Meze return with another earphone that promises an impressive price/performance ratio along with a stunning design. Whilst not as cutting edge as the Meze 12 Classics, the 11 Neo is still a new in-ear earphone that holds an important place in the under-$100 price range. With impeccable build quality that matches that of it’s higher priced sibling, the 11 Neo seeks to take a place in the smooth/natural under $100 earphones. But does the 11 Neo succeed or does it’s modest price shine through it’s sonic performance? Let’s find out.
I would like to thank Meze very much for sending me the 11 Neo for review. These are not a personal purchase and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. I will be as objective as possible during my evaluation of the 11 Neo.
Since the packaging, accessories and design are so similar, the majority of these sections will be taken from my Meze 12 Classics review.
The unboxing experience identical to that of the 12 Classics, that is to say, simple and well presenting. This time, Meze have employed a premiuk darker colour scheme.
As before, the front face showcases the earphones and model number whilst the rear displays the specifications, an image outlining the internals of the earphones and a small frequency response graph. They also have the Hi-res audio approval stamp and a little logo denoting the inclusion of authentic Comply ear tips.
Sliding off the top reveals the earphones in a foam inlet and the carry case just beneath. The cable is coiled just beneath the foam insert, Meze use a small reusable Velcro strap to fix the cable as opposed to a cable tie which is nice. The case contains the ear tips and shirt clip.
It’s a very practical carrying case of the typical zipper style hard case variety, but it’s one of the most compact solutions I’ve seen. They snugly fit the earphones coiled around 4 fingers with an elastic pocket that comfortably holds the shirt clip and an additional pair of ear tips.
The stock silicone tips themselves are decent but I had a hard time finding a comfortable fit among the various sizes (S,M,L and Double Flange). They’re well moulded but the hard reinforcement coming off the stem at the front is quite hard on the ear and the very rounded shape of the tips don’t sit particularly well in my ears. Luckily, Meze provide a set of Comply T series foam ear tips with every in-ear which gave me a great fit.
Since I do prefer a slightly brighter sound, I generally use silicone tips at home, so for the sake of this review I will be using Sony Hybrids. I would suggest that most buyers who prefer silicone tips pick up a set hybrids, they work for most earphones and provide greater comfort and seal than most stock tips. I also gave the Spinfit CP100’s a try but the flexible stems made the earphones unstable in the ear, I wouldn’t recommend using them with any of the Meze earphones.
The design is essentially identical to the 12 Classics from the housings to the cable. They employ the same fluted earpieces which carry similar pros and cons as before. However, instead of that eye-catching walnut wood/gunmetal hybrid, the 11 Neo instead carries a more subdued look, consisting entirely of aluminium.
They look and feel just as premium, but it’s strange that they still have seams in the same places even though the entire body is the same material. Regardless, the fit and finish is superb as before and the Meze 11 Neo are undoubtedly a fantastic looking earphone that supersede their $100 price tag. One thing I forgot to mention in my 12 Classics review was the amount of wind noise these earphones produce. Due to the shape of the rear, the housings are very susceptible to wind noise, which in addition to the prevalent microphonics, makes them much more suited towards in-door use. For comments on comfort and cabling, I will quote my 12 Classics review below since they are identical:
The indented rear makes insertion simple whilst the subtly curved housings make removal from the ears similarly effortless. Despite being fully sealed, there’s also no driver flex which will aid longevity. The Meze logo adorns the outer face, it feels laser etched not painted.
The use of a metal sound tube is also great for strength and rigidity, the metal mesh protector is similarly well finished, there are no glue marks or other indication of poor workmanship.
Visuals and feel aside, the housings are moderately sized for an in ear, they’re neither small nor large but easily dwarf the Shozy Zero and Klipsch X10. Due to the tapered design and relatively shallow insertion, the aluminium back did also produce a hot spot at the back of my outer ear after listening for about 2 hours. It’s noticeable but not excruciating, they still lack the long term comfort of smaller earphones such as those aforementioned. Fit stability is good for a cable down earphone, whilst I doubt they would stay put during a run, they sat perfectly fine during my morning walks and any kind of commute during the day.
Isolation is strangely not great, they actually isolate less than the semi-vented Shozy Zero despite being sealed, I can only attribute this to the shallow fitment of the earphones since the housings are so solid. During my time with the 11 Neo, I have found a more comfortable wearing method; basically, I use a larger tip than usual for a shallower fit, it sticks out more from the ear to the point that the rears of the earphones are beyond my ear. This does alleviate the hotspot I was getting but does, of course, negatively affect wind noise, isolation and fit stability, they were clearly not designed to be worn like this.
Moving down to the cable, I really like the smooth, ever so slightly rubbery texture of the cable. It’s not removable like the SE215 but few are around this price and the 12 Classics cable is a lot better than those usually installed on such earphones anyway. It’s pretty thick for an earphone cable yet remains very pliable if not super supple with a slightly springy quality. Combined with the smooth texture, the cable does resist tangles very well. Meze also build in a nice single button remote with integrated mic.
