Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Written by Cheryl Tan
I’ve been reviewing true wireless audio and some in-ears, but reviewing high-end audio is a whole different ballgame. You need a high-resolution source, amplifiers, DACs and all sorts of other equipment to truly get the best out of the expensive new headphone or earphone.
So I was lucky enough to be able to have a listen to the Meze Empyrean and Meze Rai Penta thanks to AV One, where I had access to some excellent equipment to ensure my experience was a good one. I only had about 25 to 30 minutes each with the Empyrean and Rai Penta, but here are what stood out most for me.
Let’s start with the little brother, the Rai Penta. This is a hybrid driver IEM, with four balanced armature drivers and a dynamic driver. The first thing that struck me when I picked it up was how light and compact it was in the hand.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means cheap-feeling. The navy blue anodised aluminium shells feel sturdy and look beautiful. You definitely won’t be feeling too fatigued even if you wear these earphones for hours on end, thanks to the weight and how comfortably the shells sit in the ear.
There are two vent ports on the back which don’t detract from the design at all, and is part of Meze’s pressure equalisation system which is meant to regulate internal chamber pressure and for air movement around the dynamic driver.
But the sound is where it’s at, and Meze has done quite brilliantly here. It’s definitely a safer tuning, with a more laidback and natural sound but it’s done in such a fashion that there’s still musicality in there.
The bass is teetering on the line between warm and neutral, but that fits my listening preferences just fine. It was punchy, clean and definitely detailed, but I did think that it could have benefited from just a bit of sub-bass boost.
The mids are the best part of these earphones, in my opinion. Smooth, clear and detailed, the Rai Penta really shines in this aspect. They’re on the warmer side of neutral, possibly thanks to the dynamic driver, and handle female vocals excellently.
My one quibble with the sound is the treble. It’s still good, but that’s about it. You do get sparkle and energy and the Rai Penta never gets sibilant, but I did think that the highs were lacking a bit of extension. If you’re looking for a brighter earpiece, then the Rai Penta might not be the one for you.
Soundstage-wise, I found that it was rather average in terms of width and depth but the imaging and balance of instruments was spot on. The earphones come with an MMCX 4-core silver-plated copper cable that terminates in a 3.5mm rhodium-plated jack, but upgrade options are available for 2.5mm and 4.4mm terminations.
At this price point (S$1,699), it’s definitely not a cheap purchase. But for someone looking to get into high-end IEMs? I’d say this is one of the safest options to consider thanks to the overall great tuning and listenability of these.
It’s time to look at the big brother, the Meze Empyrean. This was paired with the Chord Qutest and the Niimbus US4+ amplifier. I feel like I have to repeat myself: High-end products might be able to work with sources like your phone if they have a low enough impedance, but it will never sound as good as if they’re hooked up to a high-resolution source and/or amplifier which provides enough juice to properly power headphones.
That being said, the Empyrean has an impedance of 31.6ohms and 100dB sensitivity, so it’s not too hard to drive these headphones as long as you have a decent amp.
These headphones definitely are eyecatching, but it’s all for a reason. The CNC milled aluminium grill allows for airflow while looking incredibly gorgeous, and the carbon fibre spring headband and leather headband strap work together with the spring-loaded yoke rod to ensure that the Empyrean sits comfortably on a user’s head.
And my god, these truly are one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. It literally feels like wearing a cloud on your head with the ovoid-shaped earpads that are incredibly thick and plush, allowing for space for almost any size of ears to be in comfortably. The clamping force is also excellent, staying put securely with movement while not being too restrictive at all.
Credit: Meze Audio
Using planar magnetic drivers, I was quite intrigued to see how these would perform. I won’t go into too much detail about how these work, but the unique thing about them is that they utilise both switchback and spiral-shaped coils in a hybrid array that’s supposed to allow sound to enter the ear canal without time delays.
Overall, it’s definitely tuned more neutrally while still sounding laidback and natural like the Rai Penta. The bass is rich and full-bodied while never toeing the line into bloatedness. There’s also enough sub-bass here, and detail is immaculate.
Similar to the Rai Penta, the mids are the best part of the Empyrean. Lush, beautiful and detailed, I could hear guitar strums, hi-hats, drums and percussion instruments all at once, but never blend into each other. The separation and balance provided by the Meze Empyrean is breathtaking.
The highs are bright and energetic, definitely more so than the Rai Penta. You get that sparkle and plenty of airiness all delivered together in a sound that’s smooth and creamy. The headphones never got sibilant or fatiguing either, and I found myself taking them off reluctantly at the end of my 30 minutes with them because of how much I was wishing I could bring them home.
The Empyrean (S$4,599) isn’t a pair of cheap headphones. They’re definitely on the higher end of high-end gear, but for the price, I’d say they’re more than worth it.