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.

DUNU DN-900 Quick Review

DUNU DN-900 Quick Review

Thanks to DUNU for the sample.

Brief:  DUNU do a party hybrid.

Price:  £80 ish or about US$130

Specification:  Type: Dynamic Balanced Armature(10mm) Sound pressure level: 103+/-2dB,   Impedance: 16Ω, Frequency Response: 18Hz-22KHz, Plug: 3.5mm Gold-Plated, Cable Length: 1.20M, Weight: 21G

Accessories:  12 sets of Eartips, 1 pair of Earhook, Hanging ring (Karabiner), Carry Box, Shirt Clip, plus the acoustic adjustment rings. Btw the “case” is huge, stupidly huge.

Build Quality:  Very good.  Metal, weighty, just exudes solid.  The cable feels a touch plasticy compared with the 1000 but still good.  DUNU are masters of build quality.

Isolation:  Pretty good.  It’s not quite as closed as a BA only would be but still good enough for pretty much anything.  Great for normal, out and about, on a bus stuff.  For a long flight though I’d want more.  Enough to get you run over of course.

Comfort/Fit:  Great.  No issues in the slightest, stuck in ears and I was done.  Comfort was great too.

Aesthetics:  I really like them, I like the matte finish rather better than the shiny 1000’s.  It’s that hint more subdued and that works for me.

Sound:  Great.  Pretty different from the 1000’s though.  These in comparison are clearly aiming for a much more lively, in your face, party sound than their siblings.  These are much more excitable.  Bass wise they share many of the same attributes so I assume it’s the same driver at work.  It’s excellently behaved and superbly capable.  Great depth and richness going on.  The mids, these are pretty focused.  They come right out at you and like to be the focus of your attention.  They can be quite insistent on it actually.  Detail wise it’s not quite all so rosy.  There isn’t the micro detail or subtlety that the 1000 has and it means that for more audiophile music it lags.  Neither is there what I’d say a lot of air in the mix.  For bouncy pop its fab though.  Energetic, clear and really much the entertainer.  The highs are rather good but dial it down past a point.  The extensions not bad but not wonderful compared to dynamics round this price.  Of course it’s nicely crisp and clean like a good BA will do.  Technically it’s not a show stopper here but it’s a really great little entertainer.  Where the 1000 is the technicalist this is the one to have a good time with. It’s gone with a more W shaped sound from most single BA hybrids that do a V.  The mids here really stand out clearly and make for a more generalist sound.  Think a closed, darker, bassier, more weighty GR07.

Or if you will, it’s the teen DUNU hybrid whereas the 1000 is the grown up one.

Value:  Very good.  I’d have said excellent if it came with the metal case rather than the one it does.  I don’t like that case one bit.

Pro’s:   The Bass is outstanding.  The mids are focused and lively.

Con’s:  Mids lack air. Rather dark focused sound.  

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Brainwavz R3 Review

Brainwavz R3 Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.

First Impressions:  Oops, silly me forgot to do this at the time.  I blame it being the run up to Christmas.  Anyway, what I do remember thinking was, my word, if Spendor made and IEM this would be they.  I don’t know if many of you are familiar with the speaker brand Spendor as speakers can be quite country specific.  Still, their best known speaker has long been the S3/5R² and no prizes for guessing where that name comes from.  Anyone who’s ever read anything about speakers has undoubtedly come across the LS3/5a and its their take on it.  If you yourself have heard one of these you may well be unimpressed at first because it’s quite unlike most speakers.  Id suggest if you are near a good hifi shop, go see if you if they have a LS3/5a clone you can hear.

Otherwise these things are huge.  They are a weird shape and they have the longest memory wire ever.  I don’t like that memory wire.  I really don’t like that memory wire.

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

Lows:  So when your see “dual dynamic drivers” you think, it’s likely to be V shaped, either with huge bass or insane treble to prevent its not a chavvy bass monster.  This is neither of those things.  This is sooooooooooooo much more linear.  If anything the bass is super accurate.  In tone and quantity, its exceptional.  If anything this means that due to human hearing that some will find it lacking low down.  It’s also not what I’d call exciting.  It’s very Spendor esq, I can’t technically fault anything but it’s not what one might call soul stirring.  If you want something fast and thrilling this isn’t it.  That said its not slow, it’s just like a Spendor, has that sense of ever so slightly being muted with any aggression banished.  It’s one of these, acoustically flawless sounds yet uninspiring.  Well it is to me.  It reminds me a bit of the RE-252.

Quantity wise its rather flawlessly accurate.  The quality too is equally flawless.   The depth is very good but be aware it doesn’t elect to compensate for the human hearing curve by whacking up the bass in the lows.  So for a dynamic its comparatively bass light.

