open-minded when it comes to audio products! And so now I have put my AKG K551s up for sale on eBay, and have officially decided to stick with Meze!

    I feel strongly that if you're looking for great REFERENCE headphones for studio recording and editing, then the K55X series is your best bet (excluding the K553, which I DO NOT recommend). It offers a great NEUTRAL sound that will really help you get your ideas down w/o any "coloration" being added to the sound. But when it comes to listening for enjoyment, the 99s take the cake here!! They make everything I listen to sound more enjoyable and more LIVELY than ever before, so I have nothing but love for them! **I think perhaps that the 99s actually WOULD be a great choice for studio recording. Yes they are a bit colored, but they also reveal more detail than the K55X headphones do. So this is something to consider as well.**

    Yes, the 99s cost around double the K551s, but for ONCE I'm getting a better headphone at practically every turn! The style, the design, the detachable (balanced) cables, the bass, the soundstage, and the details of the 99s make it a MUST BUY at $309. Having a nice-looking hard (vs. soft) case included only makes the 99s a more attractive purchase for anyone looking for fantastic audio quality and a premium look & design! Romania may not be on the "headphone audio map" the way Germany, Austria, and Denmark are yet, but in my opinion, Meze has FOREVER changed that by creating and introducing the world to the Meze 99 Classics! The 99s are INCREDIBLE headphones, and I think the world would be a better place if more people checked them out and gave them a listen as well!

    Note: For anyone interested, here is my (main) custom Poweramp 10-Band EQ for the Meze 99 Classics (see below). I trust it will bring you the same Hi-Fi quality ROBUST sound that it did me! (Now, I may be tweaking it again soon, but if I do, I will make a note of it here. And please let me know if ANY of these pics don't display properly for you.)

    **Update: I have added a "Bass Xtra" version and a "Bass Light" version as well. You can find them below the main one.**

    **Second Update: I just tried out the Brainwavz non-angled sheepskin leather ear pads on the 99 Cs, and I must say, they provide an OUTSTANDING upgrade to not only the sound quality of the 99 Cs (including an extra widened soundstage!), but also to the comfort level of the ear pads as well! They are not cheap ($40 at present time), but IMO they worth EVERY penny! They are pretty easy to put on the 99 Cs too, which was nice. I was able to do both sides in about 2-3 minutes. (NOTE: DISABLE "TONE" ON THE EQ SCREEN. YOU DON'T NEED IT.)

    When I listened to tracks like my Hybrid SACD version of Clapton's original "Layla" and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" (Hi-Res version) with the newly widened soundstage, I heard an extra guitar "fill/part" within the intro of the "Layla" before the vocals kick in that I'd never really noticed in the past. On "Immigrant Song", before each verse, Page plays these distorted DELAYED guitar chords that sound awesome, but now, I can REALLY hear the full "breath" and every little nuance of the delay pedal, where before it sounded a bit muffled and not as clear. So RUN out today and get these pads if you want to hear the 99 Cs at their BEST! In addition, below the EQs I have listed for the stock pads, I have now included the SAME EQs but for the Brainwavz pads. I did have to make a change on the treble side (last 3 EQ bands) & Pre-Amp band to resolve the extra bit of sibilance I was getting on the new Brainwavz pads, but it appears to be under control now!**


    Main EQ (Stock Pads):

    1.jpg

    2.jpg

    Bass Xtra version (Stock Pads):

    1.jpg

    2.jpg

    Bass Light version (Stock Pads):

    3.jpg

    4.jpg


    Brainwavz Pads EQs:

    Main B/W EQ:

    Capture+_2017-10-22-01-07-20.png

    B/W "Bass Xtra":

    Capture+_2017-10-22-01-10-54.png

    B/W "Bass Light":

    Capture+_2017-10-22-01-08-54.png


    Meze 99 Classics:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    AKG K551:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2017
  2. Dobrescu George
    I'm glad to have helped you and I'm glad that you found an awesome pair of headphones that you enjoy!
     
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  3. 007shark76
    @RockStar2005 Kudos for the extra effort you went through and to Meze's customer service. I noticed your EQ settings didn't display in the pics. I am actually kinda of curious to try your eq settings because my Meze99 have kinda just been collecting dust because the stock sound with the large earpads was outdone with other headphones I have. But nothing beats the comfort of the Meze99 Classics.
     
    Dobrescu George and RockStar2005 like this.
  4. RockStar2005
    007,

    Thank you MUCH for the kind words!

    Initially they didn't post for me either, but I then realized the format was PNG when it should've been JPEG. So I converted them both to JPEG and reposted, and when I go to a DIFFERENT browser and look up the same page WITHOUT logging in, they do both display now.

    Let me try PM'ing them to you.............................................
     
