Meze EMPYREAN + Benchmark DAC3B + Benchmark HPA4
I need a break from my work so I thought I would mumble something about the listening experience with the Meze and Benchmark combo for this headphone newbie.
I have about 130-144 hours on the brand new units, 100 hours is when they are good to go and 200 hours is optimal. They have been playing continuously since they arrived last week. There are a lot of reviews of this combo on many excellent headphone web sites so no point in me adding the same review perspective (sound details). Those reviews and dealer recommendations are the reason why I bought the 3 units unheard. So I will quickly confirm that the silky smooth sound of the Meze is also what I am hearing. The Benchmark HPA4 preamp + headphone amp is a jewel and I can see this being an end game preamp for me. Just love it. The DAC3B also sounds good through it, maybe better than the DAC3 HGC direct to amps that I have had a few years ago. I cannot compare directly yet, I need a new amp for that.
So what can I add that would be useful? When I was researching headphones I was not sure that I would like them and I have no way to hear them before buying in these Covaid lock down days. I was looking for a non-headphones users perspective on these TOTL headphones. About 10 years ago I bought some Senhierser (sp?) HD600 headphone for maybe $600. I bought these unheard too. Big mistake since they sounded awful, music seemed to be coming from the headphone and not from a sound stage. They also gave me headaches and just annoyed the heck out of me. I gave them away to my dad and feel guilty about that.
So my perceptions on headphones are in a dark place going into the Meze. So why spend $7K on gear not heard? The reason was that I have a toddler and he goes to sleep around 9PM and I wanted to listen to music while I worked or goofed off on A'gon as I am doing now.
So what do I think of the Meze and where headphone listening fits into my 2 channel system listening.
1) I would say as a headphone newbie that the reviews I have read on the Meze are on the money. They are really smooth sound headphones maybe a little shy on the top end details. I am using the stock headphone cables, reviewers have stated the upgraded Meze Silver coated copper XLR is better at bringing in the little bit extra details. I will buy that upgrade XLR sometime when I am not so broke (or maybe some other cable).
2) The Meze has a beautiful smooth fatigue free sound that was a shocking outcome to me as I worked at my computer job over the last few days. I work from from 9PM to usually 2AM (or 3:30 AM last night). I start my day around 7AM and it is baby sitting and computer job work until my kid goes to sleep, then more work. So you can imagine someone who is very tired and maybe not receptive to music. However, that was not what happened. The headphone music late at night never tired me out and it actually invigorated me to keep working. The mid-range on the Meze is really smooth and inviting. Somewhat similar in quality to the speakers that I am buying next
, the Yamaha NS 5000,
I was hoping the Meze would have that rich mid-range character to match the Yamaha and it does, so a lucky break there.
2) I did not focus on the music through the headphones as much as my current 2 channel KEF LS50 speakers right behind my sitting chair (see virtual systems for photos). Of course the music is presented differently in headphones than in speakers. You feel like you are part of the band with headphones vs listening with speakers is like listening to a band perform in front of you. Both are enjoyable perspectives when listening to music. The images on the KEF LS50's are much larger to me than the Meze. The music seems to have shrunk down in the headphones. I think that is one reasons I was less distracted by the headphones and was able to concentrate more on my work. With the LS50's it seems like someone is behind me singing so I get a bit more distracted (in a good way). Since the Meze did not irritate or fatigue me they really enhanced the long listening + work experience.
3) The Meze also presented the music with a nice sound stage and I really did not even think I had headphones on. They are very comfortable and non-distracting. I do not have experience with other headphones to know from a relative perspective. In terms of comfort, I feel I hit a home run.
4) The Benchmark HPA4 preamp + headphone amp seems like a beautiful match for these headphones. A very transparent and neutral amp for a slightly darker headphones. The HPA4 will be doing double duty in that it will be connected to a very nice amp, either a Luxman m900u or CODA #16 and also headphone duty. I think the "get out of the way" character of the HPA4 will work great with these amps. I will take the HPA4 to the store to demo them before I buy the amp. So 1 preamp component for both 2 channel and headphone goodness.
I will summarize that the Meze is an awesome headphone and that I am loving the different way music is present through them. When the next 2 channel guy/gal writes me to ask about gear (as if I know anything) I will tell them that my headphone experience with the Meze is of pure enjoyment and highly recommended, even for 2 channel dinosaurs. These headphones will be staying with me long term.