Meze Audio is just a great “underdog” story in the headphone audio world. Founded in 2011 they started with some OEM headphones like many others. In 2015 they launched their vastly popular 99 series with the 99 Classics. This was the turning moment for the company, as the 99 Classics is still selling great in 2022, meaning it’s already 7 years old and still going strong.
Nonetheless, it was a good $300 pair of wooden, mobile headphones, nothing to really write a book about in terms of raw technical supremacy. After that, they launched the 99 Neo and two IEMs, The Rai Penta and a budget Rai Solo. There was some fuzz about it, but it still wasn’t anything revolutionary.
It all changed in 2018 when Meze announced their new flagship headphone, called the Empyrean. Boy oh boy what a launch that was. A rather small company with a few headphones in its lineup just created something to rival the big dogs of the industry. While its technical performance was and still is questioned by some people, it was without a single doubt the best-built pair of headphones ever created. It made all the multi-thousand dollars flagships feel and look cheap and unpolished, and that was very, very impressive.
Other than that, Meze has teamed up with Rinaro to create the most technically impressive planar-magnetic driver in the world. With its “HYBRID ARRAY DRIVER”, it was one of its kind in the entire world (more about it in the TECH paragraph though).
Three years have passed, and it was about time to put the Empyrean to rest as the true flagship of Meze. While having many strong points in terms of the build quality, comfort, overall technical advancement, and its one-of-a-kind design, it had its flaws as well. The tuning was definitely not for everybody with its rather dark character and its somewhat uninspiring bass response. Hear me out though – the Empyrean WAS and still IS a great pair of headphones, but it’s just not a Jack Of All Trades, something that should be expected by a $3000 flagship pair of planar headphones. While it was marvelously mellow sounding and just about perfect for chilling on your sofa, it was outperformed by its competitors when it comes to detail retrieval and overall resolution, mainly because of its specified sound signature.
What did Meze do about that? They’ve released the Elite in 2021, an improved Empyrean with a $4000 price tag. The first thing that came into my mind when I saw that announcement was…Woah, that’s a risky move. It looks similar to the Empyrean, has similar technology and it’s now $4000 instead of $3000. They had a lot to prove for it to be a success.
The packaging and the overall presentation haven’t changed since the Empyrean, and it is a great thing. The Elite comes to you in a double box, to begin with. After getting through the first, default layer, you’ll get to the outer box with some cool and minimal branding. It’s what’s underneath that really matters though.
Inside the box, you’ll find the best carrying “case” you’ll find in this hobby. It’s an aluminum suitcase that looks simply badass. Every time I hold it, I feel like I’m a secret agent on an exciting mission. Audeze gives you great carrying Peli cases with their headphones, but as far as they’re brilliant in terms of security, they are not a match to the one that comes with the Elite. It just looks and feels so elegant, expensive, and in great taste. It has two locking hinges and a carrying handle, so it’s very comfortable to carry around.
This is the best type of packaging you can get with headphones period. It is rather large, but it is literally the only thing that could be criticized by anybody. It offers splendid security to the headphones inside, and there’s plenty of room for you to pack your spare earpads, a cable or two, and maybe a small DAP or DACAMP.
Let’s dive into it and see what else you’ll be getting. When ordering the Elite, you’ll have to choose a cable to be supplied with it. You can get a 2.5m 6.3mm cable, 2.5m XLR cable, and a 1.2m cable with a 3.5mm jack. It would have been great if you could choose a 4.4mm cable or a shorter XLR/6.3mm version, but you can’t have everything. That would mean a lot of options for the manufacturer itself, and more importantly, for the distributors. They had to limit the choice somehow, so it is one of these three – basically, all of the most popular choices. You’ll have to spend extra to get a 4.4mm cable or a shorter/longer version of the XLR/6.3mm, but still, the choice is good. More on the cable itself later.
Secondly, you’re getting two pairs of quality earpads. When I say quality, I mean QUALITY earpads. Definitely one of the best in the game, if not the best when it comes to stock earpads. You’ve got one that is made of Alcantara, big, thick, and plushy. The comfort and feel of these earpads are just beautiful. If Alcantara is not your thing (or if you want a different sound signature – more on that later), you’ve also got new hybrid earpads. Significantly shallower than the Alcantara ones, they are made of leather with perforated Alcantara on the inner ring. Due to its different material and reduced thickness, you’ll be getting quite a different sound signature with these earpads, and spoiler alert…these are the ones to go with.
