Today we’re checking out the reworked 12 Classics from Meze Audio.
The original 12 Classics released in 2016 brought a more affordable product to Meze’s lineup alongside yet another timeless design. While it was a very competent earphone there were some areas that could have used attention; the cable and an overly safe tune that was somewhat lacking micro detail.
Meze must agree that they hit the nail on the head with the look and ergonomics of the original 12 Classics as the V2 shares it’s predecessors shell, save for a new colourway. They’ve also swapped out the cable for a much more pleasing cloth-coated unit and reworked the sound into something I find considerably more entertaining.
Let’s take a closer look as the 12 Classics V2 and why I think this is how you successfully rework a product.
What I Hear
Tip: The included tips feature a smaller bore which helps raise the low end of the 12 Classics V2 slightly. They sound fine, but my preference was for wide bore tips which balanced out the sound slightly, namely those from JVC, the ADV Eartune Fidelity U, and the Spinfit CP145. I recommend the CP145 for those that need a deeper fit, the JVC’s for cable down wear, and the Fidelity U for cable up wear. Sony Hybrids are a more comfortable alternative to the stock tips should you like how those sound but want something a bit more plush. I didn’t try the 12 Classics V2 with longer bi-flange tips since I prefer a shallow fit. If you have a set of the Sennheiser style bi-flange tips that come with the Rai Solo (which I wish were included with the 12 Classics V2), those are a solid alternative to the JVC set, but with slightly improved isolation.
Treble out of the V2 is very well-tuned to my ears. Notes are clean and well-controlled without any splash or grain. Just clean, smooth, fatigue-free sound. The bias towards lower treble regions provides lots of detail without crossing over into harshness. Upper treble is pretty chill for the most part save for a small peak at 7k that adds shimmer and sparkle and helps to keep the presentation airy and spacious. Since the peak is quite mild, it’s not a tiring sound and even on busy, messy tracks like King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”, the V2 avoids congestion or the blending of instruments and effects. The fairly rapid attack and decay the V2 possess helps, possibly due to the use of Titanium for the driver coating. It all sounds very JVC-esque and reminds me of the HA-FXH series of tip-mounted micro-driver earphones that I loved so much many moons ago.
The midrange is one of my favourite aspects of the 12 Classics V2 thanks to a satisfying upper midrange push, similar in effect to what Moondrop did with their Spaceship series. Vocals are prominent and extremely clear, but avoid crossing into shouty territory. Notes are warm and weighty with a satisfying density to them that finds a middle ground between overly thick or thin. It suits my preferences quite well. Detail, clarity and coherence are all strong points too with the V2 consistently impressing from track-to-track. Sibilance is also well-managed, though not quite as impressive as the class leader KB EAR Diamond where it is almost completely absent, even on tracks like The Crystal Method’s “Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes)”. Timbre is yet another strong point with instruments sounds like they should. Nothing comes across overly bright, woody, or dry sounding.
Bass is where the V2 surprised me most. As an avid listener of the original 12 Classics, I found the low end plenty satisfying. While mid-bass biased, it was well-weighted and warm but somewhat lacking visceral feedback. Perfectly competent and inoffensive with a relaxing quality to it. The V2 evens out the sub- to mid-bass transition, dials down the warmth, and greatly improves upon texture, detailing, and speed. Sub-bass also hits harder. It leaves the original sounding somewhat lethargic and bloomy in comparison. The new bass tuning does a fantastic job of supporting the V2’s overall more lively and energetic presentation. On tracks like Havok’s “D.O.A.” where the rapid double bass notes can slightly blend and smear on the original 12 Classics, the V2 keeps everything well-defined and crisp. It’s all very technically sound while losing none of the musical nature of the original.
When it comes to sound stage the 12 Classics V2 follow in the footsteps of their more premium cousin, the Rai Solo. Staging is quite wide and fairly deep with a generally well-rounded balance. Vocals have a default positioning just outside the ear which helps quite a bit with the initial feeling of space. Also helping with this feeling of space is the V2’s instrument separation. As mentioned earlier, sounds remain separated and distinct. They are also well layered, though I wish this were slightly more exaggerated. Imaging is tops in this price range for a single dynamic. I really enjoyed listening to Infected Mushroom through the V2 as it did justice to the way sounds fly from channel-to-channel. It also worked well with gaming enabling me to pretty easily track movement.
