The sound of “heaven”.
PROS: beautiful design, durable build, natural balanced sound with a resolving tonality, unique dual voice coil design.
CONS: price, source dependent sound quality.
The product was loaned to me for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Meze Audio.
It’s been years since I reviewed full-size headphones. I’m always on the go with IEMs and DAPs which is my portable audio setup of choice. Higher end open-back headphones don’t fit my everyday lifestyle, and I was under impression you need a powerful desktop source to push them to their full potential. But when you attend CanJam shows, you can’t help but notice long lines of audiophiles waiting to check out the latest offerings from Sennheiser, Audeze, Focal, Hifiman, and others, and of course a collection of desktop tube amps at their tables.
I usually don’t get tempted to wait in line, but it’s hard to miss Meze sharing a private room with Cayin at all CanJam NYC shows. Last year, that room was busy with reps from Meze (Romania) and Rinaro (Ukraine) doing official unveiling of their new Empyrean flagship. This year, final production model of Empyrean was still the highlight, and I got the urge to try it considering all the positive coverage from consumers and reviewers. The privacy of the Cayin/Meze room was also a big plus without the noise of showroom floor.
As I started listening to Empyrean and switched between different desktop and DAP sources, I quickly realized of how different they can sound depending on pair up. And I’m not talking about a subtle sound change influenced by a signature of the source, like I’m used to with IEMs. Here, the source selection contributed quite a noticeable change. Keep in mind, I’m coming off IEM background, so this “discovery” will probably sound noobish to seasoned 2-channel audiophiles who are used to dealing with desktop equipment.
I was very impressed with the sound of Empyrean and was curious how it will pair up with my collection of portable sources. It took some time while waiting for availability of review loaner since they are in high demand, and now a few months later and dozens of listening hours while driving my wife and kids crazy at home (they are not used to me listening with open back headphones), I’m ready to share my experience of using Meze Empyrean, specifically how it sounds and how it pairs up with various sources.
Unboxing and Accessories.
The unboxing experience of full-size premium headphones is quite different from small IEMs. While IEMs can fit into any generic universal case, full size headphones will benefit from a custom enclosure. With Empyrean, Meze includes a high-strength aluminum briefcase with foam inserts to keep these headphones secure during transportation and storage. But I’m sure you would want to get a nice headphone stand to showcase these beauties; it will be a shame to keep them locked up in a case.
Other included accessories were two sets of earpads, the real leather and the one made from Alcantara material. Also, included is a removable cable with mini-XLR headphone connectors and your choice of termination plug. More about earpads and cables in the next section.
Selection of earpads and cables.
There is a noticeable difference in sound using either leather or Alcantara earpads. With leather pads I’m hearing mid-bass to have a more pronounced punch, mids having a fuller body and more natural tonality with a more intimate presentation, and treble being more natural and smoother. With Alcantara, bass is a little more neutral, mids are more transparent and a little brighter with slightly more out-of-your head presentation, and treble has more sparkle and airiness.
For my own personal taste, I preferred a more natural balanced tonality of leather pads, giving the sound a more intimate organic feeling while bringing you closer to the stage. But since both are included, you can decide for yourself which one you prefer better.
When placing the order, you also have a choice of cables with either of 3 plug terminations (6.3mm, 3.5mm, or 4-pin XLR connectors) depending on your source output. Considering 6.3mm and XLR are more typical for use with desktop equipment, those are 3m OFC cable, while 3.5mm is suited for a more portable application with 1.3m OFC cable.
You can also bundle a braided Furukawa PCUHD copper ($349) or silver pated ($499) cables with either Balanced 4pin XLR, 4.4mm, or 2.5mm terminations. I requested Furukawa PCUHD copper cable (99.99% purity) with 4.4mm balanced termination for the review. You can never go wrong with a pure copper! It has standard mini-XLR headphone connectors, Pentaconn 4.4mm headphone plug, 8 wires in a continuous braid that splits into two groups after y-split, 4 wires each going to L/R sides. Each wire has 140x 0.04mm conductors, uses TPE sleeve (non-microphonic), and even uses a premium Jensen 4% silver solder.
When comparing stock OFC cable to Furukawa pure Copper replacement cable, I found the ergonomics of braided copper cable to be superior, with a better overall look and noticeably less microphonics. Balanced termination was also a plus since stock cable is not offered with 4.4mm (or 2.5mm) plug. But despite a difference in wire material, the tonality of sound was actually very close, though I found a stock OFC cable soundstage to have more intimacy and being not as expanded (soundstage width) as the upgraded copper wire cable which gave the sound a perception of a wider expansion.