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.

iBasso DX50 Quick Review

iBasso DX50 Quick Review

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

Brief:  Darkly sumptuousness in DAP form.

Price:  £199

Specifications:  Line out: Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz +/-0.2dB, S/N: -109dB +/-3dB, THD+N: 0.003%, Output Level: 1.5V rms (1kHz 0dB), Headphone out: Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz +/-1dB, THD+N: 0.004% (32ohm load), Output Level: 1.2V(Low gain), 1.7V(Mid gain), 3.1V(High Gain), S/N: -103dB +/-3dB(Low gain), -106dB +/-3dB(Mid gain), -108dB +/-3dB(High Gain) (32ohm Load), Output Impedance: <0.5ohm, Battery Life: 14hours, Battery Charge Time: 3hours with AC adapter, 5.5hours with PC USB port, Case dimension: 2.52W x 3.98L x 0.67H (inch), 64W x 100L x 17H (mm), Weight: 146g or 5.15oz

Accessories:  A micro USB charger/ data cable.  A 3.5mm to coaxial out adapter. 2 screen protectors and lastly, a silicon case to keep it safe.

Aesthetics:  To my eyes its look is strangely monolithic and I rather liked it, I’ve been told the metal back can be scratched easily if that sort of thing bothers you.  You do get the case but with the case in I thought it looked ugly.

Build:  Felt good and solid.  A touch light but it’s snugly put together.  So much so it was a real effort to get to back off to expose the battery.

Power:  It has oodles of power available.  It comes with low, med and high gain options and it happily drove the big HD600 beasts and the notoriously power hungry RE-0’s.  In volume too it could go to louder than I would ever care to subject my ears to.  Lots and lots of power here.

Sound:  Dark, warm, sumptuous Wolfsonness.  One of its big selling points is its Wolfson heart and rightly so, their chips are very widely loved in audioland.  In my experience they have a warm and smooth flavour and here it’s the most marked display of that I’ve dealt with.  It’s really quite flavoured for a DAP and it’s a gorgeous sound.  Music flows and oozes and my word it’s beautiful to behold.  Here comes the but you knew was coming, but its so very warm if you pair it with warm IEM’s it’s all too soft and smooth.  I want a little more drama and excitability in my DAP’s.  Now I’ll grant you when you hook it up to lighter and brighter IEM’s then they can complement each other very nicely.  Indeed with the highly resolving HD600 the pairing was quite excellent but most things left me wanting.  I wanted more passion and excitability and the DX50 just isn’t that.  It’s a bar of 50% coco chocolate with salted toffee.  Dark yet creamy and sweet then with that hint of salt cutting through in the top end.  It’s so inviting and indulgent but sometimes you just want a grapefruit, something light and crisp and the DX50 just is not that.  Lovely but with a distinct flavour so long as you love that flavour it’s an exquisite DAP.

Value:  Its beautiful sounding, it’s got a really excellent UI, removable battery, it can use exFAT so it’ll do up to 2TB SD cards, all pretty unique attributes for a DAP.  If you care about audio and like a warm sound this is leaps and bounds better than the Ipod you’d get for the same money.

Pro’s:  Beautifully exquisite sounding, great UI, power, 2TB SD card capability.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

DUNU DN-900 Review

DUNU DN-900 Review

Thanks to DUNU for the sample.

First Impressions:   The packaging looks a bit different from the 1000.  I think it’s a slight improvement with its plastic sheath over the box.  Pulling that off though, hmm, DUNU I see are continuing their tradition of giving spectacular cases.  It would appear as though there is some Pelican esq type case here.  Now while I think wow that looks indestructible I’m also thinking, they think I’m going to carry that around in my pocket?????  The bundle looks like it was put together for someone about to abseil off the side of a cliff.  Super sturdy but DUNU, I can tell you now there is no way I’m carrying that case around in my pocket.  Can we please have the gorgeous little metal one back, pleeeeaaaasssseeeeeeee!

So, visually these look just like the 1000 but in matte.  The cable though is different, feels more plasticky.  Acoustically, first impressions are good.  DUNU are really getting good at this IEM malarkey.  If I’m honest I’m right now thinking its biggest problem is going to be the 1000.  Sure the 900 is a bit cheaper but is it acoustically close enough that you’re not just going to spend that bit extra?

