Meze is an audio company based in Romania which basically came out of nowhere and has taken the headphone world by storm! AKG is a true legend in the headphone industry as well, producing some of the greatest (and still greatest) headphones ever, like the AKG K550 (which sounds like 99% the same as the K551), the K702, the K812, and it's closed-back sibling, the K872. The AKG K550 was the first headphone I truly ever cared about, and it was the prime reason (aside from great interest I had in Hi-Res music) why I got so into Hi-Fi audio! Time and time again, I've seen the K55X series wipe the floor with headphones that cost DOUBLE TO TRIPLE its cost (which these days is roughly $130-$180), even highly-rated ones such as the $399 Oppo PM-3. And we're talking SEVERAL headphones up to the $400 mark. The only headphones that ever outdid it in my opinion was the 2nd Generation Bang & Olufsen (B&O Beoplay) H6s. The 2nd Gen H6 offered more detail than the K55X series (though it probably couldn't compete with the K702, and most certainly not the K812 or K872, which both cost $1000-$1500), and was more portable. The H6s should've lasted with me a lot longer than 2 months, but their downfall was comfort, or in their case, the lack of. The H6s featured a ribbed headband which would always poke into my skull, and although they were called over-ear headphones, to me, they hardly qualified for such a distinction. The tiny earpads BARELY fit over my ears, and so after a couple months, I'd had it, and sold them off. A friend of mine who happened to buy them based on my recommendation felt the same way about his, and he did not keep his H6s either. So after trying out another pair of "cans", I went back to AKG once again, but with the K551s. And that was that................until a friend of mine suggested I try out the (newer) Meze 99 Classics (Silver Walnut version). And so I did, using my trusty HTC 10 with its superior sound quality, and my ever-growing catalog of Hi-Res and CD-Quality music (mostly rock, both hard and soft) as tools for this comparison. Price: The Meze 99 Classics cost $309, and the AKG K551 runs about $160 (both per Amazon U.S.). Looks: The 99s came in and I was quite impressed by them right away. They are as striking in their looks as they are in their sound! Here Meze has created a masterpiece of sorts: a pair of headphones with style, premium design, and more! Everything about these headphones (and their accessories) is nothing short of luxurious! They come in a really nice box which opens up magnetically, and features the 99s, various OFC (Oxygen-Free Copper) cables (about 4' and 10' long, with the 4' foot one including an in-line remote), a custom soft case for the cables, an airplane adapter, a 6.3mm adapter, and a SWEET hard case for the 99s itself, all for only $309! (Even the scent of the inside of the box itself smells expensive!) The 99s' design features NO glue or plastic. Everything is neatly held together using screws. The ear pads are made of synthetic leather and memory foam, and the ear cups are made from stained walnut wood. I've read that wood has better acoustic properties than plastic or metal do, so this was a plus! I'd also read somewhere else that the staining process the 99s undergo takes about 18 months to complete as well! I've been interested in headphones with wooden ear cups for some time now, but haven't found any that were highly-rated. Aesthetically-speaking, it doesn't get much better than this! The 99s have won both sound AND design awards, which it most certainly deserves. The Meze logo itself closely resembles a trident, which is the same logo used by Italian-car maker Maserati, which happens to be my all-time FAVORITE car maker too! So maybe it was fate? Who knows? lol The K551s come in a very nice box as well, which kind of resembles a TV or a stage, which I've always thought deserved high marks for its unique presentation style. It features a (fixed) 4' cable with an in-line remote, and a 6.3mm adapter. The K551s have some plastic on them, but also have a great deal of metal too. They also exude a premium look (Black/Silver model), and are quite nice to look at, though I slightly prefer the look of the K550 and K550 MK II. The ear pads are also made from synthetic leather and memory foam, and the ear cups appear to be metal and plastic. Comfort: I found BOTH headphones to be quite comfortable. They both fit on great with no noticeable clamping. The 99s win here though because of their design. While the K551s force you to adjust to its headband, the 99s come with an adjustable SMOOTH headband, which adjusts to YOUR head, making it a better fit. But it doesn't end there. While the K551s feature rounded (and large) ear pads, the 99s come with OVAL-shaped ear pads, which really make a lot more sense because human ears are not round, they're essentially oval in shape! So not surprisingly, these fit onto my ears better too. Now this is where the H6s failed, and the 99s ALMOST suffered the same fate as well. Initially, the ear pads were on the small side, and as a result, several customers complained to Meze about this issue. So apparently several months ago, Meze made yet another very WISE decision to LISTEN to their customers and enlarge the ear pads up to about a medium or medium-to-large size. I have absolutely NO doubt that had Meze not taken this action that I wouldn't have been as happy about the 99s as I am today! The oval shape of these ear pads also have other advantages. One of which has to do with volume and potential hearing loss. Rounded ear pads let more of the sound leak out, which in turn forces the listener to raise the volume up, which can put the listener at increased risk for (unnecessary) hearing damage. But oval-shaped ear pads isolate sound better, and therefore less sound is likely to leak out, and the urge to raise the volume up higher vanishes immediately! This is a wonderful idea, and just one of many wise decisions the 99s' creator, Antonio Meze (pronounced "Mez-zahh"), made while putting the 99s together. But why the 99s are so phenomenal only BEGINS here........................................ Bass: I came to realize how much I really loved a neutral sound signature because of AKG. Other headphones never quite sounded right to me really. Either too much of this or too little of that. The H6s even at times could sound too boomy. So I never thought I'd want anything but neutral, until the 99s came along! Although not as neutral as the K551s, the 99s feature a more "balanced" bass sound that digs even deeper than the K551s do, and so you get a stronger and better bass sound, and NO apparent leakage into the mids and treble regions either. This is KEY, because SO many of the other headphones I've reviewed failed when it came to this. The PM-3, the B&W P7, the Sony MDR-1A........too much bass! The Blue Lola contained bass however with industrial strength, but fell short on the treble end when it came to detail. The 99s however get bass right at every turn! The OTHER advantage to having oval-shaped ear pads makes its appearance here, where it is more appropriately placed. By offering better isolation as a result of the oval shape, I felt the bass even more closely than I did with the K551s. I really think ALL headphones should feature oval-shaped ear pads. Mids & Highs: Both headphones are great here. It's hard to say that one was better than the other. With the right EQ, you get the best sound that each can offer. Soundstage: The 99s prevail here as well, and this was NO small feat! One thing that AKG is known for being SUPERIOR at is offering a WIDE VAST soundstage with its closed-back headphones. I mean, they took that design to a whole new level, even being comparable with open-back headphones on this front! So when I was told the 99s had an even wider soundstage, I definitely felt some doubt. But that doubt disappeared within minutes of this comparison taking place! Thanks to the way the speaker drivers are angled, and some fantastic tuning as well, the 99s manage to outdo the K551s in soundstage, even with them having smaller speaker drivers than the K551s (40mm vs. 50mm) do. Truly amazing!! Clarity: The overall clarity of both of these headphones is great, but once again the 99s prove victorious here as well. The 99s were odd in not one but two different ways, but these were "good" oddities: 1) Despite having the same impedance rating but a LOWER sensitivity rating than the K551s, the 99s were somehow LOUDER, though they shouldn't have been! I have no explanation for this, but perhaps someone reading this does and can offer it up in this thread?! 2) I heard details on the 99s that I never heard with ANY headphone I've ever auditioned!! In one particular case, I was playing a Hi-Res version of the Fleetwood Mac song "Second Hand News" (from the legendary Rumours album), and during the intro, I noticed what sounded like a background percussion echo of some sort right before the vocals kick in, which I swear I've never heard before! I then played that same part on my K551s, and the echo sound was COMPLETELY ABSENT, even at the same and even slightly higher volume! The 99s apparently don't let ANY details get passed it! lol Misc: In addition to the sheer awesomeness of the 99s, Meze itself is a force to be reckoned with. The few times I had contacted Meze for answers to questions, they were more than willing to help out and tackle each one, and always within a day or two at most. Conclusion: The Meze 99 Classics are quite an elegant pair of headphones. With these headphones I realized that even when you think you've heard it all, it's possible you haven't, so don't be afraid to be open-minded when it comes to audio products! And so now I have put my AKG K551s up for sale on eBay, and have officially decided to stick with Meze! I feel strongly that if you're looking for great REFERENCE headphones for studio recording and editing, then the K55X series is your best bet (excluding the K553, which I DO NOT recommend). It offers a great NEUTRAL sound that will really help you get your ideas down w/o any "coloration" being added to the sound. But when it comes to listening for enjoyment, the 99s take the cake here!! They make everything I listen to sound more enjoyable and more LIVELY than ever before, so I have nothing but love for them! Yes, the 99s cost around double the K551s, but for ONCE I'm getting a better headphone at practically every turn! The style, the design, the detachable cables, the bass, the soundstage, and the details of the 99s make it a MUST BUY at $309. Having a nice-looking hard (vs. soft) case included only makes the 99s a more attractive purchase for anyone looking for fantastic audio quality and a premium look & design! Romania may not be on the "headphone audio map" the way Germany, Austria, and Denmark are yet, but in my opinion, Meze has FOREVER changed that by creating and introducing the world to the Meze 99 Classics! The 99s are INCREDIBLE headphones, and I think the world would be a better place if more people checked them out and gave them a listen as well! Update (12/30/21): I've removed the 2 instances above where I referred to the cables used on the 99s as balanced. They actually weren't. But I have no doubt that such cables would make these sound even better!
Reviewed in the United States on July 8, 2017 by RockStar2005