Dunu DK-3001 Review – Remarkably Refined

Introduction –

Once as obscure as any other small Chinese OEM, Dunu have since made quite the name for themselves. Their company story is one of innovation, firsts and aspiration and most importantly, this philosophy is embodied by their products. They achieved mass praise with their widely reviewed and recommended DN line of triple driver hybrid earphones and this popularity was then compounded upon with their exemplary Titan 1 semi in-ear which provided sensational value at a much lower price point. And though their many other models may not be so renowned, a strong ethos underpins all of Dunu’s products.

So with such a reputation, Dunu have reached into the premium space with their new DK earphone line-up complimenting the continuation of the cheaper Titan earphones. Their new DK-3001 assumes the same hybrid driver format with which Dunu is so familiar with while adding an extra BA driver on top. To provide some grounding to this review, let me stress that I am well familiar with premium earphones around this price in addition to having extensive experience with gear costing many times more so I’ll try not to gush about the DK-3001. That said, with a $500 USD asking price backed by 4 generations of experience, can the DK-3001 provide enough refinement to separate itself from other exemplary value and premium earphones alike? Let’s find out.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Vivian from Dunu very much for her quick communication and for providing me with the DK-3001 for review. There is no monetary incentive for a positive review and despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible.

 

Accessories –

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The DK-3001’s produce a great first impression through their extensive yet tasteful unboxing. They don’t come within the largest, most lavish looking box, but one that is solid and practical.

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The box magnetically latches open to reveal the earphones within foam and a pelican style case containing the accessories below. Removing the earphones reveals an additional cable with 2.5mm balanced connector underneath. It is otherwise identical to that installed on the earphone from factory which, as I will divulge in the design section, is a very good thing.

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As with many Dunu earphones, the DK-3001 is well outfit with accessories. Notable additions include an array of authentic Spinfits and a pair of Comply foam tips, both great inclusions to have from factory. Dunu also provide buyers with 3 pairs of soft silicone tips and 3 pairs of firmer silicone tips in addition to those already installed on the earphones (medium, soft).

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The included case is very large and looks to be incredibly protective with rubber seals protecting from water ingress and a cushioned interior protecting from drops. Despite this, the case is pretty impractical, there’s no chance the case will fit in a pocket and it will take up a good amount of space within a backpack. In daily use, I was much more content with my KZ audio case which is similarly very solid and protective but considerably more compact with a pouch for additional accessories.

 

Design –

The DK-3001’s carry the same premium build that we have come to expect from Dunu. From the S316 stainless steel housings, the same used in premium watches, to the extraordinarily supple cables, the DK-3001 oozes a quality of exclusivity. But the DK-3001 departs from the vast majority of Dunu’s earphones by assuming an over-ear form factor, a well-considered choice given the weight of the earphones. While I do think Dunu are on the right path to assuming such a design with a removable cable, their limited experiences with this form factor do manifest by way of some comfort and fit issues.

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From a design standpoint, the earphones earn their high asking price with that stainless steel construction feeling appreciably more solid than plastic or even aluminium competitors. The DK-3001’s look super sleek with an incredibly refined matte finish; each facet is perfectly milled and the two halves of the housings meet with great precision. While they’re still less perfect than models from 1More, for instance, one MMCX connection is flush while the other was slightly protruding, the earphones are easily among the most well-constructed and aesthetically striking I’ve come across. They do have quite an unorthodox design for an over-ear, those rounded housings departing from the pod style earphones popularized by manufacturers like Westone and Shure, but I admire how compact the Dunu’s are considering the driver array inside. For comparison, they are appreciably smaller than the 1More Quad Driver, Westone UM 50 Pro and BA Campfire Audio earphones.

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The DK-3001’s have a low-profile fit that barely protrudes from the ear, making them perfectly feasible to sleep with. Their outer faces have concave divots to aid insertion and I didn’t find them to exacerbate wind noise when out and about. Dunu’s meticulous design extends to the inner surface of the earphones, which is very flush save for the ridge for the BA drivers. This is topped off with well-angled nozzles of pleasing length, resulting in a reliable fit. That being said, due to the design of the nozzles, the tips sit quite low on the nozzle, resulting in a shallower fit than one would expect; I would classify them as medium depth earphones. In culmination with the two small vents on the outer and inner faces of the earphones, the DK-3001’s provided above average isolation but still nowhere near the amount offered by fully sealed earphones. They still provided more than enough isolation for public transport and with foam tips, they would likely be adequate for a short plane trip, but if you’re a frequent traveler, a fully sealed earphone will likely suit you better.

