The Unique Mason!
PROS: a coherent tuning of 16BAs with a balanced sound sig and a transparent neutral tonality, dual-tone cable which can be switched between silver and copper wires, dB-Go bass adjustment module, quality accessories.
CONS: proprietary cable connector due to dual-tone design, price.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Mage, Miracle, Merlin, Mentor, Maestro, Mason, ME.1 – what do these names have in common, besides starting with a letter M? They are all from Unique Melody (UM) which considered to be one of the first and longest-established IEM manufacturers in China. Founded in 2007, although the UM name was officially adopted 10 years ago in 2008, they have been at forefront of many multi-BA and hybrid releases, and continue making the news with their flagships despite a fierce competition. Today’s IEM market is not the same as it was a decade ago, and you need more tricks up your sleeve to stand out from the crowd.
Don’t get me wrong, the sound tuning is still #1 priority, but with IEM prices going up and other flagships pushing above 12 drivers, you need more to get audio enthusiasts attention. And that’s exactly what UM Mason V3 (MS3) delivers, besides its impressive 16-BA driver config. It’s also packed with interesting tech bonuses, from sound tuning module to shell design and cable design, and original accessories, some of which I haven’t even seen before. After spending the last 3 weeks listening and analyzing MS3, now I’m ready to share about my findings.
MS3 arrived in a giftbox quality all black textured cardboard box with a glossy “UM unique melody” dark print on top of it. It’s a bit plain, and would have been cool to have maybe a teaser artwork with a 4pin cable connector and maybe a crown of the tuning module. Obviously, makes no sense to put a picture on the cover of the box since both Custom and Universal shells are customizable. Other than that, unboxing experience is very basic, and under the cover you will find a dense foam insert with cutout pockets for storage case (with IEMs inside) and the rest of the accessories – everything packed very securely inside.
The included accessories are carefully selected and not saturated with fillers. I even discovered a few surprises.
Considering my pair of IEMs was universal, it should include 2 sets of eartips: S/M/L genuine brand name Comply eartips. Also, it should come with S/M/L/XL silicone eartips, though my review package didn’t have it. Furthermore, you will find a piece of cleaning cloth, I guess to remove any fingerprints off the shells. The rest of the accessories will be common between universal and custom models.
The plastic warranty card (the size of a credit card), has a printed S/N, website address, and a service email. But if you look closer you will find a hidden flat usb stick that flips open. UM put a separate pdf file with pictures of my IEM sample, product features overview, warranty info, and even a color guide for different shell options. The funny part, I discovered this usb stick by accident, when I dropped the card and it flipped open.
The storage case is a hefty titanium matte puck with a threaded secure cover and a soft felt lining to protect IEMs inside. While similar shape puck cases are starting to become more common, those are usually lightweight and have a pop-up cover where the content ends up flying out when you pop it open. This one was a more “luxurious” high quality storage case that will make a great paper weight on any desk. Though great for storage, it’s not very practical as a travel case, so you will have to get another one, more pocket friendly.
Cable is part of the accessories, but I will describe it separately in the follow up section of the review. The other remaining accessory is a unique Magnetic Earphone Clip (MEC) which you can use both for cable storage and as a shirt clip. Made from of soft leather material, there is a strong magnet to hold it together, and you can use it magnetically “clipped” to a shirt (sideways) or secured at the neckline of a t-shirt (pointing down). A little metal loop attached to MEC is where you put the cable through to secure its attachment to a shirt or a t-shirt. You can also use it on a wrapped cable to organize it for a storage. Maybe not a big deal for some, but it’s very different and unique, compared to other shirt-clips I have seen. Perhaps UM can offer it as a separate accessory for sale.
At the first glance, the cable looks like it has a regular braided 4 conductor design with flexible dual color shielded wires. Upon closer examination, you’ll notice a proprietary 4pin metal socket with a securing bolt (apparently, smaller than JH type of socket). When you read the included instructions on usb-stick, you realize this is not an ordinary cable, but a Dual-Tone cable with a separate 8-core 6N purity single-crystal copper and silver wires. Make no mistake, this is not a hybrid silver/copper cable, you have 2 separate cables inside of one.
In more details, Dual-Tone is a 4-conductor braided soft cable which contains two cables that you switch by flipping L/R sides. This is a very clever mechanism where you have 4pin threaded female connector at the cable side, with 4 wires attached to each pin, while the male side of the connector (in the shell) only has 2 pins connected to internal drivers. As you flip between L/R sides, you are switching between either left side or right side of 4pin connector of the cable to engage with 2pin connector on the shell. To keep track of which side is which, 90deg housing mold has 1-dot and 2-dot ID bumps: 1-dot left and 2-dot right is silver side, 2-dot left and 1-dot right is copper side.
