Unique Melody U-Free True Wireless Earphone Review

Unique Melody has made a lot of quirky products in the past with some really great products and some quite mediocre ones. I've had reviewed and owned a few of these mixed-bag products myself, with the stellar MEST and the not-quite-ready ME1.

The MEST was a product that did deliver though, and was a popular and well-liked in-ear monitor in the community. It introduced a quad-brid design with the unique bone conduction driver as part of an IEM, something that had not been done before. The original MEST spawned the Mini MEST, and a series of other MEST iterations. 

Now, that technology is being introduced into Unique Melody's first true wireless IEM: the U-Free.

The U-Free is a dual-driver product featuring a dynamic driver and the bone conduction driver in a plastic shell design that features touch sensitive buttons, and is truly wireless. The item comes in black and a light beige colorway, which they call warm gray. 

The case has a USB-C connector for charging, but is not wireless charging capable. The case is quite a bit larger than and Apple Airpods/Airpods Pro or a Samsung Galaxy Buds series case, and is more aligned with Sony's WF series of TWS product sizes. 

The U-Free is connected through bluetooth, and features standards up to LDAC. It paired relatively easily with my Samsung Z Flip 4 Android phone, and my Apple iPad Mini 6th Gen without a problem. Unique Melody has also created a UM Smart Sound app as well. It was originally only available for iOS at launch, but it was released on Android via the Google Play Store at the end of June.

I was able to install the app on my iPad, but there were definitely some weird quirks that I did not like. For one, pairing with your iOS device directly is not the same as pairing with the iOS app. They actually end up being different pairings on your phone list, and you can't do both at the same time -- in other words, when I paired the device with my iPad originally, it prevented me from pairing with the app, until I unpaired it first. Weird!

On the flipside, after a couple months of waiting, I was able to get the Android app installed on my Galaxy Z Flip 4 and it worked better than on iOS. It didn't require repairing to a unique "pair" to work. I was also able to install new firmware made for Samsung via the UM website through the app. 

The App is pretty primitive. It features a few sound profiles and basic EQ settings, and shows information about the device, and lets you quickly change between the 4 modes of the device.

These 4 modes include:
Hifi Mode - highest bitrate bluetooth 
ANC Mode - Active Noise Canceling
Ambient Mode - turns on the mic and lets you hear surroundings with passthrough audio
"Hear" Mode - selectively passes through specific audio like voices.

Users can also toggle between modes by tapping on the left faceplate of the U-Free. The right side can also be tapped to control playback. There was a good 1-2 second delay between tapping and changing sound modes, which meant, I wasn't sure it registered so I would tap again, and then it would toggle between many modes all at once. Kind of frustrating, but not the end of the world.

Sound Impressions

The U-Free has a V-shaped tuning with much emphasis in the bass range and the upper-mids. The bass area does not sound as heavy as what the graph below implies though. I didn't find it as bombastic and muddy as it may seem like in measurements, but it was definitely emphasized.

The U-Free comes with a new set of tips that UM created that is a soft, sort of sticky, and very flexible polymer material that has a unique scalloped edges that make the tips kind of resemble an umbrella shape. The material itself is quite similar to the Azla Xelastec tips, but quite a bit softer. It fits very well with my ears on other IEMs, but it can be a little hard to grab a good fit with the way the U-Free is designed.

I talk about tips here because it does affect sound quite significantly. UM has two versions of this tip available, and in different sizes. The first is their normal version, which provides my default listening experience, and the other has perforations near the tip. This causes a lot of sound leakage and basically drains the IEM of all of it's bass and mid-range and sounds like you're listening to AM Radio. I wouldn't recommend these unless you're only listening to podcasts and need to know your surroundings, and for some reason don't want to use the ambient hearing mode.

Now with that out the way, I listened to both the UM tips and with Spinfit CP100 tips. I preferred the more pronounced sound and better seal of using Spinfits, but they also did not fit in the case unfortunately. When I do get a good seal with the UM tips, they actually sound decent. They reduce the bass a little bit for me, and that makes the overall sound less V-shape heavy as I described above.

One of the always neat things about the Bone Conductor series from UM is the interesting soundstage and holographic effects this line of IEMs has. I don't know if it's related to their BC driver or not, but it is a common thread. All of these IEMs have a soundstage that sounds like it's going through a cross-feed effect and comes in a circular form, creating an envelope of sound that is pretty interesting.

As with my takes on MEST, MEST MK2 and MEXT, the U-Free also has a weird incoherency that sounds quite incoherently good. That is, the bass and lower mids sounds disconnected in an interesting and hard to describe way from the upper mids and treble. And despite not being smooth, it does not sound artificial or fake or really distracting. It just sounds like there's a pronounced distinguishment of bass notes that is unlike other IEMs I hear.

The U-Free is definitely not resolving compared to most wired IEMs. I would also put it a notch below my favorite Samsung Galaxy Buds (pick your version) true wireless. It's decent, and it's fine, but perhaps the FR affects this too much.

Final Thoughts

The U-Free is UM's first true wireless, as far as I know, and I feel like it's a bit of an unfinished product. The release without app ready or fully-working was a bit annoying, but improving software over time is normal. The hardware itself has some touch sensitivity problems, and it just didn't fit well with my ears, and does not allow for aftermarket tip usage.

The sound was alright, but I do wish it was tuned closer to their outstanding MEST series. Unfortunately, it went with a more bass heavy tuning that perhaps ruins some of the sound qualities and traits I desire. Hopefully, UM can improve upon these in the future. I know they got it in them, because I am also reviewing their new Mest MK3 and it's fantastic and I can't wait to share why in a future review here!