MEZE 99 NEO (Enthusiast but Late) REVIEW:
How much headphone do I have really?? Well, at least 20 pairs ranging from 20$ to 1000$, some go, some take dust, other are sure keeper like this Meze 99 Neo, and it isn’t for perfection of tuning but for the flavor it give. I like musicality way more than technicality in the sens that if it sound too monitor like, well, I just need one pair of those not 20 and as an amateur music producer I use the Sony MDR-7509 for this, wich I don’t use to enjoy music tough. I like different flavor as I enjoy different music style, and it was time that I test this incredibly sexy closed headphones and understand if the good words I read about them was as real as the less enthusiast impression. Yes, I was more aroused by the look than sound description, I wanna touch them, caress them, kiss them , and now I can do it and can tell you that even ifthe body is sexy, it have a sexy soul too.
CONSTRUCTION, ACCESSORIES & DESIGN :
Unboxing Meze products is a very exciting experience, like opening a glossy pharon tomb to find that cleopatra is finally alive. What hit your eyes first is the quality protective case you have, it is made of hard material that take perfectly the shape of Meze headphone, with not extra space.
In the middle, another tissue poaching case hiding your nice cable and extra connector. The presentation is sure well thinked, and I think Antonio Meze is really meticulous about every esthetical aspect of Meze brand.
Look at this perfect black metal headband curve, this shiny metal holding, all this little details that just wow they eyes and hold attention without forcing an over luxurious esthetical approach : its call elegance. Sobre but eye catchy, mature but not boring looking, something that AKG would dream to achieve with there similar but cheaper headband find in model like the 701. Here, Meze make a statement : it can be as beautifull as comfortable, and durable. This type of construction design for 250$ is something I respect.
Even if the earcups are made of plastic, it isn’t a cheap looking one, it have a grainy texture and mate black color that is a pleasure to watch and touch, we will not get overly sensual here but yeah, this type of details even if superficial for sound rendering is very appreciate for headphones collector.
But must of all, its the comfort, i’m sure any head size will fit between these 2 cups, and even if you can’t sleep with them its as comfortable as having 2 pillows pressing gently but firmly your head. The earcups plastic use make them very ligh even if they have solid metal bands. As well, because I own the AKG K-400 in the past, I know what it is to not being free to shake your head when a song posess you, beleive me these 99 NEO will never fall from your head even if you are a headbanger listening to death metal, they are THAT well soldered to you.
And it have a detachable cable too, a kevlar one sir, with a mic…why? Well, I guess because they are adequate to be drive by smarthphone as they are 26ohm and easy to drive, forgive me to never even care to plug it into a phone, i mean, i’m on headfi aren’t I? Anyway, I plug it into the Radstone ES100 so perhaps I would like a mini cable to make them became some kind of BT headphones.
Sturdy, sexy, curvy, not cheapy, ultimately comfy and…if something really bad happen like you fall from a cliff and survive but they don’t : part changeable, just give Meze a call.
SOUND IMPRESSIONS :
The Meze 99 Neo is all about musicality, it offer a wide warm and well layered sound that enjoy as much playing contemplative modern Jazz or Classical quartet than muscular bassy electronic or pop music. Neo do not try to be a perfect student that know every answer of acoustic laws but in they end is too serious and utterly boring for music enthousiast, no, he got plenty of personality to share and some artistical imperfection that come with its soul spontaneity. It sound as much natural than excitingly musical and all that with some tenderness to it.
At first, for the purist or critical listener, depending of music style, it can be a hit or miss, but if you pair the Neo with right clear source like the Xduoo X20 or any clean DAP , Dac or (in lesser extend) phone, it will shine and make you think you have very big open back headphones over your ears or even a pair of well placed hifi speakers from each side of it.
The bass have great body and weight even if it slighlty decay on mids on bass heavy tracks, mid bass being pumped up and ultra energic giving an exciting turn to acoustic drum used in jazz or rock, mids being lively with impressive presence and timbre that can deal so well with vocal, piano or violin, and treble having just enough extension to give you the details you need without the harshness or peaks that can make long listening fatiguing : Neo is a rebel maestro that know how to read a partition and give it all layers it need but with an expressive twist that will sure polarize audiophile.
SOUNDSTAGE have something special for a closed back, its very wide and around your head with great imaging capabilities that have extra realist decay to it depending of number of instruments. So deepness is good too, as if you have your head stock in the middle of intimate hall, not a cathedral, but this effect as said is even more phenomenal with music that isn’t overcrowned or extremely bassy, wich give you alot of choice appart from power rock, classical symphony or heavy metal, it will give this beautifull vastly musical and enjoyable immersivity.
