Pros: Fantastic ergonomics and build, punchy low end sound, decent detail levels
Cons: Can run hot with certain pairings, sounds a little lean at times
Price: £229 ($260)
Product website: Dunu Topsound
Build quality and ergonomics
There is no denying the Falcon-C is a beautiful looking IEM. The matt black finish and smoothly rounded curves on the liquid metal housing scream quality, with detailing like the cut-out driver venting on the inner face and the complex angles of the shell giving the impression of a design someone like Bang & Olufsen would put together. The good news is that this isn’t all style over substance – the Falcon glides into the ear with a deep and solid fit, feeling light and ultra comfortable and filling the bowl of the ear without any discomfort. Little touches like the angled MMCX connectors on the cables add to the ergonomic excellence, allowing the shells to sit snugly in the concha, with the cables being safely routed up and around the ear and no hard edges or angles on the outer shell to bother the wearer.
The cable is a decent quality braided affair in 6N copper, with a right angled 3.5mm connector bolstered by a sturdy strain relief at the player end and some nicely overmoulded MMCX connectors at the other, set at a 45 degree angle for over-ear wear. The cable is a dark brown colour, and has little in the way of memory or cable noise, feeling a notch up from the usual type of Plastics One cables included with IEMs at this price point. It also has Dunu’s trademark cable tie built in to the bottom of the cable, consisting of a small roll of Velcro that you can use to loop around the cable to keep it tidy for storage. Overall, the build and fit of the Falcon is top notch, with plenty of thought having gone into the design and ergonomics.
Initial impressions on sound
The Falcon-C uses a 9mm carbon nanotube diaphragm for its dynamic driver (hence the C in the name), which is a type of driver coating I haven’t heard before. The Falcon is decently quick for a dynamic driver as a result, sporting a crisp and somewhat U shaped tuning, with a slight tilt upwards at both ends of the spectrum.
The bass is taut and reasonably full bodied, and while not at basshead levels, gives a good punch to proceedings down low. It is also the most unusual area of the tuning for me: the first time I heard the Falcon, I had to double check that this wasn’t one of Dunu’s hybrid stable, as it feels almost as if there is a crossover between the bass and midrange, with the low end sitting slightly apart from the rest of the frequencies The Falcon still sounds coherent overall, but it manages to elevate the bass slightly without bleeding or blurring into the midrange, or overly warming the sound.
The focus is centred around the lower mid bass / sub bass transition, with the Falcon giving a respectable showing without going overboard, rolling off slightly at the lowest depths. Mid bass is enough to give the sound a decent body, but not huge or overly humped. Moving on to the midrange, they are positioned behind the bass and treble in a classic scooped signature, but don’t sound particularly recessed. There is a nice amount of crunch, and the body is fairly neutral in both size and weight, giving a sound that is closer to lean than warm.
Treble is fizzy and crisp, with a crystalline edge to notes and an energetic presentation to hi hat and cymbals. There is a boost in the higher end which gives the monitor the other end of its U shape, but again the note weight is fairly neutral so it doesn’t come across as overpowering. There is a delicacy to the higher notes that is well done, giving the Falcon a good sense of detail – it can come across as slightly hot or sibilance-prone with cooler sources, however, so source and tip matching are important.
Overall, a fairly balanced tuning that derives a bit of body from the sub bass and a dash of sparkle and heat from the treble to take it away from neutral into engaging.
Looking at the low end in more detail, “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk is a good place to start. The funky bassline feels deep and velvety as it drops low, keeping definition and extension as it scrapes sub bass territory. The texture isn’t fully liquid smooth, but isn’t particularly dry or chalky either, possessing just the right blend of viscosity and speed to keep the track bubbling along.
“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder carries that same sense of deepness in the bass, the Falcon bringing it the texture and underbelly of the iconic bassline and giving the track a grounded and raw sort of presentation. The note weight is roughly average, with a fine layer of texture like high end writing paper on the surface of the music to complement the body underneath.
