The Meze Audio 99 Classics are well-engineered headphones made of premium materials like real walnut and steel.
Impressive headphones, designed and assembled with care
I'm glad I got a chance to meet Antonio Meze and the whole Meze Audio team at this year's CanJam NYC. I was able to see their earnest enthusiasm for building headphones, firsthand. Of course, you could probably sense that passion just by holding the Meze Audio 99 Classics — or placing these well-constructed headphones on your head.
Antonio has an engineering background, so he told me the build quality was a top priority. Smooth, real walnut earcups and a strong metal frame give these headphones an attractive look and durable feel. The well-crafted earcups, headband, and frame are held together by heavy-duty hardware — "never glued," Meze was quick to point out.
Organic, energetic sound
Antonio said that his goal for the 99 Classics was to deliver an overall headphone experience that punches above its weight. And "punch" is a good word for the sound they deliver. You get lively, musical sound with quick, muscular bass.
They are very easy to drive, so you can certainly connect them to your phone (or your phone's minijack adapter). I primarily listened to them through my AudioQuest DragonFly® Black plug-in USB DAC/headphone amp, and that really helped open up the sound — I heard better stereo imaging and separation of instruments than I did with just my phone.
My impressions — a fun listen across the board
I toggled through a few "New Releases" on Spotify at the time I auditioned these 'phones. The 99 Classics aren't particularly picky, and lent might and muscle to all types of music, from acoustic-driven Dave Matthews Band tracks (considered local guys here in Charlottesville), to some stripped-down Prince piano-and-vocal demos, to the intricately produced Kanye/Kid Cudi project.
Be aware that these headphones don't isolate sound as well as some other closed-back models. My floor here at Crutchfield HQ is quieter than other areas of the building, so my co-workers knew what music I was playing.
On Jason Isbell's "Whisper," the artist's twangy vocals fit in just right with the keys, percussion, and sprawling, singing slide guitar. The sound felt as well put together — and striking — as the headphones themselves.
The straightforward hip-hop track "The Games We Play" by Pusha T hit with more intensity than I've heard with other headphones tuned for a flatter frequency response. The beat and bass knocked with energy, but didn't bloat the mix, while Push's bars had a presence that added a level of immediacy and excitement.
Comfortable, no-fuss fit
These headphones felt surprisingly lightweight in my hand, and somehow felt even lighter when I wore them. The heavy-duty steel headband uses a spring suspension system that seems to "pop" into place, without a lot of moving around or adjusting. For me, it was one and done. And the super-soft, split-leather ear pads surrounded my ear with the right combo of firmness and give.
Beautifully crafted, real walnut wood earcups
There's no doubt that the 99 Classics' walnut earcups play a huge part in shaping the naturally dynamic sound. According to Meze, the wood used here has been responsibly harvested — all the trees are properly certified and have reached the end of their life cycle.
It takes 18 months for wood to dry completely before they can craft them into shape. Sure, there are ways to cheat that process — they could add steam or excess heat — but the result would be less than ideal in structure, appearance, and acoustic performance. There are some things you just can't microwave.