Unique Melody, a custom in-ear-monitor company located in China, has been offering earphone remolding service, custom monitor products, and monitors exclusively made for a customer since 2003. Recently, Unique Melody opened more of their products to the North American markets, including their dual-driver monitor, Marvel and their triple-driver monitors, the Aero. During October 2009, Unique Melody announced their quadruple-driver, three-way crossover model - the “Mage.” Consisting of dual low-frequency drivers, and dedicated high frequency and mid-range drivers, the Mage is to offer one of the most impressive audio presentations on the market. Priced at approximately $600 USD, the Mage is one of the cheapest quadruple-driver monitors on the market today.
Variation: Any Colour, Any Artwork
Transducers: Four Balanced Armature Drivers
Configuration: Passive 3-Way Crossover (Single High, Mid, and Dual Low)
Frequency Range: 20Hz-18 kHz
Impedance: 21 ohm
Sensitivity (1mW): 114 dB SPL
Accessories: : Replaceable braided cable, Stiff Board Magnet hard case, Leather Carrying Pouch, Cleaning Tool
Price: $600 plus impressions and shipping
Packaging and Accessories (7/10)
Prior to the release of the quadruple-driver Mage monitors from Unique Melody, the company offered a large aluminum carrying case with soft memory foam inserts, cleaning wipes, cleaning tool, and also a soft carrying case for any dual-driver or triple-driver monitors. However, with the Mage, Unique Melody has decided to use a brand new packaging for the new flagship model. Instead of the large aluminum case, the buyer now gets a high quality, stiff, laminated magnetic cardboard box with stiff foam inserts. The box closes and opens with the top working as a flap. The box is extremely stylish, with a unique grey wave design on it that is eye catching, and makes the container extra classy. Despite the stiff cardboard box may seem like a step down from previous aluminum container, the box is extremely well made as the material used is similar to what is used on yearbooks in school, but even stronger.
When we open the magnetic top, we are presented with the Mage resting in the foam waiting to be worn. Beneath the foam insert is a cleaning tool, which has semi-stiff bristles on one end and a wire loop on the other that will brush and remove debris in the sound bore of the monitors. We are also presented with a soft, silver leather carrying pouch. Unfortunately, Unique Melody does not provide a stiff carrying case that is offered by competitors such as Ultimate Ears, JH Audio, and Westone. The pouch is extremely soft on the inside, so there is no risk of scratching the monitors in any way. It would be nice if Unique Melody would include the stiff case they offer for their remolding service, but the silver pouch is useful for protecting the cosmetic parts of the monitors in a semi-safe environment. In addition to the well-explained manual, Unique Melody offers the common 30 day fit warranty for the Mage, where they will fix the fit within thirty days from shipment. The warranty for any defective on the external and internal components is 1 year from the day of shipment, where you will have to return-ship the monitor to Unique Melody at your own expense.
One really interesting thing about Unique Melody compared to other custom monitor companies is that Unique Melody provides a frequency response chart for your very own specific pair of monitors. Now, many buyers will probably have no use for the chart, but it’s nice to see the response test done on the monitors prior to shipment. Overall, the packaging of the Mage is very nice, as the white magnetic box is extremely attractive and really does protect the monitors. However, accessories are slightly lacking and you don’t get the nicest case or pouch with the Mage.
Out of the many custom monitors that I’ve come across, the Mage are the best built. In terms of build and aesthetics, the Mage exceeds Ultimate Ears, JH Audio, and even the pioneer of custom monitors - Westone. Unique Melody has gone with the typical material that custom monitors are made from, which is acrylic. Like other manufacturers, Unique Melody casts a negative mold from the silicone impressions of your ears, where acrylic resin is poured and the filled mold is exposed to UV light. The excess liquid acrylic is poured out from the mold, and then the semi-solid shell is exposed to UV light once again for final curing. Unique Melody then makes the faceplate which is put on after the installation of the electrical components.
Looking at my pair of Mage, they are absolutely astonishing when compared side by side with other monitors that I have seen and owned, including monitors that cost twice as much. Shaping of the impressions prior to the negative mold was done extremely well. The shell is made flawlessly; the surface is extremely smooth, without a scratch or irregular bump. The faceplate is no exception with a perfect buff, and an extremely clean and glossy covering. The most impressive build quality characteristic from Unique Melody is the assembly of the faceplate onto the shell itself. As the faceplate and shell are two different pieces of the mold, they have to be joined together with acrylic to enclose all the electrical components. Unique Melody had done an exemplar job on this specific part of assembly as even with detailed examination, I was not able to tell that the faceplate had been put on after as the mold looks and feels as if it had been molded as one piece. Comparing to my other high-end monitors offered by other companies where the faceplate can be clearly seen as a separate piece, Unique Melody exceeds in the aesthetics category, offering a flawless build on the assembly of the faceplate.
