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

Pros: Wide, deep, tall soundstage. Rich, layered bass. Detailed, extended, smooth highs. Comfortable fit. Accurate timbre, rich texture and tone. Big, bold sound with tons of detail, layering and slam. Rich, detailed, layered mids.
Cons: Highs need to be tamed, stock cable is lacking. VERY dependent on cable and tips. Need to be comfortable with W sound signature, tho brain burn may win you over! Mids can 'possibly' be too forward. Need top quality recordings for it to really shine, tho mediocre recordings fare well too.
I was at Canjam NYC this past February, when I found myself in front of the Musik Tek table. The gentleman at the table eagerly asked if I would like to try a new hybrid IEM with “Bone Conduction” technology. In the sensory overload environment of the show, I misunderstood his description, and thought the bone conduction was a “sub-woofer” technology. I put them on, using my A&K SE100 DAP, and while they sounded good (I remember liking the bass), I couldn’t really discern any ‘tapping’ sensation in the bass. It all sounded gimmicky to me anyway. Looking at the literature, I noticed all these drivers: EST, bone conduction, dynamic, mid-high, high, ultra high…it was confusing. After a few moments, I decided that I basically liked them, but wasn’t too convinced of this “Sub-bass bone conduction thing.” They were expensive. I smiled, handed them back, and moved on to other things.

Fast forward to Spring, and I saw the ad in Head-Fi for the MEST review tour. I have a policy of basically applying for any and all review tours; after all, it’s free, and if it’s free, it’s for me! To my delight, I was chosen and found myself second on the list. In between Canjam, and being accepted for the tour, I sold my SE100, and bought the SP2000 copper. Once ‘the virus’ set in, everything became uncertain and I decided that caution was the better part of valor, and returned the 2000, (it was too heavy, anyway, but it sounded great). I asked Andrew if he could bounce me to the end of the list, because I found myself without a DAP, and I was stuck using my Fiio BTR3 as a backup, which I deemed insufficient for the task of a review.

In the interim, I was reading good things about the BTR3 successor, the BTR5, which I ordered off Amazon for $109. WOW, this BTR5 is a gem! A dap killer, this thing sounds fantastic! My palms grew itchy for the MEST. I emailed Andrew and told him I was ready to review, and to my delight, I found the MEST in my mailbox a few weeks later (Thank you Andrew!) I eagerly opened the box, threw on my favorite tips, the yellow Spinfits, grabbed my cell phone, fired up the 5, plugged them in, and…was disappointed. There was a graininess and incoherence to the sound. But I liked the bass. Oh, well. I packed it up and let it sit in my closet.

After 2 or 3 days, my curiosity got the better of me, and I broke them out again. Nope, don’t like them. The individual elements were OK; the mids were a bit forward, definitely a ‘W’ presentation (which I am not fond of). The bass was good, the treble was hot but detailed. The soundstage, layering, high end extension, sub-bass rumble, and mids-detail were all there. I liked the individual elements, but when you put it all together, it lacked coherency: it sounded ‘ham-fisted’. I figured the cable was a copper, SPC hybrid, but didn’t know. SPC cables always sound harsh to me, so I put on my EROS II silver/copper hybrid from my EE custom Valkyries, and WOW! MUCH better! The highs were smoother, but they still sounded too ‘busy’ to me, too fatiguing. I replaced the EROS II with my PWAudio Limited pure copper, and BAM! suddenly these things came alive! Yet even in the face of all this, the treble still seemed a teeny bit too hot, and the mids a bit too forward. My Head-fi pal Cr3ativ3 suggested I replace the Spinfits with the Type E, which certainly is known to tame the treble. Well, once I had this kit together, The MEST won my heart. I had them on while grocery shopping, and I had to laugh out loud and admit that these things won me over! So, I spent some quality time with them, put together a playlist, made some notes, and I’m ready to write up a proper review. Lets jump in!

