Meze Empyrean Headphone Review

Ask any chef and they’ll tell you ingredients are key to a recipe being palatable.

They’ll also tell you that it’s what you do with those ingredients and the measure of each used that makes a recipe go from being palatable to memorable.

If you substitute technology for ingredients and electro-acoustical engineer for chef, then you start to get where I’m going with all this.

The Meze Empyrean headphone has a number of technologies in its DNA that other headphones share, but it is the way that Meze implements them into the Empyrean that elevate it above the rest.

Is it alchemy, or some mixture of science and the dark arts that Meze’s engineers and designers have formulated to produce the Empyrean?

Perhaps both.

These days you need more than just the numbers of science to break through all the background noise from Internet forums and the like regarding new headphone designs; you need a bit of magic to capture imagination too.

With its all-metal, black-anodized briefcase both protecting and concealing the Empyreans upon their arrival at my home, Meze seems to seek balance between the headphone-as-luxury-item skepticism felt by many in the headphone market’s ever-expanding upper-echelon with classic “what’s in the box?” curiosity. I’m no skeptic of headphones as objets d’art, and I’d be hard pressed to not want to open the smooth, Mission Impossible briefcase since my imagination tends to run wild, so the company had me.

At $2,999 USD, the planar magnetic, over-ear open back Empyreans are firmly planted in luxury-watch territory, but like I wrote when I first received them for review: “…like an expensive watch these are a luxury item, albeit one that helps one lose the impact of time on life rather than help chronicle it.”

The case itself is listed as “high-strength aluminum” and comes with custom foam inserts cradling two sets of included ear pads and (in my case) a three-metre OFC cable with four-pin mini XLR plugs terminated with a 6.3mm jack connector. The cable was a smooth, black braid with a flattened oval shape that never bunched up and was always easy to untangle the rare time it got looped up.

Build and construction

Let’s start by discussing the patented “suspension wing” leather and carbon fibre headband which is unique and the design of which increases the contact to surface-distribution area ratio. This makes for far less pressure felt on the skull during long listening sessions and contributes immensely to the the ‘phones appeal in my estimation just because they are so comfortable. Add in the attention to detail of the integrated skeletal-aluminum yokes with the driver chassis and it’s hard not to let a whistle of appreciation out for the design implementation. Build quality is unimpeachable with not a millimetre anywhere on the headphone which doesn’t look meticulously executed. The eye lingers on the CNC-milled aluminum outer-driver grilles because it is gorgeous, the uniquely sculpted cutouts of the equilateral-triangle pattern taking more than 20 hours of mill time to complete along with the chassis.

The drivers are hand built and tested in the Ukraine by Rinaro and weigh in at just 0.16 grams with an active surface area of 4,650 square millimetres. They feature a hybrid planar-magnetic dual-sided magnet geometry array consisting of three distinct zones within an unbroken trace pattern: A rounded maze-like upper section (switchback coil) and a more circular shape for the lower half of the driver array are designed to work at distinct excursion tolerances for handling the spectrum of frequency levels required for reproduction in a high-fidelity transducer: (upper trace: bass, lower trace: treble and midrange).

The symmetric neodymium magnets are situated in a sandwiched-diaphragm construction to help create the required Isodynamic magnetic field for ensuring consistent diaphragm-surface activation. The company’s patented ferromagnetic plates are integrated to channel the demagnetizing field back into the driver array, away from the listener. This implementation allowed Meze an impressive increase of 1dB (12 per cent) in efficiency.

Listening set-up

For my critical listening during this review I used the Empyrean with the dCS Bartók DAC/Headphone Amplifier ($15,000 USD) being fed via LAN from a networked Roon Nucleus+ ($2,499 USD) using TelluriumQ Ethernet cable. Clean power was being supplied to the Bartók from the Shindo Mr. T Power Conditioner ($2,200 USD) through a TelluriumQ Black AC cable. I also used the unbalanced outputs of a Chord Qutest ($1,895 USD) being fed via Final Touch Audio USB cable from the Nucleus+ into a Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL MZ3 Headphone Amp/Preamp/Integrated Amplifier ($3,700 USD).

Both installations brought a deep-V 3D sound stage to sessions that was wide, airy and did a compelling job of decoupling the physical structure of instruments and vocalists from the drivers. I gave the nod to the dCS setup for the final review, but at roughly two-and-a-half times the cost of the MZ3/Chord combo, it should be no surprise that it ultimately prevailed. This takes nothing away from the musicality, transparency, drive and beautiful timbre of the MicroZOTL unit with the Qutest.

I went with the optional real leather earpads that also come with the Empyrean as I preferred their fit and feel over the standard Alcantara (basically, suede) ones. I disabled the ‘Crossfeed’ option of the headphone amp section on the Bartók (liked it better without it overall for extended listening) had the unit’s headphone level set to 0dB (-10,-20 and -30dB are options) and upsampling was set to DXD with the ‘Auto wordclock’ (every audio sample – represented as data words is clocked to maintain a perfectly timed and constant bit rate for the avoidance of data errors) specified for the digital Sync Mode.

Meze Audio

Richter Di's picture

Really need to hear them at one of the German headphone meets, like audiovista. I just bought the Meze 99 classics and I am very surprised how much fun they are, although I already have some headphones (HD 800, Fostex TH-X00, Audeze Mobius, Beyerdynamics modells, Hifiman HE500 and Ananda, Ultrasone Edition 9,....)

Simply Nobody's picture

May be inner/Fidelity could also review the new Meze Rai Penta in-ear phones ($1,099) :-) .........