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Meze Rai Penta Review – Metallurgic Magic

Pros – 

Excellent bass control, Highly natural tone and timbre, Wide soundstage, Gorgeous build and ergonomics

Cons – 

Minimal noise isolation, Treble may be overly relaxed for some

Verdict –

The Rai Penta doesn’t awe the listener like most high-end IEMs, but gently eases them into a natural yet resolving sound that continues to reveal new details after hours and hours


Introduction –

Forged in Romania, Meze’s notoriety was secured from the moment they released their first headphone, the 99 Classics. From there, they developed a handful of revisions before turning their attention to IEMs and more ambitious future projects. It’s been a few years and such ambitions have borne fruit in the form of the flagship Empyrean headphone and Rai Penta earphone. The Penta is the product of 3 years of development; a 5-driver hybrid featuring a pressure equalization system and precision milled sound tubes that permit seamless integration of its 5 drivers into one coherent sound while omitting the need for detail-sapping tube and dampeners. As can be expected from Meze, the earphone has a striking CNC aluminium housing and a focus on tone, detail and ergonomics. The Rai Penta, much like the Empyrean, represents a huge step forward for Meze in design and status. You can read more about the Rai Penta here and treat yourself to one here.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Meze Audio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Rai Penta for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories – 

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The Rai Penta comes within premium packaging that denotes its status as a flagship product. Within the large textured box buyers will find the earphones nestled within a foam inlet alongside the gorgeous leather zippered hard case, one of the nicest I’ve come across. The box also contains a plethora of ear tips including 4 pairs of silicone tips, 3 pairs of foam tips and a pair of dual flange tips to achieve an optimal fit.
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Design –

Comfort, precision and triumph in aesthetic design are all goals that Meze set out to achieve with the Rai Penta. And in person, this is exactly what they’ve achieved. The housings are milled from a solid block of aluminium, from acoustic chambers to sound tubes, with an in-hand feel to match. A small medial seam is the only flaw visible on the earphone’s speckled deep blue shells. Meanwhile, precisely machined vents adorn the internal face alongside a tri-bore nozzle with a small lip to aid the retention of ear tips.

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Though reasonably large, the housings are superbly shaped, delivering superlative comfort. They disappear over long listening sessions and slot confidently into the ear, producing a medium depth and very low-profile fit. The over-ear cable also reinforces their strong ergonomics, enhancing fit stability. As the earphones are quite open with overt venting on the internal face, noise isolation is below average even with foam ear tips. As such, they are not the best option for frequent travellers and are best appreciated in a quiet environment.

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The cable is also a highlight of this earphone. I was enamoured with Meze’s former SPC upgrade headphone cables and that expertise has been miniaturized and translated here. The Rai Penta comes with a 4-wire SPC Litz cable with a stunning Rhodium-plated 3.5mm straight plug, metal interconnects and ample strain relief. The pre-moulded ear guides are soft and well-formed, contributing towards their comfortable fit.

 

Sound –

 Tonality –

The Rai Penta offers a highly balanced sound with especially impressive coherence and a slight emphasis on vocals. Due to its more laid-back lower-treble, this earphone is clearly tuned for smoothness over immediate engagement, and this particular region is likely  why you’ll read impressions labelling this earphone as underwhelming or flat. That said, adjust to the sound, live with it and you’ll soon appreciate its timbre and tone that both perform at flagship levels to say the very least. The Penta features a highly natural tone and coherent, well-bodied notes throughout. Mid-bass is lightly enhanced and the lower-treble is reasonably smooth though transitions between the three core frequency bands are very linear enabling its presentation to operate in a highly integrated manner.

 

Bass –

Coming from Meze’s previous models, I was pleasantly surprised by the Penta’s low-end. This earphone portrays a very accurate quantity throughout alongside impeccable extension, never obtrusive nor overly-reserved regardless of track. The Penta also upholds accurate sub-bass pressure, a rarity in dynamic driver earphones that usually trade off either extension or over-amplify presence. Mid-bass showcases surgical control producing a highly detailed image while upper-bass integrates smoothly into the lower-midrange. As mid-bass is slightly enhanced, the Penta has a slightly warmer tone and notes are a touch enlarged. However, never is the low-end bloated nor overt in its emphasis.

