Woodie versus abs. If these were classified ads—for Cialis and a magic cream that promised a 6-pack in two weeks—which do you think would sell more? For an audiophile mockup of said battle, I had the Meze 99 Classics. Their solid Walnut cups would arm-wrestle the acrylnitril-butadien-styrol* aka ABS cups of the Three. As already established, these competitors are quite close on price. On perceived luxury and stylishness, the Romanian's lack of visible plastic and higher industrial design win. On comfort, the Japanese ear cups are bigger and true circumaural, not semi on-ear. For mobile use, the smaller Meze have my nod. Included in their €309 is a clamshell hard case to stow in a travel bag. The Final don't come with a case. Being larger on the noggin and protruding farther also makes them a bit less outdoorsy fit. But like the Meze, their leash terminates in 3.5mm for mobile aspirations. So I bypassed my stationary rigs and reached for a Questyle QP1R loaded up with ~5'000 AIFF tracks of 16/44 or better res.
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* Another hifi app where ABS shows up are the spherical horns of Avantgarde Acoustic of Germany loudspeakers..


Japanese piano ace Hiromi and her Move album sport many opportunities to explore very powerful low bass, forcefully hammered ivories and energetic percussion. On such fare, the Final proved to be wirier, with more angular frisson and grip. The Meze's bass was bigger but looser. Its attacks were softer and the upper harmonic energy inside leading edges felt toned down some. They showed less splashy zingers on close-mic'd cymbal hits, less tinkle on the piano's far right-handed section when Hiromi executes typical Jazz tremolos. On definition, crispness and parlaying the minor brutality of tracks like "Margarita", the Final's seasoning of lemon zest with cayenne played wakeup call's colder shower to the Meze's warmer water delivered at slightly lower pressure.


Switching to the polar opposite whilst remaining with the most royal of instruments, I ran through some tracks of the Naïve label's collection Chopin Préludes downloaded at 44.1kHz/24-bit from Qobuz. The Meze portrayed the venue Grigory Sokolov was recorded in as wetter. It sounded more reverberant and fuzzy. It's a quality I noted in their review as being reminiscent of full-bandwidth omni speakers like our German Physik HRS-120. The Final were more damped and focused. They sounded just a bit 'front heavy' on the leading not trailing edge. In terms of tonal balance, the Final had more of a smiley-face shape and a slightly cool temp. A minorly subdued midrange was bracketed by somewhat elevated extremes. The Meze's shape was closer to a steady incline facing the bass, its temp a bit higher.


Predictably by now, cueing up some Niño Josele flamenco guitar had the Japanese more explicit on the metallic elements of the strings. The Romanian put a tad more attention on the wood body aspects and as such, a fatter midband. Moving from Spain to Turkey and their Corlulu Savaş with some clarinet cifeteli—what Westerners summarily classify as belly dance music—the same general qualities meant that the Three had me feel just a bit closer to the action. The 99 acted as though more distance shaved off a little transient paprika; not that it otherwise sounded farther away. Neither felt particularly sealed. By that I mean stuffy, laterally compressed and somewhat hollow compared to open-backed designs. Talking in generalities of resolution vs. comfort sound, the Final would sit slightly to the left of that division (though not as far as the X), the Meze to its right by a bit more. As a consequence, with the latter Andy Narell's infectiously happy steel drums from Trinidad, say on "Bacchanal" of The Long Time Band, scheppered less. Scheppern is what Germans call metallic clattering or banging. And that happens to be the innate piquant quality of steel drums. About that the Final were the more honest. "Groove town" as David Rudder's vocals call it. "Take your drum and put your boom-boom in di riddim."


Vis-à-vis the woodie then, the abs were the more ripped; or shredded as Venice Beach boys say. Back in musical terms, this meant higher separation. That's just like the superior definition of a 6-pack. It ripples where a flab beer belly looks like a homogenous blob. And that's back to higher magnification power. This of course also means less joy on poor recordings. Their badness crystallizes more; and by the same extent to which good recordings show off more. C'est la vie of pursuing the almighty rez. To just what degree the Three walks its rezzier talk we'll nail by comparison to the Sennheiser HD800. Those are generally considered a benchmark in that regard. Hence many can relate to them. It makes them an ideal comparator, never mind being wildly costlier than today's loaners. My comparison wouldn't be about cost. It'd be about ordering that blood test from the lab. How much resolution would the Japanese leave under the table against the Germans? Going in, I did expect a loss just because finances said there ought to be. Sometimes good reason simply doesn't win out in a hifi match.


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