John Pickford checks out the Meze Audio 99 Classics, a sub-£300 set of headphones offering great sound and comfort for the price…
The Meze 99 Classics arrived with me just after the similarly priced Master & Dynamic MH30s, reviewed in issue 12. The M&Ds impressed me enormously, so I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the 99 Classics if they didn’t live up to the hype I’d read before I received them. I needn’t have worried; the 99 Classics instantly proved to be serious contenders in the sub-£300 stakes.
Straight away, I was most impressed with the luxurious fit and finish of the headphones, the review sample featuring beautiful hand-polished walnut earcups with gold-metal trim. Meze screw together the 99 Classics rather than using glue, making them easy to take apart for repair should a fault develop.
The polyurethane headband is self-adjusting and reinforced with a metal outer band, and the ear pads use medium-density memory foam covered with soft PU leather. Two lengths of Kevlar-reinforced detachable cable are supplied, one 1.2m, the other 3m, which terminate with gold-plated 3.5mm plugs. These and the jack-plug adaptors come in their own zip case which, along with the ‘phones, are housed in a hard EVA case; this is necessarily chunky, as the 99 Classics don’t fold.
The 40mm Mylar/neodymium transducers (speakers) have a wide-band frequency response of 15Hz to 25kHz, while sensitivity is well above average at 103dB, making the 99 Classics very easy to drive. Some high-end ’phones designed primarily for use with premium hi-fi equipment don’t perform well with portable devices, but these are just as comfortable with top-end hi-fi as they are with iPhones and iPods.
Putting on the 99 Classics, they’re immediately comfortable and remain so even during lengthy listening sessions. The self-adjusting mechanism of the 99 Classics provides adequate grip without becoming too vice-like, while their featherlight weight (260g) adds to their long-term comfort.
They can, however, be quite resonant when adjusting, with the metal headband in particular causing audible resonance; if tapped, it’s like having your head inside a metal dustbin.
Sound quality is superb for this price point, with the 99 Classics performing better than several more costly designs. Most notable is the spaciousness of the soundstage, presenting a panoramic stereo image with a cavernous impression of stage depth. The mid-range is natural and unforced, offering plenty of detail without becoming conspicuous and distracting, while upper registers are in good proportion and give a decent impression of air and space with high-quality recordings.
The bottom end has a generous amount of mid-bass in the 100 to 200Hz region; however, the lower frequencies aren’t as taut and firm as some others (the aforementioned M&D MH30s for example), and can sound a little loose on busier rock and pop recordings.
The 99 Classics are an attractive proposition, being both stylish and offering excellent sound quality. Although they perform best when used with a good headphone amplifier, their high sensitivity makes them ideal partners for low-powered portable devices. Anyone looking for a set of cans at this price point should place the 99 Classics at the top of their audition list.