Ditch the box. It's what open-baffle speaker fans tell box-speaker fans, what Ripol bass heads whisper to those tired of droning box bass. We can't eliminate box talk with a box. In headfi, box talk is the effect of the small pressure chambers created by the seal of pads around our ears. If headphones are open-backed, the pressure buildup is lower, if sealed, higher. Regardless, pressure and boundaries cause compression, reflections and turbulences. Those mean time smear and ringing. Like fish in water, we can't judge that effect until we go on land by ditching the lot. Enter the floating off-ear ribbons with splayed wings. No pressure chamber means no energy storage. It's like (sorry) driving with the windows down or better still, no roof. There's no cabin cocoon with its artificial climate. Instead there's more direct contact with the elements. The next level of directness is a motorcycle. Now there's even more contact with the world. The experience gains exponentially in directness and danger. Protective barriers removed, there's more oneness, less separation. Without a windshield there's the occasional bug in the teeth or blood splatter on the visor. Forget climate control except for heated handlebars. More tie-ins with motoring are tiresome but again, they illustrate a fundamental difference and the impossibility of relating unless one tried the alternate mode of transport. Sonically, the ribbon's primary benefit of chucking enclosures, window-shutter magnet shadowing and extra voice-coil weight was obviously higher speed, inside-out illumination and far more nuanced broader dynamics. All of it factored big already with a budget Schiit amp on the ribbons, a super-posh Bakoon on the isodynamics. This difference was of operational transducer principles not amplification.
This A/B outed as perhaps the primary aspect of Elite's smoothness its dynamic homogenization. By contrast to the SR1a, Elite's dynamics were obviously compressed. The same holds true for all ortho competitors. It throws no special shade on Meze. It's simply fair to articulate that despite its flagship status in the planarmagnetic world, Meze's Elite still can't transcend the current limitations of its operational principle. It's a real consideration when $4'300 for the SR1a/Schiit combo leave only $300 for an Elite buyer's amplification to compete. If to you those sonic aspects of 'speed' are important—you actually can't know the gap without hearing it—no planarmagnetic I've yet heard will be the ultimate choice. Since today is about that choice, let's take the closest offramp from the obscure ribbon byway and rejoin the popular orthodynamic highway. Let's juxtapose 2021's Elite to what was considered the state of the art in Audeze's 2009 LCD-2. Given my sentiments, you won't be surprised that I've not listened to those in ages. I keep them around as my first ortho flames and to remind myself how that personal journey had started. Obviously Audeze themselves moved on. I've simply not tracked their progress. Off one horse, onto another.
Stiffer. Heavier. Darker. From wear comfort to sound, the first two applied. Sonics added the third. Aside from serious and seriously obvious aesthetic and build refinements, Elite's aural advances spread from the top down. A speaker tweeter chases minimal mass with maximal stiffness to do its 20'000-and-beyond per second flutter without deformation. Likewise for Rinaro's weight loss of the Paros film and its higher resilience to breakup. It telegraphs most in the upper reaches. That enhances air, spaciousness, image lock and localization. In basic terms, the LCD-2 was more primitive and pedestrian all around, Elite more refined and sophisticated. Newer, shinier, hipper and fitter about sums it up. Of course from $995 to €4'000 adds much needfulness to this equation. It segues neatly into the concluding concern. Is there enough of a performance gap to justify the coin chasm?
Judge for yourself whether my 'more pedestrian' comments about the LCD-2's build aren't deserved in this simple visual comparison.
Reviews are like rear-view mirrors. Everything looks bigger so closer. Reviews are like a jeweler's magnifier. It makes gashes from barely visible scratches. Return to normal vision. All the fuss shrinks or disappears altogether. With its 4 x multiplier over the original Audeze and inflation notwithstanding, Meze's Elite would be on shaky ground were its advances purely sonic. It does sound better but to most, paying so much more should now seem a stretch. It's once we factor in far higher wear comfort and wildly superior finishing/cosmetics that the stretch relaxes. Nobody handling the Meze can fail to think it majorly dear. Being named Elite wraps that with a bow. Cost wasn't the issue. Pushing an existing platform to its limit was. Elite buyers won't mind paying dearly for elitist finishing and design. Those things always cost disproportionately more. The rest of us can be envious or start saving up. Besides looking real pretty and wearing exceptionally comfortable, Elite sounds it. If pretty and comfortable also are your sonic true north, your headfi GPS now has another key destination. Go visit when you have a chance. Happy travels!
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