Meze Audio LIRIC Headphone Review
- Sounds brilliant and largely free of some of the issues that bedevil planar magnetic designs
- Comfortable and well made
- Easy to drive and good resistance to outside noise
- Not cheap
- Possibly still too large to be a true portable
- Some limits to bass extension
Introduction - What is the Meze Audio LIRIC?
The Meze Audio LIRIC is a closed back, planer magnetic headphone. For regular readers of headphone reviews, that combination of words should be enough to give an immediate clue that the LIRIC is not a ‘normal’ headphone. It has in fact been developed to perform a fairly specific task and the nature of how often you see yourself needing such a thing is going to be entirely relevant to how you read this review.
The LIRIC is designed with a view to being a planar magnetic headphone that you can use on the move. The nature of how such a driver works means that this is not as straightforward as it sounds because planar magnetic drivers have traditionally done their best work in an open back style headphone and the nature of how they work means that most portable devices are going to have their work cut out to drive them to an acceptable level. In fact, in recent years, many planar magnetic manufacturers seem to have been engaged in a contest to build the least sensitive example that they possibly can. For the LIRIC to work as described, there needs to be some fairly clever engineering at work.
There is a successful precedent for this though. Long, long ago, before COVID and when the headphone boom was in full swing. Oppo built the PM-3 which was (still is) a genuinely usable portable planar magnetic headphone. The wrinkle that anyone who has clicked through that link will notice is that the PM-3 was a pretty affordable bit of kit. The LIRIC enters the market just shy of two grand which does rather bolster the expectations you might have of it. Is this a high end planar magnetic that you can use anywhere or a heroic technical blind alley? Let’s find out.
Specification and Design
As we have not looked at any product from Meze Audio prior to this point, the company warrants a short introduction. Based out of Baia Mare in Romania and founded by Antonio Meze, the design thinking of Antonio is audio equipment you can relate to in the manner you would a musical instrument. The earlier products made use of a fairly large proportion of off the shelf parts (and no disrespect should be taken from this because a great many fabulous headphones - and speakers - adhere to this principle) but as the company has grown in size and stature, it has begun to make use of more proprietary parts and thinking. This is where Rinaro Isodynamics comes in.
Rinaro is a separate entity to Meze. Based in the Ukraine, it was founded in 1985, as a state funded initiative in what was then the USSR, to investigate electro acoustics. The company survived the dissolution of the Soviet Union and has continued to undertake research and development on behalf of a variety of clients. For the last decade, it has worked with Meze to develop a series of models that make use of a planar magnetic driver that Rinaro has been developing for a great many years. I’m a simple soul, I make no secret of this. If you tell me that your product partly stems from a Soviet era think tank, I’m going to be interested in it; as back stories go, it’s a good one.
What has resulted is a driver called the MZ4 Isodynamic Hybrid Array. Unlike most planar designs there are two completely independent coils on the membrane which allows for better and more directed frequency performance. It has featured in the Empyrean and Elite models and the LIRIC represents the first time that the company has modified it. As the LIRIC is smaller than either and needs to be driven by less powerful devices, it has been shrunk and the sensitivity bolstered. As a piece of packaging, this new driver is a rather neat affair. The membrane itself has a surface area of 35cm2 and weighs less than a gram. It’s placed in a polymer housing that also holds the driving magnets. It’s a neat and effective piece of packaging; the LIRIC is slightly smaller than the Focal Celestee which uses a rather more conventional 40mm dynamic driver.
In a more conventional implementation, a planar magnetic driver would be open backed to improve the spaciousness on offer. To better adapt this driver for for closed back use, the LIRIC driver makes use of something called Phase-X. This is genuine secret sauce because neither Meze or Rinaro will be drawn on what it does other than to say it restores the ambiance and special performance lost when the mounting is enclosed. The process involves restoring the phase behaviour the recording had when made but there’s precious little information as to how it is done. Something that potentially has a role in it is the fact that the enclosure behind the driver is not solid and instead features an air management chamber to boost the acoustic volume (and reduce the all up weight). This is pressure equalised by a small vent on the outer cover of each housing.
