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Headphones

Meze 99 Neo, a luxury headphone for an affordable price

Meze just dropped the 99 Neo headphone, so the Audiophiliac checked it out!

Meze

I'm guessing most of you've never heard of Meze headphones, and that's a shame. Its 99 Classics ($309, £279, AU$442) received a raft of glowing reviews last year, and I concur they're remarkably good. Meze just dropped the 99 Neo ($249, £229, Australia's price hasn't been announced yet but it roughly converts to $330) headphones that have a similar look, feel and sound as the 'Classics. Every detail of the 99 Neo, from the beautifully-machined plugs, the metal headband and head strap, and the carry case, have a feel of quality. The main difference between the 99 Classics and the 99 Neo are the ear cups. The Classics are real walnut, the 'Neo's are ABS plastic, albeit nice-looking plastic.

Meze's 99 Neo, shown with its case.

Meze

The 99 Neo sound is clear and balanced richly, and these closed-back over-the ear headphones do a good job hushing external noise. Comfort is good, thanks to its wide, nicely-padded headband strap, but the pads' pressure against my ears was a little higher than I'd like. That said, the 99 Neo stayed put on my head even when I moved around.

The 99 Neo sports cast zinc alloy hardware, a manganese spring steel headband, with memory-foam-filled ear pads. The 40 mm drivers impedance is rated at 26 ohms, and the 99 Neo weighs a trim 9.2 ounces (260 grams).

Duke Ellington's "Blues in Orbit" features his big band, and the 99 Neo gave them plenty of room to swing. Ellington's exquisite touch on piano was nuanced over the 99 Neo. When changing over to a set of open-back Grado SR325e headphones, the sound balance shifted. The horns were brighter and crisper, but I missed the 99 Neo's lusher tone on Duke's piano and the SR325e's bass was too thin. No doubt the SR 325e's sound was livelier and more spacious, but the 99 Neo's tonal balance sounded more lifelike, with the bass, midrange and treble balance that much smoother.

The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 over-the-ear headphones were leaner sounding than the 99 Neo on Jay Z's "4:44" album. The Momentum 2.0's sound had a hollow character that started to annoy me over time, the 99 Neo sounded better over long listening sessions. It also definitely felt more expensive and more comfortable than the Momentum 2.0 and SR325e headphones.

To finish up I pulled out a set of Meze 99 Classics for a round of comparisons as I listened to Wilco's front man Jeff Tweedy's new solo outing, "Together at Last." Tweedy, armed with just an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a pocketful of great Wilco tunes, were more you-are-there transparent on the 99 Classics, while the 99 Neos sounded thicker, making Tweedy's vocals overly-rich. These are fairly subtle distinctions, with the two headphones sharing the same sonic DNA.

I like 'em both, but I definitely give the edge to the 99 Classics. The 99 Neo is a close second.