If you’ve ever asked a member of the Bloom Audio team what our favorite headphones are, there’s a very good chance that the Meze Empyrean was listed among them. The Empyrean has a warmth and emotion that is uncommon in multi-kilobuck headphones, coupled with unparalleled design and build quality. While they were far from the most expensive headphones on the market, they looked and felt like they could be.
Enter Elite. It starts with the basic design of the Empyrean and adds completely new, redesigned and retuned drivers, along with an exclusive ultra-thin, low mass acoustic diaphragm, and a new color scheme. Their goal is to take what made the Empyrean great and add a higher level of detail and technical performance to craft a headphone that cracks the next level of summit-fi performance. Let’s see if they pulled it off.
Build and Design
Elite is another stunner from Meze. It has a black and silver finish that gives the headphones a unique sort of classical-futuristic look. It uses the same chassis and “suspension wing” design pioneered by the original Empyrean. Being very much the same design, it matches the original Empyrean as “quite possibly the most comfortable headphone in the world.”
Elite includes two sets of earpads: the hybrid leather/Alcantara ones that are on it at the start and Alcantara earpads which provide slightly different feel and sound. An OFC copper cable rounds out the package in a heavy duty metal carrying case. All in all, Meze’s excellent craftsmanship is on full display as the Empyrean Elite exudes both class and quality.
Elite is characterized by a more neutral sound with a touch of warmth, presented with a level of definition and detail befitting its $4000 price tag. The speed of the drivers and transient response is a clear strength of Elite, and there’s a sense of lightness, where it hits both hard and fast, more like a one-inch punch from Bruce Lee knocking you across the room than a haymaker from Evander Holyfield.
The bass is accurate and tight with a small, tasteful elevation in the midbass which adds to the fast impact. The transition between the bass and mids is very clean, with both an excellent sense of separation and a strong feeling of cohesion. The lower mids add detail and character to the bass that’s particularly notable with acoustic instruments like cello which have a rich, thick delivery. Both male and female vocals are well placed in the front of the mix, with a strong sense of clarity and presence.
The treble is well balanced with strong definition and smooth delivery of the higher registers of instruments and vocals. There’s a balance between a sense of air and smoothness, with perhaps a little bit of the edge in the highs being smoothed over, providing an addictive, non-fatiguing sound that you just want to keep turning up. The instrument timbre is incredibly lifelike and natural, and there’s an intimate, emotional feeling to both instruments and vocals. A softly played piano or a quiet vocal will give you chills, and when the orchestra swells, you might find a tear in your eye.
The whole 3D image is gorgeously constructed with a large soundstage that pushes the edge of a natural sense of space. There’s a strong holographic sense to it, with clear separation and definitive positioning of various instruments, players, and voices across the soundstage.
On the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Empyrean Elite demonstrates its deft delivery of the stereo image. Each voice and instrument has a clear position both in terms of left to right and front to back placement. The balance between separation and blending is perfect. There’s a unique feeling on this track as the bass is on the right and the piano on the left and the bass drum in the middle. The drums provide the core impact, but the coloration is different on each side. Empyrean Elite provides excellent balance between the three instruments with a “just right” blend of the textures and character of each instrument.
The opening synth on “Freak Show” by Ingrid Michaelson floats in space moving its emphasis from left to right. When Ingrid’s voice comes in, she’s right across the table singing to you, while the band builds a spacey blend of synth and guitar that fills the space all around you. On the chorus you get hit with a broadside of tight, physical midbass impact and a rumble demonstrating deep subbass extension. The surrounding soundscape is smooth and cohesive, but close your eyes and you can easily separate each element and then put them right back together.
Dream Theater’s “Misunderstood” slowly shifts back and forth between ethereal passages that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pink Floyd album, and aggressive metal that could have been written by Tool. Empyrean Elite handles the whole range of tone and emotion effortlessly. The clean guitar sound is warm and melancholy to match the softly sung lyrics and atmospheric keyboards. When it’s time for the band to turn up, suddenly the guitar has an incendiary energy that’s ready to set the stage on fire. The drums are fists of fury landing a 25-hit combo on your ear drums. When the vocals are soft and emotive, Elite gives you a warm, emotional delivery. When the band moves through complex passages with complicated polyrhythms and dissonant harmonies, every part is delivered with a cohesion and clarity.
