Liric is an all new closed back headphone that pushes Meze’s lineup into new territory. Meze is perhaps most famous in mainstream audio for its budget-friendly closed-back 99 Classics headphone, and most notable among audiophiles for the warm, emotional character of their premium $3000 open back Empyrean. Liric takes the flagship level performance of Empyrean, puts it in a closed back headphone, and brings the price down to $2000. With the full range of Meze’s experience combined into one device, does Liric make for a song worth singing?
Build and Design
From a design perspective, the Liric package takes the aspects of the Meze 99 Classics’ accessories and brings them up a little closer to the design and build standard of Empyrean and Elite. It’s really the best of both worlds. As an example, the Empyrean case is a large, heavy, metal case that’s essentially for storage, but is not very convenient for travel. The 99 Classics have a small, somewhat workmanlike case that’s perfect for throwing in a backpack or suitcase. Liric’s case is close to the form factor of the 99 Classics case, but with a fit and finish that’s more on a level with the Meze’s flagship products.
The included cables are, likewise, somewhere in between. They’re certainly better appointed than the 99 Classics’ cables, but not as thick or nice as the stock Empyrean cable. Since Liric is designed with mobile use in mind, it comes with a 3.5mm in two lengths (about 4 feet and 8 feet) and a 6.3mm adapter, as well as an airplane adapter. You get a leather carry bag for whatever cables and accessories you’re on the go with, and there’s a dedicated little nook in the case for keeping it all together. One thing to note is that Liric uses 3.5mm mono connectors like the ones on the 99 Classics as opposed to the miniXLR connectors from the Empyrean or Elite. That means any 99 Series upgrade or balanced cables will work perfectly with it.
The build on the headphones themselves are basically exactly what you’d expect from Meze at $2000: among the most comfortable and luxurious headphones out there, but not on the same level as Empyrean or Elite. The materials and color scheme are similar to the Jet Black Empyrean, but a little more reserved in the build. It maintains the Meze character, but you won’t draw much attention walking in the park with it. And Liric is still exceedingly comfortable. The overall build quality and comfort is on par with or exceeds just about everything else in the $2000 or below range.
Liric has a crisp, detailed sound. Its tonal balance leans towards neutral, with a small emphasis in the lower bass regions. The sound comes as somewhat of a surprise as it’s a fairly large departure from Meze’s house sound. While it shares the basic driver design with Meze’s Empyrean, rather than matching Empyrean’s warm sound, Liric has a more neutral sound with strong clarity and a more well-defined sense of separation between the bass and mids.
The bass initially feels more linear, but after extended listening, it becomes clear that there’s some elevation and extra rumble in the lower parts of the bass. While it develops a deep slam and some rumble, there’s not a strong sense of texture in the bass, and it can lack a well defined shape.
The transition to the mids is very clean without any sense of bleed, or any strong cuts or recessions. In the midrange, you get strong detail, good vocal presence and weight with most vocal types, and an overall natural, transparent timbre.
The treble lends a strong sense of breath and air to vocals, with fairly good extension coming just shy of having a sense of “sparkle” though. Instruments like cymbals have good detail and resolve nicely, and a strong presentation of small details like the attack of bowed instruments. There’s also just an overall sense of energy that keeps the darker end of the bass from coloring the otherwise neutral mix too strongly,
Liric’s presentation of the 3D image largely fits in with expectations for top-of-the-line closed back headphones. It presents both width and depth to the soundfield, but still somewhat closed in – a club, not an arena or amphitheater. The definition in the highs lends to a clear sense of space between instruments that fits with their positioning. Liric’s sense of positioning wraps around your head quite a bit, providing an almost 360 degree sensation at points without ever getting “in your head.”
For a portable headphone, Liric responds very well to larger amounts of power. My first impression using the unbalanced connection on the iBasso DX160 was that there was strong detail and clarity, but that the headphone wasn’t particularly exciting. Switching to balanced brought out some stronger performance, and adding more and more power from higher performance portable gear really brought out the wow factor, and allowed aspects of the bass performance and soundstage to really shine. So while you can get good volume out of most devices, there’s a very strong sense of scaling both in terms of power and detail as you increase in quality and wattage.
