Saturday, February 21, 2015

DUNU Titan 1: Master of All Trades

Intro



Before I begin, I would like to sincerely thank Vivian at DUNU for providing the review sample of the TITAN 1 in this review. Please note that I am neither affiliated with DUNU or any of its employees, nor am I being compensated for writing this review (aside from being provided the review sample). All opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own unless otherwise specified, and all pictures are taken and owned by me. YMMV.

Delicate, Unique, and Utmost – these are the three words that DUNU adopts as its philosophy for creating their IEMs. If you’ve been around the forums of Head-Fi for a while, you’ll probably know DUNU as a popular company based in Taiwan, manufacturing great bang-for-buck IEMs that rival that of top-end Western IEMs. This week, we’re taking a look at their latest release – the Titan 1. Early impressions and reviews state these are some of the best IEMs in their price range – how do they stack up? Find out after the break.





~~ Aesthetics ~~

Packaging, Accessories

The packaging, I have to say, is pretty fancy for an Asian company. I mean, other Asian companies have packaging for IEMs that range from the ordinary (Brainwavz) to the blatantly frugal (Final Audio Design). The Titan comes in a solid box which opens via a flap on the right side. Specifications are listed on the left side, and some marketing babble on the back. Opening the flap, you’re treated to a tease of the Titan 1 through a small window in yet another flap. Under the first flap, you have a more detailed description of the Titan 1’s features in English and Chinese, as well as a frequency graph. The inner flap seems to be dedicated to someone named Max Barsky. Whether he’s affiliated with DUNU or not I have no idea, as the flap makes no mention of his connection to DUNU whatsoever. Pretty dumb, if you ask me, but let’s move on. Opening the inner flap, you finally have the Titan 1 in its full glory, along with some eartips and its included hard case.

(Just a Thought: As fancy as the box feels, though, I can’t help but notice how the package is undoubtedly Chinese. Grammatical, typographical, and typesetting errors are here and there, the choice of font is horribly tasteless, the imagery feels shoddily plastered-on, and overall it just doesn’t cut it for me. I know I’m just ranting here, but that’s my opinion, so feel free to agree or disagree however you want; but…ew.)

Taking out its contents, you are treated to a Brainwavz-like shower of accessories, with 9 pairs of eartips, a hard plastic case, a shirt clip, a 3.5 to 6.3mm adapter, and a one-year warranty effective from the date of purchase. If there’s anything wrong with this collection of accessories, it’d probably be that the opening mechanism of the hard case is a little worrying. Otherwise, no complaints here. Let’s continue.




Design, Build, Microphonics

The “D” in DUNU stands for “Delicate.” Though I can’t say that about their build (they’re hardly delicate), I can say that about their design. DUNU paid delicate and meticulous attention to the little details that adorn the Titan 1. Now, let’s start with the housings. If you haven’t noticed already from the pictures, you’ll see that each housing has a coloured metal ring in blue and red. These serve as very useful left/right indicators – a design feature I more often see on Western-branded IEMs. I’m pretty glad to see an Asian brand implement this useful detail, leaving something other local competitors could learn from (Brainwavz, I’m looking at you). Now, going down the fabric-reinforced cable, we have a rubber thingamajig hanging around below the Y-split. What is this, you ask? Well, to put it simply, it’s kinda like a twist tie, which is used to keep the cables together when you’re not using them. This design feature, now, is literally one-of-a-kind. Fellow audiophiles, let’s face it: what brands, aside from DUNU, utilize this rubber tie? Now, I mean, we’ve all seen twist ties supplied with IEMs, but what about the actual twist tie on the cable, always at the ready whenever you need it? As far as I know, nothing comes up – in fact, DUNU even patented the design (so I guess that means you probably won’t see that little thingy in other IEMs in the future…). As they say, “the little things often matter the most”; in DUNU’s case, this couldn’t ring any truer.

The “UN” in DUNU stands for ‘UNique.’ Well, I can’t argue with them about that; the design of the Titan 1 sure is one-of-a-kind. I could pretty much say these are the missing link between earbuds and IEMs – and as you can see from the pictures, I’m pretty sure you would agree with me there. First off, the earbud characteristics: the Titan 1 has a huge 13.5mm dynamic driver in those housings, and as such simply sits on the outside of your ear canal. The IEM characteristics are the angled nozzles which form a seal in those canals.

