The Open-Back 99 Classic We Were Wanting - Just Better
Meze. Can't. Make. A. Bad. Headphone. This is not an opinion. It's cold, hard fact. The people wanted an open-back dynamic headphone and Meze Audio heard them. The new 109 Pro might look like the 99 Classics, but there's a lot of good that comes from that inspiration.
I want to take a bit of a retrospective on the ever-popular 99 Classics. They're some of Meze's most affordable and arguably some of the best-sounding affordable closed-back headphones on the consumer market. Not only that, but the styling is second-to-none. Meze Audio is one of the few companies in my humble opinion that does a remarkable job marrying both beauty and great sound into a single product, no matter the price. The 99 Classics are actually some of our daily drivers here at the Moon Audio office headquarters, and I think that says a lot about what Meze has to offer to both consumers and audiophiles alike.
Given their popularity, it's no surprise that Meze has developed a new high-end, over-ear headphone in the same vein as the 99 Classics, only this time with an open-back design. After all, Antonio Meze hasn't come out with a bad headphone yet, and needless to say, I'm just more than a little excited to try the 109 Pro out and see what they have to offer. Let's get to it!
- Superb Meze Styling (as usual)
- Warmth + Top-end sparkle
- Lots of energy
- Personal issues around 5/6K (freq.)
- Hard to find negatives for Meze
About Meze Audio
Meze Audio was founded in 2011 in Baia Mare, Romania by Antonio Meze. All their headphones and IEMs are researched and developed in house from the ground up. Their breakthrough came in 2015 with the release of the 99 Classics headphones which received many awards, placing them at the top of their category. Meze doesn’t always follow the trends of the industry, but rather puts pride in creating their own aesthetic and designs, and they do it well. They like to say that “Meze Audio headphones embody the classical values of clarity, balance, and harmony.” Their sound is “vivid and immersive: the sound signature is tuned for long listening sessions. Their ergonomics can be best described as clarity without harshness, freshness without fatigue. A headphone is complete when it makes you forget about the outside world and takes you for a dive into the universe of your own feelings.” -Meze Audio
Meze Audio is a quality brand that puts a lot of care into their headphones and IEMs and they have something for every budget. Their entire product design is crafted with a premium look, feel, and most importantly sound. If you're looking for something more for the music lover or audiophile, Meze Audio's headphones and IEM's are sure to please.
Materials, Quality, & Comfort
Fans of the 99 Classics will see the likeness right off the bat. The headband design takes the same double metal loop as the 99's as well as the elastic padding. I'm a big fan of the elastic mechanism here, as it makes for an easy adjustment when putting on and taking off the headphone. Sometimes I get pretty frustrated with having to manually adjust each earcup to size correctly on other headphones, especially if the adjustment mechanism is stiff or rigid. The way Meze has designed its headphones - it is as simple as just putting them on. The elastic feels durable as well, and is actually in the middle of the padding at the point of least resistance, making sure that repeated adjustments take the least amount of wear on the design. The headphones make use of a similar swivel design where the metal headband attaches to the ear cup.
That's about where the similarities end and the 109 Pro really steps up the game with the design improvements. The connecting bracket from the headrest to the headband is new, with a larger and more reinforced single bracket to each metal band. It looks sleeker, and something about the connectors pointing up gives the perception that the headband is floating, despite being essentially engineered the same way previously.
The ear cups are noticeably larger, because well, they are now an open-back dynamic driver. Obviously, it still looks very much like a Meze Audio headphone, and the machining and aesthetic of the ear cup is certainly one of the most striking parts of the headphone. The outside cup is a dark walnut wood chamber and is cut precisely to line up with the other metal parts of the cup. Meze is synonymous with precision, and it always amazes (A-Meze's?) me how they make all these pieces and textures look seamless and organic - like they were made this way in nature. The outside grill is covered by the attachment piece to the headband - made to look like the fins of a fan - maintaining the striking aesthetic but equally functional as a solid structure and lending itself to the open sonic characteristics of the sound signature.
