Meze Rai Solo: Steel Samurai

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out Meze’s midrange earphone offering, the Rai Solo.

In the realm of earphones Meze had some budget options in the 12 Classics and Neo and a premium offering in the Rai Penta, but were lacking presence with no products priced in between. Enter the Rai Solo. Released in late 2019 at 249 USD, it showed itself to be a competitive product thanks to a well-sized 9.2mm driver, ergonomic stainless steel housings, and a premium accessory kit which included a bespoke carrying case and a high quality, silver-plated cable. Now that we have entered 2021, the Rai Solo is even more competitive thanks to a drop in price to 199 USD.

I’ve been using the Rai Solo consistently over the last two months for everything from music to games to movies and have come away seriously impressed with the ownership experience. It easily goes head-to-head with other products in the price range and should not be overlooked.

Let’s take a closer look at why, shall we?

What I Hear

Tips: The Rai Solo comes with a wide variety of ear tips. Since I found the midrange to be the star of the show, I settled on tips that played to this region. The included medium bi-flange wide bore tips were absolutely perfect for me as they provided a great seal and let the Solo’s detail and clarity shine through. Smaller bore tips brought out some roughness in the mids and lower treble, but boosted the low end slightly, adding warmth to the vocals. Utilizing third party tips like Sony Hybrids or Spinfit CP100s provide a similar experience to the included small bore tips, but thanks to a softer silicone ended up providing a slightly smoother, improved sound. Other wide bore tips like generic JVCs or Spinfit CP145s gave me a similar experience to the included wide bore bi-flange set, but with reduced comfort (I prefer a stable, shallow fit with most products). If you like the sound of the bi-flange set but want something similar in a single flange design, those two might be worth checking out. Medium bore tips sounded virtually identical to the small bore sets in my experience.

The midrange of the Rai Solo is where my attention is drawn most when listening. Vocals come through loud and clear, able to cut through even the most busy of instrumentals. Check out Black Sun Empire & State Of Mind’s “Caterpillar (Drumsound & Bassline Smith Remix)” to see just how articulate they can sound against a congested background. They are plenty weighty as well, as heard on Calyx & TeeBee’s “Long Gone”. The Rai Solo does an amazing job with Calyx’s deep, textured vocals. Improvements could be found in timbre which is a tad cool and dry, keeping the Solo from sounding completely accurate. In all honesty, I’m okay with that. The more time I spend in the hobby, the less I care about complete realism. The earphone is the final step in a reproductive audio chain where each component flavours the sound. I’m totally okay with it bringing it’s own character to the party, as long as it can bring a smile to my face and bounce to my step.

The low end of the Rai Solo has gotten some flack in the past for being too light. It doesn’t offer the boosted sound of your typical v-shaped best seller, yet it’s still above neutral in terms of emphasis. A Boy & A Girl Feat. Megan Hamilton’s “Bridge Burner” shows that while fairly reserved, bass out of the Rai Solo is deep and offers good punch. The rumbling opening moments of Kavinski’s “Solli” won’t rock your socks through the Solo like in will in something bassier, ala. Sennheiser IE300, but it still moves enough air to provide a solid bite of visceral feedback. Texturing and detail are quite good with the Rai Solo easily handing the grunge and grit inherent to tracks from Tobacco and The Prodigy. Speed is quick enough to handle rapid transitions, but doesn’t provide the sort of snap you’d get from an armature-based low end, or small 6mm dynamic. On the other hand, it won’t distort as easily as those drivers when the volume is cranked and bass slamming.

The Rai Solo’s treble goes more for detail than sparkle with a prominent presence region and more relaxed brilliance region. As heard on Brookes Brothers’ “Carry Me On (feat. Chrom3)” treble shimmer is there, it’s just not prominent and forward. The lower treble bias leaves the Solo sounding extremely detailed and with outstanding clarity. Notes are crisp and well-defined too, which is apparent upon tossing on King Crimson’s chaotic live rendition of “Cat Food”. Texturing is less smooth than the bass and mids though. I find this adds a bit of extra character that helps to distract from the under emphasized upper end sparkle.

