Meze Elite Review – Triumph
I feel this is necessitated given the unusual driver design that carries over from the Empyrean. It is not the first dual-magnet driver on the market but to my knowledge, the first dual-motor planar driver. Designing a driver in-house is difficult, let alone one that introduces so many additional complications. The Elite represents the 2nd generation, bringing with it far more refinement and a new diaphragm that is over 30% lighter than the original at 0.11g vs 0.16g. In many senses, while the original is a proof of concept, the 2nd generation incarnation can be considered the true realisation of the designer’s intent and I do feel the Elite will be the least polarising of the two headphones. Note as well, the height of the driver and separate woofer/mid-high setup. I did find their sound to be quite fit-dependent as a result. Those with average-sized ears will have ample room to accommodate a variety of fit styles. I suggest placing the earcups slightly higher so that the spiral mid-high driver (bottom portion) is closer to ear level, and forwards with a slight toe-in angulation. I found this provided the most balanced and detailed sound and the sharpest imaging.
Where many high-end headphones seek to bedazzle, the Elite strives to create a sound that is simultaneously clear yet well-structured with a focus on exemplary long-term listenability. At the same time, it is a very well-balanced headphone overall as this has been achieved through a mostly linear tuning down low contrasted with a slightly laid-back upper-midrange and lower-treble region. It retains a technical nature with excellent top-end extension and a sparkly top-octave as can be observed on many competing high-end headphones. That said, it is below where the Elite carves out a unique proposition. It is progressive in its execution, delivering a superlative sense of smoothness and refinement alongside a top-level sense of spaciousness that heightens immersion and nuance. It also strikes me as a highly articulate and well-controlled headphone.
Though it is smooth and easy-going, this means the Elite is never remotely closed-in or ill-defined. In many senses, it does continue the legacy of the Empyrean whilst introducing an instantly faster, cleaner and overall, more technically accomplished presentation. This has been achieved on two fronts, firstly through attenuation of the mid-bass creating an overall flatter low-end presentation and secondly due to a noticeably quicker decaying, more defined note presentation. This gives the Elite an overall more neutral, if still lightly warm tonality whilst retaining a similar structured and non-fatiguing character as was beloved on the Empyrean. In fact, I would argue that the reduced warmth means this headphone is now a viable player in the reference market with only subtle eQ.
The Elite comes with two pairs of earpads, the pre-installed pair has been revised relative to the Empyrean and the Alcantara set is identical to those included before. The new hybrid pads have a supple lambskin leather outer with Alcantara inner in addition to being slightly thinner at 2.5cm thick. The Alcantara pads are thicker and, interestingly, provide a brighter sound. They lack the same extension and slam, offering a brighter-leaning, lighter-footed approach. This gives the Elite a leaner body and slightly drier, less structured midrange voicing. Some may enjoy the enhanced openness and airiness that these provide, but for me, they sapped the appeal of Meze’s refined house sound. I also found that the imaging was not to my liking, being slightly more laid-back yet and somewhat diffuse. That said, from a comfort point of view, their plushness and breathability are apparent. Impressions below will be with my preferred hybrid pads.
I was surprised by the low-end performance of the Elite as warmer, smoother headphones don’t tend to be associated with speed and complexity. Alas, it is clear here that generalisations do not apply as Meze’s latest flagship strikes me as a superbly articulate and responsive performer. It showcases a balanced presence and a slightly full, warm voicing that means the headphone is mostly clean and articulate but can command surprising power when called for. Despite measurements, I am hearing a flat and balanced low-end with just a slight bias towards the upper bass; the region responsible for the aforementioned qualities. This means the listener is rewarded with sub and mid-bass that sit in great harmony, maximising detail retrieval in these regions and contributing towards a strong balance between punch, slam and listenability. Notes come across as slightly plump but never overtly rounded or bloated due to the well-considered level of emphasis. I do feel the warmth is welcome here, it gives the headphone a distinct Meze character without sacrificing much separation or balance.
The Elite isn’t an especially dynamics-focused headphone and is outdone in terms of weight and slam by competitors. It appears more concerned with excellent timing, articulation, and control. Notes attack quickly and decay swiftly thereafter. It is an incredibly responsive headphone that remains highly composed on complex tracks. The Elite produces a tight slam with excellent extension and accurate levels of pressurization with only a little planar “flubber” as it has come to be known. In addition, by slightly increasing note body, the company has retained a good amount of texture and punch in the mid-bass, albeit, with a smoother texture than many competitors. Due to its fuller character, this means the Elite doesn’t appear to have the highest note definition on initial listen, but raw information output appears to perform at a high level under scrutiny. This makes the Elite excellent for long-term listening especially as it has a generally likeable tonality that is both well-considered for its note presentation and genre versatility.
The Elite has a slightly higher contrast transition entering the midrange and, to me, this is equally responsible for its cleaner and more defined voicing relative to the Empyrean in addition to its less pervasive mid-bass. This means the Elite strikes as a far more balanced, almost reference performer in many respects with essentially zero timbral oddities. That said, while the tonality is markedly cleaner than the Empyrean, the Elite does retain a slight yet pervasive upper-bass warmth that imparts a hint of fuzz around vocals especially. To reiterate, this isn’t an overtly warm headphone but does consistently skew slightly onto the warmer side of neutral. This is made more apparent as body in the lower midrange has been reduced which some may not find to their liking. To my ears, this is not a quality that will stand out as a negative to many listeners, quite the opposite. These qualities contribute to a presentation that is simultaneously forgiving and complex without overt colouration as observed on some competitors such as the older Audeze headphones.
