Pros: multiple tuning options with the bass port and multi-metal cables, solid design, great build quality, supremely musical signature, detail retrieval, ability to capture emotion
Cons: Proprietary cable system limits cable swapping, DB-Go bass ports are a little loose in use, not a huge amount of difference in the tuning when switching cables or tweaking the bass ports, could possibly do with a little more bass.
Price: c. $2000
More information about the Mentor can be found here: Unique Melody
Introduction and acknowledgement
The Mentor V3 I am reviewing are part of the European Mason / Mentor tour being organised by Unique Melody through Head-Fi. I was very kindly allowed to spend two weeks with the Mentor, in exchange for writing my impressions up on the Unique Melody threads and posting a review on Head-Fi. There was no other incentive to write the review, and the unit is now with the next reviewer in line, so the views and opinions expressed are 100% my own. Unfortunately this review is a little delayed, but hopefully people will still find it useful – a big thanks go to Lawrance @ UM and @glassmonkey for making all this happen!
As a bit of background, I first came across unique Melody with their Miracle V2 model, spending a little time with the multi-BA model last year. The rich, dark tuning marked UM out to me as a manufacturer that would probably fit quite well with my own sonic preferences, so when I saw the chance to spend a little time with their “musical” flagship, I jumped at the chance. The chance to play with some of the new technology baked in to this model also appealed to the audio geek in me – genuine innovation in the IEM industry is pretty hard to come by these days, so to see a company trying something a little different is always good. The Mentor sports not one, but three new pieces of technology: their DB-Go pressure balancing system, a tunable bass dial linked to this and a switchable dual metal cable.
In fairness, the pressure relief is not strictly a new concept as both Asius (the ADEL modules) and 64 Audio’s APEX tech have been in the marketplace for some time, and the UK based Hearwave are just launching their own take on this called the Govnor. Ditto the bass tuning, as firms like JH Audio and Aurisonics have had similar options out on the market for a good few years, to name but two. All the same, it is good to see more firms embracing these concepts, and Unique Melody do have a prior history in hearing aids and other protection devices in their native Chinese market, so it does seem like a natural synergy.
The cabling is something I genuinely haven’t seen before, and should help to pour more fuel on the ongoing philosophical cable debate on Head-Fi – do cables actually make a difference? The Unique Melody solution is to provide a four wire connector cable (similar to the JH Audio bass attenuator cables in physical design, with a 4-pin connector plug), with two wires being made of OFC copper and the other two being made of silver. Unlike more traditional hybrid copper / silver hybrid cables, depending on which way the connector plug is fitted, only two of the wires are active at any time, giving you an all silver or all copper listening experience. It’s a novel way of allowing the end user to tweak the sound, and works pretty well with the screw-lock connectors.
The Mentor gives a premium unboxing experience, as you would expect from something in this sort of price bracket. The initial box is a textured black shoebox style affair, with an understated black UM logo embossed across the middle of the front panel. Lifting the lid off, you are greeted with the sight of the Unique Melody registration card (credit card sized, and made out of solid plastic) and a metal puck style case in a mirrored finish. The case also carries the UM logo in embossed form in the middle of the lid, and looks pretty solid and undeniably classy. There are rumours on the forums the case is made or plated with Titanium, but I haven’t been able to dig up any evidence of that online. Either way, it’s pretty solid add inevitably good looking. It does seem to be prone to a few scratches though, as the demo unit definitely has its fair share of minor scrapes and fine lines on the surface.
Popping the lid off the case reveals a nicely padded interior, and the IEMs and cable. The case has enough room for the Mentors and one of their 4-wire cables, but nothing much else. The interior padding should protect the IEMs from damage (both external and from knocking on the inner walls of the case), but definitely qualifies as more of a transportable rather than portable case, as it is a bit large and unwieldy to stuff in the front pocket of your jeans on the go.
The rest of the loadout is pretty standard for an IEM in this sort of price bracket, with multiple foam and silicon tips, a solid plastic UM guarantee card, a soft microfiber cloth for buffing your IEM shells and that mirrored case and a nice leather style cable tie. The review unit came with three cables (2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm terminated), but I believe the production unit will come with just one of your choice.
