Unique Melody Mason V3 Review - By Mimouille




Unique Melody Mason V3 Review
 - By Mimouille


Introduction: 

My relationship with Unique Melody dates back to 2012. 
I would say they are partially guilty (at least Stephen Guo) for getting me deeper into the game. I had been lurking around custom threads on headfi for a while, and when my pair of Shure SE530 broke, I decided to try to have it reshelled…and while I was at it, I decided to add 3 drivers. And then Stephen told me something that was one of the triggers of my audio addiction, i.e. the anguish of missing on something: “of course the reshelled 530 sounds great, but the Miracles are much better. How much better…well you have to try”. He was right, they WERE better and I HAD to try.

After trying that, I was hooked…and tried several of their products, both amazing (UM Miracles), less to my taste (UM Mentor V1) or outright bad (UM 3DD). In any case, they have always had impeccable service where I was concerned and good build quality (which more recently became great, let’s get back to that later).

When I saw they were upgrading their line-up with a bunch of super cool features, I contacted them for a demo unit, which they accepted. I am reviewing here the Mason V3 universal version, with both single ended cable and balanced 4.4mm cable. 
It is a loaner that I will return after the review.
The UM Mason V3 is the current flagship of Unique Melody, boasting 16 balanced armature drivers with a 4-way crossover, 5-bore design with 4 sound tubes and 1 bore designated for the tuning module.

Specifications:
Driver Count 16 balanced armature
Frequency Response 20Hz - 25KHz
Impedance 24Ω
Sensitivity @1KHz 104dB
THD 0.30%
Driver Configuration 4 Low + 4 Lower Midrange + 4 Upper Midrange + 4 High
Socket Style 4 Pin Metal Socket with Securing Bolt
Cable 8 Core 6N High-Purity Single Crystal Copper and Silver "Dual-Tone"
Price 2699$ US


Build, accessories, fit and features:
The Mason V3 comes with a full set of accessories, the overall package is much better than for several TOTL CIEMs I have tested :
1. Many tips including several comply tips
2. Great dual tone cable (to be explained later)
3. Very good metal box
4. USB card with all documents and explanations


5. Build etc.
The build quality of this universal demo is absolutely stunning. It looks great, has as perfect finish and feels very sturdy. UM has really upped their game since the beginning (and they were quite good to begin with). The universal version has a metal bore while the custom version is acrylic reinforced with metal tubes.
I will not get into the details of design options as I have a universal, but the Dreamweaver design looks really nice. You have the option to choose materials that change color based on temperature, but for the life of me I am not sure what to think of this option, especially given the fact that I haven’t seen it.



The fit of the Unique Melody Mason V3 is good. I don’t like to comment extensively on this because it heavily depends on each person’s anatomy, but let’s say they are more or less the same size as the Empire Ears Zeus, which is quite a feature when you have to fit 16 drivers.

Now for the CRITICAL part : tips. I think that I have tried at least 20 sets of tips with these. As often for this kind of custom with a universal version, I recommend to invest in the custom, because the fit will be better, and you don’t have to play around forever to get the intended sound. But if you do get the universals, expect to spend quite some time fiddling with tips. 

First of all, these are large bores, but since there is no standard, let me put it this way:
- Shure SE846 : thin bores (Shure tips / Spinfit CP800)
- Earsonics S-EM9 : medium bores (Spinfit CP800 and some larger
- UM Mason V3 : large bores (JVC Spiral dots, Spinfit CP100, Spinfit CP155 (I guess), Ortofon Silicon Tips, Mandarins wide bore, etc,)
- Audeze Isine : extra large bores

Being in the middle gives you many options, and these options change sound dramatically. 
The first thing is to ensure you have a good seal, otherwise you get no bass and screechy highs, which was the case for me with the Spinfit CP100. Afterwards, you have to play with material and width of opening of the tip to find the “intended” tonality. 
Since everything has plus and minuses, it is often difficult to judge what is “the best”. Overall, full silicone will tend to sound a bit thin, and depending on the bores, will sometimes have a bit hot treble. I recommend to try foam or hybrid tips.

My conclusions are : 
- Ortofon silicon : most comfortable, but a bit thin sounding
- JVC Spiral Dots : mids sounds a bit diffuse
- Mandarin tips : best sounding or close to, but painful after a while
- Best compromise : Comply Comfort 500, a bit fuller and warmer, but the best balance to my ears


Now let us get to the features. 
a. Dual-tone cable
First let me say that this cable is very well built. Not too tangly, not too stiff, beautiful. I would have preferred to avoid the plastic ear guides, but maybe that is just me. 

Second note of importance, to implement dual-tone, UM is using a proprietary socket for their new line-up. The socket is similar physically to the JH sockets, but the polarity is different, so they are not compatible. While I salute their will to innovate, I usually like brands to avoid creating new proprietary formats, making us by whole new cables again. On the other hand the stock cable is self sufficient (until you need  a balanced cable).

Another issue I have is that when you manipulate the earpieces, the screw on these cables tend to get loose so you have to tighten it again from time to time…a bit annoying.