Mids:  When the BBC made the LS3/5a guess where it cared most?  Most of what we here is in the mid bands, its where vocals are so its where our ears have evolved to be most sensitive to.  These are flawless, simply flawless in the mid range.  Sure their nature means they don’t have the sharpness and twang that can make the likes of acoustic guitars sound realer than real but in vocals……superb.  You feed these something like Miss Minouge and Mr Cave from the Abbey Road Sessions album and you’ll see what a an extremely simple acoustic song can do.  This is just the sort of thing where the acoustically flawless sound can come the fore, it adds nothing.  I fear I’m going to have to borrow analogies from my RE-252 review but it’s that very same flavourless and pure sound.  Like a glass of purified water glinting in the sunlight.  Sure it’s not the most exciting beverage but there is something beautifully simple and pure to it.

Quantity wise its super balanced.  Maybe a touch middy due to not boosting the lows and highs then allowing them to trail off.  Quality wise the detail level is superb but it’s not hurled at you.  You’ll likely turn the volume a bit and have to listen but there is lots of detail, it’s just very nonchalant about it.

Highs:  Much like the lows, flawless.  Flawless as in accurate but they do seem to have that Spendor like quality again.  My head can find no fault, it’s without fault but you know what, it doesn’t make for the most flavoured or thrilling sound.  It’s that distilled and purified glass of water again.  If you feed it lots of bright and splashy treble it do it.  It just won’t offer that edge or savagery that can be so engaging.  Its sooo very old school BBC.  Polite and while technically doing everything you ask of it, there just isn’t any savagery in there.

Detail levels are very good though, not detail monsters and they do rather shimmer things than offer a hard edge.  Cymbals and high hats though sound wonderfully delicate and shimmery.  They could extend better but they are stunningly good regardless.

Soundstage:  These here have the same trait as the RE-252.  Music doesn’t really seem to have a point source.  Music just sort of appears at some unknown distance.  On some tracks harmonics just seem to stir from the nothingness and then melt away in the same manner.  Its soundstage is epically good if a little narrow in direction.  It’s the distance that seems unlimited and intangible.  Particularly in more simple tracks with sweeping acoustics this is just fantastic.

Fit.  The things are huge but that really wasn’t a problem.  That f*ing memory wire though, god I’ve never met a memory wire and thought “oooh isn’t that helpful!”  Eventually you get accustomed to it but my god, it’s just soooooooo long it seems to always get in my way.  I really hope v2 comes soon and it comes without that memory wire. 

Comfort:  Again they are huge, you’d think that could be a problem but it wasn’t for me.  I did almost immediately swap to complys though as I found they do like to sit at a slight angle.  The foaminess sealed better and meant I wasn’t doing the ear tiring fiddling.

Microphonics:  Well, you guessed it, that f*ing memory wire again!  If you don’t bend the wires back out of the way so they don’t impact your clothing the sound shoots right up them.  There is a neck synch to help you control it but it’s mostly about every time adjusting that wire.

Amped/Unamed:  In no uncertain terms the R3 likes power.  It’s not as bad as the RE-0 but if you want to get it at its best you’ll want an amp. Actually check that, its every bit as bad as the RE-0 was for wanting power.  Playing with the R3 out of my phone (Nexus 5) it just felt like a different IEM.  I was significantly less impressed with its abilities.  It was harsher and just so much less composed.  Personally I think if you’re buying a pair, either have an amp already or be planning to get one.  I’m serious, they like lots of power.

Isolation:  For a dynamic it’s pretty good. They are fairly sealed, sealed enough to give me a tad of driver flex at times, so it comes with a corresponding amount of isolation.  At the, good for a dynamic end of things.  Fine for out and about, on a bus etc etc.  not really what I’d pick for  long flights or daily Tube use.  As always, my warning, its still quite sufficient to get you killed by that 10 ton bus behind you that you never heard coming.

Value:  It’s a bit of a mixed bag.  For £80 (US$120ish) there is a bucket load of really impressive stuff out there.  My in my head go to’s are the MA750, GR07 and the RE-400, oh and ive just got a DN-900 in too.  All four are excellent and I’m not really going to say in all circumstances one is better than the others because it’s just not true.  Still you get the sorts of company the R3 is rolling with.  If you can live with that wire and you think its sound signature is for you then it’s totally worth the money.  It’s just that this price range I think is the most competitively fought price bracket.  There is just sooooo much awesome sounding stuff in it the R3 sounds great but so do several others.  If it was my own cash, it would be a coin toss between these and the RE-400.  Its those, mids they are just sooooo good.

Conclusion:  Okay you really have to go listen to a Spendor something.  I can’t express how much these remind me of them. (note: I don’t own a Spendor speaker so haven’t directly compared the two.)  It’s a sound that some people like.  It’s a bit tame, bit subdued and if I’m honest a bit timid and boring.  However in many ways that really just means thy aren’t adding anything to the music your listening to.  Surely that’s a good thing isn’t it?  Well it makes for a less captivating first impression for one and sometimes we like that touch dramatic boost of something.  These don’t do that.  Maybe they are a fraction fuller in the low end than is perfectly neutral but I see others saying there are quite bassy.  That I am not hearing nor am I hearing abrasiveness up top either.

