Meze Audio is like the Bentley of the portable audio world. They have design elements and a certain style that few can hope to match. Just take a look at their Rai Penta and Empyrean and you’ll see what I mean. In this review, I’m checking out the Meze Rai Solo, a single dynamic driver IEM that aims to bring some of that prestige into a price range that’s more affordable to the masses. Did they succeed? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Meze Rai Solo
Incredibly comfortable shells
Vocal and acoustic reproduction
Average bass extension
Package and Accessories
While the outer packaging is fairly generic, the earphones and included accessories immediately make the Rai Solo stand out as something above the norm in terms of quality. Just look at that beautiful carrying case: the exact same one that comes with Meze’s flagship Rai Penta.
Included in the box are the Meze Rai Solo earphones, 8 pairs of silicone eartips (5 of which are double flange), silver cable and that stellar clamshell carrying case.
Build Quality and Design
The Rai Solo’s driver has some interesting and complex tech behind it which you can learn more about on the official product page. For most of us, it’s the physical build and materials that interest us, so let’s take a look.
Injection-moulded stainless steel is the basis for the Solo’s shells and boy, do they look and feel good: just like the flagship “Rai Penta” in fact, sans the slick blue paint finish. On the surface, they are unmarked, except for the etched and painted Meze logo on the faceplate.
There is a single vent near the nozzle base. Speaking of the nozzles, they are also colour-coded with the left one being blue and the right red. Once the eartips are in place, you wouldn’t even know it but that is a signature of the subtleties found on Meze Audio products – the deeper you look, the more attention to detail is revealed.
Comfort and Noise Isolation
I find most earphones to be reasonably comfortable these days, especially now with the proliferate use of 3D-Printing available to even small boutique manufacturers. But the Meze Rai Solo takes comfort to another level. These earphones fit in my ears almost like a custom IEM. Seriously – the fit is amazing. For my ears, the largest of the black wide-bore doughnut eartips suit to perfection, giving me one of the most stable fits of all the IEMs in my collection.
Whether it’s the stainless steel chassis, the fit or both I don’t know. But one thing is for sure: the Rai Solo have above-average passive noise isolation. These are truly ideal for daily commutes, noisy public areas, offices and just about any environment you could think of.
The Rai Solo comes with a 4-core braided silver cable that is high in quality but mediocre in terms of handling. It’s quite thin and very thin above the Y-split. However, the braiding is tight and uniform and has minimal microphonics.
At the top are transparent, colour-coded MMCX connectors followed by some fairly stiff memory wire. The memory wire seems like a blast from the past, as nowadays, most manufacturers go the heat-shrink guide route. I personally dislike memory wire but I have to admit that the stability of the Rai Solo is rock solid and I get an extremely secure fit. But the memory wire and thinness above the Y-split both ensure that the cable is very prone to becoming tangled.
The Y-split and accompanying chin slider are translucent plastic while the right-angled termination is a mixture of polished aluminium and transparent plastic. A closer look at the 3.5mm plug reveals a pair of subtle ridges that might go completely unnoticed but in fact, make unplugging the cable extremely easy. This is one of those minute design details that Meze Audio does so incredibly well. It makes the user experience that much more pleasurable with said user not even noticing most of the time. Genius.
The Meze Rai Solo has an airy, open sound with ample soundstage depth and impressive detail retrieval. Its tone is close to neutral but slightly V-shaped, with some slight emphasis on the mid-bass and lower treble.
The core midrange is slightly recessed while the upper midrange is quite forward. The upper midrange is a series of high peaks and low valleys, meaning that some instruments come to the forefront more than others but for the most part, it’s agreeable on the ears. The overall tone is warm but at the same time, thin.
While the overall bass extension might be disappointing for some, the bass has a clean, dynamic presentation. Rai Solo has a pretty fast bass in terms of attack and decay, with clean leading edges and good control.