Overall, this is a nicely premium looking (and feeling) unboxing experience, with plenty of care and attention being shown in both the fit and finish of the accessories and the overall appearance of the whole package. Off to a good start!
Initial impressions on sound
The third iteration of the Mentor is the current co-flagship of the Unique Melody lineup, sharing its headline billing with the Mason, which is also in its third different guise. The Mentor is billed as the more overtly “musical” of the two flagships by sound signature, and this is quite an apt description. The Mentor is a balanced sounding monitor, but it certainly isn’t neutral, carrying a nicely rounded and tactile bass, some vocal emphasis in the midrange and a silky smooth treble.
As mentioned above, the bass is a tunable affair, with a thumbscrew adjustment mechanism on the outer shell opening or closing the inbuilt venting ports to give a variance of around 4dB between closed and fully open. Even with the ports fully open, this isn’t a basshead monitor, but it does have an emphasis that is pleasantly heavier than neutral, concentrated around the lower mid-bass/sub-bass transition. This adds a sense of weight and roundness to the edge of the notes without pushing too much quantity at the listener. Closing the ports lets a little of the warm air out of the room, and pushes the bass a little closer to neutral. For my preferences, I left the ports fully open as I enjoyed the additional warmth and slightly fuller feel to the low end, which is achieved without losing any of the snap or speed of the all-BA bass.
The mids are fairly neutral in stage position, with a nice sense of space and clarity and a little emphasis in the vocal ranges. They are tuned with maximum emphasis on the emotion and rawness in a vocal line, focusing on the subtle detail to extract the maximum grit and gravel without sounding grainy. Artists like Elvis and James Bay sound sublime through these IEMs, the textures of their voices coming through loud and clear. The rest of the range has a nice balance of detail and lushness, guitar and string notes coming through with plenty of crunch and detail on the edge of the note, and a neutral sort of weight that captures just enough of the heft of a chord while maintaining the slave around it.
Treble is crystal clear, extended and smooth as silk. Again, the note weight is nicely balanced, giving a little solidity to things like cymbals and high violins. Cymbals shimmer and decay quite quickly, but carry enough emphasis to cut through the sound when needed. Highs feel spacious but not overly sparkly or crystalline. This isn’t an overly hot or treble emphasised monitor, but there is enough up top to maintain the sense of clarity that pervades throughout, and is certainly not shy of detail when needed.
Overall, the Mentor gives a sound that is balanced across all three ranges, with a bit of push in the mids to bring out the vocalist and bags of resolution and transparency to keep the sound feeling clean without hardening any edges. It’s neutral/natural done right.
Delving into the individual frequency ranges in more detail, the bass is up first. As stated, it is a slightly emphasised tuning, with a good sense of body but no major basshead aspirations. There is a slight bias towards the lower end of the range with the tuning ports fully engaged, which helps adds a little physical substance and fullness to bass guitar notes.
It isn’t a sub bass monster, but does give a nice tickle in the inside of the skull when you engage something like “Heaven” by Emile Sande. Extension is very good, with the Mentor scraping the bottom of tracks like “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk without losing any emphasis or differentiation between the low notes. This won’t be an IEM to get EDM fans purring with ecstasy at the way it manages to meekly all the filings in their head with vibration amen they put on their favourite club banger, but it is certainly capable of referring an enjoyable electronic music experience when required.
Moving slightly further up the range, “Bad Rain” by Slash is my usual go to in order to test the texture. The Mentor kicks off well, with the snarling bassline slipping into gear in the left ear with its customary sense of rawness. It isn’t the most full bodied rendition, with more emphasis on the physical texture of the notes being played, and a decent but not overwhelming sense of body. The kick drum on this track is punchy but not overly booming, adding a nice sense of dynamic snap but lacking a bit of the physical impact that a dynamic driver would offer, emphasising the all-BA nature of the Mentor.
Looking for a bit more liquidity, “Stand Up (And Be Strong)” by Keb’ Mo fills the low end of the landscape with some grade A liquid chocolate, the funky bass and low Hammond organ notes slinking their way around the sound. The bass isn’t fully flowing, sitting in the middle ground between viscous and chalky, but it retains a smoothness of delivery that seems to be a bit of a hallmark of this model.
