Meze Rai Penta, how does one follow the Empyrean?

Meze Rai Penta, how does one follow the Empyrean?
Written by ngoshawk
Published 2 minutes ago

Pros – Made by Meze
Fit-n-finish
“Affordable” TOTL
Laid-back signature does not offend
Excellent fit for my ears allows long listening sessions
Does pretty much everything without offending

Cons – Meze did not take enough of a chance, like they did with the Empyrean
More bass wanted
Mids a bit too laid back (to me)
Does pretty much everything without offending
Take a chance Meze!

Meze Rai Penta ($1099): How does one follow the Empyrean?

Rai Penta website: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-penta

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So…it begins. I will openly admit that until Andy sent a PM to those on this section of the tour, I had forgotten about the Rai Penta. I had forgotten I even applied. Shame on me for not keeping my notes up. Once the PM came though, I perused the reviews on this one. I often state that I do not for fear of jading my like/dislike of the item coming down my road. This was a case where I wanted to know what the kerfuffle was out in the yard. So, I peeled back the blinds to look in the yard, and of course my dog was chasing a squirrel. Anytime we say the SQ-word, she is a four-wheeler in action across our wooden floors, scratching for traction, and making any drifter worth their car jealous as her tail end slides gracefully out, but completely under control. Aussies tend to be that way…always in control and always passionate about the chase. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. We play hard, we fight hard, we snuggle hard. That is true love.

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This would also describe my love for the Empyrean. For to me it was and will most likely stay the best headphone I have ever heard. That is until another of that weight ($) comes along. It will be tough to top, period. With that in mind as I read the reviews, I anticipated the passion, the sweat of labor, the meticulous craftmanship that would imbue the Rai Penta. For I look at Meze the same way I look at my beloved 1988 Richard Sachs. A one-man show and meant to be that way. Both Antoine and Richard share that passion for making the best (and cycling). There are others, which would give rise or claim to the top, but you do not mind, for you have found your passion and it is good. So, I waited. And a few short days later (spent seeking death as an upgrade to the sickness I felt from the first virus of the school year) the package arrived. I may do an unboxing vid, I may not. There will be a finale vid of course.

I will add here in the introit, that my initial impressions were not what I expected. After the Empyrean, one has such lofty expectations, that to not be met is a disappointment. But that would be a disservice to the Rai Penta. I will add more below.


Specs:

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Driver: PENTA-HYBRID DRIVER
(4 x Customized Balanced Armature and 1 x Dynamic
Driver working harmoniously together)
Frequency Range: 4Hz – 45kHz
Impedance: 20Ω
Sensitivity: 110dB SPL/1mW Sensitivity
Max Input Power: 30mW
Distortion: <1%
Stock cables: MMCX connector ending in 3.5mm, Rhodium plated
Upgrade cables: MMCX connector ending in
2.5mm TRRS balanced and 4.4mm balanced as extra accessories
Warranty period: 2 years


Accessories:


• MMCX braided cables made of silver plated copper
custom wires ending in high quality 3.5mm
• Hard Case: protective EVA case with Meze Audio metal logo
• 4 pairs of soft silicone eartips XS, S, M, L
• 1 double flanged eartips
• 2 deep insertion double flanged eartips
• 1 pair of comply foam eartips
• 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter
• airplane 2 pin adapter
• cleaning tool

*Extra 2.5mm bal & 4.4mm bal cables included for testing. And I am glad!!


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Gear used/compared:

MBP/iFi Pro iDSD
XDuoo X10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD
Dethonray DTR1
Questyle QP2R
Thebit Opus #2


Campfire Atlas ($1299)
Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci X ($2400)
Unique Melody Maestro V2 ($1599)
Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2099)



Songs Used:


Dr. John…RIP…

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
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Bighead Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World

Dr. John-what a wonderful world

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Unboxing:

Some reviews mentioned the lack of “quality box” for the Rai Penta was disappointing. I say what a load of horsecrap. I say this having what to me is the best box experience ever with the CTM Da Vinci X. You want fabulous, meticulous, informative? The CTM box is a cornucopia of sensual emotions as you peruse Da Vinci, and the makings of that beauty. Campfire Audio is another where the presentation is quite nice, replete with starlit night and camping. Two awesome boxes.

