Friday, 2 November 2012

Dunu Tai Chi (DN-19) Review

Dunu Tai Chi (DN-19) Review

Thanks to DUNU for the sample.

First Impressions:  On opening up the box its clear to see Dunu still know how to put probably the best accessory package together, just look at everything in there and they still do possibly the best IEM case you can get.  Note to everyone else, this is how you should do it!  Not that I’m saying a good accessory package is what matters most, it doesn’t but it lets you know there has been some thought and care taken.  The case especially, the little metal box is just first rate.  Opening everything up, what really catches the eye is the new cable these have, its bright silver with a transparent sheath which is a real departure from the norm.  Oh and it looks great, maybe not terribly subtle though. 

So sticking them in my ears and I like what I hear.  It really is a first impression and these come with the little filter do dahs and different tips to change the sound too apparently.  I’m just trying as they came out of the box so no “dampeners” and with the black tips.  It’s not hard to tell this is the best Dunu I’ve heard to date.  Burn in time.

Source: 1G Ipod Shuffle, HiFiMAN HM-601, FiiO E9 and Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd.

Lows:  Annoyingly this is a product that lets you change the sound so it basically demands you do everything twice, grrrr.  So with the black tips which seal tightly and no dampeners in place the bass gets bigger, weightier etc etc.  No I do not for one second think that anyone who buys these will regularly swap back and forth.  Of course you could but I just don’t see it happening.  You shall do what I did, play about a bit realise you like one more than the other and then stay there.  For me this was not the bassy setting.  Not that was anything wrong with it, it’s a preference thing and it has a bit much bass, vocals were a bit weighty and highs, while lovely, weren’t the most abundant.  The bass lighter set up was a much more natural and more neutral too.  It still had rather good depth but not quite to the same degree, it does tail away a bit sooner, just a little mind.  It’s really very good quality bass here, it’s really reminding me of long ago and playing with the GR07 for the first few times.  That beguiling “nothing to see here” calm then you slap on something bassy and RARRRR it just thunders out of nowhere.  This may not have just quite the same spectacular talent but its close.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it was the same driver in there
I’m not actually going to check the specs because I don’t actually ever care about specs but these are very nicely balanced.  Not too much power, not to hard and punchy and not too much bloom.  It’s that fine blend of everything in just enough of each to make you love it.  Still if you want a bass master this isn’t quite it, I found with no dampeners it a bit too large and a bit softer and a bit mid bassy.  The vocals felt unduly influenced.  Sure I’m nit picking but everything is getting so competitive you have to be.  Still sticking in the dampeners corrected this.  Personally I’d say keep them in and if you really need more bass get a bass boosting amp, keep the quite excellent quality. 

Mids:  Sans dampeners a bit over weighty but with I found them to be very, very good.  Voices just sing with near perfect neutrality.  They are coloured in seemingly anyway, maybe just the slightest hint lighter and brighter than they ought to but otherwise stunning.  If you can picture somewhere between the GR07 and the RE-0 then that’s what you get here.  Oh and in case you were unaware those two are both among the best IEM’s out there, not just for their price but in general.  Both get so much right, so little wrong but neither are quite perfect.  The Tai Chi is their acoustic love child, not quite the perfectly flat but lacking in drama of the 0 but not the full bodied authority of the 7.  It’s a very pleasant portrayal.  Vocals are all just superb sounding; they may be a touch on the cool, dry side, the opposite without the dampeners.  Still again it’s a real nit-pick, they are more or less in line with the bass and the highs (okay maybe a touch mid centric.)  Tonally they have so very little colouration.  They don’t quite manage every last drop of detail like the 0 can but the added distance they give offers a lovely acoustic type feel to many vocals.  A little added air never hurt anyone.  This works wonders too for guitars, Jack Johnson strumming away as he does sounds superb.  Okay so I’d maybe like to see a little bit more bight to a guitar string than these offer, again it feels like such a petty complaint.  Sans dampeners this does get more pronounced, yeah I wasn’t hugely loving without the dampeners was I?

Highs:  Perfect? No.  The bit they don’t quite get right even with the dampeners is that they don’t have quite the crispness to the high edges they ought to.  It should be a little crisper, cleaner and you know what, a cymbal struck hard should sound abrasive to the ears (not that I love that when it happens.)  Here it has a shade been softened.  While my delicate little ears really do like that, I recognise its not strictly super duper accurate.  So thats my complaint.  Everything else about the highs is just positive.  They extend wonderfully and the have just fantastic shimmer and decay.  It’s something only good dynamics can nail and these nail it.  The highs aren’t quite as good as the 0 but they are getting hell’a close.  Given they have been long lauded as pretty much the gold standard for treble for years this is praise, trust me.  Of course being so close to the best it does mean you’re going to come off poorly in the inevitable comparisons.  When you AB them these do come of poorly but you could argue that’s not fair and I’d think your right.  The 0 is all about the flat and perfect, it’s near flawless but it’s not what many want, it’s not exciting.  The 7 is much more of that and what I think we have is a nice compromise between the two.  Not quite as fun as the 7 and not quite as accurate as the 0.

