Meze RAIses the Bar on the IEM
Meze Audio is finally getting into the IEM business, bringing the power of 5 to their highly anticipated IEM: the Rai Penta. They’ve also released a mid-range model, the Rai Solo, with a premium single driver and stainless steel shell. The company has already made a name for itself when they released the Empyrean Planar Magnetic headphone, a phenomenal headphone and a favorite in the office at Moon Audio. With a long research and development phase, let’s see if the Rai Penta and Solo live up to the hype.
A TIMELESS STATEMENT OF HI-FI
“The Rai Penta is the culmination of 3 years of researching the most ergonomic shape and most vivid sound for a Universal IEM. We could have released it earlier, but again, like with any of our other products, we wanted to make sure it is truly the best we can achieve.”
— Antonio Meze, Lead designer and Founder Meze Audio
What's In the Box
There’s a myriad of different ear tip types included, so you can be assured that you’ll find the right fit for your ears. I was skeptical, because I have very small ear canals, finding a tip that fits without adding too much pressure is usually a difficult task for me, and why I tend to stay away from universals. However, I was beyond shocked, when, not only did I find the right fit, I was surprised to find how incredibly comfortable the Rai Penta is. Other shell designs tend to have a pressure point or two depending on the design, but Meze did their research and crafted a shell that is ergonomic to most ear shapes. Now I’m not assuring that it will fit 100% of ear sizes, but it did fit mine, and I consider myself on the abnormally picky side when it comes to sticking foreign objects inside my ears.
Because the shells on the Rai Solo are made from Stainless Steel, they are much heavier than the Penta IEM. The shell feels premium, but the added weight is not terribly noticeable while being used. I will say, although the shape is similar to that of the Penta, the Solo’s did not fit as snuggly nor seal as well as the Penta for me. The Penta is slightly bulkier and deeper, so that was likely helping in my case. Again, everyone’s ears are different, so just because the Solo’s didn’t fit perfectly for me doesn’t mean they won’t for you.
Sometimes good things come in small packages. The Meze Rai Penta and Solo are no exception. Apart from the shells themselves, the boxes includes a zippered hardshell carrying case made of a leather-esque material. Meze includes a high-quality cable with the Penta. High-purity silver-plated copper wires terminated in finely crafted metal plug shells ensures that cable assembly will stay strong and reliable for a long time. There are 4 wires. Each wire consists of 20 litz strands. MMCX plugs are top quality and plug termination is rhodium plated for best connectivity and durability.
The cable for the Rai Solo is of similar design, but slightly smaller in diameter. The connections were tight to all the devices I used and the connections on the shells were secure.
Included with the IEMs are both a flight adapter (for planes with x2 3.5mm jacks for headphones) and quarter-inch adapter, along with a cleaning brush, the manual and some stickers.
Materials, Quality, and Comfort
Both the Meze Rai Penta and the Rai Solo in-ear headphones are built incredibly well. The shell of the Solo is built from a stainless steel casing, and has a nice heft to it. In developing the Rai Solo, Meze looked for a fun-neutral but well refined and controlled sound signature. The strongest correlation between the Rai Solo and the Rai Penta is the similar shape of the IEM. The use of Metal Injection Moulding technology for the body of the Solo made it possible to have a very complex inner shape made in mass production with great accuracy.
The Rai Penta on the other hand is a full metal - CNC aluminum chassis. The shell is milled from a solid piece of aluminum, and is thus much lighter than the body of the Rai Solo. One feature that helps the Penta in overall comfort is the Pressure Equalization System (PES). Airflow control helps regulate internal chamber pressure through the finely tuned PES design in front and behind the driver assembly. This helps to relieve the pressure inside the canal after the seal is made. Usually if the ear tips are too large then they can create pressure and discomfort in the ear canal for the user, often creating an unpleasant listening experience for any amount of time.
