Revisiting the 99: Meze Audio's 99 Series Ear Pads and Silver Headphone Cable

January 20, 2020

About three years ago I had the opportunity to photograph and review the original maple Meze Audio 99 Classics headphone. At the time, it was a unique headphone—both in looks and sound. The maiden release by Romania’s Meze Audio was a hit among listeners, which ultimately led to a collaboration with Massdrop (now Drop) to create the Massdrop x Meze 99 Noir, the addition of a new, lightweight model in the 99 Neo, and some subtle upgrade accessories. Some of those upgrade accessories are what I am talking about today.

All in the Ear

Over the years, the 99 Classics has been a headphone I ultimately relegated to desk duty. I’ve used it at the office, where the closed maple backs offer nice isolation and the warm, dynamic sound signature keeps me engaged throughout the day. At home, it often served a similar purpose, but as wear time extends, I prefer the comfort of other headphones in my collection. For me, overall comfort and cable management have been the sole sore points in using the 99 Classics.

I originally wrote:

If I could change one thing about the 99, it would be the ear pads—they’re simply too damn shallow. Give my ears some room to breathe, Meze! Seriously though, I have an issue with ear pads that touch the lobe and helix of my ears—especially during long listening sessions. I appreciate the sleek styling of the headphone itself, but the slim medium-density foam ear pads compress to the point that my ears press against the liners covering the driver housings. Their circumference also feels a bit cramped, as if they were stuck somewhere between being a large on-ear and narrow around-the-ear design

I was hardly the only user or reviewer to complain of discomfort from the original ear pads. Wisely, Meze Audio responded to user feedback and released a revised ear pad, which now comes standard on new models and can be purchased as replacement/upgrade ear pads for any model in the 99 series. A “small” version, similar to the original pad, is also available.

The updated ear pad design changes a few things. First, it is a slightly deeper ear pad with a slightly larger ear opening. Second, the driver screen is of different material. Third, it only comes in black.

When it comes to headphone comfort, millimeters make a difference. I find the updated ear pad, which is literally only millimeters larger, offers just enough room to make a difference for me. On initial use, the space for my ears feels noticeably roomier and airier, and the pain points experience before are far less noticeable or gone altogether. As the pad breaks in and the foam compresses over time, I suspect some ear-to-driver/ear-to-pad contact will reemerge, but this is common wear and tear with any headphone. So, for now, this is a welcomed improvement.

What is somewhat less welcomed is the change in the listening experience. The original ear pad has a color-matched liner/driver screen that has a thin foam backing. This adds cushion between your ear and the driver assembly and inevitably affects the sound signature of the headphone. The updated ear pad removes the foam backing, leaving only the screen material. To my ears, I hear more treble and bass emphasis. The difference is not subtle. I have mixed feelings here.

If you found the original 99 Classics to be a bit too warm or dark sounding, the updated ear pad certainly adds a little shimmer to the top end. I don’t mind this too much. However, it seems to me that the bass booms more and bleeds into the mids. The warm, deep thump of the original 99 Classics feels slightly looser and more resonant than before. Albeit still enjoyable, the sound is different and livelier. This is something users considering an ear pad swap should consider. That said, changing out the original pads for any ear pad, whether it is a Meze update or a third-party ear pad, will always impact sound. It’s up to you to find the one that brings you bliss.

Last, and this is a personal nitpick, Meze’s ear pads now only come in black. If you have the original maple/light model, the two-tone look may not be to taste. I would prefer a color match, but I respect Meze Audio’s business decision since all their models now use black ear pads. You can see how it looks in the photos; what do you think?

Capable Cables

I briefly mentioned cable management as another pain point with the original 99 Classics. My original model came with only a 3 m long cable with a color-matched woven jacket. This length is certainly fine for home use, but commuting with it is less than ideal, and even office use can lead to tangles. To say I’ve rolled over the cable a few times would, unfortunately, be an understatement. Today, Meze includes 1.2 m (with mic and remote) and 3 m cables with their 99 Classics, but that doesn’t mean audiophiles wouldn’t be interested in alternate options.

Enter the 99 Series Silver-Plated Upgrade Cable. This is a 1.2 m cable comprised of eight braided silver coated copper wires. The cable terminates in one of three options: balanced 2.5 mm rhodium plug, standard 3.5 mm rhodium plug, and balanced 4.4 mm gold plug. The plugs at the headphone end are gold plated.

The barrels at the plugs and Y-splitter are nicely machined and feature subtle logos and lettering. The color is somewhere between pink champagne and silver. It’s not quite a direct match to the steel accents on my 99 Classics, but the difference is subtle enough that most people won’t notice from any reasonable distance (nitpicking again).

Overall, the cable seems solidly made given my short term experience with it. It is not overbuilt like many aftermarket “audiophile” cables, which makes it practical and comfortable for desktop and commuter use. It is lightweight and has good flexion, coils and uncoils easily without kinks and, most importantly, transfers far less noise/microphonics than the stock cable and its woven jacket. The cable also includes a small synthetic leather storage bag and cable tie that complement the cable’s premium aesthetic.

What matters most is how it sounds. Meze’s own marketing is minimalist in claiming “Meze’s premium cables will take your sound to a next level of spaciousness, detailing and transparency.” The thing is, I actually agree with this statement.

Cables are contentious in the audio world. In my experience, I’ve had some headphones respond well to cable swaps and others offer no response at all. When it comes to my 99 Classics, Meze’s upgrade cable seems to lift a veil off of the sound stage, providing better clarity and a seemingly wider and more revealing dynamic range. If you’re mostly a speaker person, I’d equate the difference to that of listening with the grilles removed. I don’t know the science behind the cable, but my assumption is that the braiding technique and silver coating combine to help resist noise and enhance signal delivery at the very least. What I do know is that I like what I’m hearing.

While Meze has succeeded at producing a premium cable that provides notable benefits over the stock offering, it comes at a premium price ($119). Given the market for the 99 series, I know many 99 owners will second guess buying this cable. The 99 Classics retails for $309, the 99 Neo retails for $199, and the Massdrop x Meze Noir retails for $160 when it’s on sale. Tack on $119 to each of those price points and your affordable hi-fi headphone becomes significantly more costly.

I can’t tell you whether you’ll have the same experience as me. I can’t tell you if the difference is worth it to your ears. What I will tell you is that if you like your 99 Classics/Neo/Noir exactly the way they are, you have a tough choice to make. But if you’ve ever thought just a touch more detail, a touch more smoothness and clarity, and a much quieter cable would make the 99 your endgame headphone, your decision is made. This cable delivers.

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  1. There are a TON of other cables available that work with this series of headphones as well. I use the following Sukira cable when I really care what I'm listening to and the standard 1.2m one w/ mic for standard (work) use.





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