Thursday, 31 May 2012

Dunu I3C-S Review

Dunu I3C-S Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample

First Impressions: Okay what’s with the name? Dunu usually give a numerical code and back it up with a name but this is only a code. On to the bundle and as usual its fantastic, Dunu simply offer one of the best bundles you can get and at a price that would shame many more premium brands. Of course not everyone wants all the bits and bobs but one I think most will is the case, it is just outstanding. I notice you also get a “conductor” in the bundle. What I think this actually is an impedance adapter. On the box it says this is to improve the sound if you’re using a headphone amplifier. Nice.

Having a listen it’s easy to tell it’s a BA as is pretty mid centric. Somewhat it doesn’t seem hugely lively and I’m not wildly impressed with it. Adding the “conductor” does make a real difference and personally I’d only use with the “conductor” in use. “Me and a Gun” is playing on them and I know it’s not a complex track but it sounds pretty great. Burn in time but I think these may be interesting.

Source: 1G iPod Shuffle and an HiFiMAN HM-610.

Lows: Right off the bat I shall tell you this is the second Balanced Armature I’ve heard from Dunu. Dunu usually like to go a bit heavy on the bass as is the popular “consumer” sound. This doesn’t do that mostly because it couldn’t if it really wanted to anyway. BA don’t do big kick ass bass. They instead focus much more on quality over quantity and the more you tend towards quality, you get further from quantity. It is a balancing act and this has a good old stab at getting it right. It doesn’t quite get there though. It’s not bad or anything but its playing in PL-50 territory and frankly the PL-50 is a modern marvel that is insanely hard to beat. Head to head the I3C-S is that bit fuller and softer that is pleasant to hear. It does respond well to a little bass bosting so you can always bump it up a notch or two to suit your tastes. Still I do find myself wanting a bit more and finding its quality not quite living up to the PL-50. It’s perfectly reasonable quality wise but I’m no bass head and I want to hit the bass boost button and the HM-601 hasn’t one. Sure a baby FiiO can knock that up but the quality is never going to be more than very competent. It’s pretty good, just not as good as the best.

Mids: The driver at work is known for its mids and here as you would expect are rather good. They are really quite forward though and their middle to upper mids constantly feel on the cusp of shouting at you. They never actually do but they are right on that edge and when mated to very laid back vocals it’s pretty good. When paired with forward vocals it’s a bit much and makes you think about reaching for the volume control. Tonally they share some of the Siren family traits and these sit just to the dry side of the PL-50. A bit of air and dryness but still can flow very well on Nora Jones’s “Wish I Could” in fact that song may be perfect for these. Soft smooth vocals, not really much demand in the low end and not a lot going on up top either. It’s really very nice but once more it’s just not quite nailing the entire midrange in all songs like the best can. It’s a high placing runner up but a runner up nevertheless.

Highs: Quantity wise it is rather a lot for a Siren Armature and is reasonably done. It can be a little much and a little brittle if you let it though. On the Shuffle this was quite noticeable but the warmer and richer HM-601 went along way to fixing that over exuberance. Still I find myself thinking “sure they are pretty good but…..” These are just not nailing it. I hate to keep saying it but a quick A/B with its nemesis the PL-50 and the I3C-S just exposes the drivers failings a bit much. Now it’s a great driver, it sounds fantastic for the cost but it’s a pretty cheap driver and it just cannot give you faultless highs. Here they are overly forwardly presented to you and I’d much rather they were a little obscured. I know I’m being a bit of a nit-pick but the Siren has been used in so many IEM’s that it’s hard not to all compare them when a new one arrives and there is no little scope to be different. I recognise that it must be a hard job to be different. The I3C-S does manage it but it’s not entirely playing to the drivers strengths. I should note that if you love treble then this will offer you a level unlike a cheap dynamic can. Think super crisp and hurling treble detail at you.

Amp Use: Makes a difference, not really much of one though. It’s very sensitive as it is so you certainly won’t need it to add volume. Likely if you are adding an amp it’s a bass boosting one and that’s why you’re doing it.

Soundstage: It is rather wide but narrow. It doesn’t offer a vast sense of scale as dynamics can but neither is it particularly centre focused. It actually feels much more like a line going through your head from ear to ear and out the other side. Instrument separation is rather good.