Furthermore, I inquired about what kind of artwork Unique Melody was able to do. Now, I wanted the standard artwork that I apply on my monitors which are my user and nick name “MaoDi” on the left monitor, and the company’s logo, “UM” in this case, on the right monitor. Unique Melody explained that they currently do not have the photographic quality artwork machine that they are planning to buy in the future, and are limited to simple laser-engraved artwork for the time being. Despite this, Unique Melody has done a very good job on the artwork of my monitors with a beautiful silver confetti.
Unique Melody has since the first publication date of this review released a brand new cable, we are lucky enough to test this cable on our Unique Melody Miracle review. We were extremely satisfied with it! This is what we had to say.
" Sadly, for the time being, Unique Melody is only manufacturing their cables in black. The good news is, however, that this cable is probably the best cable that is provided with any monitor on the market today. Previously on Compudio, we've had multiple cables from large companies like Westone, Ultimate Ears and Starkey. Unique Melody has managed to produce a cable that is even better than the nearly perfect cables we've tested. Similar to Westone's cable, the difference lies in the termination, the adjusting bead, and most importantly, the weight and softness of the cable. We've mentioned before that we've noticed clear cables tend to be softer than black cables, but clear cables oxidize and turn green after a short period. UM's cable combines the best of both worlds by combining the softness that everyone seeks for and the anti-oxidizing capability that no owner can live without. Overall, we're extremely impressed with the cable. The only shortcoming that we can find is the fact that the memory wire could a 3/4 inch shorter."
Like other companies, Unique Melody uses the process of creating a mold to make the shell. Prior to this step, the silicone impression must be tapered and adjusted prior to creating a mold. Unique Melody has done an exquisite job on my pair of impressions, as my monitors are extremely comfortable and form the seal needed for a proper audio reproduction of the monitors. The flushness of the custom monitors is also a concern for many, however it is very often that custom monitors do not fit as flush as the buyer wanted to. Even though the flushness of the monitor doesn’t affect the fit or the sound of the monitor, some people do complain and ask for refits in order to improve the looks. This aspect isn’t under the control of any manufacturer as they do not have a model of your ear. Luckily though, the flushness of my Mage is perfect along with its perfect fit and comfort.
Unique Melody had spent a long period of time tuning the Mage. They reckon the Mage’s sound quality is no less than the level of Westone and Ultimate Ears flagship, which include the ES3X and the UE11. The Mage houses two extremely large drivers responsible for the low frequencies, and dual element driver which on one side is responsible for the mid-range frequencies and the other acts as a tweeter which is responsible for the high frequencies. Unique Melody has interestingly strayed away from the very common dual bore design. In fact, it has gone for a slightly different approach. The Mage houses a dual bore design, which merges together at 1cm in the canal. Unique Melody explained that it would offer a smoother sound for the Mage, as the Mage is tuned for a brighter sound signature.
High frequencies (9/10)
When we look at the frequency response chart that is provided with the Mage, we see that the Mage’s response on the high frequencies compared to other monitors is actually 3 or 4 decibels higher from 8 kHz and up. On paper, many may not know or think that it would make a big difference. However, listening to the Mage, the high frequencies really shine through. If one has had experience with the high frequencies of Etymotics, then they will have a sense of the detail and the crisp clear sound offered by the Mage. The high frequencies are extremely crisp, with a very clean sound to it. There is no presence of any excessive ringing that could cause irritation, or discomfort. Transparency is one of the key components in the high frequency reproduction of the Mage. Cymbals, piano’s, or that lovely toned vocal comes through with extreme detail and accuracy. Instrumental separation is strong in the high frequencies, where each distinct instrument is heard clearly. However, I think till this day of any monitors I have heard, the universal fit Phiaton PS200 still holds the position as the earphones with the best instrumental separation. Frequency extension and smoothness of the high frequencies are done very well, so instruments that go to a very high pitch doesn’t fade out or distort, and could be heard throughout the music. The high frequency presentation on the Mage has an extreme potential for classical and orchestral music where other monitors could fall out at. If you like and need the high frequency sound in your music, you might want to consider the Mage as a choice for your next pair of monitors.
