Dunu Alpha 3
Hello everyone, today I am taking a look at the latest flathead earbuds from Dunu, the “Dunu Alpha 3“. I’d like to thank Lvy Yan and HiFiGo for providing the Alpha 3 for a full review and feature at Mobileaudiophile.com. No review sample will ever change my tune or skew my words, let’s just get that out of the way. All thoughts within this review are surely my own, something a review sample could never change. Anyways, it is very nice of HiFiGo and I believe that they should get a ton of credit for floating different items in their store to reviewers and are always ethically grounded. I appreciate that.
Dunu is a name that is truly synonymous with quality. At least that’s how I see them. Every Dunu product that I’ve ever spent time with has a certain feeling of prestige, or rather this… “benchmark” repute and eminence within the world of audio. Perhaps I’m giving them a bit too much praise, or not enoigh. The point is, Dunu has the resources, knowledge, understanding and legacy to make waves with every single release in their lineup. The Alpha 3 is no different.
Coming in at $79 the Alpha 3 isn’t cheap by earbud standards but also, there are much more expensive earbuds too. Much more expensive! However, when you have the likes of Venture Electronics for example, creating ultra-budget earbuds that sound very nice for the measly price of a cup of coffee, it does kind of put the onus on more expensive sets to create a quality distinction. Maybe Dunu has the secret sauce? One thing is for sure, I’m eager to find out. The Dunu Alpha 3…
Alpha 3 Pros
-Timbre is natural
-Decent mid-bass response for a set of earbuds
-Treble is non-offensive and smooth up top
-Decent technicalities (Details, Stage, Separation)
-Open & airy sound (as it should be)
Alpha 3 Cons
-Difficult to get a good fit (subjective)
-Bass is lacking (not for bassheads)
-Congested tracks sound congested at times
-Treble could use some more emphasis
Gear used for testing
The box that arrived at my mailbox is pretty small and not at all wasteful. Inside this smaller box is three pairs of full foam and three pairs of donut foams as well as a beautiful carrying case and a cleaning brush. In all honesty the unboxing wasn’t very impressive other than the case. Also being honest, I don’t care either way. The earbuds themselves are pretty impressive in appearance and the case is a very nice addition as well so… No gripes here. Moving on…
The case provided is really an attractive and altogether beautifully built case. I love the size of the case as you can easily fit your earbuds as well as extra foams and possibly even a Dongle Dac as well. Nicely built and structurally sound the case is covered in a fabric material. On the top you’ll see the brand name “Dunu”, and the zipper actually works without fighting it. Open it up and you’ll see a little pocket inside to keep your accessories in as well as an elastic band to place the Alpha 3 behind for safe travels. Dunu usually includes nice cases and this one is no different. It feels quality and looks the part too.
The Dunu Alpha 3 cable comes in two variants, a 3.5 single ended version as well as a 4.4 balanced version. I made sure to ask for the 4.4 cable so to use with my balanced sources. The cable itself is a High Purity Silver-plated, Single-Crystal-Copper Litz cable with a tight braid and an insulating layer as well. I really like the stainless-steel fittings and how the colors mesh together. This is not a bad cable at all, if it has to be attached that is. It’s no secret, we like detachable cables. It should be the industry standard. The only thing that would make this cable much better would be a detachable cable. Oh well, in truth it really is a nice wire for this set and isn’t a hassle to use. It doesn’t get tangled at all and rolls up nicely.
Build / Design / Internals / Fit / Drivability
As far as build quality is concerned the Alpha 3 is built to last. Made entirely of both aluminum and stainless steel, the Alpha 3 is really a very durable feeling set of earbuds. There is a sense of durability when they are in my hands. The cold metal of the sturdy yet skinny stem feels robust. The shell cavity also has the same feeling of structural integrity. The metal grill adds a nice touch as well. Certainly, the Alpha 3 is miles better than any ultra-budget set.
Dunu added an inconspicuous multi-channel acoustic venting system which hides at the rear of the earbuds where the shell cavity attaches to the stem. Meanwhile, the stem itself also helps in the tuning of the Alpha 3 as Dunu built in an independent low frequency & dynamically enhancing acoustic cavity. At the top of the stem, you can see the metal grill for the venting system. This is engineered to help with the low-frequency output.
This is always a subjective part of any of my reviews, but I feel the Alpha 3 is a great looking and elegant set. Very sleek and slick, the Alpha 3 has a trendy looking design language. Colored in all-black in a matte finish while on the back of the Shells you can see “Dunu” imprinted in a glossy format which strikes a nice contrast and a very cool touch.
Dunu chose upon a massive 14.2 Dynamic Driver with a High Rigidity LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) Composite Diaphragm Dome. I’ve already stated the venting system at work with the acoustic cavity, as it all goes into the actual tuning of the Alpha 3.
