The Meze 99 Classics are an over-the-ear headphone with a unique-looking design and a growing reputation for being an affordable set of audiophile-focused cans. This review of the 99 Classics is long overdue, but I’m glad I finally got to check a set-out and see what they could do. Are they all hype, or has Meze built a winner and came out on top after a somewhat rocky start to our relationship?
Why was I apprehensive about doing a Meze 99 Classic Review?
What a difference a few years make. Some time ago, I got a set of the original Meze earbuds in and proceeded to rip them a new one. Essentially, Meze took an earphone that cost a few dollars from OEM stock, stuck some Meze branding on, and claimed the design as their own. They then charged people an arm and a leg for what was one of the worst sounding earphones I had heard at any price.
Many companies do this; they buy cheap headphones from a mass manufacturer and rebrand them. Some are quite open about it and have gained respect throughout the headphone world. Brainwavz and Status Audio are two I can think of off the top of my head, and they still provide great value to the consumer without trying to sell under a pretense.
Meze, however, felt to be a more sleazy attempt at capitalizing on the growing trend of people willing to spend ever larger amounts of their hard-earned cash on headphones. They used a slick marketing campaign, recruited a slew of low-quality youtube and blog “review” sites with no business reviewing headphones, and applied the old philosophy of high price = premium product. Right?
I called them out, something I hadn’t done since I ripped apart my expensive Hisound Audio Studio Anniversary player. The backlash from calling out Hisound was vicious; opinions were split on forums about the player’s value. Thankfully the reception to the Meze IEM review was much warmer, and for the large part, people agreed on my position.
Zoom forward a few years, and Meze is now a fairly staple choice for audiophiles looking for a midrange-priced set of closed headphones. How could this happen? Usually, a company that gets called out like this puts its tail between its legs and disappears into the shadows.
A few weeks ago, completely out of the blue, Meze got in contact with me via email and actually complimented my willingness to call out bad products. They also asked if I wanted to review the 99 Classics. That could either be crazy smart or crazy dumb, asking your most vocal critic to look at your new headphone.
In my mind, this was the first sign that things might have changed at Meze. Digging a little deeper before saying yes, I found the second leaving myself even more intrigued. Here’s why.
Meze, in their own marketing literature, basically admits their previous business model. They state that they were founded in 2009 and used parts & products already available on the market. They then state that in 2015 they designed and released the Meze 99 Classics, an over-the-ear flagship headphone and that nowadays, ALL of their products are designed in-house.
I have a lot of admiration for their approach to what happened. They basically said, “yes, we used to do this, but now we do make our own products, and we stand by them”
Regular readers know that I happily call out products I don’t like. Whether they get sent to me or purchased from the sites add revenue, it doesn’t matter; everything gets a fair shake. The more I read up on the 99 classics, the more excited I got about trying them. However, I would be doing so from an even more skeptical perspective based on my experience.
So now you know the backstory of my own relationship with Meze, let’s get on with this review of the 99 Classics.
Packaging & Accessories
For the Meze 99 Classic headphones sell at, they do have some very nice presentation and packaging. Right from the start, they offer a very classy experience. You have the product image on the front side, and honestly, who can’t say this isn’t a beautiful headphone? They also make big mention of the awards they have won since the release of the Classics in the way of the respective outlet’s badges.
The back of the package is more simple with embossed cardboard and the product name. The side has lots of product info and a frequency chart that actually lines up well with what we heard during this review.
Once you open the box, you are greeted by nothing other than a handsome-looking leatherette hard case. It has a classy black textured finish, adequate zippers, and has the Meze logo glued on. I will forgive that my logo was slightly off-center because it is just such a nice case to store the headphones.
Inside the case, there are, of course, the Meze 99 Classic headphones plus a soft felt puck-shaped case that contains the accessories. It’s nothing too fancy but all of the good quality; you get 2 sets of cables (of the same design but different lengths), an airline adapter, and a quarter-inch jack.
The accessories are very well made, and my only issue was with using the cable. The bottom half is cord material, and the top half is rubberized. I have to point out that any touch or movement on the area past the splitter transmits some microphonics into the earcup. I did like that they are dual entry cables (one each to the left and right earcups), as I feel this gives a better balance when in use and a better overall aesthetic look.
Straight up, these are some seriously stunning-looking headphones. I have to salute whoever came up with this design from an aesthetical standpoint alone; they are one of the best-looking headphones I have tried to date.
It’s a great modern take on a classic design and has enough sleek touches to make the 99 looks elegant and classy. The company offers a few different color options, but by far, the most eye-catching to us was the walnut and gold.
Beautiful walnut earcups with a gorgeous matte grain finish are the focal point of this headphone, and the gold/brass accents at key stress points make for a very visually appealing product. The big imitation leather headband looks great and compliments the two black anodized running rails on top of the headphone.
The earcups have a beautiful shape to them as well and one that actually looks very good on the head and in hand. They are fairly low profile for a headphone designed for home use and make my Final Audio Design Sonorous VI seem comically oversized.