Dropping into the sub-basement, tracks like “Heavy” by Linkin Park and “Heaven” by Emile Sande have a weight to the sub bass that adds solidity, but neither are particularly throbbing in the ear, giving more of a subtle thrum as opposed to the full on skull-shaking that IEMs like the Campfire Audio Vega and Atlas manage. As said above, the Falcon is definitely capable down low, but a basshead monitor it isn’t. There is a gentle decrease in volume as you drop right into the depths, so again, if extreme extension is your aim, there will probably be something more appropriate in this sort of range.
In terms of texture and impact, the Falcon carries that classic DD punch in the lows, moving a good volume of air into the inner ear with each bass drum hit or snare impact. It hits lean but hard, like a good super-middleweight boxer, making each impact felt without burying you with any one in particular. “Bad Rain” by Slash starts with a pounding kick drum, capturing the aggression of the track and providing a muscular foundation for the gritty bass riff to kick in about 20 seconds later. There is just enough air movement to give that sense of impact to go along with the actual notes, which can give a sense of engagement that is difficult to achieve with an all balanced armature setup on this particular track.
Overall, the bass is capable, walking a good line between speed and substance and resolving well for its price class. It won’t blow away your inner bass head, but it should provide more than enough to keep most people happy.
The mids are a little pushed back compared to the bass and treble, sitting a little underneath the overhang of the mid bass in position. They don’t feel recessed though, and still manage to keep vocals at stage-neutral in terms of intimacy. There is a good splash of detail and texture throughout, with the carbon nanotube drivers showing delicacy and control where required.
There is good crunch and energy through the range, with a crisp edge to guitar phrases and piano strikes. This translates into a little hardness on the sibilants, however, with the Falcon whistling a little on tracks with plenty of “s” action. As mentioned in the synergy section below, this can be alleviated somewhat by use of a warmer source, so isn’t a major concern for me, but is worth noting.
Listening to “Hold Back The River” by James Bay, the guitar feels nicely defined and the vocals are fairly well textured, representing the little hint of gravel in Bay’s delivery nicely. The drivers do have a little trouble peeling out the very subtle female “ghost vocal” that sit underneath the lead in to the chorus, so these aren’t absolute detail or resolution monsters in comparison to IEMs in the next tier up, but given their relative pricetag, the performance is still pretty good here.
Crunchy rock guitar is well presented by the Falcon, with the Dunu making short work of “Whiteworm” by Marty Friedman, coping with the multiple layers and adding a nice weight to the slab-like riffing. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” by Led Zeppelin sounds good, Jimmy Page’s guitar sounding crisp and jangly as it trades licks with JPJ’s mirroring bass lines. The tuning works well for rock music overall, with just enough of a whiff of sharpness in the midrange to sharpen the leading edge of guitar notes without making them sound thin or too painfully etched.
Like the sub bass, the treble carries a little more emphasis than the mids, leaning towards hot in some instances but not uncomfortably so. Notes are sharply defined and middling in thickness, giving cymbal strikes a fizz as they splash and decay. As an example, the cymbals in the bridge of “Welcome To The Jungle” by G n’ R positively rattle the eardrums with their emphasis, throwing a steel curtain over the top of the sound. This can add a little glare to poorly mastered tracks, but generally errs on the side of bearable- I am not a huge fan of treble heavy sounds, so not my preferred tuning, but still enjoyable enough.
There is a crystalline edge and delicacy to the upper notes that will appeal to fans of “sparkle” and fizz, and it will also sit pretty well with electronics listeners, giving the high synths enough weight and cutting edge to slice through the heavier waves of bass beneath and open out the sound. Overall, a decently done treble, but. just not my preferred tuning.
Synergy and power requirements
Surprisingly for a dynamic driver, the Falcon C can be susceptible to changes in source, and benefits from a warmer source to tame any tendencies towards harshness or sibilance. Listening through the LG V30, the usual “slow” filter pushes a little too much emphasis on the classic sibilance triggers, whereas the misleadingly titled “sharp” filter brings a more natural tonality and takes the edge off the sound. As you would expect, the Falcon can also sound a little screechy with the Shanling M0 on certain filters.