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But despite their weight and shallower fit, the DK-3001’s maintain fit stability comparable to stronger sealing earphones. Taking them for my usual 6km run and the earphone stay put without requiring adjustment. Isolation was sufficient even along the highway and wind noise and microphonics were negligible. That being said, during longer stationary usage, the comfort niggles of those unconventional housings did irk. My main issue is with those top mounted MMCX connectors that form a hotspot at the back of my ears after less than an hour of listening. The connectors look to be purely aesthetic and a more integrated connector would be both less prone to damage and endlessly more comfortable long-term; I would very much like to see this in future iterations of Dunu’s over-ear earphones. As they are, the DK-3001’s aren’t unwearable and this issue can be alleviated by slightly rotating the earphones forward, but they don’t disappear isn the ear like the Oriveti New Primacy and even the larger Campfire Audio earphones.

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But moving onto the more positive aspects of the earphone, I’m delighted to report that the new cable equipped on Dunu’s DK series earphones are of excellent quality. The 5N OCC unit is incredibly supple and smoothly textured with exemplary strain-relied on all terminations; the cables remind me of those included with the Audio Technica CK10 and CK100, some of the best I’ve felt on any iem to date. They’re also of great thickness all the way through, terminating in a super beefy case friendly right angle plug.

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The cables have integrated cable straps which are of a grippier rubber than those included with the Titan earphones, I didn’t find them to slide around as easily making them less obtrusive during daily use. As aforementioned, the DK-3001’s are pretty stable in the ear. This is due to the ridiculously long memory wire segment, likely implemented to support the weight of housings and prevent the cable from flicking over ear since the connectors are elbowed. I don’t mind a well-implemented memory wire, but I’m not sure why Dunu made the memory wire so long as it makes the earphones difficult to coil for storage. They were perfectly comfortable during use but still a little excessive.

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Of note, neither cables have a remote though the adoption of a standard MMCX connector does make replacements simple, just be aware that the stock cables have elbowed connectors due to the orientation of the earphones housings. Cables with straight connectors do feel a bit awkward, but certain third party cables, such as the UE900 cable, also include angled connectors that feel much more ergonomic. The MMCX connectors were very tight and reliable during my month of testing and I experienced no intermittency.

 

Sound –

The DK-3001 is a quad driver hybrid featuring a 13mm titanium dynamic woofer mated to 3 Knowles balanced armatures; the same company that produced the brilliant TWFK dual driver setup found on audiophile classics like the Audio-Technica CK10. Despite featuring so many drivers, the earphones sound very integrated and coherent, much like the Oriveti New Primacy. Though they are hardly missing excitement, they are on the more natural side of things, sounding less artificially dynamic than early hybrid models. They are relatively tip sensitive, Spinfits provide a more v-shaped response, especially bringing out treble, the stock tips are more balanced and natural and the firmer, darker silicone tips have a slightly brighter high-end which I preferred in subjective listening. I will be using the darker tips during my sound analysis.

In terms of burn-in, I actually found the DK-3001 to be very pleasing out of the box though I put them through 150-200 hours of pink noise while getting through some other reviews before final evaluation. Subjectively, I do feel that the high-end has become slightly clearer, I initially preferred the sound with Spinfits though I settled on the regular silicone tips after burn-in. So while the earphones sounded pleasing from initial impressions, I have come to appreciate the DK-3001 more and more the longer I listen, the hallmark of a great earphone. The earphones also do spectacularly well with movies and TV shows on account of this larger soundstage and full, well-extended sound. Booting up the trailer for Kingsman 2 and the earphones provided a lavish rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” while providing convincing rumble with explosions and great layering to effects and vocals. When watching Get Out and Season 1 of Luke Cage, the earphones did a fine job reproducing the shows sudden atmospheric effects and lo-fi soundtrack with fantastic dynamics, detail and separation. I feel that a truly great earphone should remain impressive under multiple usage scenarios and the DK-3001’s thoroughly impressed with their versatility.

