Meze made a big entrance with the 99 Classics that remains one of the most highly recommended portable closed-back headphones on the market. With the Liric, the company is returning to its roots and expanding upon innovations first made for their flagship open backs. This is a high-end closed-back headphone that Meze has spent over 3 years developing. It has a focus on but not overt intention for portable use and represents the continuation of Meze’s collaboration with Ukrainian Rinaro. In particular, the Liric implements a similar switchback, dual-motor planar driver as seen on their flagship Empyrean and Elite open backs only shrunken down for its more compact frame. The new driver dubbed MZ4 sports a few new developments such as the Phase-XTM system that has been designed to minimize phase distortion that plays a larger role in closed-back designs. As before, this is a hand-assembled headphone with an emphasis on modularity, quality and a superb usability experience.
The Liric just launched for $2000 USD and is available for order on Meze Audio!
The Liric strikes me as delivering a good balance between portability and long-term comfort for home use. The base design and shape are clearly a derived from the Empyrean/Elite though with a new, non-suspension headband and slightly smaller earcup dimensions. Of course, they are closed-back so the metal grill has been replaced by a sealed leather-clad enclosure with a small aperture – this has been implemented for to reduce wearing pressure and improve the perception of soundstage space.
The chassis no longer has a raw CNC finish but a texture similar to that seen on DSLR’s, giving them a tactile yet hard-wearing feel. They have a magnesium alloy construction which explain much of the substantial weight cut at 391g. The hangers share a metal construction as do the arms that attach to the headband, so the overall construction feels rock-solid and ready for the stressors of daily use.
I am a huge fan of the aesthetic design here as, not only is the cutout frame design lightweight, it also imbues a high-performance aesthetic. The headband is far lower-profile than the suspension band on the 99-series and Empyrean/Elite and contributes to a far more streamlined aesthetic on the Liric. The headband itself remains very wide with soft padding that promotes long term comfort. The leather outer matches the earcups and it has a breathable fabric inner portion.
I do personally find suspension bands to be more comfortable, especially that on the Elite with its pressure distribution wings. The Liric’s wide band and reduced weight allow it to remain comfortable for my head over an entire day of listening, but it doesn’t feel as effortless to wear. I also suspect those with wider heads may struggle here as the bend is quite aggressive. Otherwise, clamp force is on the lower side which also contributes to a comfortable wearing experience.
In addition, I would posit that the internal aperture of the new earpads will still be very ample for most listeners. The pads are deep and plush, about 30mm thick like the original Empyrean. Do note that they are now glued onto the headphones rather than attaching magnetically. This is because Meze is using the internal volume of the earpads as airspace for the driver to reduce the overall size of the earcups. Time will tell how pad wear affects the sound. Andy Kong did provide an official update on this on behalf of Meze, stating that the pads will be user-replaceable via a service kit at a later date (full comment here). Another difference to the Elite/Empyrean is that the drivers are now covered by fabric rather than metal mesh, which should provide greater comfort for those with wide ears.
Altogether, this provides a well-sealing and comfortable fit with impressive passive noise isolation that easily suffices for commute and public transport. The headband sliders operate similarly to the Empyrean, offering a smooth action and a good range of step-less adjustment. The Liric folds flat for storage and the case fits the headphones even if the sliders are not fully retracted so you don’t have to readjust them every time they’re stored away.
The Liric takes some inspiration from the Meze house sound, with a laid-back upper-midrange and smoother treble with dark background. However, it also caries over the more technical nature of the Elite to some extent. In addition, it represents a slightly more engaging take with less warmth, greater sub-bass energy and slightly enhanced lower-treble presence too. I think these will all be welcome changes for many listeners. Of course, as these comments are relative to the Empyrean and Elite, this doesn’t make this a remotely V-shaped headphone. Overall, it is nicely balanced, far more so to my ears than many closed-back designs. It has a slightly more clarity-focused voicing than before and some quirks in the midrange. I do think this will be a crowd-pleaser overall.
A large part of the focus of this design was with regards to soundstage performance and, even on first listen, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the Liric carries over the lovely sense of spaciousness and separation achieved by the Elite, albeit not quite to the same extent. I would say that amongst closed-back headphones, even those in a similarly prestigious price tier, the soundstage impressed me greatly, depth is excellent, and the headphones separate well too. I feel where the closed-back design is felt most is within the bass as the Liric delivers a well-extended and hard-hitting sub-bass slam that is clearly more physical than that seen on essentially all open-back designs. Its tuning is sub-bass focused, delivering thick and weighted notes without introducing too much warmth or roundness.
The midrange is similar to the Empyrean and Elite being progressive and slightly laid-back, giving it a smooth, natural voicing albeit with a different execution. Like those headphones, the Liric has a good sense of body in the lower-midrange but doesn’t possess the same upper-bass warmth as those models giving it a cleaner more contrasted presentation. It is also slightly more articulate within the lower-treble than those headphones, drawing more attention to the leading edge of notes, percussion especially is crisper and clearer on the Liric. In turn, it sacrifices the perfect smoothness and coherence of its open-back counterparts, but I think many will enjoy the treble tuning as the upper-midrange and top-end still feel quite linear and never come across as bright or sharp. It has a dark background but subsequent upper-treble rise imbuing a lovely sense of sparkle and extension.
In my opinion, what will be most contentious is that the Liric has a 2k dip that gives it a less full-bodied and structured midrange. Though not hollow or cool due to the added density and smoothness in the top-end in addition to the ample lower-mid presence, it does lack the organic richness and empowered vocal size that the Empyrean and Elite enjoyed. This gives the Liric’s vocal presentation a little weirdness to my ears; vocals sounds slightly diminished and biased towards higher female vocals. At the same time, this tuning may be contributing to the sense of spaciousness I am perceiving by decreasing emphasis on room and increasing separation.
I did do a quick comparison with the Elite. I noticed immediately, that the midrange sounded less sucked out and more natural in timbre with its more progressive tuning. Resolution and space are both on another level as should be expected given it is over double the price. However, it should be noted that this does not stand out as a weakness of the Liric. The Liric has the advantage of a crisper treble tuning and a more powerful, harder-hitting bass. It is, altogether, a more fun headphone if also a less accurate one. It is impressive how much soundstage has carried over to the closed and highly isolating form factor too.
Stay tuned for our full review coming soon!