A masterpiece handcrafted by the finest artisans
Pros: + Music playing as close to reality as it gets
+ Immersive and holistic listening experience
+ Natural timbre with the finest texture
+ Utterly resolving
+ Excellent technical performance
+ Very comfortable and lightweight
+ Masterclas build quality
+ Beautiful and luxurious
+ Two different types of earpads
+ Fully serviceable
Cons: – Only one stock cable of mediocre quality
– Eye watering price
– A compact carrying case should be handy
The Meze Elite was kindly loaned to me for reviewing purposes but in the end I decided to buy it.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.
The selling price is €4000 and you can buy it directly from Meze Audio.
It was about three years ago when I tested and eventually bought the Empyrean, the previous flagship headphone of the Romanian Meze Audio, which with its sound performance changed once and for all the perception I had about headphones.
And while someone would expect the Meze team to rest, reaping the laurels of success, instead they continued the hard work to achieve the seemingly impossible, to improve the Empyrean.
Finally and after three years of intensive research, they have succeeded in doing so and the Elite was born.
The new open back flagship of Meze Audio is a planar magnetic headphone which, like its predecessor, is using the innovative, Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology but this time with a new low mass acoustic diaphragm constructed on an ultrathin biaxially oriented semi-crystalline film.
The MZ3SE driver builds on the pioneering technology of the flagship MZ3 driver found in the Empyrean headphone.
The innovative Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology delivers a more selective acoustic performance to the various areas within the structure of the ear.
Advances in diaphragm materials have opened the doors to even higher resolution and accuracy of the sound reproduction, setting a new benchmark in headphone design.
This review is mostly focused on physical and sound impressions so for the full technical breakdown kindly visit the Meze website.
About the ear pads
The Elite features an innovative design developed by Rinaro, the Isomagnetic® earpad attachment, which utilises the demagnetizing field generated by the driver to hold the ear pad in place whilst also redirecting the magnetic field back into the driver and improving driver efficiency.
The Meze Elite headphone comes with two uniquely shaped ear pads developed by Rinaro to allow for personal calibration of the sound signature.
The well known deep Alcantara earpad, originally developed for the Empyrean headphone without any changes regarding the shape and construction.
The new hybrid pads specifically designed for the Elite, are not so deep and they combine a real leather exterior with perforated Alcantara at the inner part.
With a soft, yet durable outer finish, the hybrid ear cushions are a new addition to the earpad family that perfectly balances the qualities of Alcantara and leather into a single design.
Besides the high wearing comfort, this unique combo lowers the bass pressure and delivers an airy sound signature, in which sound waves appear to transcend the space around you to create an immersive experience.
The Elite is, in my opinion, the only flagship headphone in the market with materials and build quality worthy of the eye watering price.
This is the best, most premium build headphone in the market and the rest of the competition just pales in comparison.
Other brands should watch and learn a couple of lessons about headphone design, material selection and manufacturing quality.
The frame is made from one piece aluminium through a CNC milling process that takes more than 20 hours to complete, while a deep black grill with intricate carvings completes the ear cup.
A carbon fiber headband with a real leather headrest is added to the frame, for an ultra-light feel and maximum durability.
The patent-pending suspension wings support system is elongated and curved at both ends, descending further on the side of the head and distributing the weight of the headphone evenly, for an utmost comfortable listening experience.
The Elite along with the Empyrean are the most comfortable headphones I have ever tested.
The perfect fit and the excellent distribution of the weight make them suitable for long listening sessions, you can listen to a three act opera without a single sign of discomfort.
One thing of note is that with the new swallower ear pads there is a chance for some users that their ear fins may slightly touch the inner part of the ear cup.
The Elite is also fully serviceable: from the replaceable earpads to the high-performance materials used, every part on the headphone chassis is available to be easily disassembled and serviced.
The Elite comes in a high-strength aluminum suitcase with foam inserts and with only one cable, with a termination plug of the buyer’s choice.
You can choose between a 2.5m OFC cable with 6.35mm jack or 1.2m OFC cable with 3.5mm jack or 2.5m OFC cable with 4 pin XLR connector.
No 2.5mm or 4.4mm options for the stock cable.
The cable itself is of good quality but nothing special, if you need something better or the 2.5mm/4.4mm plugs then you have to pay extra for the upgraded PCUHD Furukawa custom cables that are available in pure or silver plated copper.
For €4K one should expect at least all the three standard cables or at least one cable with the extra adapters.
The Elite is very easy to drive, so the user doesn’t need to have powerful amplifiers.
With an impedance of 32Ω and a nominal sensitivity of 101dB it can be used with portable and stationary gear of medium power output.
Of course top quality is a prerequisite per se and it would be rather naive to pair the Elite with anything else but the creme de la creme,
During my listening sessions I have cycled between various audio devices like the FiiO M17, iBasso DX300, Violectric V550, V226, Feliks Audio Euforia, Fluxlabs FCN-10, Denafrips Venus II, Audiolab 8300CDQ, Lab 12 dac1 reference and Cayin C9 among others.
The Meze Elite and the FiiO M17 is an excellent combination and ranks easily as an end-game cost – no object set up.
Listening to the Elite is a unique experience even for the most experienced listeners, it doesn’t take too long to realize that the presentation has nothing to do with the typical sound of good headphones but it is rather reminiscent of a top-tier 2 channel set-up that radiates space filling sound into the room in the most holographic way, only this time the room is the listeners head.