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That said, I had taken as much pleasure from the Unique Melody presentation, with the UM logo embossed and sunken in as the previous iterations. The Meze melds simplicity with organic shapes and features. Some killer pictures can be had, which are quite psychedelic as well. Sometimes to take a trip, one must be tripping. Well done, Meze in the simplicity. I like it.

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On the back is an overlay (think old Anatomy overlays used to study A&P), complete with exploded view. Of particular jocularity are the BA’s marked “brilliance” and “beyond brilliance.” I know that the intention is for description of frequency reach, but one surely thinks of the movie Spinal Tap and one of the greatest lines ever, “but this one has 11.” An idiot’s response shrouded in brilliance. Editor’s note: one would never insinuate that Meze is close to idiocy, but one draws inspiration from being close to that line. Sometimes brilliance does come from the actions deemed idiocy…just saying.

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Opening the box, and you find a quite nice presentation, with the leather oddball shaped case (think clamshell) below, and the IEM’s sheltered by themselves up top. Presentation is top notch and simple. Yet again, we see genius at work. The included accessories are impressive, and worthy of a TOTL IEM. Of note is the clean your inner ear length pick on the end of the cleaner. I have never seen a fiber that long on a cleaner and I would almost be afraid to use it, for making it all the way to the drivers. One is always careful with their gear though, right?

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Build quality:

This get a separate heading here, not usually accorded me in others. I do so knowing the stellar build and fit-finish of the Empyrean. And yes, the Rai Penta is equal. Made of two halves and a longer-than-normal nozzle (GOOD!), the build is exquisite. I like the shape for it presents an almost “shelf” with which to grab ahold of the IEM on insertion. A guide into the ear almost. The color is superb of the anodization. I like the deep dark blue green (less green). Think Seattle Seahawks jerseys. Understated, but elegant. The silver-plated copper wire reminds me of the Campfire Audio Litz cables. Soft, supple and not prone to tangle. Typical Meze greenish brown colors adorn the splitter and jack. The former has the Meze triton, the latter the Meze Audio label and size. My only regret is that the cinch above the splitter is plastic. I would have liked another of Meze’s little trinkets to adorn the spot. Picky I know…

Two vent holes are on the inside, one with a tri-shape Benz-like emblem, with holes between. The other a smaller hole. You see the bare metal, which may be off-putting, but when you consider the company, you know there be not worry, mate. A top-notch effort, with no obvious flaws.

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Fit-n-finish (less finish, more fit):

As one might expect from Meze’s history, the fit and finish are quite good. No mismatches, and the cover does not promote fingerprints. I do rather enjoy the color as well.

The fit is very good as well. With a smaller shaped housing, the Rai Penta fits fairly deep into my ear, without bother. The nozzle while longer than some does not dig in anywhere. Using the enclosed medium foam tips, the fit was good, but I did wish for a bit more isolation. It is good, but for the shape this is, I want a bit more. Silicon’s fit just fine, so getting the right fit should be easy. I was able to wear the Rai’s for extended listening sessions with either tip. No problem. Not even from the pre-formed ear guide. Longer than some, but not with the excruciating bend of the UM Mentor V3, the Rai Penta is made for long sessions. It also helps that the supple cable feel is pretty much tangle free. I have another in house right now, which has a cable that tangles at the mere suggestion. I use that for running as well, and must use my armband, with the cable tucked under my shirt. Not so with the Rai Penta (and NO, I did not go running with it…sheesh), it lays nicely and out of the way. I do wish the cinch above the very nice y-splitter was also metal. Adding the traditional Meze logo would have been boss. Semantics…

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Sound:

