Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Vsonic GR04 Pro Flagship Quick Review

Vsonic GR04 Pro Flagship Quick Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample

Brief: Yes they really put “Flagship” in its name.

Price: £89 is all I can see at present but I believe it may be coming at £72

Specification: Cord 51.181 Inches (130cm), Driver Unit 11mm CCAW Driver Unit, Frequency Response 10Hz - 24KHz, Impedance 50 ohms @1kHz, Input Connection 3.5mm 24K gold-plated plug, Max. Power Input 50mw, Noise Isolation Passive - Up to 90% of ambient noise*, Sensitivity 105 dB SPL/mW @1kHz

Accessories: 5 pairs of tips, some ear guides and a case.

Build Quality: Very good. The cable feels very sturdy as do the buds themselves. I cannot fault anything with the build and I should expect them to be capable of standing up to a mare than fair amount of abuse.

Isolation: Pretty good. They are a bit above average for a dynamic but nothing miraculous. As I frequently say I’m sure it’s enough to get you with a bus and for normal out and about activities. I used them on a bus happily. Still if you a daily tube user or about to visit New Zealand they wouldn’t be my first choice.

Comfort/Fit: Fine. Their shape gives me pause but in use I can’t say they caused me any trouble. It was a case of shoving in my ears and that was that.

Aesthetics: Call me a sucker if you like but i particularly liked the bronzy brown calbe on these. It looks great and is a nice change from the usual black/silvery gray without being gaudy. The buds too are a pleasant yet reasonably low key affair, i like.

Sound: Very good. I’d honestly like to leave it at that but I don’t suppose I can. These do everything very well and I can happily listen to them all day long but there is a problem. Well two. Firstly they need power to be their best and secondly their siblings the GR07 are just better in every way. These get so close to being great and that makes it all the more bothersome that they slip up here and there. The bass isn’t as tight as it should be and the highs get a little gritty, oh and they can get a touch sibilant too. I know I shouldn’t compare them to the GR07 which do cost a reasonable proportion more but I can’t help doing so and it’s a very unfair yardstick to use. Taken on their own merits they everything very well, particularly the mids but nothing is outstanding. I fear it may not quite be as even as some would like either, it’s a touch upper mid centric and while this makes for great vocals and suits Jazz super well it doesn’t suit everything quite so well. Splashy high energy stuff tends to over focus on the mid/high crossover and can be a little shouty. However if you feed it lots of power its low end comes to life more and evens out things a bit, should you do so it becomes one of the best all round IEM’s particularly if you like a large, full soundstage.

Value: Very good. Its biggest trouble its proximity to the GR07 which does everything better and when your spending almost that round £100 I’d really struggle not to say spend the extra and get its big brother. It also comes in at the SE215 price point and while id give outright sound quality to the 4 that’s some big brand name competition there. However should it come in at £72 then it becomes quite the steal and begins to set itself apart sound for pound wise.

Pro’s: Great all round sound that does everything very well, pretty cable.

Con’s: The GR07 just does it all better. Oh and its stupid name.

Vsonic GR04 Pro Flagship Review

Vsonic GR04 Pro Flagship Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample


First Impressions: A pretty if familiar box is see before me. On removing the outer sheet I see something else that’s familiar. (going to a have a small rant now.) The name on the box, does it match what they are? Does it F! Just what the hell Vsonic get your naming sorted and if you’re going to give something a name then for the love of all that’s holy why the hell would you print something different on the box! Do you have any idea how bad an impression this gives? I’m not even going to comment on the fact they are actually called the GR04 Pro (sticker on the box is halfway right calling them the R04pro) I really don’t care what you want to call them but get the writing on the box to match what you call them. Fix it!


