The Meze Audio 109 PRO Open-Back Headphone visually refers to the highly popular 99 Classics but has little in common. This time the ear cups are open, and larger and more advanced dynamic drivers are hidden inside them.
The Meze Audio 109 PRO announcement made me very happy because I decided it was the successor to the well-known and undoubtedly successful 99 Classics, i.e., the hit mobile headphones from 2016, which are still available for about EURO 315. Everything pointed to it, from the designation of the new model to the familiar design. I was wrong because 109 PRO are not a continuation of 99 Classics – the new headphones are characterized by an open design and are positioned much higher because they were priced at EURO 865.
Initially, I was disappointed, but the enthusiasm quickly returned because I decided that 99 Classics did not need a successor. When high-end models cost tens of thousands of zlotys, headphones in the style of 109 PRO are welcome. Why? I assume that the “recycling” of the construction allowed for reducing costs, which in turn made it possible to construct an advanced converter, which in theory, can provide high-end sound. I checked it by comparing the Meze 109 PRO with the twice as expensive HiFiMAN Arya V3 and the twice cheaper Sivga SV023.
Meze Audio 109 PRO is packed in a solid cardboard box with a magnetic cover with an aesthetic design. You can be sure about the shipping of the headphones because they are inside the case, along with all the accessories. There are many of the latter, but they cause a certain lack of satisfaction.
- accessory pouch;
- portable cable with 3.5 mm plug (length approx. 150 cm);
- stationary cable with 3.5 mm plug (length approx. 300 cm);
- 6.35mm adapter;
- model brochure.
The case is aesthetic and solid. It is made of EVA, shaped like headphones, and lined inside with a velour-like material. The accessory has a manufacturer’s badge, a zipper with two sliders, and a pendant. The bag for cables, sewn from artificial leather, also looks good.
The cables also make a good impression, but unfortunately, both cables are unsymmetrical, i.e. they are equipped with 3.5 mm plugs. On the one hand, it’s great that there is both a shorter cable for players and a long one for stationary listening, but I would gladly replace both cables with one balanced one. It could be, for example, 200 cm long and a 4.4 mm plug with a 3.5 mm adapter – Sivga provides such a cable in the SV023 model.
I think the Meze Audio 109 PRO is beautiful. I used to complain and accuse the 109 PRO of pretentiousness, but in the era of dominant minimalism, uniform colors, and economical decorations, such a 109 PRO is a welcome change. Don’t get me wrong, I still like simplicity, but today consumer electronics has become so standardized that it has become boring and unoriginal. In addition, the expressive rings of wooden shells give the 109 PRO a unique character, which also cannot be said about most devices we use daily.
The black walnut shells have been deeply drilled at the bottom, where standard 3.5mm sockets are recessed. Interestingly, the manufacturer has exposed dynamic drivers with a diameter of 50 mm, which can be viewed from both sides. Through the grilles with metal meshes, you can see their aluminum housings, and inside the pads, the beryllium-coated diaphragms and domes made of bio-cellulose and carbon fibers. The inner grille with triangular eyelets, decorated with precise prints, also looks phenomenal.
The earmuffs are mainly smooth and pleasant to-the-touch velour because only their underside is trimmed with artificial leather. The pads are filled with dense and resilient foam, but not necessarily memory foam, because the earmuffs immediately return to their factory shape after being kneaded. There are also no meshes or foam inserts, so the transducers are not covered by anything, which looks impressive but is, therefore, quite risky.
The manganese steel headband is placed in the center of the earcups, exactly in the middle of the grilles. The well-known ball hinges have been used, thanks to which the shells move freely in all directions. Under the headband, there was also a wide band, welded and additionally stitched at the edges. It was mounted on aluminum handles shaped like a slingshot, screwed to the headband. Size adjustment is again based on the tension system.
The build quality is high but not perfect. I have no objections to steel, aluminum, or ecological leather, and I also liked the fit of the structure. The wood itself is a different matter because some flaws are visible on the shells of the test piece. There is nothing like this in the Sivg SV023, which is almost half of the cheaper headphones and is also equipped with black walnut shells. However, it is worth considering that Meze Audio deliberately obtains wood from dying trees, not young and selected ones. I think that in this context, any imperfections can be forgiven.
