Pros: great for the price, good in all areas, build quality and accessories, precise, musical
Cons: design not for all ears, choice between warm messy bass or refined & polite
DISCLAIMER: I am not an audiophile. This review is for ‘normal’ ears.
I received this unit from Dunu in exchange for a review. While I appreciate the opportunity, honest feedback is the best thing I can give to Dunu in return for the chance to review the DN-19.
After initially listening to the DN-19, I put it aside and let burn in over 100 hours on my iPod nano. After letting it burn in a bit, I resumed listening to the earphones and was initially very disappointed. Experimentation, however, pointed to this coming from the black silicone tips, not from the earphones themselves. Upon switching to the provided grey tips the sound improved markedly for me.
Therefor all my observations are made using the grey silicon tips, and not the black ones.
I have been using these IEMs for roughly 2-3 weeks.
A Starting point; This is what I like and what colors my review.
My Westone 4R with ACS silicone sleeves is my favorite in-ear-monitor. (IEM) I like ‘lush’ mids and impactful bass (which is what my JH16 is for), instrument separation is more important to me than soundstage, and I like musical headphones a smidgen more than analytical headphones. I use a Byderdynamic T1 for Classical, Techno and Jazz, but I like my Audezee LCD2 for most other genres. I like impactful bass…
REVIEW - TLDR version;
Good – The DN-19 is good with the dampers out for messy bass, fun mids, decent soundstage with genres such as pop, rock, or anything you want to sound musical rather than analytical. With the dampers in it sounds good with classical or other more “refined” music. If you drink wine after dinner and like to nibble on chocolates while listening to Tchaikovsky then you will enjoy the DN-19 with the dampers in. Build quality and accessories are top notch.
Bad – It tries too hard to be both a bass-head IEM and a refined analytical IEM. While it does both decently through the damper system, I’d really like to see what DUNU can do with this driver if they focused on one concept or the other. The design could use some revision as it may hurt certain shapes of ears. (It bothered mine a bit.)
Conclusion – A solid buy, especially if you swing between LL Cool J and Pyotr. With a bit of fiddling, this IEM can be used to listen to both in the manor to which they should be heard.
The DN-19 comes with so many accessories that you will probably end up using some of them with other IEM that short-changed you in that department. The DN-19 arrives fitted with two black medium tips (which I didn’t care for) an additional set of S/M/L black buds and a set of S/M/L grey tips. They include a microfiber cloth, an airline adaptor, a whole bunch of “dampeners” (more on that in the sound section), an extra pair of ear-fasteners (a soft rubber piece that affixes to the cable to help it naturally sit over your ear) a well-made faux leather pouch to carry your earphones, as well as a very nice metal case with a rubber seal in case you are worried about your earphone getting crushed. The wire even has a rubber snap-strap over the cable to help you coil your wire when you are going to store it. No other earphone I’ve unboxed has had so many accessories. Have I mentioned that the extra tips and what-have-you come in their own carrying case?
Build Quality (5/5)
Build quality for a headphone at this price is great. While I haven’t put it through ‘the wringer’ or protracted use, all the little touches are there. The proprietary Dunu 3.5 plug looks strong and well built, the part where the wire meets the earphone housing is covered with an extra layer of protective rubber, the plastic is a firm sort, and does not feel cheap. (Unlike the Westone W4R.) The use of silver in the wire is commendable, and I find it quite nice as I believe it contributes to the sound of the IEM. The wire feels solid (it is coated in some sort of slick plastic that helps cut down on microphonics) and bends easily, though it unfortunately remembers where it was originally coiled. Despite this, the build quality is so high for this price that I am giving it a five out of five.
Sound (7.6/10) – Even all my early notes before burn-in comment on the precision and detail of this IEM for this price range. The clarity and sound separation is nice. It also has a more ‘full’ sound to my ears than a single balanced armature IEM.
Overall, this is a good IEM and I enjoyed listening to it. However, it was made to be user customizable through the use of different silicone tips and a “damper.” The damper is a small piece of plastic that fits in a protrusion on the side. This protrusion is a vent that lets air into the IEM and changes the sound signature. Without the damper the unit loses some of its clarity, as the bass becomes warm but also muddy and fuzzy. With the damper the unit regains its clarity but the mid-highs and top end feels a bit more sharp and defined, yet I also feel like it loses some of its resolution and fullness. The best description I can think of is that it sounds “tin-like.” At the same time the bass tightens up and becomes refined, but at the price of losing much of its impact.
Honestly, I would have appreciated this headphone more if it did not have these options but was somewhere in between the two options of with and without dampers. A cross between the warm yet fuzzy sound without dampers and the very detailed analytical/tin-like sound with dampers would be more to my tastes than the two opposites you have to choose from. While I liked the instrument separation and detail of the DN-19 with the dampers in, overall I preferred the more musical sound without the dampers.
NOTE ON VOLUME: This IEM doesn’t really sound good until you turn up the sound substantially. How substantial that is depends on the power of your source. With classical music on my Galaxy SIII, I have the volume comfortably at 75% in a low-noise environment. For Rock and Pop it sits at 50%. With the dampers in there is virtually no sound leakage to those around you, with the dampers out there is a little sound leakage but it’s minimal. For the Nano (4th gen) the volume has to be at around 75% to bring out the layers of music. (dampers in)
Highs – I feel like this is the weak point of the IEM.