And besides the highly natural tuning that Meze has achieved, the quality of the driver here is perhaps most impressive. Driver control is superb, while decay remains accurate, not hyper-quick like some BA earphones around this price, but certainly retaining a robust and dynamic image. Combined with their tuning, the Penta has outstanding definition and detail retrieval. Slam and rumble are both well-present too, but there isn’t an iota of flab or smearing of fine details. Meze have always impressed with the quality of their drivers. However, with regards to the Rai Penta this now comes with a highly natural and balanced tuning that maximises the strengths of their acoustic design.

 

Mids –

The Rai Penta is all about vocals, featuring a moderate push through the centre midrange that enhances their presence and clarity. It’s a natural and wide-band emphasis with superb cleanliness. Usually these earphones tend to come across as either thin or warm, however, the Rai Penta treads that perfect line down the middle. There is zero muffle from the low-end and the earphones has sound upper-midrange extension too. While there is also adequate body in the mid and upper-bass to maintain well-resolved and natural vocals, the tone in the midrange is the epitome of natural to my ears.

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Perhaps one small nitpick, the Penta does come across as slightly smooth due to its polite lower-treble which can make it sound relaxed on certain tracks. However, this also contributes to its natural image by mitigating over-articulation and sibilance that can occur when the upper-midrange is brought forward. I can find no qualm with the resolution, body, tone or extension of the Rai Penta’s vocals. In all respects, it depicts a stunningly accurate timbre. Vocals lovers will not want to miss this earphone!

 

Highs –

I’ve spoken well of the Rai Penta, however, it’s within the high that some contention is sparked. With a distinctly recessed lower-treble serving to increase the smoothness of its presentation, the Penta does lack the bite and attack signature to most high-end IEMs. There is moderate presence around 5KHz with a distinct drop off around 6KHz, a sensitive frequency range that enhances treble instrument attack and crispness but can also emphasize sibilance and sharpness. The Rai Penta stays true to the rest of its sound, with a light warmth in its treble and smoothed off attack followed by well-bodied instruments with accurate shimmer and decay. As there is a small bump in the middle-treble, the Rai Penta maintains a pleasing level of crispness and clarity and presence align with the rest of its sound.

Nonetheless, it is easy to observe how that lack of initial bite and detail density in the foreground could alienate some listeners. Still, detail retrieval is undoubtedly high in both the foreground and background in addition to instruments having a natural presentation overall. The Penta has a clean background but strong extension permits similarly expansive headroom. Sparkle is apparent and appropriate in quantity, this isn’t a highly energetic top-end, but a nicely open and layered one that complements the rest of its sound and aligns with the qualities one would expect from a high end IEM if not in terms of tuning.

 

Soundstage –

Width is truly excellent on the Rai Penta, frequently expanding out of the head. However, as depth is more intimate due to its forward vocals, the Penta provides an oval presentation. Given the linearity and balance of its tuning, imaging is a highlight. Though the holographic sparkle and transients apparent on Campfire’s similarly priced Andromeda aren’t present, the Penta delivers excellent layering alongside an alluring sense of cohesion between each element. Placement is accurate as are directional cues even if they lack some sharpness at times. Separation is also strong due to their clean image and well-controlled bass, the Rai Penta easily differentiates between each element and enables the listener to pinpoint fine details without sounding unfocused.

 

Driveability –

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With a 20 ohm impedance mated to a 110dB sensitivity, the Rai Penta is very efficient while retaining a modest buffer for hiss and output impedance with its slightly higher impedance for a high-end IEM. As such, it is noticeably less source sensitive than most competitors. Nonetheless, this earphone is well equipped to scale with high-end gear and those wanting to extract most performance will surely want to power it with such. This was mostly noticeable for me with regards to bass control so those wanting to extract absolute cleanliness from the Rai Penta will surely want to drive it well from a low output impedance source with good current output.