The ear pads are a lovely felt finish, as opposed to the cushioned leather from the Meze 99 Classics. They are thicker as well to accommodate the larger ear cup size of the 109 Pro and feel much cooler when worn. The very inside lining of the ear pad facing the driver is leather, and I imagine this serves more of a signature influence on the headphone than an aesthetic purpose. The inside grill of the driver is completely exposed, showing off all the pretty and shiny things that make the 109 sound superb. You'll find the machined metal chassis driver inside behind the copper-colored grill, with a dual membrane diaphragm. Meze Audio knows how to show off the details well, and the entire headphone just looks like a piece of art, as usual. It's a great job all around here, build quality is stunning and I'm glad they carried over some of the best parts of the 99 Classics. The 109 Pro gives off that premium vibe, even if it doesn't come close to the price point of Meze Audio's more flagship-level headphones. But how close does it come to flagship-level sound?
Wow. Two things right off the bat: the imaging is simply amazing and the signature of the headphones sounds like the top-end clarity of the Elite matched with the warmer overall tone of the Empyrean. I’m not trying to compare flagship planar magnetic headphones to dynamic drivers here, but you get the gist of what I mean.
Dynamic drivers hit very differently than planar magnetic drivers, but I'm glad they went with dynamic drivers for the 109 Pro. Otherwise, I feel like they would just be competing with themselves if they utilize their famous isodynamic hybrid array driver. The 109 Pro uses a 50mm transducer with a 40-ohm impedance. The dynamic drivers offer something new at this level with an open-back design that they haven't done before. The 109 Pro gets some great bass response - I'm surprised how well it resonates in the cup despite being an open-back. It's an immediate bass response - tight, punchy, and not bloated whatsoever. The subfrequencies have plenty of room to lurk in the background, oftentimes feeling them more than noticing them in the mix. The midrange is balanced, with the vocal range represented well in almost everything I listened to. On the other end of it, the higher frequencies are crisp and clear. I'm certainly noticing some of the energy that I liked in the Elite here; plenty of sparkle in the treble that doesn't interfere whatsoever with the great bass response. There's a slight dip in the high mids and some small issues around 5-6K (estimate) for me, but that is easily remedied which I'll get to in a bit.
"The 109 Pro retains that warmth while providing just a bit extra - so you immediately fall in love with the sound you know, but it gives you just enough of something new to allow you to fall in love all over again."
To get a feel of the dynamics of the headphone, Eric Whitacre's Deep Field orchestral piece is an experience. A 23-minute track through space and time, the infinitesimal and gargantuan in our universe, it will make you ponder the meaning of life and your purpose and place in the cosmos. Starting pianissimo, the orchestra paints a simple and sparse soundscape that gradually grows to some incredible bombastic moments of swells of repeated crescendos and decrescendos. The layers of the fermata strings and horns are like the depths of the ocean, overlapping and weaving in and through each other; it's a work like I've never heard before. Deep Field ends slowly and quietly like it began, as the journey takes you to the farthest and quietest regions of the known universe. The 109 Pro handles the cosmic traveling well, as they inherit Meze's amazingly wide soundstage, there's plenty of room for the swells and dynamics to move about unhindered. I'm always impressed with the soundstage on Meze's open-back headphones, and the 109 is no exception. The imaging is also more spacious front to back than I've noticed in other Meze headphones (and other open-back headphones in general). There is an impressive depth on all axes that creates an enormous sound: I don't hear just the space from left to right and top to bottom, but also front to back in the three-dimensional space.
I like the energy that the dynamic driver gives to the open-back design - it's a great sound for rock music of all types. For more modern genres like Woodkid, it gives that extra thump in the low end, which is great when you have entire sections of booming drums like a taiko that need that vibrate-your-head feeling. The open-back design helps that energy to be retained just long enough and allows it to trail off naturally, creating a very organic sound with just about every performance I listened to. Listening to Cream's famous Disraeli Gears album, the tuning of the 109 Pro's mimics the way I've singularly listened to this record: on vinyl. That's right, this is actually the first time I've queued up this album digitally. I've only ever listened to it on my dad's record system, and I have to say, apart from some top-end sparkle and enhanced clarity in the imaging, it sounds similar enough. Usually, you have those experiences where you listen to something on digital for the first time, and either you hate it or rediscover everything about it, depending on how passionate you are about the artist or song. The 109 Pro retains that warmth while providing just a bit extra - so you immediately fall in love with the sound you know, but it gives you just enough of something new to allow you to fall in love all over again. It makes for extremely pleasant and long listening experiences, something Meze Audio designs well for every single one of their headphones.