Lastly, there’s a small business card with proof of authenticity (date of inspection, serial number) and a little catalog with the story behind Meze and the Elite.
All of that makes for an absolutely marvelous unboxing experience. It is both secure and luxurious, giving you all you need to start using the Elite and then more. A $4000 pair of headphones, and it definitely shows by the packaging. Well done Meze.
Design, Build and Comfort
I’m gonna start with a bold statement: The Meze Elite is the best-built headphone on the planet, just like the Empyrean.
See, I always look at the build with the function in mind, just like it should be. A headphone can be a piece of art, forged of the best materials with the greatest care, but if it’s poorly designed and/or uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter.
The Elite is designed and built to be comfortable, reliable and to last many, many years without problems. It has it all, and at the same time, its finish and overall design are just extraordinary.
I’ve been playing with the Abyss Diana Phi lately, and this headphone really made me re-think everything about the build quality of headphones. The Diana is built with unbelievable attention to detail, it uses great materials, it looks astonishing…and it’s broken. It REQUIRES some modifications right out of the box to be called anywhere near comfortable and well-designed, and even then it’s just poor in these regards.
The headband looks and feels great to the touch, but it literally has no padding, so hotspots on top of your heads are starting to bother you after like 15 minutes of using them. Of course, you can improve it by using some aftermarket headband cushions (ZMF for example), but it just shouldn’t be a thing in this price bracket, or any price to be specific. The earpads are not deep enough, so you either get the driver touching your ear, or you break your seal…or both. The cable uses proprietary connectors, so you’ll basically have to use either the stock cable or one of Abyss’s upgrade cables, and they come with a huge price tag.
All of the above made me just simply disappointed. I really wanted to like the Diana Phi, but I simply couldn’t.
Back to the Elite. This is a completely different story. First things first – it is very, VERY comfortable. The weight distribution is perfect, mainly because of the carbon fiber, bent headband that is just designed with ergonomics in mind. The suspension strap has unique curves to it, and it makes the headphone simply disappear on your head, something that many headphones fail to do.
The earpads, just as I said in the unboxing paragraph are brilliant. They are great for the touch, are deep and plush enough to just comfortably sit around your ears without them making contact with the drivers. The build and finish make me sure that they will last a long time if you’ll take care of them of course.
Next up is the adjustment mechanism. The earpieces are attached to the headband by a superbly tight and smooth sliding mechanism with no steps. They do slide with a perfect resistance, so they will not loose-up on their own. I can’t comment on the longevity of this solution, as it’ll probably take me years of regular use to see how it ages, but at this time it works like a dream and is definitely one of the best adjustment mechanisms on the market.
Lastly, the earcups themselves. They are made of raw CNC aluminum. This is a great headphone for macro photography, thanks to its beautiful finish. You can see all the CNC passes throughout every single aluminum part of the headphone, and they are a true testimonial to why Elite takes over 20h to be forged. This is pure art.
Personally, I find the silver color of the Elite less appealing than some of the Empyrean versions, especially the black + copper version. There’s something warm and inviting in most of the Empyreans, while the Elite looks more technical and raw, industrial. This is highly subjective though, and I’m standing by my words – The Elite is the best-built and best-designed headphone ever. A piece of art.
Let’s get back to comfort for a short while. The Elite weighs 430g, which is definitely not the lightest headphone on the market. It is how Meze has handled this weight though, that makes the Elite an extremely comfortable pair of headphones. The weight distribution on top of your head is perfect, the earpads are plush and pleasant to the touch, and the entire construction just hugs your head gently. This is a huge pair of headphones, but it is also designed with long listening sessions in mind. Definitely, one of the most comfortable high-end headphones ever made. Might as well be the most comfortable, but it will depend on your head shape and size. Of all the competitors, only the Hifiman HE1000se and the Susvara can come close to the Elite when it comes to comfort, and I’ll still give a significant edge to the Romanian flagship.
The cable included in the box is also of great quality. It is made of OFC copper and is great to the touch. While it is not the most tangle-free and soft cable in the world, it is still one of the better stock cables you can get. While some competitors give you cables that should have never been included with such an expensive and high-end product, Meze got you covered with something that is reliable, well-built, and good sounding. Meze also offers upgrade cables made of FURUKAWA PCUHD copper, as well as silver-plated. They do come at $349 and $499, which definitely don’t make them affordable, but this price is still fair for a quality, well-made upgrade cable. The competition offers upgrade cables even at $3490 for the same length, which is 2.5m. $499 vs $3490, let that sink in.