And finally, we have the final “U,” which stands for “Utmost.” And I have to say, they nailed that word square in the forehead. DUNU took utmost care to ensure the Titan 1 becomes an IEM that will last. Full metal housings, metal Y-split, metal right-angled jack – nothing feels like they’re about to fall apart anytime soon. The cable from the Y-split down is reinforced with fabric, which is a nice touch. The Y-split is a little scantily-clad, however, and I would like longer strain reliefs on the housings, but aside from that the build is great.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

 Being a semi-open IEM (or a hybrid IEM, if you will), the fit also stands on an interesting middle ground between earbuds and IEMs. I personally hate earbud-style fit with a passion – the large drivers press against my ears very painfully. However, this is not the case for the Titan 1, as their hybrid design allows the 13.5mm driver to sit comfortably outside the ear canal while the nozzle does the rest. If I might add, the driver actually seems to work like wing-tips like those I see on some sport-oriented IEMs (or the DUNU DN-2000), and actually help in providing a more secure fit. The Titan 1 is also very, very comfortable, and I could wear them for hours on end without any issues. However, their design prevents them from being able to be worn around-the-ear which I prefer.

The isolation on the Titan 1 is much like its design – semi-open, if you will. It leaks a pretty good amount – enough for people to hear it play at normal listening volume in a quiet room. Its isolation is also pretty much the same – even with music playing at a normal listening volume, I could hear the clacking of my keyboard pretty clearly. However, this is only in closed-in conditions and doesn’t really reflect the performance I get when out and about. Using Comply T-400 foam eartips outside, their isolation wasn’t that bad, and the din of the city streets pretty much nullifies the tiny noise that leaks from the Titan 1, so in short, it’s not that bad. Silicone tips tell a slightly different tale, with worse stats across the board here, but otherwise it’s actually nice to have a little less isolation for a little more awareness outside.

(Just a Thought: Early into the review process, I found that the Titan 1 doesn’t really fit Comply tips and other eartips with a wide entry bore very well. To fix that I performed a little mod which involves taking the nozzle of an eartip you don’t use, and cutting it down to size so it fits in the dent of the Titan 1’s nozzle. Make sure the eartip you’re using has a nozzle only slightly wider than the nozzle itself. Do this right, and you can fit wider-bore eartips and Comply eartips at your will. However, you will have to take the ring off to fit the stock eartips on.)

[On Second Thought: The T-500s may not fit on the Titan 1 without performing a mod, but smaller Comply eartips like the T-200 do.]


~~ Sound ~~

Specs


Headphone Type
Semi-open in-ear monitor (straight-down only)
Driver Type
1x 13.5mm dynamic
Frequency Response
20 – 30,000 Hz
Max. Input Power
N/A
Sensitivity
90 ± 2 dB
Impedance
16 Ω
Weight
18 g (without cable?)
Cable
1.2m (4’) round fabric-reinforced cable
Connector
3.5mm (1/8”) 90-degree gold-plated TRRS connector
Accessories
Hard carrying case
3.5 to 6.3mm (1/8” to 1/4”) adapter
3x sets grey/red silicone eartips (S/M/L)
3x sets black narrow-bore colour-coded silicone eartips (S/M/L)
3x sets black wide-bore silicone eartips (S/M/L)
Shirt clip
1 year (12 months) warranty


Equipment, Burn-in

The source equipment used in this review is my iPod, iPad, and my PC, all running the Titan 1 unamped. For the EQ test, I use EQu (iOS app) and Electri-Q (on PC via Foobar2000). As always, my list of test tracks can be viewed here for reference, although I will mention a few songs in the review for a more specific point of reference. If a link is available, I’ll also link it below. The eartips used in the review are mainly Comply T-400 tips, as well as a few other sets.

Prior to writing this review, the Titan 1 was burned-in for at least 50 hours (the actual number is actually over 100) with music, games, and movies. Over that time, I didn’t notice any changes in sound quality, so if you’re worried that you need to burn them in for over 200 hours, then rest assured. Before I go any further, please take all the following opinions with a grain of salt, as my tastes will probably differ a lot from yours.

Anyways, without further ado, let’s begin!

Sound Quality

My impression of the Titan 1 at first listen was simply: Wow. I was impressed from the very first listen, so much that I spent a lot of time listening to them while they burned-in. They were that impressive. Let’s take a look as I answer why.

Bass:
To be honest, I expected very little to come out of the Titan 1 in the bass department, mostly because of its unassuming earbud-IEM hybrid form factor. But I had no idea what was waiting for me when I played my test tracks. Despite their semi-open design, they had a surprising amount of bass punch and extension which makes them great for bass-heavy genres like rap and EDM (Going Quantum - Raw). They are well-separated from the rest of the audio spectrum and have zero bass bleed that I could detect. The low-end also has very good control, speed, and a neutral tonality, which allows them to reproduce acoustic and electric bass really well (Daft Punk – Give Life Back to Music). However, the Titan 1 does lack the quantity that bass-lovers will be looking for (sorry, guys), but for me, the Titan 1 has me covered here.


