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Meze LIRIC ($2000): Closed back & an isodynamic hybrid, but is it good?

Closed back & an isodynamic hybrid, but is it good?

Pros: Meze build
Richness to the sound
Warmth to the sound, which favors many

Cons: Restrained tuning for this price
Tough competition at the price
More plastic than other Mezes?
Does not break boundaries like I was hoping

Meze LIRIC ($2000): Closed back & an isodynamic hybrid, but is it good?

LIRIC

Intro: As part of yet another excellent tour, Andy Kong sent a LIRIC for a nice extended time with which to listen. A top-notch gent, who truly values honest enumeration of opinions, we continue to be lucky to have him as an asset to the community. I also believe this is why he is sought as a representative to so many fine companies as well. I have 14 days with the unit, which is just enough time to provide an honest evaluation of the Meze product.

Having previously reviewed the original Empyrean, which remains one of my all-time favorite headphones; the LIRIC has big shoes to fill in as an understudy to the flagship. Meze continues to innovate, and this collaboration includes Rinaro, which has produced quality products since WW2. On history alone, you could spend a fair word or seven, so that will be infiltrated throughout the review, as necessary.

I again thank Andy for the faith in these feeble words. It truly is a treat.


Specs:

OVERVIEW


Driver Type: Rinaro Isodynamic Hybrid Array® MZ4
Operating Principle: Closed
Ear Coupling: Circumaural
Frequency Response: 4-92,000 Hz
Impedance: 30 Ω
Nominal SPL: 100 dB (1 mW / 1 kHz)
Maximum SPL: > 130 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.15%
Weight: 391 g



MZ4 DRIVER SPECIFICATIONS

Geometrical Shape: Ovoid
Size: 92mm x 63mm
Driver Weight: 71 g
Casing: Fibreglass reinforced polymer
Diaphragm Type: Rinaro Isoplanar® MZ4
Active Area: 3507 mm2
Diaphragm Weight: 0.08 g
Acoustic Mass: 6.5 kg/m4
Lower Frequency Limit: 4 Hz
Upper-Frequency Limit: 92,000 Hz

In The Box (and a really cool one at that…):

Display box

Case: Hard EVA pouch with velvet lining
• Two cables included:
– 1.5m soft TPE cable with 3.5mm jack
– 3m soft TPE cable with 3.5mm jack
• Adapters:
– 6.3mm jack adapter
– Airplane jack adapter
• Cables pouch
– Warranty period: 2 years



Gear Used/Compared:

Kennerton Rögnir ($3700)
Audeze LCD3 ($2200)
Kennerton Magni ($799)
CFA Cascade ($799)

MBP/Burson Funk
MBP/Stingxer SA1
MBP/iFi Pro iCAN/iDSD
Shanling M6 Pro


Songs:

Alex Fox
Pink Floyd
Buena Vista Social Club
Elton John
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Shane Hennessy
Jeff Beck
Dave Matthews
Tommy Emmanuel
David Bowie
R.E.M.

Unboxing:

The Meze experience has always been of a premium variety and the LIRIC is no different. Coming in a large padded box, inside a form-fitting cardboard box, which is inside yet another cardboard box; the Meze is well protected.

The all-black case comes replete with a padded top laden with the LIRIC logo. With an “overbite” on the lid, the box fits together snuggly. Opening the lid, the underside of the top portion has a thick soft foam pad in black, which protects and holds in place the traveling case. Held open by two salmon colored ribbons, the likeness to a jewelry box does not go unnoticed. The bottom has a form fitting soft foam cutout to hold and protect the traveling case. Snug fitting as well, the case will not move.

Taking the thinner traveling case out, I marveled at how thin it actually is comparatively. With a horseshoe crab-like look to it, the feel is yet again premium. The double-sided zipper is protected by a leather form fitting strip, making for a near sealed affair. Unzipping the case, the inside is covered in soft suede, again in black (a subtle theme throughout), which is also form fitting with the headphone and cables only able to go in one way. This keeps the case thin and the headphones well protected.

Under the headphone in a cutout area is the well apportioned manual, complete with imagery in glossy color.

