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Meze Alba: Light at First Dawn

Disclaimer: I thank Meze Audio for generously providing me with the Alba in exchange for an honest reviewOn behalf of the team at the Headphone List, we thank them for their generosity and trust in THL.

TLDR:

Meze Audio’s Alba is a heavyweight opponent in the sub-$150 category. Precise and vibrant, Alba’s clarity-driven presentation and transients are top-notch, if not class-leading. For vocal lovers and jazz fanatics, the Alba illuminates the hidden details buried underneath.

While the low-end frugality could be uplifted, Alba’s crisp detail-retrieval and treble euphony leave a strong impression.

Pros:

+ Zinc and Aluminium alloy uni-body construction exhibits durability and toughness found in flagship rivals at a quarter of the cost.

+ Tiny footprint results in unintrusive and comfortable wear.

+ Generous inclusion of USB-C to 3.5mm unbalanced dongle for out-of-the-box listening.

+ Clarity-driven and analytical sonic profile.

+ Upper-midrange sparkle and euphony – especially beneficial for synth stabs and reverb-heavy voicings.

Cons:

– Unpleasant, tangled and memory-prone stock cable.

– Bass-shy and soft macrodynamics commonly associated with its price.

– ‘Thinness’ permeating the upper-midrange artificially colours the top-to-bottom frequency response.

-Average imaging and separation.

Introduction

Meze Audio was founded in 2011 in Baia Mare, Romania. Named after the founder, Antonio Meze, the titular boutique was born organically from his pursuit of ‘headphones’ he could connect to – like his affinity for his Fender Stratocaster. More than sound, headphones and earphones are ‘objet d’arts’ – a blank canvas for unrestricted engineering and creative experimentation.

Their first headphone release, the Meze Audio 99, was a successful culmination of those golden ideals – a vintage-inspired headphone with timeless appeal and modern performance. Their walnut chambers are CNC-precision cut before rigorous hand-finishing for an even surface. The manganese-steel alloy headband is virtually unbreakable with exceptional pliability. The 99s hurtled Antonio Meze’s seedling brand into the audiophile spotlight.

Meze Audio’s catalogue has developed drastically since its virgin debut. In 2018, the Empyrean was the natural escalation, elevating sonic performance with Rinaro Acoustics’ patented ‘Isodynamic’ drivers. Costing almost 10 times the price of the 99s, Antonio was targeting the luxury audiophile with state-of-the-art ‘halo’ products – luxurious performance at luxurious price tags.

This year, Meze Audio has returned to its roots in terms of accessible and wallet-friendly pricing. Today, we’re reviewing the Alba, the little sister IEM to the more expensive Advar. The Advar is a fabulous single dynamic-driver IEM that I’ve had the luxury of reviewing in my career. The Alba shares a similar DNA, boasting a single 10.8mm dynamic driver. However, the Alba is priced at $159 – more than a quarter of the Advar’s premium of $699.

Today’s review explores Alba’s performance against the tough competition occupying the $150 price bracket. The Alba can be purchased directly from Meze Audio’s official website for $159.

Technology

10.8mm Dynamic Driver

A single dynamic driver isn’t exactly revolutionary technology, nor does it tread new ground. But single-dynamic driver topologies exhibit key advantages: coherency, natural performance and ‘physical bass’. There is a reason why renowned brands such as Meze Audio, Sennheiser and Dita Audio stick to this classic format.

Zinc and Aluminum Alloy Uni-body Construction

Unlike the injection-moulded construction of its older sibling, the Advar, the Alba utilises an assembly of zinc and aluminium alloy components, finished in a lustrous surface coat of pearl-white.

Unboxing

The Meze Audio Alba comes shipped as a two-part package, tightly wrapped by plastic sealing film. The top box stores the accompanying USB-C to 3.5mm dongle DAC. The box sitting below it contains the remaining contents of the Alba.

Like its Advar forbear, Alba’s front cover has an embossed pattern with an intricate geometric pattern drawing from Romanian mythology and folklore – a meaningful celebration of Mr Meze’s vibrant ancestry and heritage. Upon opening both boxes, you’ll find the following:

  • Meze Alba earphones
  • White leatherette carrying case
  • Silicon tips in S, M & L
  • 2-pin SPC, machine-braided cable in 3.5mm unbalanced termination (stowed in case).

While the Alba’s overall package isn’t going to blow everyone’s socks off, the inclusions are practical and lifestyle-oriented for immediate usage. My only gripe stems from the case’s diminutive proportions and tight zipper pull.

Design

As with Advar’s, Alba’s organic and bulbous silhouette is defined by gentle curves and contours rather than brutalist, angular and defined lines. In Romanian, ‘Alba’ stands for ‘first light’. I believe the bucolic inspiration for its design comes from its namesake. More importantly, this organic profile has inadvertently become the hallmark design of the brand.

The surface deposition of pearl-white paints glistens under sunlight with a speckled and glittery finish. Physically, the surface coat is spread out evenly with no excess pools of paint or lumps. The funnelled faceplate in the centre of each channel acts as a physical vent for disseminating built-up air pressure in their chambers.

There’s no denying the Alba bears a design that’s unmistakably Meze Audio – Unique, distinct and all-so-beautiful.

Comfort & Ergonomics

The Alba’s soft, sloping curves slip easily into the ears, with no protruding corners causing any unwanted discomfort in the outer helix or concha of the ear. While the Alba is unmistakably heavier compared to all-acrylic builds, the small footprint of the Alba compensates for its added heft. In reality, the added weight never proved to be cumbersome or discomfortable in my day-to-day use.

The nozzle length of each spout is fairly shallow, which admittedly made it difficult for me to attain a comfortable and taut seal. My ears have a proclivity towards moderate-to-medium-length nozzles. YMMV. Eventually, I settled on the default L-tips for a snug fit and seal.

The existence of the vent on each faceplate doesn’t do much to hamper Alba’s ability to block out ambient noise ingress or surrounding conversations. However, wind noise is still apparent, as with most dynamic driver or hybrid IEMs.

The Alba’s ingenious design reflects the Meze Audio Team’s understanding that comfort is king.

Cable Quality

As we discuss the physical qualities of the Alba, the default stock cable is the biggest chink in its armour. To keep this section short, the SPC cable and sheathing are persistently prone to coils and tangles. Trying to stow it away or unspool it is a tedious endeavour.

Moreover, the loose-machine braiding on the cable exacerbates the aforementioned coiling. Given that the majority of default cables accompanying new IEMs don’t face these listed issues, there is room for improvement.

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Kevin Goh

Kevin Goh

Raised in Southeast Asia’s largest portable-audio market, Kevin’s interest in high-end audio has grown alongside it as the industry flourishes. His pursuit of “perfect sound” began in the heydays of Jaben in Singapore at the age of just 10 years old. Kevin believes that we live in a golden age of readily accessible, quality audio.

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