Shoutout to Meze Audio for reaching out and sending the 99 Neo!
Greetings mate and Welcome aboard. Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…
At A Glance
In The Box
Over-ear headphones (Black/Silver)
59″ Cable with in-line mic/remote (straight 3.5mm plug)
Soft zippered cable storage pouch
Hard zippered case
2 Meze Audio decals
- Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos! | Check Meze!
- Transducer size: 40mm
- Frequency response: 15Hz – 25KHz
- Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
- Impedance: 26 Ω
- Rated input power: 30mW
- Maximum input power: 50mW
- Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
- Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
- Weight: 260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cables
- Ear-cups: ABS Plastic
Well, I really wanted to like the Neo.
No, not this Neo, this Neo:
In fact, around June of 2021, I visited my local Audio Advice for the first time in many months and found a Meze 99 Classic hanging on the shelf.
I had always meant to sit down and listen to it, but just never found the time.
Now I could finally decide if it was worth the hype. So I innocently plugged it into my phone, sat down, and fired up Spotify.
I couldn’t believe it.
In only about 30 min to an hour’s worth of listening, I found these fairly utilitarian – but still with a dash of elegance – headphones to be a wonderful breath of fresh air.
Instrument timbre had a rich, lifelike quality to it, the tone and decay of said instruments – as well as voices – was also fantastic, albeit a bit overly saturated if I’m being honest. Still, it was a minor nitpick. I was enjoying the heck out of them.
The bass sounded full and thumped wonderfully. Though forward (read, VERY forward), it somehow didn’t sound sloppy or out of line to me. The treble, likewise, wasn’t overly bright or obnoxious.
I made a post on Instagram, went home, and haven’t heard one again since.
Until now, that is.
Let’s take a look at the Neo, how it actually sounds, and determine if it’s basically the same as the Classic.
First off, I really enjoy the build of these. As mentioned previously, they’re compact and light, but they don’t fold up or anything.
They’re nimble and built well. In fact, there’s no glue anywhere and all parts are replaceable. By only using nuts and bolts, the entire headphone is fully serviceable.
This is definitely a main selling point and I have to say I really really like what they’ve done.
When I reviewed the K5 Pro, I compared its build to a lean soccer player with a bit of muscle mass. The Neo follows a similar suit.
I’d actually feel completely comfortable dropping them, but definitely don’t step on them even though they’d probably still be okay.
The headband adjustment is a hammock-style configuration that kind of reminds you of a K702, but the design itself is a bit different. The 2 pieces that hold the adjustment are a matte black, squared-off cast zinc-alloy finish and feel a little more sure of themselves.
The headband pad is thin, and dare I say feels a tad cheap, but both the cups and pads feel great to the touch.
There are also dual terminations into each ear cup and both connections are easy to insert and feel fine. The headphones come with a cable pouch, a hard carrying pouch, a 1/4″ adapter, some stickers, and some literature.
One issue that may bother you as it did me is the lack of R/L indicators anywhere on the headphones. Both terminations contain them in small block letters, but they’re nowhere to be found otherwise.
If you know where they are, definitely leave a comment as I’m getting old. xD
Lastly, the top of the headband reads the engraved “99 NEO.”
You’d almost think they were referencing some green-ish-looking movie that came out in 1999. Heh. Heh. Ahem.
*resists the urge to link meme*
Here’s a picture instead:
The aesthetic of this headphone definitely screams “I’m a snob and proud of it.”
It’s classy but yet still fairly discreet – the type of headphone you may wear to a formal, or some cocktail party, and be completely comfortable in doing so:
*Walking around mingling with lots of people*
Her: “Why are you just randomly wearing a headphone on your head?”
Because audiophile, Becky.
*headphone wearer scoffs and walks away*
What I love most about the build is actually quite silly, but the fact that I can finger its cups without leaving prints is mega satisfying to me.
This matte black look, with a subtle hint of grain on the outside of the cups, is just perfect for my highly refined sensibilities and will likely appease yours as well.
Perfect for long listening sessions, this one feels nice on your head and doesn’t intrude in any way.
So far, I haven’t had to adjust it or take it off a single time – it clamps nicely on the sides of your head but also doesn’t dig into the top of your melon either.
The cups don’t rotate or swivel, but similar to an HD600, they move just enough to where they don’t feel completely rigid – likely an added benefit when wearing them for long periods of time and achieving the right fit.
The depth of the cups is medium-deep and they’re oval-shaped, but they also look a bit wider in diameter than most. This also helps with comfort as it never seems like your ears are touching or hitting anything.
This may just have to be added to the most comfortable headphones of all time article, as it is quite easily one of the best in that regard.
- Amps/DACS used: FiiO K5 Pro, iFi Go Blu, iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM, more to come!
- Playlist: Here!
- Albums: Towards the bottom!
This is where things get a bit dicey.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first.
The Neo is bassy. Very bassy.
I have no idea why I didn’t have an issue with it when demoing the Classic at Audio Advice, but it’s likely due to the fact that I didn’t spend enough time listening to music.
