Meze Rai Penta – Coup d’essai coup de maître!

If you’re looking for a decently priced all rounder flagship with a very natural sounding signature with top tier transparency, neutral and articulate mids and the ability to provide detail, fun bass and treble without fatigue then give an audition at the Penta you definitely can’t go wrong!

Pros

  • Musical and very natural sounding
  • Excellent transparency to the source and the recording
  • Imaging is solid with very good layering and separation
  • Coherent soundstage with good width, height and depth
  • Very good bass with great control
  • Natural mids with reference tuning, very articulate
  • Treble presentation balances energy and excitement nicely
  • Good tonal balance and accurate timbre
  • Fast IEM with very good pace rhythm and timing
  • Black background
  • Lightweight and compact shells make for a great fit, among the best in universal

Cons

  • Isolation is very limited
  • Mids are on the thinner side of the scale
  • Male vocals lack power and density

Price : 1100€
Product page : https://mezeaudio.eu/collections/all/products/rai-penta

Translation of the title
A french expression meaning the first try is a master’s performance! It doesn’t really have an equivalent expression in English that I know of.

Fit, Build & Isolation

The Penta shell is compact and lightweight which contributes to excellent comfort and the fit is top tier as far as universal goes. This is no small aspect of an IEM for every day use. The build is superb with very tight tolerances and immaculate anodized paint finish, totally flagship worthy and looks sturdy (up to the metal nozzle). Isolation is very average probably due to the vents but also the aluminium used for the shell, the Solaris also suffered from this problem to a lesser extent. There is also a bit of sound leaking that can be heard in a totally quiet environnement (not suitable to listen in bed with your significant other sleeping next to you).

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Introduction

Meze Audio is not a new comer, founded by industrial designer Antonio Meze in 2011 in Romania, it became widely known to the audiophile community with the award winning Meze 99 Classics. I purchased a set and it’s one of my favorites headphones regardless of price, with great value for money. Since then, Meze move on to conquer the flagship headphones category with the innovative and already highly acclaimed Empyrean, which I unfortunately haven’t managed to get an audition as of yet.

It was only natural after the Empyrean to launch a flagship hybrid IEM, namely the Rai Penta. Antonio Meze states : « Rai Penta is the culmination of 3 years of researching the most ergonomic shape and most vivid sound for a Universal IEM. ». The research certainly shows off both in design and masterful execution. Few manufacturer use customized balanced armatures in their IEM like the Penta does. Meze didn’t stop there and worked on the acoustics both with the shell design and development of a metal sound tube mechanism that reminds me of the concept behind Earsonics True Wave for the EM64 and Purple. The Penta also features a « Airflow control mechanism » that helps regulate internal chamber pressure in front and behind the driver assembly, something not too uncommon in hybrids or dynamic drivers. My experience is that it generally benefits bass control and soundstage and in the case of the Penta it certain does.

Innovation is certainly interesting to a geek like me but my experience in this hobby is this can only come after the main thing : a clear tuning intent and masterful execution of said tuning. On the tuning Meze website states « the Rai Penta is all about detail, organic tonality » and the aim is to provide « the most vivid sound for a Universal IEM »… does this hold true? Let’s share my impressions on the Penta’s tuning and performance!

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Rai Penta with Flare Audio Earfoams tips

Sound

The Penta is one very natural sounding IEM, with a neutral tuning that strikes a delicate balance that cascades across the whole Penta tuning. Note attack, soundstage, frequency response are all highly coherent and well executed with a clear tuning intent : provide an exciting presentation without favoring any part of the frequency response, with no compromise in technical foundations and an absence of listening fatigue. It’s a mature tuning worthy of a flagship, hard to believe it’s the first iteration in fact. Meze said it could have released it sooner but wanted to get it right and spent 3 years developing the Penta : it certainly shows.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that resolution is very good, the Penta is able to retrieve a lof of detail in a very nuanced way, thanks both to a balanced frequency range (the tentation of boosted treble to highlight details was avoided) and a good balance in the attack of notes neither too soft (which tends to make for a laid back presentation) nor too sharp (that can lead to a fatiguing IEM). There is good snap and it plays a key role along with the drivers speed in pace, rhythm and timing (PRaT) but the note edge is not sharp.

Also, soundstage is very coherent. The Penta is not the widest, tallest or deepest but certainly one of the most coherent soundstage I have heard and pinpoint precise imaging. Again, balance. I am not surprised by impressions I read from people that were not wowed at first listen. This is not that kind of IEM akin to something like InEar Profile 8 and it will take an experienced listener to quickly hear that the Penta is something that will grow on you (and keep you interested a long time) for that very reason : exquisite balance, clear intent, masterful execution. Call me impressed…

Now, for all its balance the Penta deserves further description of the parts that make the whole so enjoyable… let’s dive a bit more!

