Meze Audio is a company known for making unique, visually stunning headphones and in-ear monitors. Not only do their products look amazing but they sound great too, at least in my experience. In this review, I’m checking out the company’s current flagship earphones, the Meze Rai Penta.
The Rai Penta is a 5-driver hybrid in-ear monitor with a single 10mm dynamic driver and two dual balanced armature drivers. It also features a Pressure Equalization System (PES) to regulate internal chamber pressure and precision-milled sound bores with steel tubing that eliminate imperfections and attenuate any phase issues. Is this something you should spend over $1000 on? Let’s dive in and find out.
Disclaimer:This sample was sent as a loaner for the purpose of this review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Meze Rai Penta Review
Drop-dead gorgeous design
One of the most comfortable IEMs on the market
High-quality detachable cable
Organic, natural and resolving sound
Average soundstage depth
Package and Accessories
The Meze Rai Penta comes in a premium looking but reasonably modest packaging. Inside the box, all the contents are secured and presented in a foam insert. Apart from the actual earphones, you’ll notice right away the generous selection of various eartips and a beautiful but also practical zippered hard carrying case. Here’s the full list of what’s inside the box:
MMCX braided cables made of silver-plated copper
custom wires ending in high quality 3.5mm
Hard Case: protective EVA case with Meze Audio metal logo
4 pairs of soft silicone eartips XS, S, M, L
1 double-flanged eartips
2 deep insertion double-flanged eartips
1 pair of comply foam eartips
3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter
airplane 2 pin adapter
Visual appeal is always subjective but I think everyone would agree that the Rai Penta looks stunning. The navy blue, anodized CNC aluminium shells with their matte finish are smooth to the touch and quite lightweight.
The milled logo and PES vent reveal the polished aluminium beneath the navy coat creating gorgeous colour contrast. Even the L and R markings have been etched into the surface to create the same effect.
Rai Penta’s aluminium nozzle sports a triple-bore design with precision milled individual sound bores. The entire surface of the shells is rounded and smooth and they simply disappear in your ears. It’s good to know that this incredible design personifies function equally to its immaculate form. This is made apparent by the extreme level of comfort the Rai Penta provides.
Noise isolation is slightly average due to the dual-vented design. Having said that, the Rai Penta is still perfectly suitable for most normal environments including commuting. As I’m sitting here with music playing quietly I can’t hear the air conditioner or the keys of my keyboard as I type.
The included cable is unassuming but high-quality and has excellent handling. It’s a 4-core silver-plated copper Litz cable and is extremely lightweight. At the top are transparent and colour-coded plastic MMCX connector housings. The aluminium Y-split sports the Meze logo and has ample strain relief. Those who like to zip things up tightly will appreciate the included cable cinch as well. The cable terminates with a straight, rhodium-plated 3.5mm plug.
Gear used for testing includes the Soundaware M2Pro and Shanling M5s as portable sources. On the desktop, I used the Topping DX7 Pro, along with the Phatlab Chimera portable amplifier. With its low impedance (20Ω) and high sensitivity (110dB), the Rai Penta will work fine with any source, including smartphones, Of course, if you want to get the best out of the earphones you should pair them with a high-resolution source.
The Rai Penta has a balanced sound signature with added warmth and a healthy dose of extra bass. It’s tuned for musicality first and foremost but comes with a strong technical performance to back it up. What sets it apart from lesser hybrid IEMs is its masterful coherency and natural, organic tonality.
Another area where the Rai Penta excels is in its resolution. Every instrument has its own voice and the separation is well above -par. This is achieved while having a full-bodied presentation and at the same time maintaining a smooth, relaxed treble.
This is not an earphone for those wanting a reference or neutral sound or to pick apart the micro-details of a recording. It’s an inviting and intoxicating sound that prioritizes the music rather than cliché audiophile dogmas. However, the clarity, timbre and overall performance are all at an indisputably high level.