Ergonomics and use
The headphones are not light because 375 grams is a lot for an open, dynamic design. Meze 109 PRO is not perfectly balanced because the headband seems more massive than the shells. For comparison, the wood-metal Sivga SV023 also weighs 318 grams; in their case, the weight is distributed proportionally. It turns out, however, that this is not the slightest problem because, in practice, it is impossible to complain about the ergonomics of the 109 PRO.
Meze Audio 109 PRO stick perfectly to the head, does not compress and has a wide size adjustment that adjusts itself. The tension puts optimal resistance, so the headphones do not get out of adjustment during use. In addition, the earmuffs do not crush the skull and do not irritate the skin, and easily cover the auricles. In turn, the headband is so wide and soft that it adapts perfectly to the shape of the head and does not compress its top. During the tests, I did not feel the slightest discomfort.
However, I have some concerns about the durability of the structure. Exposed transducers look great, but dirt and hair can get there. In addition, the metal grilles of the drivers are hard and rough – my earlobes did not touch them, but when the pads are crushed, the sharp edges can irritate the ears. The size adjustment can also work out over time because the elastics inside the band will stretch sooner or later. However, the manufacturer ensures that the Meze 109 PRO is fully serviceable.
I wouldn’t say I liked the cables. They have solid insulation, aluminum plugs, or a splitter of the earbuds, so they look solid, but unfortunately, they are a bit too stiff and springy and do not fit well. On the other hand, sockets recessed deep into the shells can be considered both an advantage and a disadvantage. Thanks to this, the 3.5 mm connectors are protected against accidental damage. Still, at the same time, the possible replacement of the cable is difficult because a cable with slim plug housings is needed. So, despite the universal sockets, I could not use the already-owned balanced cable.
- construction: open, circumaural
- drivers: dynamic 50 mm
- frequency response: 5Hz-30kHz
- sensitivity: 112 dB
- impedance: 40 ohms
- cables: 2x 3.5 mm > 3.5 mm + 6.35 mm adapter (approx. 150 cm and 300 cm)
- weight: 375g
- Headphones: Audeze LCD-2, Dan Clark Audio Ether 1.1, HiFiMAN Arya V3, Edition XS, HE-R9, Sundara and Sundara Closed-Back, Sennheiser HD 6XX, Sivga SV023
- Sources: FiiO K9 Pro ESS, HiFiMAN EF400, Astell&Kern Kann Max, FiiO M17, M11 Plus ESS and Q7, Cayin N3Pro, FiiO BTR7, Qudelix-5K, Cayin RU-6
According to the manufacturer, the 109 PRO should be headphones focused on emotions, not reference or fidelity. I agree with that because you can hear accents in the band’s extremes and, consequently, a slightly shifted midrange, translating into a colorful and musical sound. However, describing the 109 PRO model as V-stacking would be unfair because the headphones are still far from typical consumer tuning.
A more accurate term is U-tuning because the midrange is balanced and still quite direct. The result is great – the Meze 109 PRO sound impressive, clear, and extremely engaging, and at the same time, they do not skimp on resolution and generate a powerful soundstage. I listened to them splendidly, their character made a great impression on me, but I had to meet certain conditions, i.e. move the drivers well and take care of synergy.
Meze Audio 109 PRO – sound signature
The low tones are impressive because the 109 PRO generates punctual upper bass, dense and springy mid-bass, and goes down into the sub-bass. Thanks to this, the low tones sound modern and effective, which is not so obvious in the case of open constructions. The headphones are, therefore, not only compatible with live instruments or classical electronics but also with modern genres that operate with strong bass. The bass attacks quickly and fades away efficiently, but it is also sustained to hit, overflow or pulsate for a long time. However, if the repertoire requires it, the bass becomes more punctual and controlled, thanks to which the 109 PRO cope with basses, double basses, or piano. It can be heard, however, that the priority was to enjoy the music and not to break it down into prime factors – the texture of the instruments is smooth and quite soft.