The cables also come in a nice leather drawstring bag, but because it is so good looking; I did not cinch the straps. Those cable pouches fit under a crosshatched stretch of elastic in their own area. Overall, the premium quality of fit and protection meet the Meze standards to me.

Build/form/fit:

When one purchases a Meze item, one expects flawless construction no matter the price of the unit. From the $69 Neo11 to the $3000 Empyrean, the expectation is the same. And for the most part, the LIRIC fits the bill.

Starting with the cable, the 4.4bal version is of 8-braid silver variety and very premium. Wound semi-tightly, there are absolutely no microphonics, and the lay is perfect. A bit shorter than I would like is the only flaw. The other cables of copper variety are surrounded by TPE black plastic and the familiar copper color of many Meze varieties. Soft and supple, they do seem a bit more institutional than premium. But all cables function well. For my review, I utilized all, but spent approximately 90% of the time using the 4.4bal cable.

Made of lightweight aluminum, magnesium, plastic and spring steel the LIRIC runs the gamut of materials and the Meze expertise of each. The magnesium frame for the cup is quite good and without much look could easily be confused for the plastic of the backs. The plastic is of high quality with a texture to it, which is used for handling purposes, and to keep the unit looking pristine. No fingerprints were had at any time. The adjustable shafts of the cup are of a copper colored aluminum and showed no wear with use so far. Tight of adjusting, once you find your optimal placement; the unit stayed there. The one part I would change is the headband, though. I have never really liked single piece headbands preferring to have some sort of frame above as support. That said, I fully get why Meze did this, and trust the implementation of the leather headband. With pleated venting there is good fit, with no heat buildup. Adjusting was easy, and I actually preferred the unit to sit higher on the sides of my head. This gave me a very good fit and isolation, with no pressure below my ears such as I have had on some headphones. Even distribution of the weight (which is light anyway) allowed me extended listening times, except for the ear cup size.

The cups are of oblong shape and a bit small for my slightly larger than average lobes. This was the Achilles of long-term listening to me, especially on my left side as I have carried an earring since high school. The extra band and slightly larger pads would dissuade me from this pressure, I do believe.

The LIRIC upholds the typical Meze tradition of a quality build, good to excellent fit and a functionality that could be considered industry standard. That said, the mixing of materials, especially the plastic (mostly the plastic) does seem to lie at a level below the price. I do like the overall look, though.

Technology:

From the website: “Rinaro originated in the USSR (today’s Ukraine) during the Cold War, as part of a state-funded acoustic technology research program. With government backing and access to advanced testing facilities, the team was able to focus all of its efforts on planar magnetics. A field they have continued to innovate in for the last 30 years, since the collapse of the USSR. In the last decade, Rinaro have expanded their capabilities and capacity with the development of state-of-the-art R&D and manufacturing facilities in Ukraine and Poland. The new facilities have been a driving force in the creation of the revolutionary Isodynamic Hybrid Array technology found in Meze Audio EMPYREAN, ELITE and LIRIC headphones.”

Utilizing two differing shapes for the drivers in a headphone is hard enough, but Rinaro has become a world expert in the technology. The switchback coil voices the low end while the spiral handles the mids, placed directly over the ear canal. This institution of placement shortens the time those mids need to get inside your ear. This also enhances soundstage a bit, acting like a near-holographic effect some IEM’s have. The inside grill as well as the placing of the magnets enhances the sound as well, with the grill acting to spread the sound further, mimicking and implementing soundstage nicely. Finish this with a vent hole, allowing the unit to breathe one could almost call this a semi-closed back headphone; but not really. Combined all of this makes for yet more technological advancement from Meze, utilizing existing technology; but with the expertise of a world-renowned company in Rinaro.

Further developing of the ar pad Air Flow (EAF) system, also by Rinaro; allows for the use of thinner ear cups by providing venting to not only the outside, but also through vent holes to the ear pads themselves. This allows for the cavity areas of the ear cup and pads to be used as acoustic chambers, which thus affords smaller ear cups. The result of all of this is the MZ4 isodynamic hybrid driver of the LIRIC utilizing Phase-XTM (pending), which improves ambience and spatial sound imaging and the aforementioned other changes.