Pairing with the Sony ZX300 provides a much more enjoyable match up from the start, with the more organic and full bodied Sony accentuating the roundness in the lower registers and bringing a more polished and meatier sound overall, scaling well with the additional sonic capability of the Sony DAP. Ditto the Cayin N5IIS, the beefy tone of the Cayin bringing the musicality out of the nanotube driver well. For my preferences, the Falcon should definitely be paired with a warmer and higher end source with a decent reservoir of driving power to get the most out of the very capable dynamic driver setup
With regards to power, while it isn’t the easiest DD to drive, it still gets more than loud enough on the ZX300 in single ended output to rattle all but the deafest of eardrums. The drivers are capable of soaking up plenty of power without complaint, but don’t need amping to achieve full headroom off most portable sources you will come across.
Soundstage, separation and layering
Soundstage is average in size, pushing marginally outside the head but not feeling particularly broad or cavernous. It matches this to a height that is decent but nothing noteworthy, giving an overall stage that is pretty average for a DD setup in this sort of range. The shape of the stage is oval rather than fully spherical, with the impression of the midrange pulling back and away in both directions around the vocals, which are pushed forward a bit in comparison to the rest of the mids. The stage feels more flat than deep, with just a hint of depth on the Z axis to stop it from sounding completely pancake flat to my ears.
Separation is decent but nothing special in this price bracket. The lack of extreme lateral dispersion pulls the instruments closer together in the stage, and while they don’t crowd each other, there isn’t a huge amount of black space between the various instruments on an average track. The centre image is strong, and overall the imaging is again respectable. Room echoes on “Hold Back The River” by James Bay are audible but muted, giving a little hint of room reverb but not the spacious sort of sound that you get on something like the Solaris. Ghost vocal comes through clearly if faintly, though.
Layering is good for the bracket, with little hint of congestion or blurring on busy tracks. “Coming Home” by Sons Of Apollo sweeps nicely from left to right, with the drum fill cascading around the back of the soundstage and the overlapped bass and guitar notes layering nicely on top of each other with the slightest hint of air between each. Driver speed isn’t an issue, with the track sounding nicely crisp and coherent, although slightly blended.
Flares Pro V2 – £299, 5.5mm beryllium dynamic microdriver
The Flares Pro V2 are the current mid-fi model from Flare Audio, retailing at £300 at time of writing, although with recent sales they have been available as low as £225, bringing them close to the Dunu price bracket. As I didn’t receive the full Dunu retail package it is a little unfair to compare the two directly, but it is fairly safe to say Flare Audio have absolutely nailed the packaging and presentation on their Pro models, so I would be very surprised given what I’ve seen of other Dunu packages like the DN-2002 if the Flares didn’t take it in this category.
Moving on to the build, the Pro V2 are smaller and lighter than the Falcon-C, with a similar all-metal build, this time using titanium. The Flares are tiny, and fit in the ears almost as comfortably as the Dunu, but the proprietary cable system removes the potential for cable swapping, so if you like to play with different types of conductor or wired terminations, the Falcon is your option here.
In terms of sound, the Flares are flatter and more neutral overall, although they also carry a slight emphasis in the sub bass over strictly flat. Overall, the bass feels more enveloping and deep on Flares, with a richer sense of solidity than the slightly less dense sounding Dunu. The Pro V2 also sounds more three dimensional in the lower end, with a greater feel of texture and layering in the bass.
Moving through the mids and treble, the Pro feels less sharp than the Dunu, but still crisp in its delivery. It has a more organic feel to the midrange, which is marginally more forward than the Dunu but still not massively intimate. There is more of a feel of power and sense of dynamic impact on the Flares – listening to “Palladio” by Escala, the Pro positively soars in comparison to the Dunu with its ebb and flow.
In the higher treble regions, cymbals sound clearer on the Pro, with more emphasis and fizz on the Falcon. There is a slightly higher feel of resolution and clarity in the high ranges with the Pro, smoothing out some of the sharp edges of the Dunu while keeping a similar overall tone, and adding a slim layer of micro-detailing and room noise to the background of the music, to give the Pro a more solid sense of imaging.
