Meze Audio first received its true breakthrough in 2015 with the release of the well-received 99 Classics which had earned the company many awards and recognition. Part of their appeal stemmed from budget-friendly creations which married comfort, aesthetics and sound – something which helped to propel HiFiMAN during their early years. However, unlike the latter company, Meze Audio dived straight into deep-end high-fidelity territory following entry level propositions. The latest headphones touted the Meze Empyreans retail for a hefty $2999 and are said to be a ‘game-changer’ after years of passion, curiosity and innovation.
Antonio Meze, who heads the Romanian brand, has years of industry experience as a product designer. The Meze team utilise this expertise along with the help of musicians, engineers and artists to venture into unchartered territory in the world of personal audio. Each headphone undergoes a rigorous testing process with many sound tuning iterations before the final product is brought to market whether it reaches deadline or not. This commitment to product maturity is admirable as customers can be reassured that end products are not rushed and not the culmination of shortcuts.
With a name to match, the ‘Empyrean’ refers to the highest heaven in ancient cosmology and defines Meze’s current flagship product in partnership with Rinaro Isodynamics. The two companies have incorporated a patent-pending isodynamic hybrid array driver said to rival competitors its price range and more. Thus, with a strive for innovation, Meze certainly look to impress with their first foray into the realm of hi-fidelity.
The packaging of the Empyrean headphones is a unique experience. Rather than cardboard materials, the headphones come is a protective aluminium travel case which resembles a briefcase. This does add a touch of class to the headphones and is also practical for transporting them across different venues whilst offering a great deal of protection.
The travel case hosts foam inserts where both the headphones, dual sets of pads (alcantara and leather) as well as the cables reside. Perhaps all that is missing is a high-gloss illustrative manual to complete the out of box premium experience.
The cables come in three varieties: a 3 metre OFC cable (terminated in 4 pin mini XLR plugs ending with a 6.3 mm jack), a 1.3 metre OFC cable (terminated in 4 pin mini XLR plugs ending with a 3.5 mm jack) or a 3 metre OFC cable (terminated in 4 pin mini XLR plugs ending with an XLR full-size connector). It is a shame that Meze Audio have not included all three as part of the overall package but I suspect this would increase the pricing even more.
The Design & Build
The Meze Empyreans are a full-sized open-back headphone which uses a similar headband and rest system as the HiFiMAN headphones. However unlike the HiFiMANs, the Empyreans goes one step further to aid comfort with their distributive wingtips designed to maximise pressure contact points. The headband, made of carbon fibre, is similar in visual design and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps the most striking part of the design, however, are the grills which feature a mesmerizing blade-like pattern made from CNC-milled aluminium material. The styling is said to enable natural soundstage while also giving the headphones a very unique and high-end look.
The twin-rod system enables easy adjustment of the ear-cup positioning and is visually reminiscent of Meze’s prior products. Also impressive is the ability to swivel the cups along the horizontal plane owing to the pivot design of the ear-cup attachments.
The most impressive design feature is the circular placed magnets across the ear cup which allows comfortable and rapid changing of the ear pads which neatly click into place – a real gem of a feature.
Having never experienced a Meze product before, I must admit that other headphone companies should take a leaf out of their book when it comes to ergonomics. With a distributive headrest system, the Empyreans can be worn for many hours despite its 430 gram weight. Combined with this, both the alcantara and leather pads offer supreme levels of comfort while not getting too stuffy or compressing. Meze Audio have also adopted an ovoid ear cup design to accommodate the natural contouring of human ears. The design enables a better ergonomic fit and targets sound waves towards the ear canal. Overall, very impressive.
The Empyrean headphones feature a patent-pending isodynamic hybrid array driver designed to redirect sound wave signals to the ear canal. This is achieved with the combination of two separate magnetic planar voice coils with a strategically placed trace. The result being improved imaging of the headphone while also maximising driver efficiency. In fact, the isodynamic driver boasts an impressive total harmonic distortion (THD) of < 0.1% over the entire frequency range. Overall, the driver has taken over 30 years to develop and offers a broad frequency spectrum ranging from a low 4 Hz to a staggering 110,000 Hz.
NB: Ear pads do alter the sound signature of the Empyreans. For the purpose of this review, I shall be using the alcantara pads unless specified otherwise.