Fit can be tricky and finicky when dealing with earbuds. They don’t fit everyone perfectly and even when they do, sometimes it’s tough to get a good enough partial seal for decent audio quality. However, when the fit is pretty nice then the sound will reward you. In my case I used two sets of donut foams. I quite literally put one donut foam on top of another in each earbud. This helped to get a nice fit for me. Some people may not need that at all. It’s a very personal and subjective matter when talking about fit and earbuds.
As far as actual driving ability of the Alpha 3, they are fairly easy to drive to good fidelity. This is not always the case with earbuds. Now, I feel that your best audio from the Alpha 3 will still come from a well powered Dongle Dac or maybe a Bluetooth device like the Qudelix 5k or the IFi Go Blu. I can attest that at least the Go Blu worked wonderfully. Plus, the Go Blu has the “Bass Boost” function as well. However, even the Moondrop Dawn 4.4 was quite good with the Alpha 3.
As always, moving up to my Daps was best for me. Both of my daps have 4.4 connections which was wonderful with the Alpha 3. I used medium gain on the iBasso DX240 as well as the Shanling M6 Ultra. Both easily drove this set without issue or distortion.
Note: Before I get into the sound, I should add that I did give the Alpha 3 about 50 hours of burn-in. Now, I don’t think that burn-in had a huge effect on the overall sound but I will always try. Also, for my listening I used two donut foams stacked on top of each other on each earbud.
Of course, the Alpha 3 has an open and airy sound, as with many earbuds. If I play with the fit for a while, I can usually get the Alpha 3 to seat well in my ears. Once I’ve established a good fit, we’re in business. Of course, once I get a good fit, I also can’t make any sudden movements either… or be active… At All. However, I would call the Alpha 3 a mostly balanced sound that has an emphasis in the mid-bass as well as the upper-midrange/lower-treble area. Now, if you get a solid fit the Alpha 3 will come across as a slightly warmer sound, in my opinion closer to neutral/warm. There is some treble roll-off, so if you couple that with the boost in the mid-bass what you’re left with is a warmer, less analytical type listen.
Between the 20’s (pint sized sound impressions)
To offer a very quick explanation of the sound “between the 20’s” for those who simply need a quick snippet of how these lil bad boys’ sound. Starting with the bass, there is most certainly a sub-bass roll-off which is usually the case with earbuds. On top of that you have a decently pumped-up mid-bass. What you really have is a bass that you can hear but not necessarily feel. Still, not bad for earbuds. The midrange is the star of this show. Of course, the sound is pretty thin but it’s also pretty natural apart from that. Tonality and tonal color sound nice and vocals are forward enough and airy enough to make a very nice showing. The treble is also rolled-off to a degree but not to a fault. There is enough emphasis to add some levity to the mix. It isn’t the snappiest treble, that’s for sure but technically the Alpha 3 does a nice job.
All things considered the Alpha 3 is a nice set that sounds rather balanced and very pleasant for long listening sessions. Nothing is peaky or piercing, there’s no sibilance or odd tonal artifacts. The driver must be pretty good as it can take quite a bit of power without distortion. Honestly, I do like the sound. Is it my favorite? No, it isn’t. I will always be partial to in-ear earphones. That said, for a casual listen the Alpha 3 is very well tuned. Fit will make all the difference unfortunately so if you have a chance to try them before you fork over the $79… that’ll be a bonus. The best part of the Alpha 3’s sound to me is the timbre. Not quite organic but close to natural, especially for vocals.
The bass region has a moderate thump for a set of earbuds. Keep in mind, if you are coming from “in-ears” you won’t be very impressed. Unless of course you have had good experience with actual flat-head earbuds. Honestly, the bass can thump in the right scenarios. Something like “Groove” by Ray Wylie Hubbard on the other hand will come across very flat and come across “in- sound” without the tactile nature and haptic vibration of the sub-bass notes that distinguishes that track. But you can also take a song like “Rich Off Pain” by Lil Baby, featuring Lil Durk, and the bass has a good and robust sound that is decently satisfying. Bass guitar doesn’t really give you that guttural reverb but makes a decent showing, for the most part. Basically, you won’t come away from the Alpha 3 saying “Wow the bass is amazing”. It’ll be more like, “For a set of earbuds… Not bad”.
