The current explosion of wireless noise-cancelling headphones makes it easy to overlook the more traditional cabled alternatives for portable use. But doing so would be a mistake if absolute performance is your goal. If you’ve got a generous budget, something like Meze Audio’s new Liric headphones could well be exactly what you’re looking for.
Build and comfort
The Liric make a great first impression, from their suitably elaborate packaging to their understated but classy appearance. Meze Audio hasn’t skimped on the build. Magnesium is used for the earcup structure, with a combination of aluminium and steel in the headband, all wrapped in soft feel leather. These headphones feel luxurious and well-engineered. There’s no denying the attention to detail here – even the padding on the wide headband is shaped to promote airflow, so reducing heat build-up over long listening sessions.
As impressive as the construction is, the real highlight here is the 92mm x 63mm ovoid MZ4 isodynamic hybrid array driver. This is a planar magnetic unit combining individual switch-back and spiral voice coils that come into play at specific frequencies. The switch-back is positioned on the top two-thirds of the polymer diaphragm and is claimed to be more efficient at low frequencies, while the smaller spiral coil is positioned directly in front of the user’s ear canal and looks after the midrange frequencies upwards. The positioning of the spiral coil is meant to provide a more direct sound that avoids any unwanted time delays caused by diffused reflections, in the name of improving image precision.
The MZ4 driver is designed and engineered by Rinaro Isodynamics. Never heard of Rinaro? The firm was founded in Ukraine (then part of the USSR) during the Cold War and part of a state-funded research program in the field of electro-acoustics. Rinaro has been developing planar magnetic drivers for more than three decades, and that experience shines through the sophistication of this particular drive unit.
Type Closed-back over-ears
Drive unit Planar magnetic
Cables 1.5m, 3m
Connection 3.5mm jack (6.3mm adaptor supplied)
This isn’t the first time Meze Audio has worked with Rinaro’s planar magnetic drive units. The two companies have collaborated previously on Meze’s flagship Elite and Empyrean models. The difference this time is that the planar magnetic driver has been scaled down and designed to work in a closed enclosure. Not only that, it’s intended for use with portable devices which require headphones that are easy to drive as well as sensitive. We certainly didn’t have any issues driving the Liric directly with our Apple MacBook laptop or, moving up in ability, when we added the Audioquest Cobalt DAC or Chord Hugo 2 to the set-up.
We find the Liric comfortable to wear on the move. They’re not particularly heavy at 391g, and the combination of the wide headband and soft earpads spread that weight well. Some of our team have a slight issue with the narrow ear cups feeling unstable thanks to the angled stalk arrangement holding the earcup frame to the headband, but this can be improved by moving the position of the headband slightly. While we’re disappointed to find the lack of an in-line remote on either of the two cables supplied (1.5m and 3.0m), at least the cable chosen is quiet and highly resistant to transmitting movement noise when we’re out and about.
We do wish the Liric were designed to fold, though. It would make them more convenient for portable use.
These headphones improve quite a lot during the first few days of use. Our initial impressions were of a detailed but tonally bland presentation that offered little in the way of expression. Given time, though, things get more interesting, with large gains in articulation and finesse.
Once settled, these headphones sound impressively clean and clear. They have a wonderfully agile presentation that responds to changes in the signal effortlessly. We start with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s Carnage set and the Liric deliver Cave’s trademark gravelly tones with all the presence and grit they deserve. These headphones communicate the nuances superbly, leaving the listener in little doubt as to what the intended emotional impact of the music is meant to be. There’s a lovely consistency from the expressive midrange frequencies upwards, and a pleasing degree of focus to the sound. The lows are almost as good, but sound a little soft-edged in relative terms.
These Meze headphones are as impressive as they come where composure and control are concerned. Give them a complex piece of music such as Orff’s Carmina Burana and they are able to keep track of the multitude of musical strands without sounding strained. There’s a nice sense of spaciousness here coupled to class-leading refinement. The Liric’s high frequencies are crisp and have bite but never stray into undue harshness, even when provoked by less than perfect recordings.
Of course, these are highly transparent performers, so you’ll know about it if your source and amplification aren’t perfect, but at least the Liric don't go out of their way to make things sound worse than they are. Tonally, things are nicely judged with a small degree of additional richness at mid to low frequencies that helps to make thinner recordings a little more palatable.
As good as the Liric are, we’re not fully convinced by their dynamic ability. The subtleties are handled well but there’s a notable lack of punch, particularly at low frequencies. Listen to Massive Attack’s Atlas Air and the Mezes can’t deliver the song’s driving beat with the attack it deserves. This takes away some of the excitement of the piece. Similarly, for the great things these headphones do with Carmina Burana, we miss the full impact of the vicious crescendos that make the piece so memorable.
The use of magnetic planar drivers certainly gives the Liric a notable advantage against rivals that use more conventional dynamic drivers when it comes to information retrieval, clarity and articulation. And we think these Meze Audio headphones are right at the leading edge at their price in these respects.
They’re really well made and comfortable, too. The Liric certainly fulfill the portable brief fairly well, being easy to drive, though the lack of in-line remote and non-folding design counts against them in such a context.
Even so, with a bit more punch and drive, we think these would be a compelling proposition. Until then, they remain a credible choice laced with more than a few elements of excellence.
- Sound 4
- Build 5
- Compatibility 5
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