PrAT is above average, but its more about impact and attack, wich without being ultra fast is very agile and spot on, but the pace can be too slow and create unwanted reverberation especially with heavy bass impact.
AMPING power need is just non benificial with this 26ohm headphone, they are extremely easy to drive wich is a very welcome aspect and underline the fact that Meze make the Neo for portable use. It can be drive properly by anything, but it do not mean it will sound the best with any audio source, cleaner it is, better will sound the Neo.
BASS is there Alot, its muscular, weighty and very punchy with just the right hint of textured needed to have good grip in soundstage. Lower end dig very deep, so you will have no difficulties hearing clearly sub bass line and it will be well separated from pumped up mid bass, this type of presentation make it as nicely enjoyable for cello centered classical music than synth bass plus digital kick in electronic, but here, better will be the mastering better will be the final result. I really enjoy Vivaldi sonata for Cello and Basso duo, its full bodied and quite clear with wide airy presentation, never feel bloated or artificial sounding, as if we really are in the intimate concert hall with the two musicians, cello being more fowards as it should and lower registry basso being backward but lively with right note weight and presence, Then I put some complex and fast Aphex twin and man, it make my skull shake at high volume, causing more mid punch reverberance than expected and sometime distracting me from rest of audio spectrum due to overly authoritative punch energy. I can imagine basshead banger really enjoying this approach, for me, its the only drawback of the Neo, and its perhaps due to the plastic material used for earcups. So, let’s conclude that the Neo are as much enjoyable for basshead than audiophile, if we choose right music to pair it with.
MIDS are extremely charming but have dualist approach in some sens, because it will sound phenomenal with bass light music like Meredith Monk albums, in wich her voice it will be full of presence and wideness, with great timbre, enough decay and righly layered from other instrument when it occur. The same lush musicality will happen with Madeleine Peroux if there not too foward sacoustic bass line, as it will sound more full bodied because of this perfect upper mid bass emphasis, but the bipolarity begin when you put boomy electronic or bass heavy pop, wich will stole some of resolution to lower mids. For violin or piano, this will sound perfect, it will had impact in note and extra body, wich is something I crave for as piano can feel thinely rendered sometime, decay will be good too and realist, but if its bass heavy jazz with authoritative bass and toms, again, well, it can warm it a little too much. Anyway, for a U shape headphone, I really find the vocal not recessed, just slightly veiled or coloured in lower mids by bass wich can even be benificial for some song like ‘’Comet Out your House’’ from Lali Puna that have synth bass and heavy electro kick well layered and a timbre registre of the signer that pair perfectly with Neo bassy soundsignature.
HIGHS aren’t super emphased, but neither veiled or dulls sounding. We are in a warm, musical, permissive world with the Meze, everything is quite balanced with the exception of bass kick. Because of the great imaging and impressive soundstage, instruments do not struggle to show there presence, its there without being overly textured, wich make the Neo so uniquely addictive. Percussion have great texture and extend, but aren’t sharp or too bright, it feel natural and inviting. Listening to Jakob Bro ‘’Welcome’’ song of bass, guitar, sax, drums quartet, all instrument are easily hearable and well placed, and percussion are spot on, classical guitar sounding smoothly behind the center stage wide sounding saxophone, recording was meant to be heard like this and it is a joy to listen with the Meze even if I would have love a little more sparkle and decay in lower highs. If there any colouration in treble, it will be to push some micro details just a hing fowards, wich will help with instrument separation. No harsh peak whatsoever with the Neo, its a reconforting sound, like a hot chocolate in front of a fire, you make yourself comfortable and enjoy a cozy rewarding musicality.
VS TAKSTAR PRO82 (100$) :
Even if the price range isn’t the same, I find it interesting to compare these two because both are closed headphones and offer competetive price.
CONSTRUCTION of Takstar PRO82 is more targeted for worryfree outside portability, while the Meze even if ligh enough as well as beautifull to wear, is more adequate for small walk or inside portability, like school, work or train. As Meze arent foldable, they take lot of space in your bag with there protecteive case that you sure want to use to portect there precious look, so its the type of headphone you care about while the PRO82 in other hand are more a all terrain and careless (to some extend) type of headphone and do not really need protective case as they are quite hard to scratch or break.
Takstar is all metal including the cups and look very similar to Audio technica ATH50, we can neither say they are beautifull or ugly, and overall sturdiness is excellent.