I don’t want to get it twisted though. The bass is forward enough with enough emphasis to play ball with most genres. The absolute key with this set is to find a good fit with less of a gap between the earbuds and your ear holes. That may mean doubling up some foams. I would say that the bass is just above lacking in the mid-bass area while the sub-bass will probably leave you wanting more to a degree. Still, the beauty of earbuds isn’t in their bass reproduction but in their soundstage and openness. Now, there are a bunch of sets that can manipulate the sound to offer a better bass experience but by-and-large there will always be less physicality. Also, it isn’t the fastest bass on planet earth but instead is a bit more atmospheric, it lingers a bit.
The midrange is pretty close to natural as far as tonality and timbre goes. The Alpha 3 has an altogether airy presentation that gives plenty of forwardness without a huge feeling of recession. Males have a certain crispness to the sound without sounding grainy or odd. “Forever” by Lewis Capaldi replays great showing off that gravelly diction to his voice all the while having decent warmth from the bass region. I wouldn’t call it thick in note weight as it’s kinda like lean muscle mass. Not thin but also not overtly thick and warm as one would expect from an earbud. However, as you move up some octaves to a male voice like the lead singer of The Avett Brothers in the song “Pretty Girl From Michigan” you’ll notice his voice thins out a tiny bit. Tonally the sound is more neutral to my ears while his voice is clean, crisp, with nice note definition.
Females carry a nice amount of toned-down shimmer. Not lustery but more of a glow. It’s forward, it’s smoother to the ear and females have very nice clarity. I actually think that female vocals are very nice. Take the track “Kids in Love” by Pink. Her voice has a somewhat illuminated inflection and controlled forwardness with very good presence taking center stage. Of course, the biggest crutch is the very slightly lean body to her voice. You simply don’t have that full & plump body to notes. Having said that, I don’t think it matters, the Alpha 3 sounds great in the entire midrange but especially with female vocals, truly. Instruments have the same timberal cues. Slightly thin, good for some instrumentation with great resolution.
All things considered…
All things considered the Alpha 3 does vocals pretty nicely. They are open and airy, without sibilance and without any upper-mid glare. There is decent separation in this region for a set of earbuds and the larger stage gives nice dimension to the sound. The midrange could use a little dose of note body, but once you get past that the sound begins to come across nicely. There’s still good texture to this region despite the subtle leanness. I do think we need to keep in mind that fit plays a huge part in the final sound.
The treble is pretty laid back in my opinion yet with a decent treble punch. I find it to be illuminated just enough. Treble heads will want to pass on this one though. This isn’t the most detailed treble region but of course that isn’t what the Alpha 3 was tuned to be, I don’t think. More than anything it’s a smoother type of treble which keeps in nice control. It’s simply not the most vibrant of treble regions that I’ve ever heard. I also wouldn’t say that air is lacking, but I could use that last little bit of openness I suppose. I’m not complaining though. In my opinion this set is very well tuned for a set of earbuds and the treble follows suit to that statement.
I’d say that there is enough emphasis to properly replay my music library and my ears aren’t attacked by treble peaks. I don’t hear anything shrill at all and I also don’t hear any sibilance which ultimately helps me to draw the conclusion that the Dunu Alpha 3 has a pretty safe treble response. You won’t get any strange moments of timbre issues. For instance, the secondary harmonics of a cymbal strike doesn’t sound splashy at all. Trumpet sounds decently brassy and full for the most part. Piano has a nicely rendered and authentic sound. Violin may be a hint thin, but the timbre and tonality are really nice. At least from my perspective. Of course, I’m making these judgments against other earbuds I’ve tested in the past.
The treble has enough bite for a track like “Ice Bridges” by Billy Strings. This song moves at a very fast clip and the Alpha 3 did a respectable job keeping up. The treble also has decent extension as evidenced in the song “In Bloom” by Nirvana. Those cymbals are actually nicely full in body and again, I didn’t hear anything splashy and neither were they attenuated at all either. Also, the electric guitar in that track can be absolutely ear gouging depending on the recording. From what I hear the Alpha 3 takes that piercing electric guitar and makes it listenable even at high volumes. So, not bad at all.
I would say that the soundstage is nicely open with a wider stereo image, average height, and a touch of depth to the sound. Nothing that will blow your mind or anything, but the stage size is good for me. Most earbuds will provide that larger field of sound and the Alpha 3 is no different. The sound is pretty airy and open, but it isn’t a coliseum or anything. Just a nice stage for my music library that doesn’t at all come across congested. The stage is appropriate to replay my music very nicely.
Separation / Imaging
The area of “Separation” is where I begin to see some issues that take hold when playing tracks that are a bit more complex. Truthfully, those are the only tracks that I feel have a harder time on the Alpha 3. Obviously, easier to digest and simpler songs are pretty easy to discern and separate elements of the stage. So, congested tracks do tend to sound like just that… Congested. Imaging kind of follows separation to a degree where the capacity of the Alpha 3 to pinpoint elements of the stage depends a bit upon how adventurous and complex the song is. For the most part left to right is good and front I back isn’t horrible. This is not a flat wall of sound and so the Alpha 3 does have space to operate within my test tracks. In the end the Alpha 3 are about average in both separation and imaging.
