This is an interview we’ve had with Antonio Meze the Lead Designer & Founder from Meze Audio. Enjoy.
Can you tell us a bit about your personal background?
I started studying art in college, but I was always interested in how things actually work, so design was the obvious choice for university. After gaining some experience during my studies by practicing in numerous design studios and doing a lot of freelance projects, I stuck to industrial design.
I was a product designer for about 7-8 years, working for different companies or brands up until 10 years ago. Each project took place in a different part of the world, so I was always traveling around the globe, from London to Bangkok to New York or Los Angeles.
My relationship with music began long before I started designing headphones. At first, I was interested in music in general, just listening endlessly, and it became a way for me to better understand a variety of feelings and ideas. Later, I started playing and learning instruments and eventually designing them. This passion for music, together with the fact that I was always travelling had me looking for a pair of headphones that I could relate to, that would make me want to pick it up time and time again.
I don’t like being surrounded by uninspiring products. I always felt I had some relationship towards a few of my objects as a child. Those objects where the ones that had some meaning for me. Maybe that’s why I became a designer. To give more objects around me the potential of becoming a vessel of meaning and emotion.
Although the market had plenty of good-sounding headphones, none of them seemed to successfully combine the entire spectrum needed for that: stylistic expression, ergonomics and premium materials. So, I started working on a headphone of my own, experimenting with parts and pieces that already existed, trying to build a pair that would inspire people in the right way. Five years later, we launched our first product created from scratch, the 99 Classics.
Tell us a bit about your team, how many people are working for Meze?
The passion for music and art is the drive behind Meze Audio. Lucky for us, we have over 30 people in our team who share the same love and dedication. All of them are highly skilled specialists, with backgrounds in sound engineering, product design, crafting, and music. Headphones are the intersection, the common ground where everybody’s interests meet, let’s say. We are fortunate as our work really is our passion, so we’re developing each new model as if we’re making it for ourselves.
Being a Romanian company do you actually produce and develop the headphones in Romania?
All of our products are designed in Romania, but Empyrean, Elite and Liric are the ones fully assembled here. We have invested in a larger production and development facility in Baia Mare, and we plan on producing a wider range of products there, soon. Basically, all of our future products will be assembled here The goal is to move production to Romania completely, but we’re handling it one step at a time.
Romania is not really known for Hi-fi what feedback do you get from the customers?
We have a lot of customers writing us personal messages about how much they liked our products, and most of them don’t know much about Romania or don’t even know we’re based here. Their reactions are always positive because we constantly try to offer superior quality through our headphones and we always use people’s feedback to optimize our products.
I think that shows and I think that’s what helped us build such a good relation with our customers, regardless of where we’re from. We managed to put our country’s name on the map of Hi-Fi, so now we’re working hard to keep it there.
The Empyrean is obviously one of the most successful high-end headphones in the market, how long it took you to develop this masterpiece?
People were surprised to see us launching something like this. It was in development for 2 years and it was a huge leap from our $309 99 Classics, not only because of the price, but because we set out to make one of the most innovative headphones in the world, which was a major challenge.
My goal was to make a headphone without any compromises, without cutting short on quality, build, materials or technology, and that didn’t come from a business decision. It was more like an art project for us, which is why the design is in fact a tribute to sophistication and art nouveau.
The Hybrid Array Driver patented by Rinaro was the result of 30 years of research. For two more years we tweaked and tweaked on the whole assembly to get the design, the size, the ear cup pressure just right, to make it as comfortable as possible. When you are a real music lover you spend many hours of the day lost in it and won’t even realize it until your ears start to hurt. We wanted our headphones to be different.
With the success of Empyrean, we took a step back and asked ourselves: what now? We built a headphone that set a standard of its own in terms of personal audio, so how do you create something that rises to the same level and even surpasses it? After another three years of intense research, development, tests and fails and constant effort, we finally had an answer – yes, creating something superior to a headphone perceived as near-perfect can be done. That’s why ELITE, our newest flagship launched this year, was made.
What do you think does it make so special, what do you like the most about it?
I think every part of Empyrean is absolutely special, I can’t decide on just one to like the most. Its components are CNC milled from solid aluminium, combined with a carbon frame that makes it ultra-light. The planar magnetic driver inside is custom engineered by Rinaro especially for us, and besides being one of the most advanced drivers in the industry, it’s an art piece in its own rights.
The unique design of the frame is definitely the first thing that stands out, but then you’re completely captured by how comfortable they actually are, thanks to our patent pending “suspension wings”. We think comfort is essential, so we’ve created this unique support system that descends further on the side of the head and distributes the weight of the headphone evenly. Headphones should be about getting lost in your favorite music, and to do so you shouldn’t feel the gear that you wear.
