Meze Audio Liric Review
Written by Chrono
The Liric, which retails at $2,000, is the latest release from Meze Audio and is once again a product born from a collaborative effort with Isodynamic driver manufacturer, Rinaro. Now, the Liric is a very interesting addition to Meze’s line-up because it’s one of the few, high-end, closed-back, planar magnetic headphones available out there, and it’s also one that promises an exceptional listening experience both at-home, and on-the-go. So, in this article I’ll be sharing my experience with the Liric, whilst also drawing some comparisons to its open-back siblings, the Empyrean and Elite.
Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests
The Amplifier/DACs used in this review were the SPL Phonitor XE (with built-in DAC), Grace Design SDAC + A90, and the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Qobuz streaming service played via Roon (exclusive mode).
As a headphone that was designed with portability in mind, it’s no surprise that what you’ll first find when unboxing the Liric is a newly-designed, hardshell carrying case. It’s a little bit on the larger side, not too unlike the cases included Focal headphones, but I think that labeling it as portable or travel-friendly is definitely appropriate; especially if compared to the gun cases included with the Elite and Empyrean.
As for cables, there are two dual 2.5mm to 3.5mm cables packaged alongside the Liric. For stock cables, these feel very good to me; they’re very flexible, they aren’t noisy, and I really doubt that you’ll have any issues with them. Lastly, I’ll mention that the difference between the two cables is that one measures roughly 3m in length, whereas the other one measures 1.2m, and you do also get one 3.5mm to ¼” adapter.
Build & Comfort
I think at this point it’s what we’ve come to expect from Meze Audio, but I’ll say it anyway: the build on these is superb.
The Liric isn’t just a closed-back Empyrean or Elite, it’s using a new design from Meze that is considerably more compact, and it features a beautiful, clean, and elegant design. Everything on the headphone looks and feels the way you’d expect for a product in this price bracket, and immediately it’s noticeable that Meze ensured that these were crafted with the utmost care and attention to detail.
Seeing as the Liric’s design is quite a bit more compact than that of the Empyrean-style chassis, it’s unsurprising that it’s not as comfortable as its open-back counterparts, but it’s still one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn–certainly for closed-backs. With its magnesium chassis, the Liric clocks in at 390g when put on scale, but in actual use it felt lighter than that to me; which would indicate the headband and pads are effective at distributing the headphone’s weight. As for the pads themselves, they’re pretty comfortable to my ears but I will admit that their inner spacing is a bit on the narrow side, so users with really large ears might have some contact issues with the pads and it is something to keep in mind. Overall, though, I had no issues wearing these for prolonged listening sessions, and whilst I still think it’s not as comfortable as the ZMF Vérité Closed, I did find it to be much easier on the ears than the Celestee, Radiance or Stellia.
As I mentioned earlier, the Liric was made in collaboration with Rinaro, and as such, it’s the first closed-back headphone to be powered by an Isodynamic Hybrid Array. The driver utilized on the Liric is Rinaro’s MZ4 driver, which is essentially a scaled-down version of the MZ3 driver that was used for the Empyrean; complete with the same switchback and spiral voice coil shapes that aim to make reproduction higher frequencies more efficient.
Almost a week ago, I had my first listen on the Liric, and my first impressions were very strong. Several more hours of listening later, though, I can confidently say that, yeah, this headphone was by far the greatest surprise of the year for me and thankfully, it was a rather pleasant surprise.
For those who may have checked out my review of the Empyrean, you’ll know that it was very far from being my headphone of choice. Additionally, whilst I believe that the Elite is a significant improvement over the Empyrean, I still think that it’s not quite there for a headphone that retails at $4,000. However, now we have the Liric, and even though it doesn’t achieve the same level of technical performance as the previous Meze offerings, it’s the one that to me was most immediately enjoyable, with the most well-balanced tuning, and–sorry for the spoilers–right away I’ll say that it’s a competitive, exciting, closed-back headphone.
To me, the Liric’s bass response seems to lean a bit towards the warmer side. It’s got a generous bass shelf that lends it ample presence in the subbass region, but it’s also got a slight elevation at around 120-150hz, which subtly adds a bit more of a mid-bass kick.
For comparisons, I would say that for overall bass level the Liric is closest–in my opinion–to something like the Vérité Closed with Auteur pads, which has a bass shelf that is similar to that which is suggested by the 2018 Harman Target Preference Curve. Now, one thing I’ll note is that whilst the Liric isn’t as punchy as the Stellia or as the Vérité Closed, I do think that it does outperform them when it comes to reproducing the lowest of bass frequencies. As is commonly the case on planar-magnetic headphones, I feel as though the Liric does a better job at fleshing out that 20-50hz range, and it just provides that bit more depth and rumble in the low-end.
