I went into this review quite the sceptic. The 99 Classics were simply too well-reviewed, I was suspicious and my expectations were too high, making them seem inadequate upon real-life testing. And as with anything, a true testament to greatness is retained quality under scrutiny, something one could argue that a one week review tour cannot offer. But I’ve maximised my time with the 99 Neo’s, they are an important product in an ever increasing market, and I’ve found that the Meze’s are too laid-back to be immediately impressive anyway; especially when compared to the gorgeous B&W P7’s or B&O H6’s and even the very revealing Oppo PM3. But strip away the initial “wow factor” of these headphones and the 99 Neo retains its charm through its well-rounded sound while the P7 and H6 come off as somewhat unnatural. That’s not to say that the P7 or H6 are bad headphones, not at all, but they are no longer the best around; that title goes to the next generation of innovative portables, the PM3, MM-400 and now, the 99 Neo.
And I do feel that all of these headphones are quite mature in their sounds. All of their respective manufacturers set out with intent actualised through different styles of tuning which will no doubt match different buyer’s preferences; the H6 and P7 for those who love clarity and the MM-400 and 99 Neo for lovers of a more organic, natural sound. However, the fit on these headphones is not nearly so developed and a lot of these manufacturers have struggled to adopt an over-ear form factor, many coming from a rich heritage of speaker design over portable gear. And again, long term usage reveals the shortcomings in design that a brief listen may not. Luckily, the 99 Neo is quite exemplary here too. While it lacks the unrelenting rigidity of the P7, H6 and PM3, the Neo is more ergonomic, has the best headband and forms no hotspots. It’s also a very unique looking headphone that bucks the usual design trends that tend to homogenize “fashion” headphones into minimalist leather clad omegas, with a retro inspired design that’s an instant modern classic.
Overall – 9/10, Meze have proven that you don’t need lambskin leather, stainless steel accents or chromed chamfers to create an appealing design, nor do you need complex folding mechanisms to achieve portability and a reliable fit. But perhaps, most pertinent to this review, Meze have provided us with a great, natural, organic sound that demonstrates how linearity is just as impressive as neutrality. Meze set out to recapture the magic of the 99 Classics at a cheaper price, within a more contemporary shell and that’s just what they’ve achieved with the 99 Neo.