DUNU x Gizaudio DaVinci: Are we in the Renaissance of IEMs?

The DUNU x Gizaudio DaVinci is the latest in a series of IEMs that’s making waves in the community for its compliance with what many reviewers and enthusiasts are calling “the new tuning meta.” But what exactly is the new meta?

The short answer is that B&K 5128—the newest and most advanced industry-standard headphone measurement fixture—showed us that IEMs generally have significantly less low-midrange than well-tuned headphones, so the new meta nudges IEMs closer to well-tuned headphones by lifting lower-midrange. I highly recommend reading my article The Shape of IEMs to Come if you have more questions about this, as it serves as a great primer to how we got here and why.

I’m delighted to see a notable brand like DUNU attempting to seize the benefits of this new approach, because (spoiler alert) I generally think this new meta results in better sounding products. But how well does DaVinci actually make use of this tuning approach? Does it really offer meaningful sonic improvement versus other IEMs in its price class? Does “Binky” actually merit the hype it’s been getting online? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about.

Full disclosure: Timmy from Gizaudio—who tuned the DaVinci—is a good friend of mine, and I‘ve been discussing IEM tuning with him up to and after DaVinci’s release, including giving a bit of tuning feedback on an earlier revision of the DaVinci. This unit I’m reviewing will be going to other reviewers once I am finished with my review, and I don’t get to keep this unit.

As was the case with the DUSK review or any of my reviews prior, none of the above affects my judgment of the product. Like any headphone or IEM I review, DaVinci will be judged on its strengths and weaknesses as I see them… so let’s talk about it!

What we like

  • Some of the best midrange tone in the entirety of the IEM market
  • Price; this is the cheapest we’ve seen a passive IEM with this approach to tuning
  • Included modular cable offers nice flexibility to end-users

What we don’t like

  • Too much bass for this style of midrange tuning
  • Cable ergonomics are middling, shell and nozzle ergonomics are poor
  • Treble peak around 13 kHz can be problematic and it isn’t especially changeable with tip swapping
  • Ergonomics and Accessories

    The DaVinci comes with the IEM itself, three sets of ear tips—DUNU’s own S&S tips, Candy tips, and Standard tips— and a grayish-black 2-pin modular cable that allows the user to swap between either a 3.5mm connection or a 4.4mm balanced connection. This is a nice touch! It sucks when one purchases an IEM and it comes with the wrong cable type, and it can be annoying to have to use an adapter with something you want to have a small footprint for on-the-go listening.

    Touching on the ear tips, I'm definitely glad to see so many different types here. The S&S tips in particular have received acclaim in the community, and after testing them out I totally get it. They're a ”sticky” cylindrical tip that allows for a moderately deeper insert than the other tips while also ensuring a very consistent seal, at least for me. The Standard tips are an underrated option though. Even though they might be less comfortable than the S&S, I like that they are stiffer, and thus less likely to deform between seatings or users. The Candy tips I don't have much of an opinion on, as they strike me as similar to many of the generic ear tips you would find with most IEMs.

    The cable is more of a mixed bag. While I have to give DUNU credit for the modular connector system, I really dislike the ergonomic profile of this cable. It’s plasticky, rather stiff, and fairly heavy. I found it a bit microphonic and annoying to use walking around the grocery store or even just on leisurely walks outdoors.

    Another gripe, and more of a personal thing that I can't really dock points for, but I feel like most cables that have a chin cinch really don't need ear hooks. In fact, I would greatly prefer if basically all manufacturers stopped putting pre-formed ear hooks on their IEM cables, as it kind of forces the user into a fit profile that may or may not work for them.

    Speaking of fit profiles, I'm not a fan of the DaVinci’s shell. It's on the large side, not especially well-molded to the inside of my outer ear, and a bit heavy. While it's not quite as bad as DUNU’s recent Glacier, I really wish the shell was smaller, better molded, or both. It's made worse by the fact that the nozzle is fairly large in circumference too, and thus DaVinci has the issue a lot of IEMs have where comfort in the ear canal entrance itself isn’t great for long periods.

    Additionally, the nozzle’s tip retention lip is very aggressive, such that many ear tips I placed on DaVinci were pretty difficult to get off. It even tore one of my Spinfit CP100+ tips when I tried to remove it. So just be careful when removing ear tips, as ones that are on the narrow side might just rip if the tip’s stem is soft enough.

    IEMs as a market segment have a long way to go in terms of being more comfortable for end-users, and DaVinci is unfortunately on the worse side as far as overall ergonomics go. However, the inclusion of multiple types and sizes of ear tip as well as a modular cable system does at least give the end-user some flexibility out of the box, which is appreciated.

