Rafe Arnott | Oct 9, 2018
The Meze booth stood out to me upon first walking into CANJAM at RMAF this year because their managing director, Mircea Fanatan, was standing there looking very peaceful amid a sea of headphone-enthusiast chaos which was buffeting every surface and corner of the event. It practically felt windy in there.
He seemed buddha-still amid all the movement so my eyes seemed to naturally seek his booth out as a great place to start my journey that morning. Meze is a Romanian company well known for their highly-praised, and budget-conscious 99 Classics ($309 USD) and 99 Neo ($249 USD) headphones, so when I first heard about the new flagship planar-magnetic design-based Empyrean – featuring the first Isodynamic Hybrid-Array driver of its type – around the time of High End at Munich this spring (before I was at InnerFidelity) and their $3,000 USD price tag, I made a mental note that the company had decided to jump into the deep, shark-infested waters of upper-price, open-back, over-ear headphones.
Looking initially at the design of the ‘phones, I found them beautifully finished with an incredibly high level of design style (the driver grilles are a work of art in my opinion) and incredible attention to detail in their construction with carbon fibre used to keep weight down along with an aluminium CNC-machined pair of driver chassis that Fanatan told me requires 22 hours to complete their shaping.
The Hybrid planar-magnetic dual-sided magnet geometry array features three distinct sections within an unbroken trace pattern but with a rounded maze-like upper section (switchback coil) and a more circular shape for the lower half of the driver array all with differing levels of excursion to handle differing frequency levels (upper trace: bass, lower trace: treble and midrange).
Head fit was snug, and had a very luxurious feel to the materials used on the magnetically-attached ear cups. Their relatively light weight (430 grams) and supple leather headband (with flexible alloy inserts where the band attaches to the ear cup chassis assembly) made for an extremely comfortable extended listening session.
Listening was done through an Auris Nirvana headamp and FooBar 2000 installed on a Microsoft Surface that was loaded with a mix of FLAC and DSD files. I started with a 24-bit PCM version of Dave Brubeck’s “Everybody’s Jumping” and was impressed right away with how clearly ultra-subtle detail from the skins of Joe Morello’s drum work was presented. Ditto for the weight to Brubeck’s piano playing with the full size of the instrument’s body presented as he either pounded on the keys, or used a light touch. There was a real cohesive and artistic nature to the way the Empyreans unfolded the song’s sound stage between my ears that spoke of exquisite tone, timbre and most of all, real musicality. Up next was a DSD version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song” which showed how well the Empyrean could handle spatial resolution between vocals and instruments in the mix. The 3D-reference between the pair’s closed mic’d vocals and harmonies and Simon’s guitar playing and that of the audience’s chatter had the Empyrean deftly lay out a huge sound field with ease.
Look for a future review of the Empyrean on InnerFidelity when production units become available.