 

Tonality –

Dunu doesn’t really have a house sound, but a modestly v/u-shaped tuning with a clarity orientated midrange is pretty universal among their more premium offerings. The DK-3001 follows suite with a very balanced u-shaped tonality with a hint of extra deep/mid bass and lower/middle treble emphasis. Bass has slightly greater emphasis than treble and while the earphone is balanced, I doubt any would complain of a lack of bass. I would consider them to be more on the laid-back than aggressive side though they are incredibly detailed with fantastic end to end extension. They clearly aren’t neutral but all frequency ranges are well integrated and well-placed within the mix. By contrast, the Sennheiser ie800’s have greater sub-bass emphasis and a brighter tonal balance while the Campfire Audio NOVA’s are more neutral with greater midrange presence and a more even bass response.

 

Drivability –

The DK-3001’s are very easy to drive with a meagre 13ohm impedance and a 110dB sensitivity rating. They will reach deafening volumes from essentially any portable source, I was quite content with 1-3 of 16 volume notches on my iPod Touch and 1-2 notches on my HTC 10. As a result, the earphones also pick up quite a lot of noise, they had an ever-present hiss from my Hidizs AP60, even when music was playing. My Oppo HA-2 told a similar story to a lesser degree with hiss being barely apparent during music playback. The DK-3001 is slightly less sensitive than the Campfire Audio earphones and high-end Shures which makes them a little less source dependent. Despite being low-impedance multi-drivers, the earphones sounded relatively even from all of my sources. From my HTC 10, they had a little less air than my Oppo HA-2 despite having a lower noise floor, but I didn’t notice any sub-bass roll off or notable compression. One thing that did noticeably change was the separation between the bass and midrange. From my HTC 10 and Laptop, the DK-3001’s had a slightly muffled lower midrange, notable when listening to songs like David Bowie’s “No Plan”, but the earphones sounded appreciably clearer from my HA-2. As such, a clean low impedance source with a low noise floor is preferable over higher driving power.

 

Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –

The DK-3001 doesn’t sound quite as holographic or separated as the Sony XBA-40 or 1More Quad Driver, but the earphones are easily one of the more separated and spacious sets I’ve heard in a while. Immediately, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” had great width in the intro, just reaching that out of the head sensation. Depth and height were both similarly impressive when listening to the chorus of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, each guitar strum given plenty of space and atmospheric effects radiating out with plenty of projection. Overall, they are well-rounded, perhaps slightly ovular with a little extra width over depth. The Sennheiser ie800’s have quite an outstanding soundstage among earphones at any price and the DK-3001’s almost matched them while providing a more stable fit and considerably more passive noise isolation. During the aforementioned tracks, the Sennheiser’s immediately portrayed increased depth and height, producing a more rounded presentation and sharper imaging. The DK-3001’s also image very well, not quite as razor sharp as the ie800, but clearly better than lower-end models from Dunu and even a few armature sets such as midrange Westones. Instruments and vocals were also more accurately placed than on the New Primacy, 1More Quad Driver and even the very accurate RE-600 due to the DK-3001’s more rounded, more spacious soundstage. The DK-3001’s do occasionally sound slightly diffuse with a hazier centre image than the ie800, Hifiman RE-600 and the Westone UM 50 Pro but, in return, they deliver outstanding instrument separation. Despite having such a balanced sound signature, the Dunu’s excel with layering, air and space. They handle complex passages very well and though the more V-shaped ie800’s do have the inherent advantage, the difference isn’t what one would expect given the price difference.

 

Bass –

Bass is well done from that 13mm titanium dynamic driver, low notes sound appropriately large without sounding particularly big since I wouldn’t actually consider the DK-3001 to be bass heavy per say. Tuning is very well considered, they have a modest boost all the way through with gradually increasing emphasis in the lower and sub-bass regions adding some extra depth and weight to bass notes. While deep bass has the most emphasis, mid-bass is also slightly elevated, making bass notes sound full but slightly bloated, though bass is clear and clean for the most part. And despite the amount of bass slam on offer, the dynamic driver is actually on the faster side with great detail retrieval on double bass drum tracks and a tighter sub-bass presentation. Listening to The XX’s “Islands” also revealed fantastic extension with well-defined rumble and slam matched only by a few earphones I’ve heard, some well beyond this price point. When listening to songs with rapid varied drum beats, the DK-3001’s almost matched the more expensive ie800’s for sub-bass presence but lead into that sub-bass with a more linear lower and mid-bass response. As a result, the DK-3001’s low-end sounds more even and integrated whereas the ie800 has plenty of thump and slam but is missing out on some bass body, especially evident on instruments such as snare drums.