The slight emphasis between the sub and mid bass border helps keep the transition between upper bass and mids clean and free of any bleed, as you would expect from a monitor in this sort of price bracket. It also a sense of texture to the delivery that might not otherwise come across. For instance, “Freak On A Leash” by Korn has a bass drop that stays at the 3:02 mark that is chest shuddering on something like the Campfire Atlas or the Rhapsodio Zombie. On the Mentor, it doesn’t have the visceral throb of the other two IEMs, but the raw texture of Fieldy’s detuned bass strings slapping around like a fish out of water and the sub-fuelled lower edges of the notes give the track enough physicality to get the blood pumping, which it shouldn’t do given the modest amount of mid bass above it.
For tracks with more of a mid bass presence, the Mentor is on the neutral side of things, packing enough solidity into the sound not to come across as thin, but certainly not dominating proceedings. This isn’t a set of IEMs that will excel with mid-bass heavy club bangers, but the balanced overall tonality and the sub-bass rounding at the bottom end of the frequency range give it a satisfying enough feel for all but the most demanding of bassheads.
The midrange on the Mentor V3 is nothing short of spectacular, blending raw detail with a splash of warmth to present a musical and crystal clear sound. Resolution and transparency are superb, arranging multiple layers of instrumentation and vocals one on top of each other without any blurriness or smearing. The slight warmth coming from the DB-Go bass dial in the fully open setting stop the Mentor from sounding sterile or overly analytical, but this is definitely a monitor that can trade blows with IEMs like the Zeus-XR in terms of clarity.
Note weight is fairly neutral, neither thick or overly thin. Texture around the edges of notes is emphasised, giving an almost crystalline crunch to distorted guitar riffs. Vocal delivery is raw and emotional, catching the fine nuances and inflections in the phrasing of each singer and presenting a slightly dry and highly detailed sound.
Seeing how the mentor deals with some heavy guitar work, “Stand Up” by Sammy Hagar starts with a dirty wall of distorted guitar that stops just as abruptly, just as Hagar’s distinctive vocal fires up. The Mentor keeps a firm grip on both elements, stopping and starting the guitar mid-chug and plastering Sammy’s gravelly roar against the back of your eardrums, allowing each crack in the throat to be heard clearly amidst the heavy riffing. The guitar itself feels dense and thick with detail as each string vibrates, which can easily be lost into a sort of omnipresent sludge on less resolving monitors.
Sticking with rock music. “Anastasia” by Slash allows the Mentor to showcase both tone and dexterity, the silky smooth Spanish guitar intro slowly building into a multi-layered slab of vintage hard rock. The tone on the acoustic guitar is beautiful, full of reverb and echo as the strings are plucked, pulling the listener forward into the music. As it switches to the more energetic mid-section of the track, the Mentor doesn’t miss a beat, keeping the multiple guitar strands clearly separated in the ear without disrupting the overall cohesion of the stage. The detail is apparent without being thrown into the forefront, little things like the sound of plectrum on string being faintly but clearly felt in the back of the ear. The blackness of the sonic background helps here, with the Mentor painting a jet black canvas on which the notes can be arranged, leaving plenty of dark space began each note to help them stand out in the ear of the listener.
Despite the rawness of the vocals, the Mentor steers well clear of sibilance, keeping a tight control on harshness. “Whiskey And You” is always one of my test tracks, and the Mentor doesn’t smooth off the raw edge to the sound, but it doesn’t accentuate any of the jaggedness of Chris Stapleton’s delivery either, keeping it listenable all the way through. Similarly, “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy sounds soaring but never sore, Kennedy’s “Mickey Mouse meets Pavarotti in a sleazy rock bar” falsetto sounding strong and unwavering without bothering the eardrums as he hits the high notes.
Piano and string instruments have a beautiful tone on the Mentor, feeling light but impassioned, and carrying a layer of fine detail around the notes that really lets you delve into the music. If I had to nitpick, the Mentor could maybe do with a touch more weight for heavier rock music and serious orchestral fare, but I think that might take away from the fine balance Unique Melody have struck here between the detail and the spacing between notes. This is a beautifully judged sound, and one that should play well with most genres you care to throw at it.
