Okay, well let me just start off by saying I'm big fan of Unique Melody, it was actually the UM Miracle that I got a chance to demo which helped me understand how great an earphone can actually sound. This coming from a pair of Skullcandy's (forgive me Head fi) but we all started somewhere.
Getting back to the topic at hand I'm going to typically break down each segment into sections. Untypical, I will be describing the sound in one chapter instead of strictly categorising each element of sound. To make things a little easier to read I will highlight keywords such as midrange, bass, soundstage and treble etc. There is a reason I'm explaining this and it's is because the Mentor had a lot to teach me, sorry couldn't resist, but seriously the sound is something that just needs to be discussed as a whole because it happens to be a little two faced, and hopefully when we get into it you'll understand what I mean.
As a disclaimer this pair of earphones were bought at my expense second hand. I'm independently reviewing them but as always I will try to remain as objective as possible throughout the review.
Inside the box
So if you go to purchase the UM Mentor you can expect to see this beautiful white box with the heart-warming words printed across reading "Handcrafted with Love". A nice touch makes the buyer really feel special.
Typically as standard you will receive an array of ear tips, carrying case and cleaning tools.
The carrying case is made out of solid metal and to the touch feels nigh impossible to break, not that you'd want to. I must say I love this thing as you twist the lid you hear the cry of quality as notes unwind themselves, sophistication emulates itself as you open the case.
Here in lies your prize, your possession, future and Mentor. Honestly if my future wife's into it I'm so using this box for the proposal ring, I kid but good work UM, a carrying case worthy of a paragraph in itself.
Build quality design and comfort
Moving swiftly on, so not unlike UM you will get a well-crafted body no bubbles or unsightly markings. Each earpiece that has been handcrafted and they look fantastic I must admit.
Each earpiece is covered in a slightly translucent blue with a silky black face plate and a sweet silver “UM” logo printed on top. Even down to the nozzle you get this smooth body which then transcends into the silver mesh and silver coloured nozzle you can see pictured below:
The build quality, despite the appraisal of how good these things look, was unfortunately a little compromised as the pair I received has slightly loose connector sockets. Not the end of the world but for the price I would expect a little more from quality control.
I mean if they put half as much work into the build quality of the earphones as they seem to have done with the carrying case I'm sure they would survive an atomic bomb.
The pair of Mentors I own are the universal fit version. Typical of any sort of custom in ear monitor, and the way of most multi balanced amateur driver earphones, the earphones are traditionally worn over the ear. They protrude slightly outwards as It's a fairly big housing unit but, there is 10 drivers to cram into such a small space.
Overall I think they did a good job but it would be nice to see UM creating something as comfortable as Aurisonics offerings and their constant strive for the up most ergonomic design, this isn’t having a dig at UM it just seems to be an issue with a lot of universal fit multi BA driver earphones that have custom counterparts.
With all of that being said the comfort of the earphones is more than acceptable but for someone with smaller ears and narrow ear canals, there might be some discomfort presented. Personally with the right ear tips on I find the fit is quite comfortable and can wear them for up to about 3 hours without any real discomfort.
As a side note I chose to stick with silicone tips rather than my traditional choice of foam due to deeper level of insertion and added treble presence.
Whilst these aren’t especially picky earphones I did notice a subtle change when using sources that use a lower output one of my favourite pairings was actually straight out of my Asus K55V laptop’s HO, but generally not all that dependent on your device. Although I would certainly recommend a higher end source as these step up their performance to match, they upscale particularly well with my AR-M2 playing DSD files it really does take things to a whole new level.
Now I know there will always be two sides to every story regarding the effects of cables however I’ll still put a mention in as I am a believer.
The stock cable provided is pretty much perfect, standard Westone style two pin tightly braided and provided similar sound quality to the upgraded cable I used. I used a pure silver niobium cable manufactured by HPL audio, to me the changes maybe subtle but worth it just enough to keep it plugged in for the remainder of the review. What you can expect is a slightly lifted midrange, cleaner and tonally warmer sound extending the bass a little further.
Now I make no apologies for the critique I use here. But before I get into the bulk of it I want to make it very clear that I am in love with a lot of what the Mentor offer. It's just really unfortunate how immovably stubborn and Jackal and Hyde like these earphones really are!