  5. MixMasterMan
    Nice comparison, Rockstar. However, Id much rather have (and think it's more warrented) a comparison with H6 2nd gen, than the akg k55x. Based on my experience with a 553, I'd imagine the meze and the akg line are far apart, sound wise. Where as the H6, is apparently a lot closer.

    Also, are you saying the PM-3 has "too much" bass? The P7/1A's, ok, but the PM-3's have to me the most neutral bass/mid in any closed back ive heard. Are you saying the 99 has LESS bass than the PM-3?

    According to Tyll at innerfidelity (and I do generaly agree with his assesments), there is some harmonic distortion that colors the bass in the meze. Not in a bad way, mind you. However, based on that observation, and z review sound demo, the bass on the 99 is more fun/accentuated than the PM-3.

    Either way, I'd appreciate more comparisons between the 99 and H6. Whwn budget allows, I'd pick up a 99, but only if there is a signifigant upgrade in sound over the H6. I wouldnt have the need for both. So, there can only be one!
     
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  6. RockStar2005
    Thanks Mix!!

    Well unfortunately as you read in the review, I sold my H6s like 8-10 mos ago, so I'd have to buy and return another pair to do that. However, I DO agree with you that THAT would've been an even more interesting review to read since the H6s were (from what I remember) superior to the K55X series.

    Yes, they were far apart in sound, that's for sure. lol

    I went back and looked at my AKG K553 vs. Oppo PM-3 review from late 2015, and I guess it wasn't so much that they were bassy but that the bass would sometimes leak over into the mids and treble, which gives it the appearance of being too bassy. But I think I will amend my review (see new UPDATED Bass section above) to say the PM-3s are not too bassy but did leak bass over to the mids & highs. Also, the K553's soundstage (per that review) appears to have been better than the PM-3s as well.

    I would say the K55X series has more neutral bass/mids than the PM-3, but that's just me. No, the 99s may even have more bass, but it's a more controlled bass from what I can tell that goes deeper but doesn't leak over (and/or the highs are tuned better??).

    Yeah I saw Tyll's review, but again, it sounds better to me.

    Well a reason to pick up the 99s (one of MANY reasons lol) would be for the larger and oval-shaped ear cups. As I mentioned in my review, I feel their shape and size lend to the bass sounding better to me than the H6s. Plus the comfort aspect (including smoother and adjustable headband), as well as hearing damage aspect too. Plus the 99s look even nicer IMO. lol Although the H6s look really nice too.

    I would ONLY recommend the 2nd Gen H6s to someone if 1) They didn't wanna spend $309 (2nd Gen H6s currently sell for $255 on Amazon right now) and 2) The person ACTUALLY preferred on-ear vs. over-ear (sorry, the H6s are NOT over-ear to me lol).

    Definitely come back here and post your findings if you do happen to try out the 99s! I'd love to hear your thoughts and comparison review.
     
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  7. Dobrescu George
    Woah, sounds like H6 might presents some comfort issues along the way, it would be a great idea to go with what is more comfortable in the long run!

    As for the sound, 99C has lots of bass, maybe even more than PM3, but as @RockStar2005 pointed out, on 99C it is really well controlled, no bleeding and no overshadowing. I tested PM-3 for far too little time to say about their control over the bass, but they did have less bass than 99C, thing which actually made me prefer 99C, I like lots of bass if it is well controlled! :jecklinsmile:
     
    RockStar2005 likes this.
  8. MixMasterMan
    A slight V shape is always going to be better for listening. Its going to be more flattering and exciting. The PM-3 is flat (averaged) up until the recessed treble and air drop off. So, some will say they are boring or what have you. - The H6 headband is annoying. It digs into your head. The earcups are fine for small/medium ears, but even still, you have to adjust them periodically. I grew up in a time where comfort was a non-factor when it came to headphones. You got used to whatever you had, and sound was always the most important thing. - After doing more investigative reading, it's come to my attention, that there may be an air drop off. If these headphones have a drop like the PM-3's, then NO WAY. lol - I value everything over 10k, and want detail presence up and through 17k.

    Here is a link to one critical review that addresses an apparent lack of top and bottom octave: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-...ef=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B018VZBH5M
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2017
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  9. RockStar2005
    Yeah, ALL CAPS on SLIGHT. lol

    There's always gotta be "those people" who don't like a certain product. I've worn the 99s with glasses and they are STILL VERY COMFORTABLE. In my review I mentioned hearing details on the 99s that I didn't hear in other quality headphones, so I'm not gonna agree with this guy at all. And anytime I see a comparison of a closed-back with an open-back, I pretty much automatically disregard it because as this guy says, it's apples & oranges.
     
  10. Dobrescu George
    Even comparing two different products can be apples to oranges, say two IEMs that go for a different ear coupling type, like deep vs shallow insertion, the insertion depth alone can change the sound radically when working with IEMs. With headphones, fully closed vs vented vs fully open can achieve different sounds from the start, it is good to keep in mind that some people simply cannot use both, some people need closed back, so it should be considered a category of its own.
     
