911? Meet Godzilla. That, was the consensus opinion back in 2007, when Nissan unleashed the GT-R on the world. “Godzilla” was going to take down the de facto standard in luxury sports cars, the Porsche 911 Turbo. The GT-R also had four wheel drive, and additionally employed complex computer sorcery to outsmart ground friction.
I’ve always been a RWD kind of guy. There’s a purity to it that 4WD vehicles can’t quite match. In the same vein, I’ve always disliked hybrid IEMs. To me, they’ve always represented designs that couldn’t make up their minds on what they wanted to be. I like and respect the AKG K3003, but I don’t love it. Not everyone loved the 911 Turbo platform either, but it managed to make four wheel drive an enjoyable experience, with technical prowess few others could touch. These attributes, too, characterize the K3003 — the standard bearer for hybrid IEMs. Along came the DUNU DN-2000J: Godzilla in the flesh.
Perhaps the car analogy is not so perfect. For starters, AKG is Viennese — Stuttgart is leagues away. On the flipside, DUNU is Chinese (founded and largely run by Taiwanese taishang), and not quite on the level of Nissan in the grand scope of things. The main impetus for the DN-2000J, however, is distinctively Japanese (that’s what the ‘J’ is for — it was originally conceptualized as a tweak to the DN-2000 for the Japanese market), and as alluded to, the AKG K3003 holds the same stature as the 911 Turbo in the “often imitated, never duplicated” category when it comes to in-ears. DUNU has made no secret of their desire to model their products after the K3003 — they believe it’s a well-crafted, well-conceived product worthy of emulation, much like how Carlos Ghosn mandated that Nissan throw down the gauntlet on the 911 Turbo back in the mid-2000s.
It was in 2011 when the K3003 did the unprecedented for in-ears. It revolutionized the high-end universal IEM segment, launching a minor hybrid craze (but mostly prompting an unending price inflation war). DUNU had set the bar early in 2012 to make coaxial hybrid technology its own. And calling card it has become, as DUNU‘s most successful products to date have been coaxial hybrids in the DN-1000 and the DN-2000. Looking back on the K3003, it’s now apparent that it is no small feat of audio engineering. To speak nothing of custom IEMs, the K3003 managed to squeeze a ton of technologies into a tiny form factor — exchangeable tuning filters, coaxial transducer design, and thoughtful placement in the ear.
Chinese contemporaries to DUNU, Astrotec and VSONIC (for a time), as well as Korea’s Shinwoo T-PEOS, have all sought to capture the essence of sound set by the K3003. All have thus far failed. Do I necessarily think the K3003 is worth its sticker price in sound quality? No. The same can be said for any $1000+ universal IEM. The law of diminishing returns sets in. At the same time, no one would ever think that a $350 product would be able to match something from an audio giant from Austria, as in the brand landscape of personal audio, DUNU is not even equal in stature to Nissan. It has managed to stay afloat competently in the domestic Chinese market, and enjoys relative popularity in Japan (and other select markets), along with praise on online headphone forums like head-fi, but it is small-fry compared to the acoustic legend of AKG.
Thus, no one in their right mind would seriously expect any product from DUNU (or any of its counterparts) to match the K3003, even with its recent successes in hybrid models. When I heard an early prototype of the DN-2000J at an audio show in December of 2014, however, I sensed the tides were changing. While the prototype was a bit brittle-sounding and harsh, the detail and speed were there, enough to grasp the elusive hi-fi flavor the K3003 had so clearly established. DUNU told me they had big plans and that the DN-2000J was an important part of the revamping of their product lineup. My audition of the prototype told me they weren’t bluffing. This was a monster in the making.
Originally slated to be released after Chinese New Year earlier this spring, DUNU did a final round of fine-tuning before now finally setting the DN-2000J on audiophiles. The finished product is no-holds barred beast of an earphone, made exclusively to beat other acoustic stalwarts at their game.
Users familiar with the looks of last generation’s DN-2000 will notice that the general design of the DN-2000J has remained largely the same, but has gone on a minor (albeit significant) diet. The main housing diameter is now half a millimeter narrower (from 12.5 to 12 mm) and depth is now only 10 mm deep — both alterations are seemingly paltry, but a direct comparison will reveal that the DN-2000J now looks substantially smaller, and that benefit directly improves comfort.
