What do you imagine the ideal full-size Hi-Fi headphones to be like? When answering this question for myself, I see elegant but not too noticeable ears with the most versatile and balanced sound. In addition, they should be lightweight, providing maximum comfort both for street walks and during home use. And, of course, I want these headphones to be undemanding to the source and fully reveal themselves even when paired with a smartphone. And today I’m going to tell you about a model that meets these qualities almost 100%. MEZE 99 NEO is a full-size closed-type headphone from the Romanian HI-end manufacturer costing €200. In this review, we will look at 99 NEO from different angles and find out what they are capable of.
About the Meze brand
For most people, MEZE is a completely unknown brand, but for those in the know, this name will immediately tell you a lot. For a clear comparison, MEZE is the Pagani of headphones. Their range is quite modest, and each model is of impeccable quality. At the head of it is one, obviously brilliant man named Antonio Meze and his small team of professionals. These are musicians and engineers who create truly unique things with a soul (spoiler alert – today we will see this for ourselves). Among other things, MEZE is also interesting because they are directly connected with Ukraine.
The fact is that the acoustic filling of the flagship MEZE ELITE was created by the Ukrainian concern RINARO, based in Lviv. In short, the Ukrainian geniuses have created one of the lightest magnetic planar radiators (loudspeakers) in the world. And do you know what? As a result, ELITE are among the top 5 best full-size headphones on the planet. I have listened to them only once, but my positive impressions still warm my heart. As you can see, MEZE has a very rich and interesting history, if you want, you can read it here and here. And now we move on to 99 NEO.
Meze 99 NEO package, design and device
Before proceeding to the unpacking and appearance of the headphones, I note that we are talking about the junior of the full-size MEZE. And even though the sum of 200 euros may seem impressive for an unprepared person, in the world of full-size Hi-Fi from A-brands it is quite a democratic price. The philosophy “maximum in sound, minimum in design” prevails in the majority of competitors in this price category, but MEZE 99 NEO goes against the budget standard.
The headphones come to the buyer in a stylish box that opens with magnets like a book. They are inside in a hard fabric case with a zip fastener. And now for the attention to detail section: the headphone cable is in its own small velvet case. Usually, the cable in inexpensive Head-FI headphones is in a cloth bag at most, but here a cute velvet case is a beauty! Also included you will find an adapter for a 6.3 mm balanced audio output and an adapter for airplanes.
And of course, the main characters of the celebration. Without further ado, they are simply gorgeous. Strict, restrained, but elegant. The assembly is really flawless! The combination of metal inserts and leatherette looks quite stylish. In addition, the headphones are quite compact and weigh only 260 grams. The compression force of the headband is medium, the ears sit confidently and do not press, you can safely spend 3-4 hours in a row in the company with your favourite music.
The headband has a steel frame and automatic adjustment to any head size. The only thing is that since these are closed-cup headphones, be prepared for your ears to sweat a little during long listening sessions, but in return you get just great noise isolation in both directions.
Now about the cable: it is double, made of Kevlar and is connected to the headphones through 2.5 mm jacks on the bottom of the cups, with a standard 3.5 mm jack at the output. The cable is inserted into the headphones with a characteristic click. There are no complaints about the quality of performance: it is moderately stiff, does not get tangled at all and has an anti-breakage rubber insert on the bend of the plugs. The standard microphone also does not cause any complaints at all, the sound from it is clear and crisp, without unnecessary noise
To be honest, the presentation and design of the 99 NEO grabbed my attention from the first seconds of unpacking, it’s exactly the case when you take a thing out of the box and just look at it from all sides, twist it in your hands like a little kid with a new toy, because it’s just made with the soul by music lovers for music lovers.
“An analogue sea of pleasure and a little secret”
Before we get to the detailed analysis of the Meze 99 Neo sound, I want to tell you one interesting fact. The fact is that the Neo model is the junior representative of the 99 line. Its older brother 99 Classic is one of the best representatives of the audiophile headphones under 300 euros and is universally recognised as a classic by the European audiophile community.
Why am I telling you this? Because technically, NEO and Classic are twins. The only difference is in the material of the cups: the older ones have natural wood, and the younger ones have plastic with a leather-like texture. That’s why they cost 100 euros less. Do the Neo look worse than the older model? Not at all. But in terms of versatility, the Neo’s appearance is much more casual and I would personally choose them. Yes, the sound will still be slightly different from each other, but it’s not a qualitative difference, but differences in details, since sound interacts differently with different materials.
Bass is the strong point of the headphones. There is plenty of it, and there is also a good extension of the sub-bass. You can clearly feel the mass in the sub-bass area and the composure in the mid-bass area. In light bass tracks, they sound nice and with good low-frequency separation, but when you start playing heavy bass tracks, the bass tends to become muffled and bloated due to the slight predominance of the mid-bass over the lower bass. But this is absolutely forgivable, considering the price tag. The overall weight of the bass is very, very pleasant, quite textured and refined, both in light and heavy bass parts.
Vocals sound smooth, no harshness is felt even at high volume. Both male and female voices sound smooth and have a good body, thanks to the presence of midbass. Due to the high level of mid-bass, the vocals sound quite warm, analogue and add three-dimensionality to the music. As the track becomes more filled with instruments, the bass tends to seep into the midrange, but if you prefer an analytical technical sound rather than a more energetic and charged one, this will even be a plus.
The treble of the MEZE 99 NEO is very smooth and calm, without being too bright. Again, if you are an audiophile who meticulously looks for the details of every sound atom, you need much brighter highs. But for everyday listening, such tenderness in the highs will only be a plus. 99 Neo is a headphone with a very warm and warming sound character, it has no harshness at all.
As for the size of the virtual stage, it is average, which is expected for closed-type headphones. But the scene is beyond praise, even the instruments in the background are clearly audible, they have texture: the brushes really feel wooden, not just a snap of the fingers, the cymbals have gradation and echoes, in general, a solid 10 out of 10. I tested them paired with Google Pixel 3, iPhone XR and Redmi Note 12 Pro – in all cases, the headphones revealed themselves fully, which is expected. The impedance is only 26 ohms, which means they will play great from any source.
As a result, MEZE 99 NEO surprised me in every way: they look and feel expensive, are amazingly comfortable to wear, and give a very warm, natural and velvety sound. For the price, these are the best closed-back headphones. I’m really into the Meze signature sound and am delighted with their versatility!