Quality is also fabulous with nice bass texture, especially to the very lowest notes. They do lose out some mid-bass detail and definition compared to the more agile ie800 and even the leaner New Primacy and CA NOVA, but their even, extended tuning produces greater deep bass definition than any of these models. When compared to any other earphone, even pure armature sets like the very impressive UM 50 Pro, the DK-3001 retains very competitive bass resolution with notable mention going to their exemplary deep and sub-bass responses. As an added note, though the size and type of dynamic driver might sound reminiscent of those utilized in the Titan line-up, bass is perceptibly tighter and more linear with considerably increased resolution and texture across the board; as one would expect given the price difference.

 

Mids –

In a nutshell, mids are very detailed, full and transparent, thriving off well-mastered songs and sounding impressive but less immaculate with other tracks. The midrange isn’t as clear as the Titan earphones or the almost clarity driven ie800’s, but they do sound immediately clearer than more neutral sets like the RE-600 and NOVA. The earphones portray impressive balance, neither coming off as particularly forward nor recessed with a pleasing, slightly bright tonal balance that grants both male and female vocals with well-judged presence. Mids are full-bodied, particularly lower-mids, yet higher vocals have nice clarity and the earphones sound surprisingly clear when called for. The earphones still aren’t perfect in their tuning and it’s within the lowest registers of their midrange that they falter. On bassy or especially poorly mastered tracks, the earphones do have a little bass spill which warms lower mids, making them sound less concise than I would like. This was prevalent when listening to The Beatle’s “Hey Jude” where vocals sounded slightly muffled, missing some detail and resolution which is strange given the earphones stellar performance with jazz and male vocals during films and video. By comparison, the ie800, though more recessed, have considerably reduced upper-bass presence and their lower mids are more transparent as a result. As stated in the drivability section, this did somewhat alleviate when running from a nice low-impedance source such as my Oppo HA-2, but I’ve still heard cleaner, clearer lower mids from similarly priced earphones like the Campfire NOVA.

But focussing more on the actual quality of the midrange over its tonality and, once again, the DK-3001 doesn’t fail to impressive. When fed with well-mastered albums, vocals sound smooth and sweet with great resolution. The earphone’s slightly fuller presentation and resolution especially flatter acoustic and piano tracks. While they are hardly the most aggressive sounding earphone, details retrieval is among the best I’ve heard around this price. Listening to Frank Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” and The Pixie’s “Where is My Mind?” and the DK-3001 produced an incredibly nuanced and discerning listen. Guitar strums sounded raw and exceptionally detailed without sounding artificially boosted and great midrange resolution easily revealed defects within the recording. The ie800’s do have more resolution and clarity throughout their midrange, translating to clearer background effects and layering, though they miss the body and balance of the DK-3001. Ultimately, the ie800’s still retains an appreciable gap in outright quality though I find the tonality on the DK-3001 to be more engaging and even refined.

 

Treble –

The high-frequency performance on the DK-3001’s is my favourite aspect of the earphones, they sound extraordinarily good, even considering that $500 asking price. Off the bat, tuning is mostly very linear and extension is sublime with retained texture and body with even the highest instruments and details. With a slight emphasis only to lower and middle treble, they are immediately more even throughout their high-end than the ie800 but actually resolve slightly more raw detail. They also sound considerably more natural than the ie800 due to their more bodied treble response which prevents things from sounding splashy or tizzy.

Listening to my usual treble test song, Elton John’s “Rocket man”, and the DK-3001’s provided one of the best renditions I’ve heard. High-hats, in particular, were incredibly resolved with absolutely none of the roll-off seen on a lot of other earphones. Other treble notes had perfect body and especially realistic timbre, notes never came across as raspy or thin. Listening to Nirvana’s “Lithium” and the clashing cymbals weren’t splashy nor strident at all while remaining extended and airy. Detail retrieval was once again fantastic as was resolution with intricacies being easily audible if not quite as forward as the more aggressive ie800. Perhaps most impressively, despite all this detail, treble remains impressively smooth with strings and trumpets sounding very sweet yet dynamic. They don’t bring details and intricacies to the fore like the ie800 but sound endlessly more natural and a little less crunchy on songs with already brighter mastering. Overall, I’m very content with the DK-3001’s treble response in both tuning and quality, they punch above their weight at this price point. Of course, they still aren’t quite as resolving as something like the $1100 Campfire Jupiter and other exemplary earphones around the Dunu’s price such as the Campfire Nova offer similar resolution for lovers of a slightly more neutral sound. Ultimately, I would still argue that the DK-3001 remains impressively refined and unfatiguing given then amount of detail on offer, they are a leading example of a laid-back, natural tone done right.

