Unique Melody MEST MK3 Review

The MEST series has been one of my favorite IEM lines since Unique Melody first came out with the original bone conductor-featuring quadbrid earphone. The original MEST had used two "new" IEM technologies at the time with a bone conducting driver and electrostatic tweeters to go along with a dynamic driver and a series of balanced armature drivers. This review will take a look at the company's newest MEST branded product, the MEST MK3. 

The original MK3 prototype and design that was shown around featured a ceramic shell with a plain looking design that had some mixed opinions. After running into supply-chain issues with the ceramic material for the shells, and collecting feedback, the UM team decided to use a more familiar and popular look from their limited run Indigo product and released the MEST MK3 in a similar blue and a new red colorway. The one I was sent for review from Unique Melody is of the blue variety.

With a shiny gold rim, and translucent blue faceplate and shell that displays little pieces of carbon fiber within it, the MEST MK3 is really a nice looking IEM. It has a very comfortable medium-to-large shell size that fits me perfectly. I was able to wear this for hours at work without problems. The shell is made from a lightweight plastic, which also helps with the long-term comfort.

The custom cable that comes with the MK3 comes from PW Audio, and is designed to match the looks of the shell design. The connectors are come painted in a popping blue color and are very well-built. The Y-splitter, and chin strap are also matching in color and metal material. The cable is 2-core, but with each core shielded and thick. The lower portion of the cable is rather stiff, as it isn't woven, and instead has both of the L/R cables running in parallel with each other, and wrapped with a fabric braided sheathing in dark blue. While its a very nice looking cable, I do find the extra stiffness and weight to be a little annoying to use in practice. It is not too bad if you are stationary, but if you're moving around, the cable can be a frustrating experience.

In addition to the cable, the MEST MK3 also comes with a beautiful and well-designed leather case. This case is a round 2-piece design with a smaller lower cylinder where the products go into, and an upper, larger top that closes down on it. It's one of my most favorite included cases with an IEM that I've seen yet, and I even like it more than the very cool Dignis zipper case that came with the MEST MK2 and MK1 prior. 

One of the newer products from Unique Melody that is also included with this IEM and the previously reviewed U-FREE truely wireless IEM is their umbrella-shaped tips. This pairing, however, is quite bad with the MEST MK3, and one I would not recommend -- at least in my experience. I'll discuss why in my sound impressions section, but I did end up finding great fit and sound with my typical sets of SpinFit tips that I use with most of my IEM reviews.

As with prior MEST products, their packaging contents are very good and if not top notch. I only wish they pick a more softer cable, and its the same nitpick I've had through all their products. But everything else is great, and I can't deny that the cable looks fantastic and well-built.

Sound Impressions

MEST MK3 takes a similar approach to tuning as prior MEST IEMs. It stays on the warmer and slightly darker side of neutral, and comes across as a warm-bodied, and very pleasantly tuned in-ear. It has a slightly elevated bass range, steady mids, and a darker treble range that is well-extended on both ends of the spectrum. I find it a very solid darker U-Shape tuning, and should be very familiar to those who have listened to prior MESTs.

While general tonal balance is similar, though not exactly the same, the approach on the rest of the tuning does differ. There is definite MEST DNA in the MK3 - with a similar driver configuration, and overall design, but the MK3 refines the overall sound significantly, over both the MK2 and MK1. This is, by far, more coherent than the other two, and comes across very smooth and lacking a sense of disjointed bass that the other two presented to me -- whether that was for good and for bad. 

Now that said, that lack of full cohesion, did give the original MEST its charm. It's bass felt isolated and singular, away from the rest of the mid-range and treble, and the upper-midrange had a very unique holographic sound to it, that also sounded weird, and different and made it so original-sounding at the time. The MK2 cleaned it up a bit, and maybe to its dismay, made the MEST MK2 sound a bit ordinary, albeit still very good.

The MK3 doesn't necessarily have these issues, or benefits, depending on your preferences. It still retains the holographic soundstage that all of the UM Bone Conducting products exhibit, but it brings everything together more coherently, and packaged better. It does not sound ordinary like the MK2 does, and it doesn't sound crazy like the MK1 did -- it's somewhere in between with a nice sweet spot of just sounding good.

The resolution on the MK3 is excellent. At first, I tried using the included UM tips, which are very soft and reminiscent of the Azla Xelastec tips, except these have scalloped edges that make it look like an umbrella. With these tips, the resolution is very apparent, but it also killed all depth, soundstage, and imaging from the product. I actually was shocked at how untechnical the MEST MK3 sounded at first, because the included tips were the first set I tried the MEST on. They fit great and everything, but the sound was like someone shouting into my ears. 

With different tips, and literally any other tip, the sound presentation opened up and the stage widened and deepened, and it felt much more natural and more like something I was expecting for a $2000 IEM. The soundstage is still smaller and more intimate than my CIEM MEST MK1 and the universal MEST MK2 I compared the MK3 against, but it was fine, and the differences in stage were very little.

The resolution was much the same. The other MEST excelled at bringing out the micro-details from recordings, and I did not feel the MK3 gave up any of this at all. It only made them less sharp and more natural.

Yes, the MK3 is probably the most musical of the three that I have and compared against. It doesn't go for the most precision edges, nor the biggest bass bloom, but it just has a nicely tight knit and warm sound that is very easy to enjoy and get lost in the music with, and it does not suffer from the occasional blips where the upper-mids and treble can be a bit bright and harsh that the others experience. It's very sweet and gentle in its treble presentation in this regard.

Listening to different music genres with the MEST MK3 gave me some insight into which I prefer most with the MK3. This isn't a neutral IEM that is indifferent to musical choices. It's pretty close though. For my liking, I really enjoyed the MK3 out of music with brighter notes, and shriller highs. It went well with classical and jazz music, where a variety of instruments are at play, and it tames the horns and strings well, without losing the quality of the sound -- in fact making them sound sometimes more warm and natural.

In rock music, I did find the darker tonality to be beneficial for some music and perhaps suffocating some other songs. For tracks with an excessive amount of electric guitars buzzing like metal, this combination really does well. For others, like alternative rock music, it provided a good grunt of meat, but at times closes in the song a bit more than I like, which for a genre that already suffers from the bad period of lack of dynamic range, makes it a bit more dark and missing some sparkle.

I loved how the MEST MK3 sounded on acoustic rock songs though. My endless plays of various progressive bluegrass and alt-country songs sounded well with this IEM. The fiddles, banjos and violins sound well controlled, with the added acoustic bass guitars and drums feeling heavy with good rumble.

Final Thoughts

My recommendation for the MEST MK3 is to try different tips. This one can sound pretty different with what tips are thrown on them, as I had already discovered, but almost forgot about, with the original MEST MK1 and MK2 units. Once you find the one you like, I think the MK3 really shines and comes off as a very engaging and smooth listen, with good technical performance and a very warm and rich sound that is well-extended at the same time. It doesn't do a lot wrong, and is a great cohesive affair, and something that brings a new life to the MEST line.

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