Meze 99 Neo: The Edgy Classic




Meze 99 Neo – Meze created an even less expensive version of 99 Classics. Coming with smooth and vivid sound, great textures and edgy looks, 99 Neo promises to bring the same sound we all love but with a redesigned look










Introduction

Meze 99 Neo is the new headphone, or rather a headphone with a twist from the Romanian headphone producer Meze. Meze created 99 Neo as a less expensive version of 99 Classics with plastic cups instead of wood that would appeal to those who prefer the black "edgy" looks of the ABS cups over the wooden 99 Classics. 99 Neo uses the same driver as 99 Classics, but there are a few changes here and there, like the cable included with the headphone being different (99 Neo comes with the microphone cable only) and the case is now made of a fabric woven material rather than the leathery smooth case of 99 Classics.



99 Neo is brought to this reviewer as a part of 99 Neo tour, organized by Meze Audio Romania. This is an honest review and there is no incentive provided, the headphone will be sent forward after the review is completed and this is a review made for fun and for giving an impression.


About me

Hey there! My name is George and my friends say that I enjoy music. Some might even say that I live through music! I'd probably say that music is what made me who I am today, part of my DNA already!

My listening habits can be erratic, but they do include listening to music for hours on a row, listening to music while out and about, and listening to music while working.

Music has always been my sweet companion and it is always there when I'm working on the games of my company,  https://www.facebook.com/seventh.heart.studios/  and  https://twitter.com/7heartstudios . We invite you to check our projects and we guarantee that if you like Visual Novels and games, you're going to have a great time!

My hearing works well in the higher registers, the 8-18kHz area being quite important for me, but recently I noticed that I'm slightly sensitive to harshness in the treble. I am unbiased towards headphones and companies, but I'm considerably hard to impress since I own ie800 which are a formidable pair of End-Game, Top of The Line IEMs.





First Impression




Since hearing 99 Classics, I was actually enthused by Meze's interaction with customers and I had a few requests for them which were fulfilled nice and fast. I would say that Meze as a company is great and their customer support works well. I even needed a cable and it was shipped really fast, was well packaged and arrived really fast!

99 Neo packaging was thought pretty well as it comes in a cardboard box padded with a sponge to keep the other hard carry box safe. 99 Neo sits comfortably inside the hard carry box, which has a similar interior design to 99 Neo, the only changes seeming to be on the outer layer of the carry box.

Fast forward things, I was alone in my room with 99 Neo, admiring the great job Meze did with the looks. First time using 99 Neo, it sounds somehow similar to 99C, but somehow different at the same time. There is something about 99 Neo that changed in its sound, but it is pretty hard to name. The bass is strong and hits deep, the treble is clear and smooth and the mids are in their own place with a lush / thick tonality.

All in all, 99 Neo sounds good at first audition, but, as it is recommended, they were placed in a burn-in session, using pink and white noise to ensure that the results are going to be consistent. Some changes for the better were noticed with burn-in, especially in voice tonality and clarity. The signature is close to HD650 from Sennheiser and somehow to NightHawks with 99 Neo having a better texture and instrument definition. 99 Neo also has a considerably better top end as it is not rolled off and sounds crisp and clean. The soundstage of 99 Neo is similar in size to HD650 and Nighthawks.



Meze has lowered the price with 99 Neo since there is no more wood included in the build, so 99N goes for around 250$ instead of the 300$ of 99C. Given the difference in price going downwards, 99 Neo will be more accessible to someone looking for a Meze sound but who's on a tight budget, although given the difference, I think that both models are fairly accessible to any enthusiast or casual listener.



Packaging







99N comes in the cardboard box with a sleek design and a few bits of data about 99 Neo on the outside. Inside the cardboard box, you will find the hard carry case. Inside the hard carry case, you will find the headphones, cables for them, an airplane adapter (I think?), a pouch for the cables and a 3.5mm to 6.3mm golden plug adapter. The addition of the plug adapter is most welcome, but it should be noted that 99 Neo does not come with two cables. Regardless of that, I have been able to enjoy 99 Neo to the fullest with the provided cable. The short cable comes with a rubber termination upwards of the Y split, making things even better for those who complained about cable noise and microphonics, since the rubber termination effectively nullifies the microphonics of the cable. The short cable has a remote with one button that can execute multiple actions (depending on the number of presses) and a microphone to use 99N with your phone. I have been able to carry phone conversation with the provided cable, and the person on the other end actually told me that the voice comes through pretty clear and they could understand me well.

The fabric woven hard case is pretty sturdy as it didn't get damaged from being in my backpack with various supplies. The material of the case is not scratch prone and it doesn't look like it would get damaged easily, given that I held it in my backpack together with pens and a few sharp tools. The zippers work smooth and leave the impression of a high-end product and the inside of the case is padded with a fine material that will protect 99N against scratches. The case itself is pretty sturdy, so it can safely be thrown in a backpack and even placed under a few lighter things without any damage being done to the headphones. The cables of 99 Neo need to be disconnected before they are placed in the case (Just like 99 Classics).