Fiio BTR3: Great bass depth, good control but slightly warmer. Slightly warmer midrange with less definition, maintains a natural tone with good layering. Prominent lower-treble with slightly less detail retrieval, slight haze to middle-treble. Good soundstage width, less layered. No hiss.

Shanling M2X: Great bass depth and excellent control with high mid-bass definition. Highly natural midrange, high-definition. Good treble extension, slightly crisper with some sparkle. Wide soundstage with great layering. No hiss.

Hiby R6: Slightly less bass depth but with high control. Smoother and more laid-back upper-midrange produces a darker presentation. Smoother, darker treble. Wide soundstage, less layered. No hiss.

iBasso DX200 (AMP5): Excellent bass depth with surgical control, highly defined, slightly more neutral tone. Natural midrange, excellent definition, slightly more neutral. Crisp lower-treble with excellent detail retrieval and slightly increased sparkle. Very wide soundstage, well-layered. No hiss.

Khadas Tone Board + JDS Atom: A solid reference desktop setup with higher output power. The Rai Penta delivers superb bass depth and control. Mids are highly natural and clean. Treble is well-detailed with some sparkle. The soundstage is wide and well-layered. No hiss.

 

Comparisons –

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Hyla CE-5 ($940): The Hyla is more V-shaped and considerably brighter, losing a driver in exchange for a piezoceramic super tweeter. The CE5 has more bass impact with similarly strong sub-bass extension and a warmer tone as a result of its greater mid-bass bias. It has similarly excellent control paired with faster decay, redeeming more detail despite its warmth, the CE5 is truly outstanding here. The CE5 has a clearer midrange with more upper-midrange bias and a considerably more recessed lower-midrange. Its vocals are more laid-back as a result, and its timbre isn’t as accurate or consistent between tracks. The Rai Penta is considerably smoother and more natural. The Hyla sounds thinner and drier even if its tone is generally neutral to warm due to its larger low-end.

The Hyla has a brighter lower-treble, being a lot crisper and bringing percussion and string more to the fore. Conversely, the Rai Penta is very smooth and has a lot more treble instrument body. The Rai Penta also has more accurate decay where the Hyla is a bit more brittle. Nonetheless, the Hyla redeems a touch more detail in the foreground in addition to being substantially more aggressive. The Hyla has noticeably less air and a darker background but has more sparkle at the very top so it has more defined layers but sounds less open up top. The Hyla matches the Penta on soundstage width but has a little more depth. Its imaging isn’t as coherent, but it is more separated due to its tuning.

Beyerdynamic Xelento ($1000): A bit older and “merely” a single DD, but a wonderful execution of such. The Xelento is more V-shaped but also represents a highly natural sound. Both extend very well, the Xelento is warmer with more sub and mid-bass presence but has a steeper decline into a more recessed upper-bass and lower-midrange to retain cleanliness. Both have terrific control, the Rai Penta is cleaner, more linear and more defined while the Xelento has more punch and mid-bass texture. The Xelento has a more recessed lower-midrange with a subsequent rise through the centre and upper-mids. It has a clearer image operates in tandem with its greater bass warmth. As it isn’t as linear, timbre isn’t quite as accurate and the Xelento isn’t as consistently voiced between tracks.

However, the net result remains very natural. The Xelento is similarly full-bodied and smooth in its approach with a 4 kHz dip in lieu of its lower-treble emphasis. The Xelento has a crisper lower-treble with more detail presence, though it also attenuates the 6KHz region so it isn’t sharp or brittle in the slightest, creating a warm and organic treble presentation. Both are very well detailed, the Rai Penta slightly more so. The Xelento has a lot less air, favouring a darker background though it possesses similar treble extension and a touch more sparkle at the very top. Both have very wide soundstages, however, being cleaner, the Rai Penta has noticeably better separation.

