Meze Empyrean: The Steampunk of headphones

Meze Empyrean: The Steampunk of headphones
Written by ngoshawk
Published 3 minutes ago

Pros – Gorgeous
Build quality
Fabulous sound
Clarity
Gorgeous
Fit system
Headband
Meticulous craftmanship

Cons – Maybe a bit loose fitting
Not portable
Wouldn’t dare take them in public
Not my pair

Meze Empyrean ($2999USD): The Steampunk of headphones…

Meze empyrean site: https://www.mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean

Tour model graciously offered from Todd at TTVJ: https://www.ttvjaudio.com/Meze-Empyrean-Headphones-p/mez0000001.htm

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When one is offered the chance to drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini, one should not politely decline. No, they should politely accept while inside their innards do the Rhumba. When alone with the gift, then one can cut loose, but in a respectful manner. Or just go full-on Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

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That is pretty much how I reacted when I found out that I was going to be on the Empyrean tour from Todd at TTVJ. Todd graciously offered a pair for our perusal, asking that we submit an honest review on the tour thread, as well as a formal review, if we wish. Well, of course I agreed, and this is the result. I will admit that Todd added me after he had closed the tour, and I thank him for that. I have previously participated on several of his sample tours and have had the honor of trying (and purchasing) some of the finest gear I have heard. This is no exception, either. I will also admit that the Empyrean is the most expensive headphone I have had the honor of hearing. This ranks right up there with the 64Audio u18t and Fourte in terms of price, but this is the highest headphone of which I have had the honor.

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Needless to say, my initial impressions did not disappoint…

Often, I take one of three ways when approaching a tour: 1. Gobble up all I can review-wise so that I can go in with an informed opinion regarding others likes and dislikes. 2. Go in blind with anticipation, not wanting to taint my judgement. 3. Go back and read reviews, whilst I have the critter in hand. The Empyrean combined 2 & 3. I kind of read one review, while perusing the Empyrean Head-Fi thread (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/meze-empyrean-the-first-isodynamic-hybrid-array-headphone.871859/) and measurements (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/meze-audio-empyrean-measurements.891149/), not that I dig too many measurements. Which is odd as an environmental scientist/teacher because we espouse the virtues of data to our kids and in the field…anyway, I do so because I wanted a clear head for not only the first listen, but the follow ups.

So it was with great anticipation, and consternation due to FedEx not following my directions…that the Empyrean arrived. Not packed as well as it will go out (highly disappointed that some on the tour would treat anything not theirs this way…), the Meze arrived dusty and a bit road-weary. I gave a quick half-hour session, then let it sleep to recover as I had other obligations.

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Specs:

EMPYREAN
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS


Driver Type: Rinaro Isodynamic Hybrid Array
Operating Principle: Open
Ear Coupling: Circumaural
Frequency response: 4 – 110,000 Hz
Impedance: 31,6 Ω
Nominal SPL: 100 dB (1 mW/1kHz)
Maximum SPL: >130 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.1%
Weight≈ 430 g


MZ3 DRIVER SPECIFICATIONS

PHYSICAL


Geometrical shape: Ovoid
Size: 102 mm x 73 mm
Weight: 82 g
Casing: Fiberglass Infused ABS

DIAPHRAGM

Type: Rinaro ISOPLANAR®
Active area: 4650 mm²
Weight: 0,16 g
Acoustic mass: 10,7 kg/m4
Lower frequency limit: 4 Hz
Upper-frequency limit: 110.000 Hz

MAGNET ARRAY

Type: Isodynamic
Size: 75 mm x 49 mm
Magnetic Flux: 0,35 T

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Included accessories:

• Case: High-strength aluminum suitcase with foam inserts
• Two sets of earpads included: one real leather, one Alcantara
• Cable options:
– 3m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 6.3 jack connector
or
– 1.3m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 3.5 jack connector
or
– 3m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 4 pin XLR connector


*included was a 2.5m Cardas Clear cable with 6.35se jack connector http://www.cardas.com/clear_headphone_cable.php) from TTVJ a $650 option and worth the cost for the Meze.

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Gear used/compared (prices USD, unless noted otherwise):

Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow 1.1 ($1600)
HiFiMan Ananda ($999)
Campfire Audio Cascade ($799)
ZMF Atticus ($1099)-from memory


Source:

XDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD (80%)
Shanling M5s/Burson Fun (5%)
Shanling M5s/iFi micro Black Label (15%)

*XDuoo on BL as well

Songs used:

Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

The new twenty one pilots album, Trench
The new Mark Knopfler album, Down The Road Wherever

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Initiale:

That half-hour together…oh my. Even in its tired state, the Meze gave me its worth. All of it. Plugging the Cardas Clear cable in to the Empyrean and the XDuoo/iFi combo, I listened. And it was good.

