Dunu EST112 Review
Review written by Andrew Park (@Resolve)
Review unit provided by Dunu for evaluation
Dunu has been making waves with a number of high profile IEM releases, most significant of which has so far been the extremely well-received SA6 that comes in at around $550. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that they’re now releasing a new IEM in 2021 at $489, namely the EST112. Add to that the fact that this price range is already very competitive, with the highly regarded Moondrop Blessing 2 and Blessing 2 Dusk making waves under $350. This raises the question, does the Dunu EST112 do anything to set itself apart from the pack? And is it worth choosing over those alternatives?
The following review aims to answer these questions.
- Quad-driver Triple-hybrid setup.
- Third-generation 13.5mm dynamic driver unit with beryllium coated diaphragm.
- Custom Knowles mid-high balanced armature driver.
- Two high-performance Sonion EST drivers.
- Aluminium alloy body with stainless steel faceplates.
- Litz braided silver-plated copper cable with DUNU’s patented Quick-Switch modular plug system.
- Impedance: 10Ω @ 1kHz.
- Frequency Response: 5Hz-40kHz.
- Sensitivity: 110±1dB @ 1kHz.
- THD+N: <0.3% @ 1kHz.
- Soncoz LA-QXD1 - Drop THX AAA One
- iBasso DX160
- iBasso DX220
Build, Design, Comfort & Accessories
Dunu is well-known for including a large suite of accessories, including a selection of ear tips, a compact carry case, and their famous modular cable system. Essentially you can choose which termination you want to use just by switching the end out, rather than disconnecting the whole cable from the IEMs and having to buy another cable entirely. It’s a great system. Moreover, the cable itself - just like Dunu’s other cables - is also excellent. While the cable that comes with the EST112 feels a bit lighter than some of their other cables, it’s also just as easy to use and doesn’t hold its shape like other stiffer cables to.
On the comfort front, the EST112 is one of the most comfortable IEMs I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. Instead of the typical acrylic shell design, Dunu have opted for an aluminum alloy body with stainless steel faceplate, and it works really well - both for aesthetics and comfort. On a personal note, I love the understated yet still catchy look to the design on the faceplate. Nothing too flashy, a concept that I generally look for in everything due to being partially dead inside with no desire for fun or joy in my life...
Check out my first impressions of the Dunu EST112 and Softears RSV here:
Frequency Response & Tonal Balance
Measurements are taken on a GRAS RA0402 ear simulator. Note that this coupler does not have the coupler resonance peak at 8khz like may commonly show up on other measurements of IEMs. You can read more about the difference here.
At first glance the Dunu EST112 looks decent. You get a moderately thick rise into the sub-bass, meaning there will be enough versatility and warmth here for a wide variety of genres - at least when it comes to bass tones. Personally I would've preferred a more distinct sub-bass shelf for a cleaner transition into the lower mids, but I can see a preference for this type of warmth as well.
The lower mids are appropriate for the overall distance of ear gain up into the upper mids. Often what happens when this distance is too extreme is that vocals can sound a bit lean and hollow, and while the EST112 does have a significant amount of ear gain, this distance is kept in check. But this is also where the EST112 distinguishes itself from the SA6. Where the SA6 has a somewhat relaxed yet agreeable presentation to the upper midrange, the EST112 is notably more ‘neutral’ throughout 2-4khz, closer to what you get with other reference style tunings in this region like the Blessing 2 or the Softears RSV.
Unfortunately, this is followed by the only real problem area of this IEM, and it’s the treble. Essentially the lower treble is boosted slightly, meaning that certain resonance harmonics in the treble are pronounced over subsequent harmonics. While I don’t get the kind of ‘compressed’ sound to percussive hits as strongly on the EST112 as I do on other IEMS that have this kind of lower treble imbalance, there is a hint of it at times, and where the peak is (around 5khz), certain recordings can come across a bit shrill. This is punctuated by the mid treble boost adding any edginess to percussive hits. The bottom line for the treble is that it can get a bit aggressive at times.
While the EST112 can come across somewhat sharply for the ‘S’, ‘F’, and ‘T’ sounds, I noticed sibilant issues more with the ‘SH’ sounds in vocal recordings. Now, personally I found the original Moondrop Blessing 2 to occasionally exhibit this quality as well (even though the rest of it is exceptional), however this forwardness is pronounced even more on the EST112. Thankfully, this was remedied slightly by swapping to different tips. I found that the Final E tips seemed to work reasonably well for reducing this quality - especially for the mid-treble - but your mileage may vary.
One final limitation may be that the upper treble extension lacks a bit of energy for what I’d like, but where it drops down is also common to see - even around this price. It's not necessarily a bad thing either as I've spoken to a number of listeners who prefer to not have the most presence for upper air extension. It has the effect of focusing the treble. Still, in this case I would've liked it to balance out the mid treble bump a bit.
In general, the EST112 is a tuning that gets most everything right for a mostly ‘balanced’ sound, bordering on slightly thick in the upper bass and lower mids, and with some treble shrillness that’s really the only significant drawback. And it’s unfortunate, because that drawback is enough for it to be simply not the right pick for a wide variety of music choices - making the EST112 an IEM that caters more towards specific tracks or genres rather than the more versatile nature of the SA6.
If I had to give a music choice here it would be instrumental jazz, classical, and acoustic music - at least for what I found it to be good with. Now that's also typically what I like to listen to, but even within those genres you'll get a range of recording styles, some of which don't mesh as well with the EST112. In particular, it didn’t do so well for voice focused tracks due to the pronounced ‘SH’ sounds, and certain rock and metal tracks could come across as a bit shrill as well. Interestingly I had the same reaction to the original Sennheiser HD800… so maybe there’s something to be said for certain genres and preferences.
As the name suggests, the EST112 has two Sonion ‘estats’ for the upper frequencies (one dynamic driver in the bass and a balanced armature for the mids). Within a number of IEM communities, there have been some question marks as to the merits of using these drivers over the alternative… namely, just more balanced armatures thrown in. Needless to say, these types of estats have been met with a mixed reception. It should also be noted that these 'estats' are not the same as what you get with electrostatic headphones, or the Shure electrostatic KSE1500.
On the one hand, I can see why manufacturers are including these in ‘tribrid’ designs (using three driver types). In some cases I do hear there to be some detail benefits in terms of image clarity and incisiveness. On the other hand, some of the criticisms of this transducer type become more evident the more they’re employed within an IEM. That criticism typically centers around the presentation lacking any tactility or attack to it, often yielding somewhat of a softer and limited presentation.
Personally, I’m not as bothered by this quality as I think other reviewers are, but it seems like we're increasingly seeing more and more of these drivers showing up in tribrid configurations. As an example, I'm currently also evaluating the Tri Audio Starlight 4, which as you may have guessed uses four of these 'estats' in the treble, and it has a presentation that I can only really describe as mildly insane. But digressions aside, the salient point here is that the more you listen to IEMs with these transducers - and seemingly the more prominently they feature in the unit - the more you notice the presentation being markedly different from typical BA or dynamic drivers.
In any case, I find the Dunu EST112 to be competitive for detail and technical ability at its price point, being both more impressive than the Blessing 2 (it had to be), and also on par with if not better than certain other IEMs that are more expensive like the Softears RSV in a few areas. In particular, both bass and treble detail are surprisingly good on the EST112 - at least, that's where I hear the best clarity for 'microdynamics' or trailing ends of tones and textures in the music. Staging is somewhat unremarkable but that’s not a bad thing typically with IEMs, however separation is also excellent.
For the sense of punch and dynamism, the EST112 is solid, helped by the Beryllium coated dynamic driver handling bass tones. In fact, when using the Final E tips, I’d say the bass quality is downright excellent, and better than much of the competition. Some of the thickness in the upper bass due to the tuning makes it perhaps not as refined on certain tracks, but it still feels natural and satisfying.
