Meze Alba

Alba is a fresh release from Meze Audio. It’s a single Dynamic Driver IEM and its pre-order price is $159.

Introduction to the Meze Alba Review

If you read our reviews regularly, you should know we are fans of Meze Audio products. The design of their products is superb, but it doesn’t outshine the build or the sound quality. So yeah, that’s the short intro explaining that I may be biased, but not without any reason. On the other hand, I have very high expectations, so if the product has some drawbacks, I certainly won’t forget to mention it.

But maybe let’s start from the beginning. Meze Audio was founded in 2010 by Antonio Meze in Baia Mare, Romania. They are very proud of their heritage, and they mention it on every headphone where it was designed. Antonio has a degree in Industrial Design, and I think he has a big chance to become an icon of design like Mendini, or Starck. You can spot it in every product he was working on, regardless if it’s a ski pole, egg beater, or headphone – the ergonomics and comfort are as important as the look of the product.

The Meze lineup covers a variety of price ranges, from high-end Elite and Empyrean II, through mid-range 109 Pro and Advar, to affordable 99 Neo and their latest release – Alba. The word Alba in Romanian means “first light” and I think it can be the first light on the path of an audiophile adept.

Packaging

Meze Audio Alba arrives in a small neat box. They show that you can provide a fancy unboxing experience and keep the carbon footprint caused by the distribution as low as possible. Inside the box, you will find the earphones, a 3.5 mm to 2-pin cable, four sets of eartips, a USB-C to 3.5 mm portable DAC/AMP, and an eco-leather pouch. The cable is very similar to the one bundled with Advair, and while I was complaining about it in that review, I have no objections here, because, in this price range, it’s more than decent. The ear tips are just fine, they keep well on nozzles and they’re comfortable. I’m not a fan of the white pouch, because I know I won’t keep it white for long. Lastly, the DAC/AMP, is a great addition and I feel I need to spend more time on it, so I will spend a separate section about it.

Design and Build Quality

The design language of Meze Alba is pretty similar to the more expensive relative, Meze Advair. Both IEMs share the same shell shape. The main visible difference is that Alba has a white coating with zinc gray accents versus a dark gray coating and golden accents. The second difference is the connectors, but to be honest I’m a bigger fan of the 2-pin that are used in Meze Alba. I think the biggest disadvantage of those tiny pieces of art is that it looks so good, that you want to keep looking at them instead of listening to them.

I think I’ve already spoiled some info in previous sections, but let me state this explicitly – the build quality of Meze Alba is superb for the price. I can’t find anything to complain about. All elements are fitted tight, the coating seems to be very resilient and the nozzles keep the eartips tightly. Simply speaking, Meze showed their top-notch craftsmanship once again.

When writing about the design and build quality I can’t forget about one of the most important things, comfort. And yet again, Meze Audio delivered the thing we got used to while communing with their gear. Alba is a very comfortable earphone. Its small and relatively light shell fits my earlobes perfectly. None of the parts cause any fatigue.  I could keep it in my ears for hours. Usually, I’m a bigger fan of shells made of resin, since it’s lighter and has more ergonomic, softer edges. But here you can clearly see that Meze has perfected the metal processing.

DAC/AMP

Meze Alba arrives bundled with a USB-C dongle DAC/AMP and there’s no other way to get it yet. That’s why it’s hard to tell what its price is, but I hope I will be able to let you know its value.

Let’s start with the driving capacities. It can provide enough power to surpass my threshold where listening with Alba was uncomfortably loud. Of course, the loudness isn’t the only parameter that defines the driving capacities, but it’s the most obvious one. It can’t drive the Meze Alba to show their full potential, because when plugged the IEM to Topping A90 and SMSL SU-9 the bass is richer, the midrange is more airy and the background is more quiet, but the price of the whole bundle of Meze Alba is a fraction of that stack. 

The sound is neutral, with minimal lack of bass impact. The midrange is fine, with good timbre but it sounds a bit synthetic. The top end is not super detailed, but during commuting, you wouldn’t hear the details anyway. 

Shortly speaking the dongle DAC/AMP isn’t the best sounding I’ve ever used to listen to, but free is a fair price. Also since most smartphones don’t feature the headphone jack, that’s a very good addition to the Meze Alba, especially for people who are starting their journey in the audio world.

Sound of the reviewed Meze Alba

The design and comfort are really important things because you wouldn’t probably choose ugly or uncomfortable earphones, but for us, people who care about the sound, it’s not enough.

