My first custom in 2011 was the Merlin from Unique Melody and it arrived around the same time I was testing my Audeze LCD-2. My initial remarks are at the time that it reminded me of an LCD-2 and it was the first in-ear monitor that had me believing that it was possible for IEM’s to have the same emotional effect that headphones had on me. Even the universal unit sounded so damn good. At the time I was given the option of this or the Miracle and I declined the Miracle due to the feedback that it was too dry sounding with a less than lifelike mid-range.
It was also the flagship monitor when the original line-up was announced and to this day it’s seems the website is still positioning, at least in writing, as the flagship CIEM. This is despite the Mentor and the Maestro taking top spot in terms of technical capability and price. It seems the Miracle is now third in the overall line-up of CIEMs from Unique Melody. Priced at $1049 upwards the Miracle now seems mid-tier in 2016 given that flagship CIEMS now cost way over $2k.
What’s The Pitch?
The Miracle is an entirely BA designed custom in ear monitor with 6 drivers per side. That’s 2 highs, 2 mids, 2 lows in a 3-way crossover configuration. It was designed for clarity and accuracy more than pure musicality though UM contends that it’s not purely analytical with a slightly “fun” profile to prevent it lapsing into accusations of it sounding “boring”. As such feedback to date, at least on the V1, has been that it tonally has a more natural than a cold flat sound with very impressive staging qualities. Soundstage and imaging has traditionally been a weak link for BA designs so for the Miracle to be able to get that kind of critical praise in 2011 for a 6 driver design gave it a very competitive edge.
I wanted the fun and warmish tonality in those days more than accuracy, that’s why I went for the UM Merlin. Things have changed in those years slightly and I do prefer a slightly more accurate response and something slightly more neutral. Now the opportunity to test that original Miracle, even as a universal, and see if the opinions were accurate has long since gone because Unique Melody have brought out a new version, the V2 Miracle.
The V2 has apparently has gone through some elements of re-tuning with the main focus as it seems to re-energize the mid-range and ease back on the dryness a little which were the two biggest criticisms of the V1. Be warned though I cannot confirm if that is the case as I do not have a V1 to compare against but I should be able to tell you if the mid-range is dull or if tonally it’s too dry in its own right.
How Does The Process Work?
UM doesn’t usually do direct orders, instead you can work through one of their regional resellers or distributors and in this case my thanks to the guys at Andrew and the team from Musicteck who sent me the universal sample of the UM Miracle on loan for this review. Musicteck are the exclusive Unique Melody reps for the US and hail out of New Jersey. If you want your UM customs done and reside in the States then this is the place to send those ear impressions.
Since these are universal units I didn’t go through the same process I am used to for ordering and buying CIEMs however UM’s process is not that much different to any other CIEM company I have worked with before. The whole process starts with getting your ear impressions done and any reputable audiologist should be able to provide those for a small fee. As per most CIEM companies the best ear impression is a full-ear impression to the second bend in your ear canal capturing as much physical information as possible from your ear onto the clay.
Closed Over Open
For the Merlins my instructions were for an open impression as the resulting acrylic ear shells had a more relaxed design and extension than say the more pro fit of the SA-43 from M-Fidelity or the V8 from 64Audio. Things may have changed since then because UM now categorically states that a closed impression should be taken instead of an open impression in their guidelines. Ask your audiologist also about pressure properties of the clay they are using before you begin the process. Make sure it has a little bit of pressure build up potential or the resulting ear impression may end up too vague in the final cutting process to get an accurate fit of the final CIEM in your ear.
Once complete simply place them in a zip lock bag with a bit of air in them and maybe a single slightly crumpled tissue inside to absorb any heavy knocks and then put the bag into a small Tupperware case. Then off they go with your favorite courier to UM. Usual turnaround time is stated at 25 days with shipping, before from you and after from them, adding about another week on top. Currently you can expect around 5-6 weeks turnaround overall. That’s about normal though watch out for festive season spikes and holiday periods which can stretch out the delivery time more than the normal.
The price is starting from $1049 meaning it can get a bit higher depending on the options you choose during the ordering process. If you stroll over to the Unique Melody Facebook page you can find some inspiration for those options including design, decals and accessories. I strongly suggest you do that before ordering as the wealth of customisation options is quite bewildering until you have a specific design in mind. Options such as left shell, right shell, left and right faceplate and even the tip have a long drop down list of custom options. You can also choose whether to have a recessed or flat socket. The universal you see in the pics here is a black shell and tip with a carbon fibre insert and a recessed socket. On the site by selecting those same options I was able to keep the price at $1049 so it’s possible not to get carried away in terms of cost and still get a nice tidy design for your CIEM.