The piano is heavy and delicate all at once in Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Happy End” from the album Three. The weight and texture of the cello is so lifelike you feel you can reach out and touch it. When the violin enters, the blending and balance between the three instruments is sublime. The imaging is immersive – putting you at the piano, with the violin to your left and cello to your right. As the melody moves up and down the piano you feel the reverberation of the strings from high to low and almost see the hands moving across the keys.
For listening with Elite, we primarily used the Burson Conductor 3X Reference, SPL Phonitor SE in Digital mode, and the Chord Hugo 2 with the SPL Phonitor SE in Analog only mode. To get a better idea of its sensitivity, we also tested it with just the Chord Hugo 2 and with the Astell&Kern Kann Alpha (3.5mm unbalanced). The Elite is quite sensitive for a headphone in this price range, and while the optimum performance is going to come from a quality DAC and powerful headphone amp, you can still get a good experience from lower powered, mobile solutions.
Comparison: Meze Empyrean
As I mentioned earlier, the OG Meze Empyrean is one of our all time favorite headphones at Bloom, so when we heard that Meze was cooking up a higher end successor, we were eager to hear it and see what the Elite was going to do differently. Ultimately what Elite does is capture key aspects of Empyrean’s character, while improving the technical performance and moving more in line with expectations for summit-fi headphones.
In terms of the design, there’s not much difference. Blindfolded, you would be hard pressed to spot a physical difference between the two, and with the blindfold off, the main difference is that the accents are silver as opposed to copper. I’ll leave any discussion of which looks better to the forums, but suffice it to say that they’re both beautiful headphones.
The sound is a different story. OG Empyrean balances detail and technical prowess with warmth and musicality – but gives warmth and musicality the edge. Empyrean Elite pulls the warmth back a little bit, and adds more detail and stronger technical capabilities without compromising the musicality of the headphones. In comparing the two, I’d call out three key differences that will jump out at you: the soundstage, the lower mids, and the treble.
Elite has a wider, deeper soundstage and a better overall sense of space. Along with that, the upper bass and lower mids are pulled back a little bit from OG Empyrean, giving it stronger coherence, a more neutral overall feeling and a tighter bass, but it doesn’t lose all the warmth, and maintains much of the emotionality of the original Empyrean. Lastly is the treble, where Empyrean owed some of its addictive sound to it’s very smooth treble, the Elite dials it up slightly for stronger air and definition, but balances it out to maintain a non-fatiguing high end.
Comparison: HIFIMAN Susvara
If you need a summit-fi planar magnetic headphone for the purposes of comparison, what better is there than the big daddy – HIFMAN Susvara? In my review of the Suvara (one of my earlier reviews, over a year ago) I noted that Susvara balanced some of the musicality of Empyrean with the more neutral sound and high level of detail of the Focal Utopia. Now that we have a variant of Empyrean that strikes closer to a neutral detailed sound, it seems like we should see how close this comes to Susvara territory.
The advantage on build and design goes to Elite. They’re a similar weight, but I find Empyrean to be more comfortable on my head, and the small details of the construction, like the headband adjustment just feel a little bit smoother and easier to use. Another advantage of Elite is that it’s easier to drive. While Susvara struggles without desktop level power, Empyrean Elite provides a stronger experience on most mobile devices.
In terms of sound, the tuning overall is pretty similar, with both Susvara and Elite having a largely neutral sound that has just the right subtle tweaks to give them strong musicality. In the mids, Elite demonstrates strong performance that provides weight and realism to pianos and guitars and other instruments that Susvara can’t match. The presentation of “fast” instruments in the higher registers like cymbals was stronger in the Susvara with a more natural timbre and a tighter attack and decay. In the low end as well, while Empyrean Elite has a tight, impactful bass response, Susvara somehow manages to have a broader slam that’s just as tight, and hits harder. And finally the soundstage and imaging on Elite, while absolutely top of the line, come in just a little bit shy of Susvara.
The Bottom Line
Elite pushes the Empyrean sound to the next level, with a higher level of detail and performance that retains the musicality and emotion that’s part of Meze’s DNA. If you’re looking for headphones that stand at the summit of detail, resolution, and performance, balanced with musicality, warmth, and emotion, Elite delivers it all in a headphone masterpiece.