Unique Melody MEST is the first hybrid IEM that uses four different types of drivers – bone conduction, EST, balanced armature, and dynamic. It is priced at $1399 for a universal version, and $1699 for custom.
Sound quality for the price
Build quality and design
Starting from the unboxing experience, you’ll see a specific approach from Unique Melody. The outer box is nowhere close to as pretty and eye-catching as the ones offered by Campfire Audio, MMR or Kinera for example. Luckily, as soon as you open the lid, you’re welcomed by some nice goodies.
First of all – the specially designed Dignis case is one of the best IEM cases I’ve ever used. While its design is not my favorite, there’s plenty of room inside, and it provides good protection. Also, thanks to the clever inner construction, your IEMs are separated from the cable which provides a scratch-free experience while carrying around.
Next to that, you’ll find four pairs of silicone eartips, of which one pair is already installed on the IEMs. These are actually a great offering, being well-made and comfortable. If you’re not into silicone tips though, Unique Melody got you covered by including 3 pairs of Comply TSX-500.
Lastly, included is a nice looking warranty card and a microfiber cloth. On the photo below you can also see 2 adapters: 2.5mm -> 3.5mm and 2.5mm -> 4.4mm, but as far as I know, these are not included in the retail packaging.
The cable included is made of high quality materials, but I’ve got some notes.
First of all, it’s quite thick and chunky, but it doesn’t actually affect the comfort, which is great. The cable is tangle-free, well-made, and comfortable to use.
It uses a rather specific type of 2-pin connectors, because of the extruded sockets in the IEMs.
Ordering the MEST, you can choose between 2.5mm, 3,5mm, and 4.4mm termination, but 2.5mm is the “default” one. It is 2021 already, 4.4mm really dominated the market (and for a reason), and I’m kinda confused about that choice. It’s not a problem for me, as I’ve gotten the adapters mentioned earlier, but without them… I’d simply have to use a different cable right from the start. Who uses 2.5mm balanced nowadays?
On top of that, if you’d like to order the cable separately, it’ll cost you about $400. It’s a good stock cable, but I can’t even imagine paying for it that much money. You’d be much better of buying something from Effect Audio, Eletech, Satin Audio, Pw Audio….well, you get the point.
Build quality and design
The overall build quality is pretty much flawless. It’s well-executed, sturdy and reliable. What’s really impressive is the acrylic coating that is very smooth and almost glass-like. The extruded 2-pin sockets provide more grip to the cable and you won’t be risking breaking the connector or the socket itself as much as with the standard 2-pin sockets.
The nozzle is made of metal, which is also a great choice. Just look at the Vision Ears Elysium, which costs about 2x more than the MEST. It has an acrylic nozzle which is an obvious weak point. No worries here though, these won’t break anytime soon.
The design on the other hand is well…good. This is hugely subjective, but I quite like the look of this pair of IEMs. In terms of looks, I’d still prefer metal like with Campfire Audio or MMR offerings, but metal tends to scratch and is quite heavy. With the MEST you don’t have to worry about the shells scratching each other everytime you put them out of your ear, and they are not cold to the touch in winter. Overall, I cannot rate it as 10/10 just because it’s not as impressively designed as for example Campfire Audio Ara or the MMR Homunculus, but there’s absolutely nothing bad or mediocre about it.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve seen many complains about the comfort of the MEST. It worried me a bit before getting them, but luckily these are very comfortable…at least for me.
The shells are rather big, but they fit into my ear canals perfectly and provide a fatigue-free experience even for hours. After using the MEST for about 5 hours, I haven’t had any problems with the fit.
Take it more as a personal observation though, it is definitely recommended to try them before making an order if it’s possible.
Okay, now we’re getting into some really interesting stuff. The Unique Melody MEST uses four different driver types, one of which has never been used before in in-ear monitors. IEMs using three different types of drivers are called “Tribrids”, so how should we call this one? “Quadbrids”? Well, that sounds ridiculous, any ideas?
Back to the topic though – MEST uses the 10mm dynamic driver for low-end, four balanced-armatures for mids and highs, 2EST for ultra highs, and…a bone conduction driver.
As the rest is pretty self-explanatory, let’s dive into this bone conduction driver and see what it’s really about.
What is a bone conduction driver?
– Basically, it’s a construction with metal pieces covered by piezoelectric ceramics, which then bend the metal pieces to create vibrations. These vibrations are then transferred onto the carbon-fiber shells and then, by touching your ears, these vibrations are transferred into your inner ear, creating the sound.
