Friday, 25 July 2014

DUNU DN-2000 Review

DUNU DN-2000 Review

Thanks to DUNU for the sample.



First Impressions:  The box seems a bit of a step up on the old DUNU boxes.  Still it’s a box so who cares, inside though we have the traditional four million bits and pieces.  The new thing I see are inner ear holder guide thingy’s.  Hmmm, I don’t see me liking those but then I’ve never had fit problems before so I just can’t see what I would want them for, no doubt they will be of use to someone, I just don’t know who.  I note that due to them the buds themselves have a little sticky out bit and I can see that jabbing my ear, colour me sceptical so far.  The case we have is another random change.  It’s not the giant yellow one that came with the 900 nor is it my so beloved metal case that paid homage to the UE cases of old.  It is some cross between the two and while it looks impressive, its size gives me pause.  It’s so big it’s not going to live in my pocket.  Sad face.  Please DUNU can we have the awesome one back, please?

First listen and its clear it’s going to an IEM to be reckoned with.  DUNU have already shown themselves with the 900 and 1000 that they know how to kick it with the big boys.  The 2000 I think is going to be about product differentiation for DUNU rather than being explicitly a next level up IEM.  Its striking me a W shaped with an emphasis on the low end, the bass here is really most vigorous.



Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-601, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5.

Lows:  Prolific and sumptuous.   The quality is utterly first rate, which is what I would expect at this price point.  DUNU have worked some magic on the driver here as I would have expected it to be the same one as was found in the 1000 and probably the 900 too but it takes on whole new dimension here.  It sounds just vast, huge in scale; there feels so much air and space to work with.  The bass feels like it can take that space and fill effortlessly.  The quantity is as you might expect rather above where neutral lives but what isn’t and why use a dynamic if you’re not going to boost it a bit.  It’s funny, the 1000’s bass felt so grand compared to comparable BA IEM’s but the 2000 just takes it to another level.  It’s reminding me a great deal of the bass on the IE8.  A/B’ing them confirms it’s not a bad thought, the 8 is rather more significantly bass heavy but the quality and feel, that visceral RAAAAAAAA share much.  It’s giddily entertaining.  Its tonality too is just excellent.

The trade off to its voluminous scale and authority is that when you A/B it to BA bass it’s not quite so laser focused.  It hasn’t that utterly exact precision and the incredible speed they offer either.  Still we are talking about the very top end of the IEM world not some £20 job.  For a dynamic the bass has fantastic quality but aurally you pay a little for its grand dynamics and the sheer oomph that it can give you.     



Mids:  Hmm, well I must say I would like a little more, maybe a little more breadth to the mids too wouldn’t have hurt.  Overall I’ve started to think that the 2000 sounds like the IE8 and UM3 had a baby and it’s the result.  The mids on the 8 were in a huge valley, on the 3 they were W shaped and a bit focused and narrow for me.  The 2000 is like a half way between the two, its mids are less abundant and not quite as good as the UM3 but a whole heap improved on the 8.  Sure in absolute terms they are excellent and would wipe the floor with most things out there but hey, these cost real money so I have to be hard on them.  Tonally they have the same feel as the UM3 and while I know it was much loved by many I found its mids to be a little staid and inexpressive.  There isn’t anything technically wrong, they seem more focused on giving a technically accurate rendition but seem to miss any tonal extreme.  It hasn’t the over airy, dry breathiness of the IE8 or TF10 nor the sumptuous lovely, liquidey ooziness of the SE530 or the RE-600.  Sure it is “accurate” but it just isn’t moving me the way I like a top tier IEM to. 

That said, it being neither one end or the other means it’ll turn its hand very well to anything vocally you throw at it be it Nora or Northern Kings.  The 2000 will do it, accurately and with a detail level that you just don’t get until you reach the heady plateau that is where the very best IEM’s sit.



Highs:  I’ve said it before but BA’s just can’t ever get treble right in the way the best dynamics can.  That is still true but the treble here is just about as good as I’ve ever heard a BA do. Its fast, it’s hard, it’s well extended and it can actually do a pretty good shimmer too!  BA’s generally suck at that shimmery trail off that a struck cymbal does but here it is really nicely done.  It’s clearly better than that of the UM3.  It comes very close to the finesse of the TF10 but it’s even more noticeable than that of the TF10 and a little more attention grabbing than it ought to be.  Compared to the IE8, its treble, while excellent, shows me just why I feel the best BA’s just can’t match the best dynamics in the highs.  Don’t get me wrong, the 2000 does a mighty fine job but it just can’t nail that timbreal and tonal perfection that the IE8 can.  Head to head the 2000 like all BA’s feels a bit metallic and artificial, it’s too deadpan, lacking in that natural trail and decay that dynamics can get so right, naturally.    Oh I’m being too hard I think.

