In 2015 Meze Audio released a headphone called the Meze 99 Classics which led to what they call their “breakthrough year”. It was their first headphone created entirely in-house whereas before they were buying components externally. The Classics took the audio enthusiast community by storm and suddenly we were seeing it everywhere and just about everyone seemed to own one.
What was it that made them so desirable? Well, there were a few reasons they have been so successful. First of all, they look dope, especially if you’re a fan of wooden earcups. They have a design aesthetic that’s is immediately appealing with its simplistic elegance.
Not only that but they’re built with longevity in mind, each individual part being easy and inexpensive to replace. They also sound good, which obviously matters as fickle audio aficionados aren’t going to buy something purely on looks alone. Wrap all that up with a very affordable price tag and the rest is history. Today I’ll be taking a much-belated look at the walnut and gold variant of the Meze 99 Classics.
The Meze 99 Classics come in a tasteful white box with a nice picture of one of the earcups on the front and back along with some of the various awards the headphones have collected since their release. There are some specifications and features listed on the sides and first impressions are positive.
Opening the box we find a very nice, contoured, clam-shell carry case with a smooth matte texture and finish. I actually like this more than the one that comes with the Neo although they’re essentially the same albeit with a different finish.
Inside the case are the headphones and another small zippered pouch which contains two cables, an airline adapter, a 6.35mm adapter, user manual and warranty information.
Let’s look at the two cables – one is ten feet long and ideal for desktop or living room use and the other four feet long with an inline control and microphone which is great for portable use, whether you’re taking the Classics outdoors or just moving around the house. Both cables have a braided material cover from the plug to the Y-split where it changes to a rubberized style to reduce microphonics.
The Y-split has a nice gold band with the company logo and this matches perfectly with the gold accents on the headphones. At the top are two 3.5mm plugs and both cables terminate in a straight, gold-plated 3.5mm plug. These cables have just the right mix of strength and suppleness so they feel durable yet sit and roll up nicely.
Transducer size: 40mm
Frequency response: 15Hz – 25KHz
Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
Impedance: 32 Ohm
Rated input power: 30mW
Maximum input power: 50mW
Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
Weight: 260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cables
Ear-cups: walnut wood
Build, comfort and isolation
For many users appearance is an important factor when purchasing headphones. If you’re one of those people then this could be the one for you. Enter the Meze 99 Classics with their simplistic yet sophisticated and elegant looks that are so easily distinguishable from all the rest.
In a lot of cases, if a single piece or section breaks you’re up the brown creek in a barbed wire canoe or in other words, you’re out of luck and have to start looking for a new headphone. Well, this isn’t the case with Meze’s 99 series headphones as they’ve been designed in a way so they can be fully disassembled. Thus if a component breaks the headphones are still fully serviceable. You can simply order the replacement part and get yourself back up and running in no time. Kudos to Meze for doing this rather than going with the usual “designed to fail” practice of so many products.
Starting with the spring steel headband which is very sturdy but also due to the minimalist design using two thin strips it’s very lightweight. Attached to this via a cast zinc alloy cross structure is the wide and well-padded self-adjusting headband. The steel headband extends all the way down to where it’s attached to the centre of the earcups.
The conical earcups are made from a single piece of wood – in this case walnut, which not only looks great but has wonderful, natural resonating properties. On the underside of each earcup is where the 3.5mm cable plugs connect, again highlighted with a subtle gold ring surrounding the holes to fit into the overall style.
Onto the earpads now and I believe that these have been improved since the early versions of the Classics and now share the same ones that are used on the 99 Neo, being a bit thicker and plusher than the original ones. They’re large enough to fit around my big ears and deep enough so that my ears don’t come into contact with the driver covers.
These are very comfortable headphones and I can wear them for hours on end with no discomfort whatsoever. They are closed backs though so if the weather is hot your ears can become a little warm over time.
The earpads are soft and plush, the clamping force is just enough to hold the headphones steadily in place without putting the squeeze on your precious dome and the headband sits really nicely without any unnecessary pressure on the top of your head. This along with the light weight means top marks for comfort.
Isolation is about average for a closed back headphone so they do block a good amount of external noise and should be suitable for most situations whether at home or out and about.
