Today we are talking about the new flagship headphone from Romanian based Meze Audio. Meze are an interesting company, with great design chops, coming up with some very interesting headphones as of late. Up until the release of their former flagship headphone, which was released in 2018, the Empyrean, Meze had largely focused on more “consumer” type headphones. However, the Empyrean target the high end of “Audiophile” headphones, and was released at an MSRP of $3000USD, which is not insignificant. The design phase of the Empyrean headphones saw a partnership begin involving Meze Audio, and Rinaro Isodynamics. Rinaro is a designer of planar magnetic driver, and their roots actually date back to the soviet era. This combination of overall design from Meze, and drivers from Rinaro, has resulted thus far in 3 headphones. Today, we will focus on the new ELITE, but also talk about the Empyrean. The also recently released LIRIC closed headphone, will be covered in another forthcoming review.
Lets talk about the main thing that made both the Empyrean and now the ELITE somewhat different. The driver uses what Rinaro calls an ISODYNAMIC array. Essentially, it separates the low frequency, and mid/high frequency production from the driver into two separate trace and magnet arrays. The mid/high array is circular and centred right over the ear hole, and the bass array is larger and centred above the mid/high array. The general idea of using this array is a reduction in time delay problems that can be created from having the entire driver produce all the frequencies. This reminds me somewhat of what Wilson Audio talks about a lot in the speaker space. Focusing on time domain accuracy with their modular driver units, and trying to get all the sounds arriving at the listening position all at exactly the same moment. Whether or not this actually effects the overall sound is a topic of hot debate, but I’m open to it being an effective method of achieving “good” sound. I do think that in a headphone, it may not matter very much as the driver is literally right beside the ear, but I could see the placement on the mid/high array being right over the ear hole making sense, as the lower in frequency you go, the less directional the sound becomes. I have read some people who felt the overall sound of this ISODYNAMIC driver type was not as coherent sounding as regular planar magnetic drivers, but honestly, I have not found that to be the case. To me, it just sounds like other planar magnetic headphones, obviously with differences in terms of tuning and technicalities. Is this a case of solving a problem that doesn’t exist? It might be, but Meze and Rinaro have indeed got something good going on here, so perhaps that is not the case.
Back in 2018 when the Empyrean was originally doing the rounds at shows in prototype form, it was all the rage. However, the community at large seemed to largely disavow the Empyreans sound signature as being too warm, too muddy, and not detailed enough. “$3000 build quality with $1000 sound quality” was something I read more than a few times. The ELITE seems to be trying to address the communities concerns about the Empyrean, and in my opinion, it does so very well. I will get to that more in a little bit, but first, I have to talk about the build quality of the Empyrean and ELITE.
Usually I would talk about this area later in a review, but the Empyrean and ELITE are so remarkable I need to mention it first. These are without a doubt the best thought out, best built, and comfiest headphones I have ever tried. This seems to be the impression of everyone who comes across a pair. They fit so well, are so comfortable, and not heavy, and just ooze quality in terms of feel. Aluminum, carbon fibre, sumptuous ear pads, leather, alcantara. Meze has absolutely nailed the ergonomics and build quality of both the Empyrean and ELITE. Truly superb craftsmanship and design. 10/10.
Now, where the Empyrean and ELITE differ is the sound quality. The ELITE have an altogether new driver, which they have called the Rinaro “PARUS.” With entirely different tuning, both the Empyrean and ELITE seem to have a niche they fill, and I can entirely understand Meze continuing to offer both headphones in their lineup.
I will speak of the Empyrean first, then get to the ELITE.
The Empyrean is a warm and thick sounding headphone, that could be a bit shouty at time in the upper mids and lower treble. Some people found the upper treble to bright, but I didn’t have a problem with it at all. The bass was certainly higher in level than most “audiophile” headphones, and when I used the leather pads I didn’t find I needed to boost it via EQ at all, when with most headphones I usually do a small increase. Overall, I usually prefer headphone I don’t have to EQ beyond a small boost in the low end, but I did find the Empyrean benefitted from more EQ than I would usually do. In its stock tuning, for me personally, it was a bit warm, and thick sounding. If you like that sort of sound, then these are very much worth considering. If you don’t mind doing a bit of EQ, then the Empyrean is also worth considering. In terms of technical performance, I actually think the Empyrean has gotten a bit of a bad rap, and perhaps people are basing their opinions on reading about them, vs actually listening to them. Whilst they don’t perform as well as some other headphones in terms of technical performance, I do think they perform well enough to not be written off entirely. With that being said, if you are after detail, dynamics, and that sort of thing above all else, I would recommend looking elsewhere. The Empyrean makes a case for its use when you need a headphone that is incredibly comfortable, well built, warm sounding, whilst also being incredibly easy to drive and accepting of all types of amplification.