Cable itself is very soft, not too heavy, with 4 separate conductors: 2 with silver wires in a clear jacket and 2 with copper wires in a brownish jacket. You have a choice of 2.5mm, 3.5mm, or 4.4mm termination when ordering, and I picked 2.5mm TRRS balanced one. The gold-plated plug has a nice short custom metal housing, different from other popular brand name connectors I have seen in the past. Also, there is a clear heatshrink strain relief. Y-splitter is a piece of heatshrink transparent tube, and so does the chin-slider. You can’t even see these, creating a continuous visual of Dual-Tone wires. Above y-splitter, wires are twisted. At the plug, you have 90-deg transparent plastic connector mold and a memory wire. I’m not a fan of memory wires, and together with 90-deg connector they limit a bend radius around your ear. I removed memory wire right away, which in my case improved the comfort during extended listening. Cable does have some microphonics, so the included magnetic shirt clip comes in handy when you walk around with your IEMs. Also, with a right eartips selection, sound isolation was excellent.
Regarding the sound difference, the change is not as drastic as you would expect with some separate pure silver and pure copper cables. I do hear a similar bass and treble response and presentation, while the biggest change to my ears is in lower mids where copper cable gives you more body, more weight, a little extra thickness with slightly above neutral tonality. With silver cable, lower mids are neutral which gives more room for upper mids to come forward and give the sound a little more clarity and a perception of wider staging expansion. As a result, I do hear some improvements in detail retrieval when using silver side of the cable, while copper cable gives the sound more musicality with a smoother and more organic tonality.
Conveniently, you don’t have to carry multiple cables, and can judge for yourself if you do or don’t hear a difference in sound between two different types of wires. The only drawback here is a proprietary connector which means you are stuck with Dual-Tone wires cable and can’t try other cables, unless aftermarket manufacturers get a hold of this new 4pin threaded connector.
The Mason V3 model I received for review is UM current TOTL flagship featuring 16 Balanced Armature drivers, with a 4-way crossover and a driver partitioning of 4 lows, 4 lower mids, 4 upper mids, and 4 highs. The CIEM shells have a 5-bore design with 4 sound tubes per each group of drivers, and 5th bore allocated specifically for dB-Go tuning module. Each bore is reinforced with a metal tube for an improved structural stability. In case of Universal shell, as the one I received, the tip of the nozzle is all metal with a wax guard screen covering the internal bore openings which are not exposed like in CIEM.
But regardless of custom or universal, in theory each one is approached like a custom design except you will need to provide your ear impressions from audiologist for CIEM. UM has a very friendly on-line IEM Designer tool where you can customize the shell color, the faceplate color, the canal color, add custom faceplate art, logos, etc. There are dozens of different color and finish selections, and every change gets reflected in real time in IEM Designer tool GUI. In there, you can also customize the termination of the cable and even pick the finish of the titanium storage case.
The shells itself feature UM new acrylic design, created using the layered technique to strengthen the build. I was told that UM invested in a very high-end 3D printer that allows them to print a very thin shell, especially useful for consistency between universal IEMs. Then, they add layers of finish by hand, including optional Dreamweaver fiber design where the actual strings of fibers are included, resulting in a nearly handmade customized product, even for universal shell. I can only judge MS3 based on universal shell I received, and found it to be very compact considering arrangement of 16 drivers and dB-Go module.
According to UM, the module (dB-Go) provides acoustic dampening with a pressure attenuation and a real-time low frequency adjustment between 20Hz and 100Hz which I confirmed in my FR measurements and found to affect only the quantity of the sub-bass rumble. The effect is not subtle, but quite noticeable where sub-bass rumble goes from neutral (when both dials are open, turned toward you) to more present, boosted rumble (when both dials are closed, turned away from you). What impressed me the most is how precise this tuning it. I heard no effect on mids or treble. I don’t even hear too much effect on mid-bass, the focus is mostly on sub-bass.
Regarding the effective range of the tuning, the crown of the dial is surprisingly small, yet has a good grip and easy to turn. The only problem, turning range is only 180deg, half a full rotation. With a small diameter dial wheel this is on a level of a micro-tuning which going to drive anybody with OCD crazy. For me personally, I settled on either fully closed or open, like an on/off switch of sub-bass boost. I think this is the most practical use of this dial. Though there is some resistance, it has a continuous turning without any click action to indicate the exact position. Also, once you are placing shells in your ears, it’s quite possible to bump the dial if it’s somewhere in the middle. Turning the dial either closed or open is the easiest way to have a consistent control of the bass between left/right sides.