Unique Melody MEST

General Information

MEST is our first hybrid headphones that use four different types of drivers-- bone conduction, EST, balanced armature, and dynamic.
Drivers Configuration(per side):
1x Bone conduction driver to embellish the mid and treble.
2x EST drivers serve ultra-high frequency.
2x High BA drivers.
2x Mid-high BA drivers.
1x Dynamic driver serves mid and bass.

Estimated MSRP:
$1399 for a universal fit
$1699 for a customized fit
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Latest reviews

Zortven

New Head-Fier
Pros: Price/quality ratio
A musical and engaging signature
Easy to pair with
Insanely good build quality
TOTL soundstage, details, and resolution
UIEM and CIEM possible
The stock cable of great quality
Cons: Delicately boring design for me
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KuroKitsu

Headphoneus Supremus
BE BEST , MEST BEST
As First Lady Melania Trump says: BE BEST , MEST BEST (Well maybe not the second part).

Full disclaimer here that QDC and UM are sending me checks to shill the DMagic and MEST (They're not, I just think they're swell). We all know Rush is the one QDC pays anyways.

Preamble:
I've been aware of UM since my entry into the hobby and have considered them many times, but was driven away by the price. They're the Chifi equivalent of the Lamborghini's of IEMs you could say. Similar to QDC, they have a number of CPop artists that use their gear on a professional basis, so that's a big enough endorsment for me (Similar to 64 and Empire being used by artists here) but reviews have always been a mixed result. So when the MEST was announced as a quad-brid, my interest was piqued with the price seem reasonable but the question was how that would translate into bang for your buck. That settled for a while until the mini MEST was announced, between all of us, many a times was spent on Musicteck's sitetrying to make up my mind. I almost got the Mini-MEST due to budget constraints (As well as having bought the DMagic), the fit issue with the u12t led to opening up funds and the mini became the full size MEST, good time too because shortly after, the "prepetual" sale on the MEST was gone. I really hoped that the MEST would live up to it's price, even if the bone conduction driver turned out to be a dud, the other 3 types of drivers, if done well could be a way of getting a tribrid without breaking the bank.

Design:
So the shells, I really liked the Carbon Fibre composite shells and they do catch the light in interesting ways. Thickness is to be expected given the driver count and estats, It's actually about the same as the DMagic per the shot I posted earlier in this same thread. They're rather light and the nozzles are slightly angled, but not so much as other universals tend to be and I got a snug fit on my left ear, with the stock silicone tips in full, no falling out at all.

Testing thoughts and so on:
There have been multiple iterations of this review off the 789 and my 1A as I tested some of the more recent TOTL releases. As I stated a bit earlier today, I also noticed the sound of the DD changing slightly overtime, so I'm a bit in the burn in camp for DDs now. Additionally, trying to get the same volume each time with a volume knob is kinda dificult so I settled on the 1A for consistency's sake and just noted the differences until they were consistent. This ended up in at least 3 different sessions with the MEST to produce these impressions. Listening done with the 1A off the 4.4 at 55 in low gain.

Bass:
The bass is probably the first thing I noticed when I put the MEST in my ears for the first time. Subbass extension was solid, mid bass slam and impact were present overall the bass was authoritative. While not basshead levels, this was no neutral bass and more than capable of meeting the majority of listeners. Best of all? No bleed at all! Sweet sweet authoritative bass that had no bleed into the mids? MEST was off to a good start. It's worth noting that bass also felt more guttural out of box, over time it seems to have tightened up and became more controlled. Mind you the bass is still authoritative and makes you wave those devil horns in the air, but maybe less of the "Hell yeah!" mood. The midbass benefits the most as it's also the area where I have the most problems with, I had no fatigue from that all either.

Mids:
Mids are the most interesting part of the implementation. Most Tribrid configurations out there have gone with BAs for the mids and highs, both UM said nope, we're gonna shove open hat drivers in there. You all know my love affairs with open hat BAs.Normal BA mids are one thing, but open hat BA mids are another thing. UM seems to have done really well with this tuning. I found vocals not overly forward and bodied or to recessed on thin. This seems to be more of a just right approach that depends on the placement of vocals on the track itself. MEST does a really good job in letting the track dictated the placements rather than imposing a specific position that might not work for all tracks.An interesting point of note is that the upper mids could be defined as recessed looking at the graph, but it certainly doesn't sound like it. In fact it seems to be what allows for the treble peaks without going into sibilance territory.