In terms of quantity the 2000 follows that W shape and there is quite an abundance of treble.  Even more than is found in the TF10.  This means that the 2000 likes to be fed the highest quality treble and it also doesn’t make it love brighter DAP’s.  My own favourite, the Studio V and the 2000 were not the best pairing as a result.  The prominent and harder treble of the Studio made for a rather aggressive combo that liked to get too shouty for me.  Flicking to the FiiO E7/E9 on my desktop and they really calmed down.  Then giving the HM-601 a go and they just shine together, not shine, let’s say sing.  The 2000 it would seem wants to be paired with a warm DAP.



Soundstage:  Huge.  The 2000 happily sets forth a grand and symphonic scale before you.  We are talking TF10, almost IE8 level of size.  Oh and the instrument separation is just about the best there is.  Its right up there near the UM3 which frankly is to the point it can make things sound a little disjointed for an IEM.  It doesn’t give you such a completely integrated feel that something like the RE-600 does.  Honestly I can see there being some who really won’t love the high level of instrument separation here.  It’s on a level that’s just not common in IEM’s.



Fit:  DUNU I think have tried a little too hard about the fit.  These have a weird little protrusions to add an internal ear guide thing to.  Hmm and what exactly was wrong with just leaving the things round?  Is that something people have been having problems with, you know the shape all your other IEM’s are?  Frankly that little sticky out bit just got in my way.  Swapping the left and right ears solved the issue and then it was a shove in and done.  Tiny bit of driver flex and air pressure problem but nothing significant.  As always Complys pretty much fixed that.



Comfort:  Well the afore mentioned sticky out bits were a bit sticky stabby into my ear.  It stabbed the edge of my tragus (triangle bit.)  Granted the fix was easy, I just put the left bud in my right ear and vice versa.   Once I did that the comfort was as good as every other DUNU I have used and right and left swapping doesn’t bother me.  If it does you it then I should also note that using the small rubber attachments also stopped any discomfort but I just envisage their getting lost over time.



Microphonics:  Good on the whole.  Same old story, wear up very little, wear down you do and of course you get a chin slider to help.



Amped/Unamped:  Given how much the 2000 didn’t like the Studio V I expected it to be very fussy but it really wasn’t.  I was actually pretty gob smacked by how good it still sounded out of my Nexus 5.  Holy crap they pair up well!!!  Given the 2000’s propensity for treble I expected to hear every failing of the lesser source and bitrates abut seemingly the treble dialled itself down and you just didn’t notice.  Likewise the mids seemed to jump up a bit and really evened things out.  A quick test with the Nexus 4 and it sounded good, if rather over bassy.  Still I’m very surprised at it doing so well with phones.  I was hesitant to try the little 1G Ipod Shuffle’s but despite them being a bit bright they also sounded good.  They were a bit over bassy and hissed like a bag of snakes, trying the 75 ohm adapter did remove the hiss but it gave an overall deadend tone to things.  Adding impedance rarely plays well with things with a crossover so I’m not too surprised.  

So it seems as those the 2000 really don’t need lots of power to sound great.  Naturally they like more but they did seem to care much more what they were paired with rather than how much power they were offered.  The FiiO E7/E9 they just adored, same with the HM-601and of course they paired well with the N5 but the Studio V, they didn’t. 



Isolation:  Very good for a having a dynamic in there.   You know the spiel, fine for on a bus, out and about but prob not really the one you’d want if you have an hour long Tube commute every morning. Of course it’s still easily enough to make you road kill so do look where you’re going as with IEM’s in your ears you will not hear that bus until it’s by bone conduction.

Build Quality:  As with everything I’ve seen from DUNU its build quality is exemplary.  At this price level its to be expected.



Accessories:  Normaly for DUNU I can complement the package as being one of the best.  Sure you get loads of tips, outer ear guides and those inner ear guide things too which are frankly over kill.  Oh and the sound altering rings and the case.  You know what though, it’s a bit overkill and its becoming a negative.  The rings, really will people use them?  Those innear ear guides, are they really necessary?  Then we come to that case.  Its I suppose nice but its just too darn big. There is no way that will ever live in my pocket and to make matters worse it’s a right sod to pry open.  I really wish the UE emulating metal case would make a come back.



Value:  Right now I see these only on ebay for US$316 or about £186 and that’s before Mr HMRC man takes his cut and Parcelfarce take their extortion fee.  Sadly as of yet I can’t see them available in the UK, by extension that means nowhere in the EU.  So let’s just say it, these are expensive, very expensive.  Let’s presume your willing to go to £300, you pretty much get the option of every IEM out there and these I cannot say leap out as being better “value for money” than any of the other top end IEM’s available.  Sonically these sit with the big boys, the likes of the UM3, TF10, IE8 and so on (these are just the three these remind me of.)  These are not “better” than other things of level, they are all astoundingly good sounding and if you want the “best” then your wallet must deal with the consequences.  In short, these are expensive but you easily get what you pay for.