Note: I’ve just had it confirmed that what I have is not the GR04 Pro but (oh good god) the GR04 Pro Flagship. Yes that’s right they called something Flagship. Honestly the naming mechanism is something that I can only assume makes total sense in Chinese. I don’t speak Chinese so I’m going to assume that Vsonic (and they aren’t alone) genuinely see no problem in having products called the GR04 Pro and the GR04 Pro Flagship. I can also only assume that the only way I can tell I have the Flagship is that the impedance is circa 50 ohms in the mostly Chinese manual. Not anywhere else, on the box or the insert is Flagship mentioned. They are consistently called the R04 Pro and that’s it. World fail me in trying to express my incomprehension at this naming scheme.

Okay I’ve calmed down a bit and a look at the buds really reminds me of the GR07 (R07) they have the same shape which is pretty distinctive. A quick listen to them also reminds me of their siblings, a nice balance to them if maybe a touch middy. Depending on the pricing and taste of the user these could be M3 challenging. Burn in time.


Source 1G iPod Shuffle mostly and the HiFiMAN HM-601.

Lows: A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Right off I’m going to say that it’s a shame I have heard the GR07 before I heard these as I absolutely cannot help but compare the two in my head. Anyone who has read anything about or indeed heard the GR07 won’t be surprised to see me say that these fall short of their more costly siblings. I know it’s so unfair of me but I just can’t help myself. If you will it’s actually quite the compliment to want to compare the two even if the GR04Pro come up short, in that they aren’t so far apart as to be incomparable. Still as it is I do find the GR04Pro to be a touch lighter in the low end than I really want and they do roll off in the lows quicker too. Having just written that I have to pause and question myself, I’m wrong. It isn’t lightish in the low end it’s just that the mid/high peek often makes the bass take a back seat to the action. If you find something that’s bass dominant then these will quite happily thunder it out at you. They don’t quite have the snappy, quick impact that the 7 can muster nor its extension and control. Still when I stop being so horribly unkind and compare to something closer to its price range (the M3) the 04 seems so rich and abundant. Honestly it’s so tonally in the middle that I find it difficult to comment on it. Yes it’s pretty controlled and tightish but it’s also very full. If anything its best attribute is its sense of scale, it sounds vast and the bass behaves in such a manor as to give you the impression it once had great abundance but is at such a distance, it really mellows it. It will really depend on what you prefer and what you listen to which style is better suited. If you like things on the more gentle, slower and more mellow side then the 04 does well. It all very good quality wise but honestly it’s just not very exciting.

I should note if you connect it to ever greater amounts of power the low end really cleans up. Plugging it into the FiiO E9 really let the bass tighten and become ever so much more hard and punchy.


Mids: This is where the GR04 Pro Flagship begins to shine. As I said in the opening it’s a little middy and with some time on it I can say yes it is with certainty. It’s not overwhelmingly middy that puts off many people but just enough to let you know this IEM is all about the vocals. It feels as though it has been tuned with Jamie Callum or Katie Mellua in mind. They just do all you could want for either of them. These have a grand sense of scale and air while retailing a good level of warmth to them. They are honestly everything you could want for a grand and relaxing listen and still offering a great level of detail. These don’t however do upfront intimacy very well and I think that’s just fine. It’s not a failing it’s a choice, personally I love an upfront intimate sound, something more akin to the PL-50 or even the M3. When comparing these to the M3 the difference is clear, the M3 sound so thin and in your face and these sound so vast. Smooth and just so likeable. One of the key, if unmessurable factors for me in any listening experience is the degree to which they make me want to burst into song in inappropriate places. (Usually on a bus.) This is just what these do, my brain may be comparing to the GR07 and the M3 on the technicalities and find them wanting but I dare anyone not to like these. One note of warning, on occasion they can exhibit a touch a sibilant tendency’s. I never found them to be outright ear stabby but if you push them on certain songs then their mid/high focus can get rather shouty. Still it’s a small complaint.


