Unique Melody ME.1: a spacious stage with an organic and euphonic sound

Pros:  Big sound stage, smooth organic sound, no harshness to be found, euphonic, comfortable, open but not leaky

Cons: Some detail is lost to give the euphonic sound, not extended on either side of the audio spectrum, source has bigger than average impact on sound (matching is important), isolation, big shell will not fit some ears

List Price: $759.00 (at Musicteck)

Product Website: http://en.uniquemelody.org/detail_185.html

Unique Melody ME.1

Rating Disclaimer: ratings are subjective. Audio quality and value do not mean the same thing across all prices. A headphone with a 5 rating on audio at $5 does not have equivalent sound quality as a 5 rating at $500. Likewise, value at $5 is not the same as value at $5000 dollars.

Introduction

My first interactions with the Unique Melody brand were on Head-Fi. I had seen several reviews that basically said that the original Merlin and Miracle were awesome. Then I saw that they were doing something ambitious and potentially game changing: the ME.1. I was so enthusiastic about the ME.1 that when looking for folks to interview from British headphone companies, I set myself down the path of confusion, as Unique Melody is based in China, but used to have a good market in the United Kingdom. I’ve had a previous interview with Unique Melody’s Lawrance, and have also reviewed the Miracle v2. I have found Lawrance to be an excellent fellow and quite liked the Unique Melody Miracle v2. It was a fortuitous mistake. Here are some snippets from that interview with Lawrance regarding the development of the ME.1:

Lawrance: The idea of an in-ear planar has been around for a while. In fact, I know of at least 3 other companies that were interested in such a design, of course, I don’t know the details of where they are along that path now.

There’s certainly a lot of thought that went into the ME.1.

User experience is important, so we’ve made a big commitment to ensuring that the unit fits well and has a reasonable profile

While it does leak sound and does not isolate amazingly well, we’ve also made it a point to make sure that the product is still usable in environments such as a quiet space.

The part of the ME.1 that has gotten a good bit of questions is our use of a hearing protection filter in its design.

A lot of people have been asking, hey aren’t you just copying ADEL and such?

We certainly respect ADEL as a unique design and solution to hearing protection, but UM have been in the hearing protection business for quite some time ourselves. Of course, our founders and chief engineers all being from the hearing aid industry helps with that.

Our sister company, Rooth, has actually been making sound attenuating earplugs for quite a while now, and we implemented some of that technology here.

A planar driver’s ability to move air, even with an open design, has led us to believe that we need to find ways in which to normalize the pressure within the ear canal, which allows a more natural sound reproduction compared to if the canal was sealed off.

Glass Monkey: Does this mean that what your ME.1 is doing is leaking out the harmful low-frequencies that cause resonance and stapedius reflex? Basically, killing bad vibrations.

Lawrance: Yes, and at the same time, it’s an acoustic filter that attenuates the outside noise at specific frequencies.

So, in summary, there is a lot of cool tech to be interested in here. It’s an open planar magnetic in-ear that protects your hearing. Cool beans. Let’s see how it performs.

Usability: Form & Function

Unboxing

The Unique Melody ME.1 comes with a new upgraded wooden box wrapped in light cardstock. Embossed on top is some fancy cursive writing declaring the ME.1. On top of the wooden box a thick plastic Unique Melody logo is affixed. Inside the box there are two foam trays with ribbon lifts to take out the top tray. The top tray contains a case that is shaped like an oversized pill or lozenge made of silicone rubber. It is round and tapered with a core that flips out to show a cable winder and a compartment in the centre for the headphones and the 3.5mm jack plug. The compartment below has a soft case that holds all the accessories. I never used the soft case for the headphones and found the elastomer case too large, but apparently it is a big hit in the East. The soft case felt a bit flimsy to me. The headphones and cable have some girth, so I think the soft case needed more padding.