Midrange:
I had very high expectations for the Titan 1’s midrange. I really did. It’s safe to say, however, that the Titan 1 exceeded those expectations with flying colours. Their midrange is amazing. Compared to the rest of the spectrum, they are slightly recessed – and you can notice this in certain bass-heavy tracks – but cue up some acoustic instrumental tracks, and the midrange takes centre-stage. It has exceptional clarity and a neutral tonality that reproduces practically everything in the book – from pianos to synthesizers, vocals to vocoders (Daft Punk – Within) – without fail. It also has very good micro-detail retrieval and isn’t as forgiving to bad recordings as a lot of other IEMs I’ve tried – this might not be a very pleasing aspect to a lot of people, but it’s a very welcome quality to me. Now, couple that to its huge, expansive soundstage and you have a midrange package that’s impossible to pass up.


Treble:
Now here’s where things start to vary on the Titan 1. Depending on the eartips you use, the treble of the Titan 1 can be painfully sibilant or smooth and snappy. Using the stock narrow-bore eartips, the sibilance isn’t as bad as I stated it is at first. However, switch to the included wide-bore eartips and you will probably see hear what I mean. A quick fix for this, though, is when you have Comply or other foam eartips lying around that you could use. The ones I use (T-400) really dull down the sibilance while still retaining the crisp, airy goodness of the treble. But as I stated earlier in the review, you will have to perform a little mod to fit the Comply tips in, so that will be another thing to consider if you want to use Comply eartips with them.


Soundstage/Presentation:
Oh God. Oh Lord. The soundstage on the Titan 1 is heavenly. Playing an epic orchestral piece through them (Cœur de Pirate – Metal Gleamed in the Twilight), the sheer amount of space really brings on a whole new perspective to the track – and I’ve listened to it dozens of times before. The air between each of the instruments, the layering, the imaging...the song simply comes alive in a way none of my other IEMs could ever achieve. And don’t get me started on pianos and guitars (Yiruma – Indigo). It’s simply breath-taking.

But let’s pause for a moment, and get right back down to earth for a bit. Like I said, the soundstage is big. Very big. Bigger than the Brainwavz R3, which has the biggest soundstage out of all my IEMs currently (that is, until now). It’s also very airy, which adds a lot of space for instruments to breathe and really shine as I’ve also mentioned. Presentation and imaging is easily one of the best I’ve heard for an IEM at this price.


(Just a Thought: The Titan 1 clearly has everything going for them, that’s for sure; but alas, my pair just so happened to have a slight channel imbalance between the drivers. The difference is about 3dB maximum [the right earpiece is louder], which honestly isn’t a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless. Most of the time, I don’t seem to notice it, but at certain times I do notice it, and when I do, it becomes a very glaring issue. I start to notice it very randomly, however, so there’s a chance it could be just me. But I still believe it’s a physical channel imbalance, which is most likely caused by a QC glitch or something like that. Most of that usually happens by chance, so I’m not going to start to complain about it.)


Summary:
I can’t really summarize the sound of the Titan 1 in 1 sentence, but I’ll give it a try anyway: The Titan 1 is one of the best-sounding IEMs in its price range – and easily the best I’ve ever heard so far. If you want me to describe it concisely, though, you’re out of luck if you’re too lazy to read the whole section. Apparently I’m too lazy to sum it up myself.


Other Media

Games:
If my infatuation with the Titan 1’s overall signature is any indication, their gaming performance is currently unmatched by any of the IEMs I have in my collection right now. Excellent clarity, impressive soundstage, and pinpoint imaging all roll up to create one Titan of a gaming IEM. It easily blows any “gaming” ‘phones, headphones or IEMs, straight out of the water at this price.

Movies:
I’ve said this several times before in my reviews, but I’ll say it again – I’m not a very big fan of movies, and as such I don’t watch them often. In turn I don’t really have a very well-versed opinion on an IEM’s performance with movies. However, it’s not that different from music, so to sum it up, the Titan 1 is a very good IEM to watch movies with, with its impressive soundstage, depth, and control over the entire audible spectrum.


EQ Response

I honestly never found myself EQ’ing the Titan 1 while I reviewed them, mostly because they already sounded perfect to me with the Comply eartips. However, they were pretty responsive to EQ when I attenuated down the treble to smoothen it out.