This is also why it’s never a great idea to write a review after you’ve just popped a stiffy.
Add to that, for whatever reason, listening to headphones plugged straight into your phone can either be the best thing ever or sound completely awful.
In the case of the Classic, it was the former, and I don’t know why.
It could be due to the fact that they are really efficient and not hard to drive, or it honestly could’ve just been my imagination and/or likely over the top initial reaction to an exciting headphone.
Heck, the Classic may actually be tuned better and sound better, but I’m definitely not going to claim that even despite the fact that it is roughly $100 more. Hmm.
In any event, excitement is generally what Meze is going for here with the Neo as well, only, it just doesn’t quite work.
What you’ll find is that even despite the mid-range not actually being recessed – as you’d typically think of it in terms of being scooped out altogether, the sub-bass/mid-bass shelf is just too much.
Most of the time it’s going to drown out the mids and/or sound overly bloated and excessive.
If the K371 rendered some tracks as laughably bad, the Neo is like, “Hold my beer, son.”
Who’d of thought that throwing endless heaps of mid-bass at a wall may not actually work out the way you intended?
Still, on some tracks, it kind of works, (Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know” sounds mostly great) but the irony is that while the Neo was theoretically made for harder genres, it actually doesn’t really sound all that great with them in practice. It just sounds like mud with most songs. Even “Didn’t Cha Know’s bass line is a bit too stuffy.
Likewise, J Dilla’s “Believe In God”, one of my all-time favorite instrumentals ever, sounds like complete poop with the Neo. The mid-bass basically just drowns everything out. This is the case with 95-99% of tracks.
There’s this papery thin, artificial quality about them that I couldn’t quite shake as well. I thought maybe it was the track, but the issue kept popping up over and over the more music I listened to.
At some point, it’s the headphones and not the song.
On the flip side, if you’re finding tracks themselves to sound bad on neutral headphones, it’s likely the result of a poorly mixed/mastered track and not the headphones.
Not every time, but the majority of the time.
In the case of the Neo, where’s that great Instrument Timbre that I mentioned at the start? The rich, lifelike mid-range? The realistic and immediate-sounding vocals?
It’s just not there. Could I have been imagining things in listening to a Classic and having such a great experience?
I have no idea. I do remember being in a great mood, so my temperament could have been something like this:
But I’m disappointed in you, Neo.
You’re not the one.
The treble is the bright spot here (no pun intended), as it doesn’t sound overly bright, essy, or sibilant.
Still, the sound as a whole is fairly underwhelming.
I guess my expectations were pretty high and I came back down to earth.
Reality is often disappointing.
Still, Bibio’s “Oakmoss”, one of the most nostalgic tracks I’ve ever heard, sounds pretty good, but again, the mid-bass is trying to be front and center and it just ends up distracting from an otherwise incredible composition.
This is clearly the headphones attempting to over-exert their influence and not a result of how the track was recorded.
Imagine a bodybuilder already on steroids, taking more steroids. As in, he eats steroids for breakfast lunch and dinner.
With the 371, the laughably boomy bass was the exception and not the rule, and most assuredly stemmed from the mixing habits of its creator (Hip-Hop heads tend to get bass happy from time to time).
There’s this artificial sentiment that Neo has and I think that’s the overarching theme here. It feels unnatural and forced in the majority of instances, and not something I look forward to putting on my head.
Is the Meze 99 Neo worth it?
For that, and everything else I’ve stated in the article, I can’t in good conscience recommend it and won’t.
For as polarizing as the Harman Curve seems to be, I genuinely believe the 371 did so many things right and would be your best bet if you’re looking for closed-back headphones with more emphasis on the low end.
The Neo at $199 is actually pretty fair (all things considered), although I’d probably shave $50 off that. Other than clearly better comfort, there’s nothing about it that’s any better than an M50x in my opinion.
In fact, for as much as people needlessly trash the 50x, it handles the bass much better and it’s really not that close.
If you’re going to accentuate it, the 50x’s 5dB shelf from 20Hz – 200, in my mind, is just about right.
But a 10dB shelf as the Neo boasts?
Again, it’s too much.
I look at the Neo as I look at Diminishing Returns. there’s a point when more bass does NOT equal better sound.
This is clearly one of those cases.
So what do I recommend instead?
I think the K371 is just about the perfect closed-back headphone.
With a caveat or 2?
Sure, but it’s a solid choice and pretty much hits all the marks.
For an open-back, somewhat Harman-y type of sound without the bloat, Apos’ Caspian is an excellent choice and I really love it.
For an exciting closed-back headphone in the vein of the Neo, but done right, check out the HD25:
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Meze 99 Neo Review and came away with some valuable insight.
Do YOU think the Neo or Classic is worth the investment? Be sure to let me know!!
If you have any other questions or feel I’ve missed the mark on something, leave a comment down below or Contact me!
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I very much look forward to speaking with you…
All the best and God bless,