I will spare a description of the technicalities of the MEST, it’s rather well documented, and focus on sound impressions. Below is the playlist I used for my analyses.

The following track list provides song name, artist, and album. All files are flac format. All tracks are 44,100KHz, except Black Dog and 9th Symphony (96,000).



Numb, Andy Stott, Luxury Problems

Edyocat, Andy Stott, Merciless

Dominion Day, Gary Numan, Exile

Los Ageless, St. Vincent, Masseducation

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Deep Blue Something, 11th Song

Visions of You, Jah Wobble (feat. Sinead O’Conner), Rising Above Bedlam

You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, Judas Priest, Screaming For Vengeance

Sir Duke, Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life

Spinning Wheel, Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

First Light, Harold Budd, Brian Eno, The Plateux of Mirror

Delta Rain Dream, Jon Hassell, Brian Eno, Fourth World Vol. 1 Possible Musics

Pride and Joy, Albert King w/ Stevie Ray Vaughn, In Session

Black Dog, C.C. Colletti, Rock: Reimagined

Journey to the Center, Journey to the Center, A Night of Chesky Jazz Live at Town Hall

The Second Part, The Hillard Ensamble, English and Italian Medieval Madrigals

Suite No. 1 in G BWV 1007, M. Rostropovitch, The Complete EMI Recordings

Toccata & Fugue in D minor, Christopher Herrick, Bach: The Complete Organ Music

Idomeneo, re di Creta, K.366, Mozart Opera Arias, Anna Netrebko

Symphony No.9 in D minor, Barenboim, Beethoven for All





When I set the volume, I like to put the vocals at a comfortable distance in front of me, and let the bass and high end fall where they may. With my Valkyries and CL2, this works great, but with the MEST, on some tracks, this puts the bass and treble too far in the rear. In order to get the full effect of the bass, I had to turn the volume up, putting the mids a little too forward of what I am used to. This is not true on all tracks, tho, so lets break it down!

Numb, Andy Stott: This song is an example where the forward vocals are most welcome. Alison Skidmore’s vocals exhibit hyper detail with rich, beautiful tonality and elegant layering. The menacing bass tones emerge out of a primal blackness contrasting the vocals with rich layers and detail. That is going to be buzz-word in this review: Detail. The sound stage is wide, high and deep and the vocals remain comfortable in their own space. At the same time, infinite layers of bass tones breath and pulse in there own reality. Stunning.

Edyocat, Andy Stott: I decided to go with another Stott song to illustrate the sub-bass rumble, which is absolutely fabulous. The synthesizer’s buzzes and beeps occupy their own space and tonality yet again, while the bass yet again exhibits a rich, detailed, layered presentation with tons of impact and slam. It is not the fastest bass, nor should it be. There is a relaxed, yet accurate presentation, with just the right amount of attack and decay. The sub-bass reaches low and will rattle your teeth, while the high end is polished and smooth, accentuated with just the right amount of sizzle, while not being exhausting or sibilant in the least. Well done.

Dominion Day, Gary Numan: We move on to one of my favorite albums in recent years. This is a tricky track because the bass is so multifaceted and can sound over-whelming and muddy to lesser IEM’s. If there is any song I know that could sound like a muddled mess, it is this one. Over the years I have spent a lot of time finding a flac recording of this album, just to try and get this song to sound the way I feel it should sound. Whenever I buy a new IEM, or cable, or DAP, this is usually one of the first song I try. It is an avalanche of bass, sub-bass, layers, vocals, effects and synthesizers. As I sit here listening to it now, my eyes are tearing up. It sounds spectacular! I crank up the volume, forward mids be damned, and revel in the avalanche of sounds lashing my ears. Gary’s vocals, which are usually buried in the Malmstrom, sing out, filled with agony and rage at the injustice of the deity. The sound stage is vast and layered, and the detailed layers extend out to infinity. Finally, I can enjoy this song and album the way Gary intended.

