MMR Balmung First Impressions
Metal Magic Research is a high-end Singaporean audio company spearheaded by Joseph Muo, the man behind the legendary Jomo Audio. However, where Jomo focuses on an accurate and technical sound, MMR is more experimental, prioritising gorgeous tonality and artisan metalwork. The Balmung sits at the pinnacle of their BA designs, sharing flagship status with the hybrid Thummim released late last year. This design was first showed off around the same time in custom-form but has since been completely redesigned for its universal form-factor due to the acoustic differences between the acrylic and metal shells. The uni Balmung houses a revised 12x BA driver setup per shell and targets a warm, coherent sound with exceptional staging. It retains the same compact dimensions of the Gae Bolg but implements a stunning new faceplate design. Of note, I didn’t receive the packaging as this is a preproduction unit.
The Balmung retails for $2699 USD putting it in truly summit-fi territory. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit here.
Behind the Design –
There are no fancy driver types here, simply a good old all-BA setup. Of course, having 12 per side is not so standard especially with their intricate 4-way configuration. Within each earpiece are 4 tweeters, 4 mid-high driver, 2 vented midrange drivers and 2 vented woofers. In addition, MMR have specified to me that these are the new generation balanced armatures just recently released. These are
Balmung specific Acoustics Chamber works in tandem with MMR’s 4-way passive electro-acoustic crossover circuit. The company is using a combination of acoustics and electronics here to seamlessly integrate the 12 drivers into a coherent whole. In addition, the 3D printed acoustic chamber permits phase coherence in addition to helping the company achieve their desired frequency response. Though the concept may appear simple, Joseph relayed to me what an arduous process this was, with so many variables needing to be dialled-in.
Design & Fit –
If you were impressed by MMR’s former designs the Balmung is, to my eyes, Joe’s best work yet. Few earphones match the precision, finish and material choice presented here; all-around these are jewellery-level immaculate. The chrome faceplates are precision milled, offering striking juxtaposition to an anodized azure backdrop. The inner housings are mostly identical to the GB but lighter in colour with a different pattern laser etched into their surface. That means so too is the fit experience is very similar which is a feat given the considerably more extensive driver setup. An appreciated change here is the slightly angled nozzle as opposed to the straight nozzle on the Gae Bolg.
It has a noticeably better fit for me, delivering a strong and stable seal. Comfort also operates on a good level, the shells are delightfully smooth and rounded in all regards, minimising hotspot formation. Similarly, the tall form factor places less pressure on the features of the outer ear, promoting long-term comfort. They are fully-sealed and offer a medium-deep fit depth, permitting strong passive noise isolation ideal for travel and commute, especially with foam tips. It’s refreshing to see a such a complex, high-end design in such a minute and convenient form factor. Moreover, it’s impressive how they carry much more room presence than competitors with less real estate.
Sound Impressions –
MMR provide an accurate synopsis of their earphone on their website. In a nutshell, this is an organic and natural sounding IEM. It offers strong tri-frequency balance in addition to a powerful, warm and full-bodied voicing. While it is characterised by its exemplary coherence, imaging acuity and reinforced note structure, the Balmung simultaneously pumps out hugely impressive note texture alongside strong vocal definition and extension. As these qualities are usually contradictory, I was curious how this was achieved; usually I can get a good idea of the tuning before measurement, but I was quite surprised by the Balmung’s frequency response we’ll dive into below alongside more granular sound breakdown.
Going off the graph below, I was surprised to find that the Balmung was not nearly as linear as I had expected, especially given its focus on coherence in subjective listening. What can be observed is a big, warm bass and a large lower-mid trough for separation. Where critics usually sing praise for a clean, uncoloured sound, the bass here intentionally colours the midrange, imbuing the aforementioned qualities of warmth and fullness. Yet, it also does so without introducing any semblance of muffle or congestion due to the lower-mid dip that redeems strong definition and increases separation. It’s a risky play for sure, and a very delicate balancing act to perfect. Thankfully, and as one would hope at this price point, Joseph’s hard work has paid off and the Balmung manages to nail this balance with aplomb.
While the bass appears large in measurement, in listening, it appears well balanced with the mids and highs. Its voicing is warm and full with an addictively strong mid-bass heft. With full, large notes, some bloat is evident on tracks with a warmer mastering style, however, muddiness and bloom are absent entirely. This is so due to a cut through the upper-bass, similarly, the dual BA woofers provides an agile decay alongside excellent control. Though it doesn’t specialise in separation, the Balmung provides impressive definition alongside depth and power I haven’t heard from many BA earphones. The midrange I won’t touch upon as much in these first impressions simply because there isn’t much to say besides this being just a delightfully realised creation. The voicing is highly natural across genre and mastering style, it has a lush, warm tone but simultaneously delivers excellent layering and definition. Though undoubtedly coloured, it simply works. If you love a coherent midrange with heaps of detail, this is surely a defining trait of this earphone.
The high-end, I haven’t spoken about as much and I do applaud Joseph’s restraint here. Following a 4k dip, the Balmung has a 5k peak but in well-judged quantity that is balanced with the mids. Treble smooths off above and then linearly extends into the upper-treble. As below, treble instrumentation has an organic timbre, with bolstered body and warmth. It is defined by its strongly textured notes that, dare I say, grant instruments a life-like quality that is usually missing on thinner, albeit crispier, competitors. Again, I feel this approach is quite bold as many TOTL IEMs have a brighter top-end that really flaunts their technical prowess. Though the Balmung is no less of a performer going by sheer resolving power, it is a smooth, refined and understated earphone that is best suited for long listening sessions. The 5k peak grants a small blip of energy that engages and adds some bite to the leading edge of treble instrumentation yet without introducing a hint of sharpness, thinness or sibilance. In so doing, this earphone delivers excellent fine detail retrieval and hyper-defined layers due to its combination of focussed foreground and immaculately clean yet well-resolved background.
As always, a defining trait of Joe’s designs is the soundstage. While it isn’t as overtly spacious as the Thummim, rather is is quite intimate for the asking price, this can easily be forgiven considering the Balmung’s especially strong imaging performance and overall organisation. It achieves this through a combination of a sharp, snappy transient response, highly accurate localisation and excellent layering flattering both note and the room and space surrounding. The imaging awes with its multi-dimensional nature if being relatively intimate altogether. This is an earphone that clearly prioritises acuity and focus over space and diffusion, catering towards listeners wanting an experience in kind. Separation is slightly diminished in so doing, due to the combination of fullness and intimacy. To clarify, this is not a congested earphone, but congestion is noticeable on complex, bassy tracks – think Daft Punk’s Gorgio by Morodor around the 6 minute mark.
Early Verdict –
I would be speaking for all of us by stating that the most important questions here are “can I afford this?” and, if so, “is this for me”. The latter is a far simpler question to answer as where usually earphones so coloured target a very particular listener, I can see the Balmung having broad appeal. If you like an even, linear and balanced sound, the Balmung takes such a presentation and moves the dial one step further to the warm and engaging side; but it also doesn’t stray too far into it to alienate listeners who prefer such a balanced sound. Conversely, if you like an engaging sound, the Balmung will surely impress with its gutsy bass and immersive staging. Who this isn’t for is those wanting a perfectly reference or revealing/bright signature as its presentation is so clearly on the coherent and structured side. If this sounds like it is to your preference, this is definitely a model to consider, especially since the company has managed to achieve this in such a comfortable and visually impressive design.
Stay tuned for the full review coming soon!
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