Meze 11 Neo: Aluminum Ace
Today we are going to be checking out Meze’s entry level product, the 11 Neo. Morpheus would be so proud.
While they’ve been around for a while now Meze really found their stride with the 99 Classics, a headphone that has since their release in 2015 thundered on to become quite the beloved product. This year we see the release of their new in-ear models, the 11 Neo and their upgraded, wood-infused counterpart, the 12 Classics.
As an all-aluminum offering and the only wood-free product in Meze’s lineup, you might be quick to disregard the 11 Neo as a simple budget offering. I’m here to tell you that underestimating this little guy is not a wise move. It offers up most of the performance and features of their more expensive sibling at a more budget friendly price.
I would like to thank @MezeTeam for sending the 11 Neo along with the 12 Classics as part of their Head-fi 12 Classics review tour. I am not receiving any financial compensation for this review and all comments and views within are my honest opinions. They are not representative of Meze or any other entity.
The 11 Neo can be purchased from Meze at the cost of 59.99 USD and is available in two colors;
A Little About Me:
Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread and being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own reviews. Fast forward a couple years and I’ve had the opportunity to write about some great products for wonderful companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, and Meze. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done.
The gear I use for testing is pretty basic composing of an XDuoo X3 (with Rockbox update) HTC One M8 cellphone, Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Plantronics Rig USB amp. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. When it comes to signature preference I tend to lean towards aggressive and energetic, but I try not to limit myself to one signature only. I also tend to listen at lower than average volumes.
Packaging and Accessories:
If you’ve checked out any review of the 12 Classics, the 11 Neo’s unboxing experience will be familiar. If not, know that it is quite pleasant and appropriate considering the cost of entry. The cardboard selected for the exterior packaging is much thicker and more durable than the flimsy stuff used by most of the competition. There are some direct nods to Meze’s trident logo which are pretty cool, such as the way the earphones are oriented in the image on the front of the package and again inside in the way the earphones themselves are stored. I personally prefer the black theme the 11 Neo has going on as it contrasts nicely with the Iridium colour choice and looks a little classier than the 12 Classics’ white theme.
Meze didn’t clutter the box with marketing speak, instead using the space to show off the earphones, features, and accessories. The frequency graph and blown up image of the 11 Neo’s constituent parts are nice touches.
The included accessories are everything you need to ensure a good listening experience. You are provided the same silicone tips provided with a trillion other earphones in s/m/l, and a set of dual flange as well. Meze also includes a set of genuine Comply T500 Isolation tips. I didn’t think they would suit the 11 Neo since they’re not a bright earphone, but they paired surprisingly well and helped combat microphonics (cable noise). The shirt clip helped with that too.
Overall the 11 Neo’s unboxing experience is pleasant. The presentation is very clean and straightforward, and the included accessories pair well with the Neo and their sound signature. Great job Meze.
Build, Design, Comfort, and Isolation:
Based on my experience with the 99 Classics, I had high hopes for the 11 Neo. Meze didn’t disappoint. While the 12 Classics have the edge in the looks department, the 11 Neo nail fit and finish and are one of the most well put together pair of earphones I’ve come across.
The all-aluminum housings are finished in a beautiful matte silver, or Iridium as the color choice denotes. While you can see the seams where the three component parts of the housing connect, there are no unsightly gaps or rough edges. The Meze logo printed on the rear of the housing is also very crisp with well-defined details.
Meze selected a quality cable for the 11 Neo, one that is shared with the 12 Classics. It’s thick and has a hefty, dense sheath that is reasonably flexible. Memory of bends or kinks isn’t a worry. It would be near perfect if it wasn’t for the overly invasive microphonics (cable noise) that nearly ruin the experience. Luckily, wearing the cable over-ear negates the issue more or less completely. I want to point out and give great thanks to Meze for getting strain relief right. At all major intersections the relief is present and effective; jack, y-split, in-line controller, and leading into the earpieces. See, everyone who is not Meze; effective strain relief isn’t difficult to implement.
The 11 Neo are very comfortable and I can only see someone having issues if they need extremely slim nozzles like those found on the Shure SE215, Fidue A31s, or Klipsche S3. The front nozzle section is smooth and curves naturally into the rest of the housing, completely free of sharp edges or awkward angles. The curves continue along the body of the housing making gripping them easy and natural as they conform to the shape of your fingers. Finally, we get to what is oddly my favorite part of the 11 Neo, just as it was on the 12 Classics; the rear dimple containing the Meze logo. For whatever reason I find it immensely satisfying to set the tip of my finger on there. It’s also useful for inserting them into your ear. Meze did their homework and nailed ergonomics.
Isolation is solid, and better than I was expecting given there are two vents in each earpiece; one right behind the nozzle and another in front of the strain relief. At the overly low volumes I listen they were unable to fully snuff out the whirling dervish that is my work computer and it’s horribly noisy fans; not so much of an issue at more average listening volumes. It was also enough for walking around in the real world, letting in just enough external stimuli to remain fairly safe.
Overall the 11 Neo are an attractive, comfortable earphone made from quality materials. Fit and finish is flawless too. While not a deal killer, the cable noise is unacceptably intrusive.