Comparing the cases of 99 Neo and 99 Classics:



Meze 99 Neo:



Meze 99 Classics:





99 C comes with a case that has a different texture on the outside, but it seems to be similarly sturdy and provides the same level of protection against scratches on the inside. The main difference seems to be the external material

Other comparisons

Ultrasone DJ1P comes with a considerably bulkier case, being bigger than the headphones themselves, but offering a good protection as well. 99N offers better ergonomics of the case, using very little extra space. The woven fabric is slightly different between the two, but the inside works out on both.

Sennheiser HD380Pro comes with a different storage mechanism entirely, its case being flat but wide. It offers less protection than the case of 99N due to the design, and HD380Pro should never be placed under heavy things.  

The set of accessories included with 99 Neo are the essentials to use the headphones, although the long cable can be purchased from Meze's site. Seems that Meze will also introduce a balanced cable for 99N and 99C later this year, as they promised a few times.



This pair of 99N is a pre-production, review tour unit, so the contents of the box might slightly differ. The booklet included with 99 Neo seems to be different from the one included with 99 Classics, the white booklet from 99C being replaced by a colored one that includes a little history of Meze Audio. Since the booklet included that "99 Neo promises to deliver the same audio quality as 99 Classics", I'm going to test this statement on the audio part of the review.



Technical Specifications

Impedance
32 ohm
Connector
3.5 mm
Rated Input Power
30 mW
Frequency Response
15 Hz – 25kHz
Sensitivity
103dB (1kHz, 1mW)
Ear coupling
Circum-Aural
Cable length
1.2m, 3m
Transducer type
Dynamic transducer, closed back
Power (load rating)
50mW
Weight without cable
260g
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)
<0.03% (1kHz, 1Vrms)
Contact pressure
3.4 N approx.





Build Quality/Aesthetics







While 99 Classics were one of the classiest headphones one could find, 99 Neo looks rather Edgy, bringing something new to the table. The fact that Meze headphones cares about the looks of their headphones is great, especially as 99 Classics did hit a sweet spot with me when I got them. With 99 Neo, the fitting mechanism is the same, the biggest difference being the headphone cups being made out of ABS (plastic) instead of wood. Meze Audio quotes the look as being "Edgy" and they do manage to get this feeling right. 99 Neo might work better with a casual style of clothing rather than a costume, but the silvery ring around the headphone cups adds the right amount of class for them to work with a costume as well. The silvery parts that attach the headband to the headphones feature the same smooth construction and flowing angles like 99 Classics, flavoring 99 Neo with a modern look. The plastic on the cups is textured, similar to the texture of an orange, avocado or a leathery texture, further flavoring 99 Neo with a sprinkle of edgy aspect. The headband itself is the same as 99 Classics, and it feels quite sturdy and comfortable. The headband mechanism is actually friendly with long hair since it is not square and the headband is curved. I can shake my hair back in shape easily after wearing both 99 Neo and 99 Classics, but your mileage may vary here.

Meze advertises their headphone as fully serviceable and while the driver must be replaced as an assembly, the rest of the headphone is connected by bolts and to be indeed easily serviceable. The headphone cups on the review model seem to be slightly different from the cups on 99C, which might further contribute to any changes in sound, but Meze didn't advertise anything about the pads being changed between 99C and 99N so this might be caused by the fact that they are pre-production and the fact that the pads on 99 Classics are not new (I have been enjoying 99 Classics every day for a while now after all).

As I said before, the cables included with 99 Neo will be braided until the Y split, above which they will feature a rubber texture. This will help alleviate cable noise, and will add a bit of comfort. It seems that recent iterations of 99 Classics also come with this new cable. There is a small pad over the driver of 99 Neo, which might act as a treble attenuator, adding to the smoothness of sound. This little padding is not present on the 99 Classics headphones I own, but seem to be present on the latest 99 Classics as well.



Comfort / Isolation



(Meze 99 Classics pads on left and Meze 99 Neo pads on right)





99 Neo is similar in comfort to their bigger brother, 99 Classics, but the pads feel ever so slightly different. The headband also feels a tiny bit tense, but it doesn't really change the comfort level of the headphone. The difference in headband tension can be caused by the fact that 99 Neo are brand-new while my 99 Classics are not.

The isolation is still very good, but 99 Neo are slightly less isolating than 99C. I could still crank the music very high before my wife had to tell me to turn it down, so 99 Neo does a very good job with the isolation as well.

Compared to Ultrasone Dj1P, 99N isolates far better and same can be said when comparing 99N to Sennheiser HD380Pro. At this moment, there are very few headphones that would provide a better passive isolation from the outside noise or that would leak as little as 99N. None of the headphones I tested to date doesn't provide a better passive isolation, although there are a few that provide a similar passive noise isolation.