Los Ageless, St. Vincent: Going to another favorite, we see an example of where the mids are not served as kindly. The vocals are far too forward, and the guitars and synthesizers are rather incoherent and fatiguing. Perhaps it’s the mix, but the bass seems to overwhelm and drown out St. Vincent’s vocals. Ah, too bad. Still rich with detail and slam, the sound stage sounds a bit too closed in. I had originally planned to review a Sheryl Crow song, Run, Baby Run, and found it suffered the same fate as St. Vincent. Is it the recording? Is it “female vocals”? Is it the pop genre? Let’s forge on and find out…

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Deep Blue Something: Staying with pop, for the moment, let’s see if the MEST is genre specific. The guitar intro is clean and breezy sounding with lots of detail and air. The vocals are cool and tamed. The sound stage and presentation is roomy, airy, filled with richness and ‘pop’ (no pun intended). The electric guitar chords ring out with authority and musicality; they have a rich layering with perfect ‘note’ and tone. There is a richness there. The drums are in the back where they belong, and I can hear the high hats and cymbals crashing and sizzling with perfect effect, Each instrument and element sits in its own space with layering and tonality. The bass is, again, filled with detailed and emotion. Fantastic!

Jah Wobble, Visions of You: This track is actually from an album of remixes of the song Visions of You off the Rising Above Bedlam album. It features Sinead O’Conner on background vocals. Jah Wobble is by far my favorite bassist and one of my favorite artists. He is prolific, and vastly under-rated. I chose this particular mix because of Jah’s synthesized bass. It is, again, rich with detail and tone. Sinead’s ethereal, other-worldly vocals surge teasingly in and out of the forefront, poking in and out of the background blackness. Jah’s vocals are smooth and rich, and every element of the song lives in it’s own layer and space. The composition of elements show fantastic coherency, and once again the MEST interprets all these musical elements effortlessly. The sitar solo bounces up and down, left and right, warbling in the sound stage with a 3-d holographic effect. Beautiful.

You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, Judas Priest: A guilty pleasure. I’m not a big ‘metal’ guy (tho I love my Zeppelin, if they can be considered ‘metal’) but I love this song. Let’s crank it up and see what we see. Right off, the bass and bass drum sound like they are slamming in my throat. The cymbal crashes sizzle with smooth extension, not hot or sibilant in the least. Rob’s vocals are smooth and fantastic: If I close my eyes, I can easily visualize him standing there, posing and screaming, his voice perfectly removed from the incessant guitar riffs. It’s a clean, big, bold, slamming, beautiful sound. Wonderful!

Sir Duke, Stevie Wonder: Let’s return to pop for a moment, and try a few songs known for their complexity and musicality. Wow, those horns on the intro come in with authority, and you can discern each individual element. Stevie’s organ, the drums, the horns, the vocals, drums, cymbals, all yet again are filled with richness and detail. The timbre and tone is spot on, and the soundstage is detailed, uncluttered, and each instrument occupies it’s own space. If I had to criticize one thing, it’s possible the bass may be a BIT too much if you are a treble head. If you love your bass the way I do, I think you will love these IEMs.

Spinning Wheel, Blood, Sweat and Tears: Staying with pop for just one more song, I wanted to see if the wonderful horns of Sir Duke carried over to a band whose horn section I have always admired. This song sounds amazing. Timbre, tonality, and tone is spot on. Nuff’ said.

First Light, Harold Budd, Brian Eno: Switching gears and genres, lets go minimalist and see what the MEST can do, where subtlety is required over slam and impact. Turning the volume WAYYY down for this ambient masterpiece, Budd’s haunting piano chords ring and chime out of an ethereal haze. If you ever wanted to find a song that acts like a musical version of an abstract expressionist work from Rothko, this is it. There is no “bass” here, no rumble, no slam, no sizzle, no ‘timbre or tone’ (well, maybe tone): but there are ‘effects’; lots and lots of effects, and ‘treatments’. It’s one of the things the Father of Ambient, Brian Eno, is known for. With the high, mid high, and ultra high drivers of the MEST, these ethereal, subtle expressions, as fine as gossamer threads, theoretically should be brilliantly captured, and they are! The MEST is showing amazing range and adaptability here. Bravo.