The Rai Penta’s sonorous bass is accentuated but is still in balance with the mids and treble. It puts slightly more emphasis on the mid-bass but fear not: the sub-bass is not shy about delivering some tasty rumble.
Bass notes are detailed and nuanced with good speed and natural decay. In Manu Delago’s “Uranus”, the bass is authoritative but still balanced and in perfect harmony with the midrange and treble. Rai Penta’s low end is delivered effortlessly and feels powerful yet never overwhelming.
The mids are fairly neutral but inherit some warmth and body of the bass. Note size is ideal, making vocals and instruments articulated and clear but also natural. The tone is transparent but still emotive and highly engaging.
Vocals are textured and nuanced. Male and female vocals have an organic, natural quality that draws you in with their clarity and keeps you there with their enriched presence.
The various elements in Porcupine Tree’s “The Moon Touches Your Shoulder”, are so beautifully rendered by the Rai Penta. You can easily hear the subtle reverb effect on the vocals and left and right separation of the acoustic guitar. As the song builds in intensity, the Rai Penta stays profoundly composed, conveying the energy without losing any of its focus.
While some people found reasons to criticize the Meze Rai Penta’s treble, I find myself wanting to shower it with praise. It’s a rather polite treble and one that is unlikely to offend even the treble-sensitive. Yet it carries detail in abundance and lends a light airiness to the overall presentation. In addition, it’s a treble that sounds natural and has an accurate timbre.
Some people feel you need a biting or aggressive treble to make the sound engaging. I myself much prefer one that is smooth but still provides ample clarity and openness. That’s exactly what the Rai Penta’s treble does.
The Rai Penta has excellent stage width but only moderate depth. The contracted depth comes from the forward nature of the midrange, focus on the lower treble and the rolled-off upper treble. Separation is still excellent thanks to the highly-resolving nature of the Rai Penta. Directional cues are also a strong point thanks to the stage stability and note density.
Sennheiser IE800S ($999)
The Sennheiser IE800S (review here) has a single Sennheiser proprietary Extra Wide Band (XWB) driver in each earpiece. What I noticed first was that despite the IE800S having a lower impedance and higher sensitivity, it requires more power to drive than the Rai Penta.
The IE800S’ bass is similar in quantity and just like the Rai Penta, puts the emphasis slightly more on the mid-bass. While its core midrange matches the Meze closely, the IE800S has noticeably less emphasis on the upper midrange. This has two immediate effects: one is that vocals and certain instruments aren’t as vivid or as forward. The other is that the IE800S sound even more cohesive than the Rai Penta and believe me, that’s saying something because the Rai Penta already excels at cohesiveness.
We see more differences in the treble as well. The IE800S is more boosted in the presence region (4-6kHz) while the Rai Penta is boosted at around 7-9kHz, which is where the Meze IEM gets its additional clarity. However, the IE800S treble has better extension from 10kHz onwards, which helps it maintain airiness despite it’s warmer tonality.
The Meze Rai Penta is the latest flagship release from the design powerhouse that is Antonio Meze. Few other IEMs can match the elegant, refined curves and attention to detail of the Rai Penta’s chassis. But there’s a lot more to this earphone than looks: Lurking beneath its flashy surface is a refined, engaging and technically adept sound.
If you’re looking for something with a flat, reference tuning or vivid, exciting treble this probably isn’t the IEM for you. However, if you crave something that’s balanced, enchanting, warm yet clear and tuned for music rather than cliché audiophile hallmarks, this is your earphone right here. And that’s why the Meze Rai Penta now has a new home on our Best IEMs list.
Driver: PENTA-HYBRID DRIVER
(4 x Customized Balanced Armature and 1 x Dynamic Driver working harmoniously together)
Frequency Range: 4Hz – 45kHz
Sensitivity: 110dB SPL/1mW Sensitivity
Max Input Power: 30mW
Stock cables: MMCX connector ending in 3.5mm, Rhodium-plated
Upgrade cables: MMCX connector ending in 2.5mm TRRS balanced and 4.4mm balanced as extra accessories