Meze 99 Classics have, for years, been one of the best options for taking the first step from popular consumer audio brands to audiophile headphones. And while Meze has gone on to release a series of incredible flagship headphones, we’ve been waiting for a follow-up that takes what we loved about the 99 Classics to the next level. Is the new 109 Pro that step up in sound quality and design that fills the gap in Meze’s lineup?
Build and Design
The aforementioned 99 Classics are a clear inspiration for the 109 Pro’s design. At first glance, you might even imagine that 109 Pro is just an open back 99 Classics, but 109 Pro boasts some general improvements to the build as well as a newly designed beryllium coated dynamic driver. 109 Pro uses the same suspension system as the 99 Classics, with an outer metal band, and a cushioned leather headband which uses elastic for the adjustment. It’s very comfortable, with larger earcups and more depth to the pads than the 99 Classics.
The package itself is fairly simple. You get the headphones, a protective carrying case, and a standard 3.5mm cable. Like Meze’s 99 Classics and Liric, 109 Pro uses 3.5mm mono to connect to the headphones, and cables for both the 99 Series and Liric are compatible with 109 Pro. Meze is also shifting manufacturing to their home country of Romania, with 109 Pro being hand built there.
Part of Meze Audio founder Antonio Meze’s goal is to help people connect with music through headphones in the same way that he connected with music through his guitar. To this end, Meze headphones have always had a sound that lent more towards emotion and musicality than to reference or analysis. 109 Pro continues in this tradition, balancing clarity and detail with warmth and engagement.
The bass has a full, round sound, with good physicality and impact. There’s a small emphasis in the tuning towards the bass, with just a touch of bleed up into the mids. The mids provide strong detail and good layering in spite of the bass emphasis, with a lush, organic sound. Some vocals are slightly pulled back, with the male tenor range being the most notably recessed. Higher female voices and more low baritone male vocals are generally stronger. The treble has a bit more emphasis than the mids, adding energy and giving 109 Pro a somewhat V-shaped sound.
109 Pro’s open back design lends it a wide soundstage, and a generally strong sense of space and separation. There’s strong depth and three-dimensionality to the soundstage, and while instruments and voices have good position, the imaging isn’t quite holographic. Something particularly interesting about 109 Pro is the way that it manages to provide a fast resolving sound with a warm tonality. Usually warmth takes away from the sense of speed, but these headphones manage to walk the knife’s edge and balance both.
In keeping with Meze tradition, 109 Pro is sensitive enough to work with just about any audio device. Whether you’re using a desktop amp, DAP, or portable dongle, you can expect strong performance. While you can use it with your phone, a more powerful amp will tend to open up the mids and highs, adding stronger detail and a sense of dynamics that extends beyond the bass impact.
The opening acoustic guitar on “Here Comes the Sun” has a crisp delivery with softer overtones. The vocal delivery is natural, demonstrating good imaging in the interplay between the widely spread out backing vocals and the centered lead vocal. Each of the parts, between the strings, synth, drums, and the rest of the band, is nicely layered, and 109 Pro gives you that “in the studio” feeling – but with a touch of that romantic warmth that helps deepen the emotional engagement with the song.
The resolution and detail on Stanton Moore’s “Tchfunkta” exceeded my expectation, with a great handle on the attack and decay on cymbals, as well as a tight delivery of the drum and bass work that demonstrates great driver speed, but also provides that “my head is inside the bass drum” sort of impact. The drum solo puts you in Stanton Moore’s seat – letting you just about reach out and hit the drums yourself. The horns and keys are smooth and articulate, providing emphasis with their stabs, but also avoiding harsh or sharp tones.
The opening lines of the main theme of Wonder Woman 1984 strike with a warm synth, and a wet, echoing sound to the drums. 109 Pro maintains clarity and good separation between the layers of the electric orchestra that Hans Zimmer weaves together. The dynamics are stunning, with the smooth washes of synth, mixed with the arpeggiated bass and hard hitting low end that accentuates the theme’s main melody. 109 Pro gives extension at both ends, with the tiny details of the higher end synth along with the low rumble of the bass.
On “no tears left to cry,” 109 Pro delivers an intimate vocal performance as Ariana Grande’s voice takes center stage. The somewhat sparse beat and synth fills in the space around her voice, and demonstrates a wide and deep stage. The smooth decay and texture of the synth stabs demonstrates the headphone’s strong resolution and ability to deliver microdetail and dynamics.
Comparison: HIFIMAN Ananda
When I think of open-back headphones in the $700-800 range that provide excellent performance and strong value, usually the HIFIMAN Ananda is one of the first to come to mind. HIFIMAN and Meze often find themselves in the same headphone conversations, while representing very different brand philosophies. The recent release of the Ananda Stealth Magnets Edition and the 109 Pro gives us the perfect opportunity to compare those differences in sound and style.
In terms of build, Ananda uses primarily a metal alloy and plastic for its build, with an adjustable headband, and hybrid imitation leather/cloth pads. 109 Pro frame is mangnese steel and zinc with nicely finished walnut wood cups, a soft suspension system, and velour earpads. 109 Pro feels sturdier, and has a much stronger aesthetic. Meze’s suspension system also makes for a more comfortable fit.
The sound is more of a matter of taste or context. Ananda’s tuning is largely neutral with a more linear midrange to bass tuning. Ananda’s timbre can come off as slightly more metallic – and sometimes shrill – in the highs, in contrast to 109 Pro’s smoother, more organic treble. Where 109 Pro is slightly warm in the bass, with the emphasis hitting the low-mids to midbass, Ananda feels darker. The imaging on the Ananda is stronger, though the overall feeling of space is about the same.
Ananda is quite sensitive for a planar magnetic headphone, but 109 Pro’s dynamic drivers prove easier to drive. Ananda also scales a bit more in terms of power. While a good DAC and moderate power bring out the best in 109 Pro, Ananda seems to have a little bit more space and resolution to unlock if you have a higher wattage amp.
Altogether the difference comes down to exactly what you’re looking for. In terms of sound Ananda is the more accurate of the two, with a more open, spacious sound, while 109 Pro has a warm, musical sound that gives you a little bit of that extra bass you may be looking for. For the build, Ananda’s design is perfectly fine from a utilitarian standpoint, but 109 Pro has an edge in comfort, looks, and perceived quality.
The Bottom Line
109 Pro is a clear stepping stone between the 99 Classics and Empyrean. It improves on the detail and technical performance of the 99 Classics, while maintaining Meze’s core identity in the design, craftsmanship and sound. If you’ve been asking for a follow-up to the 99 Classics that improves on it in every way, Meze listened, and 109 Pro is exactly that headphone.