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Rai Penta with Custom Art Silicon custom tips – DX220 / AMP1 mk2

Bass

The Penta bass tuning is a show of maturity, that will clearly reveal itself when cycling through different music genres, albums and tracks. It’s transparent to the recording and while it could be disturbing for some it’s a testament to the Penta audiophile tuning. The Penta will just convey what’s there and nothing more, and will do so with plenty of bass detail. Note that this remark is with my custom silicon tips, which grant me perfect seal and deep insertion. Tip rolling might lower the bass presence or boost it, as usual with universal IEMs. For example, the Flare Earfoams that you can see in the picture is fairly close to the custom tips but don’t provide the same bass kick and sub bass presence, the flipside is it opens the soundstage a little bit.

Sub bass extension is good but not up there with Campfire Solaris for sheer subwoofer like sub bass but I’d say it’s cleaner on the Penta, its dynamic driver is faster to my ears. I am willing to bet you’re going to enjoy sub bass rich tracks with the Penta, provided you’re not into a full blown bass head expectations. It’s quality bass and I think the venting system is to be credited here. Mid bass to provide a fun kick without any bleed into the mids. It also is the main foundation for the Penta’s body and weight (as we’ll see lower mids are on the leaner side).

The bass line is strong and clear which contributes greatly to the Penta’s fun factor as well as PRaT. I found myself toe tapping more often than not, and despite all the top of the line BA CIEMs I own there is nothing like DD bass! I enjoyed both bass guitars and double bass a lot with the Penta. Last but not least the bass presence and layering ability certainly helps the soundstage depth.

Mids

The Penta’s mids reveal a reference tuning, it’s a very articulate mids with great separation and very accurate tonal balance, timbre are spot on to my ears both vocals and instruments. The mids play a key role in the Penta’s transparency and clarity, along with its treble. Despite that focus, it remains highly musical and is by no means clinical or sterile.

Vocals are slightly forward making for a clear vocal presence but because of a leaner lower mid section, there is no added warmth and some might find male vocals lacking a bit. For the same reason, the Penta is on the thinner side of balanced. This being said, like I mentioned in the bass section, the Penta is also transparent of the recording and the source which means this will vary a bit depending on your source lower mids but also recording will come into play and while the Penta will never be thick it can gain quite a bit of body on some records.

The upper mids section is nicely done, with enough presence to grant good articulation but not too much which makes for a fatigue free listen. Again and again, delicate balance.

Treble

And last but not least treble, like bass I find they integrate nicely with the rest of the signature, it’s a smart lower treble tuning with good sparkle to provide excitement but never too energetic to get fatiguing. The treble plays a key role in the Penta’s signature, providing great bite to guitars and proper tizz to high hats and energy to piano. I think the venting also helps keeping the balance and keep great control of the treble energy. Decay is fast and clean, the transients are quite fast making up for a feathery treble touch that I found very pleasing. Upper treble is well extended, providing good air, very good soundstage, separation and impressive resolution.

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Rai Penta with Rai upgrade balanced cable

Verdict

With the Rai Penta Meze promised us « the most ergonomic shape »« detail, organic tonality » and « the most vivid sound for a Universal IEM » I think it’s safe to say the 3 years of research, design and tuning adjustments have paid off and the Penta delivers on all count. It’s very clear that it’s a very well thought out product, with a clear intent from the get go and great execution as well. I expected no less from Meze Audio as they have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with first with great value for money products and then flagships that are here to take a deserved spot in the top tier of the market.

Its design and sonic quality notwithstanding, this review was also a lot of listening fun and I’ll sure miss the Penta! This is clearly one of the best hybrid of the market with a superb build and ergonomics.

If you’re looking for a decently priced all rounder flagship with a very natural sounding signature with top tier transparency, neutral and articulate mids and the ability to provide detail, fun bass and treble without fatigue then give an audition at the Penta you definitely can’t go wrong!

If you like thicker signatures and can’t do without full bodied mids then you might want to check out my select comparison to Custom Art FIBAE 7 a very similarly priced flagship. If you’re into a more forward and snappier presentation with sharper attack then similarly priced Earsonics flagship the EM64 (CIEM, comparison also below) or Purple (universal) are worth a look.

This review was originally published on head-fi.org :
https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/review/22686/

Meze Rai Penta review on head-fi.org frontpage (24/09/2019)


Special thanks

Thanks to Meze Audio and in particular Andy Kong for organizing the Penta World Review Tour and giving me the opportunity to review the Penta! No incentive was provided for a favorable review this review is my honest opinion of the Penta. This is a review unit and has to be returned.

