Review: Meze Audio Rai Solo IEMs – punching above their weight
Premium quality at a mid-range price.
Romanian headphone maker, Meze Audio, might not be a household name, but it really should be. They burst onto the scene in 2016 with their 99 Classics, bringing headphones that looked as good as they sounded at an affordable price point. We’ve looked at one of their recent headphones, the Meze 99 Neo, which bucked the usual trends of sub-$200 headphones.
We’re not looking at over-ear headphones today though. See, Meze has been busy on metal-encased, universal-fit IEMs, their RAI range. We’re looking at the $249 Rai Solo today, which took four years of design from conception to mass production. Was it worth that wait?
So, what are they all about?
Meze is no stranger to classic lines, and the Rai Solo pulls inspiration from its bigger brother, the $1,099 Rai Penta. Instead of milling the stainless steel housings from one block, as in the Penta, Meze opted for metal injection molding, which lends itself to mass production, without compromising on quality. The result? Hand-brushed stainless steel that wouldn’t look out of place as a flagship product.
The custom 9.2mm dynamic driver that Meze created for the Rai Solo is what they call “unified pistonic motion technology.” It’s a new way of making the diaphragm for the driver, that instead of having two wires to carry the charge, which makes the driver stiffer in that section, the entire membrane is conductive so it doesn’t need any wires at all. Nifty.
The driver enclosures have standard MMCX ports so you can use the cables of your choice, including those with inline microphones if you need to be able to make calls with them. That’s only if you decide to change the cable through, as Meze has included a luxury 1.2m braided cable that’s silver plated. Blue and red rings at the MMCX plugs let you know which side goes where; matching the machined nozzle for the left or right earpiece.
Many manufacturers would stop there, as entry-level audiophile gear is usually without accessories. Meze adds more value with a hard, zipped carry case that kinda echoes the twin earpieces, and eight pairs of tips to help you get a fit that works for your ears. It really is the full package, and most people won’t need or want to add more accessories.
If you’re using them for desktop use with a headphone amplifier, you’ll possibly want to add a 3.5mm extension cable, as while the stock cable is perfect for mobile use, it’s slightly short depending on where your amplifier is on your desk.
So, do they sound as good as they look?
In a word, yes. The refinement of the exterior design is just as present in the sound signature, if not more so. I’ve mostly been using them with a Schiit stack comprised of the Modius DAC and Magnius Amp, which give a clean output to match the cleanliness of the Rai Solo sound. You won’t hear a huge bass presence from these IEMs, but that just lets the rest of the frequency range shine. They can be slightly bright with some tracks, with a clear vocal presentation that really lets every ounce of the artist’s emotions shine through.
Basically, unless your listening tastes run to the extremes of bass music, you’ll love the Rai Solo. The current queen of pop, Taylor Swift, has never sounded so good in my ears, but it’s not just pop songstresses that sound superb. The nasal voice of Jack White belting out Seven Nation Army has never sounded better, with that thumping bassline giving plenty of space to the rest of the instruments. PJ Harvey’s haunting voice on Henry Lee playing counterpoint to Nick Cave’s gravelly growl is guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine, the imaging of the Rai Solo perfect for their vocal harmonies.
Oh, and I should point out that even with each of the earbuds being fairly heavy, the Rai Solo doesn’t feel fatiguing to wear for long times. Meze has done a fantastic job with the ergonomics, making one of the most comfortable IEMs I’ve ever used, and likely one of the best on the market.
Are the Rai Solo buds worth it?
With so many of the competitors in this price bracket chasing a mid-bass hump that overpowers the rest of the frequencies, Meze has gone another direction. The sublime midrange presentation of the Rai Solo will suit all but the most dedicated bass-heads and is my new favorite IEM.
The best part? The Rai Solo looks and sounds like four-figure IEMs, without that flagship price tag. Highly recommended, the value proposition here punches way above their weight.