It is here I must mention a bit about Meze itself. Moving from a very, very good $310 headphone, the 99Classic to something, which costs 10x the price is daunting in itself. But to do so and produce something on par with the Empyrean is astonishing. The R&D needed to pull this off is akin to what Ford did with the original GT at LeMans. Produce a world beater in a short time, having never attempted something of the sort before.

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While I have not been in the review business nearly as long as many here, I have developed an appreciation for the passion presented by two companies. I mention this, because I believe they share that same passion for producing what they consider to be the best of their wares and something that can truly call itself one of the best products in our market, period. I am of course talking about the Empyrean, but the other would be your choice of the Andromeda/Vega/Atlas/Solaris/Cascade from Campfire Audio. Both Mr. Meze and Mr. Ball share that passion to produce the best they can, breaking new grounds if need be to pursue their passion. What the Empyrean did for TOTL headphones, had been precursed by Ken and CA with the Andromeda/Vega/Atlas/Solaris family as well as the wonderful Cascade. Pressing the edges of development with detail, both raised the bar for what could be done with their respective wares. I am thoroughly smitten by both brands, and I am not ashamed to admit it. The 11Neo is one of my favorite “budget” IEM’s, and the Atlas is my go-to for heart-pumping bass, when called upon. I shudder to think what Campfire would do to follow the Cascade, should they determine it worth their while to chase a TOTL range of headphones…please do!

So, you see, there are companies on both sides of the pond, which extend themselves for our benefit. And I am glad.

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Unboxing:

This will be a shorter section as many have covered it and covered it well. The Meze comes in a custom aluminum case, akin to an attaché case. Carrying like a thin briefcase, one could be forgiven for that image, save the Meze Empyrean name and logo. So prominent they are that at the end of one day at school, one of my girls googled it. she came up to me and asked if the pair were mine. Alas, I said no, then she said those cost a lot. It was then I found out that she had searched them. She has a new pair of Beats, and I do not fault her for that, for she is at least aware that others exist. Kudos to her.

The case is of course form fitting, with room for two cables. The loaner pair came with the excellent stock cable and the aforementioned Cardas Clear. The majority of my time was in fact spent with the Cardas. But, for comparative purposes, the stock will be mentioned as well. A slot in the upper left of the case houses the personal card showing build date and serial number. Overall, a very tasteful, subdued presentation and one that is small enough to actually be portable.

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Fit-n-Finish:

Extraordinary. Superb. Sublime. Time consuming (20hrs alone on the cup shell milling). Methodical. Painstakingly-finished. A Japanese/Germanic level of quality (no offense). There is not much I can add to the verbiage, which has already been put forth regarding the build and quality of the Meze. That alone speaks volumes regarding the passion put into each handmade unit (hand assembled). Suffice to say that the build is as exemplary as it should be for a unit costing the price of a good second-hand car.

The machining of the yokes is but one example: formed with two 90-degree actions, the cascading effect is one of sublime caliber. Most often you may note a smooth character, on which flaws may be shown. But here, the quality is of a smooth surface with the machine details just below the surface. A nice look, and we are talking about the yoke.

With cups, which rotate 360-degrees and about a 15-degree movement in the vertical plain, there is sufficient adjustment for most if not all. Another brand I have inhouse at the time has no fore/aft lateral movement, which makes fit somewhat tedious. There is no tedium with the Empyrean. Finished in a tasteful olive-brown near-neutral color, the Meze also does not draw unwanted attention to itself for the color scheme (yes, I’m talking to you Beats…). I do worry about an “anodized-like” finish, as this can wear over time. One need only look at some of HeadPie’s gear to see the full extent.

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What does catch one’s eye though, is the finely finished grill covering the cup. On par with the Sendy Aiva as far as looks in my mind, the equilateral triangle repeated form is again tasteful, yet eye-catching. The ovoid shape is just plain sexy. Mimicking the shape of an egg silhouette, it takes on the appearance of humility as a result in my mind. With mini 4-pin xlr connectors hidden on the bottom, there is a subtle swoop to the shape, adding to the flowing lines.