Shape-wise the two bodies are quite similarly anatomical. Meze Audio did their research when it comes to design. Attention to details to an extreme: round, soft edges designed to embrace the natural curves from one’s ear and to fit perfectly. The Rai Penta is slightly wider and deeper; as mentioned previously, this makes for a more solid fit and seal for me personally, but both shell designs are quite comfortable. It’s likely the Penta shell is larger due to the fact that it has 4 more drivers in it than the Solo. I’ve spent hours upon hours in the office listening with the Solo and Penta, both with very little fatigue. The Penta outperforms the Solo however merely due to the fact that they fit and seal in my ear much better. With very little pressure and weight, most of the time I can’t even tell they are there.
The Rai Penta utilizes a premium rhodium-plated 3.5mm and mmcx connectors. Rhodium is corrosion proof, whereas gold-plated materials deteriorate over time and wear and tear from use (connecting and disconnecting). They are very nice connectors and a nice addition to make sure your investment not only looks and feels premium, but sounds premium as well. You can be assured that ten years from now your connectors will sound just as good as the first day you plugged them in.
It probably goes without saying that 5 drivers are going to sound a lot different than one driver. That’s going to be the primary difference between the Rai Solo and the Rai Penta; named quite expectedly after their individual driver designs.
"Rai Solo has been at the origin of the entire Rai IEM family so it shares a lot of design philosophy DNA with the flagship Rai Penta. It was supposed to be released ahead of Rai Penta, but we took our time to perfect it for mass production. The result is a high value, yet still affordable, IEM. Rai Solo has been born from our vision to offer entry-level audiophiles a solid built and great value IEM. Ergonomic design, sturdy stainless-steel shell, refined dynamic driver, all for one purpose: enchanting your senses through a pure listening experience."Meze Audio
Based on the popular Rai Penta design, the Meze Rai Solo features a single driver design for premium high-end audio at a lower price point. It features a refined electrodynamic driver with UPM balanced piston membrane motion encased in a durable and ergonomic stainless steel shell. In developing the Rai Solo, Meze looked for a fun-neutral but well refined and controlled sound signature. The strongest correlation between the Rai Solo and the Rai Penta is the similar shape of the IEM. The use of Metal Injection Moulding technology for the body of the Solo made it possible to have a very complex inner shape made in mass production with great accuracy.
Traditional Driver Membrane
In a traditional electrodynamic driver the voice coil lead wires are glued to the back side of the thin membrane. This is the major factor of the unbalanced vibration.
Wire Free UPM Design
The new UPM driver eliminates this inconvenience by using a totally different approach: the membrane itself is electrically conductive and, therefore, no wires are attached to the diaphragm. The result is a symmetric pistonic motion through its entire movement, without disturbance from the unbalance created by wires. The benefits of this design include low total harmonic distortion, a clear mid-range, and outstanding reproduction of low frequencies.
Vibration Reduction System
Stainless steel is an extremely rigid material, has low resonance and therefore delivers minimum interference to the vibration created by the driver unit. In terms of audio performance, these advantages contribute to a clean and dark background with well-defined imaging. The specially conceived shell architecture in conjunction with the steel chassis dampens vibration from the driver unit. The surface is raw Stainless Steel individually hand brushed.
In comparison to other in-ear monitors or high-end earphones with the standard dynamic driver, the Rai Solo is much more detailed and has a depth to it that is hard to find in other IEMs at the same price point. After listening to a variety of genres, I found the midrange to be present with clarity more so than I’ve experienced with other in-ears that have a single dynamic driver. The bass response is tight, although not as defined. The higher frequencies and the overall signature are balanced and “dynamic” in the sense that the music feels livelier than other IEMs - likely due to the engineering and design of the chassis.
Penta Hybrid Driver Technology
The Penta is named so for its 5 independent drivers working together inside the chassis. Penta Hybrid technology delivers harmonized sound frequencies without the overlay of phase issue. For sound from the drivers to reach your eardrums, it has to pass through the housing, through the nozzle, and finally the ear tip assembly. The seamless functioning of 5 drivers is enabled by the very specific and precise length of each sound tube which basically determines the air volume in front of each driver in particular. Meze Audio’s design supposedly eliminates imperfections that you can find in regular plastic Tube and Dampener systems, which are commonly used in multi-driver assembly.