In terms of power requirements, the Pro is harder to drive than Falcon, requiring a dollop more power to achieve the same volume. This is offset slightly by the balanced Bluetooth module provided in the package which has more than enough power to drive them, but again, if you intend to use a lower power DAP or other wired source, that will be something else to take into consideration.
Overall, while the Dunu puts up a good show in terms of design, cabling and drivability, the Pro V2 pushes into the next bracket sonically, making this an easy recommendation for the Flares if price isn’t a consideration.
RHA T20 – c. £140, dual-coil dynamic driver
The T20 has been in production for a few years now, sitting at the top of Scottish firm RHA’s traditional dynamic driver offerings, using RHA’s own proprietary dual-coil driver design. It has dropped from its original RRP of c. £200 to around £140 at current street price, so is slightly cheaper than the Falcon at time of writing.
Starting with the build, this goes to Dunu – the Falcon has far more ergonomic fit for my ears, and packs a nicer (and detachable) cable. The T20 is no slouch, with injection-moulded stainless steel shells in a classic Westone/Shure style “coffee bean” shape. This is paired with a thick and rubber coated cable which sadly is non-detachable, so much like the Flares above, cable rolling is a no-go with the RHA model. The steel shells feel sturdier than the Dunu, but this comes at the cost of added weight, with the RHA feeling much weightier in the ear. The ergonomic design of the Dunu model has another benefit, filling a larger portion of the outer ear and isolating slightly better against external noise than the RHA unit.
With regards to packaging and accessories, again it is difficult to comment, but RHA’s excellent selection of proprietary silicon tips and some Comply foam options, along with the super convenient wallet-style carry case probably edge the overall load out and packaging in favour of the Scottish firm here.
Moving on to sound, the T20 comes with three detachable tuning filters, allowing the listener to boost treble or bass, or “flatten” the sound slightly (the default tuning). With the reference or bass filters in, the T20 has slightly more mid bass emphasis than the Falcon, which comes across as more of a traditional V-shaped tuning compared to the more recessed midrange and U shape of the T20.
The RHA model has marginally more bass slam due to this increased mid bass presence, with the Falcon feeling slightly snappier in terms of initial impact, just with a shade less body. The T20 is definitely the more bombastic of the two models, and can tend a little more towards boominess in comparison to the more restrained Falcon.
Both IEMs sit on the colder side of neutral in terms of overall tonality, able to capture the edge and rawness of a track like Ann Wilson’s cover of “I Am The Highway” with the requisite rough edges to her vocal, without adding in any smoothness or syrup to the mix. This presentation can come through as a little more hot or fatiguing on the T20 at times – playing something like “Whiskey And You” by Chris Stapleton, the T20 still sound raw and jagged on the chorus, with the Falcon sounding slightly less sharp but not hugely smooth either. In terms of dealing with poorly mastered or sibilant tracks, I would say the Falcon just edges the T20 here, but tonally they are actually very similar sounding IEMs.
In terms of power requirements, the Dunu is the easier of the two to drive, requiring less volume from all of my sources to achieve the same listening volume. Both react well to a more powerful/resolving source, so the scalability is similar across both IEMs.
Soundstage is similar on both, with the T2- throwing out an image that is quite forward in positioning and not hugely wide. Regarding detail retrieval, both IEMs are again very similar; the Falcon feels slightly more refined in how it presents the subtler nuances of a track, but the zingy treble of the T20 ensures that it isn’t left behind in the raw information stakes, pushing just as much into the ear.
In terms of overall sound, both IEMs are far more similar than different musically. Neither will wow lovers of a warmer, smoother sound, but if you prefer your sound more on the cool and analytical side, it will come down to whether you want more of a mid bass emphasis and aren’t bothered about detachable cables (in which case, the T20 is your go to), or whether you prefer a slightly more forgiving and smoother ride with a more comfortable build (the Falcon). For my preferences, I would go with the Falcon, but not by much.