Listening notes
I burnt in the unit for 2 days and then spent approximately 40 hours with the Penta, listening both to DX220/AMP9 and AMP1 mk2 with various cables : Stock 3.5 and Whiplash TWcu v3 with AMP9, upgrade 2.5 and Campfire Audio Superlitz with AMP1 mK2

Packaging

  • MMCX braided cables made of silver plated copper
  • custom wires ending in high quality 3.5mm
  • Hard Case: protective EVA case with Meze Audio metal logo
  • 4 pairs of soft silicone eartips XS, S, M, L
  • 1 double flanged eartips
  • 2 deep insertion double flanged eartips
  • 1 pair of comply foam eartips
  • 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter
  • airplane 2 pin adapter
  • cleaning tool

Meze Audio was kind enough to provide both a 2.5 and 4.4 balanced upgrade cable for the Tour.

Specifications

  • Drivers
    • 4 x Customized Balanced Armature
    • 1 x Dynamic
  • Frequency Range: 4Hz – 45kHz
  • Impedance: 20Ω
  • Sensitivity: 110dB SPL/1mW Sensitivity
  • Max Input Power: 30mW
  • Distortion: <1%

Select Comparisons

Custom Art FIBAE7

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Rai Penta and Custom Art FIBAE7 custom with Galaxy design

The FIBAE7 is the latest flagship from Custom Art and priced very similar to the Penta at 1100€, which is quite competitive on the current (bullish) market. It can be purchased both in universal and custom version. I’ll be comparing the Penta with Custom Art Silicon tips and the custom FIBAE7 I have in my collection. The Penta and FIBAE7 share a beautifully executed balance across the frequency range, just a very different presentation and a warmer tilt to the FIBAE7. From this point of view the Penta is more reference and the FIBAE7 is more on the euphonic side of things.

When switching from the Penta to the FIBAE7, the most important difference you’ll notice right away is how full bodied and thick the FIBAE7 sounds comparatively to the Rai Penta. The Penta almost has a feather like touch to notes compared to the FIBAE7. This is mainly due to the lower mids tuning, leaner on the Penta and significantly more present in the FIBAE7. Vocals are a bit more forward in the mix and lusher as well, this is a flattering presentation with more power to male vocals and sweeter tone to female. While they share similar ability to convey nuances of vocals and instruments, the Penta is more strictly accurate in its tone and more articulate.

I also believe the absence of venting on the FIBAE7 makes for more dense presentation of notes overall including more bass presence and weight. Despite featuring 2 BA for bass against 1 DD for the Penta, the FIBAE7 has more bass kick and even subs can be physically felt which is something to behold. This carries over the treble section as well where the lower treble has significantly more weight and body the treble impact is greater. On the flip side the Penta has better layering and detail is more apparent with a clearer signature.

The Penta feels more open and has better separation, the FIBAE7 feels more of a whole with less separation but more of a continuum of sound. The FIBAE7 is more organic, the overall signature is richer in a way that will be too much for some especially with thicker sounding sources. The Penta feel more open mainly thanks to the air brought by its thinner tuning versus the thicker FIBAE7. Soundstage wise, the Penta is wider but the FIBAE7 is taller and deeper. Note attack is snappier on the Penta and softer with the FIBAE7 which remains the epitome of buttery smooth at all times.

Earsonics EM64

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Rai Penta and Earsonics EM64

The EM64 is the new flagship of the Earsonics lineup replacing the long standing EM32. The EM64 is the first to feature their new generation big proprietary drivers and features the new « truewave » system not totally unlike the metal sound tube developed for the Penta.

When switching from the Penta to the EM64, the most important thing you’ll notice right away is how much forward the EM64 is, the Penta has clear vocals that are fairly forward already but the EM64 places you right in front of the singer and the vocals are clearer as well as the general signature which is significantly brighter. The second thing you’ll notice is the snappier attack of notes of the EM64, which give it an edge on PRaT but the Penta is already pretty good only with softer attack you get less of a fast paced feeling. On top of this, the EM64 transients are much faster although the Penta is no slouch either it can’t beat the fastest BA IEM I know and I didn’t expect it would.

In terms of signature, as hinted above the EM64 is presents detail in a more forward manner but I found the Penta to be very close in terms of detail retrieval which is impressive as the EM64 rates fairly high in my book. In terms of sheer resolution, I found the EM64 significantly more resolving but the Penta is not that far behind.

Soundstage wise, the Penta clearly has the edge which is inherently a weak side of the more forward EM64 but despite that edge the EM64 has much better separation. On the flipside the Penta is less analytical. The EM64 is also much more fatiguing with its energetic, vibrant and fast paced presentation while the Penta with its softer attack and warmer tilt and of course its vent ports is much less fatiguing.

Overall I am convinced the Penta will be more consensual over the EM64, which has a forward and clear tuning meant for professional on stage. I was quite impressed that in the A/B with the EM64, the Penta is able to hold its own on detail retrieval, speed and resolution while retaining a non fatiguing presentation. As I wrote in my review, the Penta has found delicate balance all over its tuning. Well done!

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