It’s a tad puzzling, normally what I hear matches up very well with what others are reporting but as I read others thoughts I find that I seem to like these more than they do.  Could it be they haven’t thrown enough power at them?  I do find these to be at their best when hooked up to the E7/E9 combo and when being a little liberal with the volume dial.  Oh but when you do, oh they are rewarding.  The more time I spent with the R3 the more I found I really enjoy them.  Now I don’t ever claim to be Mr exciting in my musical preferences because I’m actually a bit boring in both my music preferences (my current fav album is Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days,”) and I often personally prefer more sedate IEM’s too.  Things like the IE8 I felt were an exhausting acoustic rollercoaster, it added too much of its own attributes to everything and the R3 doesn’t.  It’ll do rock as happily as it will a ballad and it won’t add anything to either.  Oh and its timing is just excellent.

I find myself really enjoying these.  I didn’t really think I would at first, I thought they would be a bit too boring but they have grown on me just so much.  I’ve not prior to these found a dual dynamic I’ve really personally liked, they’ve all been either crazy bassy or crazy trebly but these are fantastic.  The balance they have is superb and the mids are really awesome.  Mr Buble in particular is mesmerizingly good on these and their slightly genteel uppers nicely cover up the horribly bad mastering of his stuff too.  Oh and then you get the soundstage on top and its near unique.  The only other thing I’ve come across like it was the RE-252.  Sound seems to have no fixed origin, it just rises and decays somewhere like you’re wandering around with a pair of speakers near you.  It’s such an unaggressive, airy, dreamlike quality to it.  Its sound staging is fairly epic and I love its tonal balance.  It’s not the rollercoaster some might like but I’ve really adored it.

Brainwavz R3 Quick Review

Brainwavz R3 Quick Review

Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.

Brief:  Brainwavz do an epically scaled dual dynamic.

Price:  £79 or US$130 or €95

Specification:  Transducers/Drivers: Dual Dynamic, 10mm, Crossover: Passive, Rated Impedance: 32ohms, Sensitivity: 95dB at 1mW, Frequency range: 20Hz ~ 20KHz,   Maximum input power:  2mW, Cable length: 1.4m, Y cord, OFC Copper, professional grade memory cable., Plug: 3.5mm gold plated, 45 degree., 24 month warranty.

Accessories:  1 x Comply foam T-series tip 6 x Silicone tips 1 x Bi-Flage tip 1 x Tri-Flange tip 1 x 6.3mm to 3.5mm audio adapter 1 x Airplane adapter 1 x Earphone carrying case 1 x Instruction manual

Build Quality:  Metal and fairly hefty.  The cable too looks very substantial.

Isolation:  Fairly reasonable.  Enough to get you killed or for day to day use, but you know, its still a dynamic so not flight to New Zealand levels of isolation.

Comfort/Fit:  Comfort was actually pretty good.  The things are massive so I’d have not been surprised if problem’s occurred, they were really comfy though.  Fitting them on the other hand, the memory wire is so long it’s a huge pain and just gets in the way.  You’ll get used to figuring it out but it’s very annoying.

Aesthetics:  These things look huge, and frankly, they look weird.  Not bad, just weird.

Sound:  Huuuuuuuggggggeeeeeeeeeeee. These have such a soft, delicate, airy wondrous quality to them.  The sound stage is vast; the distance these convey is just superb and remind me of the RE-252 and its weird endless sense of distance.  These do open and delicate just utterly superbly.  This sort of sound really, really is one I found grew on me.  At first it’s so incredibly unassuming.  It’s near flavourless, unexciting, mild and a tad boring.  Then you grow accustomed to its just playing what’s there, mellowing any abrasiveness and letting the most sweet and delicate details come into view.  The bass is a tad inflated, and its depth isn’t stellar but it’s so composed and refined.  The highs are for this price the most refined and delicately beautiful live heard in a long, long time. (Since the RE-0 was cut to US$100)   Then the mids, all that openness and air, the space, it’s all so very detailed and so very, very subtle about everything.  I find myself growing to adore the mids here.

The flip side of all this is, its not a thrill machine.  The bass isn’t thumping, the highs are crisp, nor do they hurl detail at you.  The mids don’t leap out and scream party.  Horses for courses and all that.

Value:  If you like this sound style, superb.  It’s not an “all-rounder” though so some won’t love it the way I do.  Also there is lots of other great stuff at this price bracket.

Pro’s:   Oh its so sumptuously and delicately beautiful. Soundstage and scale.

Con’s:  If you want a V shaped party beast this is not it.  The stupidly long memory wire!!!!