No matter what your setup is, this will be one of the most natural-sounding headphones you’ll ever hear. This not only makes it convincing but also supremely easy to listen to. Please keep in mind your source and gear does matter. I particularly noticed a smoother midrange with better gear (less grain).
Many headphones mess this up by aggressively tilting the frequency response one direction or another. So if you want to get a better idea of how an artist’s voice actually sounds like – use the leather pads with the Meze Empyrean. It’s obvious Meze adjusted the balance in a way where nothing is too overpowering. It allocates performance to all the right spots: tone, texture, density, and coherence. And does so with a clear emphasis on midrange quality.
For the most part, the Meze Empyrean presents a very naturally sized soundstage. Primarily in width. Depth isn’t the deepest but is more perceptible with the Alcantara earpads. This is due to the more solid and molded sound. Most importantly, the music never sounds closed in or overly intimate.
The Empyrean is not going to be insanely open and airy like a Sennheiser HD800. But more realistically sized. Overall, I don’t think the Empyrean sounds too far forward or back…but closer to what the sound engineers probably wanted. You’ll get a lot more air and spatial clarity with the leather pads.
Although far from being ultra-precise, positioning isn’t blended or confusing. However, compared to more laser-precise headphones, it’ll come off a bit smeared. Individual elements of a recording are pulled apart just enough. So there’s still a great sense of coherence and overall togetherness to the sound. Creaminess if you will. Consequently, it’s not the speediest of headphones.
For what it’s worth, I find the imaging to be more isolated with the Alcantara earpads but more resolved with the leather. In both cases, recordings are “glued” with a little bit more fuzz than with fine stitching. It’s not super tight but still flows. So not the last word in imaging, focus, or delineating. But if that means I get a more natural tone, I’m all for it.
The tradeoff for a warmer and more organic sound is sometimes in the treble. With the leather pads, I think there’s plenty of sparkle and shine. It seems to extend pretty far. The tradeoff is less material and metal to the sound. However, the overall spectral balance is actually quite impressive. I’ve never felt it was shouty or had too much glare. If you’re a treble snob, stick to the leather pads.
With the Alcantara pads, the treble is more subdued but there is more tangibility. It isn’t rolled off, dull, or muted, but it’s definitely warmer than neutral – almost dark. It trades some of that precision for something that will never sound harsh or abrasive. You won’t get a lot of bling or extreme extension…but you won’t get sharpness either. So stringed instruments and some woodwinds will miss out on some flair and exuberance but come off more lush and fuller with a sprinkle of shine. But most importantly, there’s enough timbral information to help distinguish talent.
Honestly, the treble from the Empyrean won’t be the most convincing. But I don’t feel like it takes away from the enjoyment of music. It does just enough to grasp the shine and talent of the performer. There are other headphones that do better in this region, but typically sound cooler in the mids.
Most music sounds like you’re listening to it in front of a warm fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa. Voices and instrumentation are golden and seductive – without being smothering or too dark. This is especially the case with the Alcantara earpads. With the leather pads, I do hear a slight haze and emphasis in the upper-mids, but it didn’t bother me. I still believe that music is being performed by a warmblooded human being.
The midrange never sounds closed in or confined. In contrast, many warmer sounding headphones will impart a veil or dark coating over the sound. The beauty of the Empyrean’s midrange is how well it balances out body and detail. It gives you enough information to get a sense of the recording space yet layers in enough density to give the music life. It’s definitely not the most detailed – but is sufficiently insightful to me.
The Meze Empyrean is smoother than it is tactile and more relaxed than it is energetic. It has enough of the subtleties and acoustic fibers to be convincing. Therefore, lyrics are more intelligible than most headphones I’ve heard. Also, these days you could get on a Zoom call with a family member to gauge tonal accuracy. Voices do sound truer with the Empyrean.
First, you’ll get much punchier bass from the Alcantara pads over the leather ones. The low-end propulsion is enough for sonic recognition and enjoyment. It’s not going to rattle your skull but it isn’t polite either. This is more of the case with the Alcantara earpads than the leather earpads. With the leather pads, you won’t be getting much bass heft but plenty of definition.