Conclusion:  When I first put these in my ears I thought, yeah they are good but these cost almost twice the 1000, well that’s going to be a problem isn’t it.  It actually isn’t.  Side by side these take where the 1000 went and makes the next leap upward.  These are just better in every single way (well except fit.)  They sound vast, the instrument separation and soundstage are the stand out feature of the 2000.  They are epically WOOOOOOSSSSHHHH!!!!!!  They sound so big yet sooooooooo effortless, then paired with the instrument separation it makes for a UM3 level of placement, the difference being the UM3’s soundstage was tiny.  Now I’ll admit that the weirdly high degree of instrument separation might not endear it to all but I think combined with the soundstage it’s really onto a winner.  It’s like the UM3 got jiggy with the IE8 and have produced their bastard love child in the form of the DN-2000.



Those who have great memories may remember that I didn’t especially love either the IE8 nor the UM3.  The 8 was too V shaped and I called it an acoustic roller-coaster.  The UM3 was called a monitor and supposedly had Shure like mid’s, it did neither.  It had bass that was too punchy, monotone and the mid’s were soulless renditions.  The 2000 manages to take the best bits of each and blend them into a pretty kickass package.  Now it’s not perfect, I’d say its mid’s are still a bit soulless and its bass can be too enthusiastic at times.  The treble too hasn’t quite the natural feel that the IE8 can do but it bests the UM3 certainly.  Actually I’m trying to think of a BA IEM that it doesn’t beat, hmm okay the TF10 but it needs hooked up to a power station to be its best.  The 2000 does a masterful job with pretty much any old thing.  This may be the 2000’s forte.  It doesn’t need lots of power to sound awesome.  I honestly think DUNU might want to think about doing a mic’d version as if you’re wedded to the idea of using your phone this does a truly superb job with what little it’s given.



The DN-2000 is a truly top tier IEM.  It may be tuned to be somewhat party happy and it may like a warm source but it’s excellent.  Like its siblings it isn’t what I’d call an “audiophile” IEM as it’s a little too vigorous for that, more a “generalist” I’d say.  That bass driver does like to show off and take a prominence that it strictly speaking should not.  So what?  The quality of the lows are awesome so a little over abundance isn’t a problem and if you want you could always tone it down with the bass adjusting rings. (Though I’m betting no one ever does.)  The mid’s could do with a little more breadth to them perhaps but that’s my preferences showing.  All round the 2000 is a monumentally good IEM that secures DUNU’s place among the world’s best IEM makers.  If you want a dynamic, enthusiastic , party IEM that can turn its hand to anything and still sound superb then this is probably what you’re looking for, just sorry about your wallet.  Unquestionably it is the finest IEM of the year I have yet encountered, unquestionably top tier stuff.

DUNU DN-2000 Quick Review

DUNU DN-2000 Quick Review

Thanks to DUNU for the sample.

Brief:  DUNU take’s it to the top.

Price:  US$316 or £186 sans HMRC’s cut

Specification:  Driver Unit: Dynamic (10mm)*1+Balanced Armature*2, Sensitivity: 102dB+/-2dB, Impedance:16Ω, Frequency Range: 10Hz - 30kHz, Plug: Ø3.5mm stereo plug, Cable length :1.2m, Weight:22g

Accessories:  11 pairs of Eartips, 1 pair of Earhooks, 3.5mm Female to 6.5mm Male Adapter, 3.5mm Female to 2-pin Male Adapter, Aluminium alloy box, 6 pairs of metal adjust ring, 4 pairs of fitting rubber, Shirt Clip

Build Quality:  Excellent.  It’s just what we have come to expect from DUNU

Isolation:  Good for having a dynamic driver in them.  Suitable for normal use, out and about stuff but not up to the level offered by some deep sitting BA IEM’s.  Still, as ever, easily enough to get you run over.

Comfort/Fit:  Okay the metal protrusion on the side cased discomfort if no rubber thingy was attached.  Without them the sticky out bit stabbed my ear.  Swapping left and right cured that issue but I don’t get why its there to begin with?  Fit though was fine, tiny bit of air pressure issues but nothing to worry about.

Aesthetics:  Well I get that golden is supposed to look fancy but I’m not a big fan.  I just don’t love how they look.

Sound:  Top tier.  These are priced in the same area as other high end stuff, IE8, TF10, UM3 level and these are easily a match for them.  Actually these sound like a cross between the IE8 and the UM3.  Bass is big and powerful.  Mids are clear and focused, highs are clean and sparkly.  Basically, these are awesome and epically spectacular.  Their presentation steels the UM3’s incredible sound separation and the vastness of the IE8.  The bass is taught and likes to try the UM3’s punch but injecting some of the scale and expansion form the IE8.  Mids too occupy a middle place between them.  Focused and detailed like the 3 but with a hint of life (I found the UM3 very deadpan vocally.)  Highs, for a BA, sparkle and shimmer well enough to sound rather more natural than most.  The real stand out feature though is the soundstage and instrument separation.  Vast, drama, dynamism, power, authority, scale, you get the idea.  They sound epically scaled.  They are also super sensitive, so they hiss but also they are so easily driven and can sound magnificent even out of a phone. (Paired super nicely with my N5.)  The DN-2000 is a W shaped epic aural monster.  If you’re after sedate or a monitor, this isn’t it, even handed it may be but it’s just too aurally epic and grandiose to be a humble monitor.

