I was fortunate to listen to the Meze Rai Solos recently and once again I was hugely impressed by Meze Audio and the quality they were able to offer at the price points where they choose to set themselves. The Solos, with a single driver, were terrific, could the Meze RAI Penta, with five drivers, be five times the fun, or audible quality?
The Meze RAI Penta in-ear monitors (IEM) features five drivers, each performing their own design and they are housed in an aluminium chassis that is milled from a single piece. The finished piece is a dark grey/blue anodised for a good looking finish. Four of the five drivers are balanced armature drivers where the audio signal is sent to a coil where the armature vibrates to create the sound.
The standard cables feature an MMCX connector to the buds and this is terminated with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. The cable itself comprises 4 interwoven wires each made of 20 litz strands, ultra-thin strands of metal conducting the signal. My review sample does not have the right-angled single headphone jack that I appreciated so much with the Solos.
In the box, there is the usual array of silicone or foam ear tips, an aeroplane adapter, a 6.25mm jack adapter and the same carry case as the Solo. Maybe the most useful accessory has been the brush/pointy cleaner tool, which I have found very useful. Meze offers cable upgrades to the 2.5mm TRRS balanced jack and the balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn jack.
The Pentas have a low impedance, at 20 Ohms. This means they are fairly easy to run with smartphones, portable music players and the like, making them rather flexible.
The bud or shells themselves are lovely to the touch and are as comfortable a fit as I can recall. I like the cable, it is flexible, has low noise and has a solid feel if you tug it or rub it. The cable has the preformed hook which is so helpful for effective fitting and comfort, and I think this works well. There is a two-year warranty.
I am using a variety of sources from my Pixel 4 phone with an Audioquest dragonfly red to an old school iPod and a Pioneer XDP-100. On the desktop, with my laptop, I am using a Chord Hugo 2, probably the best way of reproducing a decent headphone sound for the money.
Obviously, I got the Meze RAI Penta straight out of the box and went for it with my Pioneer portable player, having had the Solo I was keen to hear the step up. It was clear, even to me, that they probably needed a run in, so I did that over a few nights and concentrated on podcasts to start with on my Pixel 4. With the IEMs run in nicely over a week or so I was happier with the sound as they relaxed into everyday use.
The cable is like the Solo cable, but it feels a bit thicker, but it does not make any mechanical noise on moving about. I am a huge fan now of the moulded ear hooks within ear monitors these days and the Pentas fit that bill nicely.
The earbud itself must be one of the best universal fit buds I have come across and the comfort is exceptional in my view to the point where you forget they are there.
I am using the smallest single rubber cap on the earbuds and isolation from the outside is very good indeed.
My favourite feature with the Meze RAI Penta is the pressure equalisation system which allows air to move between the ear and the bud. It removes that sucked in eardrum thing if you press them into place and I feel this is a key design element that I really appreciate.
Chord Hugo 2
These in-ear monitors are particularly crisp with the Chord Hugo 2, and this is borne out in David Bowie’s track Song for Bob Dylan (Qobuz 24bit/96kHz), here the mid-range is well organised around the guitars and the vocal is nicely clear and familiar, natural indeed. Rick Wakeman’s piano wanders to the rear of the head-stage accompanying the vocal rather rhythmically. In fact, the same piano, guitar combination is reversed in the more contemporary This One’s For You (Qobuz 16bit/44.1kHz) by Ed Harcourt. Again, the vocal feels very natural, accompanied by the piano with the easy guitar to the rear and the soft cymbals ticking along.
On quicker and more energetic tracks the Pentas are up to the task with their fast response for example on the snappy Miles Kane track Don’t Forget Who You Are (Qobuz 16bit/44.1kHz), the full energy and excitement of his vocal roaring through. Finally, on guitars, I turn to REM’s Find The River (Qobuz 24bit/96kHz) with its beautiful soft guitar, the Pentas translate the beauty of the song and the gentle guitars effortlessly.
Turning to the low end I often turn to Coldplay’s Everglow (Qobuz 24bit/192kHz) to hear the rolling decay in the introductory bass line. Here I get a full controlled bass line that is easy on the ear. I feel these headphones, thankfully, will not appeal to the Beats generation.
Most genres of music from jazz to classical to vocal pop, have come across admirably and again Meze Audio are outperforming their price point. It has been pointed out to me that I do need to listen to a bit more rock, particularly the thicker stuff with big electric guitars. Nickleback, in other words, that kind of stuff. I was showing a pair of speakers to a friend that really did not get on with Nickleback. We found the midrange cluttered and muddy, not great, and I was at that point very disappointed in myself. Swapping speakers, thankfully, I was able to unpick the space between the instruments, but this was a valuable lesson for me, that I should diversify from jazz standards, vocal pieces, Radiohead and Americana (I mean I do this anyway but this genre is not really in my playlist choice, to be honest).
So how does Nickleback’s Burn It to the Ground (Qobuz 16bit/44.1kHz) sound in the Meze RAI Penta? Well, actually, pretty good, the vocal is separate from the cheering that accompanies the track which was causing the muddiness on the speakers and all around it is a decent well-organised sound. In my view, the track is three minutes and thirty seconds too long and I was thinking how fatigue-free my listening time had been up to that point, but that is me.
Here’s my playlist on Qobuz, with Nickleback, tucked in there.
Pioneer XDP 100 & Pixel 4XL
With my portable in everyday use, the Meze RAI Penta are simply excellent with a fine presentation throughout my time. With the in-ear monitors being so easy to drive the Pioneer is able to concentrate on delivering the signal to the best degree possible. With such an effortless performance long walks ended up being longer than planned, such was the enjoyment. Similar performance with a smartphone and an Audioquest dragonfly were experienced, with plenty of resolution on offer.
If this is your budget these Meze RAI Penta are an excellent pair of in-ear monitors that do offer a step up in performance terms from the Solo. I have found them great companions on long listening walks and mornings, and I have had little in the way of aural fatigue to go with it. These are also the most comfortable pair of IEMs I have experienced, and I am using them all the time. We are not going to see these guys around with the Beats dudes, they are too refined for them and we are good with that, I really do highly recommend a listen if this is your price point.
Well organised midrange
No cable noise
Moulded ear hooks
Pressure equalisation system
The pointy earbud brush
Right-angled as jack standard?
Full details of the Specification are on the company’s site
The Meze RAI Penta is retailing at £999 and can be purchased at SCV Distribution, amongst others.