A few years ago a company from Romania caught my attention with some wood headphones that had attracted a few members. They quickly spotted that they were a rebrand of some Chinese wood headphones and nothing much came from it. However in the intervening few years after that initial bad start, Antonio Meze has been hard at work on making a pair of well-designed, good sounding, and most of all, unique headphones. The result of his toil are the Meze 99 Classics. Suffice to say the new design is certainly eye-opening with dark wood cups, black steel arcs, black leather and touches of gold-colored metal that he has been careful not to overdo.
Antonio Meze sought to attend to a number of issues he felt most needed addressing in headphones. Starting with fit, he has avoided anything like a regular adjustment mechanism, instead the entire headphone structure uses a large spring steel arc system connecting cups and headphones. The headpad is elasticised, making the headphones entirely self-adjusting in the manner of the Stax SR007s. This, at least with my kids and my average-sized head made it as easy as putting them on to get the right fit. I dropped by a large-headed friend of mine to see how they’d fit on him to complete the picture, and had the same results: An easy fit. Even if someone with an odd head shape has issues, the arcs can be strategically bent to make adjustments as required.
The down-side to the design is that the cups don’t fold flat, so along with the large arcs, once cased in the simple, but suitably solid included case, they aren’t as portable as might be ideal and they are really going to stick out if used on public transport.
The cables for the headphones are dual-entry using very thin 3.5mm TS plugs. The standard cable, which is very long, terminates in a 3.5mm plug which can be adapted to 6.5mm with the included adaptor. A 3.5mm 3.5mm TRRS cable with an inline mic and play/pause buttons for smart phones is also included.
Uniquely the headphones themselves don’t have left and right cups, but are entirely symmetrical, so it doesn’t matter which cup which plug is inserted. To determine left and right, the plugs themselves are marked, the left plug also having a protruding ring, making it easy to feel which side is left simply by touching the plug. This cable, due to the un-damped wooden cups can transmit some noise when rubbed, though I didn’t find it a serious problem. Some people with noisy clothes might find it a bit of an issue, however.
Overall, the simplicity of the design has resulted in great ergonomics and a light and comfortable pair of headphones that are also very attractive.
Impressions were taken using a Chord Mojo for the most part at a moderate listening level. Note that impressions are relative to Sennheiser HD800s and other high-end headphones I usually listen with.
The overall sound signature is along the lines of a common “consumer” signature, with treble present but not too strong, the mid-range well-present and bass significantly stronger than neutral, with presence down as far as the deep bass. This lends itself to being about right for modern music while still having enough mid-range and top-end to be satisfying to classical and jazz.
There is a good amount of detail with the main downside being a bit of congestion overall at moderate listening levels. At first the bass was a bit overwhelming and the treble a bit harsh, but with burn-in (recommended, I might add, by the manufacturer) the treble smoothed out and the bass tightened up. Overall the presentation makes the 99 Classics good for most genres of music, with enough kick in the bass for most tastes, including the deep bass, and a pleasant mid-range and not-too-sharp treble that is a bit muted for my preference (noting my regular headphones are somewhat brighter).
This is somewhat in the manner of what I remember from Ultrasone’s Signature series and Edition 9s, where I wished for a more delicate treble and more space around instruments. This isn’t so much a criticism given that they are much cheaper than those headphones! Someone who finds, say, Sennheiser Momentums to be a bit too bright in the treble might like the Meze instead, however. I don’t think that, for someone whom this is their first pair of expensive headphones, this will at all be an issue and, quite the contrary, they will find them very enjoyable. I can only imagine people with extreme tastes, eg: Very large amounts of bass or treble, to have any issue with their presentation of most genres.
For someone such as me who already has high-end headphones, I found them enjoyable to listen to out of my Chord Mojo, or any of the DAPs I have on hand, such as the FiiO X5II or Calyx M. They were good enough to show some of the difference in quality of what I drove them with. Most significantly was how light and comfortable they were to listen with and did a good job of giving a bit of a bass kick to music that my more expensive headphones don’t.
Compared to other headphones I have on-hand, Sony’s MDR-7Zs are more sophisticated, with deeper earpads and angled drivers and it showed, but I didn’t feel I was getting a great deal more resolution. The Massdrop K7XX are different beasts altogether, with a more upper-mid focussed presentation that brings out vocals, but trades a thumping sound for spaciousness instead.
Mirrorball by Elbow
The bass of the kick drum is very present yet spacious, if not impactful. Guy Garvey’s vocals are just forward enough and come across slightly dark and a little muffled, though the bass interferes with them, as does the rest of the instruments when the music becomes complicated. The slight sibilance on the vocals comes through in a way that is a little annoying.
Don’t Explain by Billy Holiday — dZihan & Kamien remix from Fakes
This tracks has a low bass line and the 99’s brought the rumble across well and managed to get a good amount of detail and separate out of the different parts of this track, the bass keeping up well, albeit with a smaller soundstage than I’m used to, more “in your head” than around.
Moths by Fiona Bevan (Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound binaural from the Accidental Powercut series)
It was possible to get a good idea of how wonderful Fiona’s voice is from the 99’s, along with a good feeling of the recording space, though the slightly lowered treble takes away slightly from this. The binaural stereo image comes through well with a good amount of separation between each of the instruments, Fiona and the audience. The dynamics of the guitar playing are also readily apparent.
Traitor – Menahan Street Band (Bonobo – Late Night Tales (Unmixed)
The 99’s well-formed bass and fairly balanced tuning come through again in this track, with everything from the bass notes to string plucks coming through well on this moderately busy track. This is where I feel the 99’s are most spot-on.
Too Rich for My Blood by Patricia Barber (Café Blue)
One of my reference tracks. While not as airy or quite as detailed as does justice for Patricia’s singing or the instruments, the 99’s give a good sense of the music and feeling of her singing. A bit too much emphasis ends up on the lower notes of the cello.