For the look, Meze win beauty contest with its stylish luxurious classy look, not doubt about it and that even if compared to PRO82 the cups are made of textured plastic. Its just from another class here and surely biggest aspect that justify price difference.
Kevlar cable of the NEO is of better quality than the basic one side cable ofPro82.
Both headphones are extremely comfortable, I cannot decide for a better one here as we just don’t feel pression on head or ears from both and they have about same weight too.
SOUND quality of both is excellent, but the NEO have a way bigger soundstage that feel airy and around your head compared to the more fowards and wide sounding presentation of PRO82. Bass of MEZE is warmer but have more body and a wider presence, lower region is more accentuated than the more punchy energic presentation of PRO82, wich feel faster than Meze but dryier too. Mids of Takstar are little more recessed even if brighter and more clearly separated from the lows, where the NEO give extra pleasant warmest to vocal or instrument and do not have upper mids harshness like the PRO82. Treble extension is perhaps where the Meze feel less extended, in the sens Pro82 is a very detailed closed headphones for the price even if it lack sparkle or echo like the Meze that have more room in soundstage for instrument placement and decay. All in all, the Meze feel from another league in term of musicality, even if the Pro82 is more energic and (micro)detailed it lack musical finess and lushness of the Meze.
VS HIFIMAN HE-300 (300$) :
CONSTRUCTION of the HifiMan HE-300 isn’t that bad for durability with its thick industrial compenents, but its quite rough and squeaky too. The metal that hold the big ear cups look like a DIY project, there screws everywhere, and the plastic used for this cups is thick and cheap looking. For the headbands it use real leather but do not have lot of cushion to it and another time : rough. Meze Neo 99 look like a sent from heaven that have been crafted with love compared to this austere depressing Hifiman design. About design and comfort, the NEO is from another planet where audio lover body is respected and well understand, the HE-300 just feel like an insult to human body in fact.
COMFORT of Meze is natural and form to your head while HE-300 is a squeaky torture device that is ultra heavy and uncomfortable with cheap earpads that do not form to your head.
SOUND quality is another time night and day, or let’s say, cold dry night with agressive neon street lamp and colourfull sunny day with fresh air from the Meze ocean.
The Hifiman HE-300 is really a cold sounding analytical headphones wich can sound musical with very specific style, and even with them, it still ahve a dry soul less approach, everytime I take back the Meze after the listen of same track with HE-300 it was a sincere releive, as if all my nerve were attack with the agressive fowards trebly sound of HE-300 wich even for an open back do sound claustrophobic. I need some air! Thanks Meze for this well needed oxygene : music can actualy breathe!
BASS of HE-300 is more textured but its like if it try to compensate the lack of weight, punch and body it do not have, while the Meze even if not the tighest in attack separation have plenty of body and punch, wich give a more energic and alive sound without sounding bloated in they end. Mid punch have more finess with the NEO, HE-300 being open lacking in this region even more than lower end. Overall texture of Meze is more adequate and natural too.
MIDS of HE-300 are overly fowards and agressive and prompt to upper mids harshness, where the Meze is sweet, musical and full bodied even if slighly coloured with bass warmth. Sometime the separation of vocal can be better with HE-300 in bass heavy track….but you don’t want to listen to this too bright shouty fatiguing signing anyway.
TREBLE extension of HE-300 is sure more prononced and without any roll off, I even suspect bats can’t take as much treble fowardness, its skalpel sharp and crave every details it can, to the point of over saturation, this do not give HE-300 more sparkle and brillance strangely, as the Meze have more natural decay and even sound better with harpsichord instrument as the note have more roundness and impact.
All in all, the Meze 99 NEO are made to generously enjoy music while the HE-300 is artificial and overly analytical sounding. This comparaison experiment underline the fact that more details do not equal to more enjoyment as well as richer sound, because the body of everynote give a more realist musical rendering in they end.
VS GRADO SR325i (300$):
Firstly, perhaps construction look more solid, but its an illusion as the SR325i heavy earcups can slide down for no reason with the time, as well, the cable will undoubtly break one day or another due to twisting earcups. Because of hard on ear pressure and heavyness factor, they became uncomforatble very fast, were the Meze Neo is just pure comfort joy. Overall construction of thick metal cups are perhaps more costy than the plastic of Neo, but as said, it is a design flaw.
Being open back, one would think the Grado have bigger soundstage but that isn’t exactly the case, its just slightly wider but feel less around your head and tall because of a more fowards sound presentation. In they end the Meze feel more airy and spacious.
BASS of Sr325i is more textured and grainy, but lack lower extension of the Meze even if both are quite very punchy headphones, the Meze tough add more colouration to the mids.
