disclaimer: I received the Rai Penta as part of a tour arranged by Meze and Head-fi. I have received no incentives in exchange for my review and the Rai Penta is on its way to the next reviewer as I write this. If you have an interest in the Rai Penta or other Meze products, check out their website. Received 9/12.
Unboxing / Packaging:
I was lucky number one on the tour so I got the same unboxing experience as a retail buyer. For those after me, I will do my best to return it to exactly the same state less the shrink wrap. The box front is satin black on flat black with the Meze logo in the center and the Rai Penta name beneath it. The reverse has an exploded view of the earpiece with the specs on the model beneath it. The third picture shows the side of the box that has some additional info regarding the build. This can be hard to see because of the black on black and under certain light was much more easily visible than in others. Lifting the box top reveals the tips nestled in foam, 8 sets of tips also in cut-outs and a clam-shell case with the cable and other accessories inside.
The Kit provided with the Tour unit was more complete than the standard retail kit as it came with both the 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced cable in addition to the stock 3.5mm single ended cable. The stock retail kit comes with the case, 8 sets of tips (2 foam and 6 silicone), a cable tie, the soft case, a user manual, airline adapter, 6.3mm adapter, cleaning tool, and a couple of Meze Audio Stickers in the box. The case deserves a bit of extra discussion as it is a distinct step above the norm. The clamshell’s exterior is leather with a Meze logo plate in the center of the top. The case is much stiffer than most “soft” cases and while it has some flex, it definitely has a layer under the leather that resists bending, punctures, and crushing. The inside is split into two compartments by a mesh net. The interior is felt lined to protect the earpieces. I do wish the case had a felt pocket to stash one tip and keep the two from touching in the case, but it is a well made case all the same.
The Shell on the Rai is a 3 part design with an inner and outer shell and a separate nozzle. Shells are Metal injection molded and then polished to final shape. Anodizing is a deep blue and is very well matched between pieces. Vents are cut after anodizing so show the bare aluminum as does the Meze logo etched into the face. The pressure stabilization vent is particularly interesting in that is has 6 small circular vents with 3 cut to connect at the center and 3 that stand alone. Again, I am told this not just for looks but was found to be the best design to allow the proper amount of air movement around the dynamic driver, so this is both aesthetically interesting and functional. Shells are on medium sized and were very comfortable for this reviewer for extended wear. (As a comparison, size is similar to Magaosi K5, or RHA Cl2). Nozzles exit the top front of the shell with almost no rake thus allowing for fairly deep insertion. Isolation is average due to the venting and small size of the housing. Nozzles have 3 sound bores each of slightly different dimensions tuned to the drivers behind them. MMCX connectors are just very slightly recessed and have a ring between the connector and the shell. This is the only place I could find any fault with the construction as is visible in the photos below. The ring is just slightly off center. I don’t think this has any impact on sound, connection quality, or fit, it just caught my eye while shooting the photos.
As the name implies, the Rai Penta is a 5 driver per side iem with 4 customized Knowles balanced armatures housed in pairs each with a single sound bore, and a 10mm dynamic driver designed specifically for the model. The drivers use the housing and metal sound bore tubes to funnel sound to the three sound bores in the nozzle. In speaking with Anto Meze, he stated that pretty much everything is custom tuned in house and was built from the ground up for this model. I asked specifically about the dynamic driver and if it was graphene, titanium, etc… and was told that Meze philosophy is that good sound relies more on fine tuning than on exotic materials. (So no, no titanium, beryllium, or Graphene to be found). The Rai has a nominal impedance of 20Ω with a sensitivity of 110dB/mW. I found the Rai easy to drive but did find that it scaled qualitatively as detail retrieval improved with better sources. I really like the Penta paired to the WM1A as it brings out the best of both.
This is the one place the tour package departs from the standard as the tour package includes the standard 3.5 mm single ended cable along with the 2.5 mm balanced and 4.4 mm balanced cables. We can speak to all three in one discussion as other than the jacks, all have similar construction. All are four wire Litz braids using silver coated oxygen free copper with 20 strands per wire. Connectors are all either rhodium plated (2.5 and 3.5) or gold plated (4.4) for extra durability and corrosion protection. Housings on the jacks and splitters are polished metal in a deep almost black gray with Meze Audio and the connector type on the jack housing and the Meze logo on the splitter. Chin sliders are clear plastic and work as expected. The North end of the cable terminates with pre-formed earhooks and gold plated mmcx connectors in clear housings. A red dot on the right housing is the only indicator or left/right arrangement but works. I found the cables extremely well made and very pliable with little microphonics. I spent most of my time using either the 3.5 mm or the 4.4 mm but spent enough time with the 2.5 mm plugged into the Opus#1S and the xCAN to say it works equally well.
I found the Rai to be an interesting mix when rolling tips. As long as the tips do not obstruct the sound bores in the nozzle, they made little difference to the sound signature and allowed for finding a tip that fit best without having to compromise sound quality. Tips that do obstruct or constrict the output were generally undesirable as they reduced mid-bass and mids more than I would have preferred.
Bass is mildly boosted on the Rai with the boost centered around 100Hz. Sub-bass extension is moderate with roll-off only becoming evident below about 30Hz and good rumble when called upon. Sub-bass drops as it moves into mid-bass but remains elevated above the mids. Mid-bass has good punch and slam and can be very authoritative when a track calls for it. It does a good job of fading back into the mix when not. Speed is good with attack being just a shade faster than decay with leaves a little warmth and fullness without interfering or sounding clouded. Bass is more detailed than many and has good control throughout the range. I found timbre and tonality to be better on percussion and electric bass than on low strings, but this is nitpicking as both were above average.
There is no mid-bass bleed to obscure the lower mids but the dynamic driver does contribute some warmth to the mids. The mids start climbing forward from the transition point with the mid-bass. Vocals have good clarity and thickness without feeling heavy and have very good tonality regardless of gender but the climb in the mids gives female vocals a bit more presence as they sit mildly ahead of their lower register counterparts. I would equate the detail level in the mids to that of the Empire Ears ESR as both are on near equal footing although the Rai does bring a bit more life to the mix somehow.
Lower treble starts out on the same plateau as the upper-mids and then falls back fairly quickly to avoid any hint of stridency. Overall, the treble is tuned for politeness more than absolute extension. Attack and decay are fast (as expected) and yield good detail without requiring a big push forward to accomplish it. There is a drop-off in the 5-6kHz range that probably directly contributes to the lack of harsh treble. Another smaller push forward around 8kHz brings some air back into the top end and a final small push around 10kHz gives just a hint of sparkle. Those looking for prominent treble will fault the Rai for its lack of overall extension, but those looking for a polite listening companion that does not fatigue the user quickly will appreciate the tuning more. I found these slightly less detailed and transparent than the JH14, but equally well textured and a bit smoother making for a very easy, comfortable listen.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage is wider than deep but still has some depth and a reasonable sense of height. Seating the orchestra is straight forward aided by above average instrument separation. Imaging is precise and movements are easily recognized and pinpointed. I can’t imagine many will use the Rai for gaming, but the spatial cues are good enough that it is one of the few iems where I think it would do quite well in that roll. Layering is also above average with no tendency to get muddy or compressed as tracks get more complex and faster. I would compare the sound stage to a small venue with seating in the first few rows.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Up to this point, Meze has been known more for its over-ear models than its in-ears. The Rai Penta is not Meze first in-ear, but it is the first in this price class and when you price a product in the range with other companies flagships, you set expectations pretty high. The Rai certainly lives up to its flagship pricing where build is concerned. The ano is first rate, and the vents are quite elaborate. Cables share the same high quality build and with pricing being lower than some competitive models, I can see some using Meze cables on other iems. On the sound side, I found the Rai to be very revealing and thus very source dependent and it definitely pairs better with some sources than others. I even found that swapping cables between the 2.5 balanced and 3.5 single ended sometimes made significant differences from the same source device (and yes, I volume matched to be sure). Detail and micro-detail is well rendered and tonality is quite good. The tuning can probably best be referred to as polite and non-fatiguing which will make some happy and others disappointed as that is accomplished by limiting extension (particularly on the top end). Meze has focused on creating a musical listen and in large measure succeeded, is it reference flat, no, is it the best extended iem available, no, is it an iem you can forget about all the technical stuff and just enjoy, absolutely.
Pros: Build quality is first class as is comfort, signature is very non-fatiguing for long listening sessions
Cons: Very source dependent and only moderately extended at both ends