One of our favorite headphone brands went a tad crazy last week. In the best possible way. Meze Audio are not a huge company; certainly not in the same way Sennheiser, AKG, and Apple are industry giants.
Started in 2009, Meze Audio began its journey into the world of headphones in Baia Mare, Romania; a city of 136,000 people located less than thirty miles from the border with Ukraine.
The end of the Cold War and collapse of the Iron Curtain brought more than just political freedom to Eastern Europe and the Balkans; it created an environment for entrepreneurship and design innovation that has had a profound impact on the culture and economic future of the region.
The creation of a new middle class has fueled demand for western consumer goods, but more importantly, led to investment in domestic start-ups who have proven capable of competing with well-established brands from America, Western Europe, and Asia. Companies like Meze Audio who have exceeded every possible expectation.
From private conversations we had back in 2020, we know that the Meze team have worked overtime under some rather strict pandemic rules in Romania to not only fulfill orders for the 99 Classics that are one of our favorite affordable high-end headphones, but also the rest of the lineup which includes the RAI Penta and RAI Solo IEMs, 99 NEOs, and flagship Empyrean headphones.
With so much going on, we were more than just a little intrigued when the successful Romanian headphone manufacturer announced the introduction of the limited-edition Empyrean Phoenix planar-magnetic headphones.
The $3,000 Empyrean are not inexpensive. Do people really need $3,000 headphones? The Empyrean Phoenix will run interested headphone fans $4,000, but I suspect the brand will sell out of them rather quickly. Even during the pandemic.
The Empyrean are a special product; the kind of state-of-the-art audio component that are not buoyed by a mountain of hype. There is an argument to be made that they are the best headphones in the world right now.
The multi-year project was a collaboration between Meze Audio and Rinaro Isodynamics, who are based in Lviv, Ukraine. Rinaro have been at the forefront of planar magnetic driver design since 1980; the company was originally a state-sponsored initiative in the USSR and its Isodynamic Hybrid Array driver has created some evenings of anxiety in Germany and California for Meze’s competitors. Just me speculating on that one.
The Meze Empyrean are decidedly lighter than comparable planar magnetic headphones from rival brands. All of the other key players in the category; Dan Clark Audio, Audeze, and HiFiMan have spent years improving that aspect of their designs but the Empyrean is still the standard by which the Head-Fi community judges other premium headphones in the comfort category. The CNC-sculpted skeleton was machined by Meze Audio from a single block of solid aluminum; one of the reasons the Empyrean are so expensive.
When it comes to aesthetic design and sonic performance, the Meze Empyrean don’t just toss out the rule book. They shred it. Fargo woodchipper shred it with all of the screaming and fanfare.
We’ve been fortunate to try these headphones with some of the best headphone amplifiers made by Linear Tube Audio, Ampsandsound, Schiit Audio, and Pass Labs and every experience has made us long for the day that we can afford a pair.
Where to buy: