REVIEW: MEZE EMPYREAN HEADPHONES - HEAVEN SENT?
You know how they say that you should never meet your heroes? Well, after a couple of brief encounters with the Meze Audio Empyrean headphones at shows it was time to invite a pair home.
Could this be their undoing? Had we built up our fleeting fondness for them to something unattainable? We took the risk to find out - just for you, dear reader.
Hybrid Array Headphones
Lead by Antonio Meze; Meze Audio is a high-end audio company based in Baia Mare, Romania. The company produces audiophile headphones and earphones. Most fans of head-fi will be aware of the multi-award winning 99Classics range of closed back headphones.
Meze Headphones was founded in 2009, later changing its name to Meze Audio.
Part of the reason for Meze's growing fanbase is that their products are excellent value for money. Check the online store and you will find earphones starting at just €59 for the Meze 11 Neo Iridium IEM and topping out at €309 for the 99Classics full-size headphone. That was until the Empyrean landed on the scene.
The Meze Empyrean clocks in at £2,699 (€2,999), so quite a departure, price-wise, from the brand's other products. That said, this underlines Antonio Meze's continuing hunger to develop and improve the range of headphones his company has to offer.
Antonio Meze tells us:
The Empyrean was born from passion, curiosity and innovation. As a business, we have allowed ourselves the freedom to experiment and take risks in search of the perfect sound. To generate something truly remarkable, one must dare to explore, and that’s what we did with Empyrean. We pushed and refined industry’ standards and achieved a true game-changer for audiophiles.
Another departure from the norm for Meze is the partnership with Rinaro.
Pavlo Shymanovych has 30 year's worth of experience in OEM planar-magnetic design for companies such as Oppo at a previously state-funded Ukranian research facility. He leads a team of researchers at Rinaro and has contributed to the Empyrean with its unique driver tech.
Rinaro's clever planar magnetic design features a diaphragm that is made up of two distinct coil patterns with a spiral coil placed over the ear canal which is more efficient at creating mids and highs. Above that is a switchback coil pattern which is more efficient at producing the lower ranges.
Without any electrical crossover, this behaves similarly to a two-way speaker in so much as you have, in essence, a separate tweeter and mid/woofer.
The new technology is called an Isodynamic Hybrid Array driver. As well as the driver, the pads are part of the driver design and dubbed the Isomagnetic earcup to earpad coupling. Here the demagnetising field generated by the driver is used to hold the ear cup in place while also redirecting the magnetic field back into the driver and improving driver efficiency.
All of that tech has resulted in some impressive specs; for instance, total harmonic distortion (THD) measures under 0.1% in the whole frequency range, and the Upper-frequency limit of audio reproduction is 110,000 Hz. The Empyrean/Rinaro driver is also ultra-efficient with its 100db@1mw/1kHz high-performance, meaning these headphones can be driven by your DAP (digital audio player) or even your phone should you feel so inclined.
Meet and Greet
Ever since first meeting the Meze Empyrean at CanJam London 2018, I have dreamed about what it would be like to receive a pair. Empyrean, according to ancient civilisations, is the highest part of heaven, thought by the ancients to be the realm of pure fire. Well, I am pleased to say that, even though these are not to be mine for keepsies, the experience is none-the-less heavenly.
The Empyrean comes in a sturdy aluminium hard case, not unlike the security briefcases you see in the movies, but this one is a stealthy matte black. Inside, the protective foam sections are cut to perfectly cosset the cans and accessories.
Accessory-wise you get the choice of two sets of cables at the checkout. I am assuming this is to keep the price down rather than bundling in both options in with the headphones.
Your choices are between a 3m OFC cable, terminated in 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with a 6.3mm jack and, a 1.3m OFC cable, terminated in 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with a 3.5 jack. The review set landed in the former, 6.3mm flavour. Additionally, Meze offers Furukawa Copper PCUHD custom cable upgrades in 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced jacks and XLR options.
