disclaimer: I was involved in testing the beta versions of the Janus and spoke with DD-Hifi regarding the tuning and ease of use features of the Janus. Some pictures are of the Beta model while others are the final product as the shells have changed little save for a few convenience features on the final product (welcome changes). Sent as a beta by DD Hifi for testing and tuning. I have not received any guidance on what to write for this review, I was not compensated for this review, nor do I have any financial interest in DD-Hifi.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Janus is packed in a fairly nondescript cardboard slip-cover box with two compartments. One contains the case while the other contains the earpieces. The kit contains the earpieces, cable, cable tie with magnetic closure, 7 sets of tips (3 each of treble and bass tips and 1 additional that ships on the earpieces), mmcx covers (5 sets for when bi-pin is in use), and a soft case also with magnetic closure. Tips are all silicone with no foams provided in the kit. One needs to understand that DDHifi over-engineers most of their products so the accoutrements provided here are typical of DD craftsmanship and design. While others are providing a velcro tie for cables, DD is using cloth backed leather with magnetic pads to do the same job. The case is also well made and well designed, more on that in a bit.
In some ways, the Janus is an age old design, in others quite innovative. Single dynamic drivers have been around since the first earphone, but using FPCB (flexible PCB material) instead of wires between the connectors and the driver is not. Use of the PCB both provides more rigidity and strength while also yielding a very clean and symmetrical look to the connections. The inclusion of both .78mm bi-pin and mmcx connectors opposite each other is another rarity. I ran measurements with both connectors and they are within the margin of error of each other so choose the one you prefer and go. This makes a great option for testing cables and I’ll likely use it for that going forward. The earpieces have clear housings at the rear so you can see the connectors, fpcb, and rhe rear face of the driver. The front is steel with a straight short nozzle giving the Janus a fit similar to a micro-driver or Etymotics style in-ear. There is a ring of vents just behind the nozzle evenly spaced around the surface of the casing that do limit isolation considerably. Tips are standard T400 size with a large lip on the nozzles for retention. DD went an extra step and not only is the right bi-pin connector red for quick reference but the stems of the tips are also red and blue to give the user a quick visual reference even when the bi-pin connector is in use and obstructed. Since the provided cable is tip-down – this a good thing as the earpieces look a lot alike an could be switched accidentally. I had no issue with wearing the Janus for extended periods and no physical discomfort or fatigue was noted.
The Janus utilizes a single 10mm dynamic driver using a bio-composite diaphragm with a dual magnet structure. Nominal impedance is 32Ω with a sensitivity of 97 dB/mW. I did find that while the Janus performed well with a phone or low-powered source it does indeed improve with additional power. In particular the Janus bass tightens up and is more dynamic with the addition of a solid amp to the chain. The chambers (both fore and aft) are also tuned specifically for this driver to help get the most out of it with venting to the front visible behind the nozzles. The rear is non-vented but is a much larger chamber and uses the clear resin rather then the stiffer metal of the front chamber.
The Janus ships with a cable they call Forest and they also offer an upgrade named Sky. Both cables are offered in either .78mm bi-pin or MMCX and in 2.5 and 4.4mm balanced connectors as well as 3.5mm single ended. I opted for 2.5mm balanced as I have a couple of DDhifi’s excellent 2.5mm to 3.5mm single ended adapters and that makes this a very versatile option. They also have a 2.5 to 4.4mm adapter for use with DAPs like the Sony or Cayin models. The Forest is light blue with a twisted pair from the straight jack housing to the splitter and is listed as occ copper. There is very little strain relief but the cable itself is fairly heavy so the likelihood of breakage is small. (Again with the over-built stuff). The jack housing, splitter, chin slider, and bi-pin connectors all share a matte gray finish and are all aluminum alloy for durability. One quirk is the left/right is on the top of the connector housings rather than the sides so at first glance I missed them and actually mentioned to the maker the lack of labeling. They kindly told me where to look and indeed they are well marked if not where anticipated.
The upgrade cable (Sky) is a 4 strand braid from the jack housing to the splitter with one wire light blue, one a light tan, and two clear exposing the silver coated copper internals. At the split, blue goes left and tan goes right. Hardware on the Sky is polished steel with a small clip midway up the cable to hold the braid tight and a rubber chin slider above the split. Connectors have matching polished steel housings and unlike the forest do come with earhooks for tip-up wear. I much prefer the Sky from my time using both as it transmits much less movement to the ear compared to the tip-down wear of the forest.
