The best laid schemes of mice, men and niche British audio brands can go awry when the world is gripped by a global pandemic. Meters Music announced its new flagship headphones back in January, with shipping due a few months later. It’s now December, and this is the first time we’ve seen the new OV-1-B Connect cans in the flesh.
Meters Music is a part of Ashdown Engineering, a British company that makes bass amplifiers for musicians. Its selling point is the inclusion of working analog VU (Volume Unit) meters in its pro hardware, which are also added to the headphones. Here, both ear cups have outward-facing VU monitors, making it look like you’re wearing a ‘70s HiFi unit on your head.
The headphones are sturdily built, with an emphasis on retro styling, a silver aluminum body and a faux-leather headband in tan, black or white. They’re not the lightest cans in the world, but the weight is at least well-balanced, and the thick faux-leather keeps them soft. I’ve worn them for two or three hours at a time and found them to be comfortable enough on my head when placed just so.
I’m not the first (or the hundredth) person to point out how much of an affectation the VU meters are. You can’t see them unless you’ve got a couple of mirrors and a bendy neck, so they’re not the most useful to see if your music is too loud. They’re calibrated to EU listening standards, and so only really start bouncing when the audio reaches semi-uncomfortable levels anyway. They’re sensitive enough, however, that with the audio off, they’ll jump pretty far when you have a small coughing fit.
Meters says that the point of them, beyond the fashion, to help parents see if their kids are listening to their music too loudly. (Who knew that there was a market for parents who buy their kids luxury headphones big enough to sustain a whole company?) Really, they’re an easy way for you to tell the world that, ya know, you really care about the music, yeah?
There’s an RGB LED hidden behind each VU meter, and you can change the color of the backlight from the default yellow, as well as the brightness. In terms of additional flourishes, it’s nice, but you’ll soon notice the other shades don’t really go with the set’s retro stylings. In fact, after scrolling through the colors, I realized that the default yellow was put there for a reason.
Meters made a big deal about the inclusion of Qualcomm's QCC5124 SoC, which offers low power Bluetooth 5.0 connections and 24-bit audio. The resulting sound is ruthlessly clean and clear, making it ideal for songs that aren’t too aggressive, with subtle treble and vocal tracks. Go for something a little meatier, with a lot of bass, and things remain fairly polite and clean.
I switched to a high-res audio player and played some studio masters in FLAC, Meters’ strengths and weaknesses are even more exposed. Throw classical, or delicate-like-spider-silk songs at the OV-1-B-Connect, and you’ll be treated to beautiful songs reproduced beautifully. It excels at playing delicate music, but this milquetoast reproduction is at odds with its rock-and-roll stylings.
With closed back ear cups and ANC, you can drown out a heck of a lot of ambient noise with these things. Since we’re not able to fly right now, I instead sat and asked my two kids to scream, jump around and generally be awful in my general direction. And I was barely able to hear any of that while listening to something mellow, enjoying the most blissful moment of zen I’ve had in weeks.
It’s not all perfect, however. One of the biggest objections with the previous version of these headphones was the fixed ANC and EQ modes, controlled with a physical switch. To remedy that, the company has launched Meters Connect, an Android / iOS app that lets you dynamically adjust the EQ (and change the VU meter backlight). To say I’ve had issues with the app is something of an understatement, with regular connection brownouts slowing down the firmware updates.
When I was able to play with the EQ, however, I found that you can either make the songs excessively, unpleasantly crunchy or hissy but still relatively flat. In fact, it’s one of those options that presumably makes sense somewhere, to someone, but seems less than pointless for general use. Perhaps the professional musicians and producers that Meters consults with (and uses in its promotional material) get more out of the technology than I do.
While I’m nitpicking, I’d add that this is a brand new pair of $349 headphones which still ship with a micro-USB cable for charging. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does mean that, if you’re living in a USB-C world, you still can’t ditch the legacy cables in your carry case.
Fundamentally, Meters’ had plenty of fundamentals in place, with a good-looking pair of well-made headphones and a unique statement feature. But I’m struggling to really connect with this device in the sound itself, which to my non-audiophile ears seems to be fussier than it needs to be. When you’re asking for this sort of money, you don’t just need to be good — which these can be — you need to be better than Sony’s class-leading WH-1000XM4. Sadly, we’re not quite there yet.