Meze Elite Review – Triumph
HEDD Audio HEDDphone ($1899): The HEDDphone is a unique proposition that I continue to appreciate even through the wave of TOTL headphone releases. Its AMT driver produces an incredibly technical sound if at the cost of a heavy form factor. The HEDDphone provides a slightly more balanced voicing but a more atypical note presentation that also serves as one of its greatest strengths. The Elite has a better bass response overall. It is slightly fuller and punchier, also more dynamic but doesn’t come across as overly coloured at all by comparison. The HEDDphone is slightly flatter but lacks the same texture and definition, being a little softer around the edges. It remains a quick and articulate headphone but isn’t quite on the same level from a technical standpoint.
The midrange is slightly cleaner and more present on the HEDDphone. Both are very similarly tuned but the Elite has a slightly more laidback character through the upper-midrange that gives it a more forgiving voicing. The HEDDphone has slightly better clarity and a more revealing voicing. Its note presentation is faster while the Elite offers a more natural timbre and a better sense of space. The Elite is more coherent while the HEDDphone sounds, to my ears, just a touch thin which is likely due to its note presentation. The HEDDphone has a bump in the lower-midrange as opposed to the upper-bass on the Elite. This makes it more tonally neutral and you really don’t feel the lift in note body due to its agility.
One of the more controversial aspects of the HEDDphone is its 6k trough though again, this is not to be mistaken for a detail deficient headphone in the slightest. It has a much thinner note body as a result since detail presence is derived from emphasis in a higher frequency band and it is similarly energetic into the upper treble with terrific extension. The more linear Elite has a far more natural timbre here. It decays more naturally and has a lot more body and texture. If you love a super sparkly, micro-detail forward sound, however, the HEDDphone does separate better and has a more defined leading edge that brings this information more to the fore. The Elite is the more spacious headphone while the HEDDphone has better separation at the cost of a thinner note structure. I do feel the Elite has more immersive imaging and dimension overall.
Meze Audio Liric ($1999): The newly released Liric is Meze’s high-end closed-back design with a similar dual-motor driver design to their open-backs. It carries a slightly more engaging tuning than the Elite, being slightly less progressive in the midrange but more energetic. The Liric extends just as well down low but provides a more weighted, pressurized sub-bass focus. This gives it thicker, bolder notes and noticeably more slam and greater dynamics. The Elite is warmer, fuller and smoother here, being slightly more even-handed in its delivery with a greater focus on texture and speed. The Elite is more articulate and defined, its bass is slightly more detailed though the Liric isn’t far behind and is aided by a cleaner tonality and slightly improved mid-bass separation as a result.
The Liric has a more clarity focused midrange while the Elite is more structured, coherent and refined. Those wanting the most neutral tonality and a slightly more revealing voicing may enjoy the Liric which provides just this, albeit whilst retaining a denser upper-midrange tuning. The Elite comes across as more wholly resolved and does have a resolution advantage. It layers better and has a more natural timbre to my ears. That said, while the Liric’s note body is slightly thin, the voicing remains mostly natural with just a slight nasal character – though this is also something the Elite lacks entirely. I can see those preferring greater clarity enjoying this sound.
Up top, the Elite comes across as smoother and more progressive, with a more accurate instrument body and placement in turn. The Liric has a slightly more energetic lower-treble that gives it slightly more bite and crispness, bringing small details further forward. At the same time, it’s clear the Liric doesn’t quite have the separating ability and resolving power of the Elite, which is able to discern more fine detail in turn. The Elite has a slightly more energetic top-octave which gives it a more open impression. The soundstage is very impressive on the Liric, especially considering its closed-back design. I do also think localisation is actually slightly sharper on the closed-back too. The Elite meanwhile has better separation and layering, it expands noticeably which is unsurprising given the difference in form factor.
Rosson RAD-0 ($2600): A very intriguing headphone that has grown on me more and more over my testing period. The RAD-0 is a dark headphone with a powerful voicing that will appeal to those wanting similar smoothness to the Meze headphones but want more robustness in the bass. It has a thicker low-end with wideband elevation and a similar tilt slightly towards the upper bass. The Elite is more balanced in its tuning, permitting greater separation. The RAD-0 is thicker and bolder with a more aggressive attack, its notes are larger but also more textured, and it has noticeably greater mid-bass impact. The RAD-0 has awesome dynamics for a planar magnetic headphone, it’s great fun but the Elite does come across as the more delicate and articulate performer for those prioritising detail retrieval.
The Elite has a more balanced midrange presence and a cleaner, clearer voicing. The RAD-0 takes the dark, smooth character one step further. It is one step more laid-back here with bass taking greater precedence. Otherwise, the voicing is natural with no oddities similar to the Elite. The Elite is cleaner and more separated while the RAD-0 has better layering. The Elite does resolve slightly better though it is more difficult to appreciate the resolving power of the RAD-0 due to its thicker, darker voicing. If you like powerful male vocals and a grand sense of body, the RAD-0 gives you more of that guttural foundation. The Elite is more agile and light-footed, in turn, possessing greater separation, definition and cleanliness with similar smoothness up top.
