Meze 99 Classics Headphones: Great Looks, Great Sound

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $309
Meze Audio

Not everyone wants or needs wireless Bluetooth headphones. If you’re still into the idea of wired headphones, these over-the-ear phones from Meze look terrific—and sound just as good as they look.

Here's What We Like

  • Terrific looks
  • Great balanced sound
  • Surrounds the ears, does not sit on them
  • Comfortable to wear for long periods

And What We Don't

  • Wires limit mobility
  • Both earcups have separate cables
  • No Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)

Here There Be Wires

When it comes to over-the-ear headphones, there are several ways you can go. One very popular choice is a set of wireless Bluetooth headphones, which provide excellent mobility since you can move 30 feet or more from the audio source. Plus, in most cases, you can also switch between listening to audio and answering a call if your headphones are paired with your smartphone.

However, many audio purists still swear by wired headsets, even though they tether you to the sound source. If you count yourself in this group, you owe it to yourself to test a pair of Meze Audio’s 99 Classics.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. The most obvious drawback with a set of wired headphones is that they have a cable that must be plugged into the audio source. This limits mobility to the length of the cable. With the 99 Classics, this is mitigated by the inclusion of two cables—one short (at about 3 feet/1 meter) and one long (at about 10 feet/93 meters). Both cables are kevlar-wrapped for increased durability.

Unlike many wired headsets, which have a single cable that plugs in on only one earcup, the 99 Classic’s cable splits and needs to be plugged into jacks on both earcups. The phones themselves are not marked left and right—it doesn’t really matter how you wear them. It’s a different story with the cable. The left channel of the headphones has a small lip on the 3.5mm plug, and an equally small push switch on the cord that lets you answer the phone while you’re wearing the headset, assuming you’re plugged into a phone and not some other audio source. This switch is located far up the cable reasonably close to the earcup, and, at least for me, was somewhat awkward to reach.

Photo of wood earcups
Each wood earcup is CNC-machined out of solid Walnut Meze Audio

The ultimate tests of any set of earphones are how they fit and how they sound. On both counts, the Meze 99 Classics do very well. As far as looks go, it’s hard to beat the solid Walnut ear cups. The non-removable cups aren’t plastic colored to look like wood but are actually CNC machined out of solid Walnut, smoothed and polished. Along with the silver-colored Zinc hardware, it will be challenging to find a set of headphones that look as good as the 99 Classics.

At the $300 price level, you can expect to get something more than just a great set of headphones in the box. Meze doesn’t disappoint you in this area. There’s a semi-rigid carry case, and inside are the phones and a smaller zippered case that holds the rest of the accessories (including the cables mentioned above). There’s a two-prong airplane adapter (though these aren’t used much any more in the US), and an adapter to use the headphones with a standard 1/4 inch audio jack found on many larger audio devices, like receivers.

Image of headphones, carry case, cables and adapters
The headphones come with a range of accessories Meze Audio

Listen Up!

But as good as the 99 Classics look, the real test is how they sound and whether they are comfortable to wear for an extended period. Given that my taste in music might be different than yours, and my hearing range also somewhat different, I’d have to say from my testing and experience with the 99 Classics that they sound great. I spent hours listening to a wide range of music from my Spotify playlist, which includes standards such as Cole Porter and songs from the 40s and 50s, country, garage band rock, easy listening, lots of blues, and even some folk.

In my listening, the response was fairly even, though the middle frequencies appear to be slightly muted in comparison to the bass, which is emphatic but not booming, and the high-end, which is crisp without being shrill.

One thing that really sets many higher-end headsets like the 99 Classics apart from less expensive models is presence. This is the ability of the phones to reproduce the audio with enough fidelity that you can close your eyes, pick out separate instruments and vocals, and where each of these is placed on a virtual stage that you are facing.

One track that I use for testing this capability is “Make that call,” performed by Jane Ellen Bryant. With the 99 Classics, you can hear each instrument clearly, the backup singers individually, and Bryant’s clean melodic voice as though you were sitting in the audience. It sounds like it was recorded live (which it was) and with minimal processing. Of course, if you’re listening to music that was recorded in a studio 20 or 30 years ago, it’s going to sound somewhat processed, and often with little or no obvious presence,  regardless of how good the earphones are that you are listening to the music with.

One limitation of the 99 Classics that you should be aware of is that they don’t have active noise cancellation (ANC). Outside noise is fairly muffled, but I like having the option of setting the level of outside noises I’m able to hear when wearing headphones.

Listening for the Long Haul

Another thing going for the 99 Classics is how comfortable they are. The ear cups are large enough that they fit over my ears and did not rest on them, which eliminates the head-squeezing pressure that I’ve experienced with some other over-the-ear headphones. And the cups themselves are made from real leather and memory foam.

close-up of headphone's headband
The 99 Classic’s headband has a somewhat unusual configuration. Ted Needleman

Another bit of good design is the headband. There’s a separate metal headband that connects the earcups. This band provides the support needed for the headset to fit comfortably. The actual part of the headphones that touches the top of your head is made of leather and memory foam. I wore the phones on numerous occasions for four to six hours at a time without feeling the least discomfort. They will be great on my next long plane trip, though a bit bulkier than the phones I usually travel with.

There Are Always Compromises

Even at the $300 price-point, I haven’t yet found a perfect set of headphones, though the 99 Classics come close. The response and fidelity of these phones are excellent, with the looks and comfort equally so.

If you spend a lot of time listening to music and value great fidelity, try a pair of Meze 99 Classics. I think you’ll be as impressed as I was.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $309

Here’s What We Like

  • Terrific looks
  • Great balanced sound
  • Surrounds the ears, does not sit on them
  • Comfortable to wear for long periods

And What We Don't

  • Wires limit mobility
  • Both earcups have separate cables
  • No Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)

Ted Needleman Ted Needleman
Ted Needleman has written over 4,000 software and hardware reviews over his decades as a writer and editor. In addition to his work for Review Geek, you can find him at PCMag, Digital Trends, and AccountingToday. Read Full Bio »

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