Furthermore, with the Alcantara pads, you get a better sense of slam and attack with toms and kicks – and impetus with cello and bass. The bass on the leather might be too light for some but contains more nuance. Swapping between the two pads will give you a good idea of bass composition in your recordings.
Sub-bass extension is detailed but isn’t heavily pronounced. It won’t rumble with authority but you’ll get gradations and definition. This attribute is very tough to do properly. In fact, the only headphone that mimics my subwoofer is the Abyss AB-1266. Although I do prefer a tiny bit more presence in this region, the quality of bass more than makes up for it. Especially on a planar magnetic headphone.
Now going through the Billboard Top 100 and audiophile recordings, I’m able to get a broader sense of how the Meze Empyrean performs across multiple genres and recording qualities.
First, the Meze Empyrean is perfect for vocal recordings. Not just from a tonal perspective but from an emotional and artistic angle. The Empyrean rounds out the central vocals (Alcantara pads) and provides enough insight. You’re able to realize the timbre differences across all techniques and personalities.
Drake, Grace VanderWaal, Lana Del Rey, Dua Lipa, Nelly Furtado, and Nina Simone. Every voice has his or her distinctive color and textural cues that make listening so much more captivating. Give the first minute of the live acoustic version of Three Days Grace’s I Hate Everything About You a listen. Although not the most colorful recording, you get an immediate sense of distance, tension, and varieties in densities from the voice, drums, and guitars.
Enjoying the moment…
The Meze Empyrean doesn’t impart a ton of bass but the music is full and still carries heft. For example, Marian Hill tracks and Rage Against the Machine’s Take the Power Back would benefit a bit from more thump in the trunk. But it still sounds physical. Al Di Meola’s Splendido Sundance comes off so congealed and organic while Buckethead’s For Mom presents a beautiful atmosphere and tangible presence. You can’t really hear the individual fibers of a stringed instrument or the bass hitting your chest – but it’s still convincing (Alcantara pads). You’ll retrieve a lot more detail with the leather pads.
The Meze Empyrean has a more rustic and misty signature rather than a technically verbose one. It’s not the most vibrant, clean, or precise, but still intimately layers out the pieces in a textural and coherent way. Even with Judas Priest’s Painkiller, when it gets hardcore messy…the Meze Empyrean remains smooth and enjoyable. The trumpet in Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder also sounds fantastic. Micro-dynamics are a little softer but the cues are there.
With Yo-Yo Ma’s Dona Nobis Pacem articulation is broader and more heavy-handed (Alcantara pads). You can’t really feel individual strands from the bowing of the cello, but the timbre is wonderfully woody and rich. The leather pads will help bring out some of these fibers and micro-details but will have less body.
Meze’s goal with the Empyrean was strictly for the enjoyment of music. Well, mission accomplished. Between the two pads, this headphone pretty much checks all the important boxes for me. It achieves the perfect balance where nothing is overemphasized – while preserving a natural sound.
As far as what I look for in HiFi, the Meze Empyrean is damn near perfect. With most headphones, you still get hints of the music being digital. With a good source, this isn’t the case with the Empyrean. I don’t hear any gaps or obvious grain – and the music just moves in free flow motion. It keeps the listening experience more lifelike, grounded, and analog. These factors play into the illusion of a smooth and wholesome sound. The music pieces itself together in a very believable and effortless way.
Who shouldn’t buy this headphone? Now if you prioritize pinpoint imaging, clear delineation, and true-to-life highs…you won’t get that with this headphone. Same goes for those looking for a more hyped and heightened sound. In addition, bassheads might also be disappointed.
Instead, the Meze Empyrean prioritizes a more cozy, humanistic, and euphoric signature. One with just enough midrange enrichment, top-end presence, and low-end weight. Most importantly, you’ll never experience fatigue but are able to appreciate what your recordings have to offer. This headphone is more about the enjoyment of music rather than the ultimate precision of it.