Dunu Ares (DN-11) Review
Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample
First Impressions: Oh they look rather blingy in the pic on the box. I’m not sure that’s always a good sign. In the flesh I’m actually not disliking the gold like it ought I would, maybe it’s down to the little blue and red rings. I’m kind of a big fan of red and blue marking to denote right and left. As with the other DUNU’s the cable and such feels first class, their build quality feels just superb for such a cheap product, all metal shiney goodness.
A little listen and I’m a bit unsure what to make of them. I can see why a couple of people couldn’t tell if they were dynamics or Balanced Armature. For a single BA they are pretty well extended at either end, not bad at all. Still ill give them a little burn in just in case.
Source 1G iPod Shuffle and HM-601
Lows: Okay right off the bat I can tell you if you’re after a lot of deep, pounding, throbbing going on down low then these aren’t for you. Having been listening to their siblings the Hephaes these are such a welcome breath of fresh air. I much prefer this kind of bass. It good clean, tidy and for a very cheap BA goes pretty deep. Its got enough scale to it and bloom to sound fairly full but for this price range its also very fast. Its not quick for a BA but compared to most dynamics it beats the pants off them. Its very well done that they have steered this in the direction they have, towards a sense of scale and fullness that armatures so often lack but they aren’t miracle workers. While it really puts a valiant effort if you’re used to a bass monster then you’ll find these to be very lacking. BA do clean and precise, they really don’t move a lot of air and just because this moves far more than most it’s no dynamic. With that out of the way it’s really bouncy fun bass, for a BA it really does a fab job of going quite low and not being too hard. It does roll off a touch but much less so than I’d expect at this price. I can’t quite decide if it’s a fault or not but I would rather the bass was a little quicker and less soft as that’s what I tend to prefer and this a bit of a halfway house, a very dynamic like BA.
Quantity wise for a BA its surprisingly full, full even for the best dynamics round this price (of course crap dynamics usually just go for mammoth amounts of bass anyway.) It’s quite unusual a sound. On the whole I really rather like it.
Mids: This is where BA traditionally shine and the Ares does not. It’s still very good but it gone for a much more dynamic sound here and the mids don’t stand out. In all senses. They aren’t out in front, well maybe they are a little, and they don’t have the buttery smoothness of things like the PL-50 and yet they aren’t completely on the dry and open side either. They have gone once more this halfway house style, but it works. It’s taken a BA and tuned it to sound a bit like a dynamic and just managed to get a bit of the best from both. Vocals are for this price impressively clear and detailed as only a BA can really do but retains so much openness and can project vocals at a reasonable distance rather than right in your face. Tonally its dryish sound is very balanced and can do either liquid or airy with a degree of skill. If anything it’s probably not the world’s most exciting sound but it deals with everything in a very even handed manner.
Highs: Hmm, while its first impression is that it extends well it doesn’t really. It has quite a prominent and crispy high end for a BA. The snob in me wants to complain a little about that but really; at this price it’s unwarranted. Its crispiness actually I’d say does it a favour as it livens it up no end and when you combine it with its reasonably full bass its very fun. It’s not going to give you most detailed sound in the world but its clean edge serves to give the impression that it’s much more detailed than it is but it never becomes too aggressive on the ear. DUNU are clearly walking a very fine line with this sort of thing but I think they have really managed to stay on the right side. Oh and not even the slightest hint of sibilance going on here. Honestly I really am quite impressed with what they have done even if it’s not the most “accurate” IEM around.
Soundstage: Very surprising. It is very much on the large side and that’s not a BA trait. The soundstage is wide and all laid out before you and the instrument separation is great too. It’s really nice.
Fit: As ever YMMV but I always get on better with BA stuff than I do with dynamics, armature stuff never gives venting issues and the like. For me there were just fine, stuck in ears and done.
Comfort: Same as with the fit really, these gave me no hint of problems. They do of course need to be worn reasonably shallow due to their shape. So long as that’s fine with you I can’t envisage any trouble.
Cable: It really is excellent, it may not be the best in the world but its sturdy and the jack and Y splitter are absolutely top notch. The cable tie thing too is just icing on the cake.
Build Quality. The buds themselves are liable blobs of metal and while I obviously am not going to test them to destruction, you’d have to be pretty **** rough to break these. By rough I mean stand on them or something.
Microphonics: Pretty much a non issue. Okay so wore them up but even wearing them down you don’t get much and the chin slider sees to that.
Amped/Unamped: jumping from the little shuffle the FiiO E9 there is quite the difference, not that its one you may always want as it really cleans the upper end but the low end feels so much lighter. Still you’re not going to be using an E9 with them. The HM-601 however, now that’s a vaguely realistic option. Rather its sound signature is rather more realistic and they do suit each other well. The low end gets a little bit more filled out and the highs refine and since the treble edge of the Ares doesn’t match the spike of the 601 the highs feel much more linear. I could really see them going well together.
Isolation: To continue a theme, it’s like a BA but moved towards a dynamic. For an armature based IEM it’s not as good as the best but I suspect that’s largely down to their sitting so shallow. Not many BA things do. Still it’s easily enough to deal with everyday sounds and I’m sure would have no trouble in getting you hit with a truck because you never heard it behind you. Not sure it’s quite at daily tube use levels but I’m sure it would do the job fine for most people.
Accessories: For some reason this comes with three cases. I’d like to say that’s total over kill but it’s not. I can’t say I love the hard case due to its aesthetics. It looks like a chav girls purse and I mean UK meaning of purse not US. The super soft baggie is nice looking but so soft I don’t see what protection it offers. Then we have the one in the middle. It’s a nice looking pretend suede thing that is soft too so what protection it’ll provide I’m not sure but it is pretty. Of course you get an assortment of tips I count 7 pairs, so that should do everyone.
Value: I’ve been told these are coming at £45 so having a look at what else can be had for that their challengers are the PL-50 and the Brainwavz M3. Both are touch more money but close enough. A/B’ing them I really couldn’t say the Ares beat them but they are as close as and they do offer a very enjoyable sound. They are also very sturdy and what I dare say matter more to many is that they look very different. The only thing that comes close to how there look that I can think of are the Monster Turbine Pro’s. So if you want that look these are a hell of a lot cheaper. Over all I’d say these offer an extremely good value package. It would be even better if the hard case was less feminine.
Conclusion: These surprised me a little, when I first saw them I thought they were going to be all bling and bombast but they aren’t. Okay maybe they are a little, for a BA anyway. I really can’t say even know I know entirely to make of them. It’s like DUNU have come up with a stupidly cheap version of a Moving Armature (as found in things like the Ortophon e-Q7) now I’m not calling this a £200 IEM so clearly it doesn’t equal things like that but it does what they do in that it has taken the best traits from Balanced Armatures and melded in a bit of a Dynamic. I’m not sure how they have done it but I think it works really well. It offers a taste of what armatures can do (I’m a big BA fan usually) but retain some of the movement and fullness you get from a dynamic. Normally the way to do that is to use multiple BA drivers and that gets expensive. DUNE have somehow tuned the Ares to sacrifice some mids and precision for better handling at both ends of the spectrum and for a bit of liveliness. It’s a bit of a dangerous path to go down as you run the risk of ending with the worst of each and pleasing no one but I think they have done a bang on job. It’s easily the best armature based all rounder I’ve heard, single driver anyway.
The Ares might not the master of anything in particular and it may not be the outright best sound you can get but it does a mighty fine job. I think it hits the nail on the head and gives enough of everything to please everyone. It’s a bit blingy for me but looks aside I’d dare anyone not to like this little chap.