Some background around Meze Audio:
Chances are if you’ve clicked here you probably have a fair understanding of what Meze Audio is all about by now. The Romanian manufacturer landed themselves squarely on the audiophile map in 2016 with the launch of their brazenly-distinctive ‘99 Classics‘. Their breakout model (as well as each of Meze Audio’s subsequent products) stood-out thanks to their unmistakable aesthetic flair, courtesy of former industrial designer and Founder/CEO Antonio Meze’s determination to make design statements as much as audio ones.
Far from being simply ‘fashion cans’, the engaging and natural performance of the $309 99 Classics made reviewers and listeners alike take notice of Meze Audio’s capabilities as a serious contender in the audiophile headphone stakes. The 99 Classics were subsequently followed-up with the affordable 12 Classics and 11 Neo IEMs, which managed to continue the theme of affordable performance, design and superb build-quality from Meze Audio.
So it was perhaps surprising that with only two core products in their stable, Meze decided to go ‘big’ and release no-compromise, genuine flagship products in the $2,999 ‘Empyrean’ planar-magnetic headphones (reviewed here by Lieven); and the ‘Rai Penta’ – a $1,099 universal-fit IEM featuring an array of five balanced-armature drivers. It even impressed Lieven enough to have it replace the ubiquitous Campfire Andromeda on our Best Universal IEM list. The luxurious-looking milled CNC aluminium chassis and attention to fit, finish and detail of the Rai Penta certainly continued the theme of Antonio Meze’s form-led design, backed-up with impressive construction.
So with a yawning gap between the $79 Meze 12 Classics and the $1,099 Rai Penta, it’s hardly surprising that Meze has decided to corner a wider section of the IEM market with the release of their latest offering – the brand-new $249 ‘Rai Solo’. Like its name implies, the Rai Solo features a single driver versus the more complex 5 x BA set-up in the Rai Penta – in this case, a full-range 9.2mm UPM dynamic driver which Meze claim utilises “unified pistonic motion technology”. At a glance, the exterior build is reminiscent of the Rai Penta, but injection-moulded stainless steel has been used for the Rai Solo rather than aluminium, finished with a softly brushed, brilliant finish.
So, have Meze managed to squeeze brilliance at a much lower price-point into their second product to carry the ‘Rai’ moniker? The Rai Solo certainly looks the part of a premium IEM, so let’s take a look and find out if we have another head-turning value contender on our hands from Meze Audio.
Presentation and design:
At first glance, the Meze Rai Solo certainly looks the part of a premium universal IEM. They arrive in a magnetized ‘windowed’ box, with the two gleaming shells resting inside along with a rather nice hard leather-like clamshell carrying-case.
The Rai Solo employs detachable MMCX-connectors and ships with a 3.5mm, four-wire litz cable, with each wire consisting of 20 silver-plated copper strands.
No fewer than 8 choices of tips are provided, a mix of single and double-flanged silicone options. The Rai Solo has fairly wide bore on the opening of the mesh-covered nozzles, so take note that not all aftermarket tip options will fit well.
And as for the IEMs themselves, well, they’re simply stunning. The raw stainless steel actually feels soft to the touch, with a fine polish that manages to make them look both matte and shiny all at once, depending on the way that the light catches then. They certainly feel durable and up to some punishment or mistreatment, but because they’re so nice I found myself wanting to absolutely baby these things. They look precious.
Meze said that they learnt a lot from the Rai Penta development process, leading to a similar familial shape between the Penta and the Solo. In addition to the finely crafted exterior, they went on to explain how the complex inner architecture has been able to be accurately produced en masse thanks to ‘Metal Injection Moulding technology’. Meze told us they are very proud to be offering this technology at this price-point, as it’s normally found in far more expensive products.
Wear and comfort:
Antonio Meze’s team put a big focus on comfort as a design goal for their products, and the Rai Solo is no exception. The shape of the shells fits superbly-well into my ears, and I happily used them for 3-4 hours at a time before needing a break – the wideness of the bores causing some minor discomfort only in my outer ear.
Of the multitude of provided ear-tips, I found that I wasn’t able to get a proper seal with most of them, but of course, your mileage may vary. The fact they’ve provided this many options at this price point is definitely a positive. Thankfully, the largest stock single-flange tips fit my ears perfectly out of the box, so I didn’t need to fiddle around too much in that regard.
The Rai Solo is designed to be worn over-ear, and as such uses memory wire to keep them firmly in place when worn. The 90-degree terminated cable is fairly light, and not at all microphonic when moving about. While it is slightly prone to tangling, the cable is overall very nice in this reviewer’s opinion, and unless you’re a believer that unobtanium-enriched cables will provide minutely important improvements in sound quality, you’ll be just fine.
One thing that stood out to me was the Rai Solo’s impressive passive noise isolation. Using the standard single-flange tips passive, external noise attenuation was very good, if not excellent for a universal IEM.
Sound impressions continue over the jump on page 2.