Let’s not mince words here. The Meze 99 Neo is warm and profoundly bassy. Folk complain about the Classics’ low-end being too exaggerated. Well, shit just got real. The bass dominates everything else about these headphones. Fortunately, the lows are possessed of lovely tonality. There is a textured, chasmal feel about them. It’s huge, it’s thick, and it colors every goddamn thing.
Things like the vocals. I would never have called the mids on the 99C “lush”. But they’ve crossed that line with Neo. They aren’t as clear and vibrant anymore. They are thick, extremely smooth, and mighty warm. Yet there is still more than enough detail and articulation to paint a lifelike image. If you’re a fan of the HD650, you may fall in love with Neo’s vocals. They are a deep, soothing bowl of oatmeal on a cold day.
After some proper burn-in, the highs have finally come out to play. I no longer believe they’re rolled off, which was my first impression. Indeed, Neo has some lovely sparkle up top, with delightful extension. It’s not quite on the same level as the 99C, but close. I cannot express how paramount this is for Pinky’s enjoyment of these cans. Not because I’m a Treblehead, but rather that indomitable bass threatens to choke the whole presentation, and the treble brings a much-needed balance. It lets in the sun and the air, clearing out some of the stuffiness.
Blessedly, Neo is just as capable in the soundstage as the 99C, being one of the widest and deepest closed-back headphones on the market. Ok, it might have taken a little hit, but not much. These things create a grand sense of space. Instruments are well defined and positioned with good accuracy. Resolution is above average, but not jaw-dropping. What impresses me is how much air and layering there is, given the heavy-handed sub frequencies.
Even though most of this review has been a comparison to the 99 Classics, let’s take a paragraph to condense the differences.
The Meze 99 Classics are clearer. Greater detail comes through. The treble glistens more, giving superior air to the stage. Things don’t sound so excessively thick, as the bass is not trouncing over everything else. Instead of lush, the vocals are transparent and realistic. The soundstage is a hair bigger, though both are excellent.
I have marked a few physical differences, which might account for some of the disparity, beyond the wood/plastic of it all.
Neo pads on the left, 99C pads on the right.
The earpads are deeper, and wider on the Neo. And as I mentioned earlier, I already have the improved 99C pads.
99C pads on the left, Neo pads on the right.
While my 99C does not have a damper glued to the front of the driver, it does have thicker material in the pads themselves, which should have much the same effect.
What does it all mean? F**k if I know. Meze changed so much it’s hard to track. The bottom line is these two headphones don’t sound the same.
AudioQuest’s NightOwls are nearly three times as much as Neo. But since I don’t have many closed-back headphones, and I’ve really been crushing on these lately, why not do a comparison?
The NOs are cleaner. More liquid. That low-distortion AQ advertises is indeed audible. It’s weird how little grain or blemishes come through. The bass goes into the deepest registers, and can just hold it there, without pounding or booming. Its sub-bass doesn’t sound like drivers generate it, but rather like it simply exists. It’s the most natural low-end I’ve heard outside of the LCD-2. And it’s not too exaggerated, either. More like the 99C instead of Neo.
Those lows don’t bleed, either. While the vocals have a lush flavor, they are brilliantly detailed and clear. You get superior separation and layering than either Meze can manage. A level of refinement is conveyed by the NightOwl which elevates it beyond lesser options. Sweet Jesus, these are an elegant set of transducers.
Even after something like 60-70 hours of burn-in, NO’s treble is not as shimmery as Neo. It takes a little time to adjust to the darker tone. Once you do, the highs show themselves to be well-extended, soft as silk, and without any unnatural peaks. They remind me of the 64Audio U12 in this aspect. You have to sacrifice a little bit of brightness for the magic. If you can accept that, you get to enjoy a special treasure.
Soundstage is grander on all levels. Imaging and resolution don’t get much better than this. As one might infer from the price, NightOwl is on another level.
One of the best comparisons to make is the Sennheiser/Massdrop HD6XX (Special edition of the HD650). Neo has more bass, by a not-insignificant gap, yet the tuning has the same warm/lush quality. In spite of one being open-back, and the other closed, they feel cut from the same cloth. The lows on the HD650 are tighter, with superior texture. Meze goes deeper, though, with real sub-bass. Neo’s treble possesses more bite, whereas HD6XX is an easy, laid-back listen. The mids are alike in so many ways, with detail, prominence, and clarity awfully close. I may have to give it to Neo for soundstage, whereas imaging and separation are of a higher quality on the Senn.
Due to the open nature of the HD6XX, and its balance, you get a sense Sennheiser is a friend who loves you. Neo, on the other hand, is constantly kicking you in the stomach with bass, and flicking your nipples with treble. Only you will know which excites you more. I judge not.