DISCLAIMER: Some people tell me my set has a ‘quality control issue’ because UM has recently been flooded with orders. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. What I do know is that I do not have the patience to send these back and thus will be conducting the review as-is. When the group buy orders begin to be delivered, you will be able to hear from other owners what they think. So don’t take my review as definitive, it is only definitive for what I heard.
My listening setup:
Listening was done with mostly 320kbps / FLAC files, ranging from jpop to classical and jazz / progressive metal. Testing was done on my computer to Audinst HUD-MX1. I have on reference a Stax SR-507 which is my current benchmark as far as how ‘right’ a song should sound on any headphone.
The set came with a fake leather box which provides rather sturdy protection from shipping dangers. It had a brush / wax loop and a red UM small hard carry case which I found convenient, alas it is a little small and one may have difficulty fitting the customs inside. It is a new feature compared to old though.
Clear looked very good, some minor (very minor!) bubbles inside the ear tip area. The faceplate was done in a translucent wine red with metal ‘Unique Melody’ inserts. Good enough for me. Nothing to complain about here, it is standard great UM molding.
The sound in general:
How I would describe these would be bass-mid centric earphones. I know the Miracle is known to have a neutral sound signature, but after extended listening with my set, I just cannot apply this label to them. Neutral to me is without colouration, without emphasis on any particular frequency such that the music comes through to you and the earphone becomes less of a factor in the listening. It may be easier to describe each segment of the frequency response to elaborate.
The Miracles struck me as having very strong bass for a BA IEM. Make no mistake about it, it is still BA bass (the drum beats will not have the correct ‘beat’ and ‘feel’ to it, but it is very good BA bass). What I mean is, sub-bass extension is excellent. There is sufficient rumble down low such that the basslines of songs are made explicit. I don’t have to ‘hunt’ for the bass notes when I listen to the music.
For the bass around 120Hz or so – the midbass or drum beats portion, this was where it became more problematic. The bass, although retaining that ‘BA’ sound to it, which is the ‘clippy’ etymotic low decay bass sound, is more round in texture and not as well defined. The notes hit but one cannot point to the exact instant where the note hit. It is more of an approximate guess. The Westone 4 gave me a better gauge of where the bass began and when it ended. But, that said, the Miracles still keep up beats very well and has very high rhythm and pacing. It is just that on my source (Audinst HUD-MX1), the bass is probably a bit too much for me. On my Samsung Galaxy S2 (which is known to be bass light), it was just right.
Is there bass bleed into the mids? No. That is definitely not present. The bass has a lot of power behind it and there is a lot of headroom to be had for dynamics in a song to be shown. When it is supposed to hit hard, it will.
The strong suit of the Miracles, the mids were the first thing that caught my attention when I listened to them. Voices, esp female voices, sounded extremely lifelike and had the exact amount of thickness required to convey emotion and space without sounding overly ‘creamy’. The mids were not exactly forward, but probably only slightly forward, in comparison to the ER4S which is noticeably more forward. Compared to the 1964Q, the mids are more full and take an ethereal quality to them. They float in front of you and allow you to imagine that the singer is just in front of you.
On this section of the frequency spectrum I agree with other reviewers on what they have said.
This is where I fail to see eye to eye with most reviews of the Miracle. From all that I’ve read, they describe the treble as ‘cymbals which have the perfect amount of decay’, ‘excellent definition and air’ etc. I was expecting cymbals to sound just like cymbals in real life: ‘shining, shimmering, splendid’, with enough air to get the correct timbre. I was disappointed.
On first listen, the bass and mids overpower one’s perception of the music such that the entire tonal range shifts – the focus is on those two. But when I listened further, what I found was that the cymbals were problematic. The problem was this: they all sounded the same past a certain point. What do I mean? For cymbals, there are a few types, some lie lower on the frequency range e.g. a ride cymbal has a distinct ‘click’ish sound which is easy to reproduce. Others like the crash cymbal require accuracy in the upper highs particularly from 7k onwards in order to sound correct and have enough air to let the cymbal note decay.
On the Miracles, the cymbals stopped at 6k. There was a peak there which ‘brickwalled’ the entire music’s cymbal reproduction, such that all cymbals sounded the same, like ‘noise’. Also, because the decay of the Miracles’ highs are longer than usual (at least from comparison with the ‘tick tick’ nature of the ER4S), the cymbal notes join with each other. On fast paced rock, what I hear is a continuous ‘tssssssssh’ instead of the proper cymbals. I was not able to pinpoint exactly where each cymbal note started. Compared to the Stax, which has a peak at around 10k, the Stax’s cymbals ring on naturally and have enough air to shimmer such that they maintain their individuality. Such was the problem with the Miracle.
In addition, the highs’ quantitative volume is not very high. On a track like Hiromi’s ‘Caravan’, which has a complex cymbal pattern at the beginning, which only a few phones have been able to explicitly reproduce (ER6i), I was struggling to make out what was being played. I could not hear what the cymbals were. In comparison to the ER4S, this was easily done, and on the Brainwavz B2, even more easily done. It may be because the bass and mids have a higher volume as compared to the highs, but I didn’t find this aspect of the headphone very rewarding.
People would have you believe that the Miracle can do 5.1 surround sound and ‘throw details all over the place’ in a virtual headstage. This is only true to a partial extent. I did hear the soundstage being wider than most earphones I have heard, but width wise the ER4S is better, depth wise the Miracle wins by a large margin. Notes are just layered better and I could make out a few details I never heard at that particular spatial point in the headstage before.
My personal thoughts:
The objective parts aside, here are the subjective parts. I bought the Miracle based on an extensive audition with the demo unit. To my ears, the demo unit had less sub-bass, less mid bass, and more extension at the highs. That was what I was looking for. The most neutral and ‘accurate’ earphone per se. Obviously I am left disappointed, in that the Miracle is only a ‘good’ headphone. I have not heard the JH series (customs), only the demos, but what I recall is that their highs were more strident than the UM series. Thus I went with them. If you want excellent focus on bass and mids, the Miracle is for you, however, if you are seeking absolute neutrality with perfect tonal accuracy and timbre, look elsewhere.
I would like to hear what others have to say about their pairs. Perhaps when they receive them they can post here so that my impressions are either rebuked as ‘quality control issues’ or affirmed as the general opinion.
Some pictures of the IEM itself:
Edited by spekkio - 11/29/11 at 8:10am