Dunu DN-19 Tai-Chi Review
Dunu as you now may know are a company taking the budget IEM market by storm with there broad portfolio of products and sound signatures and it has meant that there is pretty much something for everyone. Well for 2012 they have launched a new flagship and here we have it. Well is this different from any other flagship on the market? Well yes it is for two reasons in my opinion. Firstly is the price with it retailing under a hundred pounds that is not a lot at all for a company’s flagship product. The other unique thing is how feature packed it is. Unlike balanced armature IEMs that can be tuned with different acoustic dampeners (with companies like Phonak taking advantage of this), dynamic drivers cannot be tuned like that, however, Dunu have come up with another way and offer it with this product meaning that you can get different sounds out of this product. They use small dampeners that going into the port on the earphone and they also use a variety of tip. Tips are nothing new and it is common knowledge that you can change sound with tips but is nice to see this implemented in the design as it shows that they have designed their tips to work well with this IEM and covering the port method shows good innovation.
These can be purchased in the UK for roughly £80 that is not bad considering these is Dunus flagship IEM. Dunu did send this to me but not as a review sample, I have been enjoying it for a few months now and thought because I do like it, I would review it.
The set-up I have used is the normal, as I have started using a new portable rig, which is the Hippo CriCri amplifier connected through a LOD to an iPod Nano 3G with Apple Lossless and MP3 on it.
I also used my old set-ups of my iPhone 4, Cowon J3 (with FLAC) and my iMac with my Objective 2 amplifier. I also have paired these with a few other amps such as the MiuAudio MRB and Jaben house brand models.
These do look very nice, they are in Dunu silver cable line and the cable on these really is silver. The cable on these has a lot of character and was one of the most attractive features of these, even before I owned them, the cable made me want them. The housings also look very nice, they have a unique look to them with their circular design and the understated yin and yang logos look very nice.
As for the build quality of the cable I have mixed feeling. The y-split and jack are typical Dunu and great quality being there same old junky plastic design. The cable itself however, may look good but it is horrible. It is far from being flexible like the Phonak and Vsonic cables and it is far from practical with how much it tangles. It is quite simply a pain and although I appreciate its looks and how it uses silver, I would like to see it a lot more flexible.
The housings of the IEMs actually make me feel very confident and that I will not have any problems because of them They are solid, cleanly constructed and using nice materials.
Dunu like to make sure that your getting a billion accessories with each of their IEMs, even their cheapies so with this being there flagship they really do go crazy. To start with, you get two carrying cases. One is a very smart pleather material that is soft and while it looks good, it won’t do much in terms of protection. However, the other case is pure genius, taking a few leaves out of Ultimate Ears book with a clone of their metal crushproof case from years back. It is not only compact but can take any kind of blow and survive. I think Dunu could make a mint selling these alone.
You then get the basics like a shirt clip, airplane adapter and ¼ inch adapter. An essential if this is your first big IEM and standard in
You then get then get what I can only give the name, Dunu tuning kit because that is what it does. It comes in its own little plastic case and the first thing you get inside is a microfiber cleaning cloth and some spare ear hooks, yes I know, they do not really effect any tuning but the rest does. You get a pack of about 20 miniature plugs and these are the dampeners that go into the port on the headphones to change the sound, dropping the bass. I am going to be straight up and say they are very hard work, a complete hassle really and I got really frustrated with them. The included diagram makes it look like they should easily pop in but they do not, they keep bouncing out and I had lost two and broke one by the time I had my first on in, this is never ideal. Once in, they do get the job done but I think they should be more practical.
We then get the ear tips inside and they come in two varieties. They are both single flange and silicone material but other that that they are different. 4 pairs including two in medium (as one pair are already on the IEMs) and one pair in small and large are Sony Hybrid clones with a flat top. The others come in small, medium and large and are grey in colour, softer and rounder, reminding me of the Phonak tips. The Black tips are meant to be the bassier of the tips and the grey ones supposedly more neutral and used with the dampeners. I think this is very well thought out and it helps generally with people picking tips to use.
These are designed like many IEMs, to be worn over the ear only. With most they are designed to fit in your ears very ergonomically with IEMs like my Heir 4.Ai and the Westone and Shure series but here that is not the case because it is obvious that the large dynamic driver just does not want to fit cleanly. It is so wide that you can not get close to an ideal deep insertion and the sound port sticking out just makes things worse in insertion depth aspect and is also plain uncomfortable. All that being said this is not a complete failure and I can still listen to the etc. but the design was not well thought out. One thing that I have to admit I really do like is the ear guides. I have received ear guides with a fair few models in the past but never used them for no need. These have however do not have a very flexible cable and the guides are actually well designed and angles so it makes them more comfy and usable. Also it does not push them out your ears when you lay down like memory wire does which is great.
As I have said these have a fairly shallow insertion and these are I guess, ported, sometimes. All in all though they do not do as bad here as you may expect as they cover a lot of your ear so I was actually not too displeased. They can isolate a bit.
Microphonics (Cable Noise):
The cable is, rather not surprisingly, microphonic to a fair degree, especially for IEM worn over the ear. It is not enough to be a problem but you do get a fair thud from these and it actually caused some annoyance, not something usual for over the ear IEMs. I would still rate it like 7/10 with 10/10 being perfect.
