Being this stylish means production values for stock photos that are atypically high for hifi; and professional models for some of them and in the promotional YouTube video. So much focus on appearance can strike career cynics as pure fashion vanity; hifi's equivalent to a dumb blond joke. It's a reaction even engineering-savvy Bang & Olufsen can't avoid. Few belittle their design sense. Many refuse to investigate whether performance is a match. To such minds, slick looks and peak performance are genetically incompatible and mutually exclusive by definition.

Of course in Meze's own words, "our aim is to change the perception of headphones as technical devices or cheap plastic accessories." On that count, one needn't ever listen to grant them success. The tear-down photos document how "there are no parts that serve pure decoration. They are all functional structural elements that then were styled." In their view, why should there be any conflict between being "high quality" and "beautifully crafted"? Quite. Yet decades of poorly styled high-performance hifi gear have brainwashed audiophiles to believe otherwise.

It's sensible then to have Antonio Meze talk about his 99 Classics also from the audio tech perspective. After all, as an ace stylist, one doesn't expect him to be the sole acoustical engineer. How did Meze approach sound optimization? Who did they contract with or attract for help? If these woodies were as serious about sound as they were about cosmetics and build quality, what more could they tell us about the 2-year design process which culminated in the 99? Their Indiegogo crowd funding campaign closed November 7th 2015 at $50'621 or 219% of target. As Polish contributor Dawid Grzyb put it, "those are unbelievable headphones. Got 'em several days ago and honestly can’t figure out how the Meze people were able to pull this off. Remarkable outdoor product."

How wood and Meze are thematically joined at the hip becomes clear with a stroll down memory lane to now discontinued models as far back as the 55 Classics. In this model progression, one notices a consistent cup design. The key visual changes made were to the headband and execution of swivels and joints. Clearly the 99 represents the most radical rethink and stylistic reductionism yet, from the geometry of its wooden cups to their articulation on the head to the skull strap and unifying bridge. With a now single uni-joint attached to the center of the cup, the former logo location had to move to the strap holders. Clearly the 99 Classics didn't emerge from primordial nothing but are refinements of a number of commercial precursors.

Meze are headquartered out of Romania's Baia Mare located in the country's Northwestern Maramures county at 228m elevation and with a population of ~136'000. This city counts itself amongst the country's most important mining centers. Gold, silver and other nonferrous metals have been extracted here for more than 2'000 years. With our history lesson wrapped, it's time for Meze to take us through the highlights of the 99's evolution. To stake a course, I added these questions for my contact Lorand Czibere. "What did you want to improve/change relative to the previous models; and why? If sonic reasons, be specific, then explain how the changes were made. Was the choice of Walnut and Maple for sonic, cosmetic or reliability reasons? Were other species tried? What sources and amps were used during R&D? What is your in-house reference system for headphone voicing? Did you have competitors as markers you meant to beat? If so, which were those? Relative to production, where is the wood from? Is manufacture of wooden and metal parts in-house or outsourced? Is there a Meze house sound or ideal target response to your voicing?"

"The difference for the previous models was cup size. The names of the models—55, 66 etc.—reflected the cup size in millimeters. Also, for the design of previous models, we worked with a manufacturer who later used our models with certain changes for other brands. In short, the changes in the designs were made purely to accommodate the drivers. For the 99 Classics, the two years of R&D were spent on design and sound. The design was intended to be fully serviceable, hence we only use screws for assembly. Any damaged part can be easily replaced without affecting anything else. Also, we aimed to be as comfortable as possible. The headband self adjusts and the spring steel allows the ear cups to fit any size head. The swivel system adds more comfort. As for the ear cups themselves, they're cut from blocks of solid wood on a 5-axis CNC machine, then polished by hand. We do not want to claim that the wood adds acoustic qualities but we have concluded that it does help, even if just a bit, to passively isolate noise coming out of and into the headphones once they're worn. in general, we wanted the 99 Classics to be as comfortable as possible for each and every user.

"As of now, we do not have an electrical engineering team. What we did instead was travel directly to the factories which produce drivers and test them there ourselves. That approach was as simple as it was tedious - pure trial and error. When we came across the current driver, a standard 40mm dynamic neodymium/mylar unit, we knew that we had found what we wanted. The choice of wood is mainly cosmetic but also reflects our affinity to classic hifi designs. We first tried Ebony but due to its density, there were problems with cracks. We had experimented with other types of wood that I will not disclose right now. Recently we started using the iFi Audio micro iUSB 3.0, micro iDAC2 and the micro iDSD coupled with the Gemini Cable and iPurifier2. We view each headphone manufacturer as a possible competitor because they all have something new and interesting to offer. We try to stay relevant in the market so we keep an eye out for all brands small and large. The wood is used from trees which have reached the ends of their lives and is outsourced."