After wearing Meze 99 Neo for a longer period of time, the pads can get a bit hot, and a little pause is required, but the situation is still better than most of the headphones in the same price range. The material of the pads is not bad when it comes to sweating and they can be worn well for long periods of time (for example a 3-hour train ride was no problem for them). Compared to Ultrasone Dj 1 Pro, 99 Neo is far more comfortable, Dj1P having a fatal flaw of placing a screw / bolt in an uncomfortable position, causing pain after one hour, while 99 Neo has no such flaws. There is no driver flex in 99 Neo nor in 99 Classics, and the headphones can be adjusted, taken off, or put on without any issues.





SOUND QUALITY



































99 Neo offers two types of sound. One is their natural sound with no enhancements and no tweaks, and the other one is the sound after a little bit of Equalization. The Equalization profile 99 Neo needs is less aggressive than 99 Classics, but like virtually any headphone in this world, they can be helped by adding a few dB in here and taking away a few dB from there. 99 Neo responds well to different sources, but they can easily be driven from a smartphone, a laptop or virtually any source out there – even a Clip+.

After hearing 99 Neo with iFi iDSD BL, I can say that they respond really well to a better source and adding iDSD BL will surely help you get a better sound. The review of 99 Neo will be slightly different since instead of using FiiO X5ii as the driving component, I will be using iFi iDSD BL which deeply impressed me with its sound this time.

My Equalization algorithm is not overly aggressive this time, and the magic of iFi iDSD BL is so strong that 99 Neo doesn't really require equalization anymore, flipping the 3D effect on iDSD having incredible effect on both 99 Neo and 99 Classics. The treble is smooth with this setup, but the sound gains more space and better instrument layering, while the instrument textures stay at the same level of crispiness and definition.

The main sound characteristics of 99 Neo define it as a natural to warm sounding headphone, with sweet and lush mids, smooth treble, pretty good extension both ways and a pretty good soundstage. The treble extension is okay, but the treble itself is pretty smooth and will not offend, even if the song had harsh treble in the original recording.

Instrument separation is above average and they are able to differentiate a single guitar in a busy composition like those sang by Dance Gavin Dance. I like the enthusiasm the sound has, it can make almost anything sound energetic and happy. There is a hump in the mid bass to the upper bass area that makes the sound interesting, but this is easily solved by a tiny bit of EQ. The sound is fairly airy, but the rather smooth top end makes the sound focus more on the energy, life and fun element of the music.



Channel imbalance

There is no channel imbalance in the 99Neo I have in my hands.


Bass

99 Neo has a fairly sold bass that can hit as low as the music has it recorded, down to the lowest octaves. The bass is fast and can render bass textures with good agility and precision. Without any EQ, the 250Hz area is enhanced ad there is a certain lushness to the whole tonality of the headphone, but this doesn't affect the speed and precision of the bass one bit.

The euphoria resulted from the bass hump is similar between 99 Neo and 99 Classics – the drums have a great presence, forward drums are rendered forward and with good impact, while drum patterns that are supposed to play in the back as a support for the rest of the track are played as such. There is no bass bleeding in the mids nor does the bass feel overwhelming albeit 99 Neo could easily pass for a basshead headphone.

The bass is distortion free and I was able to apply a fair quantity of bass with no distortion making its way into the track. Compared to Dj One Pro, Meze 99 Neo presents more bass by default, and presents considerably less distortion in the lower registers. 99 Neo also has far better texture representation of the bass where the bass of Dj One Pro sounds loose and undefined by direct comparison.

99 Neo a good amount of sub-bass, to my ears having more sub-bass than 99C, while 99 C seem to have a tiny bit larger enhancement of the mid bass area, which might be caused by the wood cups.


Akira Yamaoka – One More Soul to The Call – The guitar at the intro of the song is full of texture and emotion, it is heard in the right area of the sound field as it should. It is easy to hear the struggle of the female voice and the breathing in between words as it is quite easy to hear the melodic guitar accompanying her in the left area of the soundscape. The drum crescendo plays with force, but doesn't protrude too forward in the soundscape, the whole arrangement sounding coherent. The top end is crispy and the cymbals pull through very well. The solo guitar is always clean and tidy and there is a good sense of space for the whole song. The emotion of the song is strong enough to give one shivers down their spine and the bass knits things together, creating an addictive involvement for the whole song.

Attila – Girls don't lie – The song starts strong and the first few bass notes come through with good strength and the whole song feels energetic, and there is enough air for the cymbals to breathe, but enough push in the bass to literally shake the earth around the listener. The lead guitars sound sweet and the flow of the song is as enjoyable as ever. The texture of the guitars is incredible as is the texture of the bass guitar which comes through with extreme clarity. The voices also feature a clear texture and enough air to breathe, the instruments are well separated, and there is no trace of struggling. 99 Neo has no problems in handling multiple layers of guitars, and manages to render the texture of every layer very well. On high volumes, effects like drums that are played in just one ear will have a tactile feeling to it, leading to a whole new level of realism for the songs of Attila.