If you think about Meze Audio, you instantly think about their characteristic warm, bassy tuning. But since their last couple of releases, it has changed. The first big change was the headphone which received our best headphone of the year 2023 award – the Meze 109 Pro. When compared to other Meze headphones it’s brighter with a much sharper top-end. Then it was a Meze Empyrean II which also differs a lot from the OG Empyrean. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to listen to Meze Liric II enough in the proper conditions to tell what’s the difference in the tuning. Let’s hope it will change soon, but from the previous ones and the subject of this review – Meze Alba, I can say that they are changing their philosophy of tuning. It’s hard to say if it’s good or bad. I love the signature of Meze Elite, but I know many people think it’s a terrible headphone. My grandpa says “One likes fish, the other likes herring” – don’t worry in Polish it doesn’t make sense as well as in English, but the point is that we all have different tastes and that’s fine. Moreover, I think that bigger differentiation is always good for us, the customers. So let’s not prolong that already long intro and now let’s deep dive into the sound description of the Meze Alba.

The first part of the sound signature I would like to focus on is the bass response. I was prepared that it would be the main star as in other entry-level Meze products, but this time it’s different. Its precedence is well marked, but it’s much more balanced as compared to e.g. Meze 99 Classic. It comes low, but at the same time,  it’s fast and very precise. That’s obvious when listening to high-end IEMs, but on the cheaper side of the market, it’s a thing worth mentioning. The bass line in Crystal Ball by Carolin No sounds just like it should. It’s the foundation of the song, but it doesn’t overwhelm other parts. The balance of the bass is very impressive. If I had to guess the price of the Meze Alba only by that part, I would surely say it’s worth much more than its original retail price.

Next, let’s focus on the frequencies we humans hear the most – the midrange. Here are all the vocals and most of the acoustic instruments. It’s smooth and not super engaging, but anyway, it’s fine. The details are covered under a blanket, that’s why Alba probably won’t be my first choice for listening to Eric Clapton’s MTV Unplugged performance. I also got used to more intimate vocals and for example, with a high-end headphone, Nick Cave’s vocal in Idiot Prayer gives me goosebumps. Here it doesn’t happen, but I need to admit, I’m spoiled a lot and I have access to many great headphones that perform incredibly in different genres and scenarios. It doesn’t mean the midrange of Meze Alba is inaudible, the lower midrange that blends with the bass grants that you can hear some magic anyway. It provides a good level of and a load of listening pleasure. Just the tuning isn’t focused on the midrange, but let’s be honest, sound engineers always have to take some shortcuts to design entry-level earphones. Sometimes it’s a boring and synthetic-sounding tuning to Harman’s target like in most Chinese IEMs, other times it’s just a slightly recessed midrange.

The treble is another strong point of the Meze Alba. It can show a lot of details, but at the same time, it’s not tiring. You can easily hear what the artist wanted to convey with the music. At the same time, any flaws that happened during the mix and mastering are carefully hidden. The cymbals in Dronning Fjellrose by Helene Bøksle have wonderful sparkles and last for a long. Yet again I have to say the Meze Alba shows some magic thanks to its tuning. On the other hand, I need to mention an amazing song destroyed by terrible mastering – Californication by Red Hot Chilli Peppers. That’s a great example of music you can’t listen to with super sharp earphones, because the production flaws will go to the foreground and destroy any pleasure. During Fruscante’s guitar solo, there were many unwanted artifacts, but with Meze Alba, I could still focus on the emotions expressed by the music. The top end of the frequency range is another place I can say that the reviewed earphone shows much more value than it should according to its price tag.

Lastly, I would like to focus on the soundstage which is very coherent and predictable. Usually the predictable means boring, but in terms of the soundstage, it’s a positive feature. For newcomers, a tremendous soundstage with many fireworks and special effects can be tempting, but after all, an earphone is only a gear that is used to reproduce sound most naturally. The soundstage has decent dimensions and perfect positioning of the sound sources. It provides enough space to have an immersive listening experience, and at the same time, all sound sources are in their spots. To be honest it’s one of the best IEMs I used to use during gaming. The layers are properly separated so unwanted sounds don’t distract and you can easily differ steps from the hum of the surroundings.

Comparisons

 

Meze ADVAR

First I would like to compare Meze Alba with its older and more expensive brother Meze Advar. Both have a single dynamic driver, but the price difference is severe – $159 for Alba and $699 for Advar, does it mean the Advar is four times better? Let’s check it out.

Both headphones arrive with similar cables and pouches, the one from Alba is more compact, but I like the one from Advar more because it’s more premium looking and feeling. Additionally, there are some eartips, more expensive IEM arrives with Final type-e tips, while the cheaper one features no-name silicon tips. Here the biggest difference is that the cheaper Alba arrives with a dongle DAC/AMP, which is a great addition to an entry-level headphone, but for people who are buying sub $700 IEM, it could be just an electronic waste, since they probably already have a better source.

In terms of build quality and comfort, I’ve already written that the compared  IEMs differ only in colors and the connector used – 2-pin in Alba and MMCX in Advar. Everything else is nearly identical.

