One of the more interesting aspects of the (reasonably priced) earphone market is the speed with which the Chinese have become major players worldwide. More surprisingly is how fast these manufacturers have been able to match – and in some cases exceed – the build and audio quality of their Japanese and American competitors. One reason for this may be that a few of these Chinese companies began as factories for the construction of some of our favorite domestic earphone brands. On the back of many domestic earphone (and headphone) boxes – regardless of the brand name or price – are the words, “Made in China.” So it’s no surprise that a few of these Chinese companies would eventually begin selling under their own name. One of these companies is DUNU-Topsound.
One of DUNU’s main selling points is that they began as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) for other brands of earphones. They don’t say who. I am certain it’s a legal, nondisclosure issue. But one look at their lineup and it becomes quite obvious that DUNU learned a lot. DUNU has some of the best made and good sounding earphones I have heard in this “middle arena” of pricing – nothing is over $106, and even that is stretching it.
Four of the models are named after Greek Gods (or their tools): Trident, Crius, Haphaes, and Ares. I wish one of them had been named Thor. DUNU’s packaging is first rate. Each model comes in a sturdy, tasteful box complete with at least one case (sometimes 3!). When you open each box there is obvious care taken with the packing and display with each earphone presented almost like jewelry. DUNU is proud of their earphones and it shows. Also, each model comes with many sizes and designs of ear tips. You should have no trouble finding a tip that fits you. The Y-splitters and L-shaped mini-plugs are identical on the three more expensive metal models (the least expensive Trident is a different design). On all models, the cords are tough and a bit on the thick side (for earphones, anyway).
When I first saw DUNU’s earphones, I immediately thought of Monster earphones. There is a similarity in the design cues. Placed side-by-side, the differences are readily apparent, but one cannot escape the influences.
I am going to review four mid-range models of DUNU earphones and one premium model that is available in the US, but not as easy to find. The prices of the other four range from $40-$99 on their eBay page, but you may find better prices with some searching. The top model, Itube 3c is $106. Two of the earphones are dynamic speaker design and three are armature based.
The earphones come complete with accessories which is determined by price. Four are made of titanium alloy, but ironically, the most expensive one is made of plastic. I will be reviewing each model in order of their cost starting with the least expensive and moving up from there.
1. Trident (DN-12). The Metal Trident is a dynamic speaker model. Note that generally, dynamic speaker earphones sound warmer and have more bass than the armature version. That axiom holds true for all DUNU models. So if you are a basshead, stick to the dynamic speaker versions. While the Trident sounds infinitely better than any free earbuds included with iPods, iPhones, etc., it does display a bothersome amount of distortion when pushed. I have a few “go-to” songs that I listen to that really test distortion levels and sadly, the Trident didn’t fare too well here. However, when the Tridents are not pushed into extremes, they sound pretty darn good. OMD’s song, “The Right Side?” sounded smooth with just the right amount of oomph to get the blood pumping. Separation and clarity are good and the bass has just the right amount of punch. As always, bass is almost entirely the result of a good seal. No seal equals no bass. If you need inexpensive earphones that can handle modern tunes in a noisy environment such as commuting or jogging, these should do the trick. It’s also worth mentioning that if you have a habit of losing earphones, you probably wouldn’t want to commute with anything more expensive than these, anyway. The Trident comes with a thick, vinyl drawstring bag for carrying. I had a little trouble keeping the string tight because of the thickness, but it wasn’t a major hassle.
2. Crius (DN-13). The Crius is an accurate sounding single-armature design in a subtle looking titanium shell. There is an emphasis towards treble like many other armature earphones, but DUNU managed to let a good amount of bass kick in also. “My Love is Real” from Greg Garing is a live in-studio recording that needs really good earphones to pick up the subtleties that can be missing from a single live mix. For the most part, the Crius performs well, with a slight hint of harshness only at the most sonically demanding parts, but overall, I was very impressed with how pleasant they sounded. The Crius does sound better than the Trident, but more importantly, it has much less distortion, so it can handle more challenging audio out of the box.
3. Ares (DN-11). The Ares is another single-armature design. It ended up being my personal favorite earphone of them all. While a bit heavy – heck, all of the four metal earphones are heavy – the Ares is very comfortable and full sounding without being boomy or too bright. It’s just a more rounded earphone for all types of music. It strikes a near-perfect balance in sound and affordability. I also like the design of the Ares better than the others. It’s gold plating was not gaudy and looked more expensive than it was. The Ares is easy to insert and remove which is good in a busy office environment with constant interruptions. It also comes with 3 different cases! Along with the same two cases included with the Crius, the exclusive third case is my favorite. It’s a classy, soft suede-like clasp case that is both roomy and protective. Each gold-plated clasp piece was covered with a small piece of sticky film which protected the gold from fingerprints and smudges during shipping. This is attention to detail that says, “We care about the customer.” I like that. The Ares handled my test songs with ease. I probably listened to the Ares more than the other models simply because they never got tiring. Even the more expensive Hephaes didn’t sound quite as good as the Ares, which I attribute to the armature vs. dynamic issue. Also, distortion and harshness were not issues at all.
4. Hephaes (DN-16). If you want to make a fashion statement, then the Hephaes are your earphones. Each piece sports a chrome body wrapped in a red metal flame that looks like they were designed for Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” popular book series. They are not subtle. The Hephaes sound is not quite as precise as the Ares, but if you like bass, are not willing to accept distortion as on the Trident and have the extra bucks, than you will prefer these to the Ares. While bass on the Hephaes is pushed to the front, it doesn’t overwhelm the mids or highs too much. It’s still too forward for my tastes, but I like my music to be as accurate as possible without being clinical sounding. The Hephaes comes with a wrap around ear stay for behind-the-ear cord management. It’s not comfortable to my ears. Note that with the wire down, all four metal models exhibit microphonics, that annoying rustling and thumping sound every time the cord is touched. It’s important to note that almost all earphones suffer from this unless the wire is placed up and behind the ear. Some – like myself – get used to microphonics, some never do.
5. Itube 3c. The Itube 3c is a completely different animal from the four others. It’s a single balanced armature design made to wrap around behind the ear, similar in concept to higher-end earphones like Westone and Shure. The Itubes are extremely accurate and they are also extremely bright; much more so than the Crius. They reminded me of Etymotic earphones in their sound signature. I kept wanting to up the bass using an equalizer to compensate for all that treble. If the song is already on the bright side, it can become painful. I even had to boost the lower end on some Brian Eno songs that were already dripping with bass. I’ve never had to do that before. Distortion is not an issue with the Itube 3c. The accuracy is astounding. If you appreciate that accuracy at all costs and are willing to adjust the sound to your taste, the Itune 3c might be your ideal earphone. I haven’t heard an earphone this accurate or comfortable at this price before. The Itube 3c comes with a soft, velour draw-string bag and a hard, protective case.
DUNU-TopSound gives you many affordable choices for people wanting to upgrade from their earbuds or aren’t happy with those cheap $15 earphones that looked like such a good deal at the time. The price is right, the build quality is top notch, the sound ranges from good to really good and DUNU has been around for a while. As long as you know what your listening preferences are, the choices are fairly easy. If you’re unsure, I highly recommend the Ares as the best all-rounder of the bunch.
Currently DUNU is not available in retails stores, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes soon. In the meantime,, DUNU has their own ebay page here or search for DUNU.