Value:  Well it is expensive but you easily get what you pay for.

Pro’s:   Epicness, amazing instrument separation, superb scale.

Con’s:  Golden, the bothersome sticky out bit, oversized case.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

T-PEOS H-100II Review

T-PEOS H-100II Review

Thanks to T-PEOS for the sample.



First Impressions:  Okay, it came with a coffee and moisturiser sample which is slightly unusual to say the least.  Weird.  Okay so starting with box, nothing fancy here and I note that tips selection seems a bit odd.  They come with a thicker silicon “hybrid” with a red core but none of the other tips are like that.  The rest are thin silicones and one set of bright blue foamie tips.  Actually I’m rather liking the super bright blue things and I’m betting now they will be what I use.  The rest of the bundle seems nothing to fancy, a shirt chip and a soft case thing.  Oh and of course they came with a mic built in to them.

Slapping them into my ears and I’m pleasantly surprised.  The last T-PEOS I heard was wildly bassy and to be fair T-PEOS then asked for it not to be reviewed as they wanted to retune it.  That was the 100J or an early version at least.  This is waaaaaaaaaaaaay better.  So lively, such air and instrument separation, ooooh it’s a bouncy little bugger.  Though I think I’m detecting a bit of an integration issue I’m thinking these are going to be little fun cannons.



Source:  FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio 3rd anv., Nexus 4,Nexus 5,1G Ipod Shuffle and HM-601.


Lows:  I expected bucket loads of bass from this, being a hybrid, surely big bass is why you bother to shove in a dynamic low end driver?  The bass here is fairly full bodied and has a more grippy extension than you would get from a BA.  It’s solid and well-rounded but has a cool dryness to it.  It’s almost polite in its typical presentation.  It really doesn’t seem to want to come out of its shell until you slap on some bass heavy stuff. Once you do it comes back into play and displays that it really is of a rather good quality.  Tonally the bass seems a bit on the dry side, it’s got a dry, cool air to it that comes across as a little distant and detached.  Now it’s not something I often do but I really wanted to hit that bass boost button.  So I did.

When you boost up the bass it really begins to open up and become much more playful.  When boosted its cold and hard nature really start to show what it can do and while it’s a bit humpy, it doesn’t wont to go super deep, but its fun.  Very clean, solid bass.



Mids:  The clarity and detail is great stuff.  Tonally once more these seem to veer towards the cool and dry.  This enhances the sense of openness and detail the 100II offer.  It’s all very explicit and upfront.  This works really well with poppy vocals, it opens them up and gives them great articulation for this sort of money.  Tonally again the dryness doesn’t suit everything and the more sumptuous and oozy vocal ranges come across as tonally faded.  It is all a bit dry and grey like a slightly overexposed black and white photo.  Everything is there, lightened, cooled, and a sense of hyper exposed detail.  For vocals suiting the very cool and open dryness, such as particularly breathy vocals, the explicitness works wonderfully well.  Also in poppy tracks where the vocals can melt into the music, here they stand forth and project very well.

In terms of quantity, the mids are rather focused and particularly in the upper mids like to be very, very noticeable.  As the volume cranks up these love to very much leap out and make sure you are paying attention to them.  This can get exceedingly noticeable on some female vocals, when the artist starts to belt something out.  On the whole with poppy stuff this works well.



Highs:  Detail levels are stunningly good.  Tonally it’s all a bit on the dry side and the highs take on a dry, chilly, clean sound.  While on tracks with hard aggressive treble this can be a bit too noticeable on more delicate tracks the driver really does a great job of detail retrieval.  The trail off is particularly nice even if the extension isn’t tremendous.  Pretty much every little detail is in there with every nuance, coolness tonal wise really pays off in the level of explicit detail these offer.  For the money its superb just how much detail is on offer.  Clean and crisp are most certainly the order of the day.

In terms of abundance it varies.  While a very W shaped sound the highs are not particularly even.  They have a the odd spike or two so certain notes leap out more than others so while the total quantity isn’t vast what is here very forthright and prominent.  In short, it comes across as though there is rather a lot.



Soundstage:  Fairly broad in its presentation but its more its instrument separation where its shows off.  It’s really rather good at projecting vocals right up front while having backing instruments much further back and very clearly distinct.  The highs particularly can dance delicately away while the bass does its own dance and the vocals scream in your face.



Fit:  I had a little air pressure issue and bit of driver flex.  So I pretty quickly moved to the foam tips.  Getting them in was no bother; however those blue foam tips liked to stay in.  The stalk of the 100II’s was maybe a little narrow to give as good a grip on them as I would have liked.  Do not try to quickly pull them out of your ears or the tips will be left behind.