Mid-range frequencies (9/10)
Listening to the Mage for the first time, I was instantly able to spot the mid-range frequency bump in the frequency response. The Mage are tuned to have the mid-range frequencies rather forward. In theory, such signature should be rather similar to a pair of Shure earphones. However, unlike the Shures, the Mage are much brighter, and provide a far greater amount of detail in the frequency range. Upon first listening, I was extremely impressed with the mid-range frequency presentation, as the first word was sung I was blown away by the realism and naturalism in the voice. Vocals sound so natural and realistic from the Mage that it was although the singer was sitting right beside you singing to you. Mid-range instrumental is also an engaging part of the Mage. For most of my music, especially pop and rock, instruments that fall between 3 kHz to 7 kHz, I can hear with more detail and a better sense of realism compared to other monitors that I have tried in the past. The most impressive part of the mid-range frequency presentation is actually an aspect that many monitors on the market today don’t do very well, and that is the decay performance. Decay is in simple terms the fade out of the sound after the source signal had been removed. The Mage is able to offer a extremely quick decay when needed. In the music that I listen, which is mainly classical and orchestral, but a large amount of pop is also included, the Mage doesn’t even struggle to provide the needed performance in decay. Overall, the mid-range frequencies are the strongest aspect of the Mage, and I am even confident to say that it could possibly be the best mid-range frequency presentation that I have heard on any custom monitor to this day.
Low frequencies (7.5/10)
Housing two extremely popular armature drivers used for low frequency applications on the market, the Mage offers extremely powerful low frequency response. However, the Mage doesn’t offer the high impact that many would expect. Despite housing two large low frequency drivers, the Mage is actually tuned to have the low frequencies dipped down 3-4dB of what the low drivers are able to offer. This means that the sense of impact and power are also reduced. Now you might be wondering, why has Unique Melody tuned the low frequency drivers to perform weaker than they can? The main reason is because Unique Melody wanted to keep the lows quick and accurate. Using two drivers already reduces the load on each driver, meaning the response time to change from one tone to another has been reduced already as each driver works at half the pressure than if they were to work by themselves. Also, reducing the amplitude of the impact, the diaphragms in the balanced armatures don’t need as much time to return to the neutral position for the next signal reaching them. The second reason is because Unique Melody simply wanted to make the mid-range frequencies the main part of the sound signature. Don’t be mistaken though, the impact of the lows are definitely not weak. They are more than adequate to provide an enveloping experience in rock and pop music. But it should be mentioned that if you really do like your low frequency punches, or you are a big fan of heavy metal music, then the Mage might not be for you.
Like mentioned, the low frequencies are very accurate, and are impressively quick. Trance, a music genre that many monitors fail to reproduce in the finest characteristic, the Mage doesn’t have a problem with. The quick, low beats of trance music is the largest struggle for many earphones and monitors, but because the Mage were tuned for some of the fastest low frequency punches on the market today, the Mage hits every beat, every time, with the perfect tone. The low frequency extension is vast; the deepest of the orchestra can be reproduced with the Mage along with the deepest voice you have come across. Overall, the low frequency presentation is very good. Nonetheless, while accuracy, speed and tone hit straight on the target, I do think the Mage would be a more superior monitor if the lows are tuned back up 3-4dB to offer that punch and impact that many seek for.
Housing four drivers and a three-way crossover, the Mage is given one of the largest frequency responses on the market today for custom monitors. Frequency response plays a large role in the soundstage of a monitor, as a small frequency response could cause the sound to feel closed in, and less lively. In the Mage, the soundstage is among the widest that I have heard. The width gives a sense as though you are sitting in front of a concert, where there are speakers that extend far away from left to right. It provides an easy going and musical signature to the music. Depth is another strong part in the soundstage of the Mage; this is extremely easy to tell when watching movies with the Mage. For example, in the simple dining hall scene in Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix, as the hall was filled with students talking, you get that sensation and realism as if the students were actually walking past you talking. Their voices come closer and closer, then suddenly fade away and become quiet as they run down the hall. Frankly, the Mage’s immersive soundstage presentation is great; I would gladly recommend it for listening to music and watching movies.
Detailed Score Breakdown:
Stereo Imaging - 8.5
Frequency Extension - 9
Transparency - 8.5
Decay - 9.5
Impact - 8
Speed - 8.5
Clarity - 9
Conclusion ( 9 /10)
Priced at $600 including a custom cable, the Mage stands as one of the most affordable high-end custom monitors on the market today. With the crisp and delicate high, rich enveloping mids, and deep, quick bass that the IEMs house, the Mage is able to match the quality of the best monitors from Westone and Ultimate Ears. The only decision distinguishing the choice of which monitor to buy would be for which application you are looking to use the monitors for and what sound signature you prefer. Accessories may be another factor to your choice. Paired with a superb build quality, the Mage is a strong contender on the prosumer market as one of the best high-end monitors despite its relatively low MSRP.
For our recommendation, the Mage would be a perfect monitor for vocalists and acoustic guitarists as the mid-range frequencies offer the greatest amount of detail and realism for them. Also, if you are a big fan of mid-range frequencies, I would strongly recommend the Mage. Overall, I am extremely impressed with the product. The only thing that I would say could do with improvement is the power of the lows, and the variety of accessories included. A wiping cloth or a hard clam-shell case for the monitors would be a fantastic improvement as even at the relatively low retail price, it is a relatively large investment for newer individuals in the prosumer music world.
Edited by MaoDi - 11/21/10 at 6:27pm