Today we are checking out Meze Audio’s ADVAR, a unique-looking IEM powered by a “precisely tuned” 10.2mm single dynamic driver. It has a black glossy body with gold accents; and because of its unique design, it was dubbed the “Ugly Duckling”. I assume many of you already know the story of the ugly duckling. So, is Meze’s Advar really an “ugly duckling” IEM? I have been testing and listening to the Advar for more than a couple of months now. Well, it’s not a perfect IEM, and I have both good and bad things to say about it. Please continue reading my Meze Audio Advar review below and find out.
Meze Audio Advar Earphone Review – Specs and Features
The Advar is one of Meze Audio’s higher-end IEMs. It’s not as expensive as the RAI Penta, but it’s not cheap as well, priced at $699 USD. As I mentioned, it features a single 10.2mm dynamic driver and carries Meze Audio’s “established signature sound”, which is warm and dynamic.
Specs-wise, the Advar isn’t difficult to drive, it’s quite sensitive and has an impedance rating of 31Ω. It has a frequency range of 10Hz to 30kHz, with an SPL of 111dB/mW and a distortion level of less than 1% at 1kHz. Compared to Meze’s RAI Penta’s specs, the Penta is technically better or superior, but not by a huge margin. Well, specs aren’t everything and these don’t tell us about its audio performance or what it sounds like in actual use.
To be honest, when my ears got a taste of balanced armature driven-IEMs, I find it quite difficult to get impressed with IEMs driven by dynamic drivers alone. That’s one reason why I’m a fan of Campfire Audio’s Andromeda and Solaris. So, it took me a while to finish this review since I had to listen to the Advar properly, use it like a daily driver, and give it a proper evaluation.
Packaging and Closer Look
The Meze Audio Advar came with a cube-like retail box. I like the all-black design with golden accents. The pattern on top of the box sure is an eye-catcher. According to Meze Audio, the outer circles are similar to their representation of the “hora”, a traditional dance that carries cosmic symbolism to Romanians. The “Advar” logo is printed on the front side of the box, with metallic gold color as well.
Sliding the (outer) sleeve off allows you to remove the top cover of the box. Removing the top cover immediately reveals the Advar cradled on a black foam padding with a velvet texture. All the accessories are hidden beneath the first layer. There is a small pull tab so that the foam cover can be removed easily.
Aside from the Advar IEM, the retail package includes a hard case pouch; five pairs of Final Type-E silicone tips; a 1.2m long silver plated copper single-ended cable with MMCX connector and 3.5mm gold plated jack; a cleaning tool, and a user manual.
While I appreciate Meze Audio including an MMCX removal tool, which is very useful since MMCX connectors are quite fragile, I am a bit disappointed that there are no foam tips included. IEMs like the Advar can be tip-dependent, and choosing the right ear tip is crucial to get the proper fit and seal. I’ll explain more about this in the later part of the review.
Meanwhile, the included silver-plated copper cable is nice and soft. I believe it is a 4-core cable with gold-plated ends. It doesn’t introduce any microphonics, and neither does it tangle. If you need a balanced cable, Meze Audio is selling a 2.5mm or 4.4mm termination for $149.
A Closer Look
The Meze Audio Advar uses a stainless steel shell that is painted with a glossy black finish. It does attract some fingerprints, and perhaps it is prone to scratches as well. I haven’t experienced my Advar getting scratched (yet), but if you want to keep its aesthetics in top condition, you’ll have to be careful in handling the Advar.
There are gold accents, like the circular face plate, the nozzle portion, and the MMCX connector. The Meze Audio logo is also in gold. The Advar itself is quite small compared to other IEMs and earphones. The shape reminds me of the ear’s cochlea. I’m not sure if that’s intentional, but somehow it looks like an ear’s cochlea.
Why the UGLY serial?
Moving in for a closer look, you’ll notice there is an “UGLY” serial on the MMCX connector. Meze Audio, in a blog post, revealed that someone called the project or prototype ugly. Thus, Meze named the project “Ugly Duckling” on purpose.