When it comes to sound stage Meze knocked it out of the park here. The Rai Solo sounds wide and deep with vocals that are placed just outside of the ear as the default positioning. I really enjoy the way sounds can trail off into the distance and found imaging to be quite immersive and accurate. Playing World of Tanks on PC and experiencing the sounds of shells ricocheting off your armour in random directions never gets old. Going back to Black Sun Empire & State Of Mind’s “Caterpillar (Drumsound & Bassline Smith Remix)”, the messy, heavily distorted track shows off the Solo’s above average instrument separation and layering. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Brainwavz’ B400, but it’s not too far off. Pretty impressive for a single dynamic.

Overall I adore the Rai Solo’s presentation. The bass is tight and punchy with just enough sub-bass emphasis to keep from feeling like there isn’t enough in terms of quantity. The midrange, while not the most accurate, is rife with detail, has outstanding clarity, and yet isn’t too peaky nor fatiguing. The treble is full of character too and brings with it a great sound stage and the sort of technical capability you’d want at this price. Nor a signature for everyone, but if you’re open minded or enjoy variety, there is lots of love. Also, if you’re a low volume listener the Rai Solo isn’t something that requires high volumes to get the most of. It still sounds excellent at moderate and low volumes.

Compared To A Peer (Volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

DDHiFi Janus (199 USD): The Janus is DDHiFi’s first earphone and like the Rai Solo, features a single dynamic driver per side. The Rai Solo’s bass presence is stronger, though extension is similarly good on both. Notes out of the Janus sound a little faster and better controlled, but they give up texture and detail to the Solo. The Solo also does a better job of holding onto extended bass lines which drop off too quickly on the Janus. The midrange of the Janus is simply fantastic and bests the Rai Solo’s already very good midrange. The Janus is more natural sounding thanks to a smoother, warmer sound and more accurate timbre. The Rai Solo provides more detail and achieves a greater level of clarity. Leading into the treble, the Rai Solo is quite a bit more energetic. The Janus really drops emphasis after 4k leaving it sounding quite mellow. Like the Rai Solo, notes are snappy and well controlled with little to no splashiness. Unlike the Solo, it sounds a little dull. The Solo once again is more detailed and provides greater clarity, in addition to the extra energy and liveliness. While the Janus’ treble is of good quality, just as good as the Solo, the lack of emphasis has me enjoying the Meze’s upper ranges considerably more. When it comes to sound stage these two go tit for tat. Both have a wide, deep stage with plenty of space and air between notes. To my surprise, despite the lack of emphasis at the extremes the Janus sounds even larger. It’s pretty impressive actually. Back into the Rai Solo’s favour is imaging accuracy, layering, and instrument separation which are all a small step above the Janus.

When it comes to build, the Janus is no slouch. Like the Rai Solo you will find the use of brushed stainless steel, however, it is only utilized for the front half of the shell and nozzle. The rest is clear plastic which allows you to see the unique innards. It’s likely not going to be as durable long term as the Solo as a result. Fit and finish on the Janus is a hint better thanks to even tighter seams, and I also like the cable more. While it’s not as visually stunning, the rubber sheath is thicker and more dense while also being more flexible and resistant to bends, kinks, and tangling.

While I enjoy the Janus more for commentary-focused content, the Rai Solo is more entertaining with basically everything else. Although the cable isn’t as good, I also appreciate the more durable materials of the Meze and find it more comfortable to wear for long periods despite being larger and heavier. Plus, the Janus provides barely any more isolation than an Earpod which makes it less than ideal for use outside of the home. The Rai Solo is more versatile and convenient with fewer downsides.

HiFiMAN RE600s (199 USD): The RE600s is a classic single dynamic earphone that has been out for quite a few years now. Starting with the low end, the Rai Solo offers more weight and punch with a slightly darker tone. The RE600s is smoother and faster, but falls behind in texture and visceral feedback. Leading into the mids, the RE600s has a slightly warmer, leaner and less dense sounding presentation with a stronger lower region presence vs. the Solo which peaks in the upper mids. This gives vocals on the RE600s a more intimate, forward feel at the expense of micro-detail. Timbre is slightly more natural on the HiFiMAN thanks to a hint of dryness in the Solo. Heading into the treble neither is particularly linear with both having peaks at 4k and 7k. The Solo’s 4k peak overshadows the brilliance region and gives it improved clarity and detail over the RE600s which seems to provide more shimmer and sparkle. Both offer well-defined, controlled presentations free of slop and splash. The RE600s has a well-rounded but fairly averagely sized sound stage which is quite apparent when pitting it against the Solo. The Solo sounds wider and deeper and does a better job of enveloping me in my music. The extra low end presence in particular helps with this quite a bit. In addition to sounding larger, the Solo provides a small improvement in laying and instrument separation, with similarly good imaging accuracy. If you enjoyed the RE600s but found it lacking bass, the Rai Solo might be just what you need. It provides a similar signature with improved bass response and slightly better technical ability.

