Meze Audio Rai Solo In Ear Monitors Review
Does this classy entry-level in-ear monitor have what it takes to shake up an already crowded market? Matthew Jens decides…
Rai Solo In-Ear Monitors
When industrial designer Antonio Meze launched Meze Headphones – later renamed to Meze Audio – the goal was not to create technical marvels or cheap and nasty mass-produced headphones. Instead, he wanted to develop mature, classy products that people could easily fall in love with.
Meze has had success in this mission. Starting with the ever-popular 99 Classics and the Applause Award-winning Empyrean – which to my ears was the best pair of headphones I listened to at the 2019 StereoNET Melbourne Hi-Fi Show – Meze has now focused its efforts on the evolving in-ear-monitor market.
Starting with the Meze Solo Penta (£969) in 2018, the company has since taken this ground-breaking formula and transferred its key DNA into an entry-level, single dynamic driver model called the Rai Solo. The competition for single driver dynamic IEMs in this category is mainly the Sennheiser IE80, a £299 audiophile winner that neatly captures the desires of the midrange cost-bracket market. According to Meze, the £229 Rai Solo is “an affordable yet high-value IEM”, which is a bold claim to make about this entry-level model.
Build, fit and finish are remarkable at the price. Firstly, each transducer weighs a solid 10 grams each and is made from stainless steel. The enclosures are crafted using Metal Injection Moulding, a lengthy process also used to create medical tools, firearms and industrial equipment that requires precision, durability and finesse. Meze claims that “stainless steel is an extremely rigid material, has low resonance and therefore delivers minimum interference to the vibration created by the drive unit. In terms of audio performance, these advantages contribute to a clean and dark background with well-defined imaging.”
Each of these luxurious enclosures is connected via a standard MMCX port to the included silver-plated cable. This 1.2m braided cable not only drapes beautifully when folded but also has delightful detailing – such as the right-angled 3.5mm plug which contains a metal inlay bearing the Meze logo. The business end of the cable contains either a blue or red ring around the MMCX connector, correlating to either the left or right earpiece. Similarly, these earpieces either have a blue or red machined nozzle, which is matched perfectly with the coloured ring.
Details like these are expected in a flagship four-figured product, but not in an entry-level release. Each of the hand-finished enclosures looks and feel like no other IEM I’ve ever experienced. The weight behind these is noticeable, but not in a cumbersome way. Much like an expensive Breitling watch, the heft of each unit speaks to its fine craftsmanship and materials.
The Rai Solo also comes with a decent array of accessories, comprising the aforementioned silver cable, a hard protective case (with a metal badge containing the Meze logo) and eight pairs of tips to ensure you get the right fit. Physically, this is easily one of the most exquisite IEMs I have ever touched. Simply superb.
Unlike the hybrid design of the flagship Penta model, the Rai Solo runs single 9.2mm dynamic drivers. However, it’s not just any old driver, as the company has employed a technology it calls Unified Pistonic Motion Technology. Simply put, instead of having two wires attached to the driver, the driver instead has an entirely conductive membrane, so that no wires need to be connected to the diaphragm at all. Meze says this results in a “symmetric pistonic motion through its entire movement, without disturbance from the unbalance created by wires.”
These drivers are run in a low impedance, high sensitivity configuration. With a rating of only 16 ohms, they’re compatible with a wide range of source devices and won’t be too fussy. Having said that, running these from a device with a low output impedance is ideal, such as the Chord Electronics MOJO.
WEAR AND TEAR
It took Meze years to finalise the shape of these IEMs, mainly due to perfecting the ergonomics and materials - and it has really paid off. This is the first time I’ve ever worn a stainless steel IEM and to be honest, it is quite an experience. While the metal enclosures can sometimes feel a little chilly at first on a cold day, they’re tailored for long listening sessions, and it shows. They are supremely comfortable and isolate exceedingly well – which makes sense, as you have a block of stainless in your ears!
The insertion isn’t overly deep, and the tips don’t need to push too far in to be seated correctly. The nozzle is roughly the same width as a flagship Sennheiser release, so seasoned IEM veterans won’t be experiencing any surprises with the fit here. During the many times I inserted these into my ears throughout the review period, I never experienced any nasty driver flex.
The ergonomics deserve applause here – these are some of the most comfortable and well crafted IEM enclosures on the market today. From when you first start playing with them in your hands to the inevitable moment where you try them on and hit play, you’ll be hard-pressed to imagine that this model is an entry-level release.
I tried the Rai Solo with several devices but found it worked best from my trusty Chord Mojo. The listening experience is one of refinement and cleanliness, rather than truckloads of bass. The main emphasis is on natural, clean sound; which is worthy of acclaim when many competitors in this price bracket are addicted to midbass humps that are overwhelming and difficult to escape. The delicate and sweet midrange is dripping with detail, and the top end shines with an energetic, focused and sparkly presence that helps bring vocals right to the front of the mix.
The level of isolation is excellent, too. As I type this with quiet music playing, I can barely hear the click-clack of my keyboard. This is not an isolation experience that’s shared with competing brands of IEMs in this price bracket.
While there may not be mountains of bass hiding away here – it mainly depends on your choice of ear tip, truth be told – the bass that is there is tight and clean. It takes a backseat to the stellar midrange and is subtly layered underneath the overall mix. An excellent example is a remix of Blue by Lucoriscoris. A progressive yet straightforward dance music track, it has plenty of lively piano samples and electronic elements throughout. The Rai Solo doesn’t provide the constant kick drum with an earth-shattering delivery but instead allows the bass to sit at cruising altitude while the rest of the samples dance throughout the song unhampered over the top. As such, it’s less suited to bass-heavy electronic music and leans itself more in favour of detailed, intricate pieces.
With Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime by Beck, vocals are upfront, bold and detailed. This track is deceptively simple but is a triumph of mastering, giving listeners all the tools necessary to pick apart the mix. The Rai Solo isn’t just analytical but delivers a clean and natural response that allows the emotion of this track to be not only heard but also felt. There is no hint of congestion, muddiness or smearing, and the orchestral moments are ones that will cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up.
While retaining a fairly balanced signature overall, there’s still plenty of pep in the presence region, giving this product a sense of airy, sparkly and bright energy that can be addictive to some, for long listening periods. This balanced yet bright signature does wonders for the soundstage as well, giving just enough depth to enable some out-of-the-head experiences, as well as having pinpoint imaging and no detectable channel imbalances.
With its svelte stainless steel enclosures, lustrous silver cable, lovely detailing and expert craftsmanship, Meze could easily fool people into believing this is a flagship product before they even try the Rai Solo out. Factor in the two-year warranty, and a lean, clean and slightly bright audio signature from the single 9.2mm drivers, and we’re looking at a very nice little package here. So if you’re in the market for an IEM that’s a little bit fancy – yet you don’t want to break the bank – then this superb value design could well be the candidate for you.
For more information, visit Meze Audio.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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