July 18, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Headphones

Comparative review of Meze Alba and Sennheiser IE 200

Sennheiser and Meze are two brands with seemingly opposite histories. Sennheiser is a historic German brand with classic audio products that have stood the test of time. Their releases remain popular due to their demanding audio quality, impressive durability, and reasonable prices. Meze, on the other hand, was founded in 2010 and brings constant innovation to the audiophile world. Although one may be newer than the other, this hasn't stopped Meze from releasing a sub-$200 IEM called Alba. Sennheiser's IE 200 has always been a popular choice in this range. Both products are great entry-level IEMs, so I want to put them to the test. Find out which is the best IEM under $200 in the Alba vs. Alba comparison review. IE200.

What is in the box?

  • Alba IEMs ($159)
  • 2-pin cable with 3.5mm termination
  • 2-pin cable with 4.4mm termination
  • Hard leather case
  • Selection of ear pads.
  • USB-C to headphone jack adapter
  • Quick Start Guide
  • IE 200 Headphones ($149 now on sale for $119)
  • Braided cable with MMCX connectors and 3.5mm plug
  • Silicone and Viscoelastic Sets (S, M, L)
  • Bag
  • Safety guide

Alba StyroIE 200 Styro

Look and feel: ALBA vs. IE 200

From a style perspective, it seems like these brands took opposite approaches when designing these IEMs. The Sennheiser IE 200 have a small black plastic casing with gray wiring. Everything about this headset is subtle, from its compact design to its black color and the almost imperceptible logo. Although this is an audiophile IEM, I could see artists gravitating towards the no-frills style. ALBA, on the other hand, takes its name from the Romanian word meaning “first light.” The zinc/aluminum alloy used for the controller housing is a little larger but still comfortable. Its white and gray colors stand out much more, but are not ostentatious. These are brilliant sounding headphones and I will talk about this later. It's nice to see a company be creative enough to make their headphones look the way they sound. This gives Alba the main points of my book on creativity.

Meze Alba next to each other

In terms of how the IEM feels, mileage will vary and this is even more relative than appearance. The IE200's small housing fits firmly in my ears, with plenty of tips to ensure a proper seal. This condensed fit is popular with listeners, but the main complaint I and others have about Sennheiser IEMs is their cable. The plastic around the MMCX connection feels stiff when wrapped around your ear. The cable itself is also sticky to the touch. I wouldn't say it's a bad accessory, I just think it's average considering the price.

Meze's Alba also feels firm and comfortable in the ear, much like the Sennheiser IE 200. Meze makes some of the best replacement cables in the industry considering their quality and price. This cable is no exception as it feels comfortable, soft and thin. Neither of these are ultra-high-end cables and both are to be expected to tangle. I felt like I got a better seal with the Sennheiser tips, but again my ears aren't shaped exactly like yours. For these reasons, I have to give the edge to the Alba in appearance, but I admit that the IE 200 is more comfortable.

Design – Alba vs. IE 200

The Meze Alba's 10.8mm dynamic driver is rated for

Apparently the IE 200 demands a little more power than the measurements suggest. Combine this with the fact that Alba is a little more sensitive than you might expect. Plugged directly into the headphone port on my Macbook air, the IE 200 was a little more sensitive than the Alba, but it didn't actually sound even 10 dB louder. With the USB-C to 3.5 adapter, I was able to get a little more bass volume. Connected to the dongle, the Alba is almost identical to the IE 200 in terms of sensitivity, so users should not worry about powering either unit.

Soundstage – Alba vs. IE 200

The IE 200 and Alba offer different sound stages, each with their own strengths. The IE 200 has a wider staging, creating a feeling of spaciousness that extends further back and horizontally. This medium-large width comes at a cost of vertical dimension. As a result, IE 200 may not convey as much vertical separation between the layers of a mix. Taking this into account, the IE 200 has more sound bleed between drivers than the Alba. This means there is less analytical sound, but it still sounds more holographic than the Alba.

On the other hand, the Alba presents a more compact horizontal soundstage but compensates for it with a greater vertical dimension. This creates a louder, more layered image, potentially offering better separation between instruments and vocals. I wouldn't call the Alba stagey in its verticality, like other high-end Meze headphones are. But the verticality is a big step forward from the IE200. The Alba also has much less controller bleed, where item panning is presented with greater clarity and precision.

