Made of wood and metal, completely serviceable and repairable, finished by hand — few headphones today can be described with these words, and even fewer are even remotely affordable. Meze, a small Romanian company, has gained tremendous popularity recently for 99 Classics ($309), a circumaural wood-cupped headphone that ticks more boxes than it should for its price. Though their successful Kickstarter campaign ended in April 2016, we have finally had the chance to try them out, and we’re impressed. It’s almost unfair.
Included with the 99 Classics is a great complement of accessories: two cables (1.2m with mic/one-button control and 3m), an airplane adapter, a 1/4-inch adapter, a soft pouch for the cables, and a very nice semi-rigid zippered storage case. The cables are very nice — fabric-sleeved, sturdy, and terminated in 3.5mm TRS on one end and 3.5mm mono for connection to the headphone. The 99 Classics’ cups have no left/right markings — the L & R markings on the cables dictate which side is left and right.
The 99 Classics have a retro look that is rare in today’s market. It struck us as a bit ornate at first glance but, upon closer inspection, is actually quite sturdy and minimalist — every part is either structural or functional. A simple arc of spring steel provides horizontal adjustment clamp, while an adjustable leather headband — connected to the arc by cast zinc buttresses — provides vertical adjustment. We might have preferred the less flashy silver color, but the gold elements look good with the real walnut cups and black headband. The 99 Classics is on the edge of what we’d call “portable” — no swivel or folding, a little too big for a daily commute, but compact enough that you wouldn’t be crazy to transport them between home and office or school.
At only 32 ohms, we found the 99 Classics easy to drive out of nearly any source. It’s a surprisingly light headphone, considering that it’s made almost entirely from wood and metal and assembled with screws. Though the 99 Classics is clearly well-built, we heard some little creaks as we put them on and adjusted them. We found the 99 Classics to be extremely comfortable, though these ear pads are a bit snug for over-ears. The 99 Classics’ pads remind us of the Sony MDR-1000X; they’re thicker and softer, but they similarly have just barely enough room to contain the ear. In addition, the tension on the headband is high, causing some upward pressure on the ears that tended to creep upwards over time, requiring occasional re-adjustment. They require a bit of fidgeting to find the ideal position around the ear, but once a seal is made we found them to be reasonably well-isolating, but honestly not the most isolating circumaural headphones we’ve used.
The 99 Classics is one of the best-sounding headphones we’ve heard in this price range. Meze’s choice of wood cups and driver tuning work together beautifully to produce a natural and detailed sound. The speed of this driver also produces excellent imaging and soundstage, especially for a closed headphone. There is a bit of a bass boost — this is a warm headphone — but the bass does not overpower the midrange like we hear in so many other headphones. This relatively balanced sound makes the 99 Classics a great pairing with nearly any genre, though metalheads could probably do better with something slightly closer to neutral. Still, the 99 Classics are warm done right — just a bit of extra sweetness in the low-end to make the sound fun without losing detail in the midrange.
The Meze 99 Classic is an excellent headphone. Its styling is different enough from the norm that it might be polarizing for some, and it’s just barely on the wrong side of portability, but these are minor nitpicks. It’s almost frustrating to see a company get their first product so right on their first try. The 99 Classics is one of those headphones that everyone should try at least once, and earns our strong recommendation.
Company and Price
Model: 99 Classics