- Well made
- Completely bespoke designs
- Excellent audio clarity and detail
- Hard shell lacks comfort of soft shell alternatives
- Sound signature suffers on bass heavy tracks
- Requires amplification to see best results
- Review Price: £475.00
- Custom-moulded in hard plastic
- Can choose your own design
- Triple driver design
- Detachable cables
Unique Melody is a company with ambition. After years as an audiophile’s secret, the high-end Chinese custom IEM maker is coming to the UK in conjunction with specialist distributor AmpCity. It is arriving with a bang. In March it announced four premium models: the £405 dual driver Marvel, the £475 triple driver Aero, £575 quadruple driver Mage and mind numbing six driver £775 Miracle (and they’ve just added a five driver model as well, the Merlin). We’ll have a review of the Mage for you shortly, but today it is the turn of the Aero.
It may be the entry level model, but with a current asking price of £455 (plus £20 to get some moulds of your ears taken) it is fair to set expectations high. Initial impressions suggest these will be met. Like any custom moulded in-ear monitor (IEM) the snag is you cannot try before you buy, but put your money where your mouth is and Unique Melody will let you choose any colour and any artwork you like inclusive in the price.
For our review sample we chose the colour British Racing Green and the astronomical symbol for Mercury (spot the speed theme). Once decisions are made you visit a local audiologist (map guide here) to have your impressions taken, then there is a waiting time of three to four weeks while the monitors are made.
Build quality is good. Like most customs, Unique Melody uses a hard-shell which results in an extremely accurate reproduction of your mould’s impression and the Mercury symbol we requested was precisely engraved with a clean finish. Being hard the shell itself has no give (more of which later), but it is translucent letting you see the mechanics inside – a nice touch its intended audiophile target market will no doubt enjoy.
Unique Melody also uses detachable cables which means should anything happen to their cable it can be easily replaced. The cable is surprisingly thin so it does tangle easily, but the braded texture means it should prove hardwearing and results in minimal microphony. Accessories include a leather carrying pouch, a cleaning tool for removing any ear wax that gets stuck in the monitors (grim, but useful) and a presentation hard case made of stiff cardboard with a magnet seal which is finished in pink (though admittedly more red than it appears in the photo).
If the pink case will divide option, however, that is nothing compared to the audio performance…
While audio manufacturers may extol the technical virtues of their products, the real differentiator in high end IEMs is their sound signature. That said, we still expect the tech specs to be up to scratch and the Aero’s are with a frequency range of 20Hz – 18KHz, impedance of 19.7 ohm and sensitivity of 116 dB SPL (at 1mW). When it comes to that sound signature, though, it will provoke a love/hate reaction depending on your choice of music.
Much like Etymotic and GenevaSound, Unique Melody opts for a signature focused on accuracy. This makes the Aero’s superb for classical music, jazz, indie and ‘unplugged’ music. It is possible to hear the detail within track arrangements, isolating particular instruments or honing in on the vocals. Settle down with some Duke Ellington, Philip Glass or Belle & Sebastian and you’ll be in heaven.
Where the Aeros run into problems though is when you switch to music with a greater focus on bass. Pick any big beat artist, heavy metal (or even rock) band or some dance and the sensation is the Aeros are holding back. Certainly it is possible to tweak the sound through an equaliser, but this isn’t desirable on a regular basis and many modern MP3 players/phones don’t offer this functionality in any case.
This development is something of a surprise since the Aeros pack triple balanced armature drivers with a passive three-way crosser (Single High/Mid, Dual Low) – on paper more than enough to power through whatever material you throw at them. Part of the problem is amplification. More drivers require more power and the Aeros seem particularly power hungry. Plug them into a laptop or a decent amp and the problem is reduced, but it doesn’t go away completely.
The schizophrenic nature of the Aeros is perfectly born out in a track such as The Dresden Doll’s ‘The Mouse and the Model‘. The delicate piano of the intro and soft vocals are delightfully detailed, but when the military-esque drums kick in around the minute mark you’re suddenly left cold and this is further accentuated as the six minute track folds in the guitars and bass, and the vocals switch to their staccato conclusion.
Don’t get us wrong, Unique Melody has not created a poor sound signature and we appreciate that some people do prefer a more trebly output. What’s more the quality of the Aeros is not to be doubted – the detail and soundstage can be phenomenal. It’s just that they are specialists which excel at particular music types. Given these monitors are custom moulded they only need to suit your music tastes and no-one else so if that fits your bill then go for it. Then again if you’re music collection is diverse you’ll be in trouble.
Which brings us to another significant talking point: the nature of hard shell custom moulds themselves…
Custom moulded IEMs have a number of benefits. The most significant is the level of noise isolation they offer. Unique Melody quotes an environmental noise reduction of -25dB and we wouldn’t doubt that. By cutting down environmental noise it creates a perfect soundstage for listening to music at safer volume levels, even in noisy environments. A knock-on bonus is custom moulded monitors work extremely well as earplugs.
The downside for Unique Melody though, is the choice of a hard shell. This route is common to most custom IEM makers, but they all exhibit the same flaw: the shape of ear canals change. This happens naturally with ageing (custom moulds will need to be changed every 5-6 years and Unique Melody offers a £175 re-shelling service), but it also happens with natural movement – such as when opening your mouth. With a hard shell there is no give so the seal is easily broken. It also means they are more tiring to wear over long periods.
Consequently the Aeros face a significant problem, namely the ACS T2. Coming in at a roughly similar RRP (£500), they are cast in medical grade silicon which makes them flexible – at once resulting in a more consistent seal and flush finish so they are far more comfortable to wear. This results in a better soundstage and the T2’s dual drivers require little amplification meaning they actually sound far more powerful then the triple driver Aeros. ACS’ choice of sound signature is more flexible responding well to virtually any kind of music and projecting greater emotion, even if they may not technically deliver the same level of detail.
The Unique Melody Aero presents quite a problem. In the plus column they are well made, designs are completely bespoke and, with the right kinds of music, they sound fantastic. Know what you’re buying and it is hard to imagine many disappointed customers.
The negative column is more problematic. The hard shell is an inherent problem for any company that chooses it as it affects both seal and comfort. The emphasis on accuracy strips emotion from bass heavy tracks and fiddling with an equaliser isn’t an ideal solution. Meanwhile you’ll need an amp to get the best out of the Aeros on a mobile device.
Tally both columns and ACS’ T2 remains the circa £500 custom IEM to beat.
Score in detail
Design & Features 7
Sound Quality 7
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