They’ll be efficient enough to run portably, but I would probably recommend pairing the 109 Pro with a portable amplifier, just to make sure it has enough juice to really pop. I was a little unimpressed when connecting directly to my iPhone (but it was passable in a pinch). There’s no doubt, however, that the 109 Pro is a great-sounding pair of headphones.
by Eric Whitacre
(The Golden Age)
So the closest thing for comparison in Meze's product line is the 99 Classics. I've already discussed how the 109 Pro's take some obvious design influences from the entry-level pair of headphones, which is a great decision considering the popularity and overall comfort of the 99 Classics. The 109 is a bit harder to drive than the smaller 99 Classic, which is to be expected given the larger driver, but there are also many sonic improvements that come with that. The 109 is much warmer, more resolute, and rounder - I think it's a more versatile headphone for more genres. The 99 Classics have great clarity, but the 109 steps it up with lots more warmth and body. The 99 Classic is one of my favorite entry-level headphones and a steal at the price of $368, but if you want something that offers a much better and fuller sound with more energy, then the 109 Pro is the pick for you.
The AEON 2 open-back from Dan Clark Audio is a great competitor too, featuring an open-back design at roughly the same price point. I actually like the AEON 2 better as a portable headphone due to the folding gimbal design, it's able to take up much less real estate and has a smaller case as well. It has a soft V-shape; smooth sound and boosted bass. Signature-wise they're similar enough to the 109 Pro, but I would classify the Meze with a tighter bass response and a little more sparkle on the top end. The AEON 2 has the 2nd-generation planar driver (they're up to 4th gen now). Like the 109 they are extremely comfortable and with the teardrop-shaped ear cups there is a more immediate sound inside the chamber - their soundstage is nowhere near the expansiveness of the 109 Pro.
I like that Meze includes multiple cables and lengths with their headphones. They're fine enough for what they are, but you can tell that they put all their engineering efforts into the headphone, as they should. I was actually noticing some siblance issues around 5-6K (just a rough estimate) with the headphones on a number of genres. You know, it’s that sometimes harsh-sounding S or T that makes you wince a bit? Well honestly, I put a Black Dragon cable on it and: problem solved. The Copper and Silver Strands in the cable help smooth over those issue frequencies nicely. Of course, that was just my experience, and as we always say, everyone hears differently. Feel free to Contact Us with any questions you have and we'll be more than happy to make a personalized recommendation for you.
Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon cables are handcrafted with the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.
Silver Dragon Sound Signature: The Silver Dragon is the original cable. Silver strands clarify instrument separation, increase the soundstage, and find previously lost high and mid-frequency sounds. Transients appear more cohesive and the bass tighter for a more controlled sound. The detail and clarity of the Silver Dragon make it a perfect match for classical music and other genres with many nuanced instruments.
Black Dragon Sound Signature: The Black Dragon is warm and smooth with a musical presentation. Copper strands enhance the body, shape, and immediacy of the music. The detail and expansiveness of the Black Dragon make it a flexible fit where a broad range of musical genres are played. It can also improve bass frequencies on bass-light headphones. The smooth, musical quality makes it a perfect fit for headphones that tend to sound a bit edgy or bright. Despite its warmth, the Black Dragon does not have a laid-back, lush sound. It is much closer to neutral, making it a very natural-sounding cable. For more information on finding your signature sound, visit our Sound Signature Guide.
The 109 Pro is a superb high-end headphone, hands down. Again, Meze Audio can’t make bad headphones. Every single one of their audiophile headphones and IEMs offers something amazing for your music: Meze Empyrean, Elite, Liric, Rai Penta, Rai Solo, Advar, 99 Classics, and now the 109 Pro. I kinda consider the 109 the Advar of the full-size headphone lineup – it’s a solid balance of amazing sound quality at the under-1000 dollar price range. The 109’s retail for $799, so if you’re looking for an open-back headphone, we seriously recommend them. They easily go toe-to-two with headphones twice their price and combined with the warmer signature, tight bass, plenty of clarity on the top end, great styling, comfort, and you have a hi-fiheadphone that checks off all the boxes.
What's in the Box
- Meze Audio 109 Pro
- Hard Travel Case
- 3Ft Headphone Cable
- 6Ft Headphone Cable
- Quarter-inch adapter
- Leather Cable Bag