If you are into headphones I bet you have heard at least something about the Meze 99 Classic headphones. It is one of the most heavily promoted headphones I have seen in a while. Christ even Steve Huff is raving about them. He raves about most things like an uncontrolled energy drink but this is a headphone, not a camera. Props to Meze’s hard work and their marketing team for involving just about the entire universe in talking about the Meze experience, I just hope they have enough headphones left to sell after all of this.
Of course, yours truly comes late to the game with regard to reviewing the 99 Classic which is a good thing because I am hoping to avoid the hype machine a little and talk about these in a ‘dust settled’ type environment and second Meze came out with a new Walnut silver edition just in time for me to get my hands on it so hey something new right?
What Is The Pitch?
The Meze 99 Classic is a $309 single dynamic 40mm driver woody enclosed supra-aural headphone built by a Romanian company, Meze. Meze is the surname of the main designer, Antonio Meze, who has been plugging away for a few years now to try and bring something worthy to the table in terms of a quality headphone that people will buy into. I doubt Antonio will remember but we crossed paths before about 3-4 years ago when an email dropped into my inbox touting the 88 Classics which was the first time I heard of Meze. I knew the design and didn’t take up the option.
This time, the 99 Classic is designed entirely in-house. More than that it is designed in such a way that practically every part is replaceable which quite apart from making DIY guys sit up and take notice also means the warranty on these cans is pretty rock solid. This sort of reminds me of the Grado approach but this time there is not a spec of glue in sight on the 99 Classics. The level of involvement is very convincing, from the frequency charts to the build and R&D process these guys have really gone for the fully woody headphone experience that not only looks classy but also look like a long term investment.
There is not a hint of crappy plastics on these cans as far as I can see and looking into their design information and this does seem to be confirmed. They are comprised entirely of walnut wood, zinc, ABS, silicone and spring steel and finished with pleather and memory foam. Each component is user replaceable, and when I say each one I mean every single bit of the headphone from the headband to the cups, drivers, sockets, you name it. When you look at everything dismantled in the picture below it is a surprisingly simple but effective build.
Right now Meze is offering two distinct types of wood for the cup, Walnut and Maple adorned with either an accented gold or silver finish on the external metals. The Walnut silver is the latest version to hit the market and the one I am reviewing right now. Personally, I am not a huge fan of gold accenting on my gear so the silver looks excellent to me and I do like that slightly lighter tone of walnut that comes with the 99 Class silver. Do note, woodies all have unique grains, no two are alike.
The headband itself is a very durable and solid twin band structure that does not actually sit on your head. Instead, it keeps the whole design rock solid and rigid, applies the pressure and clamping as well as acting as the support for the supple leather headband system that sits just underneath. There is no actual step type or slider system for adjusting the leather band to fit your head, you simply just put it on and it will stretch according to your head size with two small elastic material finishes on each side of the cups.
The wooden cups are a small circumaural or maybe a big supra-aural depending on your ear size. Certainly for me, they are a small circumaural meaning there is some adjusting to do. The grain is excellent but you can ignore the rather weird dark knot feature at the center of the cup in the main picture, this is a class B unit so you won’t get that on retail units, they simply will not pass the QC. Each cup is crafted initially on a CNC machine and then finished and polished hand with Meze claiming each set takes approximately 45 hours to complete. The cups on the 99 Classic are dual entry but you will not find any left or right on these cups so it won’t matter a damn which jack goes into which cup. If you are jacking up in low light that’s a useful boon.
The pads on the cups are PU leather covering memory foam pads with a medium depth on the inside walls adjoining a small piece of soft padding covering the driver protective grill. They are not the deepest I have ever worn but they do seal well. I would have loved to have seen these with plusher thicker pads and a slightly better depth for comfort reasons if the same sound signature can stay intact.
Fit & Seal
Side to side the fit and seal is excellent and fully justify their tag of circumaural. It feels comfy in that respect. Top and bottom, however, do feel a little snug to the point where it does get uncomfortable after an hour or so. There does seem to be some downward pressure developing on the top of the ear and around the ear lobes that a few mm in extra length would make all the difference.
Now this is, of course, my own experience and some people with smaller ears maybe have a very comfortable fit but comparing to the Hifiman Edition S which also is a very small circumaural it doesn’t clear my outer ear quite as well. Headphones like the NAD HP-50 go supra-aural and take a thicker pad approach to alleviate the pressure from the pad overlap on the ear.
Clamping is tight but not overly so, certainly not AKG K518DJ ear grinder levels, but is accentuated slightly by the lack of upper ear room and pressure balance on the ears as a result. The shallow depth of the pads also mean my ears are touching on the driver grill but that little bit of padded material covering the grills take that sensation away rather nicely making that a very comfortable experience.
The seal is not bad for a closed headphone actually though the memory foam is slightly stiffer than some other varieties I have encountered before but it does form well enough around the ear so you won’t find too many gaps.
Cable & Accessories
The 99 Classic retail package is impressive. Inside you get a semi-stiffened contoured zipper case for carrying the headphones as well as a little NAD inspired zipper round bag inside for holding your accessories between the headphones when on the go. It reminds me of the V-Moda cases only a little bigger and more recently the Ether C case which also has a similarly contoured design. Aside from that Meze have included an airline adapter as well as a quarter jack adapter with the 99 Classic.
You also get two cables; one a 4ft long and the second a 10ft long. The shorter of the two cables is primarily for portable use on mobile phones or DAP’s and comes with an in-line button remote. The 10ft long cable is primarily for home use with a nylon threaded sheath as opposed to the rubber tubing finish of the shorter cable. Both cables are “y-type” with dual mono gold plated 3.5mm TS plugs for connected to the 99 Classic cups and a straight 3.5mm gold-plated regular jack for connecting to whatever source you have. The Y split and jack metal covers are in a matching silver accent to the rest of the headphone (gold if you bought the gold edition) with the logo on the front. There is an element of microphonics from the cables but nothing major and you really have to be looking for it.
The Y split and jack metal covers are in a matching silver accent to the rest of the headphone (gold if you bought the gold edition) with the logo on the front. Whilst the TS plugs are not exactly proprietary they are a bit on the slim side and the insertion depth of the connector socket in the cup is quite deep. That does mean cable switching might be more problematic but on a basic level do make sure you insert until you hear a click otherwise they are not properly connected.
Page 2: Sound Impressions