Pros: Looks, build quality, and packaging.
Cons: Sound Quality falls just short of some competitors
This review is written from the perspective of the Dunu Ares stock, no external amp or DAC, to give readers and idea what to expect if they buy these without an amp/DAC. I want to thank Rocky at Dunu, also known as Topsound, for the sample to review!
First thoughts that came to my head was "professional." These headphones came in fantastic packaging that made the A151, RE0 and E30 look like toy headphones. It's not that the others had bad packaging, it's just that Dunu has held nothing back when presenting their flagship IEMs.
When you first open the carefully packed box your greeted to a white box with Chinese writing on it with the Ares huge on the front. Dunu's logo appears in the upper left with a website url and on the bottom it says in English, "Ares." On one side of the box a simply profile outline of the IEM and a UPC is shown, on the other side pictures of the accessories, cables, the 45 degree angled plug and cable splitter are shown with little descriptions of each. On the back a list of product features is displayed in English and Chinese along with specifications. There's also what I believe to be an authentication sticker on the back, but it's in Chinese so I'm unable to read.
This is all with just the cardboard sleeve surrounding the box. Once that is taken off you're greeted with a very sleek minimalist black matte cardboard box with Dunu's logo and website only shown. The box opens like a book, with a side hanging down on the right being held nice and snug by magnets. This is a beautiful touch. When opened you're greeted by the beautiful Dunu Ares IEMs in a soft velvet covered black plastic mold with one of the three carrying pouches provided. I personally find this one to be a bit gaudy and aimed more at girls with it's shiny look, but it provides decent protection at the very least.
When the velvet plastic mold is removed you're greeted with two other carrying pouches, one a soft pleather brown pouch that looks rather classy with a small Dunu logo and tag, it uses a string to tighten/loosen it. The other pouch is made of velvet and uses magnetic metal buttons with a Dunu logo appearing on the gold button. There's also a Dunu tag. Also included is a set of S/M/L Mushroom silicon tips, another pair or flatter mushroom shaped tips in S/M/L and a set of silicon bi-flanges.
This is hands down the best packaging I've seen in a pair of IEMs under $100, Dunu isn't holding back anything with it's flagship IEM.
Design and Build Quality:
The Dunu Ares are obviously designed to look like the Monster Turbine Pro series, which is going to either turn people off or make them want to try these. Either way I must say pictures do these no justice, they look beautiful. Each IEM has a thin color ring around them, blue for left, red for right. On the back of the IEM a small glossy Dunu logo is present and in the small concave of the gold metal where the tip goes on you'll notice in small print the word "Ares." I thought that was a very nice touch to make these seem high quality. They have a rather wide nozzle which I personally find a con though, it makes it hard for deep insertion, though these aren't exactly shallow. With the semi-shallow insertion design I had some slight trouble getting a good seal, but I did after some maneuvering, The cable splitter is a nice touch, it's made of metal and says Dunu on it. The plug is a rather odd design though, rather than go with a traditional L shape or a straight plug, Dunu chose to go with a 45 degree angled plug. I would have preferred a straight plug myself, I'm not sure what Dunu's thinking behind that was, but it does feel like it's going to hold up so that's a plus.
It's obvious I think they look good, Dunu did a great job in the looks department, but what about their build quality? The IEMs themselves are built with some sort of metal, I'm not exactly sure what, but they feel hefty and seem like they're put together well. The added weight, heavier than any other IEM I've ever used, caused me to worry about them potentially falling out when wearing, but thankfully they are in pretty securely. The cable isn't anything spectacular, there's slight microphonics when worn hanging down, as they're designed. This definitely makes them less than ideal, when added with the weight, for working out. The plug seems sturdy and well made, my only qualm with it is the 45 degree angle.
Overall these are solidly built headphones, the looks are fantastic and they seem well built. I don't see them coming apart anytime soon and outside of some minor qualms I would recommend these on build quality as being above average to comparably priced IEMs.
For my tests I've listened to these personally for 20 hours in various situations while letting them play though my computer with various music for an additional 20 hours. There's at least 40 hours of burn-in on these.
At first I was rather unimpressed with these, especially after comparing them to the A151 and the E30, both excellent choices for the price. After some listening though the sound has been rubbing off on me. The mids and highs are a bit grainy but they have a full sound to them. The bass isn't for bass heads, it doesn't have huge impact, nor huge extension, but it's adequate for most listeners. If I had to place it in between two similarly priced IEMs I'd say it has less bass than the A151 in quality and quantity, but more bass than the RE0, about the same quality of it. Overall these headphones have a decently full, lush and rather balanced sound to them that works for many genres. It doesn't have the clarity of similarly priced competitors though.
The sound stage is what's to be expected of an IEM, nothing fantastic, but nothing sounds really congested. As for isolation with no music on and a decent seal I would estimate I can hear about 60% of what I normally do. When music is playing I can only hear loud noises.
Here's a per song analysis of the Dunu Ares:
Kanye West - Blame Game
I know this album has flaws in its mastering, but it's an album and song I'm familiar with. I wanted to see how the Ares faired with hip-hop so I chose this. The bass is present, but not overbearing, the mids and highs are definitely more present. The vocals sound warm and full, the piano sounds a little grainy, but overall I'm pleased with the sound.
Lady GaGa - Alejandro
Yes, I love some GaGa and I wanted to see how the Ares would handle pop music, something fast with a lot going on so I chose this. The violin sounds a bit flat in the beginning but GaGa's voice sounds wonderful before the drums come in. The drums have a slightly artificial sound to them, but overall they sound good. Her voice though sounds wonderful as she sings. There's a lot of sounds in the background, I can hear them decently, but they aren't "sparkling" like they do on the A151. The synth sounds warm and full though, I like how the vocals and synth sounds on this a lot.
James Blake - Limit To Your Love
I chose this because of the strong extended bass. The piano and vocals sound great, but the bass is a bit slow and doesn't extend as well as the E30 or A151. The impact definitely isn't there either, I'm not feeling the bass. I hear it well, it has decent extension, but not what this song can put out. These definitely aren't for bass heads.
John Mayer - Daughters
I chose this song to see how the Ares sounded with an acoustic guitar and singer/song writer music. The guitar sounds a bit artificial, but full. The vocals definitely are a bit grainy, even on John Mayer's hushed voice. The shaker in the back is easily heard though and sounds well.
Between the Buried and Me - More of Myself to Kill
For the metal heads, I chose this song to see how the Ares handled fast drums, harsh vocals and heavily distorted guitars. Unfortunately I can't say these are really fantastic for metal. They sound a bit flat overall, taking out some of the aggression I expect in this song. They just don't have the strong mids to bring out the guitars and vocals and give them the impact they need.
Overall these headphones are hit and miss. They are built and packaged better than most IEMs for the price, if you're looking for an IEM with good looks and decent sound then definitely consider these. On sound alone though it's a tough market in the sub $100 IEM range and I feel that there are better choices. I do praise Dunu though on leaving a good first impression on me, I'm have much confidence in their ability to not only make fantastic looking IEMs, but to make a decent sound at an affordable price.