I very much enjoy the treble response on both headphones, both of which are essentially devoid of peaks. The RAD-0 is slightly darker while the Elite introduces a hint of lower-treble emphasis and a sparklier upper-treble that opens up its presentation. The RAD-0 is well extended but lacks the same emphases. It sounds more grounded and focused on the foreground as a result. In terms of raw resolving power, the Elite has an advantage but the RAD gets very close at a much lower price. The Elite has a noticeably larger soundstage and more multi-dimensional imaging. Interestingly, the RAD-0 offers slightly sharper localisation and better layering but is generally more intimate.
Final Audio D8000 Pro ($3999): The D8000 Pro is Final’s reference-orientated take on their original D8000 flagship. The D8000 Pro comes across to me as slightly more U-shaped with less head gain and a more open, energetic top-end. Meanwhile, the Elite is more coherent and linear. Both offer awesome bass extension, the D8000 Pro has slightly more pressure in the sub-bass and overall, its bass is more controlled and textured. The Elite has a smoother texture and a bit more fullness around the upper-bass region. As a result, the D8000 Pro comes across as slightly cleaner and flatter while the Elite has a bit more punch and gusto when called for.
The Elite has slightly more vocal presence while the D8000 Pro’s vocals take a step back relative to instruments. The D8000 Pro does have greater clarity in return which helps to balance out this impression. The Elite is more linear and coherent, it has slightly greater body and warmth which gives it a more forgiving character. The D8000 Pro is also slightly more articulate whereas the Elite is smooth and dense. This further enhances the definition and clarity showcased by the D8000 Pro but in totality, the two only swing slightly in opposing directions and neither are unnatural or hugely coloured. The D8000 Pro is a touch more resolving to me while the Elite has a more natural timbre and a slightly better sense of space.
If you enjoy an energetic treble, this is where the D8000 Pro comes into its own. It has a lot more sparkle and energy than the Elite, especially around the middle treble. This gives it an airier, more open image and brings background details forward. The Elite is cleaner and more contrasted, it has more pop and a more focused detail delivery. The D8000 Pro has slightly higher resolution of micro and fine detail while the Elite has a more natural timbre and accurate sense of distance. While both are very spacious, I have to hand the soundstage size win to the Elite which simply has a better sense of dimension and scale. The D8000 Pro has sharper imaging and slightly better separation in the bass and treble.
Audeze LCD-5 ($4500): Audeze’s new flagship has been making a lot of waves with its redesigned chassis and a complete reimagining of the Audeze house sound. The LCD-5 is a more mid-forward performer than the Elite and it has a more neutral tonality overall. The Elite provides a slightly warmer, fuller bass response while the LCD-5 is pleasantly flat. Both extend excellently into the perceptible, the LCD-5 provides a slightly tighter, more pressurised sub-bass while the Elite has more punch and texture in the mid-bass. The LCD-5 has the advantage on speed, its low-end is more articulate and defined with higher definition. The Elite presents its notes in a smoother and more musical fashion.
The midrange tells a similar story. The LCD-5 sits one step closer to the listener while the Elite comes across as smoother and more laid-back but not to a huge extent. Both are clean and possess a highly natural timbre. The LCD-5 has a more neutral tone and note size granting it slightly better clarity and separation. The Elite is more coherent and layered. It is less intense and more forgiving without sacrificing much detail. The LCD-5 alongside being slightly more revealing also has just a little more resolution of fine detail. The LCD-5 provides greater energy and presence up top while the Elite upholds the slightly smoother and more laid-back presentation as seen in its midrange.
The LCD-5 also has a slight technical advantage here, with a slightly more defined leading-edge that is exacerbated by its more forward presentation. The Elite is the more forgiving headphone once again, defined by its total lack of peaks which gives it a very clean, composed presentation. The LCD-5 has a slightly thinner note body and greater air while the Elite has a cleaner background. The Elite has a noticeably larger and more spacious stage which it takes full advantage of with its laid-back sound. The LCD-5 is more intimate in general but has greater separation due to its more revealing tuning so never feels remotely congested either. The two are lovely complements with similarly masterful execution in opposite directions underpinned by a world-class technical foundation.
When Antonio Meze first brought the 99 Classics onto the market, I was confident the company was onto something great and the Elite represents the fruits of refining that ethos. It’s always difficult to articulate a TOTL headphone review without resorting constantly to descriptors such as “best”, more so to pick favourites between outliers. In my humble and most honest opinion, there are no shortage of high-end headphones I’d like to listen to all day, but the ELITE is the headphone I would be most delighted to wear and live with. Not only is it terrifically resolving and spacious, but the Elite also lacks any hard peaks or intensity that may mire long-term listening. Moreover, its ergonomics are up to the task, they feel effortless to wear no matter the time period.
There are two core audiences who may not enjoy the Elite. Those wanting the utmost detailed sound and those that desire an engaging, forward sound signature – in which case, there is no shortage of alternatives. The difficulty in the purchase decision lies in deciding whether the small technical advantage of certain competitors outweighs the ergonomic advantage held by Meze’s open backs. Even then, the Elite is more agile, spacious and cleaner than its predecessor with no loss to refinement. Machined and weighted to perfection with a highly refined tuning devoid of peaks and dips, the Elite represents a triumph in high-end headphone design.
The Elite is available from Meze Audio (International) for $4000 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Meze Audio and receive no earnings from purchases made through these links.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – dont smile at me
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Courtney Barnett – Rae Street
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Jasen – BYE
John Mayer – Continuum
Kanye West – Ye
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
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