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  11. RockStar2005
    Exactly! I frequently take my headphones with me when I take the train into downtown (Chicago), so open-backs simply wouldn't work for me. And I don't want to have two headphones, so I just stick with closed-backs.
     
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  12. barondla
    Nice review. Great job contrasting the sound of the two headphones. Like that you provided eq settings for enhanced performance. Well done.

    One extra advantage of oval pads. Oval and rectangular shapes follow the ear's shape better. This is very important when listening in bed. Giant round earcups take up way too much room. Can't imagine listening to Sennheiser HD800 or ZMF in bed.

    Meant to listen to the Meze at my first Head-Fi event a few months ago. Unfortunately the same person also had AKG 872 and Koss ESP950 electrostats. Listened to those and forgot to audition the 99. Next time.
    Thanks for the review.
     
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  13. RockStar2005
    Hey barondla,

    Sure thing. Thanks!! I appreciate you checking out my review and commenting as well!

    Yeah I hope ppl find the EQs useful. Without them I def wouldn't have kept the 99Cs.

    Yes, VERY true! I don't think I'd ever go back to rounded ear pads ever again. Too many reasons NOT to use them.

    Haha........ I don't blame you. The K872 is my DREAM headphone. Too bad it costs like $1500! lol How was it?? It has round ear cups but OVAL ear pads from pics I've seen. Glad AKG got wise on that one at least. lol

    Yeah next time try to. As you saw from my review, they are worth EVERY penny, and then some.
     
  14. barondla
    The AKG sounded quite good. They had a very organic sound. They were warmer than expected. I read that AKG 7** range are bright. These 872 were not bright. He had them hooked to a Schiit Yggdrasil dac, and a tube amp. He drove 3 hrs one way to get to the show. Kept the dac warmed up the whole trip on a ups! Heard so many top headphones I would need more listening time to pick faves.

    He also had the Koss. They were modified to run on his Stax amp. There was also a pair of HD600 hooked to a different tube amp. A Bottlehead Crack he built. The AKG and Koss were his faves and the ones he listened to most. He loved being able to walk outside with the AKG hooked to his dap, and enjoy music.

    Speaking of EQ. A fellow brought what was then the totl (it was due to be superseded in a month) Hifi Man planars. He is a bassoon player and developed a specialized EQ. Whoa. Before and after was amazing. They sounded good without EQ, but doubt I would ever consider them if I were spending that much. With EQ, amazing how much more natural they sounded. So much more linear.
     
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  15. RockStar2005
    That's awesome about the K872! Glad you found them to be up to par. Yeah, I don't care what anyone says, I believe you NEED a great (dedicated) DAC and a great (dedicated) amp to make any headphones sound their best. So I'm glad the guy had the Schiit and the tube amp available. I really like the look of tube amps, but I prefer portability, so I'd never buy one. But they LOOK cool! lol Sounds like a dedicated guy if he kept the DAC warmed up just for the show.

    Yeah I'd take the K872. It only has a 32-ohm impedance and so no need for any special equipment like a desktop amp or DAC. I listen to my headphones on the train into downtown quite often, so portability is important to me. That's why I only buy closed-back headphones. I did buy the Sennheiser HD 598 back when I didn't really know anything about headphones. It was great but open-back didn't work, though again I didn't that at the time. I returned it cuz it wasn't comfortable IMO. But then later with the HD 598SE I realized if you just angle the ear cups a certain way (top side OUT I believe), it makes a big difference and so much more comfortable. I got my parents some Senns and they really like them (sub-$100 ones).

    That's cool about the bassoon player. Yeah, I've come to realize now more than ever b/c of the K551s and esp the 99Cs that a custom EQ can really take your headphones from sounding great to having a FANTASTIC sound quality. I had a very knowledgeable friend on here do one for my K551s a while back too, which made a noticeable difference as well. I don't think I'll ever go back to not using custom EQs. I only hate creating them or trying to ask someone to help b/c it can be a hassle. For my 99Cs one, I took some advice from that same friend and another one as well and then added my own "spin" and that worked out well for me. What I did was I used the "Rock" EQ preset in Poweramp as a starting point, b/c it's actually quite good for an "overall" sound to me. Then I just "tweaked" it from there. I also (if you notice) lowered the Preamp band a bit too for better control. I really wish though companies would just release their own EQs for people, but I know that's hard b/c everyone has different tastes. Still, I wish they'd try. It's such a waste to me that most people will never hear what their headphones can really do though. The fact that I was going to return my 99Cs initially says a lot. I bet you'd have A LOT less headphones being returned if people got custom EQs given to them.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2017
    barondla likes this.
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