Having spent the last several weeks immersed in IEMs, it was a breath of fresh air to spend some time with an open-back headphone – my personal favorite style of headphones. And it wasn’t just any open-back, it was – I’ve been told, but never heard for myself – one of the all time greats: the Meze Empyrean. I’m more of a “feeling” guy than a technical guy, so we’ll skip past the part of the review where I copy/pasta the specs from Meze’s website and get right to how I actually feel about it.
The Build and Design
The Meze Empyrean is solidly built and fit comfortably on my average-to-slightly-above-average size head (the ear pads also provide ample room for my somewhat oversized earlobes). Meze’s patented “suspension wings” adapt to different head shapes and sizes and spread the weight out evenly across your head. This helps keep the headphones comfortable over the course of long listening sessions.
The pair I had for review featured the black/copper finish, but it’s also available with black/gunmetal and jet black finishes. The gunmetal and black finishes are classy and understated, but the copper finish gives off a touch of the mythological roots of its moniker – Empyrean being the highest heaven – and also Meze’s logo which is in the shape of an ancient kithara or lyre.
To keep your headphones safe, Meze provides a bulletproof looking case with the Empyrean (though I doubt it’s ACTUALLY bulletproof, and please don’t test that out) which you could certainly (but again, I don’t really recommend this) handcuff to your wrist to be extra safe while traveling through the airport with your headphones.
It also includes two sets of ear pads, one leather, and one alcantara. I felt that the alcantara were a bit softer and more comfortable for extended listening. The leather provided better isolation and a little bit of a tighter sound, but at the cost of my head sweating a little bit where the pads were resting. I should also note that Meze’s ear pads have an easy magnetic release, which means that you can switch them in and out quickly without feeling like you might break something.
The first thing that struck me about the Empyrean is the way the bass hits. Typically you think of closed-back headphones having this tight, punchy, palpable bass, which make them the headphone style of choice for many bass lovers. But the Empyrean is open-back. It draws you in with all of the characteristics you love about open-back headphones like the broad soundstage and more natural delivery – and then the bass hits.
You take the headphones off for a moment and examine them. It appears to be open-back.
“Where are the specs? I swear this was open-back! But the BASS! It hits! It thumps! It slaps! It digs in for deep funky grooves!”
You check the specs. You were not mistaken. It is an open-back headphone. An open-back headphone that hits, thumps, slaps, and digs in for deep funky grooves.
I started getting acquainted with the Empyrean by listening to my typical mix of rock, metal, and alternative with a bit of EDM added in. The Empyrean perfectly adapted from quiet acoustic passages to massive walls of sound. Listening to one of my new favorite sub-bass reference tracks, Grimes’ “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth,” I was impressed by the smoothness of the sub-bass delivery and the complete lack of distortion, even at high volumes.
After being thoroughly impressed by how the Empyrean handled some of my regular listening, I took a turn towards jazz and funk. This headphone is incredible for jazz. It’s so precise and balanced – the piano and soloists are crystal clear and perfectly articulate – but all the while, the bass and drum grooves are pumping in your ears.
It’s not just that it perfectly recreates the dynamics, it also has deep soundstage, and precise imaging. Listening to one of my favorite jazz drummers, Stanton Moore, pop-off in a drum solo, I felt like I was sitting in his drum throne, with his kit in front of me – every hit falling in just the right place. When the band kicked back in, I was sitting right in the middle of the stage again, with the band all around me.
Other Important Stuff
I tested the Empyrean using a mix of sources including CD quality tracks and MP3s stored locally on my laptop, as well as a variety of high resolution streams from Qobuz. I used the included Meze cable for the balanced inputs on the Burson Conductor 3X, and a Meze unbalanced upgrade cable for the Chord Hugo 2. To my ears, the Empyrean running through the balanced input on the Burson Conductor 3X (with the leather ear pads) was the best combo.
The Meze Empyrean is the perfect picture of what a pair of top end Hi-Fi headphones should be. From a sonic perspective, it's highly capable across many genres, with a deep soundstage and solid imaging to put you right in the middle of the music. From a craftsmanship perspective, it has excellent build quality and comfort with a distinct look and design. With the Empyrean, all the pieces come together to provide, not just a great sound or comfortable headphones, but a world class listening experience.