Build quality is excellent throughout, and I would be struggling to find something I didn’t like about them. For such lightweight headphones, they don’t in any way feel cheap or like shortcuts have been taken. The metal headband is reinforced with gold-colored metal support connecting the bars, and that also holds the elastic for the headband.
Not going for a standard slider design for size adjustment seems to have been the right move. Not only do they look great, but they are straightforward to use and great to live with on a day-to-day basis. The ease of just picking them up and having them self-adjust is a nice little touch that we don’t see too often in modern headphones.
The earpads are made from some protein leather, but it feels very soft and is reasonably breathable. I really like the foam used underneath as its memory quality holds shape around the ear very well and feels great over long listening sessions.
Comfort, as I alluded to above, is excellent. Really for a home Hifi style headphone, the Meze 99 Classics are right up there with some of the comfiest closed-back headphones I have ever worn. The combination of large diameter earcups, excellent padding, and a self-adjusting headband makes them a pleasure to wear around the house or office.
The most important contributing factor to the high level of comfort is, without doubt, weight. When you pick them up for the first time, I bet you will be surprised at just how little these headphones weigh. Some audiophile focussed headphones tend to be quite heavy and thus, over time, strain the neck muscles. However, I found the Classics can be worn all day and require nothing more than an occasional break to relieve hot ears.
Isolation is not great. They offer very little protection from external noise, and as such, they aren’t the best for use in noisy environments. This is surprising for a closed-back headphone, but then again, if Meze had stuffed the 99 full of sound dampening insulation, it could have affected the wonderful sound they emit. Home use is where they will be in their element, and I think, given the physical design, this is what Meze was going for anyway.
Sound quality is by far and away from the stand-out feature of the Meze 99 Classics.
This is a seriously good-sounding headphone that leaves you wanting to keep listening to the next track. It’s not often that I sit with my DAP thinking of songs to play because I want to see how the 99 presents them.
It’s a highly engaging sound that becomes very immersive and addictive over time. It leaves you wanting more, and in most situations, it delivers in abundance. If I were to use a couple of descriptors, then easily I choose analog & fun. When listening to them, there is a sensation reminiscent of the feeling you get when choosing an LP over an MP3. I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s a more natural sound.
Highs – The highs have a good extension and plenty of detail but literally never stray into the harsh territory. Jazz and classical music are handled with ease, and the 99 classics seem to smooth out any rough tones and blend them with the midrange.
Mids – The midrange is highly impressive and certainly the star of the show. Vocals sound incredible in these headphones and oh so natural. Male leads have grain and weight to their performances, and stringed instruments like cell and acoustics resonate beautifully in this frequency. The detail throughout the mids sounds excellent, and the instrument or voice feels clearly spaced and uncluttered.
Lows – The low end is not what I would call technically perfect, but in the overall tuning context, it works very well to round off the 99 Classics sound. You get bass that extends fairly deep but not into the bass-heavy territory. It is encapsulating in grandeur but doesn’t boom. This is the kind of headphone where you don’t want a visceral, sharp bass but a smoother one that compliments the midrange’s slightly warm tones.
Imaging is excellent. Artists sound slightly in front of you, and they display medium width and depth of equal scale, which is excellent for closed-back headphones…especially at this price point.
I like these for almost everything in terms of Genre pairing, except EDM, where I prefer having a planar headphone with more aggressive speed and impact. For everything else, though, it would be hard not to reach for the Meze 99 Classic if they were at hand. Acoustic tracks such as that from Sungha Jung and Rodrigo y Gabriela really sound wonderfully fun and lifelike. Classical tracks like Tchaikovsky and Brahms are displayed with all the grandeur and excitement you want. Jazz and rock are flat-out brilliant.
Sound-wise, considering the price, it’s pretty much impossible to criticize the 99 Classic. They offer great value and punch well above their weight.
Pairing Notes – The Meze 99 Classics paired perfectly with any source I threw at them. They are incredibly efficient and easy to drive. Yes, they sound better out of a higher-end DAP, but even from my Google Pixel 2 or LG V30, these headphones sounded seriously good. The majority of this review was performed on a Questyle CMA800 and via my Astell & Kern AK70 and Shanling M6 Pro. At no point did I feel like I was left wanting, and for the price, I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of performance.
Honestly, I can’t stress how much I thought I would never review another Meze product. I didn’t have that desire to jump back in, but I am extremely pleased to give them another chance. The Meze 99 Classics, for the price and beyond, are simply wonderful headphones that really do perform up to there with much more expensive headphones.
A combination of lightweight, comfortable design. Stunning good looks and excellent sound mean that if you are shopping for a set of closed-back headphones for home or office use, they should be given serious consideration.
Top marks to Meze for making such an outstanding comeback, switching to in-house development, and really creating something quite special. The Meze 99 Classics get the thumbs up from us!
Links: Meze Website