The treble on the Mentor follows the same general tuning as the mids, with a neutral weight and a crispness to the edge of the notes that gives it a healthy dose of that undefinable “sparkle” that keeps getting referred to in reviews like these. The notes hang on the black background, extending up into the ceiling of the sound and giving a sense of height and scale. Cymbals and hi-hats are sharp and decay quite quickly, but hit with a crispness and punch to match the kick drums down below. There is a satisfying metallic tsssk as the hi-hats kick in on “Go” by The Chemical Brothers, cutting through the pumping bassline and rapped vocal underneath and setting the rhythmic backbone for the song. The synth has plenty of room to breathe on this track, expanding to fill the top half of the soundstage and swirling around as the chorus ebbs and flows, with plenty of emphasis.
The treble is a little more prominent than the mids, sitting more in line with the bass in the gentle U/V curve. It isn’t overly sharp or too emphasised, so the sound still remains nicely balanced, but this definitely isn’t a shy and retiring type of top end. There is plenty of detail apparent, with the lightness of touch lending an almost gossamer-like substance to guitar harmonics and instruments like harpsichord and violin. “Kashmir” by the classical pairing Duel fills the air around the main bass and drum line with a fine mist of treble noise, each note hanging in space and glittering in the ear.
The closest treble I have heard to the Mentor V3 is from the Bella, a 9 driver flagship from the Vietnamese manufacturer NCM. Both IEMs share a beautifully judged blend of sparkle and definition, without artificially boosting any part of the range to induce a “detail spike” that inevitably leads to fatigue after extended listening. The Mentor is a gloriously fatigue-free experience, being comfortable on the ear no matter what sort of treble-heavy music you play though it for hours on end. This is helped by their proprietary DB-Go technology, which claims to alleviate pressure in the eardrum in a similar sort of way to the other solutions like Apex and ADEL that are currently in use in the IEM market. Whatever it is, it certainly seems to work, and allows the high notes plenty of room to breathe without compromising the detail or quantity.
Speaking of detail, the extension here goes plenty high enough to bring out all the sonic information hidden in the upper registers, allowing reflected room noise and other higher-order harmonics to populate the backdrop of the sound and create a strong sense of imaging. It feels like the Mentor is playing in a venue without a roof, so the notes drift around the upper half of the soundscape (I always hear treble towards the top of any stage) without sounding like they are hemmed in or enclosed. Listening to tracks from the Duel album by the classical violinists of the same band name, the harpsichord and more ethereal violin expressions just sparkle, with almost no weight to them but a lingering delicacy. This is treble for the afficionado, which manages to impress without overcooking its own grits, leaving the impressive midrange take the lion’s share of the spotlight and just adding accent to the impressive overall sound.
Soundstage, separation and layering
The Mentor has an impressive soundstage in terms of both width and depth. It feels wider than it is deep, and it doesn’t have a soaring vertical presence, but it definitely feels quite “widescreen” in overall presentation. Music pushes outside the ears in both directions by a reasonable distance, and also extrudes a little in front of the eyes and out of the back of the skull. This helps the Mason push the instruments apart, keeping plenty of jet black sonic space between the different players on the stage to give a very high level of separation to proceedings, with each sonic strand feeling quite distinct in the ears, even in typically congested or “wall of sound” tracks like stuff from the Sons Of Apollo debut album.
As previously remarked, layering is top notch as well, the depth of the stage helping to add a more 3D feel to the sound. The Mentor aren’t an overly analytical sounding monitor, but whatever I threw at them, I just wasn’t able to make them sound stuffy or gummed up. Impressive.
I rattled through the included tips, which are all adequate, but ended up settling on some Final Audio E series tips to get the perfect balance between body and clarity for my ears, as well as the most secure and comfortable seal. The included Comply tips are the isolation kind with the wax guard – I happen to have a set of these already so I threw them on but the additional wax filter took a little of the beauty away from the top end so it wasn’t my favourite pairing.
You may have more luck with foam tips if you are looking to bolster the isolation and beef up the lower end a little further, but I personally preferred the balance to the sound the E-tips gave. To be fair, the actual changes in sonics are all relatively minor rather than massive, so this is not an IEM that is hugely affected by which tip you use (or not in my cavernous ears, anyway).
