The Unique Melody Mage earphones are incredibly well made, the surface of the plastic being super smooth and the seam between the main body of the earpiece and the cap being essentially invisible. The thickness of plastic also suggests they will endure considerable stress and strain. That said, being made from hard plastic they will crack if put under undue strain. What's more, they're also large and so create a sizable bulge in your pocket, making them more susceptible to knocks.
The quality of the etchings is excellent, as is the presentation of the brushed metal plate. Essentially they look perfect. That said, one can hardly call a pair of customs cool. No matter what finish you choose they do look rather big and ugly in the hand and slightly hearing aid-like when in the ear. Okay, perhaps ugly is too strong a word but the B&W C5s or Klipsch X10is they are not.
Removable cables are used to ensure that a snagged cable won't result in a costly repair, with replacements costing a sensible £25. The way the cables adjoin the mould isn't perhaps the most elegant but it's a simple, effective and sturdy connection.
The cable itself is also surprisingly lightweight. We can take or leave the open twisted design but the thin and light construction keeps microphony to a minimum and makes them easy to manage. The only concern is that they're perhaps a bit too lightweight and thus not that rugged but as they can be replaced this shouldn't concern unless you plan to wear them onstage every night. As is customary for earphones worn with the cable running over the ear, the last inch and a half of the cable incorporates a malleable wire for keeping the cable tucked neatly behind your ear.
You can also get a replacement silver cable, which (after we published the initial review) we were sent to test. This is beautifully crafted from thick pure silver cabling plated together and terminated in a high quality gold plated jack connector - it certainly looks the part. It doesn't incorporate a wire for moulding the cable round your ear but we didn't find this at all problematic, and in fact it proved to us that which we've thought for a while; that you don't really need malleable cables. The thicker nature of the cable did introduce a bit more microphony, though. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the listening and indeed it does seem to improve things. In short, it's a bit like adding a decent headphone amp, providing improved bass response and just generally a bit more presence to the sound. Indeed, as much as anything the 'phones simply seemed a tad louder with this cable attached. We definitely approved. However, with it costing £140 it's not an option we'd recommend going for until you've had some time with the normal cable.
So far so good then. However, when it came to fitting these IEMs we were initially a bit disappointed. The hard plastic felt rather uncomfortable, particularly as it delves so deep into your ear canal, and sonically they were underwhelming. This is by admission a more trebly set of IEMs than some but we found bass to be almost completely lacking, with us needing to press the earpieces hard into our ears to get any bass response. They also didn't seem to seal out background noise all that well.
Then, after a few weeks use, the penny dropped – they just didn't fit correctly. This is very much the danger with custom IEMs, particularly hard plastic ones - as opposed to the rubbery silicon of the ACS range - as you can't try before you buy, but thankfully Unique Melody has you covered. You get up to a month to decide if the fit is correct and if not you can get new impressions taken and the IEMs remade, which is precisely what we did.
We were also informed that you can ask for the voicing to be tailored slightly to suit your preferences and duly we asked for a little more bass to be squeezed from them.
The resulting pair are like Wee Bear's bed; just right. They fit comfortably, block out noise incredibly effectively and bass response improved massively.
That said, there are still a few comfort and usability issues. As they're both large and rigid they can't be worn when sleeping or resting your head on its side. They're also rather awkward to fit and remove, though you do get the hang of it somewhat. Perhaps of most concern for those looking for a set of IEMs for all purposes, though, is they're not great for exercising and particularly running. Because the plastic is so rigid, once you're hot and sweaty the jolt of running causes the seal against your ear canal to constantly break resulting in an irritating slapping noise. This is one area where a traditional foam or rubber tipped universal IEM has a distinct advantage.
So clearly these aren't the IEMs for every situation but, for general commuting, street wondering and home/work listening use, what's most important is sound quality and that's where the Mage really begin to shine.