The results of this hard work is a planar magnetic headphone that presents measurements that are not wildly dissimilar to the aforementioned Focal Celestee. The Meze is fractionally less sensitive and has a marginally stiffer impedance but there are dynamic driver alternatives that are harder to drive than the LIRIC is. Something that is worthy of flagging is the truly monumental claimed frequency response of 4Hz-92kHz which might be the widest I’ve ever seen on any product I’ve ever tested. By reference, as a 41 year old man, my hearing gives up at a whisker over 15kHz so it’s largely irrelevant but impressive nonetheless.
The headphone that all this hard work has been placed in adheres to many principles that I admire very much. Take the LIRIC out of its carry case and the first impression is that it is nice enough but nothing spectacular. Start to interact with them though and you begin to see where the money has gone. The chassis is made from magnesium with aluminium mounting posts and a steel yoke headband (the argument being that weight is less important in this part of the headphone and the relative flexibility of the steel is a good material for the band. This is a beautifully made headphone, it simply chooses not to shout about it.
And the name? Well, I give you the words of the head honcho himself as my own come up rather short by comparison;
“In our folklore, lyricism is found in the smallest of details, from odes to poems, from flute songs to the melismatic tunes of the “doina” (a style of voice singing specific to Romania). Our first closed-back isodynamic headphone was born out of love for music, poetry, and the indisputable attachment we have to our country’s culture.
We’ve been wanting to do a portable planar for a while, and following two successful collaborations with Rinaro, it was a natural next step. Naming it LIRIC was not a game of chance. It was an ideal metaphor to paint the authentic, vivid and poetic sound disguised behind its ethereal silhouette.”
Ethereal or not, it’s very comfortable too. The all up weight is 391g and this is well distributed over the head. The mounts have a decent range of movement and rely on the flex in the headband to sit on the head and there’s enough force to keep the LIRIC in place while moving around. It’s not as likely to stay put as an actual portable headphone when doing exercise but… be honest with yourself… in good faith are you likely to select a £1,900 wired headphone for a jogging partner? I think not. Then the LIRIC doesn’t fold up which means that the carry case, while far from unmanageable is fairly bulky in itself - certainly something that would be too much for cabin baggage on a short haul trip.
This does touch on the argument about exactly who the LIRIC is aimed at. I am as enthusiastic a proponent of high quality audio as you’re likely to meet but since true wireless earbuds have risen to prominence, the times I’ve taken anything else out with me have been vanishingly low. Having a wired connection to a playback device on the move is limiting and the nature of being outside means that the limiting factor to performance are the noises being made around you. This is a tremendous bit of equipment but in terms of most people’s requirements for audio on the go, it’s a sledgehammer to crack a nut. As a closed back headphone, immune to surroundings, both domestic and otherwise though, the concept has grown on me in the time they’ve been here.
As well as the decent carry case, the LIRIC comes with two cables; both terminated in 3.5mm jacks but one 1.5 and one 3 metres long. There is a cleaning cloth and a storage bag for the unused cable. Meze might be a relatively youthful company but they are more than up to the task of making equipment that feels like it belongs at this price point.
This is a beautifully made headphone, it simply chooses not to shout about it
How Was the LIRIC Tested?
The LIRIC has done the bulk of its testing with the Chord Electronics Hugo2 equipped with the 2Go wireless module and either reading content from an SD card or acting as a Roon Endpoint. Some additional testing has taken place with a Dethonray Prelude DAP and the Naim Supernait 3 running with a Chord Qutest and iFi Audio Zen Stream, again as a Roon endpoint. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Qobuz and Tidal.
More: Audio Formats
When I tested the Oppo PM3 all those years ago, I noted that it was a tremendously capable headphone but the changes and adaptations that Oppo had made to the operation of its planar magnetic drivers robbed it of some of the attributes of them. Six years later and at a wholly different price point, some of the same thinking applies to the LIRIC but, where the PM-3 had to give up on some of the positive aspects of planar magnetic designs, the Meze makes a creditable stab at losing their weaknesses.