Slipknot – Duality – One more metal song. Just one more. Everyone knows this one, no? The intro has the right amount of grain and texture. The guitar in the left ear sings independently from the rest of the song. The voices have enough power to dislocate the song from the listener, the attack and decay of instruments are spot-on as well. The cymbals play somewhere in the back, they are clearly not the highlight of the song, and the forward spot is taken by the solo guitar in the left ear and the drums, both of which play loud and clear. There is no smearing of instruments and every single instrument manages to play in its own layer and to not combine with the others. The scream is true again and I'm glad to say that it feels real.

Eminem – Space Bound – The guitar at the beginning of the song is clear and has the right tone for an acoustic guitar. Eminem's voice comes through clear and there's no lack of air. The bass notes are very deep and come through with the right strength. The lower notes extend down to the lowest registers and there's a clear feeling of power to the whole song that's easy to grasp. 99 Neo has enough speed to render both the bass and every other instrument without any kind of problems, for example it is possible to identify the bass notes, the guitar, the drum patterns, the voice and the flute / synth in the background.



Midrange

The midrange of Meze 99 Neo is clearly similar to the midrange of 99 Classics, but for someone who hasn't heard either, it is complicated to understand what this means. The default midrange feels detailed, a bit forward, while the textures are vivid and well rendered and details are really good. There is also a lushness / thickness to the midrange that will make most music sound more fun and will surely satisfy the need for an intriguing sound. The signature is similar to a few 300$ headphones, but the most notable examples the signature reminds of are Sennheiser HD650 and Nighthawks. The soundstage by default is not the largest out there, but it is not congested nor are the instruments confined or smeared. Each instrument has its own place, but the smooth treble might make the soundstage feel a bit less spacious, this being typical of headphones sporting a smooth top end, like LCD-2. Happily, the tone of the headphone is fairly balanced and while the thick mids might sprinkle a bit of nuance over guitars, Iron Maiden's guitar solos are as crispy and lively as ever.

Since the main source driving 99 Neo this time is iFi iDSD BL, I should mention that it does make them sound open and natural / relaxed while the soundstage has a certain realism that's characteristic of iFi iDSD BL. FiiO X5ii is still a part of the setup, but this time it acts as either the DAC or the transport for the setup, but the snappiness of X5ii as a device helps a lot with the listening experience even when portable.

Rammstein – Ich Will – The first "Ich will" that's an error the microphone picked up from the monitors used by the singer is there, and the actual Ich Will (spoken) part doesn’t feel intrusive or offensive at all. This song has a few short segments that were recorded with some harshness to them and 99 Neo's smooth treble manages to iron those parts and render the whole song to a playful and enjoyable song. The whole song has good strength and while the bass isn't overwhelming, it sure has good speed and impact where it has to. The key effects sound fluid and while the cymbals are smooth, they are not lacking. The drum patters sound forward and come through with good strength, feeling real and even tangible at times.

Electric Six – High Voltage – This song is pretty interesting to hear on the BL + 99N combo since the song itself sounds pretty interesting already. There is a clear tendency for the bass to come forward and give the song a groove / fluid feeling to it. Even so, the bass keeps a very clear sound to it and its texture is easy to distinguish. The voices both have a true-to-life tonality to them and the effects play well in their own intended spaces. The guitars come through honest and undistorted and the right ear guitar plays well in its own space and moment. The cymbals of the song are not the forward point of it, but they're easy to hear and don't get subdued either, leading to a pretty funky and fun feeling to the whole song.

Om – State of non-return – The song starts with the effects playing in their desired positions and the distorts guitar having a good vivid feeling to it. The cymbals play slowly in the background while the groovy bass lines are flowing right through the headphones. The bass is extremely strong for this song, and I'm glad to report that it is rendered well. The voice is clear and every single word is easy to discern and understand, the whole song being able to create an atmosphere of its own around the listener.

Female voices sound sweet and crisp and while the fluidity and melodic tones are played well, this doesn't make male voices lag behind either, the vocal tonality of 99 Neo without any kind of EQ being very good. I would even say that 99 Neo and 99 Classics both have a natural voice tonality even when driven from P775 ESS sabre solution, but adding iFi iDSD BL surely enhances things.

Kathy Perry – I Kissed a Girl – The drums at the start of the song sound crispy and clean. The guitar in the right ear has a nice tremolo and vibration to it without distortion while Kathy Perry's voice is sweet and melodic, but shows that it has been processed to some degree in the recording / mastering phase. The guitar tones playing on each ear come through with clarity and there's not one bit of distortion or lack of dynamism although the song is pretty compressed from a dynamic range point of view. The bass tones are clear and carry a good weight with them, being quite easy to start moving while listening to the song, the whole song feeling fun and easy-to-listen-to. The left – right panning that happens starting with 02:05 is clean and the BL + 99N combo has enough agility to make the effect feel fluid while her voice has good and true-to-life texture during the segment.