Looking at the middle photo above, you’ll notice that the Advar’s nozzle is a bit short or shallow. There’s also a tiny hole, most probably for an exhaust or vent hole. But my concern is with the nozzle. For some people, this is totally a non-issue and they would be completely fine with a short or shallow nozzle. However, for others (like me), it is a bit difficult to get a good fit and proper seal.
The included silicone tips, although of great quality, aren’t good enough for me. Luckily I have a few foam tips, Comply foam tips to be exact, that would give me that proper seal and fit I was looking for. I hope Meze Audio would consider adding foam tips on the retail package in the future.
The nozzle is covered with a stainless steel mesh (if I am not mistaken about the material). Upon closer look, the mesh has this intricate pattern, and it looks like nothing can get in or out of the nozzle.
Comfort and Fit
Meze’s Advar is one of the smallest IEMs I have tried. It reminds me of the Campfire Audio Lyra, which also has a small body. As you can see from the photo above, the Advar is smaller than the Campfire Audio Solaris and almost half the size of the Audeze Euclid. I consider the Solaris to be an average-sized IEM, while the Euclid is just big and a bit bulky for an IEM.
When it comes to comfort, the Advar is one of the most comfortable IEMs or earphones I have tried. It simply “fits” in on my ear’s concha area and there’s no pointy or protruding part. It’s also light and thanks to the ear hook design of the cable, the Advar is properly and securely held by my ears.
Although it is very comfortable, due to the somewhat short nozzle and the limited selection of included ear tips, the actual fit and seal may be an issue for some. The Advar is very tip dependent, and could (greatly) affect the sound quality and experience of the user. In my case, throughout testing and using the Advar, I find that the original Comply TX-500 with “Techdefender” foam tips is the best for my ears. I get a comfortable listening experience and I also get a good fit with a proper seal. I also find it to result in the best sounding compared to the included silicone E tips.
Meze Advar Subjective Listening Experience
Speaking of sound, I think it’s time for me to share my experience with Meze’s Advar. I primarily use my Luxury & Precision P6 R2R DAP to test the Advar. Sometimes, I use my Schiit Jotunheim desktop DAC/AMP, of course at a low gain setting.
You don’t need an AMP to drive the Advar. It’s very easy to drive, even a smartphone can do the job. Of course, if you want to experience a better sound quality and get the most out of the Advar, then using a good to excellent DAC is always recommended.
When I first listened to the Advar, right out of the box, using the medium-sized silicone E tip, I find its treble to be harsh and somewhat piercing. I also noticed that the fit and seal don’t feel right. I tried all the included Final E tips but those didn’t help either.
Finally, I decided to use Comply foam tips, and only then did I get the fit and seal that I wanted. However, it still sounds a bit harsh and fatiguing, especially its highs. So, I had to let it play for several hours a day and give it a good burn-in time.
After several days of burn-in, I noticed that the highs were no longer as harsh or sharp. Although, I still feel some spiky tones, especially if the music does have some elements of harshness. I tried the included silicone E tips again after the burn-in period, but they really don’t work for me at all.
In the end, my only option was the Comply foam tips. I used the one with a layer of protection, a.k.a. the “Techdefender” as Comply calls it. It helps tone down the harsh tones and piercing highs in my experience. Well, it’s not the primary purpose of the Techdefender, it’s supposed to keep debris, wax, and moisture out of the nozzle, but it somehow tones down the highs a little bit.
Treble Can Be Harsh
Speaking of the treble, the Meze Advar has a well-extended treble region. To the point that it does get somewhat harsh and fatiguing. That’s why tip rolling and burn-in is important to tone it down. Details and clarity are impressive and you do get that “sparkling highs” as some may call it. I do prefer to tone it down and smoothen it a little bit since some tracks can be harsh. Tip-rolling or EQ-ing are the options, but I prefer the former.