By what I am about to write I do not want to cause any upsets or arguments as this topic can be seen as a sour subject. These have had roughly 100 hours now of use and burn in combined. As burn in is not scientifically proven this all could be mental and happening in my head but in the case that it does happen I recommend burning them in as in my personal experience I have noted improvements which have a massive impact on my enjoyment factor, so don’t make any irrational decisions after listening to them out the box.
These have two sound signatures, one fairly sub-bass minded and one more neutral in presentation. This is of course depending on whether you use the dampeners or not. With the dampeners in and these sounding more neutral sounding, they are nice and they do sound clean. However what they will not do is live up to similar minded IEMs that are a lot more expensive, for example, an a/b with the Heir 4.Ai will end in a whitewash because this cannot compete simply in terms of speed and detail. That may sound like unfair comparison but it is worth noting. Compared to other similarly priced IEMs, it does a lot better but while slightly more expensive IEMs like the Vsonic GR07 and Rock IT R-50 can be compared to some of the most expensive IEM in terms of speed and detail, the DN-19 can not match them. The main negative to this, if you have past experience with more expensive or technically better IEMs, you may just find this to rush your music a bit. Other than that, with its £80 asking price, these do sound amazing for that and the frequency response is really rather impressive.
The other one is a bit warmer and has a slight bass focus, in the lower regions. This is with the dampeners in. You do take a small toll on the rest of the range but nothing major and although I prefer the dampeners in, I am sure that many will not. It does manage o maintain many technicalities but the bass can sometime just get a bit too much and try and take over.
Soundstage and instrument separation:
The soundstage is not poor in size. It does have elements of width to it and a very nice height. It is lacking any depth however, which prevents it being three-dimensional. It does not have the treble extension and lacks a real sort of airiness.
Instrument separation is something that I think really prevents these being magical because they have the frequency response but everything gets muddled fairly easily and instruments just sound too blended together for most of the time, only really slow paced songs get away.
Dampeners In: The bass with the dampeners in, like the rest of the frequencies is too my preferences in comparison to without them. The bass is a lot more gentle and controlled but still manages to reach deep enough with only a slight roll of preventing rumble. Mid-bass is actually no slouch and has fair amounts of speed for a dynamic driver in this price range but just does not have the aggression to move up into another standard with its laid back approach. It does not provide any warmth that may or may not be a good thing but it leaves the sound fairly uncoloured and the mids in a beautiful condition.
No Dampeners: Obviously this leads to a bigger bass than before due to the likes of airflow. It boosts more and more the lower that it gets and you end up with some nice rumble and some serious power. The mid-bass is not as largely effected but not only is more in quantity but also bigger in body of impact and it does loose a bit of speed. It has the aggression that I was missing with the dampeners but they are now a bit too center stage.
Dampeners In: Cold and edgy is how I would describe the mids. I say edgy because they just seem a bit shaky at times and even though they are not warm they do not seem to be that transparent or detailed, by dynamic means but no comparison to a similarly priced BA such as the Etymotic HF series which utterly destroys these in detail and accuracy in the mid range. They are also cold because I think the high mids dominate the low mids a touch that leads to an unnatural effect with everything in the lower mids lacking any sort of manliness or oomph. It also makes a lot of the timbre seem a bit soft and distant. They do however even though I have put them down in a few areas very nice with great presence and they are crystal clear.
No Dampeners: The mids just take a slight step back but are still presented in the same way, now just a touch warmer. The high mids still have a slight dominance over the low mids but nowhere near as much but the vocal now sound a little thin and lack weight. Some detail and clearness has gone but I am not going to say they are close to be ruined.
Dampeners In: We start our curve up around 10khz which does provide nice amounts of sparkle and detail but as that peak drop it goes quickly into a roll off which finishes before 20khz. The roll if far from bad and the treble overall feels quite full. It is a bit too strident and not as smooth as one could like and can also be a bit shaky similar to the mids. I do think that treble could be the dominant voice in these IEMs adding a touch of brightness and coldness which is not a bad think, in fact it adds a bit of natural clarity as well.
No Dampeners: They are no smoother but nowhere near as sparkly and present. Extensions seems to be a bit subdued, like they roll of a bit quicker. Nothing major though and they still seem confident and complete, just don’t quite have that sparkle they once had. You no longer have that bright and cold sound with the sound.
I love what Dunu have done here. Not only have they created and amazing sounding IEM for £80 (yes I did find flaws and say some negatives but these are price not in question, at £80 these are very good) but also the ability to say, I wish these had just a little less bass and then make that happen. I know others can do that but no dynamic IEMs as far as I know can. There is a winner here and with the awesome package that Dunu provides with it, I think this could be the best ‘my first flagship IEM on the market’ and even with it not being technically the best I still give it a listen from time to time.
I will mention one last think though; they could have made this into something else with a better cable and a better dampener system. If they were a bit more functional, I could here a bassier song that I want just a bit more bass on and quickly pop them out and for the next song pop them back in. Unfortunately we cannot do this and it is more of a case of struggling for an hour to get them in!