Treble

In stock form, the treble of 99 Neo is silky smooth and while there is a slight feeling of roll-off, the treble is pretty forgiving and there's not much it will fatigue the listener with. This can be translated to harsh sounding songs feeling silky or happy with 99Neo, with Jazz and classical the effect being interesting and giving the songs a very lean feeling. With metal, the silky smooth treble means that the bass is easier to hear and integrate in every song and with pop it means that both the bass and the special effects pull through and feel forward while the treble takes a second place. The tonality can be called euphoric and enthusiastic, but lean and relaxing at the same time. While this may sound like a bit of a technical impossibility, the euphoric and enthusiastic sound comes into play with songs that heavily rely on bass and mids to happen, while Jazz and slow music feels really lean and relaxed.

99 Neo feels like a pretty safe headphone to own at this moment, it is surely going to impress and satisfy a lot of customers and while the few who need and want more treble might not be fully satisfied at first, 99Neo can accept a high dose of EQ before even considering any kind of distortion in either mids or treble so it can satisfy anyone with a bit of play here and there.

For the record, I'm a bit of a treble lover, and I need a lot of treble before I'm happy and while for 99 Classics I used a pretty aggressive EQ profile, with 99 Neo I'm able to find happiness with just 99Neo and iFi iDSD BL + 3D switch turned on. The treble is not the same in this situation, but I like the sound and it feels pretty wholesome and while the treble still needs a few dB here and there, it surely feels energetic enough to satisfy a fun listening session. I have not experienced any kind of listening fatigue with 99Neo regardless of how long I've used them and I can safely say that they're a headphone fun to listen to.

Royal Repulic – 21st Century Gentleman – The treble is easy to discern from the rest of the sound albeit it is not absolutely forward. The bass guitar is very forward and its texture is very vivid, feeling as if the bass player is closer to the listener than the drums are. The voice is somewhere in between, coming through with a great scream, but being a bit softer than the bass guitar. The drums are pretty clear and well defined, but they're not the forward instrument for this song, being left somewhere in the same line as the guitars and the voice. The spacing of the song is good and the stereo separation and agility of the sounds moving through the 3D space is impressive. The solo guitars have the right tone to them, feeling effortless and having a good drive. It's almost impossible to stop one's head from moving to the beat of the song – very fun to listen to. The song has multiple parts that should come pretty harsh but don't come with iDSD BL + 99 Neo, for example there should be multiple segments at the start of the song, especially on the voice track that should have sound harsh, but again, 99N renders those parts in a friendly way, the whole song sounding fun and lean.

Ylvis – The Fox – The song starts well and the voice has the right amount of sweetness and texture to it. The cymbals and higher registers information is not very loud and can be perceived as smooth while the bass comes through with great impact and slam. The mids are woven well with the bass and the speed of the headphones is high enough to render the textures of the effects while the cymbals will stay in their own layer, sounding smooth and a bit distant. The one word that would describe the song well is party. The song sounds exactly like it should sound for a happy party, not analytical nor digital, being a rather fun experience for the listener.

Rings of Saturn – The Heavens Have Fallen – The songs starts with good strength and hits deep enough to give the listener's mind a run of fear. The melodic tremolo is clear in both ears and while the cymbals are subdued, the bass notes and drums are pretty strong and manage to create enough impact for the whole song. The solo guitar is able to enter the song and resonate through the time and space like a beam of pure energy.  The acoustic notes don't present the typical metal wire bite, but they present a good thickness and are accompanied by a great level of lower register information.

Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine? – The song already has a bit of too little higher register information, so it is interesting to notice how it sounds with 99Neo. The song starts with a clear voice, with the bass coming somewhere to a near tangible level, the textures being rendered very well and the cymbals being clearly heard somewhere in the back, but with a very smooth tone. The drums have a clear presence and will take a forward position together with the bass guitar, the song feeling thick and fun. The lyrics are easy to understand and the soundstage is very good, the instruments having a very good space to breathe even though the higher registers are smooth.

The Fratellis – Got Ma Nuts From A Hippy – The song starts with a good grove and the bass is pretty addicting while the cymbals are pretty clear and have a good bite for this song. The voice doesn't sound sweet nor cold, but has a natural tone to it. The guitars have a great tonality and are resolved very well. The bass and thickness of the song is clearly what makes it so lovely. The solo of the song is clear and the cymbals manage once again to impress and the way they are woven with the solo guitar makes them sound in the same layer. Certain drum hits have a rather tactile feeling to them, the whole song being forward and fun to experience this way. The soundstage of this song is not very large as the recording itself was made to sound forward, and I'm glad to say that 99 Neo manages to sound exactly as it should for this. The solo can be heard in multiple layers and the segment after the solo has a spacious feeling to it.