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With light copper colored stanchions, the minimal nature of the Empyrean continues. Although harder to adjust than I would like, this only means it stays put after adjusting. Carrying over to the top of the stanchions, is that olive color, tied nicely into the thin black carbon cross support-headband, times two. The aluminum frame itself is made from one solid piece of aluminum, which takes 20 hours to mill. This is serious work. To finish the mix, the leather headstrap has two different tactile feels. The soft part overlays one’s head, form fitting to maximize dissemination of pressure. The more solid part, where band connects to stanchion is made much like a fine piece of riding gear; stiff and solid. Together they hold the strap nicely on the user’s head and spread out pressure. I will note that to me the clamp pressure is a bit on the soft side, unless I wear a hat. Of course, this is not one to wear while dancing, but I do wish for a bit more clamp pressure.

Removing the ear pad, one is presented with a plastic grate, tastefully placed to protect the Rinaro driver. You can clearly see the driver as well. As I understand it, the grill on the ear pad is even shaped to minimize potential sound disruptions, which could lead to unwanted distortion of sound. This is an open-back headphone, but one in which you can barely see through. But it does need that breathing of an open-back to fully express itself. Removal of the ear cup is as easy as pulling from the top, since each pad is connected by magnets. With just the right amount of pull needed, there is no fear of the pad falling off. I have had some inhouse, where this has been a problem…

So, the Meze has classic finish (but there is one small scratch on the top of the yoke), in a tastefully colored theme, followed by what you would expect in the fit department…think Rolls Royce and you get the picture…

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Sound extraordinaire:

So…after all of that, I did not even get to the Rinaro planar driver. I will leave most of that to the other reviews but mention that it is an exquisite example of a planar magnetic driver. Replete with a magnet on both sides (quite large as I understand), the extra magnetic force helps to equalize the movement of the driver. Each isodynamic driver is hand assembled in the Ukraine, something you do not hear often. This set up is said to deflect up to 95% of stray fields away from your head, thus minimizing interference and reverb (as I understand it). By channeling this back into the driver, you also increase driver output, making the unit easier to drive. I am no electrical engineer, so I will take their word on it. I do know that the end result is extraordinary performance. I just replayed the Eagles Hotel California through the XDuoo/Black Label portable set up, and I am in love.

Stellar separation is the result of all that technology. I openly admit that I like reading and understanding technology new and old, but sometimes I just have to kick back and enjoy. And this would be one of those times. With a somewhat laidback presentation, the Empyrean makes one want to kick back into your fine plush leather sofa, with that J. Rieger Whiskey in hand. You just listen. And it is good. Turning the volume down a bit, so as not to draw a headache, you continue, picking out the finer points of sound. The timbre is just superb. Honest open and appreciated, the level of detail is almost startling, even knowing how much development went into the Empyrean. Exquisite detail lends to a clarity of sound, slightly on the warmish side to me using the suede pads, that is thoroughly enjoyable with superb control of bass. I do find that using the suede pads, there is actually better sound isolation from the outside. To me it takes on that deeper reach of bass, while almost becoming a semi-closed back. Almost.

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Vocals are splendid. Lyle Lovett on Step inside This House is a testament to honesty. I have often used terms such as “being in the 10th row-center,” or “1st row center,” or even “on stage.” But here the sound reproduced is of such quality that you are riding the sound as it bounces on that roller coaster of note. Feeling every note as it is meant, not unlike every bump on an old wooden roller coaster, you relish each note presented. To ride the stream of note is something, which does not happen often. But when it does, you let go and fully understand from where the musician comes.

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Roger Daltry’s Into My Arms epitomizes this ride of note. He is 74 and can sing with the best. His support on the As Long As I Have You album is near perfect. The note of piano and roger together is sublime in quality. You feel it a personal concert of the highest order, and dare not breathe, lest you upset the perfect balance within the room. Sitting quietly, you marvel at the notes approaching you like seeds from a dandelion. You want to reach out and capture them, but know they are meant for your ear anyway, so you smile and let them envelop you. So good is it, you request the song again and again, only to catch something new. The first Monarch of the season, the first Eastern Phoebe. You know they are coming and anticipate their arrival to the day; but it is still marvelous when they arrive. Just like the note in ear. Such an experience!