Driving power and matchability
The Mentor V3 is not difficult to play loud. Due to the time constraints of the review, I wanted to focus on the IEM itself rather than trying it with multiple sources, so I concentrated on the ZX300 with the 4.4mm balanced connection, as this is currently my favourite source for reviewing (and the best sounding). My tour unit was also lacking the 2.5mm balanced cable that has now joined the next reviewer, so I wasn’t able to run it through my preferred desktop balanced source (the Questyle CMA400i), which would have been my next choice. That aside, the Mentor doesn’t require a huge amount of power to bring to deafness inducing volume, sitting the bottom half (and occasionally bottom third) of the volume pot on the Sony model in low gain. The Mentor are quite happy to suck up a bit of extra juice in high gain, but I personally didn’t notice any huge difference by flooding them with extra wattage. As mentioned, I didn’t do any source swapping, so please take the above opinion for what it is (a very limited one).
The Zeus-XR is the 14-BA flagship from Empire Ears’ famous Olympus line of in-ear monitors, sporting two tuning configurations (the Zeus-R and Zeus-XIV, switchable via a little toggle on the faceplate) and a slightly more expensive pricetag than the Mentor, coming in at around the $2500 mark for the custom version. They have been acknowledged as one of the major players in the TOTL bracket since they were released a couple of years ago, so should provide some fairly stiff competition to the 12-BA Mentor.
Starting with the bass, this feels slightly more prominent on the Mentor, with a heavier sub-bass presence but slightly less of a midbass tilt than the Empire Ears model. Neither monitor can be described as a basshead;s delight, but both are capable of producing a punchy and fairly satisfying take on almost neutral. Detail and texture are similar here, with the thicker tone of the Zeus pushing the notes a little closer together than the relatively more airy Mentor down low.
Mids are more forward on the Zeus-XR, presented in a thicker manner than the neutral note weight of the unique Melody model. On tracks like “Bad Rain” by Slash, the Zeus in its XIV configuration presents a notably thicker midrange experience, with more substance and solidity to the body of the notes. The guitars feel less “in your face” and slightly edgier on the Mentor, taking a step or two back on the stage and playing (again) with a little more air. The Zeus-R is actually more alike in tone to the Mentor, losing a little of the creamy thickness of the XIV’s midrange and adding a little more air to the stage. On either configuration, string instruments like violin and cello feel weightier on the Zeus. This is due in part to the heftier mid-bass hump of the Zeus in either mode in comparison to the more sub-oriented Mentor, which lends a little weight underneath the lower end of the midrange. The Zeus is also surprisingly a little more punchy in the midbass than the Mentor, giving more snap to kick drums, although neither monitor can compete with a good dynamic driver in this regard.
Detail retrieval is similar between both IEMs, with the Zeus just having the edge in overall resolution to my ears. Loading “Palladio” by Escala into my playlist, both monitors pick up the fine background sounds of bows hitting string and chairs creaking in the intro stanza, with the Zeus just feeling a little more clear and effortless at pushing the detail to the listener. Neither monitor achieves detail through an overly sharp tone, so the clarity is a byproduct of the overall tuning in both cases.
Both IEMs excel with vocals, with the Zeus producing a more forward and emphasised take on both male and female singers, giving more thickness and a richer tone to the sound. The Mentor feels a little more raw and less fleshed out in comparison, but both IEMs actually have similar capabilities in terms of detailing here, with the Zeus actually pulling a little more through despite the thicker presentation. On “Song For Adam” by Gregg Allman, both IEMs capture the raw emotion of Allman’s last recorded song, with the Zeus immersing the listener right in the middle of the studio recording session, and the Mentor pulling a little further back and airing the stage out. The Mentor also feels a little cooler and less romantic in tone here.
Guitars and string instruments feel heftier on the Zeus, but a little crisper on the Mentor. It takes a special IEM to compete with the Olympus series flagship in the midrange, and while I think the Zeus still has a small edge here, the Mentor can stand close enough to go toe to toe without any embarrassment, which is no small feat.