 

Comparisons –

IT03 ($260) –

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While this is not a fair comparison in the slightest, I know a lot of users are curious how the DK-3001 performs relative to the more affordable hybrids on the market. Immediately, I do prefer the fit of the vastly smaller Dunu’s even with those awkward MMCX connectors, and the cable is far better than the springy unit on the IT03. Sonically, the DK-3001 is more balanced, the midrange is more detailed and coherent while the IT03 sounds a little wider and more v-shaped. The IT03 has greater bass slam while the DK-3001 has more texture and sounds considerably cleaner overall. The IT03 has a thinner midrange that sounds less integrated with the bass response though they also don’t suffer from the lower midrange issues that the DK-3001 occasionally does. The Dunu’s generally sound cleaner and more realistic than the IT03’s and though the IT03 has more clarity they do sound somewhat unnatural. Treble is more uneven on the IT03, as a result, some details are lost. Again, the Dunu’s manage very impressive detail retrieval and treble is considerably more even. Finally, the Dunu’s soundstage better, with notably increased depth and more holographic imaging. Their midrange has greater layering and separation though the IT03’s are very good when considering their asking price.

 

Campfire Audio NOVA ($500) –

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The NOVA provides more even comparison, representing a great benchmark around the same $500 USD price range occupied by the DK-3001. Despite being almost twice the size of the Dunu’s, I preferred the fit and comfort of the NOVA’s due to their more streamlined features. Isolation was also markedly better on the Campfire’s and the cables were comparable in quality with the NOVA’s having a bit more visual flare. The NOVA’s sounded more neutral than the DK-3001 throughout. Bass was tighter and more defined on the NOVA though they did lack the deep bass presence and body of the DK-3001. The more linear mid and lower bass responses on the NOVA also enabled a little more sub-bass definition. Mids were similarly well-bodied, the NOVA’s had slightly less clarity and a little more presence than the DK-3001’s. Treble is terrifically done on both, the NOVA’s were clear, linear and very detailed, just as resolving as the DK-3001 but slightly less aggressive and slightly smoother in their presentation. The Dunu’s returned slightly better extension, the NOVA’s didn’t handle top-end details like the DK-3001’s with slightly truncated high-hats though cymbals sounded similarly well done. The Dunu’s also had the more spacious soundstage though both dealt well with imaging, separation and complex passages. Both models are fine choices at this price, the Dunu offering a slightly more engaging signature and the NOVA providing more balance and low-end definition.

 

Verdict –

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So despite Dunu’s past successes, I set out with refinement and attention to detail in mind for these are especially pertinent when moving up in price class. Dunu have some tough competition and it’s only getting fiercer with newcomers Flare, Plussound and Campfire (among others) threatening traditional manufacturers with their innovative design and extensive expertise with speakers, cables and OEM development. But Dunu are never one to rest on their laurels and the DK-3001 is well equipped to take on these competitors head on. Just a glance at Dunu’s custom fabricated housings provides a glimpse into the amount of time and work that went into these earphones; they could have adopted a generic housing or recycled one from a lower model. And on a surface level, Dunu’s efforts have returned splendid profits with a great look and fit augmented by a fabulous cable that’s just as impressive as any braided SPC model out there perhaps save for Ken’s brilliant Litz cable. But it’s what’s inside that matter most and once again Dunu delivers with a sound that is not only improved over previous Dunu earphones but also offers a great tonality with quality easily competitive with similarly priced models. Buyers will have to consider comfort, those with larger ears may experience none of the issues I did, and some small issues with the lower midrange, but when fed with a proper source, the DK-3001’s thoroughly impress.

Overall – 9/10, Great accessory collection and quality enable a pleasing fit. Build quality is fantastic though comfort is compromised by the top mounted MMCX connectors. Balanced but detailed sound is enhanced by great separation and extension. The DK-3001’s match refinement of build and sound with the charm of a natural tonality.

The DK-3001 is currently available from Amazon (US) for $470 USD and Penonaudio (International) for $499, please see my affiliate links for the most updated pricing and availability.

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