The Elite is not only built wonderfully, but it also uses advanced technologies that I can call revolutionary with no hesitation.
The heart of the headphone is the driver. Here, Meze Audio teamed up with Rinaro, a company that specializes in acoustic technology. Here’s a quick introduction of Rinaro, taken from Meze’s official website:
“Rinaro originated in the USSR (today’s Ukraine) during the Cold War as part of a state-funded acoustic technology research program. With government backing and access to advanced testing facilities, the team was able to focus all of its efforts on planar magnetics. A field they have continued to innovate in for the last 30 years, since the collapse of the USSR. In the last decade, Rinaro have expanded their capabilities and capacity with the development of state-of-the-art R&D and manufacturing facilities in Ukraine and Poland. The new facilities have been a driving force in the creation of the revolutionary Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology found in Meze Empyrean and ELITE headphones.”
What’s so special about this driver you’d ask. Well, let me explain step by step, with some help from the official Meze Audio site.
First of all, the most impressive and the most original approach of this driver has to be its hybrid voice coil configuration. A planar-magnetic driver has an ultra-thin diaphragm with a voice coil on it. Both the Empyrean and the Elite are the first headphones in the world to use two different types of coils on a single diaphragm. The Switchback coil is meant to reproduce low frequencies and it’s located on the upper part of the driver. The spiral coil though is more efficient in reproducing the midrange and the treble, and it is located directly next to your ear canal, enabling more direct sound waves to enter the ear canal to minimalize time delays.
This makes for improved phase delays and better time shifts of the actual sound wave, resulting in a cleaner, more precise soundstage reproduction and better imaging.
The diaphragm itself is made of an ultra-thin biaxially oriented semi-crystalline polymer film to ensure the lowest mass of the diaphragm possible. This low mass, together with the Hybrid Array Driver technology, allows sound waves to be targeted with more accuracy around the shape of the ear. The weight of the diaphragm is 0.11g with an active area of 4650mm2. The neodymium magnets are placed symmetrically on either side of the diaphragm, and they create a 0.35 Tesla magnetic field. This might not say too much to you, but this is one hell of impressive technology.
Another great thing about these drivers is that they utilize the demagnetizing field generated to hold the earpads in place whilst also redirecting the magnetic field back into the driver and improving driver efficiency. Thanks to that, changing the earpads take a couple of seconds, thanks to its magnetic mounting technology. Every time I change the earpads in my Susvara I feel like I’m going to break something, I’m not kidding. Compared to that, changing the earpads in the Elite feels like a breeze, it’s super easy and convenient.
So far so good, the Elite is a wonderfully built headphone that is marvelously comfortable and it uses some ground-breaking technologies when it comes to the drivers. Every high-end headphone should be maximally optimized upon the sound quality though, as at the end of the day this is the single most important thing in audio.
As I mentioned before, the Empyrean was a marvelous product held back by its somewhat limited technical performance. The detail retrieval, resolution, and speed were a bit lacking when compared to the upper echelon of the headphone audio market. On top of that, it has that specific sound signature that surely won’t satisfy everyone, and it made the Empyrean a specialized headphone for a specific type of experience / or a limited choice of music to listen to. The story behind the Elite is to maintain the best qualities of the Empyrean but to offer a signature that is more refined and neutral, which would also allow for better technical performance.
This surely isn’t easy. After all, Meze Audio together with Rinaro has been working on the Empyrean for years and it requires a lot of patience and knowledge to sit to that project, re-do it, and actually come up with significant upgrades.
I’m going to say it right here and right now – the Elite is a significant upgrade to the Empyrean. Not only it is far better when it comes to technical performance, but its tuning has also been changed quite moderately, resulting in a complete shift of the use case scenario of these headphones. The Empyrean was great with some type of music, but it couldn’t have been called a good all-rounder. The Elite is the absolute opposite to that – ever since I got it, it became my most used pair of headphones, having the Susvara, D8000 Pro, 1000se, and many more.
The Elite is a Jack Of All Trades, but it manages that through enjoyment. It has that monstrous amount of fun of using it, listening to it, experiencing it. It is at the same time very involving yet forgiving and easy-going. It is a refined type of experience that just works well with basically everything, no matter the music genre or the quality of production. Let’s go step by step, shall we?
