Review Price £249.99
Manufacturer: Unique Melody
The 3X are, along with the 2X, the first universal-fit in-ear monitors (IEMs) made by Unique Melody, a brand that previously dealt exclusively in custom-moulded IEMs.
More than just a first for the company, though, they’re also a pretty rare sight in general for IEMs as they combine both the balanced armature drivers used by most IEMs with a dynamic driver. This should in theory give the ‘phones both accuracy at the top end but plenty of oomph down low too.
As hinted at, there are two models in the new range. They’re identical aside from the 2X using one of each of the balanced armature and dynamic drivers, while the 3X has two balanced armature drivers and one dynamic.
Both are available in either clear with red and blue caps or all translucent black, and both come with the same set of accessories. These consist of a chunky aluminium case, a carry pouch, a detachable cable, a cleaning tool, a cleaning brush, a 3.5mm to 6.5mm jack converter, a stereo 3.5mm to dual-mono 3.5mm jack converter, a cleaning cloth and a whole host of different tips.
You get four different sizes of grey foam tips and four different sizes of black rubber tips. The shapes change slightly with each size too, with some rounder sided than others, but in short – there are lots of tips to choose from.
Looking more closely at the 3X, it boasts a frequency range of 20Hz – 18,000 Hz, a very low 13ohm impedance level, 105dB spl sensitivity and a whopping -25dB noise isolation – street friendly these certainly should be.
When specifying a set of Unique Melody’s custom-moulded IEMs you can choose from an almost infinite range of styles. There are hundreds of choices of colour form the plastic, with the option to have the outside cap be a different colour, and you can have any design of your choice etched into said end cap. As a result they can be pretty stunning looking things – just check out the Unique Melody Mage we had made a few years ago.
It’s thus a bit of a shame that neither the same level of choice nor the level of finish is evident here. To be fair, this is far more obvious in the clear models than the black finish. The latter – at least from pictures – looks pretty smart but the clear ones we were sent don’t quite cut it.
The choice of blue and red just doesn’t look all that stylish while the clear body really exposes the innards for the mess that they are. You can see the lines in the plastic from the 3D printing manufacturing technique, globs of glue holding the pieces in place and the wires meander everywhere. To be clear, these are so small it would be very difficult to make a tidy job but there’s something so obvious about it here that it feels a little disappointing.
Otherwise, actual build quality is fine. The shells are made from hard plastic that would shatter if it hit the floor too hard but you’d have to give it quite a bit of welly to do so. Otherwise they feel solid as a rock.
Because of the use of a dynamic driver these ‘phones require a small hole to let air in and out of them. This does result in some sound leakage from the IEM to the outside world but it is such a low volume you’d have to be in a very quiet environment for it to be any sort of disturbance.
The cable is modular and is held in place by a simple two-pin connection. This, again, worked very well for the custom moulded models but hasn’t quite crossed over so well here. The pins rely on friction alone to hold them in and here there just isn’t enough – possibly due to there being less plastic around the mounting point – so on several occasions the cable worked loose.
We’re also not fans of the stiff, bendable section of the cable that hooks over your ear. These are fairly common with this type of IEM but we’ve never really found them beneficial, plus they make untangling the cable a right bind and here they’re not optional.
All of which is a shame as otherwise the cable is great. It’s surprisingly tough yet lightweight, is just the right length (1.5m) and its simple twisted design totally resists kinks and knots.
The 3X are quite a bulky IEM, which does make fitting them a bit of a challenge – those with small ears need not apply. As well as the sheer size of the driver housing the sound hole/ear tip stem is quite short and wide. This means that for those with small to medium sized ear canals it can be a challenge to find a tip that provides the right balance of fitting in comfortably and providing a good seal.
In fact, with the foam tips – our normal go-to choice – we simply couldn’t find a tip that worked for us. Part of the problem is that they sit very proud of the stem, with the foam extending some 4-5mm beyond the stem. This mass of flexible foam is then very difficult to force into your ear. Also, even when we finally got them in, no matter what we tried the 3X would eventually work their way free.
The Unique Melody 3X is a large IEM with a short wide sound tube. The Sennheiser IE8 and Sleek Audio SA8 are shown for comparison.
We had more success with the rubber tips, finding a pair that provided a good seal and that were reasonably comfortable (the driver housing still rested on the edge of our ears, which was a little uncomfortable). However, these tips do have a couple of downsides. First, they don’t block external noise as effectively – a good foam tip will silence a noisy train but, although they took a good chunk off, these are far from completely deadening. The other issue is that microphony is very pronounced. Every little movement of your head or clothing sends a loud thumping noise up the cable.
All told, we think UM needs to have a bit of a rethink about the overall design and possibly learning from Sennheiser and providing foam tips that extend further back over the stem, like on the IE80.
The first thing to note when it comes to sound quality is that if you aren’t able to quite get a good seal – as we couldn’t with the foam tips – then the 3X suffer badly. Bass response goes out the window and the already trebly sound comes through as tinny. The lack of bass is true of all IEMs but if UM’s thinking was that these can double as canalphones, it isn’t going to work.
The second thing to note is that these are incredibly sensitive earphones. So much so that we seldom had to crank the volume on a mobile phone beyond about a one quarter. This presents something of a problem if you’re listening on devices that don’t have fairly granular volume control as there can be big leaps in volume level. The lack of an included volume attenuator is really shown up here.
However, get a good seal and, wow, do these things have a bass kick! Deep bass lines and electronic bass drums in particular really blast forth from that dynamic driver, providing a pretty hefty yet tightly-controlled pummelling.
It’s not the most integrated bass sound, though. For those frequencies the dynamic driver is being used for it really punches through the mix but above this it seems to cut out completely, with very little presence in the lower mid-range.
Instead it’s the very highest highs that are the next most obvious aspect of the sound signature. Crashing cymbals, the buzz of distorted guitars, the hiss of an intake of breath, all these leap out, creating a sparkling soundscape.
This can be great for some delicate acoustic work where you want to hear every breath or for electronic music with big bass lines and a vocal on top. However, for more wall-of-sound types of music such as rock, orchestral and indie the result can be simultaneously a bit flat and quite tiring.
The former because there’s never that warm inviting mid-range that makes guitars and vocals sing and the latter because there’s only so many highly prominent cymbal crashes one can take.
This is something that was really highlighted when watching a film. Enjoying Anchorman 2 on a Samsung Galaxy S4, the sound of voices was thin and trebly while those little soundscape details like the rustling of a shirt really stuck out far more than they should. Proof to us that the sound is not just detailed but actually a little unnatural and forced.
To be clear, you're still getting a lot for your money - a lot of bass and a lot of high end detail - but you're just not necessarily getting that really satisfying smooth works-wonders-for-everything sound you'd hope for when spending £250.
Unique Melody has in many ways delivered the goods with the 3X. That combination of a dynamic driver and two balanced armature drivers definitely provides both the bass and the high-end detail you’d expect. The price is also pretty impressive for what you’re getting – several single driver models with far fewer accessories cost the same or more. So if you can get these to fit your ears and you like the ‘scooped’ sound signature then they’re worth trying.
However, we do feel that many people would be better served elsewhere. The fit of these IEMs is a problem and that sound signature just doesn’t lend itself to a wide enough range of listening for our liking. We’re also not fans of the design. Add in less subjective slipups like the insecure cable fitting and we feel most people would be better served by the likes of the Shure SE425, Sennheiser IE80 or Ultimate Ears UE900.
The Unique Melody 3X technically offer a lot for the money, with their triple-driver design, but a ‘scooped’ sound signature and a few slip ups on the design mean they fall short of expectations.
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