Can you actually feel it? Well…it’s hard to tell. I’ve tried touching the faceplates with my fingers to feel any vibrations. Sometimes I thought I felt something, but it may have been a placebo. However, there are two things that make me think that this technology really works.
First of all – MEST requires a deep fit to sound the best. They have to go all the way into your ear canal and the shells have to touch your ear as much as possible.
Secondly, the vocals and instruments often have this…physicality to them. It’s kind of hard to describe, but some parts of the sound are so saturated and well…physical, that you really have a feeling that you can reach out and grab them. I’ve never heard that kind of revelation while listening to a pair of IEMs, and I believe that it’s that whole “Bone conduction magic”. Spectacular.
Let’s get into the sound, as this is probably what you’ve been waiting for. I’ll put that as simple as it gets – the MEST is a world-class, Summit-Fi IEM both in terms of technical performance and its tuning.
Starting from the bass response, it represents all the best aspects of a properly implemented dynamic driver. It is physical, punchy, and exceptionally defined. I really think that the time of BA bass in IEMs has passed, as it simply cannot match the DD driver.
The low-end of the MEST is spectacular. It’s big, well-controlled and very fun to listen to.
Post Malone tracks are filled with this deep, rumbling bass and MEST gives you exactly that – thick, punchy, and forward low-end that has an exceptional physicality.
Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles shows that the bass is also very well-defined and controlled, providing a fantastic insight into the drums and bass guitars. On top of that, the low frequencies are fantastically defined throughout the whole soundstage, circling around your head in a very natural manner. It’s not overpowering, it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the frequencies, it’s not overdone. This is just an exceptionally tuned bass that’ll give you the perfect combination of detail and fun.
The midrange might be the least impressive thing about the MEST in terms of timbre, but if the technicalities are your thing…then yeah, you’re gonna absolutely love it.
It is wonderfully transparent, neutral and the amount of details is just ridiculous. If you’re a fan of thick, mellow vocals then you won’t find it in the MEST, but that doesn’t mean that the timbre is inaccurate. Everything sounds natural, crispy, and very open, the only thing that is a little bit missing is some sweetness, which would have resulted in more full-bodied sounding vocals and instruments.
There’s one exception though – female vocals. Both Melody Gardot and Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac sound wonderful, charming, and captivating. That is because this kind of vocalists rely on openness and airiness more than warmth and lushness.
The treble is a similar story to the midrange, being focused on that freshness and neutrality. I have to admit, that this is one of the best EST implementations on the current market. The whole treble region is very consistent and mature. It’s not the edgiest sounding IEM, being somewhat smooth in the lower-treble region. Don’t get me wrong though – it’s not a mellow, smooth-sounding IEM in the high frequencies. It’s just about that spectacular resolution and definition, that you’re never going to experience any harshness or over-saturation.
Let’s take one specific music genre for example – metal. You’re getting the best of both worlds, energetic, airy, and spicy treble which at the same time is very well controlled, detailed, and doesn’t have any unpleasant spikes to it. Sony IER-Z1R provides a better bling-bling factor and overall more juicy and sparkly treble presentation – thanks to its fantastic DD driver(s). MEST on the other hand focuses more on being more even, smooth and elegant. You’re gonna hear every single thing. When it comes to overall detail retrieval, the MEST is a TOTL product offering one of the best resolution and detail on the market, regardless of the price.
The soundstage is probably the most impressive thing about the MEST, even though I’ve spent the last three paragraphs praising these babies to the skies. How could I not call the soundstage as the best element of the MEST, when it’s (together with Vision Ears Elysium) the best staging I’ve ever heard in an IEM.
First things first – the soundstage is massive, if you’re looking for an IEM version of Sennheiser HD800 or Hifiman Arya – well, I think you’ve just found it.
At the same time, it never seems too big, or unnaturally spacious. When you’re listening to the tracks recorded in a small studio or a live concert in a small – medium-sized avenue, you’re gonna get just that. Put on a huge live concert though or some symphonic music, and you’re going to hear sounds coming like 100 yards away from you – that experience will probably leave you quite speechless.
What’s even more impressive, the imaging is simply put the most accurate I’ve heard in an IEM period. Every single instrument is recreated in such an outstanding way that I went “WTF” many times during my listening sessions. You’re never getting the sound from inside your head, every sound source has its own place and it’s perfectly separated from everything else. I put that soundstage on pair with the market best, the Elysium by Vision Ears, but it’s a somewhat different approach. The VE is more charming, ethereal, and well…magical in terms of recreating the soundstage. MEST on the other hand is more realistic, has bigger instruments, and an absolutely ridiculous separation and imaging.