The bass has been the weakest point of the Empyrean for many. While it was quite a boosted and rich type of bass, it lacked resolution and texture when compared to Top Tier headphones from the competition.
The Elite remains quite a bassy headphone when talking high-end, but it improved that frequency by a lot. It is still hard-hitting, deep, and thick sounding, but now it is wonderfully controlled, heavily textured, and nuanced.
Low frequencies do extend right into the sub-bass region with ease and they do that with authority. This is NOT a bass-light headphone, not even close. The amount of bass when compared to the Susvara is just a lot more pronounced and physical.
It does not cheat though, giving you an accurate timbre and the size of the bass instruments that is just right. It does great with bass guitar, double bass, electronic music, and percussions. Everything.
Let’s take a song called “Starboy” by The Weeknd as an example. This is a modern track with modern bass that is hard-hitting, big, and saturated. The Elite handles this track perfectly, giving us the bass that is both natural-sounding and super fun. The texture quality sounds great, and the beat that is present throughout the entire song is just physical, raw, and powerful. It adds that layer of excitement to an already insanely fun track (oh Daft Punk, that has to be one of your best). When listening to this track with the Susvara I can never get this amount of fun, excitement, and spiciness.
Switching to something more “true”, a song called “Long After You’re Gone” by Chris Jones. This is a wonderfully mastered music with some heavy-hitting acoustic guitar. Right at the beginning of the song, you’ll hear that they recorded that guitar from very close, showing the whole resonance box of the guitar itself. This bass can murder a lot of high-end stereo systems if the bass isn’t just right (been there, done that a lot of times). The Elite however handles that monstrosity of a guitar with such elegance and authority, it does sound huge, bold, and saturated, but there’s also control, a lot of texture, and resolution. The reverberation of the guitar feels natural and pleasant, even though it might seem on a heavier side, which it is. As I said previously, this is a bass-heavy type of experience, but the quality of this bass is just right this time, not giving us anything to be desired. This is the type of bass I would love to have on the Susvara, as it (subjectively) feels just a bit too lean for my personal liking.
Last but not least, “Sleeping And Household” by Felix Laband (shootout to Michał Sommerfeld who showed me this great album). This is an electronic masterpiece, the mastering quality is just out of this world, and the Elite works wonders here. The entire song is filled with heavy bass elements and the Elite never fails to deliver good control, texture, and impact. Actually, this is one of the most impactful representations of this song I’ve heard on a planar-magnetic headphone to date. It’s rich, deep, physical, well extended, and perfectly controlled. The Empyrean does a lot more mediocre job in this song, lacking in definition and being way muddier and slower.
The midrange is the star of the show here. When it comes to the natural timbre of human voices, only the Susvara comes out as more real-sounding of all the headphones I use on a regular basis.
It has that sweet, lush, and just real aspect to it, making vocals come alive in an unforced and pleasant way. The Elite is an emotional type of headphone that does everything for you to enjoy the music as much as you can. It does well with every type of vocal I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot), being full-sounding, rich, and accurate at the same time, which is far from being easy. The best aspect of the Elite is how easy to listen they are, I can easily spend an entire day using them, not only thanks to their sublime comfort but also the sound that is just smooth and pleasing.
The Elite is a masterpiece when it comes to rock recordings. I’m a big fan of Foreigner, and their music sounds really great on the Elite, being highly musical, melodic, and dynamic. Luckily, because of the smooth character of the Elite, you won’t have to make sure that the mastering of the music you’re listening to is good enough – it is, always. A lot of high-end headphones and IEMs struggle when it comes to poor recordings, especially with their hyper-detailed treble presentation. The Elite gives you all the detail, but they’re presented in a sublime and sophisticated way.
The Elite is not the most detailed headphone on the market, definitely not. The Susvara, HE1000se, and D8000 Pro from Final Audio all offer a higher amount of details, but to call the Elite not detailed would have been totally wrong.
You see, detail retrieval is not the most important aspect of the sound, because, at the end of the day, you’re listening to music, not to recordings. The Elite has that unique trait of making everything sound beautiful and engaging, and this is the thing that is the most important for me.