Highs: Again I’m finding hard not to compare these to the GR07 which inevitably they fail to live up to. Not a lot can live up the GR07 so this isn’t really a fair comparison anyway. They don’t have quite the extension that I want but they a remarkable job of portraying distance and scale yet a good level of detail. There isn’t exactly anything wrong with the treble, I can’t fault anything but it doesn’t just quite manage it. It gets so close to being really good that it bothers me all the more that it just isn’t quite there. Don’t get me wrong it is pretty excellent but I just cannot make myself forget the GR07, the 7 is just plain better. Since Vsonic market the “Flagship” as for audiophiles (actually I think they market all their products thus) I just absolutely cannot help but constantly thinking “ahh yes these are really good” and leaving it at that. There is the tiniest little bit of grittiness going on and that mid/high sibilant area is enough for me mark them down. In so much it’s not about what you get right but about what you don’t get wrong and I did once of twice find myself skipping a track because of it. On the whole it is nicely shimmery and very detailed so long as your happy to not have treble being the main focus.

Again I’m going to comment that the highs really do appreciate additional power, in cleaning up.


Soundstage: Really quite impressive and rather reminiscent of the GR07 but here it’s more stand out given they excel less elsewhere. They give a grand sense of scale and distance. Imaging and instrument separation is less defined but I don’t mind. The sound here is all about the integrated whole and they do it excellently.

Fit: Okay so no fancy adjustable nozzles here but it didn’t really matter. I had no trouble with them in the slightest. Shoved into ears and that was it, done.

Comfort: As above. No bother at all.


Cable: Hmm, it’s a little on the stiff side and it very much wanted to keep its boxed kinks. That said it never caused me any bother and it feels very durable. Oh and I know it’s stupid but I just laved the colour, it’s a bronzy brown. It’s a really nice change to the usual black/silvery but still being dark and subtle.

Microphonics: Since you can’t really wear these down that’s not an option. Wearing up gets you none and they come with a chin slider too. Top marks.

Accessories: Pretty good, you get a good selection of tips (5 pairs) a set of ear guides and most importantly a little case to keep them safe. I don’t think you could really ask for anything else.


Amped/Unamped: There was a pretty noticeable change all over but where I really most noticed the difference was in the highs and the lows. Both were much more refined and honestly I think that if your buying these you will be better off the better your amp is. They may not quite scale the same as the 7 but I noticed a reasonable jump from the shuffle to the HM-601. Actually the 601 went particularly well with these as its upper end spike differed from the one on these so they smoothed things out. It also leant fullness to the very bottom where these lack a touch too. As pairings go I really don’t think I could have asked for better, they are perfect for each other. Additionally I used these a bit with the FiiO E9 (mostly out of convenience) and they really did like the extra power particularly low down. Oh and they really did not love having the 75 ohm adapter added, it smoothed the edges in the highs but it overly softened the bass.

Isolation: Pretty good. They are a bit above average for a dynamic but nothing miraculous. As I frequently say I’m sure it’s enough to get you with a bus and for normal out and about activities. I used them on a bus happily. Still if you a daily tube user or about to visit New Zealand they wouldn’t be my first choice.


Value: Hmm this is going to hard. Firstly because I can only see one price for them at present (£89.) Is that price unreasonable? No. So what’s the problem then? Confusing name aside I can’t help but wonder if there is £20 worth of difference between the GR04 Pro and the GR04 Pro Flagship and I’m sure others will too. The other problem is the GR07 at £119 is just so good I would have a hard time ever suggesting to anyone that these represent better value for money. The price is close enough that I’d say stretch if you can. Like it or not people think in round numbers and this is so close to 100 that’s how we will budget. So while it’s arguably as good value per £ as the 7 it just doesn’t sit at any particular price point.

NB. After secret negotiations I am told that these may be coming at a price point of £72! Now that rather somewhat changes things as it really begin to open up some distance between itself and the GR07. Now I don’t know about you but in my head this makes the GR04Pro Flagship almost half the price of the 7. Okay so I know it’s not exactly but it’s a pretty big margin between the two now. That pretty much pushes these into absolutely great bargain territory. Now I’m not going to say they are better value than the 7 because you expect diminishing returns at this level and that’s what you get. Honestly if you can afford the 7 I’d take it but for quite a lot less money this will get you really rather close to it in terms of performance.


