Written by Chrono
The Empyrean is Meze Audio’s flagship, open-back headphone, and it’s the first planar-magnetic headphone using Rinaro’s Isodynamic Hybrid Array Driver. With the Empyrean, which retails at $2,999, Meze seeks to deliver an unparalleled Hi-Fi experience that revolves around top-tier planar-magnetic performance coupled with an aesthetically daring and supremely comfortable design.
Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests
The Amplifier/DACs used in this review were the SPL Phonitor XE (with built-in DAC), Grace Design SDAC + Topping A90, and the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Qobuz streaming service played via Roon (exclusive mode).
Packaging and Accessories
Upon unboxing the Empyrean, you are met with a very nice suite of accessories. For starters, the Empyrean comes packaged in an aluminum suitcase with foam inserts. Given that the Empyrean itself is a large headphone, it’s not surprising that the included suitcase isn’t really the most portable case out there. However, despite being very tough, it’s actually pretty lightweight, and it’s low profile should allow it to easily fit in luggage without taking up that much space. So, should you find yourself travelling with the Empyrean, rest assured that they’ll be kept safe from any physical damage.
As for the included cable, the Empyrean comes with a 2.5m braided cable using dual-sided 4-pin mini XLR connectors on the headphone side and a ¼” jack on the amplifier side. Worth noting is that when ordering an Empyrean you also get the option of going with a 4-pin XLR balanced connector, or a 3.5mm single-ended connector instead of the default ¼” termination.
Lastly, the Empyrean includes two sets of pads (one genuine leather and one Alcantara), a printed note Meze Founder Antonio Meze, as well as an authenticity card with the Empyrean’s hand-written serial number.
Build and Comfort
The Empyrean’s design is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated I’ve seen on a headphone thus far. Its hand-assembled chassis beautifully blends premium materials like carbon fibre, leather, and solid aluminum; with the result being a headphone that not only looks like a sophisticated work of modern art, but is also extremely durable.
Comfort on the Empyrean is as impressive as its build and design. It comes in at 430g, but with its superb weight distribution, it sincerely feels like the lightest headphone I’ve ever worn. Then, the ear-cups’ spring-back mechanism in tandem with the plush pads make for a low clamp force listening experience. Important to note as well is that the ovoid-shaped pads are deep and very spacious, allowing the user’s ears plenty of room. Overall, the Empyrean is easily one of the most comfortable and least fatiguing headphones I’ve worn; easily on-par with the likes of the HD 800 S in this regard.
As previously mentioned, the Empyrean is the world’s first planar-magnetic headphone using an Isodynamic Hybrid Array, which uses two independently shaped voice coils on one diaphragm to handle different frequencies, and to improve acoustic delivery to the listener’s ears.
Upon first listen, the Empyrean struck me as being distinctly a planar-magnetic headphone, with the recognizable speed and tightness that is characteristic of planar transducers. That being said, though, its presentation and transients were quite a bit smoother, or a tad slower, than what I’ve experienced on other planar-magnetic headphones; which tend to have a more “instant-feeling” leading edge and decay.
Then as for tonality, when first listening to it, the Empyrean actually came through as being a well-balanced headphone. After a couple of hours listening and comparing, though, there were some tonal quirks—particularly in the treble—that began to surface in my listening experience with the Empyrean.
The following is how the Meze Empyrean measures on the GRAS 43AG standardized measurement rig relative to the combined Harman target curve (Harman 2013 bass but Harman 2018 mids and treble). For reference, the Harman 2018 bass is substantially elevated - far too much for what I think most audiophiles would consider appropriate, even if some bassheads may like it, so I prefer to use the more modest 2013 bass shelf. In any case, these are raw measurements, meaning it should not look like a flat line across. This instead shows the raw measurement relative to the target that would otherwise be normalized in compensated measurements.
How do you read this? The dotted black line is the target (how we might want it to measure), and the colored line is how the headphone in question measures. Effectively, this shows how significantly the headphone’s frequency response deviates from the target.
As is usually the case with planar-magnetic headphones, the Empyrean’s bass is exceptionally well extended into the lowest registers, with plenty of depth and sub bass rumble. Additionally, the Empyrean’s bass is controlled, and tuneful; it’s adept at nuancing and texturing low tones in a way that makes the bass feel detailed and adequately contoured.
For its tuning, the bass response has a warm balance to it, with an elevation centered at around 150hz that pronounces the mid-bass. For the most part, the bass feels even and clean throughout, with no one low frequency overpowering others or making the bass “one-note-sounding.” There is one concern I had when listening to the bass, though, and that is that the mid-bass elevation does not come down early enough or around 200hz, so as result I did hear a bit of upper-bass bleed into the lower mids; making for a somewhat wooly sounding bass to midrange transition.