The Elite is pleasant, sweet and well-balanced between male and female vocals. Male vocals are just a hint thin in body due to the lower-mid dip, but this is nicely filled in by the light upper-bass warmth. The overall character of the headphone errs on the laid-back side with zero intensity or sibilance and this aspect contributes as well to the impression of space the headphone is able to craft. In addition, the smooth, slightly denser character of the top-end reinforces a coherent and complete sounding note structure. As this character has been achieved with subtle, wideband attenuation through the top-end, details remain in relative balance with the midrange which retains an articulate and nicely defined presentation. It doesn’t strike me as the fastest, highest clarity midrange but resolution is performing near the best-in-class with a less intense tonality. All the small details and spatial cues are present, they simply aren’t as pushed forward or etched as on some competitors. A welcome trade-off for awesome long-term listenability and tonal refinement.
The top-end continues this trend, being well-controlled and progressively tuned with a slightly laid-back character. The lower treble is impressively linear on a whole and sits in perfect balance with the upper-midrange. There’s a very small 6kHz bump that slightly sharpens the image and brings details just a hair forward. While not remotely bright, it does give the Elite some pop and crispness that helps to open up its presentation and retain engagement. This is set atop an immaculate black background before a boost in upper-treble sparkle and presence. The result is a headphone with a good sense of distance projection but enough background detail and foreground focus to retain an involving sense of direction and space. The superlative top-end extension and high-level micro-detail retrieval permit a presentation that is spacious and clean rather than closed-in. Of course, such is to be expected at summit-fi levels of pricing.
The Empyrean had a mixed reception in this regard, but the Elite never strikes me as lacking in this aspect despite not quite performing with the best of the best either. While a step up, it is not the most detailed headphone I have heard nor the fastest. Its darker background means instruments can lack the air and shimmer of brighter counterparts, though in return the greater contrast does give foreground elements more pop. That said, it performs close enough to the extent that technical performance should no longer be a deal-breaker making the purchase decision more subject to tonal preferences. As these comments are relative to the very best on the market, this should not be taken as the Elite being technically inept in any regard. Alongside this, the Elite crafts one of the most spacious soundstages I’ve heard which further elevates the proposition. Indeed, a slightly crisper and more etched performance than the original with a hearty boost to resolution and without
The Elite is a grand and tremendously spacious headphone, a master of atmosphere and immersion. This is achieved both due to huge soundstage proportions in both width and depth combined with a generally laid-back signature that takes full advantage of such. In addition, the Elite has far better separation than its predecessor; not only by virtue of its cleaner bass tuning but also its faster, more defined note presentation. While not an outlier in this regard, it is impressive how much air, space and organisation this headphone upholds given that is so smooth and coherent. The large stage helps in addition to the more neutral note size.
Each element is well separated with a palpable ether surrounding, a lovely quality that is especially apparent on tracks such as Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”. This also highlights small details, making them easier to perceive. The downside to this style of presentation to my ears is imaging acuity. Again, the Elite is not at all a hazy performer here but lacks the pinpoint accurate localisation and holographic speed that many summit-fi headphones are capable of. It has a very multi-dimensional presentation and hyper-defined foreground/background though at the expense of slightly vague, floaty positioning. I do think this makes it an excellent listening headphone, especially on live recordings, if not the best for scrutinising every fine detail.
Meze designed the original Empyrean to be both highly resolving yet easy to drive and this same mantra has carried on to the Elite. It has a very modest 32ohm impedance paired with a 101dB sensitivity making it one of the more efficient headphones on the market, especially in the high-end space. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can pair it with any source, a great headphone deserves to be driven to perfection.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
Comparing the Elite from my THX789 (1-ohm) single-ended output as opposed to using a 50-ohm adaptor revealed minimal tonal shift as expected. However, higher output impedances did produce a slightly fuzzier note presentation with less driver control and definition. Some may find this to bring out the analogue qualities in its tonality but I felt this didn’t do its technical abilities justice. Still, the vast majority of SS sources will be right at home with the Elite so long as the output impedance is under 5 ohms or so.
In terms of volume requirements, the Elite can even run from a portable source. However, to extract the full experience from this headphone you will surely want to run it from a proper desktop source or you will lose dynamics and slam in addition to shrinking the stage. Incidentally, I did enjoy them from balanced slightly more, likely due to the greater power output. I found they opened up slightly more and note definition was slightly enhanced. If available, most amplifiers do drive slightly better from their balanced outputs, I would recommend using this connection.
Suggested Pair Ups
The Elite can take full advantage of a spacious and resolving source, so these qualities are desirable in any source pairing. It doesn’t require huge driving power and even most modern midrange solid-state options will suffice in this regard. In terms of tonal synergy, the Elite is far more forgiving than the Empyrean due to its more neutral voicing. This means it can handle a warmer source without harming separation to a large degree but is forgiving enough to tolerate a brighter source too. Personally, I would recommend neutral to warm sources with the Elite as I already find it to be clean and very well-separated. Those wanting to maximise the dense, laid-back character of the headphone will want to try a hybrid tube amp pairing.
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