The Meze 99 Classics is the current flagship from Meze and designer and founder Antonio Meze. The company employs wood as it’s material of choice for all headphone products. The design for the 99 Classics was done in-house and the philosophy behind the design is available in detail for interested souls on Meze’ webpage. The headphone is packaged in a sturdy box with a premium feel and comes with a semi-hard carry case. It takes a lot to put out a premium range portable considering the intensely competitive market, lets see if the 99 Classics has what it takes to play at this level.
Build & Comfort:
The 99 Classics have an eye-catchy refined style about them. I had the Walnut Gold finish, though I like the both the Walnut and maple silver finishes more.The premium cable looks wonderful and complements the headphone design. These are a “good size” headphone provided with a nice hard pouch. There are two sets of detachable cables provided one for more mobile/smartphone use and the other for at-home listening.The headphone does not have predetermined LR (though the cables are marked), so it could in principle be worn either way which is a cool design in my book. Meze has done a wonderful job on the build of this headphone and one can “feel” the sturdiness the moment you lay hands on it. The solid metal band, lovely polished wooden earcups, and well-set earpads all rounded up by a compartmental design (have a look at the teardown on their homepage) makes this a thing of beauty. The headphone design also ensures an almost completely serviceable product.
My large head and not-so-small ears made the fit a little off, though the self-adjusting leather headband sat comfortably on my head. I felt that the earpads applied a little more pressure on the upper part of my ears. This is an around-the-ear model for most ears, though sadly not for me. Earpad seal is broken when glasses are worn. The kevlar covered cables are very well done quality wise but have significant microphonics. On the smartphone cable, I personally would have liked the inline remote/mic to be placed a little lower from the earcups. For outdoor and on the go usage the size does cause some discomfort in letting it hang around the neck. Making the earcups fold flat might have made things much more convenient.
The 99 Classics is a headphone that one cannot easily dislike – if that does not sound like a compliment, let me tell you that it is! The bass is catchy, pushed a bit forward and slightly loose or boomy (but I am of the opinion that’s the “woody” character). Soundstage is very good for a closed headphone with appreciable dimensionality. Good treble presence with enough liveliness without getting into the “bright” territory. The mids are clean and clear and presented in a very neutral style (though I was expecting a mid-forward presentation) and lack “magic”, which can be translated as slightly recessed. There are times when I felt that the bass got in the way of the music but these instances were far and few, sufficient to say that suitable source matching would make this headphone perform better but improper ones don’t pull down the enjoyment factor much. Coming from the Yamaha MT220 and the AKG K702 the high frequencies seem to have lost some “grit” and resolution. This made the 99 Classics relatively mellow and something of an easier listen. Taken together the pros & cons make this a wonderful all-around headphone. On the go, the added bass warmth was very satisfying and complemented by the clean and clear mids and highs (this just made pop & electronic much more appealing). At home, on Omer Avital-Hafla, the bassline kick came across with good speed and good timbre. Noticed some dampening of higher frequencies but that technicality never interfered with musical enjoyment. Listening to Bob Marley & The Wailers was pleasurable as ever,a lovely fit for reggae, pop, and electronic genres. Does a good job for acoustical music but does not flavor it enough for my tastes (like the Denon AHD 350 & ATH-W1000x). These headphones are driven well right out of my iPod Classic, Fiio X3 and my laptop. An entry level amp/DAC setup (say the Dragonfly) can only make things better by providing a cleaner source with more clarity – and they deserve it!
Clear, Fun & Musical.
The Meze 99 Classics are worthy of being considered as a good choice for the discerning music listener. They traverse the border of clarity and a fun sound in a very adept manner. Apart from the small complaints regarding comfort/fit I can heartily recommend them to everybody looking for a well built and good sounding headphone (provided the styling suits your taste).
That said, the competition is as well pretty stiff! The B&O H6 is available at competitive prices (now that the MKII version is out) and provides equally good sound with a comparatively conservative styling. The older Sennheiser Momentum Over-ears are once again available at a competitive price (thanks to the newer Momentum OE 2), not the same sound signature (Momentum is more mellow and smoother sounding) but not bad either for the price.