The mic sounds fine, at least as good as that on my HTC 10, coming through nice and clear. The single button remote functions on both Android and IOS, allowing users to play/pause and skip tracks. The button is easily discerned and has a nice click.
The jack and y-split are outstanding with a matching gunmetal aluminium finish and flexible strain reliefs on all terminations that are good but not the best I’ve seen. The earphones have a gold plated straight 3.5mm plug that’s tapered like the housings to aid traction on removal. I would have preferred a right angle plug seeing as this is an earphone designed for smartphone use but at least the plug is of great quality.
Microphonics are somewhat concerning however and cable does transmit above average amounts of noise, but still less than the Klipsch X10’s and ie800’s. Meze do include a shirt clip but I would still like a chin slider at the y-split.
I don’t feel that the Meze 11 Neo is necessarily a downgrade from the 12 Classics as numbering hierarchy would suggest. Rather, to my ears, the 11 Neo is instead a nice alternative with similar sound quality but a more balanced sound signature. This isn’t at all uncommon, plenty of people prefer the Shure SE415 to the SE535 for example and at the end of the day, sound remains a very subjective topic. In that regard, Meze’s earphones line-up really offer the best of both worlds; if you want a super punchy, dynamic and spacious sound, the Meze 12 Classics is a great buy. But if you want a very balanced, smooth and just slightly warm sound signature, then that is what the Meze 11 Neo will deliver. As with the 12 Classics, I took a brief listen out of the box and burnt them in, the 11 Neo’s have over 100 hours on them as of this review. Again, I’m not certain that this has affected the earphones physically or whether it has simply given my brain time to adjust to the sound, but the 11 Neo now sounds more open and balanced in general. In all fairness, I was listening to the Sony MDR-1A and Denon MM-400 before receiving these earphones, both headphones that are quite thick, warm and spacious sounding, making the 11 Neo and 12 Classics sound more unnatural and thin by comparison.
The balanced sound signature of the 11 Neo’s really flatters every genre, it’s definitely one of the best-tuned earphones I’ve tested in this price range. Bass is ever so slightly accentuated, sub-bass is full and mid-bass has a little more slam than neutral, upper bass is pretty neutral for the most part. Heading further up the frequency spectrum, the midrange has perfect presence, in line with the bass, and the 11 Neo is perhaps slightly mid forward. The midrange is pretty even overall, like the 12 Classics, the upper midrange is slightly more present granting a little extra clarity to the presentation. Treble is also quite similar to the 12 Classics though less emphasized overall. Lower treble is the most prominent then it gently slopes down from there. On a whole, treble is on the more relaxed side of neutral but not recessed. It is, however, more relaxed than the 12 Classics, an already relaxed sounding earphone.
The soundstage is not as spacious as the Meze 12 Classics due to the more forward midrange, but the 11 Neo still offers one of the more spacious presentations around this price. Width is very good and depth is above average too, it’s more of an oval presentation. Despite this, imaging is very accurate, more so than the mlre sculpted 12 Classics. Separation is also good, they sound perhaps less separated than the more spacious 12 Classics but complex passages don’t sound congested or overbearing. Whilst space and imaging are impressive overall, separation in particular does lag behind more expensive earphones, but is well performing at this price.
In terms of driveability, the 11 Neo are identical to the 12 Classics in sensitivity which made comparisons a breeze. With an impedance of 32ohms and a Sensitivity rating of 101 dB, the 12 Classics are very easy to drive but not the loudest earphone around. They’re pretty much identical to the Sennheiser ie800’s in terms of sensitivity which makes them similarly if not slightly less sensitive than the average earphone. They’re also similarly resistant to hiss, I didn’t notice any noise at all on my Oppo HA-2 even when listening on high-gain nor was there any background hiss when listening through my HTC 10, very good. The sound does seem to be slightly source dependent as they sounded slightly thinner through my HTC 10, but otherwise, they were almost identical. Most portable sources will have no issues driving the Meze 12 Classics to sufficient volumes. They saw little benefit running through my Oppo HA-2 as opposed to my HTC 10 and amping is not required but will produce very small improvements to the sound, namely the midrange becomes more natural.
The bass response is punchy and articulate but natural. Sub-bass extension is very good but still not the best I’ve heard around this price, the 12 Classics have more extension for instance. Sub-bass still has fullness and impact, it’s about neutral in quantity, rolling off at the lowest notes; I would say it’s similar to the Shozy Zero. The mid-bass response is the most accentuated of the entire bass response, but in the grand scheme of things, it remains quite balanced. This allows the bass to sound super punchy and tight without any tubbiness or bloat. Upper bass is similarly slightly boosted, providing a little warmth to the lower midrange, the entire bass response is textured with plenty of definition. I have no real complaints with the bass performance on these earphones, it’s a nice defined and well-rounded low end. The 11 Neo isn’t as vivid as the 12 Classics, but bass is more organic and natural in return. That being said, I would still point fans of more contemporary music towards the 12 Classics.
