Meze 99 Neo: Budget and Performance: the Fine Line
Meze, though a relatively young company, is well known in the audiophile world. With a solid IEM range and the famous 99 Classics under its belt, to audiophiles, Meze is a household name. After a brief break in releases, they are back to impress us again with the new 99 Neo, a more wallet-friendly version of the 99 Classics. Did they pull off threading the needle between cost cutting and maintaining performance?
You can find the 99 Neo on pre-order here, on Meze’s official website, for $250.
Disclaimer: This unit was provided to Resonance Reviews free of charge for review purposes. I am not affiliated with Meze beyond this review. These words reflect my true, unaltered, opinion about the product.
Apology: I would like to issue Meze a public and formal apology for my lateness on publishing this review. It’s unprofessional, and is a mark on my reputation.
Preference and Bias: Before reading a review, it is worth mentioning that there is no way for a reviewer to objectively pass judgment on the enjoy-ability of a product: such a thing is inherently subjective. Therefore, I find it necessary for you to read and understand what I take a natural liking to and how that might affect my rating of a product.
My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, mid-bass. The mids should be slightly less pronounced than the treble, but still ahead of the bass. I prefer a more bright upper range.
Source: The 99 Neo was powered like so:
Nexus 6P -> earphones
Hidizs AP100 3.5mm out -> FiiO A5 3.5mm out -> earphones
HiFiMAN SuperMini -> earphones
PC optical out -> HiFiMe SPDIF 9018 Sabre DAC 3.5mm out -> earphones
All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC.
After being spoiled by the 99 Classics for so long, the 99 Neo was welcomed by my ears. Meze tried quite hard to imbue that magical tonality that the Classics into the 99 Neo, and to a large degree succeeded. The treble is crisp and forward, but not brash and harsh. The mids are clean and sit right behind the treble. The bass is slightly less emphasized than the mids are, making it the more balanced of the two 99-series headphones.
Treble is sweet and forward. In both Satisfy and Midnight City, the treble was able to push through the din without being sibilant or sharp. Extension is great, as is the placement of treble-bound instruments.
The treble is very detailed and able to convey minute differences in the tonality of the violins of Outlands well. The litany of treble-bound background elements also come through the song well enabling a decently symphonic experience.
High-hats and cymbals sound great and are easy to pick up in the mix. I never once felt as if they were distorted or overblown. Treble attack and decay speeds are good.
The attack and decay of the 99 Neo is great. Guitars have a wonderful timbre to them. Electric crunch and growl is on point, a favorite feature of mine from the 99 Classics that I’m glad carried over.
Pianos sound full-bodied and dynamic. The 99 Neo’s mids are clean and clear without being boring, a testament to the skilled individuals who tuned it. The lower mids are present and well-toned without being overbearing and thick.
Vocals are above-average in terms of intelligibility and have a fantastic weighting to them, male and female vocals alike. This is really the cherry on top, making the 99 Neo a quite compelling headphone. It’s great mixture of detail retrieval and balanced sound is a big plus for me.
Bass guitars are clear and dynamic within the mix. While shaping and emphasis were more to my personal tastes with the 99 Classic, the 99 Neo’s more light-handed approach may appeal to those who seek something different.
Bass wetness is more on the dry side, indicating a linear amount of mid and sub-bass. While drops are still satisfying and certifiably “filthy” in electronic music such as Gold Dust, the bass-head in me wants more. Again, that judgement falls under the personal taste category.
In For The Kill really highlights the 99 Neo’s bass extension. I get a pretty good “sub woofer-esque” feeling from the overall bass signature. While sub-bass rumble isn’t quite where I’d like it to be (nor where it was with the 99 Classics), the Neo’s performance is still quite good, and should appeal to those looking for a balanced and natural sound.
Packaging / Unboxing
The 99 Neo comes in packaging identical in structure to the packaging of the 99 Classic. A nice and sturdy cardboard box with some internal padding surrounds the 99 Neo’s case. Inside the case lies the 99 Neo and its accessories.
The 99 Neo’s build is as impeccable as the Classic’s was. The ear-cups are made from a very nicely-textured ABS plastic, meaning they will be durable. It appears to be color-injected, meaning color-wear is essentially not a concern. The plastic construction means the 99 Neo’s ear-cups are both low-maintenance and light, an essential feature of any headphones you might want to take with you on a road-trip or in your backpack as you go to class.
Lining the ear cups is a tasteful metal band. It contrasts wonderfully with the otherwise dark construction of the 99 Neo. More metal can be found in the left and right-channel inputs and on the top of the swivel joint between the headband and the ear-cups.
The headband assembly is entirely metal as well, and is identical to the assembly found in the 99 Classic. It’s self-adjusting, sturdy, but still flexible. The headband itself is made from leather, or a convincing alternative.
Meze prides itself on its fully-serviceable headphones. I am really excited by the notion of a pair of headphones that I can repair in my bedroom that don’t require a heat gun to be opened. While I commend Meze on this, there is still a single sticking point with the headband assembly that I would appreciate changed: the use of Torx screws. While I understand the rational behind them, they are fairly difficult for the average-Joe to remove. Please Meze, just use a small Philips-head.
The 99 Neo’s cables are different from the Classics inasmuch as the upper-half of the cables are rubber rather than Kevlar. This is a change that was definitely made to cut costs, and I approve of it. It doesn’t compromise the physical integrity of the cable, nor does it significantly impact the enjoyment of the product.
The shorter of the two cables has inline controls, which works well on both iPhones and Android phones. You get the standard pause/play/skip functionality on both platforms.
Here’s some pictures comparing the 99 Neo to the 99 Classics. If there’s anything specific you want me to capture, let me know in the comments.
The 99 Neo is slightly less comfortable on me than the 99 Classics are. While I can wear it for extended periods of time without complaint, I do begin to feel them on my ears after about three hours, a fault not existent in the 99 Classics. This is likely due to the fact that Meze has iterated the earpads again since the second revision of the 99 Classic’s earpads.
The 99 Neo comes well-stocked with accessories. Inside the box you will find:
- 1x hard carrying case
- 2x half-Kevlar cables
- 1x 3.5mm to 1/4in adapter
- 1x airline adapter
The carrying case is slightly smaller than the one that comes with the 99 Classics, and I see that as a good thing. The less space taken up by the case the better.
The accessories all feel pretty sturdy, but are nothing to write home about. They do the job, and do it reliably. Please do note though, that my unit received two cables from the factory by mistake. Most units will ship with just one cable.
The 99 Neo is a great addition to Meze’s lineup. As Meze’s “entry-level” headphones, I find it to have a pretty great value, especially for those who don’t particularly want the extra luxury of wooden ear cups or fully-Kevlar cables. All in all, I can say I recommend the Meze 99 Neo. However, I would still definitely recommend that you check out the 99 Classics if you have the money to spare. In my mind, it’s well worth the extra cash.
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