The first thing that captured me the moment I stuck them in my ears was the incredible soundstage and space. It was an “oh my word moment. What is this sorcery? Don't get me wrong I have been very privileged in hearing a lot of in-ear monitors that are all more than adequate in this department, but hands down I have to say these are probably the widest earphones I've ever listen to. A bold statement to make for sure but the sense of space is certainly awe inspiring. Depth doesn’t fall to short from the tree but is still quite admirable.
Each instrument has its own place on the stage the imaging is really good, it could be a little more precise, dependent more on recording, but if a 3D holographic feel is what you’re after I sincerely doubt you'll be disappointed with the Mentor. This is where some of my praise stops though, only because it seems to be the only damn consistent jaw dropping aspect of the sound.
I really have no idea why UM decided on bringing this out just yet! The Mentor best described is an aged professor teaching at Oxford with tenure and a serious case of bipolar. One minute you'll be enjoying a track like it's your first time of really listening to it, then bam the next track comes on and the nutty professor is at it again. It's my biggest peeve with this incredible but frustrating earphone, so for the next part I will have to describe the sound on a good day and on a bad day, bearing in mind the soundstage stays its lovely spacious self.
The right side of the bed
On a good day you can frolic and dance listening to the Mentor describing tales of joy as a punchy hip hop beat pulsates through your veins. You get an incredibly clear detailed sound with no overpowering frequencies. Treble decides to sparkle and shimmer almost whispering in your ear at times just reminding you it’s there, but you already knew, you feel its twinkle and presence as it tiptoes around the place.
Then we move to that oh so mature mid-range, clear detailed a little relaxed but remarkably happy to tug on the emotions of every vocal you listen to, down to the last detail. Neither forward nor pushed back just ever present when needed. It has been a pleasure listening to something of this refinement as it has set a bench mark for me to listen out for in future earphones.
Now bass my good friend, I'm so glad you’re feeling so jubilant today. It's nice to see you under control and thank you for your speech on texture and presence it was truly wonderful, I certainly wouldn't mind hearing that again. Great decay, speed and punch throughout, with the exception of poorly recorded tracks. Aside from that Mr Bass will most certainly have you tapping your toes irrespective of where you are, on the train, plane, or at work whilst the office stares at you as you revert back to your teenage years imagining you’re at your favourite concert.
The wrong side of the bed
But oh no, what happened! Bad day professor? Okay I see the day has approached, arrived and now I'm uncomfortable.
Treble my friend I can barely hear you, wow you really must have gone through a real ordeal, please eat something. I can hear you but oh so faintly it's everything I came to love about you still retaining that grace but now all that beauty seems a far distant cry away.
Well maybe I'll go play with my good pal mid-range, no not you too! Damn it, words I can't utter enough when I think of how close we use to be. I was so proud of you but now we're so far apart, I used to love you staying close, informing me about every detail in life teaching me so much, but now you remain in the background as a lifeless idol, without body or soul. Fine I'll move on.
Bass buddy at least I can rely on you, can't I? Okay final straw what happened, who got to you, who said you're fat, I assure you’re not and we can work this out. Thankfully a little secret source will fix you up chum I know a good amplifier, he might be able to fix you. Hum back to normal kind of, still it's like there is still something missing oh of course that would be your younger brother mid bass.
Unfortunately the Mentor has this innate ability to change to any track it's given not always in a good way. The sub-bass I've now tested down to the 20 hz range and remains stable with great texture and depth but the mid bass can seem a little too polite on certain tracks almost begging for a little extra attention.
These shortcomings aside I'd like to see the Mentor perform with as much consistency as possible because in my eyes it's brilliant but a little unfinished. With a track of its choice I'm pretty sure I could lean towards using the words end game product. (Ha like there's one of them when you’re still on Head fi). Still there is a unique quality here that's brought my experience and anticipation up a notch. Word of caution, if you’re anything like me you’ll end up lovingly frustrated and infatuated with these earphones. This is mainly because I tend to listen to whatever music I fancy and make the sacrifice of lower bit rate files and yes even streaming on occasion. On the upside however if you are someone who has a set amount of tracks all ripped to perfect quality these are probably an incredibly safe bet.
Truly after having spent some time at CanJam and trying out some of the best of the best, I can say these earphones have pushed the boat of excitement a little further for what we can hopefully expect to see from companies in the future. In the meantime though I am very much considering ordering the custom version as I really like the house sound, regardless of my few grips these have been one of my most favourite earphones to listen to, to date.
If anyone has any questions or would like some brief comparisons against other earphones just post a comment or PM me and I’ll try my best to answer any quires.