    Frequency Response and Tonality

    Above is a graph of the DUNU x Gizaudio DaVinci measured using the ear canal simulator of the B&K Type 5128 designated Type 4620. It is calibrated to the 4620 + Human Diffuse Field HRTF. The bounds behind the measurement are the bounds of preference outlined in the existing speaker and headphone literature from Harman

    Bass

    I’d say DaVinci has a bit more low-end than I’d prefer, and its bass elevation creeps a bit higher in frequency than I’d like too. This kind of shelf is actually pretty typical of the “old meta” of IEM tuning.

    When midrange is more forward around 1-2 kHz (as was typical of the old meta), a more generous bass shelf is often genuinely the best counterbalance. However, because of the midrange here being quite a bit more “normal” sounding than the old meta, this amount of bass simply isn’t needed.

    The excess of bass here means that bass guitars sound a little flubby, with their pick attack and “voice” softened due to bass overshadowing midrange overtones. Kick drums sound a little lumpy or poofy, and lower-pitched male vocals can at times sound a bit too boomy or resonant for the same reason: just too much bass for the midrange tuning here.

    That all aside, I don’t think this slight bass emphasis is a huge issue. It has upsides, like how it helps balance the treble (which we’ll get to) and that it tilts the overall presentation towards a cozier, easier to listen to type of sound. However, the bass was the first thing that stood out to me as a coloration, so be advised: Binky is a bassy boy.

    Our very own Resolve has also reviewed the DaVinci, and I think we’ve come to similar conclusions regarding the bass. Feel free to check out his video if you’d like a different perspective.

    Watch the video

    Treble

    Treble in IEMs is historically a very rough spot for me. I can count on one hand the amount of IEMs I’ve heard that weren't annoyingly colored in the treble in some way, and while DaVinci definitely has a coloration up there, it’s not quite as egregious as other IEMs I’ve tested.

    Below 10 kHz, DaVinci is definitely among one of the best IEMs out there for my taste. It doesn’t boost the 4-6 kHz region too heavily and thus the presentation isn’t nearly as chalky or dry on vocals and snare drums as many IEMs tend to be. The 7-10 kHz area is also rather smooth, if potentially a bit recessed. I could see others having issues with the presentation of this region, leading cymbals to be a bit too muted or voices being a bit muffled sounding, but I’d much rather too little in this area than too much.

    The upper treble may end up being a deal breaker for some people though, because DaVinci has a sizable 13.6 kHz elevation in my ear that causes snare drums and hi-hats specifically to be scratchy and rather unpleasant on certain tracks.

    Interestingly though, I have fewer problems with this elevation than I’d expected looking at the measurement. While I would absolutely call this a coloration, and one that I’d EQ down by ~6 dB if given the choice, I actually think it and the bass shelf are nicely counterbalancing forces. If I cut the treble peak with EQ, the sound is suddenly overbearingly bassy. If I EQ the bass down, the treble then becomes much less tolerable. Small adjustments causing noticeably worse tonal balance means that, as a whole, the IEM is fairly well (if precariously) balanced.

    Without EQ, I really didn’t have much trouble listening to this for hours at a time. When I did need to take them out, it wasn’t due to bass or treble fatigue, but rather the ergonomics not being a good fit for me long-term.

    So yes, the treble is definitely flawed in a way that would probably stop me from wanting to own a DaVinci long-term, but in this case the extra energy here does make a certain amount of sense with the bass elevation. And since most people are probably less treble sensitive than I am, it’s possible that the treble here won’t be a deal breaker for others like it is for me.

    That aside, neither the bass nor the treble are ideal for the midrange presentation here… but that’s likely because they’re overshadowing what would otherwise be the star of the show.

    Midrange

    When people talk about “the new meta,” this is what they’re talking about. DaVinci has one of the most normal-sounding midrange presentations on the market at any price, and this has a lot of upsides for anyone who wants a “daily driver” IEM or someone who, like me, really can’t listen to the IEMs of the “old meta” at a comfortable volume or without immediately wanting to pull up EQ.

    Elements with a midrange focus like vocals, horns, guitars, woodwinds, and other stringed instruments in the tenor to alto range sound pretty damn excellent on DaVinci. I do think the upper end of the bass shelf is bleeding just a bit too much into the midrange, and things like electric piano can sound a little swollen when they hit the lower part of their range. However, I’m tempted to say this is a bass issue more than a midrange issue.

    I especially like the presentation for distorted electric guitars, which seem to have all of the fiery texture in the overtones that I like, while not sounding overly buzzy, shouty, or thin. Snare drums also sound particularly nice, having the correct amount of “crack” while having just a smidge of extra beef in the low end to give them a welcome sense of additional weight.

    In isolation, the midrange is about as good as any passive IEM I’ve yet heard, and that alone makes it an IEM I’m glad to have at home for testing. DaVinci is probably the IEM in recent memory that I’ve felt least compelled to immediately need to EQ to be enjoyable, which is saying something considering I EQ basically everything.

