Earpads & Comfort
These headphones provide optimal clamp pressure and were super comfortable even for my big round Chinese head. I could even wear them longer than my pair of MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open. No complaints about comfort whatsoever.
Meze provides two sets of earpads: Alcantara and leather. Alcantara is a suede-like material that is known for its durability and comfort. You’ve probably seen this type of fabric in vehicles. As you know, the earpads pretty much act as “the room” and could significantly impact the sound of any headphone. And both of these pads sound very different to my ears – and good in their own ways.
I think most audiophiles will probably be using these pads. They have more variety in tone and provide more clarity. They’re also tonally closer to what I hear from my reference 2-channel setup.
Overall an organic and analog sound. It’s more liquid than it is crispy so you won’t get well-defined outlines or snappy edges in the music. There’s almost this bloom around each performer or instrument that acts as the connective tissue. As far as soundstage, it’s wider than it is deep.
Although imaging isn’t the most isolated, these pads offer up plenty of texture. For example, Wayne Shorter’s Witch Hunt preserves the intrinsic fabric of the bass, piano, and cymbals. They’re tightly tied together and carry the same density – but the overall sound is very coherent.
The biggest drawback of these pads is a leaner sound, lighter bass, and a shallower soundstage. So when I’m in the mood for something heftier and fuller, I switch to the Alcantara pads.
You get more velvety texture and individualism with the Alcantara pads. What I mean is that the elements are shaped out and seemingly take solid form in a three-dimensional space. The tradeoff is in the micro-details, treble energy, and tonal color. The music is painted with a broader, thicker brush. And the paint used is a darker grey rather than a golden brown. In comparison to the leather pads, it’s a darker and more “well-formed” sound for sure. Some audiophiles will definitely prefer these pads over the leather for its lusher signature.
In a way the background is quieter, the atmosphere thicker, and there’s just more heft across the board. The biggest improvement would be bass. You get a lot more of it. Overall, it’s a richer, more contoured, and more present sound. Bass notes carry more heft and grooves and attacks are more tangible. Unlike the more insightful (and colorful) sound from the leather pads, you get a more heavy-handed sound that masks some of the lower-level details – especially in the midrange. But to me, the Alcantara makes it feel like they’re physically in the room.
Also, I feel imaging is a bit more obvious with these pads – but it’s not as refined. I think this is because the mold of the music is more distinctive. There’s more of a “shaped focus” – albeit less resolving at the lower levels. For example, with Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, the Alcantara offers more thumps and bumps. It’s more intimate, punchy, and just more full-bodied. The Alcantara pads also make Cardi B’s WAP much…gushier. It, in a way, embellishes music with a heavier coat.
In contrast, the leather pads are more nuanced, micro-detailed, and overall more pristine. I suspect it has a more even frequency response. The Alcantara is meatier and might actually pair well with a silver headphone cable.
My Pad Preference
I would say I use the leather pads a bit more for critical listening and the Alcantara pads when multitasking. I do enjoy the fuller sound of the Alcantara pads but recognize the hit in detail retrieval and tone.
So both pads sound “accurate” but in different ways. This is a very common dilemma I come across when evaluating warmer gear (speakers, cables, amps, etc). Although the Meze Empyrean is naturally warm, the tradeoff of tonal color versus density is difficult to decide on. You usually have to give up one for the other.
Although I can’t have both, I’m glad I’m able to swap these pads on the fly so easily. If I want more slam, body, and percussive power, I go with the Alcantara. If I want to hear the inner workings and proper tone, I go for the leather pads. It’s great you could determine (with pads) what “sounds right” straight from a single pair of headphones. This in itself, makes the Meze Empyrean a reference piece. Now if there’s a future pad design that will provide a little more body and bass from the leather pads. That would be PERFECT. Time will tell.