We’ve seen a good amount of new headphone releases in 2021, but I’ve been starving for a real high-end, outrageously priced audiophile headphone. This year we’ve had the Focal Clear MG and MG Professional, and the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noire, but otherwise it’s been quiet for premium headphones of the like. Now, here comes Meze with a brand new open-back, the Elite. This is a new flagship headphone that features the same isodynamic hybrid array planar that was featured on their Empyrean model. In a way, this is seen as an upgrade to the Empyrean, featuring the continued collaboration between Meze and Rinaro Isodynamics, which aims to set a new standard for high-end headphones. This unit will set you back $4000, making it one of the pricer models currently on the market. Can the Elite fulfill its promise of setting a new standard?
What You Get
- Case: High-strength aluminum suitcase with foam inserts
- Two sets of earpads included: one Alcantara®, one Leather+Alcantara® Hybrid
- Cable options:
- 2.5m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 6.3 jack connector, or
- 1.2m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 3.5 jack connector, or
- 2.5m OFC cable, 4pin mini XLR plugs ending with 4 pin XLR connector
Look and Feel
I’ve spent a good amount of time with the Empyrean, so I knew what to expect from the Elite when it came to its design. Suffice it to say I’ve always been a fan of this design, as I find it to be quite ergonomic and comfortable. They also just have the look of a high-end headphone, with its overall aesthetic. You get a CNC aluminum frame featuring a suspension headband made of carbon fiber, and the same large oval cups taken from the Empyrean. This time the Elite has an all-black grille and a silver outlining. I always loved the pattern of the grille, as it made the headphones feel like some rare relic. The main difference with the Elite is that I felt the headphones overall were even more flexible and lightweight than its previous model.
When I took the Elite out of the case at first it didn’t seem like they felt as premium as the Empyrean, but I was really just taken back by how light they were. When you look at the Elite you might expect it to be heavy like an Audeze headphone, but it’s more of a trick of the eye because the Elite is actually ultra-lightweight. The fit is more like a HiFiman headphone, where the cups provide a circumaural fit, giving you an unobtrusive listening experience. As a side note, the earpads are also completely replaceable, and it’s easy to do so since they’re magnetic.
Let’s talk about this isodynamic driver. A flagship headphone requires a flagship system, and the Rinaro Isodynamic planar has been newly designed to achieve that. It’s one of the most sophisticated planar systems to be implemented, expanding on the Empyrean’s driver with a reinforced polymer housing designed to withstand greater loads of power. The new Rinaro Parus diaphragm is made from a low-mass material that when combined with the isodynamic array, allows signal to flow through naturally around the listener’s headspace. In effect this significantly expands the reach of the soundstage, widening its potential for transparency. Lastly, the dual driver system makes a return, using different voice coils in order to increase the size of the image while maintaining a balanced frequency response.
The Elite is entirely in a league of its own when it comes to the stereo field. At some points, it’s even hard to classify this soundstage as strictly stereo considering just how layered and holographic the imaging is. In terms of its width, the stage is a bit more than shoulder length, and it has an incredible height. On Han Zimmer’s Dune Sketchbook soundtrack I felt like all the elements were layering on top of each other with no end in sight. Its level of depth creates an astounding sense of immersion, with sounds wrapping around your headspace with natural clarity.
It almost feels effortless on the part of the headphones. When certain hard effects appeared on the soundtracks it took me back, as I was not expecting the sound to happen as if it was right in front of me. This is helped by a remarkable sense of separation which clearly presents the image with a high level of articulation. Its spaciousness is one of the Elite’s greatest strengths, but it’s not overly airy. Sounds dissipate and tail-pff naturally, giving you a fair amount of accuracy to the intended mix. With its incredible extension and a grand sense of scale, there’s almost a limitless amount of potential to what the Elite can handle.
There’s a lot going on in the lows, even if they might not be the most booming tonality. The frequencies are snappy and clean, with plenty of punch and vibrating qualities to enjoy. One of its most consistent attributes is its strictness, showcasing great control within its space. This makes it so the sub-bass can resonate and showcase as much depth as possible while not taking up too much of the low-end timbre. I found it to be a soothing tone that knew when to hit hard and not be overly neutral. I appreciated the attention to coloration and texture, as it made for a more lively and engaging experience.
If you were a fan of the natural mids on the original Empyrean, then like me you will be delighted to know the Elite keeps that unrivaled timbre. Extremely well balanced and beaming with fullness, the midrange of the Elite with plenty of clarity thanks to the headphones masterful layering. Musicality operates on a completely different level thanks to the mids, with highly articulate instrumentations and almost serene vocal performances. With a high amount of details, vocals appear at the front of the sound signature with a bit of an airy tone. The frequencies waft over the image with sweet textures, with female vocals sounding especially ethereal. Live performances also see a great showcase on the elite, with proper distance being well translated and putting you right in the center of the venue.
While the treble doesn’t fully take a back seat, the frequency response is noticeably more reserved when compared to the lows and mids. Here the tonality is more laid back but still presents some exquisite details. You won’t find any bright or sibilant textures here, but the frequencies still offer enough of a dynamic assortment of colors that enriches the timbre even they feel softer in the mix. In tracks like “I See You In My Dreams” from Han Zimmer’s Dune Sketchbook soundtrack, high-pitched tone effects, and synthetic chimes break through the mix with a crisp response and even a touch of sparkle. The Elite finds a way to be easily digestible for any listener while still finding a way to feature the greater details.
With the Elite, Meze and Rinaro have built a phenomenal open-back headphone. The sound signature perfectly reflects its complex construction, with an innovative new driver that accomplishes Meze’s goal of setting a new standard with premium headphones. Almost all of its characteristics can be argued as standouts, but for me, the soundstage is its biggest wow factor. The timbre is natural and clean, even more so than the Empyrean, but it’s not afraid to show color and emphasis in some ranges. Throughout my testing, there wasn’t anything the Elite couldn’t handle effortlessly. From bombastic film scores to soft ambient soundscapes, the Elite produces microdetails that will satisfy any type of listener. It’s a high price, but truly one of a kind.
The Meze Rinaro Elite is available at Audio46.