The midrange is backward about the bass and treble, but it does not get overwhelmed. The midrange is also well balanced, so there is no lack of warmth and density in the lower subrange and hardness and clarity in the upper one. As a result, the sound is still direct – drums, vocals, guitars, or brass do not disappear into the background. Usually, I prefer more midrange, but I had no problems focusing on vocals, snare drums, or guitar riffs. I also did not miss details because the midrange is more defined, contoured, and expressive than the bass, so you can hear many details. At the same time, the sound is not extremely hard or dry because this range is still colorful, saturated, and smooth, and at the same time, quite flexible. Thanks to this, you can hear the natural warmth in jazz, and in electronics, the sound becomes more synthetic and cool. I must admit that I enjoyed listening to Wynton Marsalis’ trumpet and Juno Reactor synthesizers, which I didn’t expect.
The treble was a bit too sharp, which did not change after several hours of playing. Although I am skeptical of many hours of burning in headphones, I let the Meze 109 PRO play for 120 hours before critical listening. The treble was still too strong, so there will be synergy. The treble may slightly disturb and lose control if we do not provide it. On the other hand, in synergic combinations, the treble will be well extended, precise, and selective; music will be presented clearly and crystal-clear. Fans of bright, almost crystal-clear sound will surely be satisfied with the sound of cymbals, solo guitars, or strings. On the other hand, those who prefer a mild, maximally accessible, or even slightly dimmed sound have nothing to look for here. I was pleased
The soundstage is huge! This is partly due to the shifted midrange because such a procedure always distances the foreground and enhances the space. However, this does not change the fact that the 109 PRO sound extremely wide – they strongly stretch the stage to the sides and separate the channels in contrast. As a result, the instruments are exposed off the head, suspended somewhere in the air next to the listener. I want to point out that my impressions concern unsymmetrical connections because I used the cables from the set for listening, and even though I am a fan of symmetrical connections, in this case, I did not lack “balance” for a moment. I was also not disappointed by the depth and height, which were conducive to holography – in properly produced music, the instruments were three-dimensional, and they occupied areas in the scene, not just points.
Meze Audio 109 PRO – comparisons
I decided to focus on two comparisons, i.e. to compare the Meze 109 PRO with the twice cheaper and outstanding Sivga SV023 and twice as expensive and excellent HiFiMAN Arya V3. I was especially interested in the confrontation with the Asian Sivgs because they are also headphones with walnut shells equipped with dynamic 50 mm drivers. However, both models differ in impedance because the SV023 is 300 ohm, and the 109 PRO is only 40 ohm. However, I decided to start with the HiFiMAN Arya V3, i.e. planar headphones that sound similar and simultaneously completely different.
The HiFiMAN Arya V3 is also a bright sounding, spatial, and resolving headphone, but every aspect is implemented differently because the HiFiMAN headphones are strictly technical rather than musical. So the Arya V3 is closer to balance, sounding even stronger and harder in the upper midrange and treble. In turn, the bass in the Aryach V3 is hard, precise, fast, softer, smoother, and more massive in the 109 PRO. The soundstage is also quite different because the Meze 109 PRO sounds strong stereo, while the Arya V3 favors depth. Both models do not disappoint with the resolution, but the Arya V3 brings out more details and differentiates the instruments better. In the case of the Meze 109 PRO, there are fewer details, and they play a secondary role.
Which headphones are better? Technically, the Arya V3 wins, but the Meze 109 PROs are undoubtedly more musical. At the same time, there is not much distance between the two models, and the choice may be a matter of preference – a lot depends on whether we are looking for maximum precision and detail in music (Arya V3) or emotions (Meze 109 PRO). I liked both models, but Arye V3 costs as much as EURO 1725, while Meze 109 PRO was valued at EURO 865. I think the Romanian manufacturer’s headphones win with the quality-to-price ratio.
Comparisons with the Sivga SV023 were even more interesting because I perceived both models as musical. Nevertheless, the SV023 is more even because they generate much more midrange and less sub-bass or high treble, but they also have smoothness, colorfulness, and warmth. Meze 109 PRO, on the other hand, accentuates the extreme bands and shifts the midrange, thanks to which they go lower into the sub-bass and extend the treble more, but thus sound less natural in the midrange. The space is similar to the Arya V3 because the Sivga SV023 also favor depth, while the Meze 109 PRO sound mainly in width. However, in this case, the Romanian manufacturer’s headphones generate a much larger soundstage than the SV023; they strongly stretch the music to the sides and aerate it more intensively.