Performers rise in front of the listener to become real human beings, singing and playing their instruments while the headphone does an exemplary job arranging them into the stage as the sound diffuses like a faithful imprint of the recording session.
The listener gets traveled into time and space to be seated somewhere in front of the performers as an imaginary member of the concert audience.
Listening to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is like being seated in the faintly dark cathedral, barely lit with candles, while the singers sing their mournful psalm.
The Elite excels like no other headphone in space and time allocation, it draws a naturally wide and proportionally correct soundstage that is never stretched as to become artificial.
Here not only the single instruments get their precise positioning but furthermore there is an amazing rendering and arrangement of the various instrumental groups of the large scale works.
The depth along with the holography are exemplary, so is the projection and gradual fading of the sound waves from the moment they are born till they reach the ears of the listener.
The presentation is immersive and multi-dimensional with perfect timing regarding the decay which adds a lot to the already magnificent portraying of the recording venue with all the inner reverberation, something extremely difficult for a speaker system to reproduce let alone a headphone.
The Meze house sound is here, the Elite focuses on the most natural possible reproduction of the music with an ultimate emphasis on the correct pitch of the instruments as they would be heard in real life.
Indeed, with the Elite, timbre and realism reach their heights to eventually transform into pure truth, playing – and not merely reproducing – music with the fullest harmonious richness, the most vibrant tones that draw nuances and small contrasts through a colorful sound palette.
In order to achieve the desired tonality, Meze made a couple of adjustments to the already great tonal balance of the Empyrean, bringing the sound to a more neutral level of reference, balancing the individual proportions, while maintaining the purely musical character of its predecessor.
One noticeable difference concerns the low end, giving it this time a more linear response in terms of tonal accuracy, leveling the mid-bass emphasis while maintaining great sub-bass extension.
The absence of additional coloration combined with the more technically capable driver, results in a bass reproduction which shines with the best possible clarity, the excellent control and the exemplary layering while being visceral and full bodied.
The timing is excellent, the Elites are fast and agile, they have an inherent sense of rhythm and the ability to resolve the most difficult bass lines at a blink of an eye.
Dynamic contrast is fantastic, rise and fall are done in the most lifelike way while the presentation is impactful and muscular.
The listener is able to hear all the individual instruments playing one over the other, without the slightest trace of masking, there isn’t a single note missing, the details retrieval is just amazing.
Mid range is larger than life, unique moments of harmony flow from the drivers with voices and instruments standing out with the finest quality of the articulation.
Here again, the tuning is perfectly natural with excellent timbral qualities, every part of the region is heard with the utmost reality, full bodied with rounded edges, no artificial hue, nothing shouting at the listener, no annoying cup reverb, no fatigue even for the most sensitive ears.
The sound is very addictive and musical, delightful, the mids breath and stay connected, inline with the rest of the frequencies, nicely blended without any unnecessary emphasis.
The treble is smooth and controlled, without any alarming peaks or frequency response irregularities.
Meze doesn’t care about presenting the listener with an impressively analytical headphone.
The Elite isn’t screaming – “hey I am analytical, I am impressive, I can do better than the competition, buy me”.
The main idea here was to balance the details retrieval with the correct instrumental timbre and they have succeeded in doing so.
The Elite is very resolving due to the driver properties and not thanks for a boosted treble response, so you get a deeply detailed headphone that doesn’t sound analytical and doesn’t induce any treble fatigue.
It is not of a surprise that higher frequencies stay naturally toned, without aggressive brightness, without harshness while at the same time have plenty of air, energy, breadth, agility and are shed with diffused light.
The listener can micro – manage the frequency response and the overall presentation thanks to the interchangeable ear pads.
If you want to stay reference balanced as described previously then you should stick with the hybrid pads.
But you can always swap for the Alcantara pads which offer a slightly less focused sound, more smooth and laid back presentation with lesser bass intensity.
They slightly roll off the bass and have some differences regarding the mids and highs overall tuning.
A nice option to have that can better suit certain musical genres and diverse tastes.
Frequency coherency is absolutely stellar, all parts of the audible spectrum sound with the equal intensity, blended together in the most natural way, in a holistic approach that gets well appreciated and admired while listening to grand scale orchestral works like the Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.
Vs the Empyrean
The Elite is a more balanced tuned edition of the Empyrean with better technical performance.
The Elite sounds improved in various individual technical points and although the differences are not so dramatic, and scattered in such small quantities, when combined together then we can safely conclude that Elite is technically superior to Empyrean.
It is definitely more resolving, detailed, faster, with better driver control, of much finer texture, with improved articulation and fluidity, of better overall clarity and way more refined.
Still the Empyrean holds its own, it is a true TOTL headphone, with some great technicalities and in the end it is the different tuning that should be the main criterion for someone to decide which one to choose.
If you like a more fun and relaxed tuning, with some extra bass thump and quantity, increased mid – bass warmth and a touch more forward mids then you should stick with the Empyrean.
It is a great high end headphone and much better suited for some kinds of music and musical preferences.
In the end
Meze Audio has exceeded all expectations.
The Elite is a unique headphone, a rare musical instrument crafted by the hands of a master maker.
It stands out simply because it offers a shockingly holistic listening experience, creepingly close to reality.
Ulysses has finally reached Ithaca.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.