In terms of treble, both IEMs extend well up beyond my meagre hearing capabilities, and neither exhibit any particular tendencies towards sibilance. In keeping with the overall tone, the Zeus in both configurations is thicker than the Mentor, with less sparkle but similar resolution. The difference in note weight is particularly noticeable in the XIV configuration, where things like synth and high violin notes feel clean and clear but don’t carry the same gossamer like “shimmer” as the Mentor is capable of delivering with its slightly less solid notes. It is a question of preference for this – if you prefer your treble on the more rounded side but still with exceptional detail, the Zeus is your go to. If you are looking for that sense of glitter and sparkle, the Mentor will pull ahead here.
Stage size is slightly larger on the V3, with its more distant presentation throwing a more expansive mental image, as the instrumentation feels a little further away. Both IEMs present a largish note size, and the separation and layering on both is top tier, so nothing major to split between them here.
Build quality is a draw, with both manufacturers providing top-notch cables and flawlessly built shells. You get slightly more in the way of accessories with the Empire co-flagship, including a more practical case. Both IEMs are tunable, but the Zeus tuning makes more of a noticeable difference than the cable swapping and DB-Go tech provided with the Mentor.
With regards to drivability, the Zeus-XR is MUCH easier to drive than the V3, with a full 15 volume points between the two monitors in balanced mode on my ZX300. The Zeus does hiss with almost anything though, and produces considerably more hiss on most of my sources than the jet-black V3.
Overall, both IEMs are top tier in terms of sound, so there is no clear winner, as is often the case when you are in flagship territory. If your preference lays more towards a thick midrange and a more forward sound with a slight edge in detailing, the Zeus is your IEM. If you want a more spacious sounding IEM with a warmer sub-bass tilt and more laid back but still emotion-packed vocal styling, the Mentor will happily tick your boxes. I personally think my preference would be for the Zeus-XR if I had to choose between them, but it wouldn’t be a clear cut decision.
Campfire Audio Atlas
The Atlas is Campfire Audio’s current flagship model, sporting a single ADLC dynamic driver and Campfire’s proprietary polarity chamber technology. It retails at a good few hundred dollars less than the Mentor V3 at $1299 at time of writing.
Starting again with the bass, the Atlas is a LOT bassier than the Mentor V3, even with the bass ports on full bore. Sub-bass is won easily by the Atlas, which pushes a LOT more air in the low end than the Mentor’s all-BA setup. Texture down low is a draw, with the finely textured Mentor carrying comparable detail to the outstanding 10mm ADLC driver powering the Atlas. In terms of midbass, the same result holds true, with the Campfire IEM producing more quantity than the more tapered-down UM offering but both providing similar levels of detail. Overall, while the Mentor has impressive snap and impact for an all-BA setup, it can’t quite compete with the sheer volume of air being shifted by the Atlas into the inner-ear for that raw sense of physical impact.
Vocals have a less full bodied and crisper/sharper tone on the UM flagship, with a slightly colder sheen than the fuller sound of the Atlas. Hi-hats and snare drums also have more crispness to the attack – “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley and the Royal Philharmonic sounds more crisp and light on the Mentor, in comparison to the more organic and heavier sound of the Atlas, which hits with more body. Vocals feel more forward on the Mentor, and the gospel chorus on this track is more emphasised on the UM model due to the lack of bass underpin, giving the sound a little more of a sense of euphony.
Guitars are crunchier and more clinical on the Mentor, tracks like “Bad Rain” by Slash carrying so much edge to the notes it practically carves a new tunnel through your ear into your brain as it is passing. The Atlas still presents the notes with crunch, but the bottom edge of the riffs carry more weight, thickening out the sound into more of a chugging roar than the rapier-like presentation of the V3. Playing something more acoustic, the finely layered folk-rock of “Mother” by Myles Kennedy sound cleaner on the Mentor V3, coming through like a breath of fresh air, with Kennedy’s voice sounding a little thinner and sharper in direct comparison. The supporting guitars and drums lack a little body in direct comparison to the heftier presentation of the CA iem, but carry a clearer sense of speed as a payoff.