Comfort:  Very good.  Never had any bother.

Cable:  Visually I’m unsure about the black and red cable but otherwise it was pretty good.  It was very much more usable than most flat cables I’ve dealt with.  The Y-splitter was good though I note no chin slider.  The mic too felt decent.

Build:  Very good and solid.  The buds are all metal affairs and short of you stamping on them I would expect them to be study enough to survive anything they encounter.



Microphonics:  Down there really wasn’t that much.  Which is handy given no chin slider.  Worn up there was essentially none.

Phone Use:  Gave a try with the Nexus 5 and it all worked perfectly.  The person on the other end was perfectly clear and apparently I was too.



Amped/Unamped:  Normally this is where I say yeah amping was better but not a lot etc etc but this time no.  Amping for me was not an improvement, if anything it served to change the sound signature by shoving the upper mids even more in your face.  With a more powerful source behind them they just got ever more shouty and honestly I felt these have been made with being very, very easy to drive in mind.  If you buy a pair of these be confident that buying an amp to power them is a waste.  Even trying the rather warm HM-601 that I thought and hoped would mellow things, add some wamth and calm proceedings, but no.  That’s not what’s supposed to happen but they just stayed cool, dry and got more shouty.  Go figure.



Isolation:  Pretty damn good for having a dynamic in them.  They are of course quite sealed, so a bit of venting and driver flex kinda comes with that.  Flex was minor and using foamie tips goes a long way to cure it.  These you could easily use for day to day stuff and the odd flight or two.  It’s not quite up to all BA levels of isolation but it’s not far, obviously enough to get you run over if you don’t look where you’re going.

Accessories:  5 pairs of tips, a shirt clip and a little baggy/soft case thing.  Not the huge tip selection that’s so common nowadays but really, how many do you need.



Value:  As this hasn’t been out for any length of time, practically no one has it yet but with ebay to the rescue I found it.  US$84.50 or £49.42 which is significantly less than I was expecting.  Particularly the detail levels for that sort of price is outstanding.  That’s at launch too!  Prices of things normally start wherever and then over time fall but for less than £50 you’re getting bucket loads of detail for your money (even more than the RE-400) and it has to be the cheapest dual driver hybrid available at the moment.  I know of no other way to get this much detail for this little money.



Conclusion:  I hugely admire the detail levels offered by the 100II.  They are phenomenal for the money, particularly the highs.  They are so articulate and nuanced that you’re really getting an absolute bargain.  For a BA driver at this price the highs are just excellent.  Even looking to the mids, the level of articulation is superb.  The bass is less accomplished and I suspect most of the money went into the BA driver rather than the dynamic.  Still with only the lows to do it’s pretty credible if a bit humpy and tiny bit monotone.  It’s not that it’s not good, it’s very much more that the BA in here outclasses it.



So the BA in here is fantastic, no question of that as far as I am concerned.  The thing is I have to add in a but…….  The mids just get too randomly shouty.  The sound signature is rather WWWW and certain vocals, mostly girlies, especially with a big amp would shout and scream in your face.  It’s all so party, all so dynamic, all so adventurous, all so wildly enthusiastic.  Some tracks would come on and be so flat vocally (Fiona Apple, Regret) that the fantastic detail levels shine, they are so nuanced all the back ground instrumentation sounds so wondrous and detailed.  The bass too is given room to gently get on, deeply rumble with a depth and authority I didn’t think it had in it.  This all happens because the vocals stay sedate and muted.  It all integrates so well I wonder at its magnificence.  Then say “I Did It For Everyone” by The Feeling comes on and you’re assaulted a wall of wildly dynamic sound.  Everything is so vigorous with every note clamouring for your attention like a room full of screaming children and has me reaching for the skip track or reduce volume button.



I said at the very start I thought the T-Peos H-100II was a bit of a party machine and the more time I spent with it the more convinced I was that I was right.  It is an amazingly detailed and dynamic party machine.  For the money the detail level it hurls at you is quite spectacular and with some retuning it and I could be the best of friends, as it stand its wildly enthusiastic presentation is too much for my ears.  It wants to dance and sing and scream and do everything with the energy of child who’s just eaten a bag of sugar.  It’s thrilling and exciting and its detail levels are all untouchable at this price which is awesome, if you want that, that is.

T-PEOS H-100II Quick Review

T-PEOS H-100II Quick Review

Thanks to T-PEOS for the sample.

Brief:  Crazy cheap detail monsters, Gangnam Style in IEM form.

Price:  US$84.50 or £49.31

Specification:  Features - 2 way hybrid earphone, Balanced armature (Knowles WBFK) unit with dynamic driver, 8mm dynamic unit producing magnificent and strong tone, Impedance: 32Ω / 1kHz, Sensitivity: 102dB / 1kHz, Power: 100mW(Max.), Frequency response: 20Hz ~ 20 kHz, Connector: 3.5mm /  4 pole / 24k gold plating plug, Cord Micro-groove flat cable 1.2M, Weight 24g (0.85 oz)      

Accessories:  Shirt clip, 5 pairs of tips and softy boggy/case thing.