Delta Rain Dream, Jon Hassell, Brian Eno: Staying with Eno and ambient, I wanted to take a look at this song, because it has all the subtlety and nuance of First Light, but adds what sounds like African bongo drums. The synthesized background contrasts the drums marvelously. Jon’s synthesized trumpet, the drums, and the synthesizers create a vast, layered, detailed soundscape which has all the extension and vastness of the sky. Or the ocean. Or space, even. The drums… you can almost see the palms and fingers smacking the skins…

Pride and Joy, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn: Moving to the blues… Well, what is there left to say. The vocals and mids are perfectly presented. The drums, cymbals, high hat, and guitars all sound perfect and effortlessly rendered. In the middle of all this, the tickled piano keys float in mid-air occupying there own space.

Black Dog, C.C. Colletti: Going high end here with a Chesky recording taken off an audiophile sampler. I wanted to get to the bottom of this “forward mids” claim I have been making. It seems to come and go. C.C.’s vocal, singing a Zeppelin cover, are not forward at all. The band surrounds her; if anything, the vocals are a tad recessed! The recording is amazing, and I am running out of adjectives. Micro detail. This sounds perfect. The vocals are velvety smooth and beautiful. The bass, drums and acoustic guitar sounds like it is in the room with me. What more is there to say?

Journey to the Center, Journey to the Center: Giving a nod to the Jazz genre; yet another Chesky recording, and I guess at this point you know what I am going to say…. Well, here, If I had to make one criticism, the bass could be a teeny bit thick… Then the smattering of applause ripple like waves, and the trumpet solo begins, and all I can do is smile…

The Second Part, The Hillard Ensamble: I wanted to focus on vocals, so what better than medieval polyphonic. The performers sound like they are singing in a cathedral, and all the subtlety, harmonics, and atmosphere is brilliantly rendered. There is a richness here… The voices sound natural, musical, articulate and beautiful.

Bach Cello Suite #1 in G, Rostropovitch: The next 2 tracks are designed to explore this dynamic bass driver. Mstislav’s cello is filled with, you guessed it, richness, timbre, tone and microdetails. You can almost taste the resin.

Toccata and Fugue in D, Herrick: No music will disseminate an IEM's bass performance like some good ol’ pipe organ music, and what better than Bach’s Toccata and Fugue? Harmonic overtones are astonishing and perfectly rendered and the cacophony of notes effortlessly portrayed. Magnificent.

Idomeneo, re di Creta, K.366 - Act 1 - 'Quando avran fine omai' - 'Padre, germani, addio!', Anna Netrebko: One last examination of the mids and female vocals: what better than a Mozart aria? The contrast of the bass and cello and harpsichord against Anna’s vocal is mesmerizing. The orchestral passages are rendered with air and ease: The vocal soars above the orchestra majestically.

Finally.

I was taught many, many years ago by my audiophile mentor, Nick, (may he rest in peace), that if you truly wanted to understand the ability of a sound system, an audiophile sound system, you HAD to listen to a symphony. Only by accurately rendering the complexities of a proper symphonic piece with all it’s majesty could a system or a piece of equipment TRULY be called AUDIOPHILE. Audiophile is a word that is far too easily thrown around now a days. Popular, modern music is fine, I love a good techno dub as much as the next person, but if you really wanted to see what’s what, you have to render a proper symphonic work. And if you really want to go there, why not throw in a good chorale passage section or two to boot. So for the last work, I will analyze the grand daddy of them all, the 4th movement of Beethoven's beloved 9th Symphony. I hear the stirrings of strings, and the brooding, pulsing ebb of bassoons and oboes. Shhh…they have already begun. Let’s sneak in past the usher and find a seat center aisle, 1/3 back from the stage…

Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 - "Choral": 4. Finale (Presto - Allegro assai), Daniel Barenboim: First impression from the opening salvo of the tympanis, strings and horns is that of grandeur; it sounds like the onslaught of a thunder storm, then the strings come in playing the main melody, and there is yet again, a richness and detailed tonality. The bass and cellos rumble. Each section occupies it’s own space. The sound stage is easily discerned. The woodwinds, to the right, the strings to the left. I can hear the players sucking in breath. Within the strings, the violins, bass and cello are easily distinguished. Like Numan’s Dominion Day, the MEST handles this complexity with aplomb. In the quiet string section, where the violins are placidly playing the main melody, I can hear the microdetail of the bows changing directions on the strings. Then, as the woodwinds come in, the stage is perfectly rendered as each melody and part delicately occupy its own location. As more and more instruments pick up the melody, tears are filling my eyes. It is so emotional and musical! There is a swelling and I know any second all hell is going to break loose, and indeed, it is glorious. The horn and brass have taken up the melody, and they sit above and behind the strings. The soundstage is marvelous! Once again, if I had to make a criticism, it would be the bass could be a 'little’ thick. But I also know that if I put on my yellow Spinfits, there will be a tad more treble energy injected to counterbalance the bass… lets see…Yes…more air… The chorus has come in, and the height and width of the soundstage is apparent! The chorus clearly sit above and behind the symphony. The soloists are now singing, and they are down front where they belong. I’m sure if I was using a proper dap, the strings would come alive with more richness and detail. But as it stands now, they sound great. The chorus is at crescendo, and the harmonics are fantastic. There is a modulating effect between the voices which I know is no accident; these performers practice for hours to get it just so at the conductors command, and with maestro Barenboim at the helm, the effect is captured perfectly. Now the triangle is ringing out in the middle of the full maelstrom, and the high end extension and rendering is perfect! The chorus is singing Ode to Joy at full volume, and yet the symphony sits in front and below in their own space, each section clearly discerned… That is impressive! At the climax, the cymbals, chorus, and yes, even the triangle are all perfectly rendered. Very, very impressive! Well done Unique Melody!



Conclusion

Phew! What a ride! My original plan was to compare and contrast the MEST with different tips and cables, then do A/B compare against the Valkyries and CL2. To be honest, I don’t think it is necessary, and I don’t think I have it in me! This review ended up being a lot longer than I originally intended, but I think the MEST deserved it. I am listening to the playlist again with my custom Valkyries, and suddenly, where I didn’t like W presentations, I find myself suddenly missing the mids! I know brain burn is real, (yeah, it’s a thing) and after a day or so I will be back in happy land with my customs. Cr3ativ3 asked me if I was going to buy a pair of MEST and the question rather stunned me. Would I? No, my Valkyries are my babies, but now, I’m not so sure. I can’t help but wonder how the MEST would sound as a custom… hmmm… I truly don’t know, but now I’m thinking I may start saving my pennies….

I took off half a star because of the stock cable, but with the right cable and tips, the MEST is a 5 star winner!
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Darkestred
Darkestred
If i had to buy a "lower" tier TOTL type iem it would probably be this or the Valk. From what i can remember the valk treble presentation is not as hot as the MEST and maybe even a little less detailed. The MEST, as you mentioned might/will be an issue for treble sensitive people. However, the MEST fills the void of the Valks being a bit thin up-top. MEST has similar black background as the EE line - thumbs up there.

I thought the MEST needed more bass but the way its implemented is interesting. Its powerful but its not in some odd way. Can't really put that into words. it sneaks up on you but definitely not bass head. Just north of average.
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szore
szore
I agree completely, especially your thoughts on Valkyrie vs MEST.

Comments

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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