Aesthetics and Ergonomics

The ME.1 has a stately build to it. It has clean lines and a good tapered shape that I think will allow it to fit most ears. It won’t win any beauty contests in the headphone world, but it isn’t ugly in the slightest, to my tastes. If you have small ears or ears without much depth, fit may be a little difficult. The cable is oriented in an over the ear direction, with memory wire to hold the cable to your ears, which helps with fit. The included white Comply tips also help with fit, and sound good on the ME.1. The connector is sturdy. I never disconnected it, as I didn’t have another cable to try for the ME.1. UERR told me not to use their balanced cable for Unique Melody IEMs—different polarity, maybe? I never felt like the ME.1 weren’t secure.

The cable is composed of 8 cores, with half of them silver plated copper, and the other half plain copper. The wires are in twisted pairs with 4 pairs on each channel. The cable looks very nice and has a sturdy y-split and slider. In fact, I think they are too sturdy. I frequently found myself worrying about them clanking around and damaging things. I would suggest that lighter material would be better. I think these are steel, maybe the right material is aluminum. The chin slider is especially heavy feeling and sometimes draws down of its own weight. Due to the weight of the cables and the over-ear design, I had no problems with microphonics.

The bore for the IEM is large, and has a spring inside it—I presume to help catch wax. The Miracle v2 had two wide open bores that looked like a wax superhighway to the drivers. The new design is an improvement. I was able to try a lot of tips with the ME.1, so people can rest-assured that you can find a tip that fits your sound preferences. There is a high likelihood that it will be the included Comply tips. If I hadn’t attended CanJam London 2017 and stopped by HiFi Headphones’ booth, I wouldn’t have Final’s E-type tips and I would have gone with the Comply tips.

These are open IEMs, so don’t expect the isolation to be great. That said, they do have some isolation. In a positive, I found that they aren’t very leaky. I think these are fine for in the office. In fact, I think they are ideal for in the office.

Tip Rolling

I tried the stock Comply tips, Spinfit CP100s, Spinfit CP240, Symbio Mandarines, and Final Audio Design Type-E silicone tips (clear, medium-large). The best tips were the Final Audio Design Type-E tips. The Comply tips sound less clear in the mids with some loss of resolution (probably due to taming some clarity bringing treble), whilst the Type-E tips gave the most well-defined mids while not having the treble get too sharp. The Spinfit CP100s were a bit too bright for me. The Spinfit CP240s weren’t comfortable due to the bore size. Similarly, the Symbio Mandarines were also too bulky and inflexible for the ME.1. For this review, I used the Final Type-E (clear) silicone tips throughout.

Audio quality

I think I may be beginning to see the house sound of Unique Melody a bit clearer. Both the Unique Melody Miracle v2 and now this ME.1 have been fairly smooth with a bit of extra weight in the mids that gives them a touch of romance. The ME.1 are very smooth indeed.

The ME.1 has a bass character that is led by its mid-bass expression. Bass extends down into the sub-bass, but it doesn’t have the rumble that strong bass performers have. The bass here, along with some emphasis in the lower mids, serve to warm the sound a little bit. Bass has some texture. Lower mids when listening to Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table are a bit airy and the full complexity of his vocal tones isn’t expressed (I’ve been spoiled with the HiFiMAN Susvara, these do quite well actually). Mids are forward, slightly warm and smooth. These aren’t toasty like a hot toddy by the fire, more like a Christmas jumper on a cool winter day.

The treble on the ME.1 is and not very sparkly and has some smoothed peaks. It shimmers wonderfully on hi-hats, but has a little bit slow decay. On Kraftwerk – Kometenmelodie2 the sharp peaks that should be a bit shrill on the recording I have are smoothed out. The treble is not perfectly accurate, but is tuned in a way that will ensure that there isn’t a person who will ever find a note harsh. The truth about treble is that sometimes a real instrument produces a harsh sound. You won’t get that here. The treble is euphonic. The overall signature is euphonic. These are quite pleasurable to listen to, but will rarely challenge you.

If I had to visualize signature by bass/mids/treble, it would be like this: XXx. Bass and mids are emphasised, whilst treble is smoothed and tapered, reducing emphasis.