Build Quality:  Great.  Everything thing feels well put together and the buds are metal.

Isolation:  Very good for having a dynamic in there.  Easily enough for normal use and the odd flight or two.

Comfort/Fit:  Pretty great.  I got a tiny bit of air pressure / driver flex issues but that was the only issue and it was slight.  Shove in ears and done, were perfectly comfy in the ear too.

Aesthetics:  I’m not convinced about the black and red cable, in pics the black and white one I think look looks much better.   The buds look fine, shiny silver and black that I didn’t have any strong feelings about.  Also it has been commented that the T-Peos logo looks like a penis.

Sound:  It’s very upfront and in your face, lots of drama, lots of dynamics, crazy levels of detail and it will all be hurled at you.  Not just hurled but hurled as aggressively and vigorously as a child just after eating a bag of sugar might.  It has all the drama and enthusiasm you can think of and it just loves to scream and shout at you.  The upper mids are exceedingly prominent and eventful.  It’s a pernicious drama queen if ever the was one and that’s both its blessing and its curse.  Its all very WWWWWWWWW things rise and fall acoustically with such alacrity, then bounce all over the place.  The detail levels for the money are truly epic but its aurally exhausting.  Oh but the detail levels, they are truly stupendously good for the price, they would still be excellent at twice the price.  Its bass is capable and solid, its highs are superbly detailed but its mids they are very focused on the upper mid range, they soar, they leap and love to shout in your face.  It is the IEM equivalent of Gangnam Style.  It’s thrilling, its wild, its exuberance and crazy ass drama are just on another level.  Sure its fun and a bit mental but you know what, it’s too mental for me to use every day. 

Value:  Detail levels are on a complete other level for price.  Crazy good if you want detail and crazy exuberance.  No, really, at its current price its more detailed than everything remotely near it, even the RE-400.

Pro’s:   Spectacularly detailed, wildly alive, the life of the party.

Con’s:  Doesn’t know how to sit still.  Upper mids are too excitable and a bit shouty.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

iBasso DX50 Review

iBasso DX50 Review

Thanks to Advanced MP3 Player's (AMP3) for the loan.



First Impressions:  Hmm, an android based DAP but with real buttons, this sounds like it could have the makings of the perfect DAP.   Oh, and yes it’s from iBasso and the internals have impeccable specs.  Its musical heart being a Wolfson WM8740 DAC, Wolfson chips have a stellar reputation that time and again has been shown to be one well deserved.  However they normally find themselves in DAP’s with not exactly the worlds friendliest UI’s.  Fingers crossed the android based bit means this might be pleasant to use.  Right of the bat though this isn’t the android your used to.  It’s skinned and honestly I forgot for a bit that it’s got a touch screen, pushing those buttons on the front and nothing happening.  Still I figured it out.  Oh China, you and UI’s.  Still it’s a long way from the worst I’ve seen. 



So 64GB SD card goes in and I fire it up.  Scanning media.  A few minutes later and we’re ready to go, I figure lets start it with something beastly and pull out the HD600’s.  The little DX50 handles them with seeming ease, even on low gain, Jesus the volume output on this must go to insane levels, sure has hell no French volume cap on this!  Sound wise its warm, rich and full bodied.  In short it has that very “Wolfson” sound to it.  I should feel more upbeat but already I’m thinking this is going to be a brutal slugfest with the X3.  Right now it’s sounding quite excellent pushing the big cans in a way that feels like it shouldn’t be possible from a portable.

One point I’d really like to praise though, user replaceable battery!!!!!  It’s even really common a battery, its one for a Samsung S3, oddly iBasso seem afraid to write Samsung anywhere which I find very odd.  It’s always S**sung S3.  Why????



Screen:  As DAP’s go the screen is alright.  One of the better I’d say from China but this is a DAP who’s priority is audio not video.  It’s functional but the little album art it displays is rather meh.  Still its serves it purpose well.

Battery Life:  Yey, it has a removable battery.  Okay so it’s a loaner and I’m not buying spares but if you’re a real road warrior then you can just take spares with you. Capacity wise it’s claimed 14 hours to me seemed about right, if a little conservative.  A full days use had it down from full to two bars so easily enough for normal use I think.



UI:  Hmm.  Okay it may have android in there but you’ll never really notice it.  Still with the touch screen for navigating around it’s a breeze compared to some.  It is fairly straightforward too.  I’ll admit it took a minute or two to think how to make it shuffle all songs rather than one album but it is easily one of the better audiophile DAP’s I’ve encountered, check that it is easily the best.
Oh and the buttons, they only work for volume control and play/pause and skipping.  I love real buttons for these, I can control the thing by feel alone and as an added bonus the screen doesn’t wake when you use them.  So no battery draining screen lighting up to tell you changed to volume or skipped a song.



