Meze’s 11 Neo headphones are a follow-up to the Romanian-based company’s highly successful 99 Classics over-the-ear headphone. I’ve tried Meze’s previous offerings and I’ve become a big fan. When Meze reached out and offered me an advanced copy of their new 11 Neo, I was certainly excited. As you can read here, my initial impressions were quite favorable. Now it’s time to see how those initial impressions panned out.
Meze designed the 11 Neo for the audiophile on-the-go who wants superior sound without spending an arm and a leg. The 11 Neo are only $59. They are ultra-light, come with a beautifully-crafted round carrying case, and include the superb Comply foam replacement tips. The Comply replacement tips are made of memory foam and are among the most comfortable noise-blocking tips we’ve ever used. I’m not aware of any other IEM at this price-point that offers a pair of Comply tips at the point of purchase.
Mobile phone friendly
The 11 Neo are compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows. They comes with an integrated remote and microphone. The microphone sits on the right cord. It’s handy to note this because even after some close inspection, you’ll be confused as to which earphone is left and which is right. You have to look very closely at the base of each earbud to make out which is which. It’s not prominently done and it blends in with the color of the cable. I don’t know quite why Meze makes it so difficult to decipher which side is which in their cables. Just note that the right earbud is the one with the inline remote and you’ll be just fine.
Smart, ergonomic design
The shape of the 11 Neo’s barrels is very smartly designed. It’s inverse-curved barrel makes it feel natural to hold as you place the earbud in your ear. The similarly recessed butt of the barrel makes pushing the earbud into your ear easy and natural. You’re not fighting with the design to get a grip or a good fit.
The 3.5mm tip is long and thin. You’ll need to be careful so that you don’t snap it if you’re in the habit of putting your digital audio player in your back pocket. On the flip side, the tip fits through thick cases—such as mobile batter booster packs—with ease.
They Sound oh so right
I performed all my critical listening on an Astell&Kern A70 hi-res audio player and tested mobile functionality on an iPhone 6s. I’ll cut to the chase: these guys perform way beyond their $59 price-point. Right from the start, the Neo 11 stroke you with their smooth and natural the overall sound. In fact, I consistently noted how balanced these sounded. The top end sounded a bit rolled off, yet airy. The midrange was clean but exhibited perhaps only the tightest hint of warmth and occasional thickness, but was very well done. If I had to render any observation about the sound it would be that the dynamics were a tiny bit reserved from what I’ve heard with more expensive IEMs. But let me be clear, when I say tiny bit, it’s a tiny bit.
Pointing out some specific tracks and artists, sax on the DSD version of John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” danced with a silky texture. The 11 Neo rendered Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” from the DSD version of Dark Side of the Moon with a light, airy, open presentation. As much as you can get with an IEM, vocals and instruments were firmly placed in space and time. This came across beautifully on “Time” with the clocks striking with precision in their appointed place in space and… time. The 11 Neo didn’t just render the sounds, it recreated the space, giving notes a place to decay naturally.
Using the silicone tips, the bottom end was taut, but some may find that it doesn’t have enough punch for their particular taste.
If you feel that way, just use the Comply replacement tips. You’ll notice an immediate elevation in the bass response. Remember that with in-ear-monitors, bass response is directly related to the quality of the seal you can get with the ear tips. There’s nothing better than the Comply tips. They seal great, feel comfortable, and seal out a ridiculous amount of ambient noise. (A word to the wise: When you put on the Comply tips, make sure you don’t pull down on the memory foam but push on the plastic inner tube or you’ll risk ripping the Comply tip off its inner casing).
Using the Comply tips comes at a slight penalty, however. Even though you get a better seal and lower noise floor, the Comply tips add a slight bit of congestion to the upper bass and lower midrange. It ends up bleeding into some vocals. For example, with Adele’s “I Miss You” there was just a tiny hint of that, taking away the ultimate purity and soundstage separation of her voice. The same was true on the 24-bit hi-res version of the Beatles “Here comes the Sun” where bass and percussions were more forward and vocals were more relaxed into the soundstage. If you want more noise isolation or deeper bass, I think it’s a tradeoff most will gladly take.
I can’t think of another pair of in-ear-monitors at this price point that perform so well. But let me be clear, this isn’t just a case of “these things are good for a $59 IEM.” Oh, no no. These are just great IEMs period. How Meze is offering them for only $59, I don’t know. For that reason, we’re awarding these our Poor Audiophile Editor’s Pick.