Conclusions: I really do wish I had heard this before the GR07. In case you hadn’t noticed, time and again I continually refer back the 7 and every time I do this just falls short. I can’t help it and it’s a real shame. The GR04 Pro Flagship is a fantastically accomplished IEM that does so very much right and next to nothing wrong beside its stupid name. Yeah it gets a little sibilant from time to time but that’s about it. So why have I been so less than enthusiastic? Part of me help can’t help but feel its ridiculously stupid name has subconsciously tainted me but I really think it’s the GR07’s fault. The 7 is so just so good, so good at absolutely everything how can I not compare them. Okay so there is a reasonable cost difference but its still in the realm of way more than average people are going to spend so why not spend that little bit extra. Another way for me to look at things is in terms of the M3 that I’ve also mentioned once or twice, I can see it for £50 and that’s almost half the price! That’s if you take the price as £89. Head to head I’d give the win to the GR04 Pro Flagship with little to no bother but proportionally it’s a big price differential. However with the new price I’ve been told the price gets too close for comfort for the M3. Frankly the M3 just isn’t as good and would see many being happier spending and extra £20 and getting the GR04 Pro Flagship.

Taken on its own merits the GR04 Pro Flagship is an all round excellent IEM that I would dare anyone not to like. If you have a decent source and can feed it some good bit rate music then this could make for a really great and balanced listening set up. It is good, very good but it’s over shadowed by a greater sibling. I am sure the very same thing was said about Hilary du PrĂ©. No doubt she was a wonderful and talented musician but let’s face it she just pails before the more talented and world class sister.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Dunu Ares (DN-11) Quick Review

Dunu Ares (DN-11) Quick Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample

Brief: MTPG on the cheap.

Price: £45

Specification: Model No. Ares. Fi11Ov (DN-11), Type HQ (6mm), Sound pressure level 105+-2dB, Impedance 26 ohms, F. Response 1OHz~20KHz, Noise Attenuation 26dB, Weight 25g, Plug Size 3.5mm Gold-plated, Cord Length 1.2 m

Accessories: 7, yes 7 pairs of tips and 3 different cases.

Build Quality: First rate, metal, solid and I don’t think anyone could possibly ask for better.

Isolation: For BA not the best but it’s still a BA so more than enough easily for normal day to day use and to get you run over if you aren’t paying attention. I’d be happy to use them on short flights too but maybe not for daily tube use.

Comfort/Fit: Absolutely fine. They do insist on being worn a bit shallow or I could see then really dig in painfully but using a little larger tip than usual and all was just dandy for me.

Aesthetics: On paper I should hate how these look but I actually don’t. In fact I think I quite like them. They aren’t the most subtle things ever but still I find them pleasing to the eye and I particularly like the red and blue bands to tell them apart. However if you want something that’s quiet and restrained looking then there probably are not for you, the gold is more than a touch blingy.

Sound: Weird but in a very good way. They sound like a BA that has been tuned to be as dynamic like as they can and I think they may have just about got the best qualities of both. Not unlike a cheap attempt at a Moving Armature driver. So it doesn’t quite do the creamy smoothness and mid range detail of a normal BA. It does them well enough and really does better in the low end and highs than you would expect. It’s pretty evenly balanced. It even has an impressively large soundstage to boot and you don’t really ever get that on BA stuff. Still not getting carried away it’s not perfect and it doesn’t really excel anywhere in particular so if you have a particular sound signature in mind it may well not be this. Also if you’re expecting CX300 levels of bass then you will be sorely disappointed. It may be a little tiny bit bass heavy and move more air than most BA things but it’s no low end flabby bass monster. So if you think them bass light then give them time but I’m not sure their blingy target market will be inclined to do that.