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Campfire Audio Andromeda ($1099): The Andromeda has a more W-shaped sound with a brighter top-end. It has slightly more bass emphasis, mostly within the mid-bass making it sound a touch warmer, though both mostly resemble each other. The Andromeda has slightly higher control redeeming more fine detail where the Rai Penta has a smoother texture and a bit more cleanliness, extension and separation. The Andromeda has a more laid-back midrange with greater clarity due to its more forward upper-midrange and a bit more warmth down low from its more present lower-midrange. It sounds a touch over-articulated due to its lower-treble emphasis and lower density while the Rai Penta sounds cleaner and smoother but also lacks the same dynamism.

The Rai Penta has a more accurate timbre while the Andromeda is more engaging. The Andro has a noticeably brighter top-end throughout. It has a more prominent lower-treble, delivering more zing in the form of heightened attack and crispness. The Rai Penta is about as detailed here, but is smoother in its delivery with a little more body, sounding more natural if less immediately engaging. Both have great air and headroom though the Andro flaunts its strong extension more with greater sparkle at the very top. The Rai Penta’s soundstage is a little wider while the Andro has a more rounded stage with more depth and holographic imaging.

Custom Art Fibae 7 ($1200): The Fibae 7 is similarly tuned but is a little more vocally forward and linear through the treble. The Rai Penta has more bass depth and presence. Both are very defined and lightly warm, the Rai Penta is a touch cleaner and more separated while the Fibae 7 has less range but also quicker decay retrieving almost as much detail. Both climb into the midrange, the Rai Penta is a touch warmer and more full-bodied here as it has more lower-midrange and bass presence. The Fibae 7 has more clarity and considerably more extension as its emphasis continues into the upper-midrange, where the Rai Penta begins to drop off, producing a noticeably smoother presentation. Both have excellent timbre, however, the Fibae 7’s is more intense and forward.

The Rai Penta sounds more natural at the cost of deviating a little in the opposite direction. The Fibae 7 has a more neutral lower-treble, delivering more accurate attack and crispness. Both are well-bodied here, the Fibae 7 has better detail retrieval and more presence without coming across as thin or brittle. The Fibae 7 is also well-metered through the middle-treble and both extend well into the highest octaves with moderate but not emphasized sparkle. The Rai Penta has a touch more middle-treble, granting it more air and shimmer while the Fibae 7 has a touch more extension. The Fibae 7 has similar soundstage width and both have more intimate depth, the Fibae 7 has more defined layers with a darker background while the Rai Penta has superior separation.

 

Verdict –

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Meze flaunts on their website a design ethos that goes against the grain and utmost confidence in the quality of their products. That statement has been put to the test with their two most expensive products yet. Much has been said about the Empyrean yet less of their flagship in-ear which embodies this core philosophy to the same degree. This is another case of less is more, utilising a complex array of hybrid drivers in superb unity to produce a sound that is almost beguilingly smooth and relaxed in its composition. The Rai Penta doesn’t awe the listener like most high-end IEMs, but gently eases them into a natural yet resolving sound that continues to reveal new details after hours and hours, sans fatigue. Its politeness is a weakness and a virtue; while its gorgeous and perfectly ergonomic housings are a testament to the Penta’s ability to flatter the listener’s tracks with verisimilitude all day long. The Rai Penta is the dependable Japanese sports car that dares to dance with exotics. You might shave a few seconds off your lap times elsewhere, but only the reliable will get you home day after day.

The Rai Penta is available from on Amazon (International) for $1099 USD at the time of writing. Please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.

 

Test Albums –

Dirty Looks – Loopified

Eagles – Hell Freezes Over

Epikl High – Sleepless in _______

IU – Palette

Johnny Cash – American IV

Kanye West – Ye

Mac Demarco – Here Comes the Cowboy

Mamamoo – BLUE;S

Missy Higgins  The Sound of White

Radiohead – OK Computer

Rainie Yang – Traces of Time in Love

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