Meze Rai Penta Review

I returned from a holiday sojourn in Chicago to an admonition from my roommate, to whom I am forever grateful for his patience with me and the endless stream of packages that arrive at our doorstep.

‘It’s one of the BIG ones,’ is his gentle way of letting me know I need to come fetch a package post-haste because he’s tripped over it twice on his way to work for heaven’s sake. Big does not always mean physically large, sometimes the packages come in unusual shapes or in sets of two or three, but the Big packages are always in my embattled roommate’s mind. Thankfully, the package this time, is not a large one, in fact quite the opposite.

Unlike the tidy little Rai Penta which is on review here today, Meze is not a company I associate with the word small. The leap from the 99 Classic and Neo Classic to the Empyrean was a big surprise, and the subsequent move into audiophile-oriented IEMs was quite unexpected as well, and now Meze is trickling this flagship technology down into more attainably-priced products such as the Rai Solo.

The Rai Penta is priced at $1,099 USD, a premium position in the IEM market, though not nearly as expensive as some customers are willing to spend judging by the prices of many IEM manufacturer’s flagship products. The packaging is relatively simple but classy, the included leather carry case is a slightly flat clamshell-type case, which I could just fit into larger jacket pockets for travel.

Accessories are modest, a variety of tips of various sizes, included double-flanged, deep-insertion, and Comply foam options. The IEMs themselves have a rock solid build quality. The CNC’d aluminum has a super smooth satin anodized finish and didn’t crack or even shows signs of scratches despite being sat on or dropped on concrete floors a few times. Meze is using what they call the ‘Penta Hybrid driver array,’ which trades more traditional tube and dampener systems for a tuned-port hybrid driver-array system that uses both balanced armatures and dynamic drivers. Also implemented is a porting system creatively dubbed ‘PES,’ or Pressure Equalization System, which is supposed to help regulate chamber pressure both behind and in front of the drivers. The included cable is a very nice braided silver-plated copper cable, with MMCX connectors.

Impedance is a modest 20 Ohms, and sensitivity listed at 110dB/mw. Fairly sensitive and in practice I found the Rai Penta played well with a lot of gear without being so sensitive that it had terrible hiss issues with more powerful desktop amplifiers. I’m guessing that the Rai Penta also has a fairly benign impedance curve as I found the frequency response pretty consistent between amplifiers from tube to high-and-low power solid-state, and even to high-gain amplifiers. That’s a very good thing because this is a well-tuned IEM.

The general response of the Rai Penta is in the neutralish category. If you’re into the bass-cannon style IEMs with massively dark and bassy responses, you won’t care much for the Rai Penta. This is one of the most balanced tunings I’ve heard in an IEM or headphone. Bass is very even all the way down into the sub-bass, and there is an absolute absence of pressure buildup. I find this remarkable and delightful, as bass build up on IEMs is incredibly fatiguing for me and a majority of IEM’s I’ve otherwise liked have either far too much bass buildup, or are way too bass light to try and compensate for this. Perceptually, I could see some folks preferring just 1-2dB more bass, though I suspect this will depend quite a bit on fit. I wear very small ear tips and often cannot get IEMs to fully seal, but the Rai Penta seemed quite consistent in this regard.

Speaking of fit, I found the Rai Penta’s contoured shape did indeed seem to fit comfortably in my ears. After a few hours, during long listening sessions I would start to feel some rub and soreness, but this is definitely the most comfortable Universal IEM shape I’ve yet tried. Most ‘human-shaped’ IEMs seem more suitable for audio-inclined Lorises than people, and Meze seems to have largely side-stepped this issue by simply doing less sculpting rather than more. The majority of the IEM is a sort of teardrop shape that fits snugly but not tightly, and presents a smooth, rather than heavily contoured surface to the ear. It eventually will get uncomfortable, but to my ears and about half a dozen friends I had test them out, listening sessions lasting two to three hours were pretty much fatigue free.