Apparently, the Titan 1’s gargantuan drivers are also capable of becoming basshead IEMs with some EQ. They ran perfectly fine with a 10 dB boost (boosted like so) without distorting one bit, so bassheads, you might still have hope after all with the Titan 1. These drivers are really, really capable.


Value

The DUNU Titan 1 is priced at a staggering $130 retail, but you can see it normally go for an even more shocking $115 in most retailers. Now, I know $130 isn’t staggering per se – I mean, even I myself could afford this – but the resulting price-to-performance ratio of the Titan 1 is. Having some of the most well-rounded packages for an IEM I have ever seen so far, there’s no doubt the Titan 1 is a bargain at this price.


Comparison

I found that, though the DUNU Titan 1 is pretty amazing when reviewed per se, their true value and performance really shines when you place them amongst other IEMs in their price range. Let’s see how they stack up.


Versus Master & Dynamic ME03 ($160):
Previously I crowned the M&D ME03 as one of the best – if not the best – IEMs I have in my current collection. Well, I guess his crowning didn’t last very long, as the Titan 1 very quickly took its place and now sits upon that throne. Though the ME03 still sound really good, the Titan 1 easily edges it out in terms of…well, pretty much everything. The low-end is deeper and has more rumble. The midrange is clearer, more neutral, and has a more analytical reproduction of instruments. The treble is, after fixing the sibilance, snappier, airier, and smoother. The soundstage, well...like I said, the Titan 1’s soundstage is currently unmatched by any of my IEMs. Ever.


Versus Brainwavz R3 ($130):
A fellow $130 contender, the Brainwavz R3 was a great IEM that held up to everything I threw at them – literally – with their top-class build quality coupled with great sound. But the Titan 1 is kind of the other way around – in short, top-class sound coupled with great build. Compared to the R3, the Titan 1 has deeper, stronger bass, crisper treble, and overall a more full-bodied sound. The Titan 1’s soundstage is also noticeably deeper, resulting in a more realistic presentation of instruments. I can’t make this any clearer: the DUNU Titan 1 is the winner in this matchup.


~~ Conclusion ~~



They say nothing in life is perfect. Well, I guess that’s probably true. But in the case of the DUNU Titan 1, it’s pretty damn close. The Titan 1 easily has one of the best – if not the best – sound signatures at this price, but in order to do that, it needed to make some sacrifices. Luckily for us, DUNU knew what sacrifices to make, and in doing so they created what is for me the best IEM at $130. Period.


Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
8.5/10
Fancy packaging for a fancy IEM, complete with flaps, marketing mumbo-jumbo, a frequency graph, and an abundance of accessories. But who the hell is Max Barsky?
Design, Build, Microphonics
8.5/10
A basic form factor, great build, and good microphonics make for an IEM that will more than hold up to daily use.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8/10
Though its form factor makes you unable to wear the Titan 1 around-the-ear, they are very comfortable and should fit most ears without a problem. Isolation and leakage is a bit of an issue, however.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
10/10
The Titan 1’s 13.5mm driver allows them to pump out a startling amount of bass, which is the right amount for stuff like EDM, yet retains full control and accuracy for more delicate forms of music.
Midrange
9/10
The Titan 1’s midrange has exceptional clarity, a neutral tonality, and a smooth overall presentation. In short, It’s amazing.
Treble
8/10
The Titan 1 is sibilant straight out of the box, but with foam eartips that attenuate the treble, it’s just right for me.
Presentation
9.5/10
The Titan 1’s soundstage is by far the largest I’ve heard in an IEM, and their presentation and imaging is equally amazing.
Other Media
9/10
For gaming, I wouldn’t look any further from the Titan 1 to give me top-class competitive performance. For movies, I wouldn’t look much further than this, either.
EQ, Amping
9/10
The Titan 1 is very responsive to EQ and could handle pretty much any setting you throw at it (given you know how to EQ properly).
Value
8.5/10
Even at their retail price of $130 dollars, the Titan 1 still remains an incredible value if you’re looking for the absolute best sound at this price.
Total
8.8/10
The DUNU Titan 1 makes some sacrifices in the way of isolation and other little tidbits, but it does so to further its sound quality, which is by far the best I’ve seen at this price.


Shout-Outs, Gallery

I’d just like to again sincerely thank Vivian at DUNU for providing the sample unit of the TITAN 1 for review. Reviewing the Titan 1 was a lot of fun and I really hope to see some more offerings from DUNU this year (like their upcoming flagship IEM, the DN-2000J). As always, the rest of the images taken in this review can be viewed here.

As always, this is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading!
  

Changelog

04/20/2015: Changed scores on some of my reviews, especially the Recommended ones.

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