A great example for that is a song called “Cold Little Heart” by Michael Kiwanuka. I adore his voice for that rough texture and an absolutely sweet tone, and this song ain’t no easy task for headphones. He can easily start to sound too rough, or too sweet if the midrange is wrong. With the Elite, it’s neither, as Michael sounds just extremely correct and real. It is like a combination of the Audeze LCD3 with its beautiful tone and smoothness and the Hifiman HE1000se with its insane speed and detail retrieval. A great marriage of both, with no compromises.
The treble response of the Elite is highly natural with great note weight and excellent texture. Once again, it is highly musical, making for a superbly smooth and easy listening experience. This is not a hyper-detailed treble presentation as with the HE1000se or the D8000 Pro, but a more musical approach to reproducing high frequencies. This further extends on a sound signature that is highly polished and just consistent throughout the whole frequency range. The Elite sounds like a pair of headphones that was carefully tuned in every single frequency to ensure a sound performance that is correct and just pleasing to listen to. Wow, I actually feel like a broken record, but this is literally the best way to describe the sound of the Elite. Let’s try with some music examples.
A song called “Chocolate Chip Trip” by Tool is one of my benchmark songs for the treble response. It is just Danny Carey AKA the Octopus playing his insane drums kit, and the amount of high-frequency splash and energy this song has makes it a rather hard piece to reproduce by headphones. First up, the Elite provides a perfect note weight for this song to sound natural and impressive, and the overall speed and resolution give it a pleasant “wow factor”. With drums, you definitely don’t want the treble response to be thin-sounding, as it would have been artificial and harsh. If you’ve ever sat by a drums kit and had a little fun then you know, that all the sounds it reproduces have a proper weight and thickness to them.
The Elite does a brilliant job in making sure that everything sounds as it should. Also, female vocals are engaging and highly hypnotizing, though they might not be as forward as some may desire.
Let’s dive into a band called Archive for an example. In 2020 they released an album called “Versions” with different versions of some of their all-time best tracks. I remember when I preordered this album on vinyl like half a year before its release and just simply couldn’t wait to get it and give it a listen. More so, since they gave as a single, the fantastic “Nothing Else” from their debut album Londinium. The amount of emotions in Holly’s voice in this song is just mind-blowing, and the Elite makes sure that it all goes right into your guts. Her voice sounds smooth, vibrating, and beautifully pronounced, making for a lifelike type of sound reproduction. Fantastic.
The soundstage is just as impressive as the rest of the sound. The Elite has that ability to create big instruments, resulting in a highly saturated stage that can be both big and intimate. The Elite is a brilliant headphone when it comes to the soundstage, as it can do everything well, and its staging capabilities will be a result of the song you’re currently playing. If it’s something huge and spectacular, like “Sorrow” by Pink Floyd, the Elite will give you a huge soundstage that is just epic to listen to. When it’s more intimate, like the legendary “Comfortably Numb” from their vastly popular album “The Wall”, the Elite will produce everything closer to your head, and the size of the instruments will get bigger and bigger. All of that makes for headphones that are capable of reproducing every type of soundstage with brilliant accuracy and separation. Speaking of the imaging, the Elite images like a champ, creating a very realistic type of experience and making it very easy to pinpoint the location and shape of different instruments.
If you are interested in checking out how the Elite scored in every category and if you’d like a more in-depth comparison with some popular competition, click on the image below to go to the “Battle Of The Flagships” article.
The Meze Elite is just incredible. The build quality and attention to detail are just above anything else on the market, making for a sublime and luxurious feeling of actually using them. When it comes to the sound quality, the Elite has that beautiful timbre that is just a true joy to listen to, paired with great detail retrieval, spectacular resolution, and soundstage. It is now my second favorite pair only shy of the Hifiman Susvara, which I consider to be the best headphone on the planet right now.
Meze Audio basically took their wildly popular Empyrean and improved everything about it regarding the sound quality, and this is the kind of upgrade I really like to see.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman HE1000se, Abyss Diana PHI, Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX, Crosszone CZ-1, HEDDphone, Meze Empyrean
- Sources– Topping D90se + A90, Ferrum OOR, EarMen Tradutto, Musician Pegasus, JDSLabs Atom DAC+/AMP+, Cayin N3Pro, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon PRO + iFi Zen Phono, xDuoo TA-26, XI Audio Broadway S, Musician Aquarius, Cayin HA-300, Cayin HA-6A, Fiio M17, Cayin N8 ii
Big thanks to Meze for providing the Elite 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. Meze Audio hasn’t seen this review before publishing it.
You can get your Meze Elite on Apos Audio here. This is an affiliate link.