The Meze 99 Classics are very easy to drive. With an impedance of 32 Ohm and 103dB sensitivity, they can be paired with just about any device. The Galaxy Note 5 had no problems driving these and for my preferred listening level, 70-80% volume was plenty loud enough without any noticeable drawbacks. Obviously using a high-quality DAC or amplifier is likely to give even better results. Because of their warm and bass heavy nature, I prefer to use them with a neutral or bright source but in fact, they still sound great regardless.
After having experience with the 99 Neo I had a fairly good idea what to expect from the Classics and I was not disappointed. Just like with the Neo the first thing that struck me was the bass – again there’s a lot of it. Then there’s the silky musicality and superb tonality.
The 99 Classics have a fun approach to sound reproduction but that doesn’t mean they can’t also take on a serious tone. Listening to Beethoven’s string quartets is just as satisfying as some hard-hitting Infected Mushroom. There’s an energy to the Classics that belies their technical ability.
As I mentioned above there is loads of bass present and while it’s not the most controlled and sometimes even a bit loose it does sound very natural. Bass notes are fairly rounded, so they don’t have a sharp or etched presentation but one that is more liquid and relaxed.
There is a little bass bleeding into the midrange but it’s not a detriment, it just adds to the overall warmth and the mids are not compromised as a result but rather enhanced by it. Sub-bass hits pretty hard but isn’t as prominent as the mid-bass. There’s enough of it to give you that sense of an earthquake without bringing the house down around you.
The midrange on the Classics is definitely one of the highlights. Despite the warm overtones the mids still manage to reveal a great amount of detail and maintain their excellent tonality. Vocals are forward sounding but not overly intimate and possess that same silky smoothness throughout. It’s organic, natural, even and ridiculously easy to listen to. Just like with the Neo stringed instruments sound amazing from classical pieces to the crunch of electric guitars and everything in between.
Treble has a crisp and airy appeal that brings some much-needed lightness to balance the Classics’ warmth. There’s good extension without ever being harsh or sibilant. It really helps to bring out some of the detail that might otherwise be lost in the richness of the bass and mids but somehow Meze found the perfect amount to keep the balance without making the headphones overtly V-shaped.
For a closed back headphone the Classics have a great soundstage that provides immersive depth and excellent layering throughout. Imaging is superb and instrument placement makes for a truly engaging experience. This also makes the 99 Classics a pretty good companion for gaming and watching movies too.
The Neo comes very close when it comes to audio quality but the Classics seem to have something that gives them a slight edge. Is it worth shelling out the extra money for the Classics? When it comes to pure sound there’s not much in it but the Meze 99 Classics do seem to have a little more refinement, most notably for my ears in their treble which has a little more sparkle and air and in the bass which is slightly tamer and tighter. In terms of appearance the two are obviously very similar but for me, there’s something about wooden earcups that makes them that much more desirable. Either way, if you buy one or the other I’m sure you’ll be more than pleased with the results.
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro 250 Ohm ($179 USD)
The DT990 is well known for its strong V-shaped signature so it has similarly boosted bass levels but also has a lot more treble as well. It’s more resolving than the Classics and reveals more small details but can get a little strident or overenthusiastic on the high frequencies. The DT990’s bass notes are more defined and controlled bringing more punch where the Meze 99 Classics brings the thump. Both headphones are exceptionally comfortable and well worth their respective prices.
The 860 is much more linear across the board so offers a very different sound compared to the Classics. Bass is tighter and faster without any of the same boomy properties found on the Meze. Midrange in comparison is a lot thinner and less lush than the Classics’. The treble is where these two have the most in common, being neutral-ish on both. The 860 reveals more details in music but presents itself in a more clinical and less emotive manner compared to the “fun” tuning of the Classics.
Meze 99 Classics Conclusion
So there you have it. It was almost a foregone conclusion after experiencing the 99 Neo that I would enjoy the Meze 99 Classics but I didn’t expect to enjoy them that much more. Yes, they sound very similar indeed. Yes, they look similar but there’s just something about the Meze 99 Classics that I love. It’s an experience from the moment you pick them up until real-life obligations or things like food and sleep force you to put them down.
They’re attractive, lightweight, comfortable, portable and a totally enjoyable listen. The Meze 99 Classics are fun but they also give you juicy detail, great extension on both ends, a full-bodied and rich midrange. They’re easy to drive and sound good even straight from a smartphone. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones and $309 is within your limits then the Meze 99 Classics come highly recommended from me.
Maybe Meze Audio knew they had something special on their hands when they named these Classics because they have essentially become that in their own right.