Meze Audio Empyrean II review

Comfortable, well-made and a classy sound Tested at £2749 / $2999 / AU$5500

Meze Audio Empyrean II open-back headphones upright on wooden shelf
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The Empyrean II are comfortable, well-built and deliver a charming listen. Match with care though


  • +

    Full-bodied and entertaining presentation

  • +

    Impressively well-made

  • +

    Excellent comfort

  • +

    Choice of cables


  • -

    Lower treble region could be smoother

  • -

    Dynamics sound a little restrained

  • -

    Open design leaks sound and doesn’t offer much in the way of isolation

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Meze Audio is a relatively new company at just over a decade old, yet has made quite some impact on the world of headphones in such a short time. Its products have typically been stylish, well made and comfortable, and in our limited experience of the range, usually a characterful listen.

Calling any piece of hi-fi characterful isn’t always a compliment, but in this case, Meze’s sonic signature has struck a chord with many people. We reviewed the mid-priced 99 Classics and listened to the original flagship Empyrean, and in both cases were taken by their rich, smooth and entertaining balance. Neither were the most neutral, insightful or dynamic performers at their price, but they remained likeable all the same. It seems Meze isn’t unaware of these characteristics and has worked hard to improve these areas in the new high-end Empyrean II headphones we have on test.

Build & design

Meze Audio Empyrean II open-back headphones lying flat showing cable connections

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The big news is the ongoing refinement of the magnetic planar drive unit used in these headphones. Meze calls it an Isodynamic Hybrid array and it is a design that was developed by Rinaro Isodynamics. Rinaro originally started off as a state-funded initiative in the former USSR (now Ukraine) and has been developing such driver technology for over 30 years.

At the heart of the drive unit sits a 102 x 73mm oval-shaped diaphragm made from a thermally stabilised isotropic polymer with a conductive layer. The diaphragm is impressively light at just 0.16g and is claimed to have an active area of 4650mm squared. The really interesting bit is that the conductive layer has two types of coil: a spiral that sits down towards the base of the oval and is positioned directly over the ear canal and a switch-back track that covers the top two-thirds of the diaphragm. 

The switch-back coil design is claimed to be more efficient at delivering bass. Magnets are placed symmetrically on either side of the diaphragm and should generate a uniform magnetic field across the surface of the diaphragm. There are plenty of benefits to this including low distortion (Meze claims under 0.05% THD across the whole frequency range) and a wide frequency response (a highly impressive 8-110,000Hz). Whales and bats beware!

Meze Audio Empyrean II tech specs

Meze Audio Empyrean II open-back headphones

(Image credit: Meze Audio)

Battery life N/A


Transparency mode? N/A

Built-in mic and controls? No

Cable length 1.2m (3.5mm), 2.5m (6.3mm, XLR-4)

Finishes x1 (Black)

Weight 385g

Pleasingly, the use of this unusual driver hasn’t made the Empyrean II a difficult electrical load. They have an impedance of 32 ohms, which means even basic portables will be able to drive them to a decent level, even though their sensitivity is notably below rivals such as Austrian Audio’s The Composer (105dB SPL/V vs 112dB SPL/V).

There is no shortage of clever engineering here, so we’re glad to report that these Meze have the build quality to back it up. In fact, that is understating things as the Empyrean II are made as well as anything we’ve seen at this level. The quality of fit and finish is top-class, as is the feel of the materials chosen. The intricate pattern on the aluminium backing of the earpads (revised for this MkII version) is a lovely touch. The use of carbon fibre for the headband structure and fibre glass-infused ABS frame for the drive unit helps to keep the headphones’ weight down to a sensible 385g. 

There is a choice of earpads in the box: one is called the Duo and combines leather and Alcantara while the other, covered in just Alcantara, is more angled in shape to create more space around the ear. Each gives the Empyrean II a slightly different balance. The Duo imparts a more pronounced bass and adds a bit of richness through the midrange while the angled earpads reduce the lows to something closer to neutrality, though put a little more emphasis on the way these headphones deliver the highs. We preferred the slightly greater clarity of the Alcantara pads, but understand why others may opt for the greater warmth offered by the Duo pads. Swapping them over is the work of seconds as they are held magnetically, cleverly using the field generated by the drive unit magnets to stay attached. 

