Earth and Fire, Wind and Water – A Review of the Meze 99 Classics

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::I originally posted this review on the Head-Fi.org forums. Now the readers of THL get to read about one of my favorite headphones::

The goal I set out with—the idea that drove me—was to find a set of portable cans which performed well enough to not make me crawl, desperate and hungry, back to my Top Of The Line IEMs. As much as I like the sound of my Sennheiser Momentums, they are simply not in the same league as the 64Audio ADEL U12 or Rhapsodio Solar CIEM. With options such as these, I rarely ever pull out the Momentum 2.0. I have to really, REALLY crave the over-ear experience to scorn my insanely expensive IEMs. That’s not a feeling I like. I want the option to go IEM or Circumaural, and experience equally good audio no matter which way I turn.

You may be thinking, “$300 Senns vs $1,500 U12s? Of course they aren’t in the same league, you fat, balding jerk!”

First off: Ouch! What’s with the hostility? Words can hurt, you know. Second: It takes a lot less to get a [email protected] dynamic driver to reach a certain level of performance than it does a small, itty bitty driver. That’s why so many of the top of the line in-ear monitors pack 9, 10, 12, 14 Balanced Armatures into those little shells. They’re trying to do what full-size headphones manage so easily. Physics be a cruel mistress. And it costs, jamming all those BAs in each ear.

In the end, it pays off. As I said, I have two IEMs that put the Momentum to shame. Yet there are other headphones in the $300-$400 range that do indeed outperform my IEMs. The Sennheiser HD600 and 650, to name a couple. The thing to remember about large, high impedance cans is they are not designed with the same philosophy of use. My HD6XX is really meant for a powerful desktop amp, like the Audio-GD NFB-28 I own. My primary headphone, the Audeze LCD-2.2 Fazor, takes things even further, and utterly humiliates in-ear monitors. You do not plug those beasts into a mobile device and expect them to sound right.

Low impedance, high efficiency circumaurals, like the Momentum, are designed for mobile use. They should sound “right”, driven from a smartphone. But to accomplish this, sacrifices are made. Metaphorical kittens are severed to the Gods. The Sennheiser Momentum is not as impressive in its audio fidelity as the Sennheiser HD600, even though they both cost around $300. Hence I do not put mobile full-size cans in the same category as desktop full-size cans. They are designed for different things. It’s not a fair fight.

My experience, limited as it is, says TOTL, wildly expensive in-ear monitors can compete with mid-tier headphones, even desktop cans. Yet they fall behind, the closer you get to the likes of the LCD-2.

So the question I posed to myself is, “Can I find a portable, mobile-driven full-size headphone for a reasonable price that matches the performance of my $1K+ IEMs?”

I had my doubts.

There are three categories of transducer I want stocked and on-hand at all times.
Category I: Full-size, high impedance headphone meant for a desktop amp. (These sound the best. LCD-2 is my primary, used only for music. HD6XX is secondary, used for everything else.)
Category II: Full-size, low impedance headphone meant for work/mobile use. (These will never sound quite as good. Being sourced by mobile gear doesn’t help matters. Momentum 2.0 belongs here, making this the weakest of the three classes.)
Category III: In-Ear Monitors meant for work/mobile use. (These sound nearly as good from a quality DAP as they do from a desktop system. They are VERY efficient. U12 and Solar sit at the head of this table.)

For a long time the Oppo PM-3 looked like my next upgrade, meant to bolster the ranks of my Category II gear. I wasn’t thrilled about the price. The sound signature, as described in reviews, gave me pause: Not enough bass, terms like “boring” were dropped. Not to mention, they benefit too much from stacking an Amp to your DAP. I know myself well. This would only lead to feelings of inadequacy for NOT doing so. However, all the reviews agreed, they delivered incredible audio quality.

I held off. As inevitable as buying the Oppo seemed to be, I just wasn’t eager to take that plunge.

Then, a few months ago, I started seeing a lot of talk on Head-Fi about this thing called the Meze 99 Classics. Seemed like a pretentious name for a new product, so I ignored it. The Oppo was going to be my next headphone. All my other bases were covered. I just needed that upgrade to my portable system. Then, a little later, I read the Meze was a portable headphone, easily driven by any mobile device. Then I learned about the Walnut wood cups, metal frame, a design philosophy that precludes cheap materials and glue. When at last intrigue drove me to search for reviews, I beheld the great flood. Meze had taken Head-Fi by storm. There’s an embarrassment of reviews out there, and a very great many of them are overwhelming in positivity.

Pinky’s shield of indifference cracked, and the Meze 99 Classics jumped to the top of my list as a replacement for Sennheiser.

It would still be a few months before I bought a pair. There were other monstrosities devouring my gold. All things in their own time. But as I waited for that perfect moment, lust grew in me.

Finally I could wait no longer and dove into the Head-Fi Classifieds in pursuit of a used pair. There is not an abundance of 99Cs on the second-hand market. Folk are pretty [email protected] happy with theirs and aren’t pawning them en masse. When one does show up, it sells fast. To get one at all I had to settle on a color scheme that was not my first-choice. On top of that, the unit I bought was modified with various dampeners and filters. All of which could be reversed. Still, it was a compromise. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know; I bought it for $240, shipped.

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

8 Comments

  1. lawson amy on

    I have great experience with Bluetooth before because this is my first headphone and it very good choose for me i think after reading your review.Thanks PINKY

  2. James on

    I like that wooden appearance so much. Looks very stylish. Finding a used pair sounds actually like a good idea..

  3. Gabe H on

    Great to finally see the Mezes reviewed on this website. I was looking for my first pair of headcans to use at a new job (needed exactly the same requirements as you, Pinky; low impedance, closed back) and I initially had my eyes on the Audio Technica ATH-M50x (couldn’t go wrong with them, right?). A fortunate shame that they didn’t make the cut by any means due to me being spoilt by my IEMs (Sony XBA-A3s).

    The store owner did me a massive favour, recommending these Mezes to me. Looks like I’m spoilt yet again in the headcans area now as well. On top of that, the COMFORT of these…. I’ve slept with them on during a flight before..

    The wooden appearance really does make these a unique pair compared to the rest of the market as well, something I’ve grown to appreciate.

    The only draw-back now seems to be the fact that the next upgrade is definitely going to be a heavy cost to the wallet.

    • Pinky Powers on

      Indeed. Meze changed the game for me. Finding better will cost a fearful sum.

  4. Vel on

    Hi,
    It’s interesting when you compare sound from different form factors like earphones and headphones. Do you have an opinion about similarly priced capable aptx enabled Bluetooth speakers (like the Dali katch) in comparison to these earphones or headphones?

    • Pinky Powers on

      I have no experience with Bluetooth anything yet. Sorry. But I am getting the B&O H9 to review. So that’s a start.

  5. Michael V. Zimmerman on

    Dayum Pinky, so well spoken. Love your communication style. I don’t have the coin for these but loved the review and will bank it for future reference (insert thumbs-up emoji). You’re a good writer.

    • Pinky Powers on

      Thanks. In the price range and category, these cannot be beat.

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