Isolation: Given its a BA IEM you would expect it to be good and you’d be right. Its right up there with most BA stuff so expect to become road kill if you’re not used to and looking before you cross a road seems too quaint a notion for you. You won’t hear that bus hurtling towards you.

Comfort: Fab. They never bothered me in the slightest and I could quiet happily wear them all day. You get a grand assortment of tips and with the ear guides it’s a pretty soft and secure bundle.

Fit: Perfect really. They fit effortlessly, well once you get the ear guides over your ear of course. Super stable too, maybe make a great gym IEM for some?

Cable: To the touch it’s a little plastic but the Y splitter, chin slider, jack and the cable tie thing all are great. I really can’t pick much in the way of fault here.

Accessories: Par excellence. Not one but two cases, a bundle of tips and the inbuilt cable tie thingy means I can’t possibly fault it here. The metal case is outstanding. Oh and the ear guides too. And a whole heap of other stuff, 6.25mm to 3.5 jack, plane adapter, etc etc. everything you could think off. Oh and one unusual and special one.

Conductor: Well you may be asking what the hell is “conductor” and I shall tell you. In the box the they have a thing labelled a “conductor” that is, as best I can tell, a 200 Ohm impedance adapter. Much like the kind that is used to turn an Etymotic ER4 from a P to an S. I have found that the use of such can do wonders for an IEM provided it has no crossover. Things with crossovers can behave oddly so they may actually make things better or rather a lot worse. The inclusion of such here is something I sort of approve of but I find strange, why not just add impedance to the IEM’s rather than be optional? Anyway it makes quite the difference. So much so it left me a bit unsure what to do about it so much of the review was written without its use.

When in use it really makes a clear improvement, a very clear improvement. The highs clean up a lot and it such much over the over eagerness of the mid to upper mids too. It becomes much better balanced and begins to near PL-50 levels of goodness. The bass is still a touch lacking in quantity and quality could be better too but it’s good enough. Impact and fullness it clearly improved. These all round step up a level or two and begin to become much more of a threat to things like the PL-50 (which incidentally has a rather high impedance.) There is much of the refinements that I very often speak of that can be found when adding impedance to things.

Value: Right now the only price I can see these going for equates to £76. At that price I think I may have to say no. On sound alone they are not cutting the mustard. However as always there is a caveat ta that. The bundle they come with is excellent and possible the best you can find anywhere. It is a great case. Dunu always do a great bundle that few others come close to.

Conclusion: I rather like Dunu but in this case I fear they may have missed things a little. It’s not a bad product in anyway but it’s a pretty cut throat price range and despite that awesome case they just can’t make me love them. They are perfectly competent and capable everywhere but that price tag is a bit too high. Sure it’s got some pretty good resolution going on but it’s not besting the PL-50 there. It can do its sibling the Ares but the Ares has a much more full and enjoyable sound that I don’t really mind so much losing out on the top end detail and ability. It strikes me as Dunu having gone for an almost Etymotic sound with the I3C-S (which is a weird name btw) and given the price is basically at hf3 levels I’m not sure who would go for the relatively unknown Dunu over the big name Etymotic. The case may be fabulous but it’s not that fabulous.

The real wild card though is the “conductor” or impedance adapter that’s included. I normally for many things recommend adding such yourself to improve things but here they give you one. Without it these are somewhat so so but when in use they jump up quite a bit and get dangerously close to the PL-50. So much so if you buy a pair I can’t see anyone ever using them without it. But do you want that sticking out? Also it requires the volume to be rather turned up so that could pose a problem to some. Trying out the normal 75 ohm ety adapter I use really just dint cut it. I cannot help but think that anyone who has something with the oomph to do them justice with the 200 ohm adapter in use is likely to want IEM’s further up the food chain.

Overall it’s a good valiant stab at something different. It’s like a comfortable ety with a really nice bundle but I think its price needs to drop a touch before I can really praise it. It may be a pretty solid buy but I just can’t really think of much if any circumstance where I’d recommend this over some of its competition on sound alone. I guess it depends how much the fit/comfort, sound and bundle all mesh together for you.

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