    Subjective Impressions

    Most of the critical tone aspects of the DaVinci range from “okay” to “very good,” and the story in terms of how I subjectively digest DaVinci is rather similar. In some things it’s only okay, and in some things it’s surprisingly very good.

    Touching on the “okay” parts first, I think in terms of what people call “dynamics” as well as what people call “detail, resolution, etc.,” DaVinci is only okay, if actually a bit mediocre. I think the main culprit here is the excess bass which tends to make music thump a little too hard and occludes some important transient information in the upper midrange and lower treble. Additionally I get the sense that the 9-10 kHz dip on the measurement above might actually make DaVinci sound a bit muffled or “low res” to some people.

    However, I think DaVinci is actually one of the more spacious and “big” sounding IEMs on the market right now, and I think this where the moderate excess of bass actually might work in its favor. While yes, the bass boost does make for a bit of tonal incoherence, it also has a tendency to make the bass instruments sound closer to the listener than the midrange instruments are, which lends a unique sense of front-to-back depth to DaVinci that I think listeners will enjoy.

    This is cool because DaVinci didn’t have to compromise midrange tone to get this sense of spaciousness, which is something IEMs that earn credit for spaciousness like the Campfire Andromeda often have to do in order to get a similar effect. Additionally, DaVinci’s sense of lateral separation is very solid, and the decay of reverb tails is easily discernible but not cloyingly so.

    Overall, while it’s not necessarily breaking any molds when it comes to subjective qualia, I was pleasantly surprised that DaVinci still had something interesting to provide in this arena given I had pretty low expectations given how bassy it is.

    Vent Block Mod & EQ

    Resolve mentioned this mod in his video review after I’d shown him my initial measurement of it, but for those who haven’t watched it, the DaVinci has rear-venting behind the dynamic driver that significantly reduces the bass and warms up the midrange slightly when blocked. We do not recommend using Funtack/Blutack for this, as it can damage the IEM, so some sort of tape with minimal residue is likely a better choice for blocking the vent here.

    Above is a graph of the DUNU x Gizaudio DaVinci, measured using the ear canal simulator of the B&K Type 5128 designated Type 4620. It is calibrated to the 4620 + Human Diffuse Field HRTF. The bounds behind the measurement are the bounds of preference outlined in the existing speaker and headphone literature from Harman

    While I greatly prefer this approach to bass and midrange tuning, unfortunately reducing the bass this much makes the treble peak around 14 kHz too apparent for me, so be aware that this mod is best for those who want a lighter bass response, warmer midrange, and more forward treble. For me, the better avenue was definitely EQ, where I got really good results just by dipping the bass and treble a bit and warming up the mids to compensate for the lost bass.

    Preamp: -0.6 dB

    Peak @ 71 Hz Gain -3.0 dB Q 0.1

    Peak @ 350 Hz Gain 3.0 dB Q 0.6

    Peak @ 13500 Hz Gain -6.0 dB Q 2

    Comparison to the Moondrop DUSK (DSP Default)

    Above is a comparative graph of the DUNU x Gizaudio DaVinci and Moondrop x Crinacle DUSK, measured using the ear canal simulator of the B&K Type 5128 designated Type 4620. It is calibrated to the 4620 + Human Diffuse Field HRTF. The bounds behind the measurement are the bounds of preference outlined in the existing speaker and headphone literature from Harman

    This is the comparison most readers are interested in, as the DUSK was arguably the significant example of the “new meta” released this year. In terms of tuning I do hear them roughly similar to how the above measurement looks, with a difference or two worth noting. By the way, I’m only comparing it to the sound of the Default preset, as I didn’t much care for the DUSK’s tonal profile without it.

    I greatly prefer the bass response on the DUSK, as it sounds much more clean and less soft than the DaVinci. Kick drums sound bigger, heavier, and more precise in their attack. Bass synths sound monolithic and huge on DUSK while not being as obtrusively boomy as DaVinci.

    However, the DUSK’s treble is meaningfully more plasticky and harsh in my ear canal, despite measuring pretty similarly on the 5128. In testing the two of them with sine sweeps, I have a potential explanation for why.

    For one, my ear might just be more sensitive to ~ 9-10 kHz than 5128, which means the DUSK being “closer to the target” in that region could actually result in a boost in my ear —and I do hear it as a slight boost there on DUSK. Conversely, I hear DaVinci's slight dip here as sounding much more subjectively even.

    Additionally, I think the two having different driver types in this region—planar for DUSK and balanced armature for DaVinci—means that they could be responding differently to the acoustic load of my eardrum and ear canal than that of the 5128. The DUSK’s 14 kHz peak sounds significantly higher in magnitude when compared directly to the same peak on DaVinci, and as such it needs roughly 3-4dB more reduction to sound correct in my ear vs. the DaVinci.

