Massdrop x Meze 99 Noir Headphones Review
These gorgeous, comfy headphones are a cult classic in the making
For any pair of headphones, there are really three things that matter: comfort, sound quality, and build quality. The Massdrop x Meze 99 Noir headphones don't quite nail all three, but for $199 you're getting an extremely comfortable pair of headphones that sound great and are exceptionally well-built.
That's remarkable, especially for a brand that essentially came out of nowhere. But Meze earned "cult favorite" status with the launch of the Meze 99 Classics. This follow-up is a partnership with retailer Massdrop, with a few minor changes and an extremely appealing price tag.
In our testing, the Meze 99 Noir over-ear headphones proved capable at just about everything. They sound great across a huge range of genres, they are built incredibly well, and they're simple one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones we've tested in years.
If you've got $200 and want some of the most comfortable over-ear headphones we've ever tested, these are an awesome choice.
About the Massdrop x Meze 99 Noir Headphones
The Massdrop x Meze 99 Noir headphones feature a closed-back over-ear design, with a suspension band, articulating cups, and removable foam ear pads. Here are the specs according to the product page on Massdrop:
- Driver size: 40 mm
- Ear cups: CNC-carved walnut wood
- Ear pads: Memory foam and soft PU leather
- Headband: Stamped manganese spring steel
- Hardware: Cast zinc alloy with electroplated coating
- Frequency response: 15 Hz–25 kHz
- Sensitivity: 103 dB at 1 kHz, 1 mW
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Broadband isolation (100 Hz–10 kHz): -17 dB (measurement source)
- Rated input power: 30 mW
- Maximum input power: 50 mW
- Cable: 6 ft (1.8 m) detachable Kevlar OFC with microphone and remote
- Plug: ⅛ in (3.5 mm), gold plated
- Weight without cable: 9.2 oz (260 g)
The headphones themselves feature CNC-carved walnut cups, with this particular model featuring a dark, ashen wood tone that is darker compared to the original Meze 99 Classics. The hardware is also all black, giving this collaboration a much more reserved look than the original on which they're based.
As over-ear headphones, the 99 Noirs are meant to completely envelop your ears, with the pads surrounding them and gently pressing against your head. The "closed-back" cups are sealed, helping to isolate outside noise and preventing your music from leaking out.
One thing to note here is the Massdrop exclusivity. Massdrop is a speciality online retailer that typically offers products at a discount, often through creating custom collaborations with product manufacturers. These "drops" are often available for a short period of time, and the discount can vary if more members agree to buy. Membership is free, transactions are pretty straightforward, and we have had only positive experiences personally when buying through the site.
What We Like
There is a lot to love about the Meze 99 Noir headphones. The presentation is first-rate, from the box, to the included accessories, to the carrying case. Though many $200-and-under headphones ship with a great deal of plastic and maybe a soft pouch to put your headphones in, these feel like a premium product with a hard case and solid metal parts.
The design itself is also very well done, with Meze making a big deal out of the fact that nearly every piece is screwed together. This should, in theory, make these exceptionally repairable if you run into any issues, and the design enhances this feeling with removable y-split cables, removable ear pads, and plenty of protection around all the main connection points. Simply put, these are built to last—and if they don't last, they're built to be fixed.
In our testing we found these to be exceptionally comfortable headphones to wear for an extended period of time. Though the earpads aren't particularly breathable, they're soft and retained their shape well over a week of use. The suspension headband design is nearly always a winner with us, allowing you to just slip the headphone on without having to constantly re-adjust them.
I found these to be nearly as comfortable as the AKG K702, which is still my personal benchmark for comfortable headphones. Though the K701 and K702 over-ear headphones are a bit gentler on your head, you can easily wear the 99 Noirs throughout your workday. Since they're a closed-back design, they also don't leak sound out, making them an excellent companion for even moderately noisy offices where you may want to turn the volume up.
From a sound quality perspective, these do a wonderful job of raising up a wide variety of genres—even if they lack the kind of signature you can put your finger on. They don't have any particular weak spots, with plenty of emphasis in the mids and a notable kick in the low end. Though they didn't provide many hair-raising moments in my time with them, everything sounded clean and there was a ton of separation—rare for a closed-back design.
To put it simply: These are good at just about everything, even with low-quality portable sources like your phone or laptop. They respect complex mixes with great separation and a clean response, they push bass to help give electronic and hip-hop that little extra kick, and they don't wear you down over long listening sessions with distortion or sibilant highs.
What We Didn't Like
We would've really liked to see options for other ear pad materials. Though the included ones feel wonderful and are plushy—Meze has even included multiple pairs you can swap between if you prefer firm or mushy foam—we would still like to see a velour or more breathable leather. My ears didn't get too toasty with these on in March, but in the summer months I can definitely see myself needing to take a break now and then.
We have also seen a few complaints about the 99 Classics feeling pinchy over long sessions, though we didn't experience that. To us they mostly felt cozy, with just enough tension to keep sealed on our ears and not let our music leak out to the room around us at moderate volumes.
Our lab testing shows that these headphones are indeed capable of getting quite loud when driven with a proper power source, though even with a Samsung Galaxy S9 and a MacBook Pro we found them loud enough. Our head and torso simulator didn't find any notable issues with distortion or tracking, which matched our personal impressions.
The frequency response was where things got a little bit tricky. Though most people seem to love the sound of the near-identical Meze 99 Classics, a few people find it to be really off-putting. Our lab tests line up with most people's impressions: there's a strong bass presence, a louder-than-typical mid section, and crisp highs that don't get overly sibilant.
Our suspicion is that the unusually strong mid may be throwing some people off, and indeed there were some songs in my usual playlist that I felt sounded iffy. If you're accustomed to very high-end headphones, the 99 Classics (and by extension, this special edition) may leave you wanting something with more character.
Should You Buy It?
For most people, this is a resounding yes. Though this particular model is exclusively available at Massdrop, it's worth jumping through the hoops there to get such a high-quality pair of headphones for an incredible price ($199 in its current limited edition form).
$200 headphones are rarely this good, especially when you consider their remarkable build quality and comfort. They have much more in common with $300-and-up headphones (the price tag the Meze 99 Classics typically go for on Amazon), so this particular model is a real bargain if you can get it before it's gone.
If you miss out on this particular model's drop price, we highly recommend considering the 99 Classics as an alternative. Though you'll probably have to pay a bit more (usually over $300), they're still worth considering. Just know that at that price the competition gets a bit stiffer, especially if you're considering open-back headphones. There are also cheaper headphones that sound nearly as good, such as the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7, though these are much more stylish and feel like a higher-end product.
Overall, the Massdrop x Meze 99 Noirs over-ears are going to shine brightest in something like an open floor plan office (such as here at Reviewed). They're comfortable enough to wear for hours, they sound great, they look amazing, and the closed-back design means you can listen without all of marketing knowing every song on your playlist. They're not portable, but in just about every other regard these are sure to be real crowd-pleasers.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.
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