In addition to a change in paint job from copper to metallic grey, gone is a baffling Cyrillic proclamation for Genghis Khan, replaced with tiny tweaks to industrial design cues — the circular back plate appears now ever so slightly more three-dimensional in depth, and the output stem is now knurled for better grip. The net result of this paring down of the DN-2000 shape and a swap for a silver coat is that the DN-2000J now resembles the AKG K3003 in both dimension and color. Not that anyone would mistake the two for one another, of course, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether this newfound resemblance was more than coincidental.
Nevertheless, derivative or not, DUNU has improved leaps and bounds beyond their usual design schtick — even the box packaging has been re-conceived with the help of their Japanese distributors, and never before has DUNU packaging ever looked so polished. It’s not to say that the DN-2000J has perfected its looks, however. The serif typeface of the model designation, serial number, and even the large “D” logo contrasts cacophonously with the contemporary industrial and graphic design. Spacing inconsistencies are riddled across the packaging. The untrained eye might not be able to point out exactly how all these little issues detract from the look and feel of a finished product, but anyone can tell that, despite the improvements, something doesn’t quite add up right.
I really shouldn’t carp at DUNU too much; with most of their developmental budget placed into technical R&D, something has to give, and they chose to sacrifice the one area that doesn’t directly impact sound or build quality. In the same way, no one’s ever accused the GT-R of looking like a classic sports car, and ordering one at your local Nissan dealership isn’t going to net you the experience of living in the lap of luxury, either.
There will still be fans of the DN-2000J‘s industrial design language; it’s both modern and practical, with a look that won’t tire out the eyes. For all its shortcomings, this is still the most well-rounded design DUNU has come up with thus far.
Like the DN-2000 that came before it, the DN-2000J boasts an array of accessories that could make Anna Wintour blush. Gone are the biflange and triple flange tips packaged with the DN-2000, replaced by a set of foam-imbued single flange grey silicone tips, and a starter pack of Comply Foam tips (T-500, Tx-500, Ts-500). The single flange, clear white silicone tips on the DN-2000 carry over as the default tips.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, really. Few people will take the time to outfit the different spacer rings for optimal fit, or even bother to try the bass-extending silicone O-ring (it does work, I tried it — but it makes the driver flex worryingly). They tick off all the boxes and more — need ear guides? Check. Airplane adapter? Gotcha covered. Tie clip? Suit up!
One thing’s for sure, though — DUNU probably won’t (and shouldn’t) be criticized for its included accessories. The box alone is nearly worth the price of admission; having long included a case resembling the old UE box that came with the Triple.Fi 10, DUNU switched over to a different case with last season’s DN-2000. It’s strong and attractive, Goldilocks-perfect in size, and has a separate area dedicated to carrying accessories such as tips and adapters. Thus, it’s no surprise that carry cases have been DUNU‘s long-time claim to fame, even before their current success with hybrid IEMs.
Ergonomics, Comfort & Isolation
The die shrink on the DN-2000J improves ergonomics by a measurable degree. While I did not ever have any issues with fit on the original DN-2000, the DN-2000J is an even easier fit in the ear, whether it be with over-the-ear wear or straight down. It pokes out of the ears less, and exerts less torque on the entrance of the ear canal.
However, though undeniably improved over the original DN-2000, comfort on the DN-2000J can still be hit-or-miss, mainly because of the hard edges of the shape. On first insertion, it’s immediately apparent that the more rounded edges of the K3003 are more comfortable, even when the two earphones are nearly identical in size.
Luckily, I’ve gotten used to the fit of the DN-2000J — whereas I used to use the small stabilizing fins with the earphones, I’ve now chosen to eschew them completely, and doing so has actually managed to improve the long-term comfort of the DN-2000J greatly. The stabilizing fins are nevertheless a great holdover from the DN-2000, despite their not providing much utility for me.
In almost all circumstances, DUNU would never be accused of poor build quality. Their products all seem robust to the point of being overbuilt — traits prized by the obsessive-compulsive audiophile crowd. The DN-2000J is no exception, and its powder-anodized metal bodies seem to be able to take the brunt of any nick and scratch.
Its cables above the Y-split possess air-filled cores so as to minimize microphonics, whereas the entire length of them is uninterrupted, four-conductor wiring. Modders wishing to turn the DN-2000J into a balanced earphone can do so by re-terminating the standard 3.5 mm TRS plug into a 4-pole, TRRS (2.5/3.5 mm) plug, a Kobiconn connector, Hirose, mini-XLR, or any other plug that accommodates balanced wiring.