Compared To A Peer (volumes matched using Dayton iMM-6)
Dunu DM-480 (69.00 USD): Bass out of the DM-480 is less balanced with more of a skew towards sub-bass regions. This gives it a more visceral presentation, but with less warmth and mid-bass punch. I also found the V2 to provide slightly more texture and detail, though the difference is not profound. Leading into the mids the DM-480’s are less forward. Timbre is on the cool, dry side compared to the V2, though detail and clarity are matched. Treble out of the Meze is smoother and provides a bit less detail I find them equally snappy, though the Dunu can feel slightly out of control when things get busy. Sound stage on the two is comparable with the Meze’s less intimate vocals giving it an edge. Imaging is more precise out of the Meze, while I found the Dunu to provide slightly improved layering qualities. Instrument separation out of the Meze is more impressive, with the Dunu’s mild splashiness hindering it’s performance here. The biggest difference, however, is just how much more refined the 12 Classics V2 sound. Despite both using titanium coated drivers, the drivers in the Dunu add quite a bit more grain to the sound. It also crosses into harshness every once in a while, and is notably more subject to sibilance.
In terms of build and ergonomics, these two could could not be much more different. The Dunu’s shells are a low profile, 3D printed acrylic design while the Meze have a more traditional bullet-shape with walnut wood and aluminum construction. They both look fantastic and are equally well-built. I guess it comes down to which style you prefer, or which you think is more attractive. For me it’s a toss up. I prefer the look of the Meze, but the low profile, highly isolating design of the Dunu. When it comes to their cables the Dunu uses a removable 2-pin design. I’ve used numerous other earphones with the same or very similar cable, and it has proven to be very durable. It also has low microphonics. As much as I appreciate the upgrade Meze applied to the V2’s cable, it’s fixed, cloth-sheath design isn’t as confidence inspiring in the long term.
Overall I greatly prefer the sound of the Meze, but the ergonomics and cable of the Dunu. If I had to pick just one, Meze all the way. The sound quality is a pretty notable step up in my opinion, while the fit and cable are more than good enough.
Shozy Form 1.1 (74.00 USD): The Form 1.1 is a 1+1 hybrid with a beryllium-coated dynamic driver. Shozy did an outstanding job selecting and tuning the balanced armature to match the tonality of the dynamic, but even so, it doesn’t sound quite as coherent as the 12 Classics V2. Treble on the Form 1.1 is brilliance region biased with more relaxed lower treble and a stronger 7k peak. As a result, it provides a more vibrant listening experience at the expense of fatigue over longer listening sessions. It also brings with it more detail and improved clarity over the Meze, though notes aren’t as tight and sound a bit more loose vs. the 12 Classics V2. Heading into the mids they are quite a bit more forward on the Meze. Vocals out of the 12 Classics are thicker but slightly cooler. The Form 1.1 offers slightly improved detail and clarity. Timbre on both is good with the Meze sounding a hint more natural. While bass quantities aren’t vastly different, the Form 1.1’s significantly altered balance leads to me perceiving it as much bassier. While the Meze’s bass is tighter and more textured, the Shozy’s provides a more visceral experience thanks to great sub-bass emphasis and a slower, punchier mid-bass. When it comes to sound stage I much prefer the Meze. The Form 1.1 has quite an average stage. It feels well balance din terms of width and depth, like the Meze, but comes across decidedly closer to the ear. Imaging is just a tight and nuanced as the Meze with the Shozy providing slightly better layering and instrument separation.
When it comes to build and design I definitely prefer the looks of the Meze. The Shozy is more comfortable for me, however, thanks to the low profile design that fits my outer ear perfectly. I also found it to have better fit and finish while makes sense given it’s not using imperfect, organic materials like the Meze. For 12 Classics has the superior cable to me though, even if it is fixed. Like the Meze, the Form 1.1 uses a cloth-coated sheath. Unlike Meze’s cable, this one is prone to tangles and kinks. Noise is kept to a minimum thanks to the over-ear design, and even after almost a year of use there is no apparent fraying, so that’s a plus. Even so, I’d much prefer it to have the cable from the 12 Classics V2.
I’d be perfectly happy owning either, but the Meze’s tuning and appearance is more to my taste. The Shozy is the more ergonomic earphone though, and I would much rather have a removable cable than fixed, but those aren’t quite enough to give it the edge for me.
In The Ear Meze’s design chops are pretty much unmatched in the hobby, in my opinion. The 99 Classics are some of the most beautiful headphones ever produced. The 12 Classics V2 utilize a much simpler design, but are no less attractive. Like their predecessors, the V1, the housings are a fairly traditional barrel-shape, but with some sensual curves. Around the waist the housing tapers in which is not only a gorgeous, subtle design queue, but it makes it easy to grip the earphone. On the rear my favourite feature of the V1 returned, that being the dimple containing the Meze logo. It’s useful for inserting the earphone, but also fits the tip of my finger perfectly. I rarely sit still and tend to always be tapping my foot, clicking a pen, spinning the dials on my camera, etc. The rear of the housing acts almost like a fidget aid and keeps me distracted, when I’m not listening to music through both earpieces of course.