I put the Rai Penta away for a couple of days. I listened to other IEM’s during that time. Coming back, I found no dissatisfaction or loss of what I liked. That “newness” had not worn off, because it hadn’t started in the first place. With a mellower sound (as described above), the Rai Penta provided me with a very nice way to enjoy music without a formalness, which can pervade some higher end IEM’s. While the Empire Ears Legend X just reached out and wowed you, the Rai Penta provided that calm confidence. I think I would call it safe tuning. And while there certainly isn’t anything wrong with safe tuning, it does not present itself as being overly good in any category. What I mean is that while very competent in all aspects, it does not shine in any one area. That is what I mean by safe. Consider this the jack of all trades. Almost.

Bass is top quality, with sufficient reach, but not enough to make it rumble. It is present and very enjoyable, but not overwhelming like a Campfire audio tuning. And there isn’t anything wrong with that sort of tuning either. On the Tedeschi Trucks Band Midnight In Harlem, the bass presentation is sublime and subdued. Definitely playing the support role, it is exceptional. But it is meant to be on that song. I kept listening to this song over and over not only for Susan’s voice (oh…my…), but for that bass line and how it melds with her vocals and the upper. A very good mix on a mellow song. Two that are meant for each other.

In that regard as well, the mids are there, but as others have mentioned, fall behind. Not that this would be the weak link, but what I will call the safe tuning, subdued part. I am unable to pick out the intricate detail like I can with my CTM Da Vinci X. It is almost on par with my UM Mentor V2 though. Almost. Clean, but subtle in presentation. Female vocals are good and male vocals are as well, but both are a bit too laidback for me with this tuning. Here is where I think Meze could have taken more of a chance. With the laidback signature, settling the mids more forward would have made the Rai Penta SING. At least to me. And that would have given it a superb presentation. Please do not take this as criticism, just my take on how the Rai Penta would have fit my tastes better. Still good, but not enough for me.

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And thankfully, the treble is not over the top. I am ever so thankful for that. On Santana’s Los Invisibles, the vocals of Buika are on the higher range, and could become grating at higher volumes. But not with the Rai Penta. Especially run through the iFi Pro iDSD. That tube sound compliments the song well, and the Rai quite well. There is a bit of sparkle, but not like the Da Vinci. That can become too much for me on some songs, but the crystalline sound, which emanates as a result is a treasure. This is good. Very good, but I wish for a small bit more push up top. Of course, this could be my hearing as well. Take that as you may. Carlos sound grand on the Rai…

Following Carlos, Mary Lane’s old blues voice is wonderful. While missing that bit of grit or depth in the mids, her voice sounds gruff and tough as it should. This is good stuff, just not enough of it. The Blues Give Me A Feeling give me a good feeling through the Rai Penta. Most blues songs have a somewhat narrower soundstage and here it is no different. Presented with a personable soundstage, it is not the widest or biggest, but it is a clean space. There is no background noise at all. A black background emanates from the Rai Penta. I appreciate the silence.

I would rate the layering & detail to be on the better side than not. I can distinctly pick out differences and the detail while again laidback is good. Not the best clarity-wise, but quite good and on par with others at this price. I continue to like the overall signature of the Rai Penta. For a TOTL first IEM it is an excellent effort.

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Comparisons:

Meze Rai Penta ($1099) v Campfire Atlas ($1299):

I love the bass presentation of the Atlas. It is still superb after these few years. The mids fall behind the Rai Penta in “distinctness,” though. I find them falling behind the sound of the Rai, and not as enjoyable either. But that bass…. on Tedeschi Trucks Midnight In Harlem you have a definite rumble, and it is much appreciated. I still enjoy the Atlas sound signature, but the Rai Penta has surpassed it in terms of quality. But, with no muss and no fuss (except the cable can tangle), the Atlas can be on, in one’s ear and listening in a matter of seconds. An excellent commuting pair, the Atlas still garners much appreciation from my ears.