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-60, 1G Ipod Shuffle.

Lows:  I assuming here that the driver used is the same one as in the 1000.  I’m net sure I can tell any great differences between them.  Take that as a pretty substantial plus.  In “hybrid” IEM’s I’m always afraid the bass will be stupendously huge and completely disjointed from the rest but it’s not, its maybe not quite so well integrated as in the 1000 but it’s still superb.  You really wouldn’t hear it and think that there is noticeable the two completely different driver tech’s crossing over somewhere.  I should note that these come with DUNU’s different coloured rings to adjust how far the tips go on, the aim to be to adjust the bass levels.  (It alters the size of the air cavity, the bigger the cavity the more the air has volume to compress rather than push your eardrum.)  I hate the idea of these rings, too much faff so I don’t bother with them.  The bass you get while a bit big is perfectly civilized so I see no particular reason to tone it down.  When the quality is as capably good as this I see no need to diminish it.  It’s a good driver.

The depth is good, the scale is good, and it’s got a nice pace to it.  Quick enough to sound in place with the BA driving elsewhere.  Very nicely articulated and yet potent too.

Mids:  Hmm, the mids pop out a bit more than you expect.  They are a little more focused is their presentation than its sibling.  The result instead of being lacking in mids due to having only one BA driver it sounds much more prominent.  I really did not expect that.  Initially I rather prefer that presentation style but with prolonged use I hear that the more focused nature means you miss out on a sense of breadth vocally.  The finer details and nuance are lost in the push for focus and prominence.  That said in typical Pop there isn’t spades of subtlety in the mids so you’re loosing nothing there.  In lively bouncy music this presentation works really well.  Lyrics pop right though the music and give a tremendous sense of vocal clarity.  It’s full of vim and entertainment.

Quantity wise it’s of a par with the bass.  But think more of a W shaped sound than a perfectly flat --- there is that poppy inclination towards standing out and that grander sense of dynamics.  This likes to leap around the place and show off its playfulness.

Highs:  Traditionally the area where BA drivers struggle in my opinion.  DUNU though have really got a handle on tuning things to display the best attributes of a driver and mask its weaknesses.  The highs here are really nice.  Detail isn’t at 1000 levels and its wants to be a little more prominent in the middle to lower treble range.  This gives the end at the bit a W shaped sound.  Impacts and crashes stand out a bit, that bit of extra crispness and then the trail off decays fairly quickly.  I suspect that’s to mask that the driver doing the highs and the mids just can’t really display the delicacy and fine minutia that its sibling can with 2 drivers.  It makes the very best of the driver it’s got and again for poppy, bouncy tunes it’s a pretty great pairing stylistically.  It’s much more at its best playing Scissor Sisters than it is Susan Wong.  It likes to have a good time.

In terms of quantity it is overall maybe teeny touch behind the bass and mids but only minimally.  That prominent spike it’s got really balances out that W but at the upper reaches of the high end it does scale things back somewhat.

Soundstage:  Rather on the good side.  I think it’s really hoped by that big bass dynamic at work proving more air movement and offering to the ear a sense of scale and fullness.  Still, these can’t really compare to the like of the R3 or IE8 but for a more closed offering it’s a big step up on more traditional BA setups.  Instrument separation is also rather good though it lack the superb integration of the 1000.  It’s got that W shape which makes things seem that bit separated rather than acting all as one.

Fit:  Just like its near twin, it was great.  I didn’t bother with the rings to adjust tip depth, went right to the comply’s and slapped them in.  Job done.

Comfort:  Excellent.  Not the slightest hint of issue.  Of course I wore up so its metallic and slightly heavy nature was never an issue.  I’d always suggest wearing up anyway.

Microphonics:  None.  The cable isn’t as nice as the 1000 one but it’s still pretty good.  Worn up no microphonics at all, if you insist on wearing down there is a chin slider to help too.

Amped/Unamped:  Meh.  Swapping between the E7/E9 combo and the Nexus 5 and the DN-900 seemed perfectly content with either.  They clearly are not hard things to drive.  So in short they really don’t need an amp.  Sure there are improvements but these are just really easy IEM’s to drive.  These sounded really very good just out of my phone, so much so I rather think DUNU ought to make a mic’ed version of these, DUNU if your reading this would you like to make me a mic’ed version please?

