Switching over to the Campfire Audio Dorado and two things hit you almost simultaneously. The vocals are less clear, and the monster in the basement has been unleashed. That’s right; Unique Melody is not the only one willing to let Pinky play with hybrids. CA sent me Dorado, and sweet Jesus, the bass is outstanding! This is what I expected from Merlin but didn’t get. Dorado’s DD handles the lows and mids, and due to the overindulgent tuning, the sub-range does cloud the vocals a bit. There’s a thin veil, no way around it. But honestly, I get used to it within seconds, and fall into the beautiful, blooming musicality of this IEM. It’s so warm and SO POWERFUL! The treble is brighter than Merlin, twinkling nicely and bringing excellent air to the field. Also, the soundstage is rather larger, being truly impressive. Furthermore, Dorado is infinitely more comfortable and probably 1/3 the size.
Merlin’s bass disappoints me because I feel a Dynamic Driver should always outperform any Balanced Armature configuration. Dorado does. But when you compare Merlin to my Number One IEM of Choice, the 64Audio U12, I simply cannot say Merlin dominates those subs. The U12 uses 4 BAs for its lows, and they rumble just as deep, and sound just as natural. Their emphasis is also more to my taste, being deliciously showy. Yet unlike Dorado, the vocals are utterly clear. Lush, yet clear. They have greater prominence and note weight than Merlin, and generally come off more vivid. Merlin and U12 handle treble much the same, with a light touch. Though, I’d say U12 extends those frequencies further, achieving an even greater sense of air and space. With soundstage, there’s no question the U12 is bigger, in both width and depth. And imaging and separation are near the very top of the game. All told, Merlin sounds like a milder, less incredible U12. The signature and tone is terribly close. It’s just not quite at the U12’s level.
Rhapsodio’s Solar CIEM is just as clear as Merlin, while possessing good sparkle up top, stronger, more decisive lows, thicker notes, and a very detailed rendering. There’s not as much air as Merlin, and Solar’s character is not as smooth or laid-back. In fact, Solar is an energetic earphone. Meaner punch, kick, and bite. Soundstage is about the same, except Solar seems to have more depth. Both are average for TOTLs at imaging.
Since Merlin is mostly neutral, with only a warm leaning, it pairs well with just about any DAP.
The Opus#2 is a highly dynamic, very resolving player. It’s ever so slightly on the warm side, and impressively smooth. It accentuates Merlin’s own traits, making it an über version of itself. The Opus#2 has a grand soundstage, and helps these IEMs in that regard as well as any DAP can.
The Opus#1, on the other hand, is a bit more energetic, with a slight boost in treble. It’s the hyper-active younger sibling. Which oddly enough suits Merlin perhaps even better than #2, as it gives these IEMs an adrenaline shot. Everything feels punchier, and not as relaxed.
Cayin’s i5 is power incarnate. Serious dynamics, and hell’s gates opened to a flood of unstoppable bass. It brings out Merlin’s Dynamic Driver like nothing else. Indeed, i5 gives Merlin an all around lively, raw feel. This may be my favorite pairing.
Now, the Cayin N3 is sort of like an i5 wannabe. I enjoy how Merlin sounds on this DAP, but it’s just not quite at the i5 level of awesome. It lacks the fullness and meatiness I’m used to. The soundstage is smaller. The rendering is not as refined and organic. But it’s clear, and capable of good energy.
That, my good people, is the Unique Melody Merlin. For many Audiophiles this could easily be considered the perfect IEM. Endgame quality. If you like warm, smooth, airy, with just a hint of bass emphasis, these are some of the best I’ve ever heard. I do like this more than Miracle, and I quite fell in love with those. They feel like they’ve got a little something extra. Probably that DD. Yes, I wish it did more with that bass driver, but many will prefer the restraint UM shows in Merlin’s tuning. So don’t be dismayed by my savage apatite.
Listening to i5>Merlin right now as I write this closing, and I’m awed that I can be so critical in my reviews. These f**kers sweep me up in their luscious musicality with an effortlessness I can’t help but admire. If I had the CIEM version, I expect Merlin would get a lot of ear-time, even with choices like the U12 and Kaiser Encore on-hand. Unique Melody’s Merlin is truly a magical thing.