In The Hand:  My eyes tell me it’s quite boxy but the back side edges have a slight bevel to them and it makes a huge difference.  In the hard it feels much more rounded than it really is.  It felt well shaped to my hand.  There is something about its black, featureless look I found strangely appealing.  Something almost monolithic to it.  I won’t go so far as to say it’s pretty, but it had an appealing quality that I’m rather failing to put into words.  Oh and using the buttons while it was in my pocket worked superbly, my fingers intuitively pushed the right one every time.  That’s not something I have been able to claim for every Chinese DAP.



Format Support:  Erm everything I think.  The specs say APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3 and its states it can do up to 24Bit/192kHz.  So that’s everything really.  One thing that is a bit more stand out however is that it supports exFAT formatted cards.  This is a really huge deal because this means that you can just format card into exFAT rather than forcing it to FAT32.  Additionally this means that it will happily take card up to 2TB.  Yes that’s 2048GB.  I know you can’t get cards that size now but my first MP3 player at the time had a 32MB card in it.  This means the DX50 is capacity future proofed for a while to come.



Connections:  The thing has 3 3.5mm sockets on it, headphone out, line out and more unusually a coaxial out.  Now I will grant you a coaxial digital out is a pretty niche ability but, it does mean you can use the DX50 as a digital transport for your music.  Personally given the internals are rather good why you wouldn’t just use the line out….hey more is better than less right?  Another strange one is that due its android heart the DX50 supports USB OTG.  That’s “on the go” and what that means is you can attach USB storage, like a thumb drive (with a connector adapter, it needs to be micro USB) and access music there too.  While it’s a “ooh that’s clever” I’m not sure just how useful that is day to day. 



Volume:  The control is digital and has 256 increments.  It also has a low, mid and a high gain option.  The control you have it vast.  Likewise the output potential is enourmous.  Even on low gain, the big HD600’s could go louder than I would ever, ever drive them.



Sound Quality:  The bit that matters.  So I have previously commented it’s got a Wolfson DAC at its heart.  If you know what that means there is a good chance you know what the Wolfson “house sound” is like.  In the past I’ve also described it as the Sony “house sound” or like the traditional “British” HiFi sound.  It’s a warm, smooth sound.  It’s a bit mellow and rich and it has a bit of focused high end peak.  So in a general sense, that’s what you get here.

For me the above meant pretty early on I took my IEM box and started rooting about for those IEM’s I consider to be on the brighter side of things.  It’s not to say you can’t pair a warm DAP with a warm IEM, whatever floats your boat but I think it’s best to pair opposites as a general rule.  The DX50 did not disappoint with any of them.  Even the notoriously hard to drive well ER4 and RE-0 both were excellent.  The ER4 in particular which I find can be a touch abrasive in the high end (tbh I think pretty much all BA IEM’s are to one degree or another) but the hint of mellowness complimented them beautifully. 



Beauty is a rather good word.  In my head I can’t help but conjure up some ye olde film star from yesteryear poised so elegantly and shot with a soft focus filter.  It’s that softness here that takes the edge off any roughness, smoothing, in a liquid like flowing fashion.  Vocals in particular can so often wondrously benefit from this effect.  My own musical preferences for velvety and flowing vocals tamed such otherwise dry IEM’s.  Again I mist single out the ER4, a notoriously analytical IEM, indeed arguably the standard for analytical in the IEM world for the last 20 years, it took on warmth and depth.  Particularly soft male vocals were enhanced by this and I greatly enjoyed both Mika and Erasures Union Street album.  Acoustic stuff pretty much all sounded superb.



Lows:  Smooth and sumptuous.  When it comes to warm and full bass the DX50 does well but where it falls down is that it just doesn’t want to get aggressive.  It could well be the warmest and creamiest bass I’ve ever come across to date.  Even slipping over to the warm HM-601 and it sounds thinner, more airy more delicate.  The DX50 just doesn’t want to be aggressive no matter where you push it.   Even the X3 isn’t this polite.  It’s the acoustic equivalent of a warmed bar of chocolate.   Warm, gooey, loveliness but you know sometime you want a grapefruit, crisp and tart and the DX50 is not one to go there.  Depth wise it’s nice, if you ask it to do deep and dark it will happily do so.



Mids:  It somewhat shines here as far as I am concerned.  I can be quite the fan of liquid and flowing vocals, the DX50 with its warmth pairs nicely with my preferences.  Nora’s “Painter Song” is so languid and velvety it’s an indulgence to listen to.  Likewise Tracy’s “Fast Car” is just outstandingly pleasant to have flow over your ears.  Acoustic guitars though while lovely, don’t have that snappy, twangy edge to them.  They ought to have a little bite to them and it’s a touch lacking.



