Romanian headphones maker Meze has garnered a lot of attention in recent years thanks to good quality products offered at an interesting price. The Meze 11 Neo is the latest addition to their IEM range and they quietly sit in the sub-60$ area offering solid performance while remaining affordable even for non-audiophile standards.
The most interesting feature of these Meze 11 Neo earphones is perhaps the fact that they offer high quality, natural sound without asking buyers to shell out hundreds of Euros and enticing them with a remote compatible with possibly every smartphone out there. The saying in Italy goes as “they keep usefulness and fun together” (“uniscono l’utile al dilettevole“) and that’s particularly true for the Meze 11 Neo.
Disclaimer: Meze sent me the 11 Neo free of charge and I do not have to return them as far as I know. Please have a look at them on their site.
- Natural sound;
- Build quality;
- Compatible with smartphones;
- High quality/price ratio.
- Cable is prone to microphonics;
- Some people may prefer a more balanced sound curve.
Packaging & Accessories
Packaging is essential: there is some foam which firmly keeps the earphones in place and you can find a small, hard case to store them, too. There are five different pairs of silicone tips:
- three different single-flanged tips;
- one double-flanged pair;
- one foam pair, made by Comply.
The choice of silicone tips, while not extremely vast, is quite surprising for earphones in this price range and allows one to find the tips more suitable to their ears. Two other pleasant additions are a clip to firmly secure the earphones to the clothes (e.g. shirt, sweater, jacket, etc) and a velcro strap to keep the cord tidy.
As a side note, the inclusion of the velcro is actually great, but it is not that practical since I often found myself on the verge of losing it when it was not on. A strap able to secure itself to the cord would have been better, even though I admit this is just a suggestion and not a criticism.
Design & Comfort
While the cord is made out of copper (OFC) and plastic, the “solid” parts are carved out of aluminium. This gives the Meze 11 Neo a more refined and premium look, even when compared with their “cousins” Meze 11 Deco (they use solid wood). The overall design is similar to the 11 Deco, with soft curves and angles. The earphones are available in two colours: “gun metal grey”, which is a brownish, dark grey, and “iridium”, which is a light silver-gold mix.
You can tell each earphone channel from the small letter on the cord joint. The problem is it’s too small and barely readable, so you can have a hard time looking for it – you’re better off looking at which cable has the commands, so you can tell that one is the right one (pun not intended!).
The cable, although robust, tangle-free and without that annoying rubbery finish many earphones sport, is prone to microphonics – much so that using the included clip is mandatory if you listen to the Meze 11 Neo on the go. The effect propagates to indoor use, too: while listening to music sitting at my desk, I could distinctly hear the keystrokes when I typed on the keyboard. This may not be a big issue, but it is one to take note of.
Comfort is actually pretty good. I – well, my ears – tend to be very picky when it comes to an earphone comfort, but I had no issue wearing the Meze 11 Neo for 3-4 hours. This was especially true when using the Comply foams. The earphones just gently slide in the ear canal and their concave design allows them to avoid pressing against your ear and therefore causing fatigue. Considering this is a traditional, almost-cylindrical, down-corded (so to speak) earphone and not one with around-the-ear cabling, this came as a surprising bonus. A bit of ear fatigue is inevitable, but it is vastly lower than other earphones I tried.
Please mind that comfort is always very personal and my experience may not reflect someone else’s. It’s all in the mix of ear shape, earphones shape, tips and personal preference. Take my words with a grain of salt!
Isolation is very good, but I found it to be great with the Comply foams (which indeed dull the sound a bit). I listened to the Meze 11 Neo in all kinds of environments – my room, a crowded environment, the subway… – only to find out the isolation is always great, no matter how much noise there is around you.
As a final note, the microphone works pretty well. It can’t exclude ambient noise, but it does a good job at making your voice easy to hear. The button is a bit hard to press and slow to react, but I consider this a minor issue.
Specs & Sound
I grew a habit of burning in the headphones I review for 100 hours before trying them out. That applies to the Meze 11 Neo, too. I mainly used a PC with a Zorloo ZuperDAC, but a Lenovo Vibe Shot was used on-the-go. The vast majority of files was in FLAC format, with some scattered 320kbps MP3s here and there.
Meze 11 Neo
|Sensitivity||101 dB (+/- 3 dB)|
|Cord type & length
||7N OFC cable, 1.2 m|
||3.5 mm, 4-contacts jack|
The Meze 11 Neo are indeed made for use with smartphones and portable audio players, given the presence of the microphone and the low impedance. The latter makes them easy to drive by almost every product with a 3.5 mm jack port.
The frequency response curve would suggest a sound which is bass-tuned, with slightly recessed mids and lacking highs. That is, however, not entirely true and the sound signature is more natural than the curve would make one think. In fact the bass is nowhere near being overwhelming or excessive, the mids are pleasantly present and the treble offers a decent amount of detail and presence. In spite of the frequency response curve, I would suggest not to use these earphones for bass-heavy genres.
I would say the main features of the Meze 11 Neo are resolution and an ability to be an all-round earphone capable of rendering almost every genre, with due caveats.
The bass is slightly forward and elevated, but not thumping nor ideal for bass-heads. The emphasis is minimal and only contributes to giving the sound a more lively and “fun” tone, although it is actually barely audible in tracks such as Blue Rondò à la Turk by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Comply foams allow for a thicker bass, which is not excessive anyway. Listening at Borderline by Aes Dana makes the treble – and not the bass! – take the top spot, as a clear indication of the fact the Meze 11 Neo are not recommended for bass-heavy electronic music (even though I have to admit the bass is great in Treesome, from the same album). The texture is good, however, and extension is acceptable.
The mids are not as slightly recessed as one would figure looking at the frequency response curve. Guitars, drums, cellos, pianos and voices show a good grade of naturalness, which is a bit unexpected. The instruments are front and center, even though they’re not in your face. They are just there and you can actually feel them – something that tells us about the mids’ presence. I also found tone to be remarkable: slightly warm, but still natural; something to look for if you’re into acoustic/classical/jazz music. I enjoyed listening to Vàli’s Nordavindens Klagesang. The guitar’s details and blend with the cello are well beyond what I expected to hear from these earphones and on par with products that are double the price.
Treble is forward and detailed, but not overly sharp or present as to become annoying or hard on your ears. It is just there, enabling the listener to hear it even in dense songs. Extension is decent. Detail is nothing short of exceptional in this price range; it really shines when listening to Blue Rondò à la Turk, where the cymbals have a high amount of detail. The same applies to Conditioned by Aes Dana, where the dense track can however show the Meze 11 Neo‘s limits: the cymbals are sometimes overshadowed by mids and upper-mids.
Stereo imaging is decent and allows to have a basic spatial reference. The soundstage is not the widest I’ve heard, but it’s acceptably wide nonetheless. Instrument isolation is also above what I’ve come to expect from ~50$ earphones.
The Meze 11 Neo is a wonderful pair of earphones suitable for both careful listening and daily listening while commuting. The sound quality they offer is remarkable given their 60€/$ price, as is the build quality. They cannot truly compete with higher-spec’ed and consequently often higher-priced earphones (RHA MA750i, just to name one), but they offer solid performance and a good quality/price ratio.
While they indeed have a few weak points, I think they are minor – namely a cable prone to microphonics, a button which is hard to press and channel letters that are difficult to read. I find it hard, however, to find any meaningful base to criticise them.
Meze nailed it with the 11 Neo, so they gain my recommendation: if you are looking for a ~50$ headphone, consider these.
The Meze 11 Neo retail for ~€59/$59.