The sound signature was likewise fatigue free and rather than accomplish this with a slightly relaxed upper midrange, the Rai Penta seemed to have plenty of clarity in the upper midrange and treble, yet even at high volumes there was an ease of sound production that I typically associate with a very pressure and resonance free listening experience. Inspecting Meze’s diagram of their ‘PES’ port, it appears to have multiple openings, and I suspect works across a much broader frequency range than just the bass. However they’ve accomplished this, the Rai Penta can be turned up quite loud, or listened to softly, and it remains fatigue free, yet with plenty of clarity. There is perhaps just a slight shelf downwards in the treble, but it is very gentle and tastefully done. Electronic music with super high-frequency information is all presented clearly – Meze claims the driver extends to 45kHz – and piano and acoustic instruments that move across broad swathes of the treble and upper midrange never have individual notes that pop out more than they should, another sign of generally smooth and resonance-free treble.

The mids particularly seem to have a kind of depth and micro-detail to them that is unique to gear that has just the right level of balance in the presence region. The absence of pressure goes a long way towards helping give these a greater sense of recorded spaces than most IEM’s I’m used to. Very small spatial cues and dynamic contrasts were easy to hear with the Rai Penta on pretty much any track I cared to listen to. A standout was “Parasol Woods” by Manu Delago, a track you can find on Innerfidelity’s Transducer Torture Test Track playlist on Qobuz.

I call out this track particularly because it is recorded outside, so it has that kind of dry ambience outdoor recordings have, and it is hyper-detailed and dynamic with fairly gentle limiting. My initial impressions were that the Rai Penta was editorializing a little on the transients – that I wasn’t getting as much impact as some recordings. My impression of this was due to the aforementioned lack of pressure I was hearing on this IEM. The “Woods” track, and say the Peter Dominguez Track “Bossa Nova Nemo” actually have plenty of transient and dynamic information, so I after listening to these I came to a different conclusion entirely. I think what I’m hearing is a what might be considered a very ‘open’ decay characteristic, similarly to the difference between open and closed headphones.

The Rai Penta is one of the most open IEM’s I’ve used recently as well, so I suspect again that the magic of the ‘PES’ is at play here. I can pretty clearly hear people speaking to me when wearing them, and generally don’t have to worry too much about not being aware of my surroundings when wearing them. I can see some people who like the ultra-tight, more focused sound of sealed IEMs finding the Rai Penta a bit underwhelming, but for my part, the Rai Penta is very much to my taste.

Meze has produced another product which, like the Empyrean, is not a ‘wow’ product. It is a product that shows off it’s subtle refinement over long listening sessions and deep critical listening that quickly digresses into ‘lost in the music’ time. I’m a pretty laser-focused listener when I need to be, and I did find myself falling into the cliche of zoned-out listening more often than I usually do. During my busy travelling season this fall, the Rai Penta was my transducer of choice for on-the-go listening and in this capacity it’s among the best out there. If you’re looking for a top-tier IEM and have some cash to spend, but balk at the $2,000+ flagship IEMs, the Meze Rai Penta should definitely be on your audition list.

Technical Specifications

  • Price: $1,099 USD
  • Driver: PENTA-HYBRID DRIVER (4 x Customized Balanced Armature and 1 x Dynamic Driver working harmoniously together)
  • Frequency Range: 4Hz – 45kHz
  • Impedance: 20Ω
  • Sensitivity: 110dB SPL/1mW Sensitivity
  • Max Input Power: 30mW
  • Distortion: Less than 1 per cent
  • Stock cables: MMCX connector ending in 3.5mm, Rhodium plated Upgrade cables: MMCX connector ending in 2.5mm TRRS balanced and 4.4mm balanced as extra accessories
  • Warranty period: 2 years

Meze Audio
Iuliu Maniu str., nr. 38, 1st floor, ap. 2, Baia Mare, 430131, Romania

Simply Nobody's picture

May be Grover could also review the Meze Rai Solo in-ear phones, $250 :-) .........