Pander to them just a little and the Meze Audio Empyrean II prove smarter than your average audiophile-orientated passive hard-wired over-ear headphones…
- Poised, informative and endlessly listenable
- Specified, constructed and finished without apparent compromise
- Comfortable through even the longest listening sessions
- Not cheap to buy
- Not discreet to wear
- Not as outright punchy as you might prefer
- ConnectivityA choice of 10 connecting cables
- WearSupplied with two different pairs of earpads
- Drive unitsRinaro Isodynamics hybrid array driver
In less than a dozen years, Romania’s Meze Audio has established itself as a headphone force to be reckoned with.
It’s also demonstrated a bloody-mindedness of the best kind – where components, materials and design are concerned, Meze Audio is more than happy to fly in the face of both fashion and received wisdom. To butcher a much more famous observation, those who like things like Meze Audio will find Meze Audio things the sort of thing they like.
Five years ago, Meze Audio launched its Empyrean wired over-ear headphones to quite a lot of acclaim. This v2 version intends to pick up where the original left off, in every respect – so these headphones are distinctive in looks, uncompromising in specification and stomach-churning in expense.
Of course, a hard-nosed approach to design and specification is no guarantee of performance. Are the Meze Audio Empyrean II all bark and no bite?
The Meze Audio Empyrean II are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom they sell for £2749 a pair. In the United States they’re more like $2999, while in Australia you’re looking at AU$5499 or thereabouts.
That’s a remarkable asking price, no two ways about it – but equally remarkable is the amount of competition Meze Audio faces in this market. Brands as venerable as Grado, Sennheiser, Shure and Yamaha are all ready to part you from this sort of money for a pair of their competing passive, hard-wired headphones.
So Meze Audio is going to have to do a bit more than just show up and sound great to secure your hard-earned…
- CMC-milled aluminium
- Suspension wings (!)
Meze Audio, of course, understands there’s a limit to the amount of designing that can be done where over-ear headphones are concerned. But, of course, Meze Audio has done its damnedest to make the Empyrean II as singular and distinctive as possible.
So the tiered earcup frame is made of CMC-milled aluminium, so it feels about as indulgent as it looks – and there’s room for a big, assertive company logo where it accommodates the sliding headband adjuster. The open-backed grille that sits inside it is perforated with a small, repeating three-pointed pattern inspired by the Art Deco movement.
And as far as keeping the Empyrean II in place is concerned, Meze Audio has no truck with anything as common as a hanger mechanism. The patent that covers the combination of suspension wings with a broad, thin leather headband is pending… and it works extremely well. The Empyrean II weigh 385g, but because the system is so adept at maximising the contact point between headband and head while minimising pressure, they don’t feel it – not even after many hours in position.
- Rinaro Isodynamics hybrid array driver
- 8Hz – 110kHz frequency response
- Numerous cable options
The Empyrean II are, in part, a result of the company’s ongoing (and madly successful) collaboration with Ukraine’s Rinaro Isodynamics.
The fundamental sonic business here is done by a tweaked version of the MZ3 isodynamic hybrid array driver Rinaro first developed for the original Empyrean. So the driver assembly consists of a hybrid magnet array at the rear, arranged to deliver uniform activation across the whole surface of the diaphragm itself.
There’s a fibreglass-infused ABS frame at the front. Sandwiched in between is the isoplanar diaphragm itself – Rinaro’s extraordinarily painstaking manufacturing process, which involves heating and stretching the isotropic polymer, results in strong, stiff, and stable diaphragm with an active area of 4650mm2 yet a total weight of just 0.16g.
The diaphragm’s dual-coil arrangement is equally remarkable. The upper section contains a switchback coil to handle lower frequencies, with a spiral coil beneath it taking care of midrange and above – the claimed frequency response from this arrangement is a staggering 8Hz – 100kHz.
The spiral coil is positioned to sit pretty much directly facing the wearer’s ear canal – Meze Audio reckons this layout means soundwaves enter the ear without meaningful time delays, and negates the tendency for the soundfield to lack definition if soundwave length is shorter than the physical depth of the inside of the ear cushion.