Now let’s move to the sound comparison. I would like to write here that they are also very similar and sum the comparison that if you want to have a white IEM with dongle DAC/AMP bundled go for Alba, and if you want a darker one, then prepare an additional $540 and buy Advar, but unfortunately I can’t do this. While listening to both I can say that they are tuned by the same people, but the quality of the Meze Advar sound is much, much, much, much higher. 

The bass is presented similarly, it’s well-balanced in both headphones, but Meze Advar has more punch and details. Listening with Alba is great, but Advar is on a different level. With Alba, you can hear the sound of the foot stomp as a single sound. You can name it but Advar decomposes it into separate layers.

I was complaining about the midrange of the Alba in the previous part of the review. Advar addresses each complaint and fixes it. The vocals are intimate, with a good amount of texture and details. The timbre of instruments is deeper and more natural. That’s like comparing Fanta with freshly pressed orange juice drunk on a Sicilian orange farm. Both have an orange taste, and Fanta is much cheaper, but that’s a completely different experience. 

Yet again in the treble, you also can hear similar smooth tuning, but Advar is more mature. You can hear much more nuances, but Alba still can provide a decent experience for the price. Lastly, the soundstage, here it’s a more complex thing. Meze Alba delivers a more direct soundstage, with more defined sound sources, while Meze Advar has much more space and provides much more airiness. 

To sum this up, if you’ve never used to listen to high-end headphones, Meze Alba will deliver more than you would expect. It arrives with a dongle DAC/AMP, so you don’t have to worry about the source, you can just unbox it, plug it into your phone or PC with a USB-C, and start re-discovering your music. But if you want to hear more in your favorite music, the Meze Advar is a huge leap forward.

FiiO FD3 Pro

Fiio FD3 Pro is a Chinese IEM with a single dynamic driver, priced at $139 – finally a fair comparison, right? 

Both earphones arrive in an interesting bundle, Fiio doesn’t provide any DAC/AMP, but instead, you’re receiving a cable with interchangeable connectors, so if you already have a decent source, you can swap between 3.5 mm single-ended jack and 2.5 mm or 4.4 mm balanced connectors. Additionally, FD3 has 2 different sets of nozzles with different sound filters, a big variety of ear tips, and a peli-case instead of a synthetic leather pouch. 

I think I’ve already mentioned something about the superb build quality and comfort of Meze Alba. But if you haven’t spotted it yet, I will repeat it once more. Meze Alba is ridiculously well made, while Fiio FD3 Pro is made like every other Fiio product. The quality is not great, not terrible, fine for the price, but you can’t expect fireworks here. In terms of comfort of the Chinese IEM, I can say it’s fine, there are no significant problems, but after longer listening there are some parts that can irritate your ears.

The sound is another big difference between the compared IEMs. Meze Alba is tuned to a V-shaped signature, while Fiio FD3 Pro is mostly midrange-focused. 

The Bass of the Fiio is tremendous, but for some people, it can be too powerful and it can overwhelm other frequencies. Meze Advar is more balanced, it still has a big load of bass and it can punch, but that’s not an earphone for a basshead.

The midrange of the Romanian IEM has some drawbacks, the biggest one is that it’s recessed when compared to other parts of the frequency range. That’s the complete opposite of the Fiio FD3, the midrange of the Chinese earphone is pushed forward. That’s the most important part of the sound, and when properly driven, FD3 can show a lot here.

About the treble of the Fiio FD3 I could write that it exists, but depending on a sound filter applied it’s muffled, or sparkly. There is nothing in between. Meze Alba doesn’t allow you to fine-tune the sound signature of the treble, but I think it’s not necessary because it’s well-balanced – not too sparkly, but with a good amount of details.

The soundstage of Fiio FD3 was really good three years ago, but now the tech in the IEM market has gone forward, and Meze Alba just outperforms it in every case. The dimensions and positioning of the Romanian IEM are just better.

So, if you’re looking for an IEM with a great, engaging midrange, then you should go for Fiio. But if you’re looking for better build quality and comfort, or you care more about other aspects of the sound than the midrange, then the Meze Alba will be a better choice.

Meze Alba – summary

Meze Alba can be a great step into the audiophile world. It’s a rationally priced, well-performing IEM.

The build quality and comfort are superb not only in its price range, but I can say that it’s great even when compared to much more expensive high-end earphones.

If you’re looking for a V-shaped tuned IEM with a good soundstage and positioning, then I can highly recommend it. Additionally, Meze bundles Alba with a decent dongle DAC/AMP, so you don’t have to think about spending your hard-earned money on a source to power your earphones…

At least for the first couple weeks – you know how it is with the hobby, we will always find an excuse to go deeper.

Big thanks to Meze for providing us with the Alba for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. 

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