With a subtle focus, the midrange on the Meze 11 Neo’s really excels. Lower mids are spot on, just very slightly warmer and full-bodied than neutral, but very, very well-tuned on a whole. Male vocals have nice presence without being overly forward. There’s no muddiness or congestion and bass spill is minimal to non-existent depending on the track. Intelligibility is also great making video and movie usage ideal. Upper mids are similarly linear but slightly more forward as with the 12 Classics. This grants the 11 Neo with plenty of clarity but there is enough body to the upper midrange to avoid that overbearing sense of brightness; a lot of other cheaper earphones that pursue this sound tend to sound almost harsh. This is also helped by the 11 Neo’s spacious soundstage which grants instruments with plenty of separation. Detailing is also a standout in this price range, the midrange resolves a similar amount to the 12 Classics and Shozy Zero but also a lot more than the Klispch X10. All in all, the midrange is very impressive and one of the standout performers in this price range.
The high end of the 11 Neo’s is quite tame, sitting behind the midrange and bass response. There’s slight emphasis on the lower and middle treble (relative to the rest of the treble) but less than the 12 Classics. Overall quantity is below neutral, there’s still plenty of treble to retain detail and engagement but higher treble notes can sound quite distant and at times truncated; the clashing of cymbals aren’t quite as atmospheric as I would like and tend to suffer from that wood stick phenomenon. So treble is definitely more laid back, I would say it complements the rest of the sound rather than driving it like some rawer, more detail orientated earphones such as the RE-400. For those looking for a revealing, hyper detailed earphone, I would point you towards one of the leaner balanced armature earphones around $100-150. The 11 Neo trades such crispness for a softer sense of detail, smoothness and a more natural tone. At the end of the day, the 11 Neo is still a $100 earphone, it is not perfect, but a lot of listeners will enjoy its sound. The treble response is more resolving than other earphones around this price, the Shozy Zero for example has a slightly more recessed treble response, but also has a darker midrange that draws more attention to the high end whilst the Klipsch x10 simply rolls off, resolving less detail in the lower notes and failing to even reproduce higher notes.
The 11 Neo’s are, to me, an even more impressive offering than the 12 Classics. With a modest asking price of $80 AUD (even lower than the ~$100 12 Classics), the 11 Neo’s sit right in the sweet spot for those looking to upgrade from their stock or cheaper earphones but don’t want to go all out on a $300-400 monitor. The 11 Neo is ultimately a very balanced, versatile earphone whose hints of added warmth and relaxed high end will surely please both audiophiles and general listeners; boot up some jazz and the 11 Neo’s respond well with real weight behind each pluck of the bass, intimate vocals and a soothing high end that softens off sibilance and the brassiness of trumpets. Play some rock and the 11 Neo’s deliver plenty of kick along with raw, full-bodied vocals and crisp, if not atmospheric highs that hit but don’t shimmer. Finally, switching to some pop streaming from the top charts on Spotify, and the Neo’s similarly flatter these lower bitrate files; bass hits hard enough without dominating the sound whilst details pop with just enough clarity. They do still lack the vibrancy of the 12 Classics, but the 11 Neo’s natural sound is often just as rewarding and sometimes more so.
Accessories – 8.5/10, Nice unboxing with a reusable Velcro strap to keep the cable neat. The included carrying case is compact and protective with a pocket for additional accessories. The stock silicone ear tips are uncomfortable for me but others seem to be having more luck, the included Comply tips work wonders for ergonomics.
Design – 8.5/10, Visually stunning and functionally brilliant, the earphones are easy to handle and have a stable fit in the ear. Comfort is as subjective as always but I would guess that a lot of listeners would have some form of contact with the sharply angled rear of the earphones forming a hotspot in the outer ear over long listening sessions. The build is fantastic, the cable is great and the inclusion of a remote with mic is extra practical for smartphone listeners. The cable is quite microphonic but the included shirt clip mostly alleviates this issue.
Bass – 7.25/10, Sub-bass is well extended, bass is articulate, clean and defined. No bloat or muddiness, slight mid and upper bass emphasis.
Mids – 7.75/10, Very linear tuning, full-bodied but clear. Upper mids have nice clarity and detailing is spot on. Balanced but very slighlty forward.
Treble – 7/10, Very polite, smooth but might be too recessed for some listeners. Rolls off at the top, upper treble sounds slightly truncated. Perfect body, isn’t raspy nor thick.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation – 7.75/10, Simimlar to the 12 Classics overall, slightly less spacious and separated in exchange for more precise imaging. A great performer in this price range.
Verdict – 8.5/10, The Meze 11 Neo are a more balanced alternative to the similarly accomplished Shozy Zero and 12 Classics but are also a slightly more engaging alternative to the Hifiman RE-400. Whilst all these earphones have their own strengths and weaknesses, the 11 Neo is probably the more versatile of the bunch with class-leading build quality and a slightly warm sound that thrives in the ambient noise of daily commute.