Because of the slight upper-bass bleed, the midrange can unfortunately feel a little overwhelmed from below. Due to the slight swelling at around 250hz-300hz, I found that vocals or instruments like acoustic guitars and pianos could sound a bit congested in their lower registers. It’s a bit of shame that the upper bass sort of muddy’s up the lower mids, as the rest of the midrange has a very even and linear response, with a natural tonal balance and proper presence.
The treble range on the Empyrean is both very interesting and a little strange. The highs on the Empyrean sound–for lack of a better word–glassy. Between 6K-10K it’s actually pretty even with no dips or peaks making the highs fatiguing, but for me, the treble on the Empyrean had a pretty unnatural and artificial-sounding gleam. This “shiny” sound came from its upper treble, of which air frequencies above 10K were significantly boosted relative to the rest of its frequency response. It wasn’t sibilant or harsh, really, but the treble sounded dramatically brightened, with over-exposed harmonics that made vocals in particular come through with an in-organic, crystalline quality.
Whilst it feels very detailed and articulated in the bass region, the Empyrean didn’t really impress me when it came to reproducing individual vocal or instrument lines, and instead I felt as though it came up short. In the midrange and treble region the Empyrean didn’t feel anywhere near as capable as I expected it to be for its detail retrieval and its ability to surface intricate tonal and textural nuances in my music. As a whole, the image created by the Empyrean lacked cohesion for me, and compared to all the other headphones I’ve had the opportunity to listen at its price range it was unfortunately a bit grainy.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Layering
For staging capabilities, the Empyrean delivers outstanding performance. It wasn’t quite as wide-sounding as the HD 800 S, but it still made for an incredibly open-sounding listening experience that conveyed a good sense of space and distance. Imaging was also very good, with an even and precise distribution across the stage. Furthermore, the Empyrean has what I believe is the best instrument separation and layering I’ve heard on a headphone thus far, easily surpassing what I’ve experienced on the HiFiMan Arya. Listening to “Gavota,” an instrumental piece performed by Los Macorinos, each guitar string feels like it has its own distinct presence in the mix. This, I feel contributes to the Empyrean having a good overall sense of clarity, but I still don’t think it’s enough to make up for the poor internal resolution, as the tracks composing complex musical passages ultimately lack the transparency that other headphones like the HD 800 S, the Arya, and the Vérité Closed have.
The Empyrean is utilizing an extremely lightweight planar-magnetic array, so I didn’t really expect to have an outstanding sense of punch slam. However, I found that in the lows it still had a bit of kick to it. It may have been because of the accentuated mid-bass, but bass notes carried a bit more impact than on other headphones with a lightweight planar transducer, like the AEON 2 Closed, or the Ether Flow 1.1. Additionally, I found that in the upper registers it had a very good attack, as it did a good job at recreating the pressure and tension of string instruments, the tactility of pianos and keyboards, and the strike of percussion instruments as well.
Pads and EQ
As mentioned earlier, the Empyrean includes two different sets of pads, one of them being genuine leather and the other one being Alcantara. Sincerely there weren’t many differences that I could discern from the two sets of pads, but the Alcantara ones seemed to have marginally more pronounced air above 10K. Again, for me they weren’t all that different, so I would just go with whichever feels most comfortable to wear.
Then, as for EQ, I wouldn’t say the Empyrean really requires it as its tonality is a very inoffensive and mostly balanced one, but I do think it could use some adjustments. The biggest adjustment I make to the Empyrean when I use EQ is that I downshelf the air region above 10K to reduce that upper treble glisten. Additionally, I like adding a bit more presence under 100hz with a bass shelf whilst also reducing the slight swelling of the upper-bass. If you’d like to try out my EQ for the Empyrean, these are the settings I used:
- Low shelf at 85hz, +3dB Q of 0.7
- Peak at 200hz, -4dB Q of 2
- Peak at 11000hz, -7dB Q of 0.7
I really want to love the Empyrean; there are many things I really like about it. Having the opportunity to spend some time with it, it’s very clear that a lot of care and great attention to detail has gone into the making of this headphone; and honestly, in many ways it’s design is absolutely brilliant. Unlike many of the high-end, flagship planar-magnetic headphones available in the market, it’s actually incredibly comfortable, maybe even the most comfortable headphone I’ve ever worn. The problem for me, or the reason why I struggle to recommend the Empyrean, then, is that I feel as though there is a bit of a mismatch between the user and sonic experience it delivers.
Don’t get me wrong, the Empyrean—as it is—still makes for great listening experience, but it’s not one that I really think competes with others in that $3,000 price range, and in fact, I think several headphones at half or even a third of the Empyrean’s price can make for just as great a listen.
In the future, I think that it’d be really exciting to see what Meze and Rinaro can do with a second iteration of this isodynamic driver. If they’re able to overcome the resolution drawbacks of the current one, I believe that the Empyrean could truly be one of the world’s best headphones. As it is now, though, unless comfort is your absolute priority, I personally think that there are better options that’ll at least get you more sound for your money than the Empyrean.
Watch the video review here: