The DUNU Alpha 3 earbuds were released a few months ago and I am really upset, (not really), that I am so late to the game to listen and experience them.
I should have been front and center on this, being “The Earbud Guy”, and all. Things just changed in the hanging style earbud niche, just wait for the next wave to hit, just you wait!
Driver & Design
The DUNU Alpha 3 is an open-back flat-head set of earbuds and uses a 14.2mm LCP dynamic driver combined with a multi-channel acoustic vent system. It is rated with an impedance of 32Ω and an SPL of 105dB ±1dB @1kHz.
In terms of earbud design, that is stereotypical, but they’ve used some sort of black magic in the venting design that yanks way more air than any other earbud I’ve ever experienced before.
They also claim that their design on the Alpha 3 has a cavity void that helps with low and high-frequency dynamics.
It is not a fully open-back design, but the ports are huge and pull so much air through the top grill, that I am hard-pressed not to just call it an open-back earbud.
I have seen other companies try this, like FiiO’s FF5, which I reviewed not too long ago. Yes, the FiiO has more vents, but they don’t feel anything like the Alpha 3.
How can that be? How can one smaller vent beat the air retrieval of a bunch on the FiiO? Well, it’s because it’s more about suction and vacuum tendencies in the chamber.
The FiiO is just wide open and air flows with less effort like all doors and windows open in a car. The Alpha 3 design is like a wind tunnel right down the middle. The air pressure is way higher and in turn, more can be done with the lows and overall pressure levels.
The Alpha 3 stock cable is lovely, twisted, and robust. No removable cable sadly, akin to the FiiO’s removable headphone adapters. In this case, I may have made the wrong choice and opted for the 3.5mm cable instead of the balanced 4.4mm.
I wish I had gone the balanced route so I could use it more with my xDuoo XD05 BAL 2, which pairs insanely well with the Alpha 3.
The casing sleeve is rubberish, which I am not fond of. I subjectively dislike the way this feels, I would have preferred a typical fabric-laced cable than this, but form and function are different, and, in this case, the form is just fine as it is.
The adapter is strong too, I detect no wiggle or play when fondling it around.
The Sennheiser MX980 and 985 were the only hanging-style earbuds I have ever had that I considered low-tier comfort and poorly designed. I had a conversation with its designer not much longer after it came out and we didn’t see ear to ear in the slightest on how earbuds should be designed.
The Alpha 3 earbud is pure aluminum and hefty in the hand. The build quality is absurdly good, totally metal? How can that be comfortable? Well, you need the extra weight to keep earbuds in place properly, or else they tend to slip and detach a bit.
The lighter the case, the worse the fit, generally, unless you are the Yuin PK2 and are a hybrid hanging/inner ear type design. I miss those ‘Yuin Wars’ days. Good times.
Packaging & Accessories
The Alpha 3 packaging experience couldn’t be more basic. The box is tiny and inside is just the headphone, a small carry case, and an adapter.
I’m pushing 40, I don’t care anymore about accessories included, I have a whole drawer of cases and foams and all that jazz. Just give me the Alpha 3 earbuds at this point, I don’t care about the rest.
The unboxing culture is one that I don’t identify with or that I want to be a part of. It’s a basic box, and it works. It holds the said product, therefore it does what it is supposed to do. Simple as that.
Outside of the Yincrow X6, the Alpha 3 has the best bass and bottom end I’ve ever heard in any earbud. It has the most clean experience as well, not as much quantity as the X6 but then again, nothing has that.
But the purity? Dang. That’s perfect and shows me that DUNU means business here at the $80 price tag. No joke, the Alpha 3 made the FiiO FF5 and all the rest of the other earbuds I’ve reviewed sound like hazy static at times.
Something is different about this, and I don’t know what is causing the bottom end to sound that dense or weighty, and clean, all at the same time. It almost makes no sense to me that a port jet on the top of the earbud is what might be causing the exceptional bass performance here. But you won’t see or hear what it can do unless you EQ it.
With no EQ, the experience is just good. Still leagues better than most earbuds. But drop some bass boosters on there, like the xDuoo portable amp’s physical bass switch, crank that baby up and the DUNU Alpha 3’s bottom end churns itself into such a meaty experience.
They’ve remembered that bass and low end are part of the listening experience and that a flat EQ cannot adjust itself accordingly or accurately to something recorded with a lot of bass in specific tracks and genres. At least not without that extra boost.
The midrange is moderately placed and relaxed, but not recessed. The experience feels kind of wide-screen, with vocals in a relaxed and not overly forward in-my-face location.
Clarity is sublime. Boot up Bruno Mars, “Leave the Door Open”, and the tame upper mids become so prevalent and obvious that it is impossible to go use any other earbuds that I have. And my god, I have pretty much all of them.
It isn’t very forward-sounding; I wish it was. It doesn’t have the bass quantity that the X6 has, I wish it did. But this experience went super smoothly. This is the most chill earbud I’ve heard in years.
The vocals are pristinely reserved and clean. There are times when I feel like I am not even listening to earbuds anymore, that is how natural and effortless these sound now and then, track-dependent, of course.
The lower mids are generally something I don’t take into considering much in my reviews but this is a rare case when an earbud is so vividly meaty, that it will react extremely well to bass boosting and lower mid bumps, making the vocals sound immensely relaxing and smooth, rounded. This is not a fast earbud, rather, it’s on the slow side.
The Alpha 3 treble is a bit overly reserved and too tame. I want just a bit more out of it and I can achieve it with some EQ. The problem is that the low-end and lower mids are exceptionally responsive to what they can accomplish.
If you aren’t pushing these earbuds to their limits, then just skip it. You are missing out entirely on max capabilities.
The top side is underwhelming in tone and brightness, again, reserved and very toned down. It has almost no bite to it at all. The most fatigue-free experience in an earbud I’ve yet to hear.
But the problem is that it doesn’t reply to EQ as well as the bottom and lower mids. So, while I can get a tiny bit extra, I can’t get as much as I want without it going into unclean territory.
The tone slam effect, that wince, is so low on the Alpha 3 that I am not sure how this is even fair to compare to the FiiOs that I’ve reviewed a few times over the past few years. There are some other models out there I’ve reviewed in recent times but not a single one feels anything like this Alpha 3.
The venting makes these feel like it is the most coherent earbud I’ve ever reviewed. I’ll go right ahead and say it’s the number 1 player MVP on the field that I have ever reviewed in this regard.
Coherency, that natural tendency to not sound forced or like something is just not quite right, a high realism, despite it being wider than tall, the depth of field and air is excellent and nothing feels offset from anything else. All these imaging qualities combined equate to high-tier coherency.
A quick swap to the much more expensive FiiO FF5 reveals that the DUNU feels more realistic, smoother, clearer, and more dynamically relaxing overall. I promise, that with a great little amp and a good bass booster, you can achieve immensely stellar tonal qualities on this earbud.
It is not the biggest or the most realistic, but it is the most complete and when everything meshes together, it doesn’t matter if it’s a step off the biggest in width or height, because the complete picture makes it feel natural to your ear and that makes the entire experience feel more vast than it is.
Warm amps are required for the Alpha 3. Please don’t use a clinical amp or source on this unless that is all you have. If that is all you have as a stepping stone, of course, that is fine. It still sounds great, but you will miss the exceptional rounded edges and meaty heft that comes in the lower vocals areas of the frequency response.
It doesn’t require that much amplification, but then again, I don’t have the 4.4mm so I can’t even say how far this goes. I can say that the Burson Conductor 3’s high 3W output makes this earbud stop sounding like an earbud and play more like a small open-back headphone.
And that step up using the xDuoo XD05 BAL 2 is noticeably different in a good way. So, I’d say it is safe to say that balanced cable is the way to go and you’ll get more out of it that way.
The FF5 is almost double the price and performs on a less grand scale. The Alpha 3 sounds cleaner, smoother, and more musical.
The FiiO is more natural and colorless, not quite clinical, but not nearly as warm as this Alpha 3. Also, the Alpha 3 is way more stable in my ear and hardly budges, likely due to its high weight.
Ouch. That EM5 feels like an ice cube in my ear. Similarly, to the Serratus, it has a slightly larger image but it is almost laughably inferior in detail retrieval and realism.
I also can’t get a proper fit on the FiiO and don’t have that issue on the Alpha 3. The EM5 is not that far different from the Serratus.
Okay well, the Serratus is like a spotlight in the darkness, very bright, very thin, razor-like compared to this very smooth and dense feeling Alpha 3. However, the Serratus feels taller, but noticeably less deep and realistic in imaging.
The Alpha 3 is super chill, the Serratus is sharp and impactful. Total opposites, but I think the Alpha is just significantly more musical and fun to use, as well as being audibly cleaner from top to bottom.
Ok! Now we are talking. The ES-P1 was my go-to earbuds since I had reviewed it a few years ago. Best build? Check. Great coherent sound? Check. Great cable? Check. In this case, the Alpha 3 has dethroned the king.
The Alpha 3 is the ES-P1 on steroids but like nice steroids. Smoother and more musical steroids. The ES-P1 is natural sounding in tone, the Alpha 3 is warmer and much more fun to use, also noticeably heftier.
If you take the ES-P1 and go left, it turns into the Alpha 3. If you take the ES-P1 and go right, it turns into the Serratus sound.
The DUNU Alpha 3 is the best overall musical earbuds I’ve ever reviewed. It has everything. Amazing build, amazing imaging realism, and excellent response to bass and vocal EQ.
Its biggest fault is the lack of response to treble alteration and even then, it was meant to be used for a long time without fatiguing pounding treble.
Trust me, grab a powerful little portable source, EQ it a bit, and watch what happens to the bass experience and lower mids. You’ll laugh, (in a good way).
This is the start of beautiful things for hanger-style earbud lovers like me. Just wait until the other brands catch wind of this, they will revise and take another step to improve this even more. And then the earbud wars of 2010 will come right back and I’ll be so happy.
DUNU Alpha 3 Technical Specifications
Driver: Liquid Crystal Polymer Composite Diaphragm with Highly-Compliant Suspension Surround