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Treble is without parallel to me. No sibilance (one would hope not), but not too sparkly as well. Just right and there. You can see the treble note coming and anticipate it all the same as above. And you are found right in the world of sound. My goodness it is right and good. My words fail me. My fingers ache, for they cannot keep up with the thoughts rushing through. Feelings abound. Coherent thoughts leave me. Followed by Santana’s excellent (Da Le) Yaleo, you move with the beat. You feel the thrust of bass guitar. You get the sparkle of treble. You get the subtle with which Carlos entwines with the fibers of string. His music is near and dear to my heart, and this just heightens the tie. An amazing rendition of music it is. I wax on, but this to me is exactly what Anton and company had in mind the whole time. To get lost on the wave of sound, each note acting as a stepping stone to the next. Effortlessly carrying you forward without measure. But with due diligence of care. Not often have I felt this tug of soul in a device producing electrical signals. But I must say, that through this I have been given a higher appreciation of it as a result.

I will note that the sound stage while quite good, is not the widest I have heard. It is almost perfect, though. I think it is @Ike who shows a shape, which represents the definition of sound stage and where the center lies (I could be wrong, if so Hi Ike! I hope all is well). And if that were drawn, it would be an almost perfect cube, excellent height and depth with a bit less width, but nonetheless, superb in presentation. And centered just about perfectly within my cranial as well. Layering as a result (to me) is quite good. Ziggy’s Family Time represents this. Delicate acoustic guitar, and soft vocals present a lilt of sound, which can be easily discerned as separate layer put together with much care. And together they make the whole better than not. Going hand in hand with this is instrumentation, of which again is easy to place. Without effort as well. Perfectly placed, and easy to pick, this is again quite good.

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Comparisons:

Meze Empyrean ($2999) vs Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow 1.1 ($1600):

The Meze has left, before I wrote this. So, there is no back to back, but I did listen to the Ether for a good bit during the week, and as “therapy” to help me recover from the Empyrean…sigh. For a closed-back the Ether does not have the punch, which the Cascade has. That definitive push of music, which can result from a closed-back. That may not be the most apt descriptor, but a decent one. I do like the Ether-C, and as time went by tonight, what drew me to like the Ether in the first place supplanted the overwhelming from the Empyrean. There is a crispness to the Ether, which can become quite intoxicating in the right vein. I thoroughly enjoy it when music such as Mark Knopfler comes on. Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes remind me of that “almost” clinical sound. Crisp is a much better narrative than clinical or analytical. The sound is definitively not dry or antiseptic. A certain lilt comes through in the treble, but with sufficient bass backing it up to not sound weak or anemic. The Ether-C is the headphone, which represents the most reference sound I have. And for that, I do think it is very good.

But it lacks the soul, the feeling wrought from the Empyrean. And I miss that. Vocals in the Ether are well, ethereal in quality, allotting you the time to enjoy a simpler aspect of the music. You just listen. With the Empyrean, you are enveloped. And that to me is the big difference.


Meze Empyrean ($2999) vs HiFiMan Ananda ($999):

Ananda lacks the visceral impact. A bit brighter of signature as well. Not bad. Not as much punch to the bass. Those were my initial impressions after about 15 minutes of listening to the Ananda. Those impressions have not changed. Had I heard the Ananda first, I would most likely consider it near the top of what I have listened. I still do, but that is the taint, the spell, which the Empyrean places over you. The Ananda has a very succinct sound to it. Almost like Germanic-efficiency-succinct. Not analytical mind you, no. But more clinical in sound. I do not mind and appreciate that honesty surrounding its presentation.

I WILL knock the fit, though. With no fore/aft lateral movement of the cups, you are left with your noggin’s ability to shape the pads for best-fit. Luckily for me, this isn’t bad, but I can feel undue pressure along the front edge of the pad after about 30 min. Going back to the Empyrean, it was actually kind of weird. I spent a good five minutes adjusting the fit after listening to the Ananda. And I figured out why…it was because the fit of the Empyrean is SO darn good, that my brain tricked itself into thinking the fit was off. A direct result of the Ananda’s less-than-stellar fit. I will also note that the tour model already has play in one of the slider adjustments, and is much easier to move. The other needs Dwayne Johnson to move…

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Meze Empyrean ($2999) vs Campfire Audio Cascade ($799):

Bass, bass and more bass…that is the name of the Cascade. It is to some, a monger of bass, which overrides the total sound. I disagree. I love the impactful bass and the way it is presented. I can understand how people think it overwhelms the signature, because I feel that way too sometimes. But that bass brings me in, shakes me up and just rocks. The fit is a bit hard, almost clamp-like, but with the soft rectangular pads attached, this lessons the clamp tightness. Sound stage for a closed-back is quite good, especially when you realize this is a sub-$1000 headphone. An admirable creation from CA. And, the Cascade still regularly makes it into my rotation, not just for review purposes. The vibrant energy is intoxicating and well worth the effort to get comfortable within them.

