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Kyle Dionela 2013

The DUNU Tai-Chi IEM

DUNU has been one of the IEM world’s rising stars as of late. In just two years, DUNU has released a lineup of great IEMs, ranging from the entry level Trident (my favorite budget IEM), to the mid-level Tai-Chi. In fact, the Tai-Chi is what’s to be reviewed today.

The Tai-Chi’s packaging is similar to other IEMs in DUNU’s range. It’s a simple two-part packaging, with a sleeve covering a box with a magnetic flap, which opens to reveal the Tai-Chi’s in their full glory. Inside, there are a great number of accessories, including two (!) cases, an airplane adapter, a 6.3mm adapter, and a mysterious box. Inside this magical box are six pairs of tips, a microfiber cloth, an additional pair of ear gliders, and many pairs of acoustic dampers, which I will explain later.

The Tai-Chi is a beautifully made IEM, especially at its price range. The cable is stranded silver and is very pleasingly thick. The plug is the typical right angled plug DUNU has, and the same Y splitter. My favorite feature of the cable is the brilliant cable organizer built right into the cable. It’s genius. I wish other companies would adopt this idea. It’d probably save a lot of IEMs’ lives. It sure will save these for me. It gives me a reason to wrap them rather than balling them up. I mean, an organizer is built in; might as well use it or else it gets in the way.

Now up to the IEMs themselves. One thing I haven’t seen in pictures is there is actually a Tai-Chi on the IEMs themselves, which probably influences the IEMs’ name. The IEM’s body is a nice rounded shape that fits perfectly within my ears. However, the bass port sometimes jams itself into my tragus, which gets irritating after a while. I doubt there would be many ears that the Tai-Chi would not fit, but it should be a factor one must consider before purchasing a pair of these

Now about the bass port: the Tai-Chi has this fantastic feature that allows the user to slightly alter the amount of bass the Tai-Chi puts out. Without the dampers on, they sound slightly muddy, with slightly better extension. But all in all, I don’t feel that, for my tastes, the dampers are necessary. But it’s wonderful that DUNU allows the option in the first place, and I’m sure many people will love the sound without the dampers. However I do worry that I will lose all of my dampers at some point in time. I’ve already lost 4 because they tend to come out by themselves.
Before going into the sound, I would like to address that the Tai-Chi’s laid-back, dark sound is basically the opposite of my sound preferences, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt. I’ll be writing this review in the point of view of someone who wants to seek sonic nirvana through sound signatures other than my preferred, mid-range focused sanctuary.

The bass with the dampers was a little more pronounced than I thought it would be, even when I looked at DUNU’s supplied frequency chart and viewing it as an idealized result. It’s north of neutral, but south of what I’d call “bassy.” For example, the nice rumble that I expect in the JLE Dub Mix of Puscifer’s Indigo Children is not as pronounced as I wish it was. However, I did find something I like in the lower regions. I found that the Tai Chi rendered string bass much, much better than the T-Peos H100. The timbre was just so much more right than the H100. The Tai Chi has a certain sense of air that allows for the small details to sing. The little twangs of the strings are fantastically rich for an IEM in this price range.

With the bass dampers off however, things start to fall apart just a tiny bit. I finally got that rumble I was craving for electronic music (It’s starting to approach Monster Turbine Pro Gold levels) but it also starts to muddle up a bit. The timbre that I so loved with the bass dampers on just wasn’t there after the dampers were removed. It’s an excellent lesson in physics.

The midrange with the dampers on was not my favorite. But for reference, my main headphones are the Beyerdynamic DT48, which is a headphone that is basically only midrange, so the bar is set pretty high. Despite this, the midrange wasn’t the worst (again, better than the T-Peos H100), and was actually rather soothing. It’s clear that DUNU was aiming to make a pleasurable IEM when one hears what was done to the midrange. I find vocals to be somewhat subdued, bordering on veiled, which at times got annoying (For example, an artist like Allen Stone, who basically requires a rather bright headphone, sounded muted and didn’t have the impact I was hoping) but that’s a trade off that must be taken. However, jazz wasn’t that great with the Tai Chi as a result of the muted mids. Trumpets almost sounded like they had mutes on; saxophones suffered the same fate. But the timbre that I so enjoyed in the bass extended itself to other instruments. It wasn’t perfect, but much better than both the H100 and Sennheiser CX985. I’m liking these.

Without the dampers, the midrange, like the bass, suffered. The newly boated bass started intrude into my mids, which is one of my pet peeves of any sort of headphone. It was one of my main complaints about the Audio Technica M50, it’s the reason I bashed the T-Peos H100 so much, and why I’m so uptight in general. It’s getting increasingly hard for me to recommend that the dampers not be used because with the dampers on, the sound changes from “ack” to “yum.”

The treble, like the midrange, is slightly subdued. Granted, it may be because my main headphone for the past two months has been the treble-tastic Sony SA5000, but I find the Tai Chi’s treble to be mostly smooth, without being sparkly or anything. It’s certainly nothing to complain about compared to other IEMs that have awkward peaks that make them nearly unlistenable, but I must note that the Tai Chi also has a few peaks that can get slightly annoying at times. But it’s certainly not enough to complain too much, especially because I’ve never encountered sibilance.
With the dampers off, there is the slightest bit of sibilance (not sure why…), and after I heard the sibilance, I tried not to concentrate too much on the treble. But it retained the general smoothness of the damped sound, just with a little less smoothness.

Soundstage is okay for an IEM. It isn’t spacious, nor is it excellent at spatial abilities, but it spreads out sound about a foot forward and 2 feet across. Detail is much better than I expected for a laid-back IEM, but pales in comparison to my ACS T15 (modeled as a warmer Etymotic ER4) and even my Monster Turbine Pro Copper. However, it does beat out the T-Peos H100 and Sennheiser CX985. It’s about even with the Monster Turbine Pro Gold and from memory, just a little behind the Brainwavz B2.

The Tai Chi comes with two different kinds of tips. One type is a Sony Hybrid clone, which has a tapered tip. There is also a grey pair that is not tapered. Surprisingly, the difference is quite noticeable. Both have their merits and faults. The black, tapered tips have a little more upper mids, possibly because of the shorter tube. There’s more midbass, but it’s not of the clean sort. The grey tips sound more fleshed out than the black tips (as in no awkward accentuations, more like everything is accentuated than anything) and sound more natural. The hybrid tips have a similar effect as removing the bass dampers, except the upper mids are even more pronounced, which is just really annoying overall. I can certainly understand the appeal for those looking for a fun sound though. Black tips plus open ports provides a sound signature that’s similar to an Ultrasone (from memory).

Overall, the Tai Chi has proven to be my favorite sub $150 IEM, despite my predisposed ideas of them. Like I noted early in the review, the laid-back sound signature of the Tai Chi was something I initially expected to not like. However, their smoothness has bewitched me. Despite their faults, I can listen with the Tai Chi for hours and not feel any fatigue. If I could ask for anything though, I’d love if DUNU could squeeze in just a little more midrange. I like my vocals. However, for about $120, I’m quite hard-pressed to recommend against these. They’ve surpassed my two most recently reviewed $150 IEMs with ease, and are more comfortable to boot. While these have only managed to whet my appetite for a laid back sound, I’m liking what I’m hearing. If DUNU can do this with a $120 IEM, I can’t even imagine what a high-end IEM would sound like. In merely two years, they’ve managed to, in my opinion, take both the $50 section and the $150 section.

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