Sound:

Summary:

I said in my Rai Penta review that I do believe Meze missed an opportunity to do for IEM’s what the Empyrean had done for headphones. I did like the Rai Penta but thought they could have done more to it. Since then Meze has been on a bender of development and inspiration. I find this good to see. Filling in the niche at the $2k price is another laudable but very tough task. This falls squarely into some excellent open and closed back headphones such as the LCD3, and ZMF Eikon, as well as the HiFiMan HE6se & Arya, along with the Beyerdynamic T5 & Sennheiser HD820; which some still consider the standard at this price.

I will start by saying the LIRIC is a very fine headphone. It is a Meze after all. Musically sound, artistically detailed; the LIRIC comes across as a headphone that does not want to offend. And that could be its greatest and weakest points. Detail is strong with succinct clarity without being antiseptic or clinical. It is not lush either. A happy medium seems to have been reached using the Rinaro driver and earcup/pad set up. Bass is solid if not deep reaching. I would not call it bass shy either. Mids are solid if set back a bit. Vocal treatment of both male & female is good, but not great. And up top, the treble note holds is all together without too much sparkle. I would call the LIRIC unoffending overall.

Moar:

The bass is tight and fast, with very good speedy decay; without being too cutoff or succinct. I would have preferred a bit more, but the sound is solid regardless, without bleed (one would hope so…) into the mids. I find on my iFi Pro duo that I push the Xbass all the way up to counter the lack. I do lose a bit of clarity as a result, but it fits my style better. Leave it neutral and you appreciate how all the sounds work together.

David Bowie’s voice on Space Oddity solidify my feeling of the mids, which are quite good without being dramatic. Some mids overly-promote themselves as the center of attention like a diva would. Not here. Subdued would be an insult to me, but more akin to polite and not wanting to show off. Female vocals come across as better with more vibrancy, and I take this as a result of the routing of sound directly into the canal like the dual-shaped drivers do. There is nothing offending here yet again, but not overly inspiring either. Call it on the warmer side of neutral without promoting it.

Treble plays without too much sparkle or gratiness and as a result, the overall timbre is good. I can happily live without the over-push of the high notes some current models promote in this range, such as some mentioned above. I do find it lacking in inspiration though. Passionate would be a more apt description of the upper end and overall sound character.

Some might find this lacking emotion or boring, but I would call it evenhanded without offending. Soundstage is quite good for a closed-back and layering & separation are above average as a result. Running through the excellent Singxer SA-1, there is a certain lilt to the sound, which benefits the LIRIC quite nicely. Run a warmer signatured DAC/Amp such as the iFi Pro duo mentioned, and the LIRIC feels warm and on the lusher side of life. Not bad in my mind. Call it multiple characters, fitting the mold of the non-offending.


Comparison:

Meze LIRIC ($2000) v Kennerton Rögnir ($3700):

The Rögnir instantly feels more detailed and energetic. Running the XLR cable, the Singxer has a hard time keeping up. Switching to either the Burson Funk or iFi duo simply makes the Rögnir sing (truth be told, so does the Singxer, but without the power). Bass seems lighter, but has a much better feel to it, and the mids are simply sublime. The Meze does feel richer and warmer in signature using this path, but the vibrancy with which the Kennerton promotes the sound is simply intoxicating. Had I heard the Meze first, I would have been quite satisfied walking out the store with it (after paying…duh), but going directly to the Kennerton, it would be a no contest purchase of the Rögnir, and I would wish the Meze good luck.

Different prices, different approaches. I own only one of these and will do so for the far future.

Meze LIRIC ($2000) v Audeze LCD3 ($2200):

My first major headphone, TOTL purchase, the LCD3, to quote PinkyPowers, “satiates my desires for a flagship headphone.” I do not care if the Empyrean might be better. I do not care if the HD820 or LCD5 might sound better. The LCD3 is my apex for open backed headphones and as such is still the staff with which I judge all comers. It takes a fair amount of power to drive, but I do not care. It is the open back version to my closed Rögnir. I have indeed reached my “end game” (I hate that term; I prefer satiation point). How then might I compare such a fine open back to the LIRIC? Well, most new versions of the LCD3 are right smack in the same price bracket, that’s how.