But, the overall goes to the Rai Penta here, even with a bit narrower soundstage. Detail is better, treble presentation is tighter, and with less of a detached upper sound as well. To me the Atlas uppers have a sort of “go their own way” to them, which I think purposely draws a bit of attention away from the bass, lest you continually get blown away.


Meze Rai Penta ($1099) v Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci X ($2400):

From the moment I heard the Da Vinci X on the tour, I knew it was in my future. I know consider it my top TOTL. My judge against the others. With a bit hotter treble than I like until I get reacclimated to the sound, the sparkle is marvelous. Bass is tight and just right. It does not have the rumble like the Atlas, but it isn’t meant to. No, it is all about quality. I heard some describe it as a bit too analytical. I disagree and call it precise. Like that surgeon who knows what the heck they are doing, and it shows. This is a phenomenal sound.

So why include it against the Rai Penta then? Well flagship against flagship, that’s why. All of the ones I have listed were considered flagships at one point (or still are) by the company and as such you gauge your best against theirs. The Rai is definitely more laidback, and mids are no match. But that mellow sound makes for a really enjoyable long-term session. With the Da Vinci X, I must turn the sound down after some time. I prefer longer listening terms, but sometimes I just cannot with the X. It might be that the X is TOO precise for me. Maybe that is it, or maybe I am just overly sensitive to what comes through. That said, Please Don’t Tell Her is a phenomenal listen. Just about perfection to me. The Rai is good. The X is superb.


Meze Rai Penta ($1099) v Unique Melody Maestro V2 ($1599):

Every time I think of selling the Maestro V2 to fund another, I give it a listen and essentially think, “what the heck are you doing??!!” I still find joy in my official first TOTL IEM. I heard it one day and contacted Andrew at Musicteck to arrange a purchase the same day. I was sold. I still am. The bass is better than the CTM, with more (even if a bit more untamed). Vocals are sublime, and there is a definite push up top. I would not call it sparkle, but brilliance. Mids are not only cleaner, but clearer than the Rai Penta as well. Still on par with many of the TOTL I have heard, I marvel when I listen. It also has a bit wider soundstage as well. Then Crazy Mary comes on, and I just stop writing, and listen. Layered, distinct, placement, separation. It has the goods. I called the Maestro the cool kid who everyone likes because he is so cool. This still holds, but for mellowness, the Rai Penta has now surpassed the Maestro.

I would call this the closest comparison to the Rai Penta in my arsenal. And it can most definitely hold court with the Rai. If the Rai Penta had the mids of the Maestro, it would be just about perfect to me. The bass of the Rai Penta is of better quality, but reach is a bit more surprisingly on the Maestro. I marvel at how lucky I am to be deciding between two flagships, one old and one new. It is an excellent conundrum to have and one, which the Rai Penta makes harder to judge. I do still prefer the Maestro overall, though. It just fits my bill better. Not a slam of the Rai Penta, just preference for the Maestro.


Meze Rai Penta ($1099) v Unique Melody Mentor V3 ($2099):

Another tour purchase, the Mentor V3 came my way because I liked the signature more than the Mason V3. A bit better bass sound to me, and excellent detail retrieval, this is the closest to the Da Vinci X of what I have. More forward in upper mids, the Mentor provides me with the more mellow sound than the X. A nice compliment. Not quite as laidback as the Rai Penta, but another good representation. Again, not really a fair comparison, but one to possibly reach for when Meze goes full-Empyrean with their IEM. The Mentor also has a wider soundstage and better detail retrieval. Cleaner (which may seem antithesis to laidback), but that cleanliness comes through in the details. Not as precise as the X (not much is), but better than the Rai Penta, the Mentor just provides me with that very pleasant sound I relish.

The Rai Penta here is a bit subdued, as one would expect. It still does well against the Mentor, and one could state that Meze aimed for all of the top brands TOTL with the Rai Penta. And it nearly succeeded.