Soundstage

The soundstage of 99 Neo is very good and it is comparable to its bigger brother, 99C. The soundstage can easily rival that of open sounding headphones like Ultrasone Signature DJ or Dj1P, being well rounded and more open sounding than most ~250$ headphones. With a bit of EQ applied, or with 3D enhancement applied from iFi iDSD BL, the soundstage has good size and depth, having an almost spherical shape and expanding pretty far. The soundstage being bigger than most of its direct competitors, 99 Neo also features an airy presentation for its instruments and although the top end has little bite and doesn't offend, the instruments don't feel confined at all. They all feel like there is space, but a warm space where all instruments can safely come into play and where there's enough micro-space as well for textures to extend.

The instrument separation is easily one of the best in the 250$ price range and comparable with more expensive headphones and while the precision of the instrument separation is great, the signature itself gives a warm and very analogue / smooth feeling to the sound. It is pretty easy to tell the voice apart from the bass, the guitars apart from the synths and the pianos apart from the flues. The most important feature is that with iFi iDSD BL, it is extremely easy to tell guitars apart from one another, giving Meze 99 Neo a clear control over guitars and a space where every guitar can play its own notes.

Incubus – Calgone – This is one of the songs that's easy to call when you need to describe a soundstage as it features a lot of guitars that expand in more than one directions and a lot of special effect that need a certain space to travel through for the song to have the right immersion and emotion. The aggressive guitars sound aggressive and have great impact while the travel distance of each effect is as good as ever, the whole song being well rendered. The voices come through with great texture and stays vivid all the time, while the screamed parts have the necessary warmth to work well with this song.

Dope – Addiction – The song starts well and the special effects has the right placing in the 3D field (somewhere in the right – back of the listener), upon audition the effect being rendered precisely at its spot and in a healthy manner. Meze 99 Neo is able to render each guitar with good clarity and depth while the screams are sustained very well and have a natural tone. The song comes through with even more enthusiasm with the 99 Neo + iFi iDSD BL combo, a bit of sweetness being replaced by an enthusiastic bass control and great transient response.

Space electro – XXX – The song starts well and while the extended effect that relies on the the higher registers at the start doesn't offend at all, the song still has some spark to it, never being dull. The key effects are positioned well in the 3D space and the bass has the right presence, warmth, and control throughout the entire sonic space. The bass needs to envelop the listener and be able to move with agility around the listener for this song, and the BL + 99N combo manages to render this effect very well, the bass managing to move fast enough for the song to feel analogue and get the right amount of life. For the record, I couldn't stop my legs from tipping and my head from moving while listening and had to a great time while listening to it.

Infected Mushroom – Wanted to – The soundstage expands well, and the female voice has enough drive to sound sweet, fluid and melodic. The male voices also have a certain sweetness to them, the tone being true to the life tone the song should have. The effects play on a wide scale and there's enough depth to differentiate all effects and travel of instruments. While the bass attacks with precisions and has great impact, by default the treble is smooth and the song gets a bit less spark than 99Classics gets with EQ. Regardless of this, 99 Neo can be equalized to get enough spark in the treble and the BL + 99N combo manages to get enough spark with no distortion, the song managing to pull through both the very fast and very slow segments of the song with enough agility.


Drive factor






99N has been tested with FiiO X5ii, Xiaomi mi max, iFi iDSD Micro BL, Custom ESS DAC solution, and a few other devices as well. By default, and as the first impression dictates, 99N is fairly easy to drive even from weaker sources and needs little power to reach high volumes and a great sound. But after hearing 99 Neo with a high end DAC/AMP like iDSD BL, the difference in the driving factor is much more obvious. 99 Neo is about as similar to source changes as Dj1P, being slightly less sensitive to source changes than 99 Neo is, but still pretty sensitive.

99 Neo doesn't have any distortion within listenable levels, and pain will start to set it way before 99 Neo distorts its sound. They work well for both loud and quiet listeners, the music coming through with great detail and force in both cases. There is a slight tendency for average volume to sound the most balanced though, but only slight.

The transient response and ADSR is affected by the source, and it is slightly affected by the volume the music is played at. A higher volume will not result in worse transients, but the way they are rendered might slightly change.

The sound when driving 99 Neo from Xiaomi Mi max is pretty balanced, the textures are vivid, and the details are pretty good. The soundstage is not the best but still pretty large.

When adding FiiO X5ii to the mix, the soundstage instantly opens up to a new resolution and the dynamics of 99 Neo expand much better. There is a considerably better sense of detail and X5ii would be one of the best ways to drive 99 Neo in portable mode.

If you want to go one step further, you can add iFi iDSD BL, which will give one more step to resolution and soundstage, but the change that is most evident is the increase in authority and control. iDSD BL has a certain sound of its own, but it feels like the bass is considerably tighter and more detailed and it also feels like the whole sound becomes faster.

All in all, driving Meze 99 Neo can happen from virtually any source, but the sound does improve considerably with better sources. Since I already have 99 Classics, I'm used to the great transient response and textures Meze offers, so the best thing I can say about 99 Neo is that it keeps the same great sound and source scaling.



