A regular fixture on InnerFidelity’s Wall of Fame, PC Magazine’s Editors’ Choice section, and award lists around the world, the 99 Classics get a dark new look in the 99 Noir. Made in collaboration with Meze Audio, these headphones update the original medium-brown finish with a deep matte espresso and swap the gold hardware for more understated black Read More
Comfortable, pleasant, good surround, sufficiently detailed, and a lot of bass
By no means am I an audio expert, and so I have resorted to collating the different ways various reviewers here have described the headphones. So if it helps anyone, these are some amateur statistics from almost every review from today and back to Dec 2019 (I had to have a stop somewhere or risk questioning how I spend my time while working from home…):
- There were at least 31 mentions of the Meze 99 Noir being comfortable. Definitely the top comment! Although at least 10 did find the headphones uncomfortable whether it’s from the clamping force or from the small pads, or sometimes the small ‘large’ pads. Another 6 found the pads too warming, i.e. sweaty ears.
- At least 20 mentions of it having a lot of bass, in a good way, and at least 7 liked how switching to the small pads “tightened up” the bass or produced a more balanced sound. However, at least 8 found too much bass overall (even with the small pads) and at least 3 found the bass boomy and muddy (with the large pads).
- At least 17 mentions of getting a ‘warm’ sound or at least 15 mentions of the sound being overall nice and enjoyable.
- At least 10 mentioned getting a ‘fun’ (or V-shaped?) sound.
- At least 12 liked the ‘big’ sound or wide soundstage for a closed-back headphone, but at least 2 found the headphones lacking soundstage.
- At least 5 mentions of the sound being detailed and bright, but at least 14 mentioned of the sound lacking detail, not being analytical, or being coloured in general.
- And at least 5 appreciated the good mids or intimate sound.
Now on to the part where I try my best to describe the headphones after some burn-in time and prefacing this with the fact that I did switch from pad to pad and ended up using the large pads (mainly due to better comfort):
Comfort: Unfortunately I’m part of the small portion of people that found the small pads uncomfortable. Switching to the large pads however made me forget about even checking whether my ear was hurting [Note: I have relatively big ears for a non-alien]. Extra prolonged use (3+ hours) does bite into my left ear. I’ve ordered the Brainwavz pads but it’s still stuck in the US so will update once I try them on!
Warmth of pads: After relative prolonged use (2-3 hours), I might realize having ears being somewhat sweaty, but in no way distracts me from wearing when in use. I’ve experienced worse in other headphones, e.g. Sennheiser PXC550 and IEMS in general.
Sound: I agree with the sound being very pleasant, enjoyable (see conclusion below), and ‘all around’ (considerably wide but obviously incomparable to open-backs). As for details, they are definitely there but I would suggest to lower your expectations but not lacking to the point that you would need to squint and listen hard for them. As for bass, I agree with this being the main point of the headphones alongside comfort, and it can get a bit boomy and loose, but the genres I listen to don’t focus on too much bass so it ends up with me really enjoying that extra bass.
Conclusion: I really think that how much you enjoy the sound of these headphones really depends on what you enjoy listening to. I enjoy listening to different music styles and can say that I’ve enjoyed listening to my favourite albums more ever since I got the Meze 99 and paired it with the Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt and Tidal Hi-Fi. I’m not a gear head though so comparisons are limited to my IKKO OH10 IEM (entry-mid level chi-fi), my Beoplay H4 (entry consumer-grade over-ear wireless), and Audioengine A5+ monitor speakers paired with an entry-level LP player.
As a couple of examples (+ mentions of my favourite tracks):
- Weezer’s Pinkerton has been my go to since I got the headphones, i.e. because the album sounds really good on the Meze. The enveloping-like sound really enhances garage rock-style music (good bass, a lot of distorted guitars, and crash/ride cymbals) without being tiring. Rivers’ voice takes a bit of a step back, but when the rest of the band chimes in they sound really side-by-side-y in a really nice way. My favourite part? That drum solo in Pink Triangle coupled with double solo guitars where the bass drum really kicks you and not in an overly sharp way.
- The Carpenters (yes) has also been another go-to. Karen’s intimate vocals are top of the world for me and she’s known for close-miking, so you get a really smooth and pleasant aural display of her peaceful vocals. Mids take a good step forward and in For All We Know, Karen’s vocal intricacies are highlighted and you can hear a lot of that vibrato and those “sss”, quick breathe-in, and slight lip smacking details (no, I’m not a fan of ASMR). In Those Good Old Dreams, the imaging of instruments and the vocal echoes really stand out. My favourite part, though? The electric guitar solo in Goodbye To Love.
- The Beatles, which typically is the material I compare across gear, is… Well, let’s just say that the production and (re)mastering prowess really, really stand out. Most favourite track to listen to? Fixing A Hole and those good hi-hats, vocal echoes, harpsichord rhythm, distorted solo guitar, and melodic basslines.
- Simon & Garfunkel, as my way of testing lighter, acoustic styles of music. Favourites? Bleecker Street, Wednesday Morning 3am, Mrs. Robinson, and those beautifully-harmonized side-by-side vocals that stand out well (particularly in the first two).
Welp, the time spent on writing this probably could have been better spent on doing actual work? Thanks for reading; it’s my first headphone review ever!
Everyone for Tyll at Innerfidelity to Zeos has given these a favorable review. The most compelling review was from John Darko though, and that got me to buy them. The overall opinion being that these are just well-made, fun cans that always sound good no matter the pairing(s).
I agree. The "fun" part of these headphones is that the music is just all around me and extremely easy to listen to. I love the way the Noirs present sound: the soundstage is respectably wide with proper imaging, which covers every spot in front of your face--no dead zones. On the right track, one sound or effect can travel along the front of your head without ever dying out, and that gives these things a surprisingly holographic feel.
The extra heft to the low end does not bother me. In fact, it feels substantial in a natural way to me--not tubby and bloated like I feared. I should take the time to say that I am using the LARGER EAR HOLE PADS that come with this set, so that is the sound signature I am referring to. I believe the SMALLER EAR HOLE PADS increase bass and treble, but some review or another advised against it, so I have not tried that combo yet.
The above traits are a huge bonus for headphones I just bought to kick around the house.
I also think the Noirs may scale up better than people have said. I have noticed the difference in swapping sources, and I even got the balanced version of the cable on amazon (the MEZE brand one) to enhance sound a bit. I think the cable that comes with it has a TRRS connection for MICs. I wanted a TRRS that foregoes the MIC for balancing the L & R channels.
Finally, the comfort...DAMN. This suspension headband is wonderful. You can put it on your head and gracefully go up and down with the earcups. There is no jerkiness, wobbly nature, etc. Just a smooth fitting that easily adjust higher or lower to fit you perfectly. I wish I had better words to describe this experience, but it is greatly satisfying. Lightweight is another word that comes to mind--easy to relax with.
I highly recommend these for people that want to comfortably enjoy well-represented music, but I think some audiophiles will be surprised by how much they enjoy these as well.