The first time I heard of Meze headphones, a Romanian brand, was when I went to my client's home and saw (and tried) his Meze 99 Classics. The earcups are made of wood with some gold trimmings - they're very European and remind me of the style of Tannoy Westminster speakers.
My experience with the headphones was positive - they're not quite audiophile, but not bad, either. There are some "flavourings" sprinkled all around, but it was done in a good and balanced way. My client likes his pair so much that he also bought the Meze 99 Neo, the younger sibling of the 99 Classics, to use in his office. And these are the ones that I tried out for this review.
Instead of wood, the younger sibling is made of luxurious matte black plastic. And instead of wood-finish and gold, the ‘phones are a combination of black and silver which makes for a more subtle and understated look, which I prefer. Because the earcups are made of plastic, due to the different weight distribution, the headphones are more comfortable, albeit you also lose some of the sense of luxury. After all, plastic is plastic.
The impedance also dropped from 32 Ohms to 16 Ohms so you don't really need a headphone amplifier to power it since the built-in amplifier from a Fiio miniature media player, which my client uses, is powerful enough to drive the headphones.
Fit and Comfort
The Neo is an absolute blast to wear, just like the Classics were. They are of an identical weight (9.2 oz. without cables) and are light enough to comfortably wear for hours on end. I absolutely love the suspended headband design where a flexible band is held by elastics underneath a more rigid one that holds the cups and housing. I wonder why more manufacturers don't use it. It really does work amazingly well and was very comfortable for the three-hour period I used the headphones.
The memory foam earcups are unchanged from the Classics and do an excellent job at both providing isolation and being comfortable to wear. They are big enough to accommodate all but the largest ears, and there shouldn't be any issue getting a good fit with these.
As previously mentioned, I love the sound of the 99 Classics. The 99 Neo are virtually the same. The sound of the Classics was a mix of warm, rich bass, engaging midrange, detailed highs, and an absolutely terrific soundstage. It was never going to compete with ultra high-end gear and it isn't meant to. But for $400 for the Classics, it's worth the price.
The sound of the $350 Neos, meanwhile, is similarly good. Both have a set of 40mm drivers. While A/B-testing the two headphones together, the Classics are superior, but the differences between the two are minimal. Even though the frequency response graphs claim to be identical, the feel is...different. Perhaps it's the plastic cups, or maybe it's just a psychological thing.
Considering the $50 difference, is it worth the savings? To me, it is. While the Classic feels better, not only are they $50 more, but you'll need to spend at least a couple hundred dollars to get a headphone amplifier to drive the 32 Ohm impedance of the Classics whereas with the Neo's 16 Ohm impedance, the headphone amplifier becomes an optional extra. So it's really the difference between an overall minimum of $250 between the two. I welcome that level of savings without much of a sacrifice in sound quality with open arms.