The sound stage on the ME.1 has above average width, excellent height, and average depth. The forward mids and mid-bass reduce perception of stage depth in addition to the natural characteristics of the stage. The sound stage is excellent given the sound signature’s emphasis in bass and mids and smoothing of the treble. In my experience, increasing treble increases sound stage perception. These accomplish an excellent soundstage without having treble emphasis.

Matchability

I found that the ME.1 benefits from a source with a little treble emphasis, as the main weakness of the IEM can be a bit of slowness in the mids that smooths over some detail and can make the mids sound a little stuffy. I was happy to have the Opus #3 back in house for this review, as I think it pairs excellently with the ME.1 given that it is a touch on the bright side and is very airy sounding. The Questyle QP2R has a bigger stage, but a weightier sound and denser sounding mids with the ME.1.

I tried some other pairings. The Shanling M2s did a great job in the mids and provided a little extra bass weight. Soundstage was not as wide. I’d have no problems with this pairing being primary, these sound excellent together. The Hidizs AP200 slants a bit too much toward the bass and lower mids with the ME.1 with not enough treble presence. Drums really kick with it, but the soaring female vocals in Pixies – Where is My Mind get lost, which is a darn shame. The Echobox Explorer sounds a little thin on the ME.1.

Comparisons

After some listening, I noted that the measurements for the ME.1 were producing louder playback than the comparators when I did my normal routine of measuring to 78.2 or so with white noise and an SPL meter. This is probably due to the open design of the ME.1 and quite possibly due to the hearing protection port. It is really hard to volume match open headphones vs. closed headphones with an SPL meter, as perceived volumes just don’t match. I had to drop the ME.1 volume down substantially to make the sound more comparable. I ended up matching the ME.1 by ear, which is less than ideal. The ME.1 sounds a lot louder than what it measures. The figure I came to is that my other volume-matched IEMs were about 4dB quieter than the ME.1 at the same measured level.

Unique Melody ME.1 vs. UERR

On Pixies – Where is My Mind, the ME.1 has chunky drum hits with some slam, but limited texture. The ME.1 is rich with some mid-bass and mids emphasis. Black Francis’s vocals are more immediate on the ME.1, where they are a bit further back in the stage on the UERR. The UERR on the same track sounds comparatively lean, but more detailed. Treble is cleaner, clearer, and more extended on the UERR. The treble presentation on the ME.1 could be described as smooth. Bass texture extends further into the sub-bass on the UERR and the bass tones are more balanced. Tonally, the ME.1 will be more pleasing to more individuals with its little bit of added warmth from the mid-bass to mids and smooth treble. I think this is actually the sound profile most normal folks prefer (maybe not Western audiophiles). It won’t work as well for detail freaks or treble heads.

In terms of technical capabilities, the UERR doesn’t have as tall a soundstage as the ME.1, but it has more depth and greater instrument separation. Width on both is similar. The UERR also has greater resolution. When listening to the hi-hat on Macy Gray – I Try, the shimmer is more realistic on the UERR. The shimmer is less textured on the ME.1 and the decay is a little too smooth. The UERR has more precise decay (not too quick), whilst the ME.1 is a bit lingering and emotive.

The listening above was done in the most beneficial environment for the ME.1, but not the most beneficial environment for the UERR. The UERR can sound a bit thin on the OPUS #3 (source for most observations above) but has a bit more body whilst listening on the QP2R. On the QP2R (medium gain, high bias), the ME.1 sound is a bit thicker, but also has better layering and detail through the bass and lower mids. The ME.1 scales to higher resolution sources.

Both the UERR and the Unique Melody ME.1 use proprietary connectors (though the ME.1 can be used with standard 2-pin, they just look vulnerable), but Ultimate Ears sells a 2.5mm balanced version of their cable ($49), whereas Unique Melody does not—something that may not be corrected due to Unique Melody moving to another proprietary connector on their v3 line-up. The cable is bigger and more premium looking and feeling on the ME.1. Both IEMs are comfortable.

In a few words, the UERR is a detailed and precise whilst the ME.1 is smooth and soulful with lingering ambience. The ME.1 is headphone that you just melt into. It’s wonderfully organic sounding. Planar magnetic relaxation.

