Meze, a small Romanian company which has had some experience with over-ear headphones and now has a small earphone lineup, has come out with their latest earphone – the 12 Classics.
We would like to thank Meze for sending us this demo unit of the Meze 12 Classics as part of their worldwide Review Tour.
The 12 Classics is Meze’s first in ear earphone product offering (along with the 11 Neo). They seem to have a pretty decent reputation from what I’ve seen online – their 99 Classics over-ear headphone comes at a competitive price, and has quite a lot of good reviews about it. I haven’t had a chance to try them myself, but seeing the overall good reaction gave me more confidence in their earphone product, even though headphones and earphones are entirely different beasts.
Encased in a classy exterior of walnut wood and gun metal grey aluminium housing the 79USD (598HKD) 12 Classics definitely looks… classic. It’s a very simple design – a dynamic driver inside a cylindrical tube designed to be placed straight into your ears. But at this entry-level price point, does it offer sound that beats out the thousands of other competitors at this price bracket?
Summary for the Lazy
After more deliberation and testing with musical genres I don’t usually listen to, I may have found that my apprehension towards it may have been because the tuning of the 12 Classics with a more neutral bass and flat midrange does not sound so great (in my opinion) with rock and metal and heavier music which I listen to the most. It is actually very capable of a rich, warm vocal representation which makes it ideal for more quieter, acoustic musical genres.
The verdict? Meze’s 12 Classics is painfully average for its price. It’s sound signature is not the most versatile, with a big midrange bump that sounds a little congested and echoey at times. Bass and highs noticeably roll off. It’s not worse than many other IEMs at this price range, but apart from its classy wooden look, it doesn’t exactly stand out from the crowd either. The stiff cable is also highly prone to microphonics. Meze’s 99 Classics headphones are well regarded, so hopefully they can step up their earphone game.
-Classy looking wood and aluminium design with great build quality
-Comes with a mic
-Easy to wear
-Ideal for mid lovers; sounds most acceptable with classical and jazz
-Not ideal for non-mid lovers; midrange sounds a little strange and isn’t as suitable for other genres
-Cable is highly microphonic
-Not the most refined sound for $600 HKD these days. However, they’re very generous with the accessories!
- Frequency response: 16Hz – 24KHz
- Impedance: 16Ohm
- Sensitivity: 101dB (+/- 3db)
- Total harmonic distortion: < 0.5%
- Noise attenuation: up to 26dB
- Titanium coated 8mm mylar driver
- Copper-clad aluminum voice coil
- 3.5mm gold-plated jack plug
- 7N OFC cable, lenght: 1.2m
Design and Ergonomics
The design of Meze’s products seems to really favour the use of wood, as seen in their popular 99 Classics over ear headphones, a design philosophy that has also transferred itself to the 12 Classics as well. The barrel of the housing is made of a nice looking walnut, sandwiched by two gun metal aluminium pieces for the nozzle and back. Aluminium is also used for parts like the plug, mic, and y-cinch piece, giving a nice sense of classiness to the overall look.
Ergonomically it is also comfortable as the earphones are very light weight, and combined with the basic barrel shape, it’s hard to go wrong with this design.
However, despite the nice use of materials and comfort, the Meze 12 Classics falls flat on its face in terms of cable microphonics. The gunmetal grey cable made with a slighty stiff sleeving is good in that it’s not prone to tangling, but it has horrible microphonics – I was able to hear the impact every time something brushed against it. Definitely minus points here.
The Meze 12 Classics has a very midrange focused sound – so much that I felt it sounded very strange on first listen. I had never heard anything like it before, and while I definitely didn’t think it was the muddiest and worst earphone, I just couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
While most earphone tuning consists of either a boost to the bass frequencies or the highs, with slight dip from upper bass to mids, or sometimes rolled off bass but more succinct mids and highs, the Meze 12 Classics didn’t sound like any of the above. Bass frequencies seemed to roll off quite quickly, resulting in a very soft fuzzy low end with anaemic bass impact. Vocals and most instruments were presented quite forward, with very decent low-mid detail, and while they generally sounded more acceptable, there was still constantly a sense of veil to it; an unshakable feeling of distorted graininess that I did not really enjoy. Even as someone who isn’t fully convinced of the effects of “burn-in”, I decided to give the 12 Classics another chance as a review said that they needed some to smooth out the sound.
It didn’t really change much for me, and I decided the best way to solve this mystery was to take measurements. Overall the midrange is very flat, with little high extension.
Even though the graph shows quite a bit of bass boost, somehow I didn’t feel that it had a very solid bass impact. However, Meze may have been aiming for a more neutral tuning and I believe they succeeded in this aspect. Judging from my findings, the flat frequency response of the midrange probably led to what I felt was bit of a strange echoey quality to the sound, and with the lack of any dips anywhere, I felt like there was a lack of contrast and dynamism in the sound quality. If the mids could be either pulled back slightly, along with better high presence for clarity and better detail retrieval, I imagine that Meze would have a very decent mid-high focused earphone on their hands.
A bit of EQing made me enjoy the sound more, as I pulled down the 200 – 2000Hz range a bit which eliminated the odd sounding mids, and provided a much needed push to the bass and highs, but it could not eliminate the fuzzy sounding feeling, which I suspect is either being caused by harmonic distortion of some sort, or just a result of the tuning with slightly rolled off highs.
This budget to entry level price point is an awkward transition point for earphones, especially in the current highly competitive market where 100-300HKD options (mostly coming out of China) are getting better and better. Personally, as someone who has tried everything from the $25 to $22,000 earphones, I feel that a 600HKD investment should be leaps better than the 100-200HKD offerings, and if I were to recommend it to a friend who wanted to dip their toes in the world of audiophilia, I would also want them to get the best bang for their buck with their first “big” purchase . I’m not really sure the Meze 12 Classics gives me that feeling when I listen to it. It somewhat lags behind the other earphones in this price bracket such as the ATH IM50 in terms of resolution, but the 12 Classics is definitely better for someone who does not want such a bassy listening experience.
It might just be that I’m not used to this frequency response with such a flat midrange. Perhaps if Meze could push the highs slightly it would create a more fun, airy sound, and some of my experience playing with the EQ was able to achieve this.