Meze EMPYREAN + Benchmark DAC3B + Benchmark HPA4

I need a break from my work so I thought I would mumble something about the listening experience with the Meze and Benchmark combo for this headphone newbie.

I have about 130-144 hours on the brand new units, 100 hours is when they are good to go and 200 hours is optimal. They have been playing continuously since they arrived last week. There are a lot of reviews of this combo on many excellent headphone web sites so no point in me adding the same review perspective (sound details). Those reviews and dealer recommendations are the reason why I bought the 3 units unheard. So I will quickly confirm that the silky smooth sound of the Meze is also what I am hearing. The Benchmark HPA4 preamp + headphone amp is a jewel and I can see this being an end game preamp for me. Just love it. The DAC3B also sounds good through it, maybe better than the DAC3 HGC direct to amps that I have had a few years ago. I cannot compare directly yet, I need a new amp for that.

So what can I add that would be useful? When I was researching headphones I was not sure that I would like them and I have no way to hear them before buying in these Covaid lock down days. I was looking for a non-headphones users perspective on these TOTL headphones. About 10 years ago I bought some Senhierser (sp?) HD600 headphone for maybe $600. I bought these unheard too. Big mistake since they sounded awful, music seemed to be coming from the headphone and not from a sound stage. They also gave me headaches and just annoyed the heck out of me. I gave them away to my dad and feel guilty about that.

So my perceptions on headphones are in a dark place going into the Meze. So why spend $7K  on gear not heard? The reason was that I have a toddler and he goes to sleep around 9PM and I wanted to listen to music while I worked or goofed off on A'gon as I am doing now. 

So what do I think of the Meze and where headphone listening fits into my 2 channel system listening.

1) I would say as a headphone newbie that the reviews I have read on the Meze are on the money. They are really smooth sound headphones maybe a little shy on the top end details. I am using the stock headphone cables, reviewers have stated the upgraded Meze Silver coated copper XLR is better at bringing in the little bit extra details. I will buy that  upgrade XLR sometime when I am not so broke (or maybe some other cable).

2) The Meze has a beautiful smooth fatigue free sound that was a shocking outcome to me as I worked at my computer job over the last few days. I work from  from 9PM to usually 2AM (or 3:30 AM last night). I start my day around 7AM and it is baby sitting and computer job work until my kid goes to sleep, then more work. So you can imagine someone who is very tired and maybe not receptive to music. However, that was not what happened. The headphone music late at night never tired me out and it actually invigorated me to keep working. The mid-range on the Meze is really smooth and inviting. Somewhat similar in quality to the speakers that I am buying next , the Yamaha NS 5000, I was hoping the Meze would have that rich mid-range character to match the Yamaha and it does, so a lucky break there.

2) I did not focus on the music through the headphones as much as my current 2 channel KEF LS50 speakers right behind my sitting chair (see virtual systems for photos). Of course the music is presented differently in headphones than in speakers. You feel like you are part of the band with headphones vs listening with speakers is like listening to a band perform in front of you. Both are enjoyable perspectives when listening to music. The images on the KEF LS50's are much larger to me than the Meze. The music seems to have shrunk down in the headphones. I think that is one reasons I was less distracted by the headphones and was able to concentrate more on my work. With the LS50's it seems like someone is behind me singing so I get a bit more distracted (in a good way). Since the Meze did not irritate or fatigue me they really enhanced the long listening + work experience.

3) The Meze also presented the music with a nice sound stage and I really did not even think I had headphones on. They are very comfortable and non-distracting. I do not have experience with other headphones to know from a relative perspective. In terms of comfort, I feel I hit a home run.

4) The Benchmark HPA4 preamp + headphone amp seems like a beautiful match for these headphones. A very transparent and neutral amp for a slightly darker headphones. The HPA4 will be doing double duty in that it will be connected to a very nice amp, either a Luxman m900u or CODA #16 and also headphone duty. I think the "get out of the way" character of the HPA4 will work great with these amps. I will take the HPA4 to the store to demo them before I buy the amp. So 1 preamp component for both 2 channel and headphone goodness.

I will summarize that the Meze is an awesome headphone and that I am loving the different way music is present through them. When the next 2 channel guy/gal writes me to ask about gear (as if I know anything) I will tell them that my headphone experience with the Meze is of pure enjoyment and highly recommended, even for 2 channel dinosaurs. These headphones will be staying with me long term.
I should have added that I was listening to stuff like Nora Jones, Sinead O’Conner, Pink Floyd and a ton of FM radio (KCRW Santa Monica) when the headphones were breaking in. 

Now I got the tried and true RUSH playing Clockwork Angels on the headphones. Wow, just an amazing experience, takes me back to the concert tour when I saw them in Vegas.
I am currently listening to the brilliant Lux Prima from Karen O and Danger Mouse. It was one of the first albums I played on the Meze with when it was close to 72 hours burn-in. This album was played everyday by me for weeks when it came out last year so I know it well.