Midrange detail goes to the Mentor, with the leaner and sharper sound helping to emphasise the edge of the notes and the tiny room sounds more clearly against the jet black background. The Atlas presents a thicker and slightly more densely packed stage, with less room between the instruments, but a bigger overall sonic image, with each instrument possessing a larger size on the imaginary stage inside your ears..
The Atlas is no slouch in terms of speed, but the Mentor V3 feels quicker throughout, with the classic all-BA “snap” to guitar and string instruments, and a more clinical sense of precision to bass hits. The Mentor hits like a good super-middleweight boxer, with a dangerous blend of speed and accuracy, allied to a decent weight. In comparison, the Atlas hits like Iron Mike in his prime, raw power and a surprising quickness, and a brutal physical impact. There is a sense of engagement and dynamism that the Atlas possesses that is lacking in the Mentor, evoking the sort of dynamic interplay that the Focal Elear is famous for, which an all-BA setup can’t quite match.
When it comes to build and loadout, this is a draw for me – the Mentor is beautifully designed, with some unique features and a stellar cable. The cable on the Atlas is thinner but more ergonomic and equal in terms of quality, and the shells are smaller but heavier, with a more durable feeling all metal construction. The Mentor packaging is top notch, and gives a slightly more expensive “feel” than the classic Campfire Audio minimalist styling, with a titanium carry case and more theatrical presentation placing the UM model firmly in the top tier bracket. The Mentor is also the more tunable of the two IEMs, with an adjustable bass tuner that adds around 4dB of bass weight (not a huge amount, but it does warm the stage and add a little heft). It also has the dual tone cable, which adds another small sheen to the sound for finetuning, although it does prohibit the use of other third party cabling, unlike the standard MMCX connectors on the Atlas.
Separation is slightly clearer on the Mentor, with a greater sense of space between the instruments in comparison to the more closely packed Atlas. Layering is similar, with both IEMs being able to stack multiple levels of sound on top of each other like a Gallic patisserie chef preparing a millefeuille. Soundstage is a little bigger on the Mentor V3 in terms of width, with a similar depth on both IEMs to my ears. The instruments and overall sonic picture sounds bigger to me on the Atlas, with a greater sense of scale.
Overall, both monitors are deserving of a TOTL tag, with the Mentor producing a more overtly detailed sound by virtue of it’s slightly cooler overall tone and crisper and thinner midrange and treble. The Atlas is a far more full-bodied sound, packing more dynamics and a lot more low and mid range solidity into the sound. Both are excellent tunings in their own right, and both cleave more to musical rather than reference or neutral, but if you are a fan of a more traditionally balanced sound signature then you will probably lean towards the Mentor and its impressive resolution and layering. If you are a fan of raw, visceral bass and a dynamic and utterly musical sound (still with plenty of detail and resolution to spare) and a sonic image that is about as big as it gets in the in-ear market, then the Atlas will be a better option for you. My personal preference lays more with the Atlas, but that says more about my love of classic rock and a warmer and bassier signature than it does about the relative merits of either model.
The third iteration of the Mentor is a seriously impressive feat of engineering, with a beautifully balanced and musical sound and some interesting technology crammed into its mid-sized acrylic shells. While the tech will probably grab the attention, it feels very much evolutionary rather than revolutionary, making small differences to the overall structure of the sound rather than reimagining it. The star of the show here is the tuning, with the designers at Unique Melody managing to pack in top tier resolution and clarity into a monitor that doesn’t lose its soul in all the detail. Is the Mentor the best thing I have ever heard? Not quite. Is it one of the best things I have had the pleasure of listening to? Almost definitely. In this sort of rarefied atmosphere, the price almost becomes irrelevant, as it should be a given that the product is of a certain calibre. The Mentor V3 is certainly TOTL in my humble opinion. Value for money sort of ceases to exist when you get to this level, and while I think the Mentor is definitely a few hundred dollars north of being an absolute killer in terms of price to performance, if you are looking at IEMs in this price bracket and want something that can wring the last drop of emotion out of a vocal line, the Mentor is definitely worth seeking out. It has that elusive something that just sucks you into the music, and more than once in my two weeks with these IEMs I found myself drifting along in the song, completely oblivious to my surroundings. That is something that can’t be bottled and is almost as difficult to describe, but the Mentor has it.