    Getting to the actual sonic impression between them, the DUSK is more of an “all-rounder” while the DaVinci is rather firmly in the “warm, smooth, lush” camp. While the DUSK’s treble bothers me a lot more, I prefer DUSK’s snappier and more focused approach to bass. I actually prefer DaVinci’s slight extra forwardness around 2 kHz on some recordings, as it sounds a little more appropriately intense on things with a lot of overtones like electric guitar, and can sound a little less smoothed-over on things that don’t have a lot in this region like pianos.

    After time with both, I think I’d end up taking the DaVinci over the DUSK for two reasons:

    1. DaVinci’s midrange is sometimes to my preference over DUSK, while the treble is definitely to my preference over DUSK. Keep in mind that while it is an obvious choice for me, it might be closer (or flat-out different) for others.
    2. DaVinci does not require a poorly-implemented DSP cable (that I cannot use with my phone) to achieve its intended sound.

    The reader should also consider the issues with ergonomics I outlined earlier with the DaVinci. While DUSK certainly wasn’t a marvel of ergonomics, it was easier to spend extended periods of time with than DaVinci due to the comfort. But if I’m just going off sound, I’d consistently choose DaVinci over DUSK, and it’s almost all down to the treble response and not needing the DSP cable.

    Conclusion

    At first I was a bit confused why Timmy chose to name another one of his collaboration IEMs after a famous scientific mind of the past, but I feel like with the DaVinci it happens to make a lot of sense. Which brings us back to the question in the headline: are we in the Renaissance of IEMs? In my opinion, we’re extremely close.

    DaVinci is the first passively-tuned IEM released this year that’s gotten this close to the “new meta” approach to midrange tuning, but it falters a bit in the surrounding areas. For this reason, I think DaVinci is going to end up being an important IEM for the future of the hobby.

    It serves as a twofold example: It shows how important a really excellent midrange presentation is, because it can make something with less-than-optimal bass or treble still sound totally fine for extended listening sessions. But it also serves as an example that the old approach to bass and midrange might not be the best fit for a more “correct” midrange tuning.

    I’m gonna echo a sentiment that Resolve expressed at the end of his video review of the DaVinci linked above. While this review might not have sounded like the most glowing or excited review of an IEM, I’m going to enthusiastically recommend the DaVinci because it’s truly one of the safest tunings out there, and at a lower price than most comparable options.

    However, we’re in a pretty fast-moving hobby where good IEMs get “dethroned” by better or cheaper options very soon after they release. It’s likely that this year something better, cheaper, or both will come around, rendering the DaVinci a less strong option than it currently is.

    While DaVinci might not be the “default recommendation” for long, right now I can’t really think of an IEM near its price class that I’d recommend over it. So for the time being, I regard it as the IEM to beat in this price range, especially if you find you like a little bit of extra bass and treble, but don’t want to compromise the midrange tuning to get it. Well done, Timmy!

    If you have any questions or want to chat about this article, feel free to ping me in our Discord channel or start a discussion below on our forum, both places being where you can find me and a bunch of other headphone and IEM enthusiasts hanging out and talking about stuff like this. Thanks so much for reading. Until next time!


    This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://headphones.com/blogs/reviews/dunu-x-gizaudio-davinci-are-we-in-the-renaissance-of-iems
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    Hey, thanks to those who have read the review! Wanted to leave a little nugget for those who are interested in the “Vent blocking” mod:

    If you use a tape that doesn’t perfectly seal off the air volume—like micropore tape, which is what I used—you get the effect of the vent blocking mod in the midrange (green), but a bit more bass extension (pink). Worth a try!

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    I was kind of expecting a comparison to the Hisenior Mega5EST. I’m not sure if you have a copy to do a side-by-side comparison, but from the graphs I’ve seen, they seem to measure pretty similarly.

    I don’t own a unit so I wasn’t able to compare them side-by-side, which would be essential precisely because they measure so similarly.

    I will say, for my taste Mega5EST has a better approach to bass and isn’t quite as soft/poofy as DaVinci. However, I prefer DaVinci’s approach to midrange as its a little more textured in the upper midrange specifically. Treble is going to be a tossup; I do think Mega5EST with the narrow tips was probably a bit smoother (and that’s what I preferred in my review). That being said, I think DaVinci’s slightly darker overall tilt works better for my taste on the whole.

    Here’s a measurement comparing the two.

    3 Likes

    Great review. But, a suggestion: buy a caliper tool and make nozzle width measurement a standard part of your reviews. “Nozzle ergonomics are poor” isn’t very helpful to most people.

    1 Like

    Honestly that is a very good recommendation and I do plan on doing this once I’ve the money to apportion to it. Thank you for the thoughtful suggestion!

    PS. It’s roughly 6.7mm at the widest part of the nozzle, per another reviewer’s measurement.

    1 Like