The first thing that strikes me on Miles Davis “So What” is a good sense of articulation in bass. Each note rings clear with a somewhat relaxed presentation. The horns are likewise smooth and relaxed with good clarity, but a slightly rounded sound at the top which softens any kind of sharp stabs. The hi-hats are crisp, but the ride has maybe a little too much sizzle that doesn’t quite decay fast enough at the top of the mix. The soundstage and imaging feel three dimensional with a good sense of the positioning of each musician across a moderately sized stage.
Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” has an underlying persistent rhythm that provides a sense of urgency to the song. Liric delivers a small touch of impact with each beat, adding to that urgency. The vocals are well balanced, with very strong detail, but avoiding the sibilance sometimes associated with this track. While there isn’t a strong texture in the bass, the guitars and synthesizers have loads of character with Liric cleanly revealing small details and musical textures in the background of the song.
“Come As You Are” by Nirvana, opens with a thick modulated guitar, and Liric delivers just the right balance of substance and liquidy feeling to the hook. Liric’s delivery of the guitar is standout on this track, from the smooth warble of the verse, adding a slight bite on the open strums of the chorus, and giving you the snarl and energy of the bridge. The band is immaculately presented and separated, with a perfect sense of the impact in the lows and ringing cymbals in the highs. You almost feel guilty hearing this level of clarity, definition, and separation on a grunge rock album.
To see if Liric can really give you that low rumble, I opened up the song “Alarm” by electronic duo The Score. Right away it was clear that while the bass was often slightly subdued on rock and jazz tracks, it can provide intense power from the furthest depths with the right track. Liric moves from the steady impact of the bass hits on the verse to the brain shaking rumble of the chorus. But it’s all balanced out, with detailed guitars, instruments, and vocals that stand out and cut through the mix. For all the nearly subsonic slam, there’s excellent tonal balance with strong separation and presentation of the vocals and instruments.
Comparison: Audeze LCD-XC
While there are a number of closed-back headphones in the $1000-$3000 range (and we cover more of those in our video), the closest comparison for Liric is probably the Audeze LCD-XC. Coming in at $1299, the LCD-XC offers a slightly more stoic build, and more reference-like sound, with Liric and LCD-XC having a number of similarities and contrasts.
In terms of build quality, LCD-XC has a somewhat sturdier build, with its more industrial take on headphone design, while Liric is more broadly appealing with smooth lines and a sleeker look. Liric is lighter and more comfortable as well, though if you’re more sensitive to clamp force than overall weight, you might give LCD-XC a point for having a somewhat softer clamp.
In terms of sound, LCD-XC has a more linear overall tuning, with some emphasis in upper mids into the treble, while Liric has some emphasis in the lower bass, and a little lift in the upper mids and treble – though not to the same degree as LCD-XC. Liric’s soundstage tends to feel rounder and more three dimensional than LCD-XC. LCD-XC is faster, with stronger resolution, though the combination of the strong resolution with its tuning can lead to a bit of edginess to the sound when compared to Liric.
Listening to the same set of songs, side-by-side, on “So What,” LCD-XC has a little more pluck in the bass and the ride sounds tighter. There’s more texture in the bass, but less punch and dynamics there. The horns are incredibly clear, but with a little bit of “stab” that’s not present on Liric. The soundstage on LCD-XC feels wide here, but a little far out to the sides, with less center forward, and not as three dimensional as Liric.
Both “Come As You Are” and “Running Up a Hill” had similar characteristics with LCD-XC having strong vocal definition that would slip into sibilance from time to time, and an instrument balance that strongly highlighted the upper midrange. LCD-XC has a lot of bite on the guitar and snap in the snare, but it can verge into “too much” bite at times as well.
They’re definitely both great headphones, and each will have their fans. LCD-XC has some technical advantages over Liric, but Liric has a more versatile tuning that’s less prone to harshness, and some of its own advantages, particularly in the soundstage and presentation of the 3D image. By comparison with the LCD-XC, it’s clear that Meze has made a great first foray into high-end closed-back headphones.
The Bottom Line
Liric continues Meze’s legacy of superb design and innovation. Not content to make a “closed-back Empyrean,” Meze is pushing into new sonic territory with a headphone that takes aim at some of the best closed-back headphones in the world. Ultimately, Liric is a look back at Meze’s roots with the 99 Classics, taking those basic principles – a portable design with a sound that evokes the joy and emotion of music – and pushes it forward into flagship level headphone.