Ladies and gentlemen… Your new FOTM IEM’s – and all for an attractive $100 price tag.
Warning. Long read.
So recently I ran into a quite a predicament. I was flying home from college, when I found out that I didn’t have my headphones. Needless to say the flight sucked without music to drown the plane out, but even worse I had no IEM’s to wear to play my drums I so badly missed while I was away from college. So as soon as I landed I found myself searching for new IEM’s. It came down to the Phonak Perfect Bass and the newly released Creative Aurvana In-Ear 3. I had actually ordered the Phonak’s but due to a shipping problem the order was canceled. So I decided to just wait a few more days for July 4 deals and that’s when I found the DN-16 Hephaes finally up for sale here in the US. An Amazon merchant had them for $80, which I believe is actually $20 off of what I’ve seen these going for, but because these are so new I am not quite sure off the actual retail price. But enough of the small talk, let’s get to the actual review.
Please note that a few review units were given out for the Hephaes. I am not one of the lucky few. I paid for these out of my own pocket and do not feel the need to pull any punches while reviewing this product.
Packaging and Accessories
The items arrived in packaged in a small box with a slide off cover. The box has a magnetic strip along the side that makes it easy to lock all the contents inside as well as making it extremely easy to open up. Inside lie the gems themselves as well as a carrying case in a plastic groove. Under the plastic groove lies the rest of the accessories – and there’s quite a bit. You get 8 silicone tips + the ones on the IEM’s themselves, one of which is double flange. Aside from that you get the already aforementioned carrying case + a carrying pouch for whichever suits your needs. Last but not least, you get earguides!!!! Yup earguides for you folks who want to wear these over-the-ear style. All in all I feel that for the price the amount of accessories included is nothing short of amazing, with the PL50 being the only other IEM I can think of below $100 that packs so much for so little.
Build quality can often times be a deal breaker for some. Having owned the SA6’s (and still do, in a now defunct state), I had to replace the cable 3 times (friendly tip: those of you who have HJE-900’s, please do not replace the cable with Sleeks) and upon having the 3rd replacement cable mailed to me the driver broke. I chose not to get them repaired and since then I’ve come to realize the importance of build quality. That being said the build quality on the Hephaes is great. Not quite up there with my HJE-900 but these are no slouches either.
The drivers are housed in a metal body that resembles the Klipsch Image S4. The metal is really sturdy and feels heavier than the HJE-900’s though I don’t have them to compare directly. Also, I have to make a point here and tell you that the flame grills on the outer part do look pretty sweet. Though I guess aside from a cool design, they do have reason to be there as the box says that the grill actually adds another layer to help reduce excess vibration.
The cable I feel is adequate on the Hephaes. Comparing it to the HJE-900 it’s not as thick, and about the same thickness as the TD-100’s, though it feels studier than the TD-100’s because of the rubberized feel of the cable. The more rubberized feel on the cable means that it is more energetic and springy compared to the HJE-900’s and TD-100’s, though this may be due to it being new and that it needs a little time to unkink itself. The Y splitter seems really good as it is made out of metal just like the body and the slider works well. The plug seems to be a mix between a straight plug and an L plug. The plug is actually angled at 45 degrees which is great because if your DAP case is a little too big, like mine, then L plugs will not fit which means you either return the headphones/adapter or take the case off when you need to use it which can be cumbersome over time. The relief strain I feel is the biggest letdown as it’s not like normal strain reliefs. It has a short round shape to it. It feels sturdy enough and I guess it’ll be fine but I just wish they could’ve used regular strain reliefs. If the relief strains are the low point of the cable than the cable strap is the high point. Patented by Dunu, the cable strap helps gather it all together for you to store away, something I found really nice since I walk all over campus between classes and have to constantly take my IEM’s on and off.
Fit and Isolation
I’ve never had a problem with fit on any of my IEM’s and when I purchased the Hephaes I had no reason to believe that they would be any different, especially since similarly styled TD-100’s fit me. I have small ears and so long as the IEM’s aren’t gigantic they’ll probably fit me fine. Needless to say these fit me fine right out of the box. I did end up switching to the smallest sleeves to achieve an even better seal than I was originally getting and are what I’ve been using for review purposes, though I will admit that I do plan on switching these out for Monster Gel Supertips as I find them to be more comfortable and lend to a better sound, but I left all my tips at college so these will suffice. I did notice that these had very minor driver flex, and it’s only if their already sealed in my ear and I try to push them even further in. Rest assured it’s barely noticeable, unlike the TD-100’s which will make a whole ocean wave of flex if you so much as touch them.
Comfort is fine and they stay in real well. I went running with them without the ear guides and they stayed in for the 20 or so minutes just fine, something the HJE-900’s and TD-100’s had trouble doing unless I used triple flanges. Cable down while running, the Hephaes had no microphonics as well as no driver flex. As far as isolation is concerned I do play the drums and so above average isolation is a must. To give you an idea of my situation I have my drums facing the wall in a very small room that I use to store a bunch of other junk which is not ideal, especially since I have very bright cymbals meant to pierce through other instruments. The box has some technical mumbo jumbo about the metal body and dual layer creating a better seal, but all I know is that these cut off all the bad frequencies and let me jam on drums just fine. They may or may not isolate as much as my Eterna’s did with the standard double flanges, and at least just as much as my HJE-900’s and TD-100’s when I put some Meelec triple flanges on.