The principle of this cable is that you have a silver and copper cable all in one. You just have to reverse the connection of the sockets to the IEM to use or other. Let me explain : one of the cable sockets has two little plastic dots on it, the other cable socket has one little plastic dot. If you connect the one with two dots to the right earpiece, you are using the silver cable, and vice versa. 
These dots are not very visible (especially for audiophiles we tend to compensate incredible hearing by very poor eyesight), so you will have to do it by touch.

The result is what people tend to expect from silver and copper (which makes me question the part of placebo in this judgment). Copper will sound slightly fuller and smoother, silver slightly crisper. These are obviously not night and day, but I think they are noticeable.



My conclusion on dual tone is that the main benefit is to have both flavors included in the same package, so better value for money. 
I do not find it easier to switch between the two than when you have two different cables, as you have to plug / unplug all the same. 
To truly A/B easily, I would have recommended a switch (even though the durability of switches often leaves to be desired).
b. DB-GO bass enhancement module
The principle is that you can move the bass port forward to get up to 4db of boost from 20HZ to 100HZ


I felt quite stupid for a while testing this module, because I thought it affected the mid-bass impact (because my lazy butt had not read the manual) and could not hear a difference, but actually it only has a slight effect on the sub bass. The effect is very slight in my opinion, but still there. I prefer the sound with the port full forward, so with sub bass boost.

From and ergonomics point of view, I have two issues:
- When you put the earpieces in, you find yourself pushing on the ports, which scares me a bit, it could break.
- One of the dials was a bit looser than the others, it could be an issue on the first demos, it is better if it really firm so it doesn’t move when you put them in.

Conclusion:
 I am not as enthusiastic as Headfonics on these features. While they are very well implemented, I generally dislike tuning gimmicks on IEMs. My philosophy is : chose you tuning and stick to it. However since they are well made and practical, some people may value them.

Sources and sensitivity:
The UM Mason V3 is significantly less sensitive than most TOTL custom IEMs I have tested (such as Vision Ears V8 or the like). Therefore, they need a bit of volume and will work well with powerful DAPs and DAC amps. It just so happens that it is all I have, so no issue for me. 
The plus 
side is that these will have quite a silent background with most sources, not unlike the SE5 Ultimate. The volume is comparable to SE5 Ultimate on a similar source. 

I have tested mostly the Lotoo Paw Gold and WM1Z balanced, tried the Mojo a bit. The V3 sounds super raw and resolving with the LPG, but tends to be harsh and fatiguing, and a bit narrow and congested on some tracks (relatively of course). The WM1Z makes it sound smoother and more open so I opted for this source in the end. The Mojo works well too, will be less wide and full-bodied than the WM1Z, but good too.


Sound impressions:
IMPORTANT NOTE: ALL FURTHER TESTING IS DONE WITH:
- Sony WM1Z balanced
- Comply Comfort 500 tips
- Silver cable
- Bass port fully engaged
My philosophy when testing higher end IEMs from now on is to judge only in reference to other IEMs, because I realize describing sound in absolute terms doesn’t tell me much when I read reviews.


a. General attributes
If I should give a general impression of the UM V3, I would say it sounds deep, detailed, resolving, energetic, quite coherent for 16 drivers, and quite full. It sounds deeper and fuller than then SE5U, but not as wide. It is more energetic and quick than the SE5U, but it is not a key feature as the SEU is not the fastest out there. Notes will have better bite and definition. Strings are more fleshed out than on the SEU, but someone at the expense of coherence, the SEU sounds more coherent and seamless. Fullness on the V3 comes at the expense of some air, mostly in the mids, but we will come back to that.
b. Bass
The bass on the V3 is not neutral by any means, and there is slightly more mid-bass boost than on the SE5U, where sub to mid is very well integrated. Quality and texture are comparable, with a slight edge for the SE5U. The kick on the V3 is more palpable and will satisfy bass heads without being overbearing for others. The sub-bass has a nice rumble if you activate the dial, comparable to the SE5U.
a. trouble get the right tips. And in any case, the V3 is playing with the big guys here
. Mids
The mids are more forward than on the SE5U making the overall sound more W than slight V. The mids are similarly transparent on both, but the fullness on the V3 makes them also slightly less airy. That is the point I could not completely solve despite all my tip rolling. Either too thin or slightly not airy enough...I guess some more tip rolling or having a custom version or another source could solve this as the V3 is very polymorph sound wise.
b. Highs
High are smoother on the SE5U without a doubt, despite comparable extension. They have better weight and definition on the Mason V3, and more sparkle, but are clearly prone to edginess / harshness if you mix of tip and source is not optimal. If found myself finding the right pairing mostly based on this, as with many tips, the highs where unlistenable, which maybe came at the expense of some air in the mids.

Conclusion:
 The UM Mason V3 is a top performer with excellent build and high performance. The incredible amount of options and included features make it quite competitive. However, if you opt for the universal version, expect to spend quite some time tip and source rolling to find the optimal sound, as it is heavily dependent on these, particularly tips. 
If you can handle the mandarin in general, the V3 sound wonderful with these. I still prefer the tuning of the SE5 Ultimate for my personal tastes, but I think it would be a very close call if I had the custom version.



Thanks again to Mimouille for another excellent write up.


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