Soundstage:  Fairly good, it’s more about giving a nice portrayal of distance than it is about creating an enveloping acoustic environment.  Distance with a good dash of air.  Instrument separation is nice too, not outstanding but really very nice.  Among the better at this price.  Also it really is a very well integrated sound

Fit:  These have a bit of an odd shape with the little sticky out bit for the dampeners and that when dampened it did worry me that this would make them overly sealed.  Maybe this is why Dunu tell you to use the grey tips if using the dampeners?  Seems about right to me and thankfully, no air pressure issues.  So was a nice, stick in and done experience.

Comfort:  Closely related to fit and again it’s about these little dampeners.  The design has them for some reason sticking out just where they want to stab my antitragus.  I found that with the ear guides on they wanted to sit at an angle that ensured they were always stabbing me.  They didn’t last long before getting removed.  It then wasn’t hard to fix, just rotating the bud a bit.  However it could be a problem for others I’m guessing at least someone.

Cable:  Drool worthy.  Not only do I think the cable looks super pretty it feels study and very high quality.  The Jack is super solid, the Y splitter too and it has a chin slider on there.  Oh and the now trademark Dunu cable tie thingy. 

Accessories:  Well there just isn’t anyone that does accessories better than Dunu.  The inclusion of 2 cases as well as a separate accessory case is unbeatable.  The accessory case is for the tips, dampeners, shirt clip and cleaning cloth!  Then you get the baggie type IEM case and the one I really like, the metal case.  It is clearly taking inspiration from the one that came with the old UE TF10 and its presently the best case out there.  I wish these things were available to buy separately as there simply is no better IEM case in my opinion.

Microphonics:  These pretty much demand wearing up so you’re not likely to get any, they come with a chin slider built in too so I’d be shocked if anyone had a problem with microphonics.

Amped/Unamped:  There were of course some differences but not a vast amount.  Things like the RE-0 demand a good amp behind them but the Tai Chi seemed quite happy with whatever I pared it with.  Adding impedance did make a nice little refinement to the highs but it did seem to affect poorly the instrument separation which was a little odd.  Ether way no massive changes taking place, sure an amp helped but optional.

Isolation:  Okay I don’t recall any differences when I was without dampeners but I’m not testing it.  So these are about standard for a dynamic now I think.  Enough for typical out and about things and enough for on a bus etc.  Hell you could maybe even get away with a short flight too but no trips to New Zealand.  As always, still enough to make you road kill if you don’t look where you’re going, you won’t hear that bus 10 feet behind you.

Value:  It’s hard to say exactly as these don’t seem to have hit retail yet as I can’t seem to find them outside ebay.  So going by ebay these are going at £84.50.  That makes them easily the most costly Dunu to date but these are also easily the best sounding Dunu’s to date too. Comparing the two I have been these can’t compete with the 0 and its crazy price but it you read post of when it dropped to US$100 you’ll see many loving them and just as many hating them.  I can’t imagine the same will happen to these, they are great sounding and greatly entertaining with the best all round package you could hope for.

Conclusion:  These are very good, there is no two ways about that.  As bang for buck goes these have to be pretty much in line with the GR07 in terms of value.  The issue is that they are cheaper and so not quite as good.  Okay so these have the ability to change the sound quite significantly with the tip and dampener change.  However I’m not convinced anyone is going to do that, you’ll pick the sound you prefer and run with it.  It may sound like I’m being a little down on the Tai Chi and I don’t mean to.  It is without a doubt the best DUNU I’ve heard.  It’s one of the best all rounder’s and it has probably the best accessory package I’ve seen.  It’s one of these things where if you’re going to have just one IEM then it’s a really compelling contender.  It’s a wonderfully enjoyable sound and is very capable.

The down side is it’s not just quite as acoustically capable as the GR07, its close though.  Still there is a good £20 difference between them and the accessory package with the Tai Chi is just outstanding.  That metal case DUNU offer is magnificent and everyone else in the industry needs to look toward DUNU in that regard.  The overall package is really what makes them consistently stand out.  When you factor the accessories in really makes the Tai Chi a great value proposition which just happens to excellent sounding and offer the option of two different sounds.  The thicker and weightier one or the thinner and more lively one that I preferred.  It’s almost like you’re getting two IEM’s for the price of one so in that regard it would make an excellent first quality IEM purchase for someone.

Consequently I really have to declare the Tai Chi to be one of the best value and best options for those people who are just going to have one IEM.  The versatility they offer in altering the sound means you can tune it to match you.  The quality of the sound is simply first rate at its price point.  The cable is quite the stunner and the case you get is likewise.  It is a hugely compelling bundle DUNU have put together, other companies would do well to look at these and start copying them!

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