Meze Audio 99 Classic headphones

I have on hand a number of pairs of headphones. And I admit that I’ve lusted after the heavenly sounding, medieval-looking Abyss AB-1266 Phi headphones, and considered the MrSpeakers Aeon closed-back headphones. (I prefer the isolation from outside sounds provided by closed-back ‘phones.) But from the moments I saw—and then heard—Meze Audio’s 99 Classics, with their graceful style, balanced sound, and natural wood-grained glory, they had me.

Generally, I’m not a headphone guy. I prefer to experience recorded music at full scale and full dynamic range, with lifelike aural images dancing before me in my gritty Manhattan crib. I like floorstanding speakers. So, given my big (literally and figuratively) ears and relative newbie status as a headphone listener, I’m the perfect candidate for the Meze Audio 99 Classics and their affordable price of $309.

I remember the first headphone resurgence. As an aspiring musician and hash-fueled music lover in the late 1970s, listening to Jethro Tull and Joni Mitchell through Koss’s original, sickly green Pro4A headphones, or Sennheiser’s spongy-yellow HD 424s, was like journeying to Valhalla without leaving my smoky listening den. And while many of today’s headphone faithful enjoy their cans on the go, others still prefer listening at home, just as in those golden days.

Meze Audio didn’t enter the headphone business until 2009, when founder and designer Antonio Meze “was searching for a pair of headphones that he could connect to in the same way that he felt connected to his Fender Stratocaster guitar”—this according to Raluca Vontea, who works as the company’s brand manager. Vontea adds that Meze, who has experience designing products for a number of different industries, wanted to create “an object to pour his passion for music in, an object that is full of personality and life and that has its own story.” Meze Classic headphones are designed and engineered in Romania and manufactured and assembled (including drivers) to Meze’s specifications in Zhuhai, China. The Zhuhai factory, with a workforce 1000 strong, also makes headphones for other audiophile brands; Meze’s headquarters, in Baia Mare, Romania, has a staff of 15.

Meze Audio’s 99 Classics, which are in the middle of the company’s headphone line, arrived in a zippered hard-shell case that also contained two lightweight, detachable, Kevlar-sheathed cables: one 4′ long with a one-button remote control for portable use, and a 9′ cable for home use. At the headphone ends of these cables are dual 3.5mm gold-plated TS plugs—these, rather than the earcups themselves, are marked L and R—with a single 3.5mm TRRS plug at the amplifier ends. Also included are 3.5mm-to-¼” and dual 3.5mm airplane adapters. All plugs and cables can be kept in a small, resealable, faux-velvet pouch (provided).

The 99 Classics are closed-back, circumaural (ie, over-ear) headphones that weigh 9.2oz sans cables. They’re subtly stylish—unlike some of the robotic, gauche, trendy headphones I’ve seen on hipster heads here in New York. They’re solidly assembled from a combination of walnut wood (earcups), cast zinc alloy (attaching braces), stamped manganese spring steel (frame and self-adjusting headband), and memory foam and synthetic leather (earpads and the covering for the above-mentioned headband).


These are beautiful headphones, and their smooth, polished walnut earcups are lovely to touch. The 7/8″-thick earpads fit cozily against my rather large noggin. I did feel occasional pressure or tightening on the upper parts of my pinnae, but never found the 99 Classics uncomfortable. Through long listening sessions at work or zoning out at home, the Mezes hugged my head gently, providing adequate isolation from the outside world. I don’t think they’ll deaden airplane noise, but they did a good job on the subway.

Two 1.6″ (40mm) Mylar-cone drivers are at the heart of the 99 Classics, each held in an injection-formed frame of reinforced ABS, a tough, rigid plastic. The 99 Classics’ specifications include a frequency range of 15Hz–25kHz, a sensitivity of 103dB/1kHz/1mW, and an impedance of 32 ohms.

As former InnerFidelity editor Tyll Hertsens noted in his review in February 2016, the 99 Classics are basically screwed together and can easily be taken apart for servicing. Before receiving my review samples from Meze, I’d borrowed a pair from CNET editor and Stereophile contributor Steve Guttenberg, and during that loan the ‘phones’ earpads came loose from their earcups. Reinserting each pad’s narrow collar into its cup’s outer seam was easy.

I evaluated the Meze 99 Classics in various systems and settings: when out and about, using my laptop streaming Tidal and Qobuz via an AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC; at home, playing LPs on a Kuzma Stabi turntable with Stogi tonearm through a Luxman EQ 500 phono stage, and plugging the ‘phones into the front-panel jack of a Schiit Audio Ragnarok or Parasound Halo Hint 6 integrated amplifier; or straight into the headphone jack of my Tascam CD-200iL CD player. The 99s sat gently enough on my head that I could easily forget they were there.

Not long ago, you’d never have caught me lugging around a pair of big, cranium-crushing headphones. But ever since I reviewed Pro-Ject Audio Systems’ tiny Pre Box S2 Digital DAC and headphone amplifier, I’ve become almost a headphones fanboy. When my job saps my will to live, my new addictions to headphones, Tidal, and Qobuz provide salvation.

Music files streamed from Tidal and Qobuz through AudioQuest’s DragonFly Red DAC included: “I’m Not Doing This for You,” from the self-titled album by electronic beatmeisters Awefekt (24-bit/44.1kHz, 37d03d); trip-hop from Dido in “Hurricanes,” from Still On My Mind (16/44.1, BMG); Deep South beats in the hip-hop subgenre trap in “Red Room,” from Offset’s Father of 4 (24/96, Motown); Frank Zappa’s The Yellow Shark, performed by Ensemble Modern (16/44.1, Zappa Records); and dance/R&B from Solange in “Things I Imagined,” from her When I Get Home (24/44.1, Columbia). Vinyl included two very dissimilar albums: the popping jazz of Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, and Shelly Manne’s Poll Winners Three! (Contemporary S7576), and the urban dread of Fink’s Resurgam (R’Coup’d RCPD015).

I was immediately taken with the 99 Classics’ top-to-bottom coherence: a generally even tonal spread, with no part of the audioband dominating the rest. Spatial performance was good for sealed headphones, with generously sized images focused at the center of my cranium. Even at loud volumes the 99s kept their cool, never sounding shouty, edgy, boxy, or otherwise criminal in the treble. Midrange to lower frequencies were also evenly distributed. Generally, all frequencies were reproduced with well-proportioned weight. The 99s were neutral in the best sense of the word.

The 99s presented Solange’s smooth R&B with an unvarying demeanor—and with a spatial presentation that emphasized center fill: Compared with the other headphones I used during this review, the 99s’ stereo images clung closely to the space between my ears with solidity and immediacy.

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