A funny thing, though. While the bass is more abundant in the Cascade, the presentation is much better in the Empyrean. You might think this fairly obvious, but to me it wasn’t. Again, I do love the quantity and rumble of bass, which the Cascade gives. Unabashed bass, and no apology needed. But the way in which bass is represented is of such high caliber, that I do not miss the extra quantity at all. That exuberance of presentation more than makes up for the lack of actual rumble. And, this is one of the few times in which I can say this, I enjoy that presentation more. The Cascade is quite phenomenal (in my mind) for the price. The Empyrean is astronomical.


Meze Empyrean ($2999) vs ZMF Atticus ($1099)-from memory:

Aaaahhh….Pinky’s Atticus. What fond memories I have. A glorious two weeks it was. An almost redefinition of what I espouse in a full-sized headphone. Almost. For at the same time (OK, as a direct result of…) I had the Atticus, I purchased the Cascade (found used, a bargain, a steal, etc…do not regret it at all…) and the Ether-C Flow 1.1 used (for a song as well…). It is BECAUSE (notice the change in tone…smh) of that damn Atticus that I ended up with the other two. Yes, I had been eying the Cascade since @wiljen let me have the extended borrow, but the Ether came about as a direct result of the Atticus. And for that I will always hold @PinkyPower accountable…smh…

I can see the Atticus joining my corral to replace something, sometime. I loved how it looks (not quite the same as the Aiva, which I like more), I loved how it sounded, I loved pretty much everything about it, save the size. It made me look like an ugly Princess Leah, it did…

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So, what about that sound? It does not have that (to me) characteristic small dip in the mids, for vocals are magnificent. I remember texting Pinky that first night championing the characteristics: warm, embracing, engaging, warm, inviting, coddling, comforting, and comforting (yes twice). He said, “so you like it?” my response was that meme with the kids and the headphones. I really liked what Zack and ZMF had done.

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As a result, I could almost get over the sheer voluminous size of the critter. And that is the almost. As good as the sound was, I could not get past the size. And that is a shame, for the sound qualities alone should have been my judge. I regret feeling that way and have softened a bit. Part of that comes from the intermittent discussions with Pinky, and that is a good thing, for something such as the Atticus is worthy of inclusion based upon its sound alone.

The bass, while a bit light for me is excellent. Taught, quick and succinct you tend not to miss the extra bit for the quality is so good. Vocals, especially female are heavenly, among the best I have ever heard in a headphone, and right up there with the Empyrean to be honest. Plus, there is that bit of sparkle, which to me is missed in the Empyrean. Whatever magic Zack and crew put into the Atticus, it worked. And I now consider it one of the best open-back headphones I have heard. That is of course along with the Empyrean.

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Sadly, the finale:

So…sadly the Empyrean has left my humble abode. Video done; review written. Pictures taken. Boxed up, headed back east. Away from hand but not forgotten. I remember every song played over the course of the week. Van Morrison’s Take It Easy, and Brown-eyed Girl. Coldplay’s live version of Clocks. Dave Matthew’s live version of Jimmy Thing. Twenty one pilots Heathens and Car Radio. Roger Daltry’s Certified Rose and Into My Arms. Mark Knopfler’s Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes. All ring through my gray matter, but separately and distinct. Meshing only in remembrance of the Empyrean. The soul presented from each song, given willingly and freely while staying laid-back and somewhat subdued in the shadows like the Empyrean. That is what I will remember. That is what I will embrace. That is what I want to remember, for that is the good in the Empyrean, which FAR outweighs any perceived faults.

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For you see, the Empyrean does not like to draw attention to itself. Think Moses Malone. Or Ronnie Lott. They went out did their job, with extraordinary results, and let their play speak. They…just…played. And here to me is the true value of the Empyrean. It…just…speaks…music. And does so without fanfare. Without acclaim. Without shouting look at me. Without pomp. With reverie, and reverence to a past artisan history where the ware spoke. And all within listened in hushed tones. In quiet admiration. Without accord. They listened, and the Empyrean spoke. Volumes by not saying much.

The Empyrean is understated in its beauty. The shapes ring of excellence, and perfect golden shape. Exquisite in build and character finished by sound aplomb with soul. A perfect example of what can happen when we give our self to the music in our ear. I can think of no other, which has wrought this for my entertainment. And it is good. It is stellar, but alas it is gone…

Thank you to Todd of TTVJ, and Anton Meze for the use and production of this fine ware. For it has few, which can match it today, and possibly in the future for a good long time. My opinion, deal with it.

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