VS Vision Ears Elysium
I will go as far, as calling the MEST and Elysium “the same league”. While the Elysium is much lighter, fresher, and magical sounding, the MEST is more full-bodied, dynamic, and well…epic.
The Elysium has a slightly better midrange, thanks to its wonderful timbre and that “magical” aspect to the vocals, but it’s a rather close call.
The bass, on the other hand, is nowhere close, as MEST has a much, much better bass response than the Elysium. It’s heavier, but it doesn’t mean it’s less natural. I actually think that the slightly elevated bass response in MEST is more natural and true sounding than this somewhat thin and unimpressive bass found in the Elysium. The difference between staging has been mentioned in the paragraph above.
VS Campfire Audio Dorado 2020
These are two very fun sounding IEMs. While the Dorado 2020 is even more powerful, fun, and crazy-sounding of the two, it’s nowhere close in regard to technical capabilities to the MEST. Dorado 2020 has more elevated bass and a more sparkly, energetic treble region, while the midrange is quite similar between the two. MEST takes the lead in terms of detail retrieval, staging, and an overall open-sounding though.
I must admit, that while I’m listening to some modern pop, rap, or metal – I’m still in absolute love with the Dorado. I’m yet to find more fun and crazy sounding IEM.
On the other hand, when I’m listening to classical rock, prog rock, jazz etc – I’m choosing the MEST, for its absolutely unmatched technicalities.
VS Campfire Audio ARA
These two IEMs are very different from each other. While the CFA Ara is all about that flatness, neutrality, and a cold insight into the music, MEST does it with an elevated bass response and an overall more punchy sound. This is as simple as it gets – if you’re into a very neutral and flat sounding IEM with fantastic detail – get the Ara. If you’re into fun and musicality, but you still want to get a huge amount of information – the MEST is for you, definitely.
VS Lime Ears Aether R
I’ll start by saying, that the Aether R has this weird “loving” aspect to them, which is created by an interesting midrange timbre and somewhat sweet-sounding treble. It’s not a match for the MEST though, loosing in every single aspect by quite a margin. The bass goes deeper and has better impact and body in the MEST, the midrange is more neutral and has much more information, and the treble is just more mature, detailed and refined. Speaking about the soundstage, while the Aether R is praised for its great staging capabilities, the MEST still wipes the floor with it, providing much better imaging, separation, and the overall size of the soundstage. Oh yeah, and the bass is just miles ahead in the MEST.
VS Noble Audio Khan
These two IEMs share some similarities – both are a supercars in terms of detail and resolution, but I’m giving an edge to the MEST for more fun factor, better staging and the bass response. While the Khan offers a bloody-fast and accurate low frequencies, the MEST is more spectacular and overall better extended and detailed of the two. Yet again, the soundstage of the UM offers a better imaging and separation than the Noble’s ex-flagship.
When listening to these two side by side, I’d call the Khan a flawed supercar focusing mainly on speed. The MEST on the other hand is a whole package, not even a tad slower, with just about everything else better.
The MEST pairs well with many devices, but you have to remember to provide them as good quality source as possible. They also like power, which is quite easy to notice on my Cayin N3Pro. I usually use the triode or the ultralinear mode with just about every pair of IEMs I own, but I prefer listening to the MEST using the balanced output. The whole sound just became cleaner, more texturized, and better controlled.
They do pair exceptionally well with the Lotoo Paw Gold Touch, resulting in a sound that is as accurate and detailed as it gets. It’s definitely not a setup for folks going for a warm and lush sound, but if you’re all about the detail and transparency – this pairing will be really hard to beat, in any budget.
I can also recommend using the Cayin N6ii with both A01 and E01 modules. The first will give you a tremendous bass response and it’ll give you more warmth in the mid section. The E01 on the other hand will be better in terms of staging and detail.
Unique Melody MEST is an outstanding IEM that can compete with just about everything on the market, often costing a fraction of the price of its competitor. With its revolutionary driver configuration, supported by years of experience, Unique Melody created a true pinnacle of Hi-End IEM market. I can’t think of any better way to spend $1399 for a pair of in-ear monitors. I’m as impressed as I can be.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Campfire Audio Dorado 2020, Vega 2020, Andromeda, Lime Ears Aether R, Vision Ears EVE20, Elysium, Meze Rai Penta, Audeze LCD3, Campfire Audio Ara, Noble Audio Khan, Final A8000
- Sources– Cayin N3Pro, Lotoo Paw Gold Touch, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M15, Cayin N6ii, Cayin N8, JDSLabs Atom stack, SMSL SU-9