(without dampers): Without dampers, this IEM turns into a bass-head IEM. As you can imagine this muddies things up a bit.
(with dampers): I feel like they get lost in the mids as the mids are a bit more forward with the dampers in. The highs sound a bit recessed. They are present, but not as crisp or defined, and I feel like they simply disappear or loose a lot of resolution at higher frequencies.
Mids – The DN-19 sounds good with mids whether you have the dampers in or not.
(without dampers): Full, musical, forward, fun, exciting… in short, not very analytical, but enjoyable. This is in part because the lower mid and mid/upper bass seems to roll together to make for a good musical sounding presentation.
(with dampers): Clear, crisp, refined. More analytical than musical. It’s full, but not lush. It is an accurate portrayal of what is happening, but it is not engaging. This is the sort of thing that I look for with classical music.
Bass – This is where the difference between with and without dampers is most manifest.
(without dampers): Warm, messy, impactful, but the lower end of the bass seems to get lost in the beautiful warm fuzziness that is the mid-bass region.
(with dampers): Tight, refined, clear. Good representation, but no impact. There are hints of lower end bass but it doesn’t really have that oomph I want to have in a rock/pop/rap song.
Soundstage – It sounds like you’re sitting back about 5-10 rows form a performance. There is decent instrument separation, but it doesn’t sound like you’re in the middle of the stage. You might like this or not.
(without dampers): I feel like the soundstage opens up a bit without dampers. Maybe 2-5 rows back from the stage.
(with dampers): The soundstage is good with the dampers in, but it feels like you’re 10 rows back or so.
Outside certain issues with the sound, the biggest gripe I have with the DN-19 regards the placement of where they chose to put the “dampers.” For many ears, I assume that this little protrusion fits comfortably near the space at the bottom of the ear. For me, however, it pokes at my ear a bit, causing some irritation. I also had some issues with the tips provided, but the former is the main issue for me. They are quite a bit more comfortable than Sennheisers IE7, but less foam (Westone/Shure) tips. Sometimes it would take some wriggling to get a good seal. Silicone tips are generally not what I like to use, as foam is much more comfortable for me, as are silicone sleeves.
Mind you, I would give the Sennheiser IE7 a 1 for comfort. At least theses don't fall out of my ear or actively hurt them!
Isolation (3/5) – For a non-foam tip, it is as expected. It cuts back around 30-40% of ambient noise with the sound off. When the sound is on, it fairly quickly replaces ambient noise. (On my Galaxy SIII, I hear only music starting at about 25% volume in my quiet office.) This is for the grey tips. Whether it was due to being unable to get a good seal, or simply due to the material, the black tips did not isolate very well for me at all. They are about what you expect from a silicone tip.
Microphonics (4/5) – Minimal, unless you are wearing rough clothing. I didn’t notice much in the way of microphonics until I put the cable over my rough-cloth winter parka. At this point I could hear the cable bounce/rub against the cloth. Most t-shirts and sweatshirts did not produce much in way of microphonics. If you are moving around a lot of doing a workout to Jane Fonda with the wire over your cloths you will hear some noise. In short: Rubbing is not an issue with the smooth cable, but if the cable bounces around a lot you may hear some small noise due to the coating on the cable.
A solid buy. If you like lots of genres and want an amazing set of quality accessories to use with your future (or current) IEMs the DN-19 is certainly worth picking up. While I enjoy the DN-19 more with the dampers out, it is good enough with the dampers in to enjoy just about any genre of music.
Currently I don’t have many earphones in a similar range to A/B the DN-19 against. With what I have on hand, here are my impressions.
Shure 535 (Compared to the DN-19 WITH dampers): The Shure has better instrument separation, better definition impact-wise. The Shure feels more balanced. However the Shure feels like it has a bit less definition and sparkle, and compared to the DN-19 the individual sounds feel like they mix a bit more when there are a lot of instruments or vocals in the song.
(Compared to the DN-19 WITHOUT dampers): Without dampers the DN-19 has more impact in the bass section, with the bass sounding more warm, but also a lot less defined. The highs of the DN-19 loose that ‘tin-like’ sound and sound more full, but also less separated or defined, letting the Shure slip ahead in the detail and soundstage department.
Westone 4R (Compared to the DN-19 WITH dampers): I feel like the Westone 4R is everything the DN-19 is trying to be with the dampers in. The Westone 4 has a good soundstage, slightly warm mids but a more neutral presentation, and a controlled precise presentation.
(compared to the DN-19 WITHOUT dampers): The Westone 4R feels like it’s lacking a bit of body when it comes to Pop music, the DN-19 without dampers is more engaging. As expected, there is a lot more bass as well. Vocals are good. For Pop and Rap I feel that the DN-19 is much more enjoyable than the Westone 4R due to the more musical and impactful performance of the DN-19.
JH16 w/t Whiplash V3 Hybrid 8 cable: Yes, this is a silly comparison. The JH16 is better. Pay $1600 more and the sound improves. Surprise! Yet with the dampers in, there is one area where the DN-19 comes close to the JH16 and that’s when it comes to listening to instrumental-only classical music. It’s not better, but sometimes it sounds closer than I would think it should for 13% of the price of a JH16/Whiplash.