Choosing between these two IEMs will depend on your personal preferences, the output source, and the set being recorded. The IE 200 would be the preferred choice for a wider sound that many audiophiles will enjoy. Although less cohesive, the Alba might appeal to those looking for analytical imagery and vertical layers. For me I felt that the Alba was more suited to my tastes.

Listening Impressions: Alba vs. IE 200

Low

The Alba and the IE 200 have 2 different sound signatures that will more or less suit certain genres and preferences. Without the supplied dongle, the Alba can sound a little thin in places. There is a lot of upper mids and treble in its sound, but the bass will definitely be unobtrusive. This sound inspired me to explore jazz and classical music, where mixes tend to be a little warmer than bright. The main benefit of the dongle was how it ubiquitously boosted the volume of the bass frequencies. While testing with the dongle, the sound signature became much more uniform but remained bright.

The IE 200 follows the sound signature of the rest of the IE series, which is flat and uniform. My listening impressions gave me more warmth from the IEM, although I am aware that the Sennheisers will never be as loud as bass-heavy headphones do. I noticed that although there is more bass volume, the similarity to the Harman curve made the bass feel less strained. I must admit that none of these sonic signatures focus on the bass. If you're looking for palpable sub-bass in any of these, you're better off looking elsewhere. However, I noticed a warmer and more obvious bass sound on the IE 200. For this reason, I have to choose the Sennheiser when comparing bass.

media

The IE 200's mids are tuned with a subtle approach that favors uniformity rather than highlighting certain frequency ranges. I noticed how balanced vocals and midrange instruments sounded, without certain peaks and valleys in their frequency response. It was awesome to hear Cold Cave's “Underworld USA.” The sharp waves of the saw and the wet sounds of the guitar resonated forcefully, but gave enough space for the reverb-heavy vocals. At the same time, this balanced sound was sometimes a bit lackluster. Nothing is too strenuous, but it is also mundane in some ways.

The Alba provides a brighter sound in part due to the boost that is noticeable beyond 600 hZ. Sounds centered in the middle had more clarity and definition. Guitars, synths, and horns offered crisper character, but had less richness that I typically find in the lower mids. Although I normally prefer a flatter response, Alba was incredibly fun to listen to. It wasn't offensively brilliant to me, but there was great detail in most elements of a mix. The snares (both virtual and acoustic) had a great effect that made me focus on the driving rhythms of the music. The definition of the synths and drums makes this an enjoyable listening experience and gives the Alba the edge when comparing mids.

Triple

Your preference for highs will be the most discernible selling point between these two IEMs. If you're not a fan of bright responses, chances are you won't appreciate the Alba's treble focus. Similarly, sounds like cymbals, theremin, bells, sitars, and steel guitars are all punchy and pleasing. Songs like Nasum's “The New Firing Squad” had some sibilance, but modern mixes did not have this problem. Overall, I didn't notice an excessive amount of treble and enjoyed the ringing quality these elements have. Overall, this tuning is impressive in the way it balances the focus on the treble, while still being versatile and non-fatiguing.

Overall, there's not much that defines the IE 200's treble signature too much. The peaks at 2.5 kHz and 6.5 kHz add clarity and enough definition without sounding too warm or bright. I felt that sibilance was a minor issue with these headphones, but it wasn't a complaint that I thought took away from the Meze Alba. Cymbals and feedback don't stand out as much on the Sennheisers, but they sacrifice that for less clarity in the midrange.

I think Sennheiser would be more versatile in bringing out the true sound of mixes, but I don't think listeners would be too interested in any particular aspect of the frequency response. Personally I would choose the IE 200 for the music I like to listen to, but I'm not a big fan of shiny headphones. Those of you who are will certainly prefer the Alba and I must say that I am impressed with the treble tuning.

Meze Dongle

Summary

Your taste in sound signatures will definitely influence your decision when looking between these two IEMs. The Alba is a wonderfully crisp IEM with lots of definition and shape. The staging is represented precisely and with impressive verticality. The IE 200 is more subtle in its signature, recreating sounds with great precision. At the cost of more driver bleed, the sounds have a nice horizontal quality. The IE 200 has more of a reference quality where mixes sound balanced and cohesive. The Alba, on the other hand, has great clarity and separation. Between the 2 I feel that the Alba offers better value for money. The inclusion of a dongle, a balanced 4.4 cable, and an electrifying sound signature make this an excellent purchase. The IE 200 is a close second, but mediocre cables and overall neutral sound made it less exciting in a head-to-head comparison.

Reserve the Sunrise or buy the That is, 200 in Audio 46

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