This review is posted here in partnership with The Headphone List. It was originally written and published by Pinky Powers of The Headphone List on July 6, 2020.
Meze provided Empyrean on loan for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.
Meze is one of those manufacturers who stand out, possessing a style you cannot mistake for any other. The first time I laid eyes on the 99 Classics, my heart was theirs. How fortunate for the world they care just as much for sound quality.
Empyrean is Meze’s current flagship. Indeed, it’s a name worthy for a top of the line audiophile headphone, or even a mighty seafaring vessel. The suggestion is dominance.
This is Meze artistry utterly unleashed. The CNC motifs, the carbon fiber, the leather (vegan alternative available)… it all comes together in beauty, luxury, and tremendous comfort. The headphones are light, sturdy, and can be worn forever without any sign of fatigue.
Jet Black and Black Copper color choices are available. Seeing photos of the Black Copper, I can’t imagine anyone choosing the Jet Black I have for review. Those copper-hued grills are so goddamn lovely.
Empyrean is, fundamentally, an open-back planar magnetic headphone. However, it’s a cutting edge design, called the Isodynamic Hybrid Array Driver, developed in collaboration between Meze Audio and Rinaro Isodynamics. If you’re curious for more information, I encourage you to visit Meze’s website, as the technology is rather involved and beyond my ability to articulate.
They utilize what I call Audeze style connectors: 4-pin mini-XLR going to each cup. It’s a solid setup that I’ve favored over the years, having never experiences any failures from it.
The stock cable is very long, at 2.5m, this one terminated with 4-pin full-size XLR for balanced outputs. There’s a nice cloth sheath over the length of the cord, and it’s not too stiff, though I would like it to be less so. Luckily, Meze offers both copper and silver braided upgrade cables. While I don’t have those to review, I suspect I’d like them quite a bit more.
The carry case is a strong aluminum, briefcase form factor, with foam inserts to hold everything stable and secure during travel.
Yes, this package very much feels like it costs $3,000. The wealth is on full display, found in every detail.
Empyrean is the lord of darkness. But don’t let that frighten you away. While the tone is warm, it lacks nothing in the clarity or detail department. This darkness does not manifest with a veil. It is simply the inherent spirit of these planars. They are not the most transparent monitors I’ve ever heard, but honestly, they aren’t far off. The voicing is so well balanced it is easy to forget you’re listening to headphones.
There is mild sparkle to the treble, a vitality which brings energy to the profile. This boldness is important in keeping Empyrean from feeling overly relaxed or sluggish. Warmth wraps the upper register, imbuing sweetness and banishing any sort of sterility or dryness.
The mids are gorgeous! Vocals are so full and rounded, with no small amount of lushness. Yet all the intimate micro dynamics and character of the artist comes through clearly. In other words, the lushness does not smooth things out to the point of homogeny.
Instruments sound wonderfully organic and natural, possessing rich timbre and amble overtones. They are like deep pools of warmth you’ll want to wade into. Thanks to the treble energy, electric guitars have good crunch along with all this richness, and drums have enough bite to really experience
In spite of Empyrean’s dark profile, the bass is actually rather tame. Meze is aiming for true audiophile tuning, so don’t expect a basshead set of cans. The lows are certainly present, of course, and they convey so much texture. Sub-bass runs deep, the attack is potent, and tonality is delicious. Yet all is in masterful balance. Empyrean is mature, and does not try to overwhelm.
Soundstage is not enormous, and presents in a cube shape which reaches just outside the headspace. Imaging is terrifyingly accurate. Resolution is sharp enough to cut. Empyrean is, to put it simply, a top-notch performer whose technical prowess will not disappoint.
The Audeze LCD-3 ($2,000) is an excellent point of comparison. Not only do they share that upper-tier of price with Empyrean, but their tuning also has a lot in common. They are both warm, romantic headphones that lack nothing in the clarity department. Yet I would not call them identical. Audeze delivers the more linear sound, portraying its organic tones in a more neutral fashion. It is also the smoother of the two, with less upper register sparkle. Empyrean has the greater degree of sculpting, where the bass blooms more, there’s extra lushness in the mids, and the highs are less relaxed. Neither headphone has massive soundstage, but to my ears, the LCD-3 is a little wider.
ZMF Headphones’s Atticus ($1,100) is a larger step outside this philosophy of tuning. While it has hints of warmth, there is rather more treble energy, and brighter, more effervescent mids. There is plenty of bass, but it doesn’t fill in the mids and create that lushness Empyrean is known for. It’s less mature and more audacious. Atticus presents a more clarity oriented, fun headphone, and it’s one I deeply love. Also, the soundstage is notably bigger than either the LCD-3 or Empyrean.
As you might imagine from my sound description on the last page, you do not need a warm, robust amp to achieve a warm, robust sound. Empyrean brings the goods all on its own. In fact, I would be weary of stacking warm atop warm and possibly losing transparency. I haven’t experience this myself, but it’s something to consider.
The Cayin iHA-6 ($699) is a strong choice with which to pair Empyrean. Sadly, I didn’t get a lot of time with this setup, because my amp is beginning to flake out in the left channel. But while it was working, the dynamic clarity and profoundly stable image, gave Empyrean an awesome foundation to show off.
The TA-20 hybrid tube amp by xDuoo ($366.90) is a smaller, but quirkier, choice. It’s not as immaculate or awe-inspiring, yet I cannot deny the allure of vacuum tubes. It delivers a musical, slightly warm signature that plays well Empyrean and doesn’t stray too far down that road.
You might not classify these as mobile cans, and for good reason, nonetheless, Empyrean is not hard to drive. Especially if you’re running a device with serious output, like the Cayin N6ii ($1,319). I currently have the E02 module installed, and the pairing is jaw-dropping. It’s so rich, chocolaty, and dark. The musicality is off the charts. This was probably my favorite moment with these monitors.
Meze makes good gear. I think that’s safe to say. They have a real talent for headphones, creating some of the finest transducers within the industry. Their foray into the upper echelon of price and performance leaves an impression upon the landscape none can ignore. Empyrean’s philosophy of sound fits squarely into my own. These are the mature, elegant, and refined principles which hold up the grand ideals of perfection we all seek. And even if you doubt they will match your tastes, I implore you, give them a try. Empyrean may just seduce you.