MIDS and vocal feel more fowards and present than Neo, but less wide and transparent, as well, it can be harsh in upper mids where the Meze feel smoother.
HIGHS have little more extension with the grado in lower treble and give extra decay to percussion, but make overall sound feel sometime too fowards.
All in all, i find myself using more the Meze 99 Neo because of a more forgiving musicality that can be as smooth without bass and very energic and exciting with bass driven music.
SOUND SOURCE PAIRING :
With Xduoo D3 :
The D3 is an entry level DAP with good sound but clumsy interface. Its very small but quite powerfull as well. Sound is quite neutral, clear, slightly bright but not extremely well layered or detailed. With the Neo it make a good pairing with plenty of volume. The bass kick very hard but isn’t too out of control, in fact, it earn some extra tighness even if it still can be brain shaking a little, wich is a great experience with very bassy track ‘’Koh-I-Noor’’ from Mr Twin sister as the sub rumbling is delicious and do neither stole kick weight or vocal fowardness. We have a good sens of space for the synth that fly around our head and even if D3 isn’t the clearer or must detailed DAP, I do not feel it lack treble extension. The Meze Neo like bright DAP as it make it sound even more energic and give extra focus to treble but stole some soundstage deepness and resolution potential.
With Xduoo X20 :
The X20 use the famous Sabre ES9018 dac chip, wich give ultimate clarity and black backgroun noise floor. This is what need the Meze 99 Neo to extract full potential of its excellent dynamic driver. I use must of the time high gain with X20, but not for the Meze wich I find sensible to too powerfull amping, so low gain it is and it sound delicious. Now the bass is more controled, have a smooth texture and more transparency, mid bass is less agressive in attact but still weighty, mids are wide with good presence and tranparency, all layer are clearly separated and overall sound have more details and is more linear. The Neo is more U shape even if far from mid centric, with perfectly clear source like X20 the soundstage feel more airy and instrument separation are more natural. This is my favorite pairing for extra sharpness that just complement rightly the warm airy musicality of 99 Neo.
With Ibasso DX90 :
Now, the Ibasso DX90 is my favorite DAP, and it have dual ES9018 dac, delivering powerfull and ultra clear and precisely layered sound. It have 3 gain mode, if you make the error to use the higher gain Neo will sound wrong and boomy, but using lower and clearer gain the miracle happen : its the more neutral balanced pairing I find. Even bassy tracks like ‘’Evensong’’ from Bola sound perfect, as the bass is less emphased but sure still enough punchy. The soundstage potential is take to its paroxysm with synths pads coming from each side of your head, kick and snare in the middle and voice above it in a transparent way, sound presentation being very holographic and dense with all details being push fowards to give extra dynamic to Neo lush presentation. These two was meant to be togheter, DX90 being sharp to the point of sometime making bright headphones sibilant, here the Neo earn from this approach and mix its color with perfect musicality. Even the always hissy background noise of Jessica Pratt recording became smoothed out magicaly, without loosing anything else and even having extra body in vocal presence. Hard to explain, but the Neo love this type of high end audio source, pair them with ultra clear but dynamic and balanced audio source and the Neo black angel take you to heaven. I know that Meze create the 99 Neo for portable use, thinking about phone surely, but to give them full respect, I think they deserve better.
With Earstudio Radsone ES100 bluetooth receiver :
This will not give you as much joy as the DX90 in term of extra clarity but will certainly take to next level Meze potential compared to average phone audio out. Here, its a dynamic approach, energic and well layered sound with a fast tigh presentation that help 99 Neo being even more agile and have extra tigh bass.
I cannot hide my joy listening to the Meze 99 Neo, and hope it will be contagious, but sometime passion about musicality is something more subjective than about technicalities. I consider the Neo very generous with lot of music style, giving extra body to cello or warming voice of my favorite signer with great presence and wideness. As a listener with diversify taste, I always struggle to find the right all arounder, and that even more with closed back, it will either sound good for classical or electronic, the Neo do the trick for both because of extra mid bass. As well, i never have treble sensitivity problem with them and can listen for long hours without any fatigue. For a closed back, it is simply magical. Other aspect is how comfortable these are, it is by far my must comfortable headphones even if not my must portable. The fact its easy to drive do not make pairing complicate, but I suggest extra clear source to make them shine even more and permit some sparkle that can be shy in the highs. Meze achieve a masterpiece of design here, and it deserve credit for it. Sure, 250$ is a serious amount, but as every parts of this headphones are changeable, I think its a good investement and you will not regret having that type of natural but energicaly punchy headphones in your home.