Mids and Bass
Mids on the Advar are fantastic and sweet! It doesn’t sound recessed or laid back, perhaps a bit forward-leaning. Vocals don’t sound thin, they sound full-bodied with rich details and texture. For me, I think the Advar is good for both male and female vocals. But depending on the track or music, some may prefer male only or female only for the Advar. I also can’t say that it has the best mid-range among IEMs, but for me, it definitely sounds good and “correct”.
The artist’s voice doesn’t sound compressed with the instruments, there’s a good amount of separation and clarity between instruments and vocals. Listening to classical or instrumental music is an enjoyable experience as well. I particularly like to listen to string instruments like violin, cello, and guitars with the Advar.
The bass region is another forte of the Advar. It can go deep, it’s rich and well-controlled. It doesn’t sound bloated or too emphasized. While the Advar is leaning towards the warm side, I don’t think it has an (aggressive) V-shape sound signature. It sounds more like it has a “U-shape” tuning where the trebles are well-extended and the lows are slightly elevated. Despite the bass having a great slam or punch, it doesn’t overpower the mids. Its bass is clear and not muddy at all.
When it comes to soundstage and imaging, I think the Meze Advar has a good amount of imaging but it doesn’t sound like a (true) 3D holographic effect. Personally, I don’t want it to sound (too) holographic. I still want to retain a good amount of intimacy. IEMs and earphones in general tend to sound “in your head”, unlike full-sized headphones, especially open-back ones. But, yes, the Advar doesn’t sound cramped or compressed.
Comparing to my other IEMs
I don’t have a ton of IEMs to compare the Advar to, but I’ll be comparing the Advar to Solaris and Euclid for this review. The Campfire Audio Solaris is a Hybrid IEM. It has one 10mm specially tuned dynamic driver and three custom balanced armature drivers. Meanwhile, the Audeze Euclid uses an 18mm planar magnetic driver. Both are more expensive than the Advar at $1,499 and $1,299 respectively.
Despite being the “cheaper” IEM, the Advar doesn’t sound “inferior” compared to the other two IEMs. In fact, I think the Advar sounds better overall compared to the Euclid. The Euclid sounds warm and its planar driver has a unique tone and timbre compared to the Advar’s dynamic driver. But I think the Advar has better clarity and perhaps details as well compared to the Euclid.
When compared to the Campfire Audio Solaris, I think they are both neck and neck. Each has its pros and cons. For me, the Solaris is the better IEM overall, not just in sound, but design and included accessories as well. I also prefer the highs on the Solaris, it’s well-extended but not harsh or piercing. But I prefer the bass on the Advar, which is more pronounced compared to the Solaris, despite the Solaris having a dedicated 10mm dynamic driver for its mid and low.
I think both are technically proficient IEMs, they sound “correct”, and it’s just a matter of budget and preference that would be the deciding factor. But for those who are collecting IEMs, maybe you would consider getting both.
Price and Availability
The Meze Audio Advar is now available for $699 and can be purchased directly from Meze Audio’s store here.
Meze Audio Advar Review Conclusion
The Advar is my first experience with Meze Audio’s IEMs. It looks and feels premium, and the choice of material and design is great. The unboxing experience was also pleasant and the accessories, including its cable, are satisfactory. Although, I wish they included foam tips since the Advar is tip-dependent, and due to its smaller size and somewhat shallow nozzle the silicone tips may not work for some.
When it comes to sound quality, the Advar sounds fantastic, well-rounded, and perhaps “balanced” overall. For those with sensitive ears or sensitive to highs, tip-rolling can help tone down some sibilance or harshness. If you skipped to this portion, you’ll have to backread for more details on what I think about its sound quality.
But just like the ugly duckling, it may not look good at first, in this case, it may not sound good at first. But with tip-rolling and a good amount of burn-in, the Meze Audio Advar can be a very fun, musical, and enjoyable pair of IEMs.