What Do You Get?
It’s a tidy retail package to be honest and I believe this is an increasingly common direction for CIEM companies. It is certainly a huge step up from my old Merlin package which came in some sort of semi large jewellery box in faux leather. Impressive as it looked it is the least portable thing you can think of. Roll on 2016 and UM are pushing out aluminum hard pill boxes with threaded tops and clever cardboard boxes for accessories and packaging that is so much more compact and transportable.
If I am not mistaken Rhines use a version of this, though a slightly squarish design for their Stage 5, Lear have a shiny chrome based one for the BD4.2 and JH Harvey with their Layla, Rosie and Roxanne pill cases which are the highest profile ones I can think of. Of course, there is merit in the Pelican cases being slightly larger and able to hold a few more bits and bobs such as a spare cable but they are far less portable as a result. In case you want even more portability the Miracle does come with a small black velvet pouch which will fit in your pocket very easily but with a lot less protective capabilities than the pill box.
As well as the pill case box UM have packaged a quarter jack adapter, a cleaning tool/brush and an airline adapter into the rather understated but neat and professional retail black box with the words “Hand crafted with love” adorned on the front.
Unique Melody have always been one of the best finishers in the business when it comes to crafting acrylic shells. My Merlin was super smooth and bursting with color and the Miracle is no different in regard to the quality of the craftsmanship. Granted this is a universal unit and there are some slight sizing differences but otherwise it will be the same as what you get in custom format. This is a BA design also so you will not find a vented bass port like you get on the Merlin or other hybrid designs so the isolation should also be top notch with a full custom design.
Both the shell and the faceplate on the Miracle is almost seamless. It does help that it is an all-black design and it is possible translucent shells might show up on the joins a little easier but for my money the polish on the seams is spot on. There are zero imperfections on the lacquer work also and not a bubble in sight on the shells. The carbon fibre plates are a deep inset behind a well-polished acrylic cover which is my preferred method for finishing faceplates. I am not a fan of faceplates that have little or no protection beyond a thin layer of lacquer, its looks cheap. The fibre inserts in the Miracle look anything but cheap and I do admit I spent at least 2-3 minutes just waving them around to watch them flicker under light and give off a kind of 3-D type of effect. I am kind of simple in that way.
First caveat though in the build quality is the fact this is the universal version and as such the customer version I am told is slightly smaller or at least not as tall. The Universal has to really house everything outside of the longer nozzle to ensure everyone who tries them can fit them comfortable. With your own custom version they can set the mechanics a bit deeper and wider to suit your ear, keeping everything a bit smaller.
Fit & Seal
The second caveat is the fit and seal of the universal unit. It will only ever be 80-90% of the custom because it simply is not a perfect fit for your ear for isolation and comfort. I have to admit though in terms of seal and isolation the Comply tips did an excellent job blocking out a huge amount of ambient noise in the background. The isolation is actually superior to my Merlins by about 10% given the Merlins have bass ports and superior to the accompanying silicone tips that came with them. Complies will change the signature slightly from the silicone tips but in terms of seal this was excellent. The fit though was a little shade on the heavy side for me given that the slight girth of the shell on the universal version but given the comfort of the Merlin fit I see no reason to believe the Miracle would be any different in terms of comfort.
The Miracle, as in all CIEMS, utilizes a detachable cable and is made to be worn over the ear. The detachable connector can either be recessed or flat, in the case of this unit it came recessed which is my preference. The cable connection is a 2 pin connector and is pretty darn tight but not impossible to work with if you know how to do a “gentle wiggle”. The cable itself is a braided plaint 2-stranded construction measuring 50” in length and terminated with a right angle 3.5mm gold plated stereo jack. On the top side it’s finished with memory retentive plastic shielding which helps keeps everything snugly in your ear. The y-split and chin strap are shrink wrapped plastic tubes which work reasonably well though not so premium looking and UM accent it with a small velcro strap for keeping everything tidy when wrapped up.
It is almost the same cable I received with the UM Merlin 5 years ago and pretty much close to the stock cable you get with most CIEMs these days only a bit heavier and stiffer. It has its pros and cons. On the Merlin it sounded a touch veiled until it got swapped out for some Twag and silver however it is memory retention free, easy to work with and light and suffers from reasonably low microphonics.
Page 2: Sound Impressions