[Cliffnotes] Meze Rai Penta: Empyrean

Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard while I was back in Singapore during the month of July. Thus I won’t get too in-depth,  nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.

Introduction

The Rai Penta has been one of the most requested IEM I’ve got in recent times. Honestly I wasn’t too sure why myself; did opinion of Meze as an audiophile brand skyrocket as I was looking away? Is the Rai Penta really that good, deserving part of the limelight that the likes of the IER-Z1R and Solaris has been stealing?

Interestingly enough, there also has been some mild drama surrounding the Penta as of late, particularly about how similar it is compared to Fidue’s A91 on FR. And the similarities don’t just stop there too: the published frequency ranges, the impedance values, even the driver configurations themselves are exactly identical. Which leads to more questions about whether or not the Penta is just a rebadged A91.

FR comparison courtesy of the Graph Comparison Tool

Now, I have never heard the Rai Penta and A91 side-by-side so I can’t give you any conclusive answers. However, the evidence does point to some form of badge engineering going on regardless of intent; coming up with the same driver configuration that creates a near-identical (if not wholly identical) FR would be a monumental coincidence if it were not planned. But you can consider this more of an expert’s opinion than any declaration of fact.

You could consider the following mini-review as my refresher of the A91 if you’d like. But interestingly enough, the tentative rank that I gave the Rai Penta was actually exactly the same as the A91, even before Thomas brought it to everyone’s attention. Take that how you will.

Product page: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-penta

MSRP: $1,100

Driver configuration: 4BA + 1DD hybrid

The easiest and most straightforward way I can describe the Rai Penta is as follows: it is the Empyrean, but in IEM form.

Now depending on your opinion of the Empyrean, this description could be construed as a compliment. In my case however, my opinion on the Empyrean is rather low and I find it a rather lacklustre multi-kilobuck planar headphone. Here are the similarities that I heard:

  • Wide-band boost of the midbass frequencies
  • “Intimate” (read: shallow and 2-dimensional) imaging
  • Smoothed out treble response
  • Low dynamics, lacks energy and/or excitement

The only real massive difference is in the resolution and detail retrieval between the two: while the Empyrean does seem to have a resolution on par with the lower echelons of top performing headphones, the Rai Penta struggles when compared with other kilobuck IEMs and can’t seem to keep up against veterans like the ER4 variants. Its subpar imaging doesn’t really help its case on a technical scale either, with crowded placement of instruments within a narrow soundstage making for a slightly claustrophobic experience.

Then we get to the mysterious subjective world of “dynamics” where both Mezes suffer from a serious case of “I don’t want to listen to this anymore” syndrome. The Rai Penta is… boring. Some may describe it as “sleepy” or even just straight up “dead”. It’s not because it lacks treble either; while its higher-end response is a tad smoothed over and its attack blunted, there seems to be at least enough treble for it to have a sensation of sparkle. Or at the very least, prevents it from being called “dark”. Hyperbole alert: it just sounds like everything is being played back at roughly the same volume, even in sections with large dynamic variation.

Its redeeming factor, much like the Empyrean, is in its tonal and timbre performance. Its frequency response is generally relaxed and geared towards warmth and heavier notes than the lighter, brighter style of the typical “reference” IEM. It doesn’t sound wrong at least, in fact with certain sustain-heavy instruments it can sound rather pleasant. Orchestrals with more emphasis on bowed strings and woodwind instruments for instance can sound pretty nice on the Rai Penta, though that’s not to say that it’s anywhere close to being the best of its class in this regard.

Meze’s Rai Penta. Meh.

Grade:

My thanks to all my supporters on Patreon. And of course shoutouts to my big money boys: “McMadface”, Denis, Nicholas, “caravan” and Justin. 

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