Another reason you might want to go with the Rai Solo over the RE600s is the build quality. The fixed cable on the RE600s is pretty terrible. The cloth section is noisy and stiff, adjectives which can extend to the rubber coated upper section. I’ve used worse cables, but the RE600s’ is still pretty darn low on the list. The tiny aluminum housings compete better with the Rai Solo thanks to their excellent ergonomics and low weight that allow them to nearly disappear in the ear. They certainly don’t look or feel as premium as the Meze though, and come across quite delicate in comparison.

Overall I prefer the Rai Solo. It addresses some aspects of the RE600s I didn’t know I needed improved, like the bass response and overall clarity. It also offers vastly improved build quality, the cable in particular, while also providing notably better isolation.

In The Ear Meze always crafts some impressive looking products. Just look at the Rai Penta, 99 Classics, and Empyrean. The Rai Solo is no different and upholds my expectations for quality design from the brand. The use of stainless steel earphones gives the Rai Solo a unique aesthetic and upon picking them up immediately provides a sense of quality thanks to their weight and solidity. It is very curvy and smooth, completely free of sharp edges like the rear of the ADV GT3. Fit and finish is also quite good with seams and a cable that sits quite flush. The more budget oriented Exclusive 5 from TFZ has a similar shape and aesthetic, but lacks the same level of design polish. When it comes to telling which channel is which, the Rai Solo lacks any L/R markings, instead opting for coloured nozzles. With tips installed you can’t really tell which is which, but this is less of an issue than it might otherwise be. This earphone is designed to be worn cable up which is supported by the low profile fit and shape which really only feels comfortable when inserted in the correct orientation.

The Rai Solo’s braided cable makes telling channels easy thanks to thick, coloured collars surrounding each MMCX plug. It follows traditional scheming with red for right, blue for left. The rest of the hardware is just as thoughtfully designed. The y-split and chin cinch are rubber and as a result should be plenty durable and avoid showing wear. The 90 degree angled jack is extremely compact and looks quite pleasing thanks to a mix of a metal, logo infused jacket, and the same translucent rubber used for the y-split. A nice touch to the design is that the edges flare, similar in shape to a reared cobra, giving your fingers plenty of purchase when plugging the cable in or out. The silver plated wire is coated in a thin rubber sheath that is quite light and flexible, though it does have a tendency to remember kinks and bends. While I appreciate thin cables like this because they rarely get in the way, others are not so fond and prefer something thicker and more luxurious feeling, such as the Dunu SA3’s braided inclusion. Lastly, the Rai Solo’s cable uses memory wire to hold the cable securely around your ears. Normally I’d mark memory wire down as a negative, however, Meze did it right by using wire that actually holds the shape you set. Sadly, that’s less common than you’d think.

Comfort of the Rai Solo is pretty outstanding. Yeah, they’re somewhat weighty due to the use of stainless steel, but it doesn’t really matter because the ergonomics are fantastic. The nozzle angle is natural and the low profile design slots perfectly into the outer ear. I really can’t say anything negative about how the Rai Solo fits. It can be worn for extremely long periods without any fatigue. It is also one of the few earphones of this style that I can lay on my side in bed while wearing, although in that situation the memory wire sometimes gets in the way. Isolation is also above average in my experience. With the stock silicone tips (medium, wide bore bi-flange is my preference) installed and no music playing, while typing on my laptop I can barely hear the snicking of the keys. All sounds are greatly dulled and muffled and trying to hold a conversation at normal speaking volumes isn’t happening. Turn on your music and you’re on your own. Little sound comes through, even in noisy areas. With some third party foam tips, the isolation steps up to another level. If you frequently listen in loud areas and hate turning up the volume to counter incoming noise, the Rai Solo should make you a happy listener.

