The Meze 99 Classics, Very Fun, Very Tasty Page 2


Sound Quality Overview
Regular InnerFidelity readers will know of my willingness to think the Harman Target Response curve is a step in the right direction. (Articles here, here, and here.) From what I can tell from measurements, the first category of headphones that seem to be approaching this tuning is the compact, circumaural, sealed, mobile headphone category. Headphones that most closely approximate this curve in their raw measurements are (roughly in order of best fit to worse, click for graphs): Oppo PM3; NAD VISO HP50; Audio Technica ATH-M50x; Focal Spirit Professional; Bowers & Wilkins P7; and Blue Lola. Measurements of the Meze 99 Classics would have me put it at or very near the top of that list.

To my ears, the above mentioned headphones are among the best sounding in this category where many headphones are too uneven; or have too much bass; or are troubled by too harsh or too rolled-off treble response. The odd thing to me is, despite their roughly similar measured response, how different they sound in character when performing comparative listening tests. In listening tests of these cans, questions of flaws in performance began to take a back seat as they're all fairly good, and what became more important—much more important than I've previously experienced—was the character of the sound. Some were fun, some were boring, some seemed cooler or warmer than others, all while having similar response measurements.

Intellectually I knew this of course, measurements don't tell the whole story. But this is the first time in my listening career that I've been able to assembly a hearty collection of headphones of one type that are relatively neutral and without fatal flaws. And what hit me upside the head was how different they sound, and how those characteristic differences are essentially unseen in the measurements. This is a very good thing in my view: Headphones, at least in this category, are getting quite good.

Meze 99 Classics Sound Quality
Wow....just wow. These cans sound great. Where to start?

Overall tonality is excellent. Bass response sounds slightly over-emphatic—I think the level is just about right, but modestly loose and mildly distorted response does bring it a bit more attention to it. Extension is good, but does not quite fully reach into the lowest octave. Even though this is the 99 Classics weakest area, the bass still seemed to integrate and add pleasure to the overall listening experience.

I think headphone enthusiasts have become used to headphones that may be flat in the bass, and generally feel that dialing in 3-5db more bass below 150Hz—which is what the Harman Target Curve suggests—is too much. I think this feeling will slowly shift over time as we get more used to this presentation. I certainly now prefer a slightly elevated bass response below 150Hz.

The midrange on the 99 Classics is superb. Very coherent and even throughout; voices are rendered with wonderfully balanced tone; performers are neither too distant or in your face. This is a marvelously organic and musical headphone.

Treble is well balanced with the mid and bass response seamlessly integrating with the overall sound. It's present and snappy, never straying into any undue harshness, though I find it ever so mildly grainy.

Imaging is outstanding for a sealed headphone. The image doesn't move as far out from my head as some other open headphones, but width, depth, and image specificity seem very, very good.

Dynamics are also quite good, though lacking the serious punch big planar magnetics can deliver with a powerful amplifier. On the other hand, the 99 Classics are very efficient, and an astonishing drive and dynamism can be had from a phone!

But this description, just like the measurements, doesn't portray the sum of the whole. The Meze 99 Classic is a ridiculously fun listen. In my reading I think it was said best by grizzlybeast in his Head-Fi review, "Everything pops, snaps, flickers, clicks, and sings on these set of cans." I have a very hard time thinking of a headphone I've had more fun listening to; the urge to bop my head and tap my toes was irresistible at time. Every track and every genre I tried left me feeling only one thing, "Very, very fun!"

99 Classics Compared
Oppo PM3 - The PM3 bass response is better extended, tighter, and punchier, but the level, while mildly emphasized, is a tad low and seems quite a bit less prominent and fun relative to the 99 Classics. Lack of treble extension and bass emphasis make it much less fun listening relative to the exuberant sound of the 99 Classics—in a word, boring in direct comparison. PM3 build quality is a bit more robust, fold flat features allow for more compact storage and transport; if I were purchasing a headphone primarily for mobile use, the PM3 ergos might sway me over the 99 Classics...might.

NAD VISO HP50 - My goodness, I've recommended this headphone a lot! But that's going to change. Relative to the 99 Classics, the HP50s sound somewhat uneven; a little bloated and papery; not as lively and fun in the treble. Imaging is more closed in, and dynamic punch just isn't quite there. A good listen, but just not nearly as fun compared to the 99 Classics. I'm afraid the HP50 will be knocked of the "Wall of Fame".

Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 - This headphone leans a little too far to the bright side for me, but has excellent transient response—something missing from a lot of cans in this category. It made the "Wall of Fame" for lovers of detail. But the 99 Classic delivers plenty of treble detail and overall response is more neutral than the slightly cool MSR7. Yup, another can knocked off the wall by the 99 Classic.

Sennheiser Momentum 2 - Not quite as even in the upper-mids and low treble where the Momentum 2 sounds as if vocalists are a bit distant or holding a book in front of their mouth. Bass is similar to the 99 Classic being slightly warm and loose sounding. A good headphones, but no, things just don't come together with the Momentum 2 like they do with the 99 Classics.

The Meze C99 Classics are simply a great headphone!

Styling is elegant and simple, luxurious and jewelry-like. A little over-the-top for my taste, but I recognize this is a tasty headphone. Build quality is very good with lots of cast zinc, steel, and wood. The headphones are fundamentally screwed together and can be disassembled with relative ease for repair. Hard-side clam-shell carry case and accessorization is terrific.

Comfort takes a slight knock for a slightly tight self-adjusting headband (for my head), and for slightly small and stiff ear-pads that tend to put more pressure at the top of my ears than the bottom.

Technically, sound quality is quite good, taking a small knock for slightly loose bass. But sound the quality as heard subjectively blows through all technical assumptions and comes together in a terrifically fun listening experience. Time after time as I compared these cans against others in its category I found them not only superior in balance and natural sound, but also delivering a far more fun listening experience than competitors. The Meze 99 Classic will be hitting the "Wall of Fame" with such a wallop that it will knock both the NAD VISO HP50 and Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 off and into retirement.


Meze home page and 99 Classics product page.
Head-Fi reviews and appreciation thread.

Meze Headphones