The MEST, the MEST Mini, the MEST MKII, the MEST Indigo, and now...the Unique Melody MEXT. It's no secret that Unique Melody's MEST lineup is the brand's most successful; their most expensive IEMs like the FuSang selling out mostly because of exclusivity rather than excellent sonic performance. Nor is it a secret that bone conduction in IEMs has mostly been received as a gimmick rather than the next big thing it might have initially been touted to be. Some, myself for example, struggled to hear the benefits of the bone conduction technology that was first pioneered in the original MEST. However, with the third iteration of the BC technology in the MEXT, and what appears to be almost an overhaul (at least visually) of the driver, I remain cautiously optimistic that the MEXT might deliver. Let's take a closer look.
Unique Melody MEXT unit was kindly loaned for review by @Infoseeker. MEST MKII unit was kindly loaned by @antdroid. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
- Reasons to buy
- Uniquely-Colored Tonality
- Impressive Staging
- Bone Conduction Actually has subtle Effect
- Reasons not to buy
- Average Resolution
- Peaky Treble
- Might be on the Larger Side for Some Listeners
Source & Drivability
All critical listening was done off an iBasso DX300 with lossless files, the stock silicone tips, and the stock cable. I had no trouble driving the MEXT and background hissing was not an issue. If you'd like to learn more about my listening methodology, test tracks, and general beliefs in audio, then I would encourage you to check out this page.
I received a loaner unit, so what was included might not be 100% representative of what you'll find in the actual packaging. In any case, you do receive the same case, the Dignis Arca, that comes with the MEST MKII. This case has actually been discontinued which is a shame because it's such a nice case. It has a Velcro divider inside with individual slots for each earphone and the cable.
The UM M1 Copper cable that is included with the MEXT is of acceptable quality and I believe it's almost identical to the one that comes with the MEST MKII. It's on the thicker side of things, and it feels quite plastic-y to me, but it'll do the job.
The MEXT itself is noticeably larger than the MEST MKII, as can be seen in one of the above photos. It has a pitch black faceplate that is complimented by the UM logo in gold and what appears to be a plant of some sort. At the base of the IEM's shell, one can also see the new bone conduction driver. I'd be remiss to mention that, visually, this appears to be almost identical to the one used in the Empire Ears EVO (and there's some spicy drama on these similarities if one peruses the Head-Fi forums). In any case, do be aware that the MEXT is not a small IEM although I personally didn't run into any issues with fit or comfort.
The frequency response below was taken off of an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at ~8kHz; as such, measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate. You can compare the Unique Melody MEXT to other IEMs that I have measured here.
Bass on the MEXT is sub-bass oriented with about ~10dB at 20Hz. To no one's surprise (or at least anyone familiar with my bass preferences), I liked it for this reason - at least initially. This feeling quickly stagnated as I started performing A/B comparisons. It became apparent to me that bass definition is not the MEXT's strong suit. It generally has a stretched characteristic to transients akin to my memory of the Empire Ears Legend X wherein texture and control are sacrificed. To put this in layman's terms, think of bass on the MEXT as being that huge, macho guy who swings clumsily and gets their ass handed to them in a fight by the nimble, skilled fighter who evades and generates force via speed and technique. The latter's an analogy for what true slam should sound like to me. In any case, this basically sounds like a DD woofer that's been pushed past its capabilities. I simply don't feel the ear-splitting intensity that should accompany, say, Hans Zimmer's "Why So Serious" at 3:27, or the sense of urgency to the drums as they abruptly gain cadence and volume at 2:27 on Kenny Chesney's "There Goes My Life".
Further along the topic of deficiencies concerning the MEXT's bass, it does not sound like the BC driver is actually doing much in the bass frequencies to me. If the BC's having an effect, it's most apparent in the midrange. Midrange transients have a brushed quality to them, thus diminishing clarity. The real fun seems to occur in decay wherein I observe a slight echo to consonances at times, such as on the Sabia's "Million Days" when the vocalist hits certain notes (e.g.,1:01 on the 'superstitious' lyric). This seems consistent with my experience listening to Empire Ear's EVO which also sports a bone conduction driver: it's a subtle effect, but one that some listeners will notice if familiar with the track being played. Tonally, I hear male and female vocals as mostly falling in-line with one another. The upper midrange and presence regions are pulled back, but in the linear fashion that I'd associate with Vision Ear's VE7/VE8 IEMs. It's mostly smooth sailing in the midrange.
Treble on the MEXT is pretty standard for a BA tweeter. It has a peak somewhere around 7kHz that's intended to lend sparkle, but transients don't sound particularly exciting; the synths on Taeyeon's "Ending Credits", for example, simply don't pulse and radiate like I'm accustomed to on the Symphonium Helios. Subjectively, there's also a crushed quality to treble dynamic range and to the way subtle inflections in treble instrumentation are produced. Take for example the partially open hi-hats on the left channel of David Nail's "Let It Rain" which remind me of the difference between MP3 vs. FLAC; the MEXT being most indicative of the former. Perhaps this perception is exacerbated by some roll-off past 15kHz where the MEXT sounds quite wispy to me. Anyways, this is a decent treble response in the grand scheme of things, but it's not a standout (or at all commendable, really) given the MEXT's $1100 price tag.
As I've evidenced above, the MEXT doesn't have great resolution; in fact, the MEST MKII noticeably outpaces it in A/B for note definition and a sense of detail. Dynamics are also generally on the more subdued side, perhaps partially due to the low magnitude of pinna compensation. But it might surprise that imaging on the MEXT is actually pretty good. Sure, the MEXT's not the sharpest in terms of instrument localization, but it's certainly above average in the soundstage department, creating a respectable sense of width and height. It's honestly a pleasure kicking back and closing my eyes on tracks that play with staging like Sawano Hiroyuki's "Binary Star" and following the various plucks of strings and shimmer around the stage.
The bottom line is that I neither love the Unique Melody MEXT nor do I think it's necessarily competitive, but it's at least an interesting listen that might be worth giving a shot for some listeners. Indeed, I'd rather hear something like this than the plethora of IEMs that've started to all sound the same which, I suppose, points to the big picture of homogeneity versus diversification. Homogeneity promotes consistency - which is great - but it stamps incentive to innovate and to try new stuff. And that's really how the gems are created (although I wouldn't say the MEXT is exactly a gem; the original MEST falls more along the lines of what I'm trying to illustrate). The question I poise to Unique Melody now is what's next? Can you elevate your MEST lineup to the next level with something truly novel, something truly better? Consider this reviewer intrigued to find out.