Let’s deal with something important first though. The LIRIC might well produce a measurable output at 4Hz but, if you think that it’s going to trouble the Focal Clear MG or Sennheiser HD800S for low end shove, it might be best to abandon that idea now. The Meze has decent low end. Running with the Hugo2 and 2Go in particular, the bass it generates is deep enough to make an unscheduled trip through the different generations of the Electronic Battle Weapon mixes that the Chemical Brothers used to insert into their live sets (Battle Weapon 7 is particularly fine) - a tremendously entertaining experience. At the same time, there’s simply not the head throbbing welly that some dynamic driver rivals can muster for the task.
Something else that the LIRIC does that I’d describe as part and parcel of the planar listening experience is that at very low levels they lack a little excitement and, at the other end of things, when you elect to drive them very hard, they begin to lose their composure at a point where more conventional designs are still operating happily. What Meze and Rinaro have done is widen the sweet spot of happy operation to the largest I can remember with a planar magnetic design. Even the mighty T+A Solitaire P; still the best headphone I’ve ever tested, is more recalcitrant at lower levels than the LIRIC is.
This matters because the noise isolation of the LIRIC is good enough to ensure that you don’t have to run them very hard to enjoy a compelling listening experience and the drivers are able to make use of this too. This in turn means that the levels you tend to run electronics when listening to the LIRIC aren’t that high either and, in turn, if those bits of equipment are battery powered, they will last longer too. Checking levels against the Celestee (a headphone that has long since departed) is inexact but I don’t feel that LIRIC requires much (if any) more volume.
With these behavioural changes and adaptations noted, it is then only fair and just to say that the benefits of planar magnetic drivers are realised extremely effectively. The Meze has a transient speed that makes even the sublime Focal Clear MG sound fractionally slow by comparison. Moving away from the blistering electronica of the Chemical Brothers and instead enjoying the glorious seventies funk of Experience Unlimited’s Free Yourself, the LIRIC is invigoratingly lively. It handles dynamics and time signatures with an effortless immediacy that is a genuine delight to listen to. Part of what makes it so appealing is how naturally it is stitched into the rest of the performance. The Meze never feels like a headphone equivalent of my Acoustic Energy AE1s; where the speed is intoxicating but you need to overlook some significant limitations because of it. Here it is simply something that the LIRIC does as part of its wider capability.
This capability extends to truly excellent tonality too. Across the selection of tracks that make up her World on the Ground album, Sarah Jarosz sounds glorious in the hands of the Meze. There’s no unwanted emphasis to any part of the frequency response, simply a tonal realism combined with a transparency that makes for a tremendous listening partner. You can spend a very long time enjoying the LIRIC across a very wide selection of music and not feel you’ve unsettled it. It does reflect the differences in your partnering hardware too; the same SD card played via the Hugo2/2Go outstrips the Dethonray Prelude as well it should for the price difference and the Meze reflects this. The clever bit is that it does it in such a way that listening via the Prelude is still a wholly engaging experience.
It handles dynamics and time signatures with an effortless immediacy that is a genuine delight to listen to
Meze Audio LIRIC Headphone Review
Be under no illusions, the LIRIC is a specialist product. There will be somebody somewhere who chooses them as a device they predominantly use on the move and I wish them the very best of luck but I don’t think that there will ever be many people that choose to do so. Having the LIRIC on test over the Christmas period was instructive though. Their closed back nature makes them tremendously accomplished for continuing listening when you are in the same room as people doing other things and their carry case keeps them safe in busy households. If you start to view them, not as an ornate portable but an environment resistant home headphone, they make more and more sense.
And they do so because the engineering and design that backs them up is extremely good. Even without the Cold War drama, it’s clear that a number of very clever people have striven to make this a largely viceless headphone and they have succeeded in doing so. The LIRIC represents a specialist but supremely capable arrival in the headphone category and one that comes Highly Recommended.
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