We made Empyrean from pure passion and curiosity, allowing ourselves to take risks and experiment in search of the perfect sound, perfect comfort and that very special something to make it apart, so I think it’s safe to say my favorite part about Empyrean is actually all of it. It truly is a work of contemporary art, and that’s precisely why I wanted ELITE to continue the same design legacy.
What’s the idea behind the Empyrean Phoenix?
Empyrean Phoenix is a rare collector’s item with an art-inspired design that carries the same unique audio qualities as the original. It’s a headphone that perfectly matches our love for great aesthetics, good craftsmanship and innovative engineering.
The Phoenix features a CNC sculpted aluminum chassis, hand-finished with irregular patterns made through mesmerizing marbling techniques. We played around with colors and placement, creating distinctive contrast and play of light that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to create purposefully. Blending this intricate design with the innovative technology of the original Empyrean, this limited-edition headphone embodies our pledge to the one thing that makes us Meze: art in its most functional form.
Empyrean Phoenix is the first from the Meze Art Gallery, a collection of exclusive products born out of passion for art and craftsmanship through which we aim to set new standards in portable audio aesthetics, design and technology.
Everybody talks about the Empyrean but let’s not forget the Classics is a gamechanger too. Do you work on a project in a more affordable price segment, you like to share with the community?
When we’ve created the 99 Classics, the goal was to change the perception of headphones, to give them more meaning and a personality to fall in love with. Wood is a natural material with amazing acoustic properties that is often underrated, and technology objects most often lack those warm and natural attributes that wood gives. I just love it as a material and it made the most sense to use it for portable audio gear as well.
In the end, the 99 Classics was more than just good sound, it was a blend of utmost comfort, craftsmanship and design, and it gained the appreciation of the audiophile community almost immediately, exceeding all of our expectations. It was the breakthrough that put our name on the audio map, let’s say.
A few years ago, we took inspiration from the Classics and created the 99 Neo, which is a more modern-looking version of its predecessor that also comes with a more affordable price tag. If we plan on expanding our range on the more affordable price segment, though, you’ll just have to wait and see.
Everybody knows Meze for headphones what are you guys up to regarding In-Ears?
We actually launched our first in-ear model back in 2013, the 11 Classics, and in 2016 added two new models to the range – the 11 Neo and 12 Classics, all of which were meant for casual listening on the go.
In 2019 we revealed our flagship IEM, the Rai Penta. It was the fruit of three years of researching to find the best ergonomic shape and most vivid sound to fit a Universal IEM. We could have released it earlier, but we wanted to make sure the final product is the best we can achieve. Meant to deliver audiophile-worthy sound in a most comfortable shape, it features five transducers in a three-way configuration inside each earpiece, enclosed in an anodized aluminium shell.
The “little brother” of Rai Penta, Rai Solo, features a single driver versus the more complex 5 driver set-up in the Rai Penta, and is intended for entry-level audiophiles who are looking for a more affordable IEM option that still delivers.
Last but not least, this year we launched the 12 Classics V2, an updated version of the 12 Classics that balances elegance with durability and great sound. We are planning to further expand our IEM selection, and we are actually launching a new earphone model at the beginning of the 2022. It’s much different than any of the earphones we’ve launched so far and we’re excited to be able to share it with our fans, so stay tuned for more info on this.
Thanks for sharing the Meze team playlist with us. Are there any tracks that really stand out in your opinion and is a must have for any audiophile customer?
I believe that there is no limit to the types of music audiophiles should listen to. My relationship with music began long before I started designing headphones, and I was always on a ceaseless quest for discovering new music and artists that I can get inspiration from. I think audio lovers should be open to experimenting with all types of music in their search for the perfect sound.
Those who’ve known Meze Audio for a longer time might already be familiar with my admiration for John Frusciante. His music always inspires my creative process and I even named our Empyrean headphone after one of his albums. Other all-time favorites are Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, The Do, Billie Holiday, Bjork, Cesaria Evora, BVSC, Coco Rosie, Devendra Benhart, Gang Gang Dance, Johny Cash, The Knife, Noir Desir, Regina Spekktor. There are a lot more, but it would be impossible to list them all.
From all the awards you’ve won which one makes you the proudest?
We all need a “pat on the back” sometimes, and getting that in the shape of an award definitely put a spring in our steps as a new headphone company. Our products gained the appreciation of experienced audiophiles despite competing with amazing brands that have been around for a lot longer, so all the awards we received are proof that we’re doing something right.
What makes me the proudest is not a certain award or badge, but the fact that our products are loved by people and are still getting recognition even years after their launch. In the end, what we do is take in the feedback and absorb all of this good energy and turn it into new, even better products.