The ELITE is a very different animal to the Empyrean in terms of overall sound. It is largely a fairly neutral “audiophile” type tuning, whilst retaining a little bit of the musicality aspect that the Empyrean perhaps overdid. I much prefer the ELITEs tuning over all, but do find that I need to do a tiny boost with EQ in the low end. Apart from that, there is nothing about the ELITEs tuning that I don’t like. Its not too bright, its not shouty, its a very well balanced sound signature. The new driver from Rinaro is a heck of a lot better in terms of technical performance also. The ELITE bring more detail, better dynamic performance, and better overall coherency to the table. The Empyrean did quite well with the “macro” side of things, but I found it struggled with the “micro” side of things. Micro detail, microdynamics, the tiny things you notice which add up to a more involving and enjoyable experience are overall much better with the ELITE.
In terms of soundstage and imaging, both the ELITE and Empyrean have an extremely “natural” sounding presentation. The ELITE is much better in terms of imaging accuracy than the Empyrean, but both present a soundstage that is neither wide nor small. As I said, it sounds natural. The headphone disappears in this aspect, and you just listening to music. Whereas a Focal Utopia sound noticeably claustrophobic and small, and the Abyss 1266TC or HD800 sounds wide and grande, the Empyrean and ELITE are similar to the Susvara soundstage, striking a great balance right in the middle.
The Elite and Empyrean both have the best pad attachment system I have come across. Making it incredibly easy to change between their two pad options. The Empyrean sounded better with the Leather pads I found, but the Alcantara were more comfortable. The ELITE sounds better with the shallow leather hybrid pads, as I found the Alcantara pads reduced the bass far too much for my personal preference. Each headphone comes with both sets of their respective pads, so I would recommend trying them both out, as you may be different to me, and will find out what you and your ears prefer.
Both the Empyrean and ELITE are 100db/mW in terms of sensitivity, and 30hms. This means they are incredibly easy to drive headphones. Now, both headphones, the ELITE in particular, will sound better with better source equipment, but their easy to drive nature means that you can use them with such a truly wide variety of source equipment. Its actually one of their best features. I have had tremendous success with the iFi Hip DAC V2, and the Fiio Q3. Both very affordable and easily accessible source equipment. I would like to hear the ELITE from a top of the line tube amp, but they certainly sounded superb from my Boulder 866, that whilst being speaker amp, has a volume ramp up which allows the use of even the most sensitive headphones.
The included cable with the Empyrean and ELITE is the same, and entirely serviceable in nature. However, Meze does offer upgrade cables for these headphones, that whilst not cheap, do look great, and I’m sure provide a better build quality and less microphonics.
In terms of comparisons. The Hifiman Susvara and Abyss AB1266TC are both more detailed and more technically accomplished. The Susvara has a very similar presentation of sound, in that it sounds very natural, and even throughout the frequency response. The ELITE has slightly more bass presence than the Susvara, but is very similar elsewhere. The 1266TC is much harder hitting, and punchier, whilst presenting a much larger soundstage. The 1266TC is a bit brighter, and has a crisper treble.
Overall, my take away of the ELITE (and the Empyrean before it, to a lesser degree) was one word.
Now, you may think that isn’t a good description to come to mind for a $4000USD headphone, but, please hear me out.
Every single headphone at the top of the line bracket has some consideration you need to take into account before buying it. The Abyss 1266 is large, heavy, and some find it uncomfortable. The Susvara lacks build quality, great materials, and is extremely hard to drive. The Utopia has a small soundstage and the “mechanical clipping” feature. The ELITE has none of these concerns. It is incredibly easy to drive, it is incredibly well built, with the best of materials, and it is incredibly comfortable. It may not reach the absolute sound quality that the Susvara, or 1266TC reach, but it honestly isn’t far away from them. As a complete package, it is incredibly easy to recommend.
Now, for some people, myself included, the considerations of headphones like the 1266TC and Susvara are worth working around, for ultimate sound quality. However, there are also people who just want a “one and done” headphone, that makes it easy to enjoy their tunes at the highest level. The ELITE does this in spades, and has become one of my favourite headphones with ease. It has taken everything that made the Empyrean great, but improved on all the aspect that made it more of a niche product. If you can’t be bothered with speaker amps, comfort concerns etc…check out the Meze ELITE. Highly recommended. Well done to Antonio Meze, Rinaro, and the rest of the team at Meze Audio 🙂
Here is a link to Mezes website they asked me if I would mind including in my review. Please note this is not an affiliate link in any way shape or form. Just a link to their for their company info, products etc….