Magnetically fitted to the headphones are Alcantara earpads. According to the website they also ship with a set of real leather ones as standard. Not sure why these were absent, but beggars can't be choosers, as they say.
The hand-assembled headphones are incredibly comfortable to wear thanks to the carbon fibre headband and leather headrest set in what the company describes as pressure distribution wings.
The patented suspension wings increase the leather headrest’s contact surface area with your head and relieve uncomfortable pressure points. I've not the smallest head out there, but I have been wearing the Empyreans at the tightest setting. However, those with tiny noggins needn't worry as I have it on good authority the spring steel that runs through the leather headrest can be bent to fit.
Moving down from there you find the aluminium chassis/skeleton and grill. This beautiful section is CNC sculpted from a single piece of solid aluminium. The grill is, quite frankly, a piece of art and takes 20 hours to mill. The CNC sculpted chassis weighs just 430g. In addition to looking incredible, the grill has been designed to ensure natural levels of sound transparency.
Having heard the Empyrean driven by Benchmark's HPA4/DAC3 team and a Feliks Eurphoria I knew what they were capable of when partnered with some of the best. However, even with my more modest head-amp, the Empyrean is god-like.
From the moment you press play the Empyrean impresses to a point where you find yourself putting on an album after album until it's morning again.
The Empyrean sounds effortlessly natural and extremely musical. If pushed I would say that the cans are just on the warm side of neutral. That might be due to the Alcantara pads; the leather ones may give them a different sound signature. I know that the ones on my PM-1 do.
Selecting Hunter by Björk, the headphones perform well-balanced with bass, mids and treble coming together in a beautifully arranged concert. Furthermore, stereo imaging and separation are outstanding. Finally, positioning is sniper-like precise. The Empyrean deliver all that wrapped up in the typically inky black background that great planars give you.
The high-end is energetic and lively with excellent extension. There is detail aplenty with plenty of air. Never shrill or sibilant. There is some smoothing, but that just enables you to wear the headphones and listen for longer without fast-hitting fatigue.
A touch of Sevdaliza next, and Human - This is test favourite of mine, and the Empyrean didn't let me down. Wonderfully punchy bass with excellent layering and depth. Although the Empyrean gives a great rumble down low; it is definitely quality first, presence second. Again, you may get different results with the leather pads.
Dilly Dally and Doom came up next, and the Toronto indie quartet raucously tested the mids, which were shown to work with the bass rather than them fighting for dominance. The result is a rich, full-bodied sound with excellent detail and impressive layering even with a track that is relatively lo-fi such as this. Vocals are presented with plenty of character and expression.
Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck by Prong was the musical bell signalling last orders but, although not your usual hi-fi test material, went to prove further how good the Empyrean are. Tommy Victor's crunching guitar and growling vocals laid perfectly over the rhythm section. The bass throbbing, giving foundation to the verses and the thick metal grooves had me bopping my head. I was in heaven.
The Meze Empyrean delivers music without getting in the way at all.
I fell in love with the Empyrean the moment I heard a pair. Even in my home system, they will rate as being my favourite headphones I have had around my ears.
I cannot fault their build quality nor the remarkable attention to detail that Meze has applied to these headphones. Furthermore, the Meze/Rinaro collaboration has been a masterstroke. Together they have produced one of the most amazing headphones both regarding sound quality and aesthetics.
This is the kind of performance that usually comes from high-end headphones which require careful pairing with hardware and treated with kid gloves; not the Empyrean. True, if you have a top-flight head-amp it will really help the flagship Mezes perform at their best; however, even the lowliest amps will produce music that is engaging, entertaining and, at times, awe-inspiring.
Buying a £2,699 pair of Meze Empyrean headphones can genuinely be classed as an investment as they will continue to please for many years to come. This qualifies them for the StereoNET Applause Award.
For more information, head over to Meze Audio.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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