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Sources:

Using the Shanling M5s, the combination was quite good. This is the combo, with which I could feel the mids were a bit light though. I enjoyed the combination due to the tight, taut bass and slightly warm presentation. I prefer the warm side of sound, and this was pretty good. Switching to the Questyle QP2R though, brought the whole level up. Opening the sound up to give more lift, the air between the notes using the 2.5bal cable was wonderful. Giving that silent blackness between notes a stage to me gave the pair validity. This was a sound in which I could happily live. Treble was better, with a nice opening up top to accommodate the music, gave a bit wider soundstage, but spread the notes better within that realm. More definition would be a good response.

Switching the thebitOpus #2 made even the QP2R sound a bit flat. To me this was the best of the pairings I played, even against the MBP/iFi Pro iDSD combo. I had almost forgotten how much I like the Opus, and this pairing brought the best of each out. The Rai Penta dovetailed nicely into the signature of the Opus. Better bass quantity than the QP2R, as in a bit deeper reach and more of it; the Rai Penta finally had a bit of rumble in some songs. Not much, but enough to appreciate it. I spent at least two full days listening to the pair this way and wish I had spent longer. For the $2k you would spend on this pair you would be hard pressed to find a better set in my humble opinion. Of course, there are options, but I found this pairing to present the sound just the way I like: good bass, solid vocals (from the Opus), with good treble without peakiness. I was quite happy.

Speaking of the MBP/iFi Pro iDSD combination, I find I use this the most when listening. Having Tidal Premium it is an easy judge of sound for many objects. I will also throw the XDuoo x10t ii on the iFi, and this is the subject of sound extraordinaire. Where the MBP relies upon the iFi to make it better, the XDuoo enhances what the iFi has, raising the level of both. The MBP is decently good through the iFi, the XDuoo is extraordinary. If I had to choose one home set up in that manner, it would be the XDuoo/iFi combination. I absolutely love this pairing. Clean clear, crisp and concise; I am reminded of a time when I could actually hear all that is good in the music. The MBP/iFi pairing is used as a tool to judge. The XDuoo/iFi is a tool to remember. I like both regularly, but for the critical decision making, the XDuoo wins. And it is good.

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Conclusion:

Well, my time is up. The Rai Penta leaves the midwestern state shortly and moves to points elsewhere. During its journey, I hope many enjoy the Meze as much as I have. To listen to a manufacturers first attempt at making the flagship, which starts a path towards their headphone TOTL, the Empyrean is no small feat. The bar was set extraordinarily high. Almost unattainable. And I will state that the Rai Penta does not do for IEM’s what the Empyrean did for headphones. It is not earth shattering, or paradigm redefining like the Empyrean was. I am disappointed in that, but upon deeper reflection, that is not the point. This may be more akin to when the 99Classic came about. At that price, it is still one of the few I truly recommend to friends who want to get into the market. An excellent starting point for movement upwards, or simply give the user a taste of what an audiophile headphone can sound like by spending a bit more than the “beats-generation,” I still like the 99’s, all iterations. And in that regard, when one compares what the 99’s did to what the Rai Penta may be setting the tone for in the future, it will be successful. It is good in that reign. It is wonderful for those who are searching for something in this price as an entry point into audiophile-dom. And here the Rai Penta largely succeeds. Build, which is second to none (as I would expect); a cable, which is soft, supple and does not tangle; fit, which is very good for those long sessions; and a sound, which is quite pleasant makes for success.

I do like the mellow sound, but wish Meze had taken a bigger chance, like they did with the Empyrean. But as stated above, when one tempers that wishful thinking into solid logical reflection against what the 99 brought to the headphone market, the Rai Penta makes perfect sense. A sound, solid entry into the above-$1k market, and something in which we can anticipate a higher model should do for the IEM market what the Empyrean did for headphones. Anyhow from Tedeschi Trucks finishes my time, and it is fitting. Bringing out the goodness of signature, anytime, anyplace, anyhow. I look forward to the next iteration of what Antoine and company purvey our way, for it will be good.

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I thank Meze and Andy Kong. For inclusion on the North American tour. My two weeks have been fabulous, and I wish those that follow the same success. It was fun.

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