PROS: clarity and resolution of 12BAs tuning, 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, limited range of dB-Go adjustment.
The product was provided to me on loan for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
* While using my new Galaxy S9 to take pictures, I didn’t realize the resolution was set to a wide panoramic view, so the pictures in this review will look wider than usual.
While the latest 16BA UM Mason V3 (MA3) is their ultimate flagship, I think this spotlight could be easily shared with 12BA UM Mentor V3 (ME3) which has been released at the same time and packed with the same flagship features I covered in my recent MA3 review. Both are equipped with dB-Go low-end tuning module, innovative Dual-Tone cable, updated shell manufacturing, and identical accessories. At the same time, they do vary in sound tuning and technical performance which I will go over along with a comparison to other IEMs and my usual pair-up summary with different sources.
Due to similarities, this review will have many recycled parts from my MA3 write up since unboxing, accessories, cable, and even design are nearly the same. If you already familiar with these sections, you can skip straight to the sound analysis, otherwise, let’s get started with unboxing.
ME3 arrived in a giftbox quality all black textured cardboard box with a glossy “UM unique melody” dark print on the top. It’s a bit plain and would have been nice 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.
The included accessories are carefully selected without fillers. Considering my loaner pair was universal, it should include 2 sets of eartips: S/M/L genuine brand name Comply eartips and should come with S/M/L/XL silicone eartips, though some Comply tips were missing, probably from the previous reviewer. 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 will include a separate pdf file with pictures of the IEM, product features overview, warranty info, and even a color guide for different shell options.
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 open it. This one was a more “luxurious” high quality storage case that will make a great paper weight on any desk. Though great for storage and roomy to fit ME3 with Dual-Tone cable, 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 (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 blue 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. 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.
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 mids and lower treble 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. While I preferred silver side for MA3, here with ME3 I liked the copper side which also affected the treble, keeping it smoother.
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 Mentor V3 model features 12 Balanced Armature drivers, with a 4-way crossover and a driver partitioning of 4 lows, 2 lower mids, 2 upper mids, and 4 highs. 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. With an exception of 4 less drivers (half of mids drivers) and a different tuning, the internal design of ME3 and MA3 is very similar.
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.
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 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.