Highs:  Warm, softened, unabrasive and mellowish.  Sure they do have that typical band where they tend to focus and punch through acoustically.  However even with a relatively bright IEM’s they didn’t of the savagely that some tracks offer.  Now the big plus there is that it makes for a very forgiving sound, poorly mastered or not the highest bit rate flaws are largely glossed over.  The brittleness you can find up top is gently tamed.  This means if your using something like the DBA-02, a very hard and aggressive IEM, then the hint of civility is very, very welcome.  If you’re using something like the IE7 then you’ll find warm on warm can be oppressively so.  (Unless you want a super warm sound of course.)  Extension is as you’d expect.  Technically flawless but its benign nature makes it not seem so obvious.


N.B.  I was asked how it plays with the W4, then promptly forgot so I’m adding it here.

The W4 is to my mind the “perfect” IEM in the sense it feels very flavourless.  It can do pretty much anything you ask of it and doesn’t feel like its setting the agenda.  So with the DX50 you have a richness and darkness to everything.  The highs of course cut through but there is little in the way of air or liveliness.  It’s an on paper perfect rendition but there is an anechoic chamber like deadness.  Dark, sumptuous, smooth have been the running theme and it’s continued with the W4 in play.  I would note though that the bass seems particularly vigorous, quick BA bass pairs well with the richness here. A beautiful but not thrilling pairing.



EQ:  It would appear the EQ works by dropping all band volumes on it being engaged.  As best I can tell this means that when you bump up a selected band it’s only in actuality reducing its reduction.  That mean the whole EQ activity takes place in the negative!  How clever, no over amping a band and sending it into clipping territory.  Otherwise it’s an EQ, you know how they work and if you like them or not.



Hiss:  There was some on more sensitive IEM’s but the hiss felt very dark and deadened.  It reminded me of long ago of the hiss you would get from cassette players with Dolby engaged.  It really wasn’t something I could detect in use though.

Accessories:  Well you get a case, a couple of screen protectors and a 3.5mm to coax out adapter.  Oh and a charger/data cable.



Value:  £200 or in Americaland $240.   Is it a beautiful sounding player, yes it is.  Is its user interface the best I’ve seen come out of China?  Oh hell yes!  Is it great that it can support up to 2TB SD cards, oh god yes.  None of these things make it jump out as tremendous value.  It’s a question of what you’re looking for in a DAP.  You get here a quality product with audiophile grade sound quality and that’s really what you’d buy this product for.  In comparison to a 16GB Ipod Touch there is no competition between them sound wise.  What really matters to a buyer of the DX50 is, is its sound right for them, anything else is just gravy.



Conclusion:  The DX50 is a superbly capable DAP.  Feature wise it’s got a bunch of things really going for it.  The big one has got to be the UI, for those that have used “audiophile” aimed at DAP’s will know what I’m talking about.  So often the UI isn’t there to help you play what you want, it’s there to prevent you from doing anything.  The UI here is actually pretty good, I mean it’s actually something you can just pick up and work it!!!  I can see reading some old reviews that the launch firmware had some problems but I can thankfully say I’ve encountered not one.  The UI has been a real pleasure to use.

Still the sound, that’s the bit that matters, and it and I haven’t gotten on so well.  The DX is lovely, beautiful, sumptuous sounding player.  Its delicate and dark and warm and all those chocolaty goodness metaphors.  Well I kinda like something lighter.  The DX50 made me go whip out all the lightest and brightest IEM’s I have to use with it.  Now I’ll grant you some of them paired up really nicely, the q-JAYS, RE-0, ER4, RE-272, RE-400, and CK10 all did wondrous things together with the DX50.  They are all kinda bright, kinda edgy up the top they all need a bit of warmth to soften them up.  Additionally I must mention the HD600, they were simply gorgeous when paired together.  Even still, the DX50 just felt reticent and somewhat stoic.  It yearned for smooth and slow, sumptuous music that flows over the senses and when you gave it something faster you could tell its heart wasn’t in it.  Sure it did a reasonable job, but the warmth, the beauty; they all wanted to pull in a certain direction.  If all you ever listen in Nora Jones, Rebecca Pidgeon, that Krall woman, you know the stuff I mean, then you are absolutely set. 

It could of course simply be me that’s the problem here.  For many a year Sony have produced just the same sort of warm sounding DAP and they consistently get high praise for a consumer product.  Maybe lots of people out there will just love a rich warm sounding DAP that’s very friendly to bad bit rates or bad mastering.  I know many loved the DBA-02 when it launched and if it was my only IEM then a DAP like this is just the sort I’d want, my ears would demand it!  As DAP’s go it’s the darkest and most sumptuously warm sounding I’ve encountered to date.  It’s got a removable battery.  It can cake up to 2TB cards.  Its UI is actually really usable.  It’s got power in spades.  It’s like a darkly indulgent audio device, seducing you with its aural temptations.  Me though, I like things a bit lighter but I can really see why someone could fall in love with the DX50 and its magnificently rich and deep sound.