The Dunu DN-16 Hephaes sound good. Let’s just get that out of the way right now – lest you worry any longer about the only reason you came to read this review. I lurk these forums a lot and I take my SQ seriously. Luckily I’ve never heard a bad pair of IEM’s but starting off with the SA6’s spoiled me a bit and now the HJE-900’s rival them in SQ. Most of my listening was done with my Zune Pass which gives me the best quality audio (iTunes bought songs as well but I had convert them to get them into Zune and thus SQ was degraded) to my ears. As far as ratings and everything I like Joker’s ratings and so I’ll refer to them if need be. But anyway let’s get on with it…
Starting off with the lows, if you couldn’t already tell by the title these are the star of the show. Focusing on the mid-low bass unlike the HJE-900’s who focus on upper-mid bass, and the TD-100’s who focus on the subbass, the bass on the Hephaes is absolutely stellar. Very well detailed and full bodied, the bass has got an incredible texture that just makes you want to smile. Remember I told you I was drummer? 5 IEM’s in and I finally found one that can produce a realistic kick drum. The decay as well is something Dunu should be extremely proud of. While not particularly fast (the HJE-900 is faster), the bass lingers around just long enough to give a realistic presentation to it. While the Hephaes do emphasize the bass, do not mistake these for your run of the mill sub $100 dollar bass monsters. The bass here can be visceral, but only if it’s in the mix. Otherwise the bass stays tight with good impact. Listening to hip hop then to rock then to jazz you can get a real good sense of just how well the bass on these can scale. Hip hop hits hard while jazz just has that nice soft round note to it. I hear a lot of people calling the Turbine Gold’s a balanced despite the bass emphasis. I think that applies nicely here. Honestly, I believe the bass on these things is amazing and this review simply can’t do it justice. I’d put money down that these have the best bass in the sub $100 category. No question. Hell I might even go so far as to the $150 bracket and put it up against the GR07. That’s how fantastic these sound at the lower end of the spectrum.
Despite my collection of bassy IEM’s I’m a mids person at heart. I blame the SA6’s. While the Hephaes doesn’t hold a candle to the liquid vocals on the SA6 (none of my IEM’s have though), the mids here compliment the lows quite nicely. There’s detail in the mids and vocals carry a bit of warmth, due to the bass and a tiny tinge of sweetness as well. That sweetness seems more noticeable in female vocals than in male vocals, which just seem more warm than sweet. I will be brutally honest here and say that in bass heavy songs, you may find the bass bleeds into the midrange. It was rare for me and I feel like I had to go looking for it but it did happen. I feel this is because the soundstage and imaging of the Hephaes. I wouldn’t say the vocals are forward. More like the vocals are ever so slightly in front of the bass as opposed to the HJE-900 whose vocals seem slightly recessed and the TD-100’s whose vocals are far too forward. Jant71 also has the Hephaes and perhaps said it best when he called the soundstage “kind of narrow from top to bottom.” This makes it seem that if the music were being performed live the drums wouldn’t be far back enough behind the singer. Once again, I’m not saying these bleed into the mids like crazy because they don’t, but I’m just giving my thoughts on the matter.
If there was one part of the sound that I could legitimately knock it would be the highs. While still carrying a decent amount of sparkle up top, they do feel deemphasized compared to the rest of the spectrum, lending itself to a smooth, sweet signature. And while I’m still not entirely sure what rolled-off highs sound like, I believe these would qualify. I was hoping burn-in would solve that, and they may still open up but right now cymbals seem to distant, kind of cold, and missing that sparkle at the very top. As a drum player that’s easily noticeable. Even my TD-100’s don’t sound like that. So I like I said, I’m chalking it up to rolled-off highs, but someone else’s whose familiar with the sound would have to confirm. Even with the “rolled-off highs” I still find them to be decent and go well with the sound sig of the Hephaes, but be warned those of you who need your highs – look elsewhere.
Soundstage as Jant71 said is narrow from the bottom upwards and side to side I feel it’s above average. Nothing spectacular but I’ve never really cared for soundstage. Joker called the HJE-900’s holo-esque, but I don’t find it as a stand out feature to be quite honest. As long as instruments don’t overlap I’m good. These deliver on that front. The imaging is fine, and even the little details will pop up in their own little section. Speaking of details I’m impressed with the Hephaes. For an IEM not named Xcape or ending in 0 these are fairly detailed for an IEM under $100. Not as detailed as the aforementioned two and not as much as my HJE-900, but quite a bit more than the TD-100’s or the Eterna’s. The TD-100’s and Eterna’s I find are a step up from iBudz and that’s about it when it comes to details (remember I am spoiled from starting off with the SA6’s). The finer nuances barely register with those. With the Hephaes they’re there and you can hear them without straining yourself.
I’m just going to come out and say it. I like what Dunu did with the Hephaes. A lot. The package as whole is quite outstanding for an IEM at $100. Good build quality married with an abundant supply of accessories makes these an excellent bang for buck. Strictly speaking SQ, while having never heard them the Xcape and Re-Zero may sound better, but for those of you seeking a bassier alternative to those two, rest assured, you’ve found that in the Dunu DN-16 Hephaes. Joker scored the TD-100’s a 7.5 and the HJE-900’s a 8.7 on SQ. I agree with those scores and if I had to absolutely pick a number to rate the Hephaes I would give it an 8.2. They’re absolutely better than the Xears but fall short of the amazing detail presented in the Pannies. Does that mean that I won’t switch up with the HJE-900’s. Not at all. Two different sound sigs entirely. One has a fun, energetic signature while the other carries a warmer, smoother signature. Depending on the day and my mood, I could just as easily be listening to one or the other. Hell, I already see the Hephaes as being my go to school IEM’s just for that nifty cable strap. Overall, in a lot of ways these remind me of my HJE-900’s, not in sound sig but the fact that I picked them up for less than $100 (of course the HJE-900 is discontinued in the US) and they both present excellent SQ, making it seem like they could be sold for more than I purchased them for and an absolute steal at the price.
Edited by jankydude - 7/9/11 at 4:34pm