In The Box The Rai Solo comes in a very classy flip top cardboard box coated in a faux-leather looking material. On the front is a clear viewing window allowing you to peer at the gorgeously crafted earpieces and silver-plated cable. Above and below the viewing window you find the usual branding and model information in silver-foil. Adding to the classiness is how slender and compact these logos are, letting the earphones themselves make a statement and draw the eye. Down the left shoulder you find silver-foil renditions of the earpiece in four different orientations, and on the rear some features, like the use of their exclusive Unified Pistonic Motion driver, a stainless steel shell designed to reduce unwanted vibrations from the driver, and that a silver-plated MMCX cable is included.

Lifting and looking to the rear of the magnetically sealed lid you find a more detailed description of Meze’s Unified Pistonic Motion technology. Inside the package itself the earpieces, with cable attached, are nestled safely in a dense foam insert. You also find one of the most attractive, extravagant earphone carrying cases I’ve come across. It definitely takes queues from the 99 Classics case with the use of leather (faux?) and a large metal Meze logo front and centre. It is truly gorgeous. A little on the large side and more fit for a jacket pocket than pants, but who cares when it looks that good? Inside the case are the rest of the accessories. In all you get:

  • Meze Rai Solo earphones
  • 1.3m silver-plated MMCX cable
  • Carrying case
  • Velco cable tie
  • Single flange wide bore tips (s/m/l)
  • Bi-flange wide bore tips (s/m/l)
  • Bi-flange small bore tips (s/m)

Overall a pretty solid unboxing and decent accessory kit, with two highlights of note. The first of course is that case. In addition to looking amazing, it’s well constructed and has plenty of space inside of the earphones, extra tips, and a small Type-C dongle or DAP, like the Shanling M0. The second highlight is the wide bore bi-flange tips. These are the same style as those popularized by Sennheiser and adopted by Havi, ADV, and others later on. I find they provide an amazing seal, isolate well, and pair especially well with the Rai Solo. Often the stock tips are kind of useless, but Meze did a good job providing tips that pair well and offer enough variety to warrant the inclusion of various styles. The only thing missing are foamies, but you can scoop up a set for a few bucks so while it’s a disappointing omission, it’s nothing that can’t easily be overcome.

Final Thoughts A 199 USD the Rai Solo slots right in the midst of a segment of the market that has become hotly contested in the last couple years. It takes some something special to stand out, and in my opinion the Rai Solo is an unquestionable success.

From the get-go, the experience is a positive one. The packaging is attractive and not overly wasteful. The accessory kit features numerous sets of useful tips and an amazing carrying case. The earphones themselves look and feel stellar in the ear thanks to their ergonomic, organically curvaceous design and effective use of stainless steel. While I like the lean, light cable, some will prefer a heavier, more solid feeling option. The memory wire might be a turn off too, even though it works well and puts most memory wire systems to shame.

Most importantly, I think the Rai Solo sounds amazing. It has a detailed, forward midrange with tight, textured bass and smooth, crisp treble. This presentation is set within a spacious sound stage and isn’t fatiguing, even after long listening sessions. I can absolutely see some left wanting if they are accustomed to warmer, bassier earphones with a more recessed midrange. To you I say, give yourself time to adjust. The Rai Solo is extremely capable. It joins the Moodrop SSR/SSP, Shozy Form 1.4, and Dunu DK-3001 Pro as a personal favourite and gets an easy recommendation from me. Great job Meze!

Thanks for reading.

– B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Alexandra for arranging a sample of the Rai Solo for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my subjective opinions and do not represent Meze or any other entity. At the time of writing the Rai Solo was retailing for 199 USD: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-solo

Specifications

  • Driver: 9.2mm UPM dynamic driver
  • Diaphragm thickness: 9µm
  • Impedance: 16 Ohm
  • SPL: 105±3dB at 1mW/1kHz
  • Frequency response: 18Hz – 22kHz
  • Distortion: <1% at 1mW/1kHz
  • Stock cables: MMCX connector ending in 3.5mm
  • Warranty period: 2 years

Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s