Meze Audio Empyrean II open-back headphones lying flat on wooden table

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Meze clearly understands comfort and these headphones are up there with the class leaders in this respect. They may not be unusually light but the wide leather headband, easy adjustability of the well-shaped earcups and nicely-judged cushioning of the earpads make the Empyreans a joy to wear. Unlike some rivals, the Empyrean II work well on a wide range of head sizes.

Customers have a choice of cable when ordering the product. There are two types of conductors – copper and silver-plated copper – and five connection options (3.5mm, 6.3mm, 4.4mm, XLR-4 and 2.5mm). Those with jacks most likely to be used with portables, the 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm, come in 1.3m lengths with the remaining two available in 2.5m. The price stays the same regardless of the cable chosen.


Meze Audio Empyrean II open-back headphones leaning upright on wooden shelf

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

While the electrical characteristics of the Empyrean II mean that they will happily work directly off phones, tablets and laptops, we think that would be doing them a disservice. They deserve a better quality source so our starting point would be something like Astell & Kern’s A&Futura SE180 music player. During our testing, we use a range of products from a Chord Mojo 2 and Hugo TT (fed by our MacBook Pro loaded with Audirvana music-playing software) DACs right through to the Naim ND555/ 555 PS DR music streamer feeding SPL’s Phonitor SE headphone amplifier (review soon) and our reference Burmester 088 preamp (though not at the same time, of course).

If Meze aimed to make the new Empyrean II the most neutral and insightful headphones at this price then it has failed. These headphones have certainly moved in that direction but we think excellent rivals such as the aforementioned Austrian Audio The Composer do those things better. But that doesn’t mean we’re disappointed.

Regardless of music genre, we still find the Empyrean II a pleasure to listen to. They have a more overt sonic signature than the likes of The Composer, sounding richer and full-bodied and for the most part easier going once carefully partnered. You will need to feed them with a source and electronics that have a refined top end, as there is some spikiness in the lower treble region that highlights sibilances in voices a little too enthusiastically. But take care in system matching and, for most people, it won’t be an issue unless you are particularly sensitive to such things.

Meze Audio Empyrean II open-back headphones in hand showing both sides of earcup

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

As we listen to Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire set, the lows come through with punch and power. These headphones sound tuneful with bass and deliver a sense of authority and solidity in this region that many alternatives struggle to match. Marley's voice comes through with passion and natural warmth intact. The Empyrean’s midrange is articulate, full-bodied and projected well, so avoiding any issues with getting swamped by the backing instrumentation.

A decent sense of rhythmic drive and the ability to communicate the changing momentum of music well means that they have no issue holding our attention, though it would be nice to have more free-flowing dynamics. As it is, these headphones sound just a little restrained for our tastes. Even so, they still encourage you to keep listening, and before you know it one track becomes a complete album, and you still want more.

It’s also true that these Mezes aren’t the most analytical of headphones. They don’t encourage a listener to dissect a recording or go out of their way to highlight flaws in the production. However, they still resolve plenty of detail and manage to organise it in an intuitive and musically convincing way. As we listen to Dvořák’s New World Symphony we can’t help but get caught up in the drama and beauty of the music, the way the piece ebbs and flows dynamically. There is no sense of confusion and only a gentle sense of mild restraint.

It is a surprisingly authoritative presentation, with a good degree of solidity. Scale is represented well, though perhaps these headphones could make more of the space between the instruments. Their presentation doesn’t sound cluttered or congested as such but certainly displays less in the way of air than the class-leaders.

Our time with the Empyrean II headphones takes in all sorts of music from 070 Shake’s You Can’t Kill Me to Outkast’s Aquemini, Arvo Part’s Litany and Everyone Digs Bill Evans (by Bill Evans) and the Mezes always turn in enjoyable results. Behind that characterful presentation is a performance of real quality and reach. 


Meze Audio Empyrean II open-back headphones in hand showing back of earcup

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Give the Empyrean II a good enough source and amplification and they will shine. While there are areas that we would like to see improved there is no denying that these are charming company. If you are after headphones at this high-end level then these Meze models deserve serious consideration.


  • Sound 4
  • Build 5
  • Comfort 5


Read our review of the Austrian Audio The Composer

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