The Meze 99 Neo arrived in a high quality, light grey cardboard box with a partial image of the headphone on the front. The box is sealed with a magnet and when opened reveals the hard carrying case inside, nestled among some black protective foam.
Opening up the case presents you with the headphone and a hockey puck shaped, a zippered case which contains the cable and two adapters (x1 airline, x1 3.5 mm to 6.35 mm). The hard case is a great addition and is perfect for protecting your headphone when not in use or during transport.
The included cable is nice and a perfect length for desktop use while still being practical enough for portability. The lower section has a braided material covering and above the Y-split it changes to a rubberized sheathing. At the top end are the two 3.5 mm plugs that connect to either side of the headphone. A small feature that goes to show Meze really does pay attention to detail is the slightly raised ridge on the left cable plug where most manufacturers opt to make both sides identical.
On the left side are the metal in-line microphone and rubberized single button controller. The button has a nice tactile click to it and feels quite durable. Finally, the cable terminates in a straight metal, 3.5 mm plug.
Build, comfort and isolation
Onto the headphone itself now and this is where so much of the Neo’s appeal comes from, in its sublime form and design. Simplicity is key in this aspect and it lends an effortless elegance to the Neo’s appearance. The basis of the frame consists of a double-sided manganese spring steel arch which is lightweight yet very sturdy. Connected to this is the self-adjusting headband that’s screwed into the lower section.
This particular headband is a wide pleather with “99 NEO” embossed on the top side. There’s very little downforce to it which is a good part of the reason this headphone is so comfortable but the fit feels really secure and sits firmly in place, even when you’re moving about.
Meze has cleverly forgone the usual clasp that secures the metal arch and instead connected it directly to the earcups. This time around, gone are the wooden earcups and they’ve been replaced by charcoal black ABS plastic.
The earcups have a slightly textured matte finish, look great and at the same time very robust. Lastly, the earpads are a medium density memory foam that softly hug your dome and have enough space inside to accommodate even large ears.
Comfort is excellent with the soft pads and light clamping force and I can easily wear the Neo for hours on end without discomfort. The closed backs mean that your ears might get a bit hot but hey, closed back headphones are always going to be like that. The wide, well-padded headband and low down-force add again to the comfort.
Isolation is pretty good too as you’d expect with closed backs and there’s really not much more to say about that. While I personally prefer to use in-ears on the go the Neo is also well suited to the task and there’s enough isolation given to use it in most scenarios without issue.
Gear used for testing
Acoustic Research AR-M20 > 99 Neo
ATC HDA-DP20 > Phatlab Sassy II > 99 Neo
Foobar2000 > Topping DX7 > 99 Neo
The Neo does not require amplification as it’s super easy to drive with an impedance of just 26 Ohm. It can be paired with almost any low powered device but as always, a better DAC will usually provide superior overall sound. Due to the warm nature of the headphone, I’d recommend a neutral source to get the best results.
I never had an opportunity to hear the 99 Classic so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the Neo. I was pretty certain they’d be good considering the coverage, awards and hype that had surrounded the Classic. My first listen gave me something very different from what I was anticipating.
I thought it was going to be a very “audiophile” tuned sound, rather linear, perhaps even close to neutral with a clean, tight bass, loads of detail and resolution etc. Imagine my surprise when I heard the accentuated, meaty bass and warm overtones. “Wait a second,” I thought… This is tuned for fun. It’s built to be emotive, to make you forget that you intended to do some critical listening and instead draw you in and lose yourself to the music. These things are designed for pleasure plain and simple.
Bass has a healthy boost taking it way north of neutral. It has a slow attack, giving bass notes a soft edge and similarly the somewhat slow decay adds to the rounded effect. At times it even seems a bit loose but that’s not necessarily a bad thing although on occasion it does mean that some detail in the music gets lost.
There’s a definite mid-bass hump that carries over into the lower mids and adds to the overall warmth. Sub-bass, in contrast, is quite tame in tonal balance but can still provide a satisfying rumble. It extends fairly well but does roll-off a little and plays second fiddle to the mid-bass dominance.
Midrange is lush and organic, very musical and not in the least bit dry or analytical. In “New Horizon” by The Gentle Storm the mids occasionally struggle for a foothold and are suppressed by the thick drums.
In Loreena McKennitt’s “Emmanuel” however, the Neo shines on this vocal and strings based track, its warmth smoothing Loreena’s high notes and bringing out the rich resonance of the classical backing strings. An album that’s a great match for the Neo’s properties is Language of the Ancients by S1gns of L1fe, with it’s soothing, ambient sounds and hypnotic bass lines.
Treble is unremarkable but only because it plays a lesser role in the overall warm tuning. Timbre is accurate and the extension is there, it’s just that the treble doesn’t have much prominence. It does make the Neo easy to listen to and should appeal to the treble sensitive. Listening to Utada Hikaru’s “Traveling” the track’s inherent sibilance can still be heard, so the treble is not artificially smoothed over but rather sits at the back of the mix. Still in Bill Withers’ “Soul Shadows” the hi-hats have a great lift and come out to play throughout the whole track.
Soundstage is above average for a closed back headphone. There are plenty of times when it can reach outside of the headspace, generally, in music with lighter bass, this becomes more evident. Depth though is very good and the imaging is excellent. Positional cues are accurate and defining in the large-sized sphere portrayed which provide the added bonus of making the Neo good for some first-person gaming as well.
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 Neo 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 Neo 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 Meze 99 Neo. 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 Neo.
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 Neo.
Meze 99 Neo Conclusion
The Meze 99 Neo is more than just a good sounding headphone. The look and feel of it combined with the sound provided all add up to make it an experience that’s quite unique. If you’re a fan of attention to detail and subtle elegance you’ll get a kick out of how well this headphone is designed.
However, those looking for neutrality should seek other options. Sure it might not provide the best audio quality out there but you have to keep in mind the very affordable $249 price tag which ultimately makes this a very easy recommendation for anyone looking for something comfortable, stylish and downright fun to listen to.