Value: Great value, others can do things better but it’s a very good all round sound, very well built and has a certain aesthetic appeal.

Pro’s: It’s good at everything, super well made and looks fab.

Con’s: It’s not the “best” at anything, its looks wont suit everyone.

Dunu Ares (DN-11) Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample

First Impressions: Oh they look rather blingy in the pic on the box. I’m not sure that’s always a good sign. In the flesh I’m actually not disliking the gold like it ought I would, maybe it’s down to the little blue and red rings. I’m kind of a big fan of red and blue marking to denote right and left. As with the other DUNU’s the cable and such feels first class, their build quality feels just superb for such a cheap product, all metal shiney goodness.

A little listen and I’m a bit unsure what to make of them. I can see why a couple of people couldn’t tell if they were dynamics or Balanced Armature. For a single BA they are pretty well extended at either end, not bad at all. Still ill give them a little burn in just in case.


Source 1G iPod Shuffle and HM-601

Lows: Okay right off the bat I can tell you if you’re after a lot of deep, pounding, throbbing going on down low then these aren’t for you. Having been listening to their siblings the Hephaes these are such a welcome breath of fresh air. I much prefer this kind of bass. It good clean, tidy and for a very cheap BA goes pretty deep. Its got enough scale to it and bloom to sound fairly full but for this price range its also very fast. Its not quick for a BA but compared to most dynamics it beats the pants off them. Its very well done that they have steered this in the direction they have, towards a sense of scale and fullness that armatures so often lack but they aren’t miracle workers. While it really puts a valiant effort if you’re used to a bass monster then you’ll find these to be very lacking. BA do clean and precise, they really don’t move a lot of air and just because this moves far more than most it’s no dynamic. With that out of the way it’s really bouncy fun bass, for a BA it really does a fab job of going quite low and not being too hard. It does roll off a touch but much less so than I’d expect at this price. I can’t quite decide if it’s a fault or not but I would rather the bass was a little quicker and less soft as that’s what I tend to prefer and this a bit of a halfway house, a very dynamic like BA.

Quantity wise for a BA its surprisingly full, full even for the best dynamics round this price (of course crap dynamics usually just go for mammoth amounts of bass anyway.) It’s quite unusual a sound. On the whole I really rather like it.


Mids: This is where BA traditionally shine and the Ares does not. It’s still very good but it gone for a much more dynamic sound here and the mids don’t stand out. In all senses. They aren’t out in front, well maybe they are a little, and they don’t have the buttery smoothness of things like the PL-50 and yet they aren’t completely on the dry and open side either. They have gone once more this halfway house style, but it works. It’s taken a BA and tuned it to sound a bit like a dynamic and just managed to get a bit of the best from both. Vocals are for this price impressively clear and detailed as only a BA can really do but retains so much openness and can project vocals at a reasonable distance rather than right in your face. Tonally its dryish sound is very balanced and can do either liquid or airy with a degree of skill. If anything it’s probably not the world’s most exciting sound but it deals with everything in a very even handed manner.


Highs: Hmm, while its first impression is that it extends well it doesn’t really. It has quite a prominent and crispy high end for a BA. The snob in me wants to complain a little about that but really; at this price it’s unwarranted. Its crispiness actually I’d say does it a favour as it livens it up no end and when you combine it with its reasonably full bass its very fun. It’s not going to give you most detailed sound in the world but its clean edge serves to give the impression that it’s much more detailed than it is but it never becomes too aggressive on the ear. DUNU are clearly walking a very fine line with this sort of thing but I think they have really managed to stay on the right side. Oh and not even the slightest hint of sibilance going on here. Honestly I really am quite impressed with what they have done even if it’s not the most “accurate” IEM around.


Soundstage: Very surprising. It is very much on the large side and that’s not a BA trait. The soundstage is wide and all laid out before you and the instrument separation is great too. It’s really nice.

Fit: As ever YMMV but I always get on better with BA stuff than I do with dynamics, armature stuff never gives venting issues and the like. For me there were just fine, stuck in ears and done.