Comparisons 

Ie800 – This is a hard comparison. When it comes to price, ie800 costs about 3 times as 99 Neo when new. Out of the box, ie800 sounds radically different from 99 Neo, ie800 having a more energetic presentation in the top end, a similarly deep bass, but less in quantity and a more dynamic sound in general. The 99 Neo versus ie800 debate takes a rather unexpected turn when comparing them both driven from iFi iDSD BL. This DAC / AMP not only impressed me a lot with its crystalline sound, but it makes Sennheiser ie800 sound like Sennheiser HE-1 and it makes 99 Neo sound like a new headphone. The difference in enjoyment, involvement and emotion between 99 Neo and ie800 is smaller this time, and I can say that there is a far bigger difference in the frequency response rather than a difference in the sound characteristics by themselves. Ie800 does have a bit better dynamics, a bit better separation between instruments and a tad cleaner presentation, but 99 Neo is no slouch and considering the price difference. For the record, I'm using both ie800 and 99 Classics (Neo's bigger brother) as my daily headphones, and I love both. They are complementary this time, and when I want to hear a relaxing sound and to forgive all artists for their mistakes I take 99 Classics, while when I want to hear the very cutting edge of sound, I take ie800. Serving different purposes, I can safely name them a great pair to have, if you can own both!

Ultrasone Dj One Pro – This time, things turned around in favor of 99 Neo. Both driven from ifi iDSD BL, I can now understand why some people criticize Ultrasone for their choices in sound. While I am a bit of a treble addict, I now dislike the shrill and cold presentation of Ultrasone Dj One pro as there is a ton of distortion in the upper registers when compared to Meze 99 Neo or Sennheiser ie800. Seems that this cold metallic distortion wasn't so evident for me before and I actually mistaken it for treble energy, but having heard a better sound, I now regress and call 99 Neo a more enjoyable headphone from every possible angle. For the record, I have not used Dj One pro at all since I got 99 Classics and having both DJ One Pro and 99 Neo would yield the same results. To compare their sounds, 99 Neo has a far more coherent bass, better texture, more precise control and far less bloating where Dj1P sounds loose and distorted in comparison. Comparing the mids, 99 Neo is more lush and has thicker mids, where DJ1P has a tad more vivid mids, which are sadly affected by a metallic shrill / resonance. Comparing the treble, Meze 99 Neo has very smooth treble, that comes through well, but is relaxed and will be smooth even with the harshest recording, while Dj1P has a metallic tint to the treble, having some treble distortion as well, especially after some EQ. 99 Neo + 3D soundstage on iFi iDSD BL has a similarly large soundstage as DJ1P has without the 3D setting activated on iFi iDSD BL.

Sennheiser HD650 and LCD2 – Meze 99 Neo sports a pretty similar signature to both, with 99 Neo coming on top of both HD650 and LCD2 in terms of soundstage and texture of instruments. The HD650 I've compared Meze 99 Neo to had less bite on the top end, feeling rolled off, where 99 Neo felt smooth but not absolutely rolled off. LCD-2 sports a bit more bite in the treble than 99 Neo, but once again 99 Neo wins on the instrument texture, especially the guitars. Comfort wise, HD650 and 99 Neo are similar, while LCD-2 is not bad, but it is way too heavy leading to fatigue after half of an hour. The bass is a bit tricky to compare because both HD650 and LCD-2 are open back while 99 Neo is closed back. By design, 99 Neo will have better impact and better slam than HD650, but the natural bass of LCD-2 being pretty close. The way bass hits is different between Meze 99 Neo and LCD-2, at this point being pretty complicated to describe (I would need more time with both). The midrange is different between all of them, with 99 Neo having the thick / lush midrange, HD650 being a bit colder and less involved in the mid range (due to the less midbass hump), and LCD-2 having a more neutral midrange. The sole fact that 99C is closed back makes it an amazing fact to say that it has a larger soundstage than LCD-2 and HD650, the air between the instruments feeling similar but the space around the listener being larger on 99 Neo.

Audio Tehnica ATH A-700X – This comparison is interesting because Meze 99 Neo are in a similar price bracket and it is only natural that Meze 99 should be compared to a similarly priced headphone. The first difference noticed is in the build quality, where although both are made out of Abs – plastic, meze 99 neo feels a bit heavier, more secured and doesn't feel nowhere near as finnicky as A700X feels like. The comfort is pretty bad on A700, not because of the headband but because of the pads which are both small and shallow. The depth of the pads is more important than the size in general. One can live with smaller pads, but it is almost impossible to use shallow pads as they make you touch the driver plate and this usually causes pain. The sound is very different between the two headphones, A700X feeling like a very light headphone, while 99 Neo is a lush headphone with a thick midrange. 99 Neo has considerably more bass in quantity, it is better defined, better layered, better textured and will have considerably better and more realistic hit and slam. By comparison, A700X feels pretty anemic and loose. The midrange is different as A700X as a bit more natural midrange tonality wise, but 99 Neo comes in force with considerably better textures, considerably better details, and a similar soundstage. By direct comparison, A700X feels a bit smeared in the midrange, a clear, natural midrange, but with instrument texture smearing where 99 Neo has a thick and lush midrange with vivid and clear textures and great soundstage. The top end is where A700X has a slight upper hand, having a bit better treble extension and energy, but the bass to treble ratio making the whole sound thin. 99 Neo has less treble by comparison, but a similar amount of detail. Since 99 Neo favors having a strong and imposing bass, the sound comes off as more enjoyable and fun for 99 Neo although I personally like A700X as well. The two headphones feel complementary more than they feel like direct competitors, the sound being quite different between them.

