Offering a singular style, design and sonic approach, Paul Rigby reviews the Meze 99 Classics headphones
You know, I was actually tentative about even writing this review. It’s rare to see a piece of hi-fi being promoted anywhere and everywhere to the same extent. I’m all for getting your name known but the Classics have been hawked around more often than those sunglasses Ads you see on Facebook. Meze’s marketing department is due a raise, that’s for certain but there’s such a thing as whoring yourself around to such an extent that it seems like desperation. I’ve seen these things reviewed on headphones sites (well, yes), lifestyle sites (ok), gadget and phone sites (hmmm), camera sites (ok, hang on a second)…
So, I might be review site 4,057 on the hit list (does the ego a power of good, that does) but I’m game. My mind is open, as ever.
These Romanian-built Meze 99 headphones tote a set of 40mm Mylar drivers and arrive in a box with a hard shell-type case. They are over the ear and closed back in design. A wee box within contains the extra accessories including two sets of OFC cables covered in Kevlar.
One features an inline microphone and controls and one does not. Both fit easily into sockets on the headphones chassis itself. Both offer a 3.5mm termination which, to my mind, is just not good enough. If the Meze 99 has audiophile aspirations it must offer a 6.35mm option too. Utilising convertor plugs will lower sound quality on this system fine enough to illustrate the effect.
Toting Neodymium magnets that are contained within the CNC-created, solid walnut earcups, the headphones are connected to a metal band flexible inner band that offers the head adjustment.
It’s an interesting and lightweight system that contrasts intriguingly with the usual expanding, telescopic headphone system. It works well, though and is comfy to boot.
I started with vinyl and She’s Got Claws from Gary Numan’s Dance 2LP reissue, pressed on purple vinyl and featuring the superb bass talents of Japan’s Mick Karn.
How to describe the bass from the Meze 99 headphones… Have you ever seen those old WW2 films? Those featuring a captured spy in the chair, Gestapo villain in a long coat and a nasty facial scar wants facts, facts, facts! You know the type. But it’s no go from our hero. His lips are sealed. So the Germanic tough slaps the…guy…around…the..face! That, my friends, is the bass from the 99s. Each bass hit is a wallop across the chops. It’s massy, massive and meaty. It’s big, it’s full of impact, its…well, it’s nasty. Nasty, nasty bass that hits you in the solar plexus like a heavyweight boxer.
And I expected, after a few seconds of this lower frequency uplight, to hear a higher frequency downturn. That is, I expected the bass, so much of it was there, to swamp and leach all over the soundstage. It didn’t. Well, look psychologically it kinda did. That is, you can’t help but be mentally affected by the bass so you may think the mids are being bloomed by the bass but that’s not really the case. The mids are pretty tight and focused, yes, but not really swamped. There’s a slight warmth for the midrange but that seems to be endemic to the nature of the headphone sound. That is, there is an overall dark glow over the soundstage but there is enough air and space in the upper frequencies for the mids to hold their own and deliver the detail you need. Even treble-based cymbals are suitably tremulous.
The only issue I do have is the actual amount of space available. The big bass sound does take up a lot of room. Hence, the amount of air available for the more delicate frequencies in the soundstage is reduced. Don’t expect overly extended reverb tails, therefore. Those fascinated by the use of silence and air within classical and jazz tracks might want a demo to confirm that the 99s are for them. I’m not slating these headphones in any way and I’m not removing these genres from the 99’s forte, I just think that jazz/classical fans should double check that these headphones treat their ears and their well and come up to their expectations. For most, it won’t be an issue. A slight measure of caution is required, though.
I tried a CD version of the album, Extra Special! from Peggy Lee and was pretty bowled over with the performance from Lee and her jazz-inflected backing orchestra.
Lee herself was filled with energy and vivacity, exuding emotion though the bending of her vocal chords which were easily ‘seen’ by the ear. A little emphasis here, a little extra air there, the lead vocal was full of impact. As was the brass section, actually which displayed a welcome texture, that essential vibration that shows that a human being is blowing a trumpet and not a wind machine. Secondary percussion via the bongos were noticeable by a precision and focus that provided a tonal accuracy that was remarkable for headphones of this price point and bass? Well, it was no surprise that the upright bass provided a superb foundational rock to the entire track.
So, before you see these headphones reviewed on mother and baby sites, toy soldiers sites, gardening sites and baking a better granary loaf sites be assured that the headphones themselves are pretty special in sonic terms. Bass might be the star of the show here but there is enough midrange clarity, tonal accuracy and soundstage organisation to impress just about any hi-fi fan out there.
MEZE 99 CLASSICS HEADPHONES
GOOD: bass impact, focused soundstage, tonal accuracy, midrange insight
BAD: 3.5mm terminator option only
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