Meze Audio 99 Classic headphones Page 2

The curious genre of hip-hop called trap combines scurrying grooves with surreal, queasy melodies that seem created with pedestrian sampling software. More humble and personal than typical chest-pounding hip-hop, trap is all about trials and troubles relayed over beats infused with ennui. The 99 Classics presented trap artist Offset's "Red Room" with a midrange-heavy sound and believable soundstaging. By contrast, Awefekt's organic techno bounced between my ears with gentle force. All in all, when playing files, the 99 Classics never sounded tonally dull or spatially one-dimensional. If they didn't possess the last degrees of clarity or resolution, their consistently even-keeled sound presented music with a focus on midrange clarity, slightly rolled-off treble, and a warm, weighty low end.

Yes, Schiit
Listening to Poll Winners Three! through the Kuzma-Luxman-Schiit-Meze chain, I again heard: a well-delineated soundstage allied to satisfactory bass weight, adequate air around instruments, excellent drive, and a pleasantly live feel to the performances.

The British singer-songwriter Fink, aka Finian Greenall, makes music full of dark corners, empty rooms, and sparseness, and Resurgam's title track is a brooding dissertation on how much music can be made with a spiraling electric piano, a giant drum set, and words less sung than spoken with dry languor. The Mezes reproduced "Resurgam"'s looming, boom-bap eighth-note drum pattern practically as tightly as a single drum, but with good leading edges of transients from all drums. The overall sound was unfussy, unadorned, clear, and well balanced. Throughout "Resurgam," the Mezes kept the music close, hugging the space between my ears with a smaller soundstage than the other headphones used in this review.

Parasound, check your head
When I plugged the Meze 99 Classics into the headphone jack of Parasound's Halo Hint 6 integrated amplifier, music grew lighter of character and slightly brisker of beat. From Ray Brown's garrulous double bass to Shelly Manne's vibrant drums, Poll Winners Three! sounded firmer. Light, air, shimmer, and shine marched to the fore with the Parasound, which is lighter on its sonic feet than the darker, richer-sounding Schiit Ragnarok. The Halo Hint brought forth from the Mezes bigger soundstages, even as the sizes of images on those stages remained about the same as through the Schiit.

Meze meets Tascam
My recent purchase of a Tascam CD-200iL CD player has given me another source with which to compare gear of all types, but I'd never closely listened to its headphone output. Listening through the 99 Classics to jazz saxophonist Jim Snidero's Waves of Calm (CD, Savant 2176), I was struck first by the Tascam's low-end lushness, focused images, and wide soundstage. The consistently large center-fill was still there—a confirmed trait of the 99 Classics and somewhat consistent with the Tascam's performance with other closed-back circumaural headphones—but so was transparency to the source, evidenced by the Mezes' ability to portray dynamics with a sense of live music. Fast, soulful, and weighty enough to make you forget the small stuff and enjoy the jazz, the 99 Classics confirmed themselves as capable performers with a largely transparent sound.

AudioQuest NightHawks meet Meze 99 Classics
AudioQuest's NightHawks ($299) are semi-open-backed headphones that deliver the low-end punch of sealed cans. Though they sit slightly heavier on the head than the 99 Classics, they never feel clumsy or overbearing. Compared to the Meze Audios, the AQs relayed Solange's saturated R&B with a bigger soundstage and better-defined individual instruments, and a generally more immersive listening experience. Less dry than the Mezes', the AQs' tonality was also truer and somehow sweeter. Awefekt's heaving techno beats sounded more direct and deep, with greater top-end air revealing finer sonic gradations.

I also enjoyed listening to vinyl more through the NightHawks and Schiit Ragnarok amplifier. Poll Winners Three! became more dynamic. Fink's big beats pounded with greater drive on a wider stage. Images were bigger, even wetter, all confirming the NightHawks' higher proficiency in these regards. Oddly enough, through the Parasound Halo Hint 6 the Meze and AudioQuest cans sounded more similar than not. Soundstages were practically replicated from one to the other, but with more immediacy from the AudioQuest cans.

Sennheiser HD 650s meet Meze 99 Classics
Sennheiser's open-backed HD 650s—available today at Amazon for $309; the price will probably be different tomorrow—proved disappointing. Compared to the 99 Classics or the NightHawks, the HD 650s failed to make the mark in low-end clarity, top-end smoothness, or midrange lucidity. Where the Mezes were consistently smooth and engaging, the Sennheisers' top end was too forward, their low end confused. The Mezes presented Awefekt's techno as cuddly, soft, and friendly; the HD 650s turned the same music into an alien shell. The Mezes presented every element of Fink's sparse funk-rock in good balance with each other; the Sennheisers' reproduction of Fink's funk was somewhat thin and recessed.

Jim Snidero's hard-bop swing
Jim Snidero is an experienced New York City alto saxophonist who's logged time in the big bands of Frank Sinatra and Toshiko Akiyoshi, held the alto chair in the Mingus Big Band, and played it greasy with Jack McDuff. He has recorded 27 albums as a leader, including his latest, Waves of Calm. Like most CDs released by Savant Records, this one was simply miked with zero effects; the sound is balanced and true and lets the musicians shine in this menu of hard-bop.

Not as forward as the Sennheiser HD 650s, and darker overall and perhaps more adept than the AudioQuest NightHawks, Meze Audio's 99 Classics took the path of least resistance with Waves of Calm, providing fine sound for the double bass of Nat Reeves, a stocky low end for Jonathan Barber's drums, and smoothness for Jeremy Pelt's consummate trumpet work. Nothing to fault here.

Meze Audio's 99 Classics sealed-back headphones are agreeable performers with a slightly buttoned-down sound that I nonetheless found easy to love, and that worked well with a wide variety of music. Matching the physical lightness of their hardware, the 99 Classics danced nimbly and purposefully. They largely got out of the way and the let the music through, free of gross editorializing in the shape of peaked or tweaked treble, or too-rich bass fundamentals. While the 99 Classics didn't quite match the honeyed sound and voluminous soundstaging of AudioQuest's Nighthawks, they sounded more neutral overall. Sometimes, the two pairs of headphones sounded oddly similar; other times, they took different routes to sonic fulfillment. Depending on your playback equipment, the 99 Classics should provide hours of sonic sustenance with zero listening fatigue and maximum enjoyment.

Meze Audio

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Measurements for all the headphones mentioned in this review, including Meze 99 Classics are available on Inner/Fidelity website :-) .........