As such, the LCD3 sounds voluminous as a result, with better bass depth and feel. Mids do sound a bit too far forward comparatively, but the detail wrought from within is right up there with the best I have heard or prefer might be the better term. Getting past my lust for the LCD3, the LIRIC does compete well with the overall qualities with a very solid fully functional sound that does not offend. The LIRIC can hold its own here, but to me is not equal. Joe Walsh’s sublime guitar work on the live version of Hotel California simply melts me through the LCD3. I respect it through the LIRIC. There is the difference.


Meze LIRIC ($2000) v Kennerton Magni ($799):

The Magni (v2) was a sale purchase after reading some excellent reviews. Considered a “B-stock” purchase, I did not know there was a V3 coming out, which made the driver board of wood instead of plastic. I was a bit miffed but listened again. I was happy. Over the last several months I have culled many excellent headphones from my herd. Some that were extraordinary. But after hearing the Rögnir on tour, I knew I had met my end. One would think that the Magni would go as well, except that upon arrival I listened for three solid weeks falling further behind in reviews. It was worth it, and that listening solidified its place in my lineup. Extremely luscious bass without being drippy, and a wonderful treatment to the mids makes this a very vibrant signatured closed-back. One in which the Meze may wish to aspire.

That said, the warmth treatment from the LIRIC cannot be matched completely by the Kennerton and that can be chalked up as a win for the Meze. But for half the price, the Magni is a magnificent headphone indeed.


Meze LIRIC ($2000) v CFA Cascade ($799):

Included here because the bass treatment is so damn fine, I liken this to the purchase of the Magni. Many have come and gone, but the Cascade stays for its portability and sheer fun factor. The fit is darn near horrible, but it is foldable.

Sound wise, the bass is superb if a bit overbearing. Laying down that gauntlet, the Cascade lends itself to a connection from bass to mids, which is still hard to fathom. How can such bass quantity not simply squash the mids?! Well, the guitar work of Tommy Emmanuel says it can. On Guitar Boogie (Live) he lays down a line, which comes across as clear and crisp with very good detail. There is a fun factor here that the LIRIC simply cannot match. The LIRIC does sound better overall (and should), but factor in why we listen sometimes, and the Cascade is normally the one I still reach for when a pick me up raucous good time is needed. Inspiration if you will. Think of the scene from The Breakfast Club where Emilio Estevez breaks the glass to the music, and that’s it. Period. The LIRIC would be the one providing the cool counter to that raucous good time and that is all right as well.

Finale:

The above-mentioned headphones in comparison is an odd bunch. They are the chosen ones of mine, which I have purchased on my own and kept. As such, my sample may be few but diverse. I have had the pleasure and honor of hearing many of the best produced, period. The Empyrean at the time was close to being a purchase of mine I liked it so much. Others have come and tried to best the Empyrean, but I still consider it one of the best produced headphones out there. A VERY worthy secondhand purchase for those who do not need to have the “latest, greatest” models. Not everyone needs the latest or “best.” What you need is what you like and sounds the best to you. Hence my collection above. Every time I think of selling the Cascade, I pull it out again and give a listen. This quickly quells the thought yet again.

And herein lies my issue with the LIRIC. I am not sure if it is trying to be a mini-Elite or mini-Empyrean. Or hold its own merits. Listening to that same Tommy Emmanuel song, the clarity and detail are in fact better than the Cascade and Magni, and it should be. But is it better than a secondhand Empyrean? I’m not sure. Yes, the Empyrean is an open back while the LIRIC fills the needed niche from Meze for a TOTL closed back. And please do not get me wrong…it is good. Quite good at what it does. Soundstage is right up there with the best closed backs I have heard. That richness of sound emanating from within is sometimes ethereal in nature and quite wonderful in its richness. But when you could have an Empyrean for the same price, even if used; how do you decide?

The LIRIC is good, but some will find it on the more boring side of life, and I think they miss the point of where it is supposed to lie. To me it is supposed to fill in the TOTL closed back as a very worthy alternative to the overly bright & overly vibrant TOTL’s out there from other manufacturers. If that is your pleasure, then fine. But if you prefer a more mature sounding TOTL closed back, then the LIRIC is worth a listen, even against a used Empyrean.

I again thank Andy & Meze for the wonderful tour, without which I probably would not have heard the inspiration for a flagship closed back from Meze. I value that very highly.

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