Now with near 140 hours that same album is stunning. Maybe even a little distracting in it's brilliance. I still say speakers are more distracting with Karen singing in my room as opposed to my head, but these headphones are a definite home run.

THose Meze headphones appear to do some unique things to create a soundstage with headphones. They are too pricey for me but they do at least have some unique things going for them on paper to help justify the cost.

Maybe as I downsize further over time some more of my investment may swing towards headphones. I do already have 3 pair I listen to regularly that sound good but nothing too elaborate.

Also I am a techie and big Benchmark fan and would easily consider all Benchmark gear next time around.
I am going to buy the Benchmark AHB2 after July 15th tax date or next week if I decided to be stupid, to make an all Benchmark system. I had it in the past and sold it. It is way better than the amp section of the Peachtree NOVA 150 integrated I am using now. This amp will be to use on the KEF LS50’s. The other speakers I mention will get a bigger amp. I will have to manually flip the XLR’s from the HPA4 to the desired amp.

I agree with the reviewers who say that the HPA4 preamp is like having no preamp. Great equipment.
I noticed some changes now with the headphones around 192 hours. Those details that I was saying were a little subdued have now shown up. I noticed with this as I was listening to Keith Moon’s drumming during 2 hours of playing The Who. The decay on the symbols was much more noticeable than at around 130 hours. I really have no complaints about these headphones now. Not sure if I even need the silver coated copper cable now.

The HPA4 headphone amp with the THX circuit is really sounding good now. I am thinking why get a different sounding amp for my big Yamaha speaker. I should get 2 Benchmark AHB2’s to keep the same sound for the Yamaha speakers. Did I say before how much I like this preamp.

The main rig is going all Benchmark since the slightly warm Yamaha (I think) should be great with the Benchmark gear, just as the Meze is now. I will use the more expensive amp for the KEF LS50’s.
@yyzsantabarbara  I'm really happy that you're enjoying the headphones. Hopefully once some used ones show up in the market, I will be able to pick them up. Right now, I'm really enjoying both my Focal Clears and Hifiman Aryas.

I thought I would update this thread with my latest tweak to the Empy. I ordered the Wywires Platinum headphone wire today. It is supposed to have the extra detail that I think the stock wire can be improved upon. There is a 40% off sale on this wire now. It was $400 delivered to my house for a 5 foot wire. Competing wires were 2x the price.

Guys on the headphone forums steered me to this wire.
I also have the Empy but only have around 20-25 hours on them so far I’m not feeling them for some reason, maybe they need more break-in. Anyway I order the lavricables grand silver cables and will continue to break-in them in. I also have the Sony Z1Rs and love there sound.
I think I played the Empy for 100 hours on my amp stand before I listened. Luckily for my I have some external speakers connected to my Benchmark HPA4. I could drive the headphones and the preamp out to my amp (now sold) at the same time. So I was able to avoid the temptation of putting the headphones one. At around 100 hours I had to put them on because I had work to finish late at night and my toddler was sleeping.

At the 100 mark hour the headphones were not sounding that great. I think it was around 150 hours when I started to enjoy them and at 200 hours really love them. They became exceptional to me when I replaced the stock cable with the WyWire Platinum (copper) XLR. It really added the extra bit of detail that I was thinking was missing. I just love the headphones now with the Benchmark HPA4.

As I posted earlier, switching to the Bryston BHA-1 headphone amp I do not like the cleaner WyWire XLR with it. I need a more coloured cable to tame what I think is a bit too much bass from the headphone amp.

I just noticed my comment above on the BHA-1 was on another thread.
I have the Benchmark DAC3 HGC / HPA4 combo.  It drives my Audeze LCD-4s.  Picked up an Audio Sensibility Silver Statement XLR cable for them.  I'm done.  No use spending 50 - 100% more for some small difference.  I'm 60 and my ears are shot, probably, anyways.  My doctor says they are still working well, though.

Next, jumping into portable.  I have an appt next week for ear impressions.  Will send them to Empire Ear for a pair of custom Valkyries.  They are 15% during Labor Day.  WooHoo.

@frederick21 That is a great combo. I just upgraded my WyWires Platinum from 5 foot to 9 foot for my Empy and it is a great cable. I am also done with the headphone stuff on system #1. I may buy a second HPA4 now that I sold my Bryston BHA-1 for system #2.

Since you mentioned portables. I was introduced to an amp that is sort of portable, at least within your house. It runs on batteries and is supposed to be similar sounding to the Headamp GS-X mini. It is the XIAudio Broadway (maybe a touch less warm).

I was debating what amp to add to my system #2. I narrowed it down to the Headamp GS-X, the Broadway, or the HPA4. I always keep coming back to the HPA4. Though the other 2 have their pluses.