With excellent driver extension, the bass of the Empyreans delivers rumbling lows which are both captivating and authoritative. The bass has a real texture which sets it apart from other planar magnetic designs. A track I like to test the sub-bass capability is James Blake’s “Limit To Your Love” and the Empyreans certainly deliver low-frequencies with heft and impact. Compared to the leather pads, the alcantara pads offer greater sub- and mid-bass presence at the expense of some articulation and reference tuning that the former exhibits. It is great that users are given a choice to alter the sound tuning to their taste. Personally, the alcantara pads deliver an engaging sound which makes music sound incredibly fun, laidback and musical. Compared to HiFiMAN’s HE-1000 V2, the Empyrean’s bass delivers more body and depth but does lose out on agility and articulation which the former headphone displays. Having said that, the Empyrean does render great amounts of detail in its low frequency range as demonstrated by the ease of which it handles the complex bass line of “Late Nite Tip” by Three 6 Mafia. Overall, the mid-bass bump works some warmth into the signature of the Empyrean leaning it towards a more musical headphone.
The midrange of the Empyreans are truly exceptional. With a full and complete body weight, the midrange is emotive while also being balanced, detailed and organic. As with the HiFiMAN Edition X, the Empyreans exhibit a tonally agreeable sound that has a touch of warmth but with larger amounts of crispness, clarity and texturing. It is nice to see how forgiving the Empyreans are as it really is a headphone that combined with its comfort can be listened to for hours on end. With the alcantara pads, the midrange does possess a wider soundstage with an airier presence. This is contrast to the leather pad’s more solid and slightly closer midrange within the overall soundstage. While the HiFiMAN Susvara’s midrange does output greater detailing and decay, the Empyreans offer a subjectively more addictive and involving tuning. In London Grammar’s “Help”, Reid’s vocals are captivating and sonically immersive. Similarly, in “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, vocals are crisp and detailed without ever sounding clinical or devoid of engagement. Also impressive is how the Empyreans manage to portray detailed transients in the midst of a musically affable sound signature.
The Empyrean’s top-end remains akin to the midrange in that it is both pleasantly detailed and yet agreeable. Without resorting to any unexpected boosts in the lower or higher treble, the high frequencies manage to retain great sparkle, clarity and air. In Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, high notes extend well and cymbals sound precise and vibrant. Compared to both the HE-1000 V2 and Sennheiser HD800, the treble of the Empyreans sound less forward allowing for a more natural and laidback listen.
The Soundstage & Imaging
The Empyreans host a decently large soundstage with good projection of sonic cues in both depth, width and height. It is similar to the HiFiMAN Susvara’s in overall size but with a bigger sounding vocal presence. While not the largest soundstage I have heard, the Empyreans does portray a natural and holographic staging with good cohesion between right and left pans.
Imaging is also excellent with good layering and depth between instruments and vocals within a track. The alcantara pads does slightly increase the soundstage width due to the pulled back midrange while the leather pads offer more a centre projected focus.
The Meze Empyreans possess great levels of efficiency and while sounding great from a laptop or simple DAP do scale well with desktop amp/DACs.
Schiit Audio Gungnir Multibit DAC and Mjolnir 2 Amp (LISST and tubes)
Overall, this pairing sounds great with the Empyreans despite not costing as much as other propositions. There is great sound-staging depth with some of the leading transients being rounded more to aid the smoothness of this headphone’s delivery. With the Telefunken E18CCs, there is a good amount of harmonic distortion added which further increase the musicality and emotiveness of these headphones.
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil Analog DAC and Mjolnir 2 Amp & Schiit Freya Plus Pre-amp
With this combination, there is more of a reference tilt with outstanding levels of detailing, transients and separation. The Yggdrasil does well to provide those extra micro-detailing and attack while the Mjolnir 2 and Freya Plus infuse a natural and holographic sound signature which make the whole listening experience a blissful addiction.
The Meze Empyreans represent the next step in flagship planar technology. With such an established sound and design, it is surprising to see that this is the company’s first stab in high-end gear. It is also nice to see that these headphones offer an outstanding level of refinement and balance despite being musically tuned. With many years of research and development, Meze along with Rinaro Isodynamics have certainly released a captivating product that would appeal to both the audiophile and mass market alike – a trait which is often hard to come across. Having said that, the $2999 price tag is by no means cheap and thus represents a significant investment for any consumer. However, with exceptional durability, exceedingly good comfort levels and an easygoing sound character – it is hard to give these amiss.