Unique Melody ME.1 vs. HiFiMAN RE800

The Unique Melody ME.1 has a smooth slightly warm signature. The HiFiMAN RE-800 is an exercise in contrast, with a V-shaped signature and big detail resolution.

The RE-800 has more extended sub-bass, which gives more texture to the bass, holistically. The mid-bass is more emphasised on the ME.1 whilst the sub-bass has more body on the RE-800.

Mids are distant at volume matched levels which makes the RE-800 sound a bit thinner, and treble is more extended. The tuning sounds thin after listening to the Unique Melody ME.1. However, when listening for vocal texture and detail on Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table, the RE-800 has greater resolution than the ME.1. There is more grip to Leonard’s voice. The mids have a more technical sound on the RE-800, whilst they are more fluid (but less detailed) on the ME.1.

Treble has faster decay on the RE-800, which means that transients are more intact with less blending. Treble is a little more extended and sharp peaks are a bit more shrill when they should be on Kraftwerk – Kometenmelodie2 with the RE-800.

The RE-800 are really made to be played loud in loud places, not at reasonable listening levels. My testing volume is lower than what I would listen at with these. Cranking up the RE-800 would surely make them sound better, but it also risks hearing damage. The ME.1 reduces the risk of hearing damage.

Unique Melody ME.1 vs. PlusSound Spectrum

The ME.1 and the Spectrum share some characteristics. Both have round but not deep bass with a mid-bass focus. The ME.1 has more texture in the bass and a bit more quantity. Both have some thickness to their mids and a relaxing warmth. The Spectrum is a little warmer (this may be due in part to Comply tips on the Spectrum). This results in the ME.1 being the clearer of the two IEMs. Both have smooth treble, but the ME.1 is a bit more extended with a bit more shimmer to hi-hat hits.

The ME.1 has a larger soundstage with better instrument separation. The advantage on stage dimensions is especially obvious on width and height. Where the Spectrum gets just outside the borders of my ears, the ME.1 is comfortably outside my ears. Height on the ME.1 is just over my head on Norah Jones’ vocals on Feelin’ the Same Way whilst Norah is in my forehead on the Spectrum. Resolution is also higher, partly due to having less warmth in the sound signature compared to the Spectrum.

What the Spectrum does with a single balanced armature driver is very impressive, but it is not the technical equal of the ME.1. It shouldn’t be at a little more than half the price.

Comparison Table

ME.1 UERR RE-800 Spectrum
Price $759 $999 $699 $399.99
Impedance 23.1Ω 35Ω 60Ω ?
Driver Technology 18.5mm planar magnetic driver Quad BA 9.2mm Topology Diaphragm Dynamic Driver Single BA

Specifications

Specifications
Price $759
Impedance 23.1Ω
Driver type 18.5mm planar magnetic driver
Magnet type Dual-layer High Strength Neodymium
Shell 3D Printed Medical Grade Acrylic with CNC Finish, built in acoustic port
Connector type 2-pin protruding (not standard CIEM)
Accessories Wooden gift box, 6N Single Crystal Copper 3.5mm terminated (single-ended) cable (8-wire), silicone lozenge case with built in cable wrap, small rectangular nylon case, white Comply foam eartips (S/M/L)

Acknowledgment

I’d like to thank Unique Melody for loaning me the ME.1 for review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Conclusions

The Unique Melody ME.1 is an excellent headphone that protects your hearing whilst having a sound signature that manages to be engaging and relaxing at the same time. It accomplishes this by having a smooth tonal character and a broad and tall stage that draws you in to compositions nicely. The emphasis in the ME.1 signature is on the mid-bass and the mids, an emphasis that usually shrinks the soundstage, but the ME.1 still has an impressive soundstage for an IEM.

I think that if Unique Melody decide to build an ME.2, their focus should be on extending the treble and bass along with resolution improvement. This ME.1 is a very nice headphone. If you are looking for a euphonic sound signature that never fatigues, has an impressive sound stage, and protects your hearing, the ME.1 should be strongly considered. I think these are perfect for work, as they are smooth enough to make music not a distraction from work.

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