The Penta-Hybrid driver consists of 4 customized balanced armature drivers and 1 dynamic driver working together to create a surprisingly wide soundstage and incredible fidelity for an in-ear monitor. Like Meze Audio’s flagship headphone, the Empyrean, the Rai Penta is the big arena show sound compared to the Solo. More definition, punch, overall fidelity, and life to your music. Combine that with the amazing comfort and fit, and this is one of my favorite universal IEMs. To learn more about the Meze Empyrean and how it sounds, check out our review here.
Compared to the Rai Solo, the Penta is incredibly resolute. Music is detailed with nice extension in the bottom end and the higher frequencies are smooth and balanced. Listening to some classical music, I was impressed with how much the low basses really came out in the mix, when oftentimes they get masked by the cellos in other IEMs I’ve used. In rock music the guitars are punchy and in-your-face, but not overpowering vocals like they sometimes do; the rhythm sections really fill out the low end frequencies.
The Meze Rai Penta really excels at high resolution audio. The Penta works effortlessly with any device due to its low impedance and high sensitivity, and Meze Audio likes to recommend high resolution music sources to really show off the potential and effort they put into tuning their driver array. Meze claims that the response is super high resolution above any certificate or standard. The clarity from the driver array is one thing that struck me the most about the IEM. They sound phenomenal.
The Meze Rai Solo is fairly balanced on the spectrum (8 Hz - 22 kHz) and the Rai Penta have impeccable micro-detailing providing realism across the wide frequency range of 4Hz to 45 kHz. Both sound great with a wonderful sense of clarity, but the Penta's really stand out with extra definition, weight, and separation for such a small package.
Meze Audio has created some really great top of class contenders with the Rai Solo and the Rai Penta. The Rai Solo is a solid single-driver IEM that is going to offer some extra detail and clarity over other IEMs in the same price point. If you don’t want to break the bank but still want to get a pair of durable IEMs that sound better than the rest of the pack, then the Rai Solo is a great choice.
I really want to say the Rai Penta is like a little Meze Empyrean - but it’s not quite there. The sound and tuning are very similar, and with the 5 independent drivers the soundstage mimics that of a larger open-back headphone. Meze Empyrean lovers will probably be fans of the Rai Penta then, and with enough sonic similarities, a good alternative to bringing your Empyreans on the road.
For those unfamiliar with the Empyrean, the Rai Penta is nicely balanced and the natural timbre of instrumentation really stands out. Drums and mids are clear and unveiled, vocals shine and bass is present with lots of depth. Meze Audio has done a superb job tuning the 5 drivers in the Penta. The overall fidelity is impressive, and combined with the ergonomic and anatomically shaped shell, you have the best of both worlds: great sound and comfort. The Rai Penta feels premium in every way. The low impedance and high sensitivity of the Rai Penta assures that it will work effortlessly with almost any device.
The Rai Penta and the Rai Solo are two outstanding in-ear monitors. If you’re in the market for mid-range or high-end IEMs, it would be hard to not recommend both of these depending on your budget.
Meze Audio, welcome to the world of IEMs. I think you’re here to stay.
Driver: 9.2mm UPM dynamic driver
Stock cables: MMCX connector ending in 3.5mm
Body Material: Stainless Steel
Diaphragm thickness: 9μm
Frequency Response: 18Hz - 22kHz
SPL: 105±3dB at 1mW/1kHz
Distortion: <1% at 1mW/1kHz
Driver: PENTA-HYBRID DRIVER
(4 x Customized Balanced Armature and 1 x Dynamic Driver working harmoniously together)
Stock cables: MMCX connector ending in 3.5mm, Rhodium-plated
Upgrade cables: MMCX connector ending in 2.5mm TRRS balanced and 4.4mm balanced as extra accessories
Frequency Range: 4Hz – 45kHz
Sensitivity: 110dB SPL/1mW Sensitivity
Max Input Power: 30mW