Tips: I’m a big fan of tips rolling and feel it is integral to getting the most out of your earphone in terms of both comfort and sound. The stock tips Meze provides are about as generic as they get, but they work. I have no complaints about them whatsoever. They’re comfortable, they don’t feel cheap and flimsy, and they pair well with the 11 Neo’s sound signature. That said, I use KZ’s new star tips. They give me a more consistent seal in my left ear, and the wider bore brings the treble forward a touch.
Amping: I honestly didn’t spend much time with them attached to my NX1 or Rig USB amp. The 11 Neo paired beautifully with my HTC One M8 and XDuoo X3 so the need just wasn’t there.
The 11 Neo is a lovely sounding earphone with a signature that should cater to a pretty wide audience. They aren’t quite as balanced or technically competent as their walnut stablemates, the 12 Classics, but they’re no less appealing.
Their 8mm, titanium-coated dynamic drivers are characterized by a warm and silky smooth signature. These are easily one of the most chill earphones I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Their sound is well-weighted, tilting ever so slightly towards a thicker more meaty presentation. I chalk this up to a somewhat confined soundstage and some extra mid-bass. Despite this, their mid-range is stunning. If a fan of progressive rock, the 11 Neo will make for a great companion. Treble is tight, well-controlled, and well-extended, but dialed back a bit in favor of the sweet mid-range and tight, punchy low end.
Despite the somewhat compressed soundstage, imaging remains excellent. Sounds swirl and twist around you with confidence avoiding any ‘dead-zones’. If a fan of highly detailed earphones, the 11 Neo might not cut it for you. Like the 12 Classics, I felt it was merely adequate doing only what was needed to maintain an inoffensive yet highly musical presentation.
The 11 Neo snuggles up to your ear canal and whispers sweet, soothing tunes to you. They breed familiar and immediately pleasing experiences that make them a very easy recommendation.
KZ ATR (under 10 USD): The ATR is easily one of my favorite budget earphones and offers buyers an experience far beyond what their ridiculously low price tag would lead you to expect. For under 10 USD you get a well-balanced signature with solid detail.
The 11 Neo feels like a direct upgrade in most aspects. They’re both quite warm with a mild mid-bass focus, relaxed yet well-extended treble, and a delicious mid-range. The 11 Neo falls short on overall airyness and soundstage size, but their layering, instrument placement, and stereo imaging are clearly a step ahead.
The 11 Neo is, as you would expect, the better built of the two. Aluminum vs. plastic housings and excellent vs. good strain relief. Their cables are similar, though KZ’s offering is slimmer, more flexible, and a touch grippy which can be annoying at times.
The ATR features an over-ear design quite reminiscent of the ATH-IM50, which isn’t for everyone. Even with their extremely thick nozzles they’re one of the most comfortable earphones I’ve used, though I feel most would prefer the more traditional barrel-shaped design of the 11 Neo.
If looking to upgrade from the ATR while maintaining the same general signature, the 11 Neo would be an excellent option. The 12 Classics would be an even better choice however, as their signatures are even more in line with each other.
Meze 12 Classics (79.99 USD): How do the 11 Neo hold up against their more mature sibling? Quite well, to the point I feel the 11 Neo offers better value and is the model to get if you don’t absolutely need the sexy walnut wood housings and are willing to sacrifice what would to most listeners would be a negligible level of technical competence.
The 12 Classics and 11 Neo share sound signatures, design, and for the most part, materials. The 12 Classics have slightly more emphasized treble and mids. The 11 Neo are a wee bit warmer, smoother, and slower, sacrificing some detail for listening ease. That said, unless listening to them back to back, your average listener probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Build quality and ergonomics are identical minus the 11 Neo swapping out the walnut for more aluminum. To me, that by default means the Neo will be the more durable and longer lasting of the two.
Accutone Gemini HD w/ blue filters (129.00 USD): The Accutone Gemini HD offers up a shockingly similar experience to the 11 Neo, just with greater technical competence. A larger soundstage all-around and a lot more detail, but with the same uber-smooth, inoffensive presentation and accurate imaging.
Comfort on the 11 Neo is definitely better. They’re lighter and lack the somewhat sharp frontal housing edges the Gemini HD suffers from. Build quality is excellent on both with the 11 Neo coming out ahead due to the less-than-premium feeling inline mic Accutone uses. The Gemini’s cable is also on the thin side and strain relief is almost entirely absent, but it is very flexible and well-controlled. Even when worn cable down, cable noise isn’t really a “thing” which is a huge plus compared to the 11 Neo.
If you really enjoy the 11 Neo’s signature and presentation but feel the need to upgrade to something that’s more technically competent, the Gemini HD would be a good place to start.
The 11 Neo are a beautiful looking and sounding earphone with a sound signature that does nothing but please. Ergonomics and comfort are top notch, and the cable is stellar pending you can deal with the microphonics. The in-line mic is a practical addition for use with a phone, and the material quality top-to-bottom is outstanding.
While I can’t deny that the 12 Classics are the more appealing of Meze’s new earphones, the 11 Neo offers up nearly the same experience for 20 USD less. Why do you have to make choosing between the two so difficult, Meze?
Thanks for reading!
Aesop Rock – Saturn Missles
BT – The Antikythera Mechanism
Daft Punk – Touch
Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)
Incubus – 2nd/3rd/4th Movements of the Odyssey
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians
Infected Mushroom – Deeply Disturbed
Jessie J – Bang Bang
Kiesza – Hideaway
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)
Skindred – Death to all Spies
Supertramp – Rudy