Comfort: Same as with the fit really, these gave me no hint of problems. They do of course need to be worn reasonably shallow due to their shape. So long as that’s fine with you I can’t envisage any trouble.


Cable: It really is excellent, it may not be the best in the world but its sturdy and the jack and Y splitter are absolutely top notch. The cable tie thing too is just icing on the cake.

Build Quality. The buds themselves are liable blobs of metal and while I obviously am not going to test them to destruction, you’d have to be pretty **** rough to break these. By rough I mean stand on them or something.

Microphonics: Pretty much a non issue. Okay so wore them up but even wearing them down you don’t get much and the chin slider sees to that.


Amped/Unamped: jumping from the little shuffle the FiiO E9 there is quite the difference, not that its one you may always want as it really cleans the upper end but the low end feels so much lighter. Still you’re not going to be using an E9 with them. The HM-601 however, now that’s a vaguely realistic option. Rather its sound signature is rather more realistic and they do suit each other well. The low end gets a little bit more filled out and the highs refine and since the treble edge of the Ares doesn’t match the spike of the 601 the highs feel much more linear. I could really see them going well together.


Isolation: To continue a theme, it’s like a BA but moved towards a dynamic. For an armature based IEM it’s not as good as the best but I suspect that’s largely down to their sitting so shallow. Not many BA things do. Still it’s easily enough to deal with everyday sounds and I’m sure would have no trouble in getting you hit with a truck because you never heard it behind you. Not sure it’s quite at daily tube use levels but I’m sure it would do the job fine for most people.

Accessories: For some reason this comes with three cases. I’d like to say that’s total over kill but it’s not. I can’t say I love the hard case due to its aesthetics. It looks like a chav girls purse and I mean UK meaning of purse not US. The super soft baggie is nice looking but so soft I don’t see what protection it offers. Then we have the one in the middle. It’s a nice looking pretend suede thing that is soft too so what protection it’ll provide I’m not sure but it is pretty. Of course you get an assortment of tips I count 7 pairs, so that should do everyone.


Value: I’ve been told these are coming at £45 so having a look at what else can be had for that their challengers are the PL-50 and the Brainwavz M3. Both are touch more money but close enough. A/B’ing them I really couldn’t say the Ares beat them but they are as close as and they do offer a very enjoyable sound. They are also very sturdy and what I dare say matter more to many is that they look very different. The only thing that comes close to how there look that I can think of are the Monster Turbine Pro’s. So if you want that look these are a hell of a lot cheaper. Over all I’d say these offer an extremely good value package. It would be even better if the hard case was less feminine.


Conclusion: These surprised me a little, when I first saw them I thought they were going to be all bling and bombast but they aren’t. Okay maybe they are a little, for a BA anyway. I really can’t say even know I know entirely to make of them. It’s like DUNU have come up with a stupidly cheap version of a Moving Armature (as found in things like the Ortophon e-Q7) now I’m not calling this a £200 IEM so clearly it doesn’t equal things like that but it does what they do in that it has taken the best traits from Balanced Armatures and melded in a bit of a Dynamic. I’m not sure how they have done it but I think it works really well. It offers a taste of what armatures can do (I’m a big BA fan usually) but retain some of the movement and fullness you get from a dynamic. Normally the way to do that is to use multiple BA drivers and that gets expensive. DUNE have somehow tuned the Ares to sacrifice some mids and precision for better handling at both ends of the spectrum and for a bit of liveliness. It’s a bit of a dangerous path to go down as you run the risk of ending with the worst of each and pleasing no one but I think they have done a bang on job. It’s easily the best armature based all rounder I’ve heard, single driver anyway.

The Ares might not the master of anything in particular and it may not be the outright best sound you can get but it does a mighty fine job. I think it hits the nail on the head and gives enough of everything to please everyone. It’s a bit blingy for me but looks aside I’d dare anyone not to like this little chap.