Sub-bass extension is one of the Solo’s weaker areas and comes across as a little timid. However, you might like this if you prefer your bass more nimble rather than authoritative. On some tracks such as Intrusion’s “The Seduction of Silence”, the Rai Solo performs like a champ. However, when a song calls for some really deep-seated sub-bass thunder, like “Eternal Flame” by Randall Jermaine, the Rai Solo sometimes fails to convey the necessary sense of grandeur.
The midrange has excellent clarity, good instrument separation and articulate vocals. Note size is slightly thin and the sound sometimes lacks warmth and fullness. But on the positive side, there is an abundance of detail and no thickness or bloat.
Vocals tend to sit slightly behind the mid-bass and lower treble, again somewhat thin in their presentation. Higher-pitched voices and female vocals are more vibrant due to the upper midrange boost. So too, are electric guitars and percussion instruments have a clean, sharp attack.
Although the upper mids have a forward presentation, they’re inoffensive for the most part, providing detail and clean air between instruments. However, the dip in the core midrange and subsequent dips in the upper treble occasionally make it feel as though some elements (like vocals) are forward but others are subdued.
The Rai Solo’s treble is defined by the aforementioned peaks and dips in the upper frequencies. It has the dual nature of making some frequencies more prominent and others muted in comparison. They are tastefully done, in the sense that there’s no sibilance or harshness, but it can leave some areas sounding a little flat.
I must admit, the Rai Solo is a monster when it comes to fine details. Breath intakes, fingers sliding on guitar strings and minute sounds can be clearly heard. But to be objective, one must also admit that the detail comes at a price: namely overall warmth, note thickness and emotional engagement. I’m not saying this IEM sounds sterile but I am suggesting that in some areas it’s striving for technicality over musicality.
The Rai Solo’s soundstage has more depth than width and is fairly competent in creating layers of depth. Stereo imaging is also good but there’s not really much of that 3D-holographic sensation that gets highly lauded among audiophiles and enthusiasts. The central vocal image is strong but instrument placement can be a little vague for something in this price range. Instrument separation is quite good thanks to the speed of the driver and lean nature of the overall presentation.
DUNU DK-2001 ($299)
The DUNU DK-2001 is a quad-driver IEM (1DD+3BA) with a balanced, forward presentation. What strikes me right from the start in this comparison is the extra sub-bass extension of the DK-2001. It has deep-seated authority where the Rai Solo has more of a light-controlled note. Mid-bass is also more prominent on the DK-2001 and has noticeably more bass texture than the Rai Solo.
The lower mids have more body and warmth on the DUNU. Thicker midrange notes have an inviting naturalness while the Rai Solo takes a thinner and more detailed approach. Despite its driver advantage (in terms of pure numbers) the DK-2001 isn’t as detailed or resolving here as the Rai Solo which seems to detect every detail and nuance.
To compensate for its warmer low frequencies, the DK-2001 has more lift in the upper midrange and treble. This also helps it gain clarity but also maintain its fullness. The Rai Solo still picks up more micro-details but at the cost of some warmth and body.
Shanling ME500 Platinum Edition ($289)
The Shanling ME500 PE is a tripe-driver hybrid (1DD+2BA) earphone. Despite what the graph shows, the ME500 PE has more bass extension and bass presence. Its overall presentation is more forward too, whereas the Rai Solo has an airier, less intimate presentation.
ME500 PE’s midrange is more direct and forward, adding intimacy and warmth. In comparison, the Rai Solo’s midrange is thinner and cleaner but has less note density. However, the Rai Solo excels at vocal and acoustic instrument realism and staging and sounds slightly more coherent in this band.
ME500 PE has more upper midrange and lower treble presence which gives it excellent detail retrieval, similar to the Rai Solo. The Shanling has more treble energy and air to counterbalance its extra warmth.
The Meze Rai Solo continues the Meze Audio legacy of stylish yet functional hardware. If you have an appreciation for things of beauty and are looking for something that has a sound close to neutral but with some added flair, this one might just be it.
From its exceptional build quality to the tight bass, above-average detail retrieval and natural tone, the Rai Solo is a work of art that also happens to sound really good (assuming you aren’t a basshead).