Barring a mild bump at around 1Khz, which can introduce a subtle but nasally timbre, I found the Liric to have a solid midrange tuning for the most part. When compared to the Empyrean, the Liric is a lot cleaner as it transitions from the upper bass to lower mids, with no swelling of fundamental tones that I could hear. Additionally, it’s got a much better contoured and present upper midrange when compared to the Elite, which in my opinion was a bit dark and lacking in energy at around that 3-5Khz region. As a whole, then, I do like the mid-tone reproduction on the Liric, as it doesn’t do anything that distracts me, and it properly represents fundamental and harmonic tones in a pretty natural way.
The treble region is what I think is the most interesting aspect of the Liric, and I think it’ll be its most divisive element when it comes to user preference. The reason I say this is because, for the treble region, the Liric has what I think is a slightly counter-clockwise tuning, so it is a little bit on the brighter side.
However, for me personally, that is precisely what I like most about the Liric. Unlike most closed-back headphones I’ve tried–like the Vérité Closed, Celestee, Stellia, or Radiance–which are generally quite warm and don’t tend to pronounce the highs as much, the Liric has exceptional upper treble extension, and it feels like all of the harmonics and overtones that embellish this region of the frequency response are nuanced in a way that I had only really heard from open-backs thus far.
Now, that isn’t to say that the highs here are perfect as there were two quirks that did stand out to me when listening to the Liric. The first and most noticeable one was that–like other Meze, Rinaro-powered headphones I’ve tried–the air region above 10Khz was a little too energetic; so, whilst I definitely appreciated the upper-treble extension, it could sometimes sound a little odd, or artificial since it was up-shelved by 3-4dB for tastes and preference. What this resulted in is that things like vocals had a bit much glisten to them, cymbals sounded a bit hotter, and instruments such as classical guitars or pianos had a subtle, but noticeable crystalline-like quality to them. Then there was also a peak at around 6Khz that despite not being overly-aggressive, could occasionally introduce some low-mid treble sibilance.
For detail retrieval and image clarity I think that the Liric delivers performance that is very suitable for its price point and when considering that it’s a closed-back. In my experience I didn’t find it to be as resolving as the Stellia, Vérité Closed, Empyrean, or Elite, but it produced an image of the music that was decidedly cleaner than that of–for example–the Focal Radiance.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Layering
For the Liric, Meze and Rinaro have introduced what they call the “PhaseX System,” and it aims at providing better spatial qualities for a closed-back headphone by delivering a more accurate phase response.
Now, that sounds very fancy, but in practice I’d say that the spatial presentation of the Liric is reminiscent of that of both the Empyrean and Elite, but it is undoubtedly more intimate and closer to the listener. For soundstage width and imaging, it’s not the most impressive as it’s roughly on-par with what you get on Focal’s closed-back headphones. However, where it is truly outstanding, and in my opinion performs better than most headphones I’ve heard, is in its instrument separation and layering capabilities, which it has certainly inherited from the Empyrean and Elite. All the tracks that make up a mix are very clearly defined, and it almost feels like even within a track you can hear the different recorded elements more clearly; it allows you to peer into the music whilst also enhancing the headphone’s perceived level of clarity and detail.
Dynamics is a category where I think that Liric is outpaced by most of its competitors. When talking about that bass, I mentioned that a midbass bump does sort of help it in creating a more pronounced low-end kick, but by and large I would not describe it as being a punchy headphone. Still, it does retain a very good sense of tactility that contours and textures things like the plucking of acoustic guitar strings, or piano keystrokes; capturing at least some of the energy behind performances.
I think that most listeners will find the Liric’s tuning to be a very enjoyable one out-of-the-box, even if it’s a bit bright. With my EQ profile, then, I just seek to bring even closer to my personal preference by turning down some of that upper treble energy, and by ironing out those slight bumps in the mids; they’re subtle changes, but they make for a noticeable difference overall… If you’d like to try out my preset for the Liric, these are the settings I used:
Peak at 120hz, -2dB Q of 1
Peak at 1000hz, -2dB Q of 2
Peak at 2000hz, +1dB Q of 3
Peak at 6000hz, -2dB Q of 1.2
High Shelf at 11000hz, -4dB Q of 0.7
By now it’s probably very clear that I’ve been both surprised and impressed by the Liric. Meze and Rinaro have undoubtedly succeeded in bringing their Isodynamic driver technology to a closed-back headphone that is lightweight, comfortable, fairly compact, and one that indeed sounds great. Honestly, as a former Vérité Closed owner, I think the biggest praise I can grant the Liric is that if I were in the market for a closed back headphone right now, I’d seriously struggle to pick between the two.
I had very low expectations set for this headphone since my experience with Meze’s higher-end offerings hadn’t been great thus far, but the Liric changed that, and it gracefully entered an increasingly competitive segment of the personal audio market at a pretty competitive price. Needless to say then, the Liric gets a very high recommendation from me–I highly encourage you to give them a chance, too.