Romanian manufacturer Meze Audio doesn’t hurry. The company has been in existence for over a decade now, but its product catalogue extends to a mere six products. It covers some ground, though: the company’s least expensive offering is a £179 in-ear monitor, while its priciest is an open-backed over-ear tour de force that will set you back £3699.
These Liric closed-back wired over-ear headphones fall somewhere in the middle. But, of course, they’ll be judged by the standards of the market as a whole, not simply as one of the more ‘affordable’ products in one company’s brief range.
So apart from a rather old-fashioned configuration, then, what does this rather significant sum of money buy you?
Meze Audio Liric: Price and release date
The Meze Audio Liric are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom they go for £1799. In the United States the price is around $1999, and Australian customers should expect to part with AU$3399 or thereabouts.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, this is quite a lot of money for a pair of over-ear headphones that aren’t even wireless, let alone feature noise-cancelling or any of the other things we tend to expect from headphones these days. What exactly is Meze Audio offering in exchange for the price of (*checks calculator*) four-and-three-quarter pairs of Sony WH-1000XM5?
Meze Audio Liric: features and what's new
As with its (considerably) more expensive ‘Elite’ and ‘Empyrean’ over-ear headphones, Meze Audio has collaborated with Ukrainian specialist Rinaro Isodynamics – and for the Liric, the result is the MZ4 isodynamic hybrid driver. The MZ4 is a 63 x 92mm elliptic planar magnetic driver, designed to deliver selective acoustic performance tailored to the different areas of the listener’s ear structure.
What that means is an extraordinarily light diaphragm stamped with a dual-coil arrangement. It means a ‘switchback’ coil on the upper part of the diaphragm, responsible for serving up lower frequencies, and a spiral coil towards the bottom that takes care of midrange frequencies and above.
The spiral coil is positioned more or less directly over the listener’s ear canal – because, says Meze Audio, it can overcome the tendency for the soundfield to become diffuse when soundwave length is shorter than the physical depth of the earpad. And so should, in theory at least, deliver a more precise and convincing sonic image.
As far as notable features go, though, that’s your lot. These are headphones of the old school: they have one job, and they intend to do it outstandingly well.
Meze Audio Liric: Sound quality
It should go without saying that Meze Audio expects Liric owners to do the right thing, where their source of music is concerned, by their headphones. A nice dedicated digital audio player would be ideal. At the very least, a decent headphone amp/DAC should be in order. Don’t expect the be blown away by the Liric if you plug them directly into your laptop’s headphone socket.
Treat them properly, though, and these Meze Audio headphones are endlessly rewarding. Given the best stuff to work with – which is to say content of the highest resolution possible – they are an articulate, adaptable and remarkably observant listen.
‘Clarity’ is an overused word in hi-fi circles, but it’s absolutely the best place to start when discussing the Liric. These headphones are alert to the most minor, fleeting, transient details in a recording – they identify them, integrate them seamlessly into the overall sonic picture, and give them exactly the right amount of emphasis and weighting. The sound they deliver is so open, so spacious and so well organised that every individual element is easy to isolate – but even as they offer this remarkable separation, they integrate and unify each separate strand into a convincing whole.
They track changes in timbre and tonality with something approaching fanaticism, communicate nuances that barely exist at all, and do so without changing the confident, convincing consistency of their overall sound. Their midrange reproduction is almost startling in its eloquence – seldom have you heard a singer delivered with so much character, so much emotion, so much attitude. And at the top end, the Liric manage to be both crisp and benign – they don’t roll off any high-frequency information, but neither do they allow it to become in any way sharp or hard.
If the music you listen to is spare or minimal, the harmonic variations are picked up on and translated. If the music you listen to is complex or multi-layered, the Meze Audio have no problem making sense of it and laying it out. Yet there’s next-to-nothing analytical about the way these headphones sound – they’re enthusiastically musical.
They can handle even the trickiest, most lop-sided rhythms and tempos with no problem. They can go from ‘silence’ to ‘everything louder than everything else’ in a heartbeat, yet still retain control and composure as they do so. And in each and every circumstance, their deftness and finesse is to the fore.
Other headphones will, it’s true, hit harder and generate greater low-frequency ‘excitement’ than these. When you consider the absolute rigour and positivity of everything that happens above, the low-end information sounds mildly soft and slightly cautious by comparison. But, of course, everything’s relative – and if you want headphones that are going to box your ears every time you put a bassy recording on, you’ve a stack of choice. More choice, certainly, than of headphones that can communicate as explicitly as the Meze Audio Liric.
Meze Audio Liric: design and usability
You may well respond “...and so they should be!” when we say the Meze Audio Liric are flawlessly made from luxurious materials. But the fact remains these headphones get closer, in terms of look and feel and, yes, even smell, to justifying the asking price than we were expecting.
They arrive in a massive box, and inside there’s a massive hard-shell case. Inside there you’ll find the headphones, a couple of cables (one of 1.5m, one of 3m, both with a 3.5mm termination at one end and a couple of 3.5mm plugs at the other –both earcups must be wired), and a leather pouch for keeping the cables in. It’s just a little bit ostentatious, to be honest, but at least Meze Audio has made the effort.
The headphones themselves are equally indulgent. A combination of magnesium, steel, aluminium and actual leather (none of your protein equivalents for Meze Audio – sorry vegetarians), these are tactile and impeccably engineered headphones. Not for the first time where its headphones are concerned, Meze Audio has paid forensic attention to the headband/hanger arrangement of the Liric – the result is a product that is enduringly comfortable, despite its near-400g weight, and doesn’t heat the wearer’s head despite the expansive dimensions of its headband.
Despite the generosity of their padding and the opulence of their materials, though, there’s no getting around the fact the earcups themselves are quite narrow. On unremarkably sized ears attached to an unremarkably sized head (such as mine), the wearer’s ears can feel a little bit confined – and those blessed with larger-than-average ears may well find the Liric are an on-ear, rather than over-ear, design.
And it would be nice if the headphones folded, admittedly, because then the hard-shell case could be less imposing. In every other respect, though, the Liric are no effort to own and wear, even if your listening session lasts for hours.
Meze Audio Liric review: Verdict
Meze Audio, it’s becoming increasingly apparent, is deadly serious. The Liric headphones are uncompromised in their specification, and uncompromising in the way they deliver music – and they’re comfortable and (relatively) attractive while they’re at it.
As long as you realise you need an equally capable music player, and as long as they’ll physically fit over your ears, there’s no reason not to seriously consider a pair if you're looking for impeccable wired headphones.
In some ways, the Mark Levinson No.5909 are nothing like the Meze Audio Liric. They’re wireless, for a start. They feature active noise-cancellation. They ‘only’ cost £999. But when it comes to an enthusiasm for music-making, to attention to sonic detail, and to pure audio engagement, they’ve got a lot in common. Their relative sonic signatures may not be all that similar, but on a fundamental level both of these headphones aspire to the same thing.