Which headphones are on top? Technically, the Meze 109 PRO wins – deeper bass, freer treble, and a much larger soundstage are their advantages. On the other hand, the Sivga SV023 also defends itself, sounds detailed, and presents live instruments or vocals more directly. The verdict depends on the needs and preferences because some will delight with the deep bass, momentum, and smoothness of the 109 PRO, while others will prefer balance and closer mid-ranges in the SV023. I think both models are phenomenal, but this time the quality-price ratio is better in the case of the Sivga SV023 because these are headphones for EURO 450.
Meze Audio 109 PRO – synergy
Meze 109 PRO needs synergy and well-produced music. The treble is still relatively strong, making the sound tiring in unfavorable connections. So it’s better to combine the 109 PRO with sources with a controlled, mild treble, i.e. in theory, sources with Asahi Kasei Microdevices or Burr-Brown pickups are a better choice than those with ESS Technology stompboxes. However, you should not delete specific connections in advance because much depends on implementing specific systems. There is also no need for extremely efficient amplifiers because the 109 PRO is easy to drive.
The FiiO BTR7 played well with the Meze 109 PRO, but the treble was still painful. The Qudelix-5K (first generation) sounded calmer, but the treble was still clear. In turn, in the synergy tests with the FiiO M15, M17, M11 Plus ESS, and Astell&Kern Kann Max players, the first one performed best because the M15 has AKM picks on board, and its sound is warm, massive, and gentle in the treble, which I liked Meze 109 PRO. Nevertheless, the other players also provided great sound – the M17 delighted with the bass, the Kann Max with precision, and the M11 Plus ESS with a neutral balance. Still, it was the M15 that best compensated the 109 PRO; that is, it softened the treble and brought the midrange closer. The Cayin N3Pro did not disappoint me either – the “Triode” tube mode suited the 109 Pro model.
Regarding stationary equipment, the HiFiMAN EF400 fared best, which I recently praised with the Sivga SV023, which also extended in the treble. The EF400 is generally a surprising piece of equipment that sounds clear but paradoxically matches bright-sounding headphones because it sounds “analog” in the midrange and treble. The EF400 had to be turned down in the system anyway because it generates huge power. Still, this combination was better than the “transistor” and overly technical FiiO K9 Pro ESS. I was also positively surprised by the new, mobile-stationary FiiO Q7, based on the ESS Technology and THX systems, known as the K9 Pro ESS or M17, but generates more bass and less treble. So I will risk saying that in the case of the Meze 109 PRO, the less treble the source generates, the better for the headphones.
Meze 109 PRO is something to praise. Included are e.g. two cables and a solid case; the headphones look phenomenal and original. Soft and spacious ear pads and a wide and flexible headband ensure exemplary ergonomics, so the headphones are a pleasure to use. The sound is high quality, and the tuning is musical and effective – the bass is deep, the treble extended and expressive, and the soundstage is huge. At the same time, the headphones are relatively universal – they harmonize with jazz and electronics.
It is a pity that the set does not include a balanced cable. Although the soundstage is wide, I would gladly replace the two 3.5 mm cables with one with a 4.4 mm plug. Unfortunately, the sockets have been deeply recessed into the housing, so replacements with slim plugs or the original cable from Meze are necessary. By the way, the cables from the set can spring; they are a bit too stiff so replacement may be necessary. In my opinion, the treble should also be a bit softer because, for this reason, the headphones require synergy.
At this price, they can be bull’s-eye if we primarily look for emotions and showiness but in a sophisticated style. On the other hand, fans of technical, maximally detailed, or even transparent sound may not be satisfied. Theoretically, the 109 PRO should not be to my taste, but in the right connections, I listened to them wonderfully; often, I could not tear myself away from the music.
+ Good equipment
+ high-quality workmanship
+ Extraordinary design + exemplary ergonomics
+ wide size adjustment
+ Cables for various applications
+ Effective, colorful, and addictive sound
+ High sound resolution
+ Large and holographic soundstage
– No balanced cable
– Difficult cable replacement
– A bit too stiff, springy wires
– Strong treble (necessary synergy)