Isolation:  Pretty great for a dynamic, a bit meh for a BA.  It’s what you get being a halfway house.  That dynamic means you can’t really seal them tight without issues so for me it’s the right balance to go with.  Naturally it’s easily adequate for normal day to day use, walking outside, on a bus, etc etc.  Probably a bit lacking for Tube or long flight use but better than most dynamics can do.  Obviously it’s easily sufficient to block out that bus hurtling towards you until it impacts your skull.  Use your eyes people!

Value:  This sits at the insanely competitive circa US$100 area.  A range that has sooooo many spectacular IEM’s.  Is this the “best?” No, it’s not, but then I’m not sure there is such a thing.  What this does is whole lot different from say the RE-400.  These have a much more dynamically W shaped good time sound.  Still I’m quite happy talking about these in the same breath as id mention the MA750, RE-400 and the like.  They are right up there playing with the bigboys in the IEM world.  Just one thing though, Please DUNU change that case.  The gigantic case here is pointless.  Sure it looks impressive but who is ever going to actually use it.  Sure DUNU offer a spectacular bundle but this time it’s not the most functionally useful bundle ever.

Conclusion:  I like the DN-900 but I’m not sure where to place them.  Firstly I think I have to knock them for the bundle.  Normally with DUNU I get to say they offer the most amazingly good value bundles, the case they normally offer, the 300 or so other bits and bobs all add up to be a superb assortment.  The case this time though, sure it’s a case that will survive the plane you’re in impacting the ground at 500mph but so what.  What use is that to me day to day?  Then the thing is the size of a small car, do you really think I’m taking that along with me in my pocket? In my backpack possibly but not everyone carries a backpack with them everywhere so for most I see the case being ignored.  Again the karabiner, are they pitching this IEM at the hard core mountaineering group?  Is that a big market for IEM’s?  Still I guess it’s better that the case that comes with the RE-400 or the MA750.  I’m still disappointed though, DUNU you normally put everyone to shame here so please bring back that wonderful metal case of yours.

Sonically, DUNU are normally not the very best you can get for your cash and I think that holds true here.  They do compensate you in other areas though.  The bundle may not be so superb but the build quality is still first rate.  These are little solid metal lumps that should last a goodly while.  They do know how to put things together.  Sonically though, these head to head with the RE-400’s and these just don’t quite match them.  Mind you what really does?  Even the quite excellent MA750 and the peculiar R3 don’t match the 400s for nuance and detail but it doesn’t matter as they all have areas where they excel and the 900 is much the same.  The 900 is a bit more a generalist.  It has stepped away from that sonic purity aim that I think the 1000 was much more aimed at.  It has a dynamically very engaging sound.  That W shape, lively and rambunctious bass, focused and energetic mids, more prominent treble all add up to a more attention grabbing sound.  It’s fun, it’s exciting and enthusiastically lively.

For me the differences between these and the 1000 are much less about quality and more about offering different characteristics.  The 1000 was much to more grown up, composed and really aiming for a fantastic technical presentation with a bit a boosted bass to liven it up.  Here I feel DUNU have set out to make a much more party IEM form the outset.  Its tuning is so well suited to lively pop music that it being a bit less nuanced and revealing is irrelevant. 

So would I pick this over the competition?  I don’t know.  In my head I can’t help lump it into the circa £100 bunch, and I did that too with the 1000 and the 1000 is much more to my tastes and is better.  Of course I’m told that £80 and £120 are really not the same thing and not comparable.  So then the MA750, R3, GR07 and RE-400.  Well frankly they are all pretty awesome  and I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.  They are all at a sufficiently high level of quality that it becomes entirely about which sound signature and other attributes match up best with you.  For example the 400 and R3 really want to be amped, these don’t really care.  They are all getting so good, so close to each other all in such a close price range its getting really hard to pick clear separators.  Here we have another excellent option for your money, you are really going to have to know which you’re looking for to get the one for you.  Really though you can’t go wrong and if you can’t work out which is for you, these make a great bassy generalist that I believe will be sure to please.