Ibasso IT01 – c. £80, 10mm dynamic driver
The Ibasso IT01 (one driver) was Ibasso’s second foray into the in-ear market (the IT03 was their first with 3 drivers), and has since been replaced with the revised model IT01S. The IT01 retails at around the £80 mark, making it considerably cheaper than the Falcon C. Despite this, it comes in comparable packaging and with similar accessories, as befits Ibasso’s “value for money” reputation in audiophile circles, so doesn’t appear like the cheaper item.
The IT01 comes with a decent quality braided copper cable and a similar metal puck carry case, with an assortment of eartips – there shouldn’t be much to separate the to models here, with only the acrylic build of the IT01 feeling a little less premium than the all metal construction of the Dunu IEM.
In terms of tuning, the IT01 has an audiophile V-shaped style of tuning, with a slightly raised midbass and a similar push in the treble region. It feels a little more full throughout the midrange, carrying a little more weight than the thinner presentation of the Dunu. It also feels slightly more forward in terms of stage position, with the Falcon sitting a few rows further back and giving a more distant sonic view.
Starting in the bass, the IT01 slightly shades the Dunu, giving a bigger and more physical sense of punch on “Nobody To Blame” by Chris Stapleton. The bass drum on this track is ever-present, keeping a simple stomping 4-4 beat throughout the track and pushing a little more air into the ear with each thud on the IT01. Switching to tracks with more sub-bass presence, the IT01 is the cleaner sounding monitor here, with a good level of emphasis in the sub regions but a similar overall weight to the Falcon. “Bring It” by Cobra Starship (remember them?!) has a big and wide sound on the IT01, with plenty of sub bass texture and more fullness on the lower range instrumentation.
Moving up to the mids and staying with the same track, the fullness advantage held by the IT01 extends into the guitars of this track, feeling a little more lush and chunky in the ear (note this is compared to the Falcon – the IT01 in itself is NOT a particularly lush or full-throated IEM). Midrange instruments are noticeably further apart on the X-axis, hard panned further towards to the edges of the soundstage compared to the more central positioning of the Dunu.
Detail feels slightly more emphasised through the midrange on the Ibasso, mainly through a cleaner presentation and slightly more V-shaped response, with less of a scoop in the vocals compared to the Dunu.<
Both IEMs sound clear on my usual harshness tester “Whiskey And You”, but the Ibasso steers a little further away from unpleasantness with its more bodied rendition. Overall, resolution feels similar on both, with the thinner Dunu probably edging it in absolute terms. It definitely feels very close though, with both having no issue picking out the clicking noise in the background of the opening bars “Palladio” by Escala, which is no mean feat for monitors in this price bracket.Finally, the Ibasso is easier to drive than the Dunu.
In summary, the IT01 has more of a full-bodied V shape to its sound, and is able to compete with the Dunu on the technical front, which is impressive given it is less than half the price. Again, preference will play a role here, so if you are looking for something a little more forward and energetic and with a fuller sound in the vocals, the IT01 would be my recommendation. If you prefer your sound more “widescreen” and don’t mind a thinner and more analtyical take on things, the Falcon will be the one for you. As with other comparisons above, I can only give my preference, and in this case I would probably opt for the Ibasso, based purely on my own listening habits.
The Falcon-C is a beautifully designed and manufactured IEM, with a tuning that is slightly different from the run of the mill V-shapes you usually hear in this sort of bracket. It is well thought out and surprisingly engaging, giving a solid technical performance and some nice sub bass emphasis to tracks. This is a solid if not spectacular effort from Dunu – I don’t think it will have an ideal tuning for everyone as it does run a little hot, but what it does, it does well, and is a quality recommendation if you are looking for this sort of sound in the sub-$300 bracket at the moment.
This is a little bit of a departure from the typical Dunu “house sound” I have come to enjoy on models like the DN-2002 and the 3001, but definitely sounds no poorer for it. It also has the best ergonomics and build of pretty much anything I’ve tried in the mid-if bracket, so hopefully Dunu will carry this shell design over into future models. Overall, a decently different performer in the mid-fi dynamic driver stakes.