The fact that there’s a couple of pairs of earpads included in the Empyrean II’s frankly overspecified carry-case/briefcase, and the fact that they’ve been specifically tuned for different sonic signatures, is just another indication that we’re dealing with very serious people here.
There’s an angled pair, covered in Alcantara with a fine mesh covering the grille, tuned to deliver a “detailed, airy and accurate listening experience for the classic audiophile”, and there’s also a “duo” pair made of a combination of Alcantara, and leather tuned to serve up a “harmonious” tonal balance. Switching between the two is simple, because they attach to the earcups using Rinaro’s isomagnetic coupling technology. It uses the demagnetising field generated by the driver to secure the earpads, while redirecting the magnetic field back into the driver at the same time to increase efficiency. Which is, I think we can all agree, neat.
Each of the earcups has a connection for a four-pin mini-XLR plug. Meze Audio offers five different cable types (three of 1.3m length ending in either 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm terminations, and two of 2.5m length finishing with either a 6.3mm jack or four-pin XLR), each in a choice of two materials (copper or silver-plated). So you get a choice of ten different cables when placing your order.
- Remarkable powers of detail retrieval and resolution
- Lovely tonal balance
- Unfussy about recording quality
I may as well get right to it here: the Meze Audio Empyrean II are a gloriously complete and thoroughly enjoyable listen. They have all the credentials required of some avowedly ‘audiophile’ headphones, most certainly – but they add a big helping of entertainment right along with it.
Obviously, they require to be treated correctly if you’re going to get everything they have to give. A decent headphone amplifier is a must, and it doesn’t do any harm to use big, high-resolution content either – although the size of the digital audio file you listen to is less crucial than the way you amplify the signal. Do the right thing by the Meze Audio, and they will reward you big time.
Their tonal balance, for example, is basically impeccable – from the bottom of the frequency range to the top, they’re neutral and naturalistic. A nicely produced, musicianly recording like David Sylvian’s Orpheus sounds balanced and convincing throughout – and the prodigious amount of detail, both broad and fine, the Meze Audio retain and reveal helps no end in this regard.
Control is good, rhythmic expression is confident, and the Empyrean II create a convincing soundstage. They have the dynamic headroom to track increases in intensity without apparent effort, and they have no problem locating the essence of a recording. The midrange here, for example, is absolutely loaded with information regarding tone, timbre, technique as well as plenty of other stuff that doesn’t start with ‘T’.
The Meze Audio are more than capable of peering deep into complex or dense recordings and returning with plenty of pertinent information – but they’re not analytical for its own sake. Instead, they’re an energetic, entertaining listen and sound utterly engaged. This is not the sort of attitude I’d automatically associate with passive hard-wired headphones at this sort of money.
Some listeners may find this determinedly neutral presentation a little lightweight – at least at first. The Empyrean II aren’t about to ramp up the low frequencies in the name of excitement – they’re a vigorous enough listen as it is. The low end here is substantial, deep, and extensively textured – but it’s controlled with absolute authority.
This means momentum is maintained in every circumstance, but it also means that the fleet-footed bass might initially sound a little thin. It isn’t, of course – it’s just as well realised as the rest of the frequency range. But it isn’t ponderous, which is what sets it apart from the bass reproduction of quite a few nominal competitors.
Should you buy it?
You want a complete and uncoloured account
The Meze Audio extract as much detail as possible from your recordings and then get the hell out of their way
You worry about what people think
The self-conscious are unlikely to tolerate wearing the Empyrean II for any length of time unless they’re alone (and, ideally, in a darkened room)
I don’t consider myself particularly vain – but at the same time, I don’t go out of my way to make myself look daft. I’m prepared to make an exception for the Meze Audio Empyrean II, though. Yes, they nigh-on double the width of my head – but once my head is inside them, there’s more than enough in the way they sound to make up for it.
How we test
We test every set of headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy
Tested for several days
Tested with real world use
You might like…
These headphones weigh 385g, although according to our reviewer, when worn on the head they don’t feel nearly as much