Treble:
My experience with the early estat models was that it required a bit of juice, so I really appreciate that this wasn't the case for the MEST. This seems to be a trend among newer models with estats, which mean more lonegvity for my 1A! Treble on the MEST seems plain like all other EST treble implemenations, good extension and no sibalance at all regardless of what I threw at it (I mean it took Galaxy Supernova full on and I'm still alive, Soooooo). Interestingly enough, looking at the graph, per my comment about the relatively recessed upper mids, you would expect some sibilance with the treble peaks. But you don't, instead you get air,detail and resolution in spades. No shimmer, but it doesn't need that. Ain't need shimmer when it sounds this good.

Conclusion:
Overall, I found the MEST to be a somewhat mild w shaped signature and a very unique tuning. It really has no business having a 3D soundstage combined with such resolution and detail (Keep in mind that this is cheaper than the Solaris). Fairly lively and muscial (though that can be more of a taste. An apt example I found was that the MEST was like strapping on the 1950/Cardas Clear to my u12t: Capable of effortless shifting between what is currently the most prominent in a track and putting that emphasis there. It also handles emphasis on multiple fronts but that reflects on a slight reduction in focus of each part. Man what a year, we got a pandemic, but also the release of some IEMs shaking my ranking list up. My initial impression on the MEST was that the Z1R was chuckling like Ralph Wiggum that it was in danger, and I was really hesitant to post my impressions until I had a lot more time. It's safe to say that for the price and performance, this is solidly over the Z1R by a small margin. knocking the latter out of third and into fourth spot. The MEST is living up to it's rather delayed hype, but worth having in your stable if price is an issue and even if it isn't. It's worth adding that I originally preferred the MEST over the Trio due to the similarities that I've heard and the price difference, with the Trio having dropped in price since this was originally posted in Flickenick's thread, the Trio is a worthy alternative if you're willing to pay a slight bit more.
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szore
szore
I owned and sold the MEST and regret it, I really miss it. I'm thinking of just ordering a custom version!
KuroKitsu
KuroKitsu
There's something unique about the presentation that sets it apart and makes it worth owning!

rev92

100+ Head-Fier
Unique Melody MEST - Musicality redefined
Pros: Exceptional value in Summit-Fi market
TOTL level of details
One of the best staging in the game
Wonderful DD bass
Resolution
Fun
Engaging
Good stock cable
Great case included
Easy to pair with
For me: comfortable
Flawless build quality
Revolutionary
Universal or custom version
Fantastic customer service
Cons: Nitpicking:
The design is just okay for me
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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
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Rating: 10 out of 10.

Build quality and design
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Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Value
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Rating: 10 out of 10.



Packaging

The outer box is pretty okay, nothing extraordinary.

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 content inside on the other hand – you’re getting a great carrying case and a generous set of eartips.
Note : the 3.5mm and 4.4mm adapters aren’t included in the retail packaging, this is a reviewers-only gift.


Cable

The cable included is very good, but I still recommend getting a great aftermarket cable from one of many well-known cable manufacturers.

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

Carbon fiber shells, black and blue color scheme – it’s simple to love the look of the MEST.

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.

Comfort

There have been some reports about a problematic fit throughout the community, but for me, these are very comfortable.

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.

Tech

MEST uses four different types of drivers, with an icing on the cake being the bone conduction driver – never seen in an IEM before.

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.

Sound

Musicality redefined.

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 MEST can easily compete with some 3-4k $ competitors…and they can actually beat them.

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 “What” 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.

Pairs with just about everything, but give them some power and run them balanced.

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.

MESTmerizing.

Pairing

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.

Summary

Unique Melody MEST is a true gem of the Hi-End IEM market.

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.

Highly recommended.





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, Final D8000, Noble Audio Khan
  • Sources– Cayin N3Pro, Lotoo Paw Gold Touch, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M15, Cayin N6ii, Cayin N8, JDSLabs Atom stack, SMSL SU-9
CT007
CT007
"4.4mm really dominated the market (and for a reason)". What was this reason? I'm a 3.5/6.25mm desktop guy. No use for 2.5 or 4.4.

Comments

macdonjh

Headphoneus Supremus
Interesting. Any details about how the bone conduction driver works? I remember the "Bone Phone" from the late '70s, but they wrapped around your neck and used your collar bones for conduction. There doesn't seem to be any bone nearby enough to that tiny IEM driver to make it effective.
 
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