Lastly, when it comes to timbre, this is perhaps where one could place the EST elements of the overall presentation, but again I don’t find myself as bothered by this. There is a BA in the upper mids but it doesn’t come across particularly smeared. If anything, the timbre is merely thrown off by the lower treble boost more so than any transducer-related effects.
Dunu SA6 - $550
The EST112’s main competition comes from Dunu’s own six driver SA6. The reason this IEM is quietly achieving legendary status among those in-the-know is because it has a tuning that’s very similar to the class leading 64 Audio U12t, which is a $2000 IEM, and it has surprisingly good bass impact and dynamism for an all BA design. With that said, the EST112’s dynamic driver does have more punch, even if the overall presentation on the SA6 is a more pleasing shelf. And that’s also where the technical advantages of the EST112 stop in my opinion.
The SA6 has a more laid back yet also versatile presentation overall. It’s ever so slightly pulled back in the upper mids, making it less typically ‘neutral’, but at the same time giving it an easier time with a wider variety of music. Moreover, the treble presentation is quite opposite. Where the EST112 can occasionally be a bit on the shrill side, the SA6’s is extremely smooth and much more balanced sounding. The bottom line is that I find the SA6 to be worth saving up for over the EST112.
Moondrop Blessing 2 & Dusk - $320 - $330
At this point, the Blessing 2 and the Dusk should be considered the staple mid-tier benchmark IEMs that really set the standard for good tunings and performance in IEMs in general. While the original Blessing 2 leans slightly more typically neutral, the Dusk gives it a more distinct and articulate sub-bass and tames the upper midrange a bit. In both cases, the tuning for the lower treble is a bit more balanced than that of the EST112, however the closest one would be the original Blessing 2.
For technical performance, this is where the EST112 beats both of these, and also the comfort on the EST112 is quite a bit better. One complaint about the B2s is that the nozzle is quite thick.
Softears RSV - $729
I really want to like the Softears RSV, because it’s an exceptionally well-tuned IEM, nailing a frequency response that’s very close to what I’d consider to be neutral (in many ways this is what I wanted the EST112 to be tuned like). But surprisingly I actually hear the EST112 as having technical performance that competes with this much higher priced IEM. Now, I think this maybe says more about the RSV than it does about the EST112, but when swapping back and forth between the two, it was clear that there were certain advantages to overall precision on the EST112.
With that said, the RSV would still be the more pleasant listen overall, if it weren’t for the particularly uncomfortable ergonomics. If you thought the Blessing 2’s nozzles were thick, the RSV is right in that same ballpark, being also a particularly massive IEM. For me it’s borderline unusable, as it physically hurts my ear canal opening regardless of the tips I use, and that’s a real shame because of how impeccably well-tuned it is. Maybe for someone else it’ll fit better. But even then I think the Thieaudio Clairvoyance would have something to say about value at this price.
In any case, I would actually end up using the EST112 over the RSV just because of ergonomic reasons alone. But for the tonal balance... the EST112 aims for this kind of tuning and stumbles a bit in the treble where the RSV doesn't. You can see though that it gets reasonably close for overall ear gain level and balance. Just not quite as smooth there in the treble.
When considering how exceptional Dunu’s SA6 is, with its smooth and relaxed ‘u12t-like’ tuning, it’s perfectly understandable that they’d want to produce a more ‘neutral’ IEM that takes closer aim at competitors like the Moondrop Blessing 2 and Softears RSV. To Dunu’s credit, they technically did achieve this with the EST112. However the one issue affecting it, namely the treble edginess, is glaring enough that it makes giving it a straightforward recommendation somewhat difficult.
If you have certain genre preferences that work reasonably well with a forward lower treble presentation, I can see the EST112 working out for you - especially with some tip rolling. But I can also safely say that if this description doesn't sound like you, it's worth saving up for the SA6 instead.
Watch the video review here:
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