Meze Empyrean headphones Page 2

What I am happy to tell you, however, are facts: these cans surround your lugs and thus rest not on the ear, that the cushions are squishy and the construction includes lightweight carbon fibre and CNC-machined aluminium for a weight of 430g. But I'll not declare they are universally comfortable because, however good a pair of cans may sound, no sane person would buy them without trying them on first. Headphones are, after all, the only hi-fi product that we actually wear.

Let's dismiss the non-sonic trivia, then: 1) I wore these for up to four hours at a time, during my work sessions, without complaint. 2) I ran them off everything from smartphone to iPad, dedicated headphone amps to built-in sockets on preamps, and not once did I feel the need for any more power. Whatever the technology, the Mezes – like the Audezes – are as easy to live with as any dynamic model.

sqnote.jpg Serious Monitoring
Listening to CDs, SACDs and SHM-CDs, I used the Empyreans for everything from 50-year-old mono broadcasts – the just-released Gerry & The Pacemakers Live At The BBC [Parlophone 0190295636319] – to the studio hits-plus-live-disc package from Squeeze, Spot The Difference [Love Records LVRCD003] from 2010, tore-mastered rock classics via the brand-new demonstration collection, Rock & Pops Hi Res CD Sampler [Universal Japan UNCY-40217/8]. This set begs assessment-by-headphone because it contains both an MQA UHQ-CD and the same material on a 'normal CD' for comparison purposes. (I bought mine from for a mere ¥1000 plus postage.)

As a test, it's both a trial for the hardware and an education for the listener, given the lack of consistent reactions to MQA by seasoned observers, due to performance extremes that can range from barely detectable subtlety to drastic, in-your-face clarity. On this occasion it showed immediately that the Empyrean is gloriously detailed and transparent, and thus suitable for serious monitoring. The tracks include Free's 'Mr Big', The Allman Brothers' 'You Don't Love Me' and songs by Marvin Gaye, Tears For Fears and Traffic – in all cases the 'MQA effect' is more strikingly evident via the Empyreans than is typical through loudspeakers.

A Revelation
It was Traffic's 'John Barleycorn' that proved the most revelatory, partly because it's a sublime recording and partly because it is lean enough to ensure you're not distracted by epic washes of sound. The timbre of the opening guitar, touch of the cymbal, carefully-enunciated vocals, the flute-like sounds stage right, and the recording's gentleness ensure the listener can focus on particular instruments. And this exposed something else.

There is no doubt that the Empyrean sounds soft and silky compared with the Audeze LCD-X and various high-res dynamic cans including Bowers & Wilkins' P9 Signature [HFN Mar '17], Focal's Spirit Pro [HFN Dec '15] and others. This is independent of valve vs. solid-state power, which I verified using both sorts of headphone amps.

However, as you have already surmised, these sound softer with tubed models, and the added lushness, especially in the lower registers, will either seduce or repel you. With the powerful rhythm section of The Allman Brothers, the softness of valves affected the impact, so it was preferred through my solid-state devices. Conversely, on the very same disc, the Traffic track enjoyed greater warmth via Quad's PA-One.


Lest this suggest a need for two headphone amps, neither is this consistent. You have to choose one or the other, just as the Audeze LCD-Xs sound more natural (to me) with valve headphone power. I cannot stress enough that headphones must be auditioned with the preamp that will be driving them. So far, so inconclusive.

Superlative Soundstage
What I looked for instead were characteristics that defined their sound, present regardless of disc, player or amp. In particular Meze has done a terrific job in creating a headphone with superlative image placement. But, as with all headphones, this comes with a caveat: when the sound is in one's head, three-dimensionality doesn't apply unless the source is binaural, or heard via some spatial simulator.

What makes the soundstage more enveloping are the Empyrean's openness and just-beyond-the-earpiece portrayal. In this respect, Meze's headphone sounds deliciously wide and unconstrained, although the Audeze LCD-X does a slightly better job of extending these sounds beyond the physical boundaries of the headset. The aforementioned flute thingie in 'John Barleycorn', for example, was discernibly further right from the centre than via the Empyrean.

But that is quantitative, not qualitative, so I also spent time with mono recordings, including the aforementioned Gerry & The Pacemakers sets and the mono edition of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds [Universal UNCY-40181]. Here the inside-your-head presence is inherent, so you can dismiss spatial concerns. And what did they prove? That, above all, the Meze Empyrean is supremely musical.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
As with all headphones – more so than any other components – the ultimate decision has to be truly personal: you must try them on first, and make your own decision about comfort. Equally, the sonic appeal will be affected by both taste and by matching with your chosen headphone amp. Once these are addressed, you will find, as did I, the Meze Empyrean ranks among the most satisfying cans money can buy.

Meze Audio
Supplied by: SCV Distribution
03301 222500