In addition to looking lovely in the new black and copper colour scheme, the V2 is built quite well. I would say it’s even improved slightly over their predecessor. The walnut wood and aluminum front and back plates fit perfectly together now with none of the rough(ish) edges found on the V1. All logos are writing are laser etched and will not wear off over time. The aluminum hardware is flawless with smooth curves and rounded edges. Strain relief at the compact straight jack is short but weighted just right to provide protection from bends. I was very pleased to see that both ends of the y-split are relieved which is a rarity. Even more rare is that the rubber used is soft enough to flex and provide protection to the cable, and protection is just what the cable needs.
As with the original 12 Classics, the cable is fixed so when it eventually fails you’ll be in the market for a new earphone (12 Classics V3?). Unlike the original 12 Classics cable, this is one I can get behind. The original’s cable was very durable and looked nice, but it was stiff and the microphonics were extremely intrusive. The user experience was poor. The new cable is fabric coated and provides a much more satisfying experience. It is very light and flexible with good tangle resistance. Cable noise is still an issue and I wish Meze installed a chin cinch to help with this, but it’s not unbearable and can be reduced significantly by wrapping the cable up and around the ear. I also worry that it will start to fray at common bend points (y-split and jack) as is typical of cloth sheaths, but only time will tell. Not a single thread has frayed after two months of heavy use, which I consider a good sign for overall longevity. I’ve found most cloth cables to start fraying within the first couple days of testing.
Thanks to the standard barrel-shape and light weight, I found the V2 to be a very pleasant earphone to wear. The nozzles at their widest are about 5.5-6mm which is pretty standard. Only those who need slim nozzles like those found on the Shure SE215 or ADV Model 3 are likely experience fitment issues. For everyone else, these will fit just like you are used to. No tricks required to get a good seal and find comfortable positioning. If you decide to swap tips, the prominent nozzle lip does a great job of holding most third party tips in place. For me, I like a wider bore so I’ve been using the V2 with medium JVC tips or Spinfit’s CP145 which helps get a deeper seal.
When it comes to passive sound isolation, the V2 does a good job. I’d say it’s improved over the V1 and maybe slightly above average in the grand scheme of things. There are small vents are the base of the nozzle and just in front of the strain relief where the cable enters the housing, but they don’t let in much noise, nor cause a racket when walking around in a windy environment. I can easily wear these when out and about at just a couple notches above my typically low volumes. Indoors, I can keep volumes low since so little passes through when music is playing.
In The Box The 12 Classics V2 come in a fairly flat, squat, lift top box. On the front is the usual branding and model info, as well as an image of the earphones positioned to reflect Meze’s logo. Down the right spine you find a list of product highlights and contents. Flipping to the rear you find a breakdown of the construction of the V2, along with the all-important specs and a couple highlights repeated from the spine. Lifting the lid you find the V2 and straight plug nestled tightly into some protective foam, shaped in a way to match the design on the lid. Nice touch. Below them is a slender clam shell case embossed with the Meze logo. Inside the case are the accessories. In all you get:
- 12 Classics V2 earphones
- Clamshell carrying case
- Velcro cable tie
- Single flange ear tips (s/m/l)
- Bi-flange tips (m)
Overall a very straightforward unboxing experience with few frills and little waste. Receiving a case and one set tips is pretty much standard for the price. While it would have been nice to see more included, Meze matched the norm while exceeding what some more stingy brands provide, such as KZ and their tips-only approach.
Final Thoughts Meze has been working hard over the years to create a competitive, class-leading lineup within a wide variety of price segments. The 12 Classics (and 12 Neo for that matter) were getting long in the tooth and the market moves quickly, so the time for Meze to re-enter the budget realms with a bang was overdue. The 12 Classics V2 is just the ticket. Not only does it uphold Meze’s design chops but it sounds fantastic and goes toe-to-toe with some of my favourites of the past year.
The Moondrop SSP-like tuning has tight, textured bass, gloriously forward mids, and clean crisp treble. It’s not fatiguing, the presentation is spacious and technically capable, and it’s a joy to listen to. The raised upper mids will undoubtedly bother some listeners, but for me it’s just right. I wish Meze had equipped the 12 Classics V2 with either a 2-pin or MMCX removable cable system, but at least the new cable is vastly superior to its predecessor so such an omission isn’t much of a loss.
Overall the 12 Classics V2 is a very successful update to an older model. It marriages a modern tuning to a classic design and is one of the more pleasurable earphones to cross my path so far in 2021.
Thanks for reading!
A huge thanks to Alexandra with Meze for arranging a sample of the 12 Classics V2 for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review of my subjective opinions and do not represent Meze or any other entity. At the time of writing the 12 Classics V2 were retailing for 69.00 USD: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-12-classics-v2
- Frequency response: 16Hz – 24KHz
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Sensitivity: 101dB (+/- 3db)
- Total harmonic distortion: < 0.5%
- Noise attenuation: up to 26dB
- Driver: Titanium coated 8mm mylar driver
- Cable: 1.2m 6N OFC with 3.5mm gold-plated jack
Gear Used For Testing LG Q70/G6, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp/Sparrow, 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