Audio Tehnica ATH M-50X – This should be a fair comparison since the two headphones are priced similarly, and this time they target a similar audience. From the start, both headphones feel fairly well build, although M50x feels a bit heavier. The clamping force is pretty different as M50x has way more clamping force at times, up to the point of feeling uncomfortable while 99 Neo has just the right amount of clamping force to ensure a secured seal. The sound tries to be similar, with the biggest difference being in the soundstage. But until there, both M50X and 99 Neo feature a similar amount of bass, but 99 Neo has better bass quality, and better bass texture. Meze 99 Neo features considerably more natural mids, where the mids of M50x feel rather V-shaped and have an uncomfortable dip that makes them sound shrill / cold / metallic. The top end of the two is a bit different, with m50x having more treble, but rolling off at some point, resulting in a metallic tint to the treble. The big (huge) difference between 99 Neo and M50x lies in their soundstage, where 99 Neo has a natural to large soundstage, airy sound and great instrument positioning / rendering, M50x having a really claustrophobic soundstage and featuring far less air between instrument. The separation between instrument is similar, but M50x has less textures than 99 Neo, making 99 Neo feel vivid, where M50x feels smeared by direct comparison.





Value







99 Neo is even less expensive than their bigger brother, 99 Classics and given the sound quality of 99 Neo and what you get in the box, they are a sweet deal.

The value is great, but they will always be endangered by a great headphone. Their biggest enemy at a close price range is their own brother, 99C!

Given the quality of both, I would suggest hearing both before making a purchase and seeing them in person as 99 Classics and their wooden construction is more beautiful than any luxury furniture while 99 Neo comes in as an edgy / modern looking headphone that will leave you in shock with their awesome presentation. I generally prefer to avoid recommending a headphone based on its looks, but 99 Neo and 99 Classics make an exception from this rule as they both sound great, but their looks are more of a difference than their sound. All in all, at the price of 250$, you're getting a very solid package and a very sold headphone. I would gladly call this a sweet deal at this moment and a deal that you don't want to miss!



Bonus Photos












































Conclusion




After hearing every single headphone that I could hear to date, I am quite hard to impress. You can say that headphones don't really impress me anymore, and when I listen to headphones, 1000$ headphones don't have a wow effect anymore, and it is rare that I get enthused about headphones anymore. I was rather curious about the second installment of the 99 Classics made by Meze and I was not expecting them to hold their ground given that the ABS sound is usually perceived as less desirable than the sound of headphones with wood cups. I was quite wrong and it seems that in the end Meze kept their promise and 99 Neo fares very well, especially when compared to their bigger brother, 99 Classics.

Considering the sound quality of both 99 Neo and 99 Classics, a buyer should make his choice based on his aesthetic preferences instead of going for the sound since Meze managed to keep a great sound for both. The fact that I tested 99 Neo with iDSD BL this time and I didn't feel the need to EQ them anymore tells a lot about how great this combo and be and the fact that a source can make a big difference in how a headphone is perceived.

At the date of writing this review, 99 Neo is one of the best headphones one can buy for 250$ and in my personal experience, I haven't found a better closed back headphone in the same price bracket. The competition is always strong in this area, and I'm looking forward for what other marvelous things headphone makers will come with and I do hope that Meze will be able to hold their ground in the future as well.

You can safely enjoy 99 Neo straight from your laptop, your smartphone, or even an ultra-portable DAP. But adding a higher quality source will surely make your day better. FiiO X5-3, FiiO X5ii, FiiO X7, iFi iDSD BL are all great ways of powering your Meze 99 Neo and I'm sure that every one of these sources will make someone fall in love with their sound, you just need to find which has the best sound for you. I can't wait to see what FiiO comes up with next, but right now either FiiO X7 + AM3 or iFi iDSD BL are the best ways possible to drive 99 Neo from pretty much all of my tests.

I hadn’t had the chance of testing Balanced as I didn’t have any balanced cables yet, but I'm really curious about it and will make sure to test it as soon as Meze releases the balanced version of their cables and return with impressions!

Once again, I fully recommend giving 99 Neo a chance, especially if you are looking for a headphone in this price bracket, as it is one of the most interesting entries you can find and you might fall in love with the sound! Also, please remember that burn-in does make a difference with 99 Neo and you should let it do its thing to fully enjoy this beauty of a headphone!

This review is also live on Head-fi:




Stay safe, love life and enjoy music!