However, for all its great build, the metal grille protecting the hybrid driver innards of the DN-2000J is thin and secured with mediocrity. The first unit I received possessed quite a bit of glue overrun that had intercalated the metal mesh and much resembled compacted ear wax — so much so that I attempted to “clean” the metal grille, and in doing so, inadvertently removed it from the front. The second unit was much cleaner (DUNU was not made aware of my troubles with glue on the grille, the replacement was made due to excessive hiss and DC offset pickup issues due to a less than ideal solder joint), so my ordeal with the glue may have been an isolated incident, but it’s just something to look out for. Even so, the fine mesh grilles will definitely need to be cared for with regularity; a fine-haired brush could come in handy.
The housings themselves are a blend of stainless steel for the nozzles and the inner housing, and aluminum for the outside. This kind of construction is different from the impeccably milled, all-stainless steel body of the K3003 — DUNU had wanted to make the DN-2000J all in one single material as well, but their CNC machines could only craft the more complex patterns of the fin-securing guide tabs with aluminum. Perhaps because the K3003 is a little more simple (though more elegant) in its construction, it can afford to use stainless steel all over. The downside of the DN-2000J‘s use of aluminum for its outer facets and backplate is that the softer aluminum is more prone to denting than is stainless steel; across my usage period, the DN-2000J picked up a few very small dents along the rounded edges — they’re nothing serious and barely visible, but people concerned about this kind of physical damage should don the included silicone gel covers (similar to ones made for smartphones) to keep the DN-2000J from denting and scratching.
The DN-2000J is, of course, a coaxial hybrid design consisting of a dual balanced armature mid/tweeter assembly, mixed with a dynamic coil woofer — continuing along the tradition of the DN-1000/2000, and inspired by the prototypical design of the AKG K3003. Over the years, there have been multiple designs of the same type from multiple manufacturers, with models such as the Astrotec AX60, Shinwoo T-PEOS H-200/300 and Altone 200/350, Fidue A83 (review here), Tralucent Audio 1Plus2 (review here) and Reference 1, as well as quite a few others.
However, don’t assume that the DN-2000J is merely a “JDM” version of the DN-2000 with a carbon fiber wing, cold-air intake, and chrome rims — under the hood of the DN-2000J, the familiar coaxial hybrid driver design has been massively reworked for maximum technical performance. The crossover is completely different from before, and the low-mass, low-impedance bass driver itself is all-new, with the kitchen sink of space age diaphragm treatments thrown into it.
In the DN-2000J, you’re dealing with a race-hardened IEM, not merely an import tuner. The centerpiece for the performance gains in the DN-2000J is the liquid crystal polymer (LCP) diaphragm; like the GT-R with the ATTESA E-TS system, the LCP diaphragm gets an extra layer magic fairy pixie dust — a titanium coating. This kind of dual treatment has been unheard of until now; there have been products that have been either/or, like the Sony MDR-EX1000 (read our thoughts here) with liquid crystal polymer or the HiFiMAN RE-400 (read the review here) with titanium, but only the DN-2000J combines the two technologies into one.
The holdover from before, the Knowles TWFK dual balanced armature driver responsible for the midrange and treble is something of a misunderstood virtuoso; it’s highly capricious but possesses incredible treble extension and fine granularity — the TWFK has its adherents praising it for its delicate timbre and meticulous resolution but its detractors bemoaning its lack of treble linearity, and often prompts labels of “metallic” and “harsh”. It may never have the ideal type of sound for all people, but for the purposes of the DN-2000J, it is right where it needs to be, as it has been adjusted to an ideal state, with a crossover impedance curve and resonances that align most closely to those of the K3003.
By utilizing the TWFK balanced armature assembly, the DN-2000J wins the distinction of being the very first Chinese audio product to be “Hi-Res Audio” (HRA) certified by the Japan Audio Society (spearheaded by Sony, and supported by the Consumer Electronics Association). While the tag is a great marketing windfall, testing standards for HRA certification are actually relatively lax, but the TWFK is specifically marketed by Knowles Electronics to be compliant with the new Hi-Res initiative by being a transducer that can measurably extend beyond 40 kHz.