Detail retrieval can be pretty darn good with one caveat. Which just so happens to be the exact same thing I’ve been harping on throughout the technicalities portion of this review. That is, the Alpha 3 is really proficient so long as the music isn’t really busy and congested. Clarity is pretty good throughout, resolution is nice, the sound is open (for the most part), transients are marginally quick and so on simpler songs the Alpha 3 does well to illuminate the minutiae within my music. Good for the macro-type-details and about average as far as micro-details are concerned. By the way, “average” is not a bad thing at all. The sound is on the smooth side and the Alpha 3 simply wasn’t tuned to be some dry and analytical set. It is flavored more for musicality than anything.
Is it worth the asking price?
Friends, I really don’t like answering this question all the time. I’d say that the answer is not clear-cut and obvious. Also, much depends on how well versed you are with earbuds, if you even enjoy earbuds (of course why else would you have read this far)? I will tell you flat out that the Alpha 3 is one of the best tuned earbuds that I’ve tested. Some will want a more analytical sound, some folks will want better detail retrieval, some folks will probably want a bit more low-end emphasis too. You can’t please everyone. That said, the Alpha 3 is a very nicely tuned set.
The unboxing is pretty good, the case is nice too. The build quality is absolutely fantastic as well and the design is very cool (in my humble opinion) with a slick look and the Alpha 3 even has a pretty nice cable too. The timbre is fantastic across the board, and it isn’t completely lacking in its ability to bring about some decent macro-dynamics and musicality. The stage is nice, and it’s an easy listening set with no surprise peaks to kill your ears in fatigue. The sound won’t be anything like most in ears at the same price, but it also has its own redeeming qualities. Earbuds have their own distinct benefits that in-ears simply cannot provide. Let’s put it this way, if you really enjoy earbuds then I think the Alpha 3 is well worth the $79 that Dunu is asking for.
Note: all ratings are based upon my subjective judgment. These ratings are garnered against either similarly priced sets or with similar driver implementations or styles with the unique parameters of my choosing. In the case of the Dunu Alpha 3 ratings below, that would be any earbuds between $20-$80. Please remember that “ratings” don’t tell the whole story. This leaves out nuance and a number of other qualities which make an earbud what it is. A “5” is exactly average and please take into consideration the “lot” of iems these ratings are gathered against. Earbuds ranging from $20-$80 US isn’t a very large scope and so seeing a 9 is pretty reasonable. My ratings are never the same and each set of ratings tells a different story. Each time you read one of my ratings it will be unique to that review. Basically, I create a Rating that makes sense to me.
-Build Quality: 9.7
-Overall: 9.4 🔥🔥🔥
Overall: 8.9 🔥🔥🔥
Well, there really isn’t much to summarize in this section other than the fact that I must admit that I am not as well versed in earbuds as I am in-ears and while I’ve heard a lot of earbuds in my time, I never really enjoyed them as much. So, perhaps my views and ratings may be skewed to a degree. As honest as I can be, these ratings always take me a very long time. I’ve written this a few times before, but ratings are not my favorite part of any review. I don’t think they help you that much and there is so much they leave out. So, I do hope you have read my actual review and not just skipped over it to get to the ratings.
At any rate, there are some issues that I could come up with concerning my ratings. The first issue would be the “Bass” rating. This is a tough call which left me perplexed. The bass truly depends on your fit! If the fit isn’t good, then you might as well give the bass a 1.0. Still, when the fit is good, the bass is great, and I do believe garners a 9.2. I’ve tried a ton of earbuds, and some earbuds can bang down low.
Anyways, the other questionable Rating is the “Technicalities”. This is not cut ‘n dry at all. Different aspects of the technicalities perform better than others. So, what do I do, break down ratings for each individual attribute that would be defined as a “Technicality”? Like… Detail Retrieval, Soundstage, Separation, Imaging, Transient Response etc.? So, I just balled every last one of them in my mind and felt comfortable giving the Alpha 3 an 8.0. You
To conclude my full review of the Dunu Alpha 3 I want to first thank the good people of HiFiGo and the awesome store they have, as well as Lvy Yan for being on the ball, helpful and completely kind every step of the way. I also want to thank you, the reader, for making it this far and I truly hope I’ve helped anyone of you make a purchasing decision. However, please take in other thoughts about Alpha 3. Listen to, read, or watch other perspectives on this set as getting multiple viewpoints is only going to help you to truly make an educated decision. Please take care, stay safe and always, God Bless.