I mentioned in the unboxing that the case was over-engineered and while from a quick glance it looks a lot like any number of other earphone cases, its closure is unique and well thought out. The case is reinforced leather with a suede interior and closure is accomplished by magnetic pads embedded in leather flaps that meet at the top center. Size is good for storing the earpieces, a single cable, and an extra set of tips. It is a bit large for pant’s pocket carry but the trade off is the cable and earpieces don’t have to be mashed into the case to fit. I have a couple of DD’s other cases for Daps and have grown to expect this kind of design from them. They are definitely a step above the average and the attention to detail shows here.
DD refers to the tips as treble and bass sets but to my ear they are more a matter of reference vs enhanced bass. The treble tips don’t enhance the treble to my ear, but they do reduce the bass to a level that gives it a more linear sound. For that reason, I did all of my listening notes using what DD calls the treble tips in size large.
I tested the Janus using both the mmcx connectors and the .78mm bi-pin connectors to try and visualize any differences in signature due to connection type. To keep this a fair fight, I used two cables of the same make/model/construction where the only difference was the connector type. I also tested against the Forest and Sky cables and found that any differences between them were within the margin of error for my equipment so concluded that sound tests could realistically be conducted with any of the cables without dramatically impacting the outcome. I used the Sky to do the listening notes.
Sub-bass has good rumble with perceptible roll-off only below about 30Hz and good speed. Mid-bass is on the same level as the sub-bass as are most of the lower mids which makes the Janus a warm sounding in-ear. This is very different from the 1st beta that had a much larger treble presence and was quite bright and I have to say I much prefer this later tuning. Speed is good with slightly faster attack than decay giving the notes a bit of weight that isn’t present on some of the new hi-tech wonder material drivers. It won’t compete speed-wise with those same beryllium wonders but detail is in no way lacking here. There is some very mild compression when fed really complex tracks, but less than many single dynamics and certainly not unexpected at the price point.
Transition to the lower mids is very clean with only the smallest traces of mid-bass bleed and no notable obstruction of lower mids. Lower-mids have good weight and male vocals are well voiced and stand even with their female counterparts which is a pleasant change from the norm. Guitar growl is well rendered as well with crisp edges. True mids begin to drop back slightly but still maintain enough presence in the mix so they do not seem recessed, just not emphasized. Lower strings have good note weight and timbre as a result of the tuning but as we continue to move up the upper-mids continue the step-back and lack just a touch of energy for violin to sound completely realistic. Female vocals do cut through most of the instrumentation but are not forward of the male vocals and make these particularly good for duets. Detail in the mids is quite good with more micro-detail than anticipated from a warm iem as that same warmth and note weight is usually counter to micro-detail.
Treble is polite with lower-treble on the same plateau with mids and upper-mids (roughly 1.5k-3.5kHz). There is a mild elevation between 3 and 4kHz that adds a little brightness and lends to female vocals cutting through the mix (I got to playing with EQ and cutting this bump makes the vocals step back into the instrumentation). We see a gradual drop-off above that peak and treble is very polite as a result. Final roll-off is above my hearing (14kHz). Snare rattle is good with crisp hits but cymbals lack just a touch of energy needed to be completely realistic. The nice thing is no stridency or metallic click to percussion, the downside of which is slightly less energy than entirely realistic at times. This will be an iem the treble shy should not have any problem with and at the same time all but the most extreme treble lovers will find it tough to find fault at the price point.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage has better width than depth with some height but stops short of 3D with overall dimensions reminding me of a small school auditorium. Seating the orchestra is straight forward with good instrument separation and no large gaps or marked overlaps. Movements around the stage are easily tracked but movement from directly behind or directly in front can be tougher to pinpoint. As mentioned previously, there is some mild compression to the low end on particularly complex tracks but this takes effort to find and with most popular music will never be heard as the complexity simply is not there.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
DD-hifi is an interesting company with a unique market position. In a market of increasingly disposable cookie cutter parts, DD-Hifi takes time to design innovative products and then over-build them to last well beyond the average. I have enjoyed their adapters and cases as both have great utility and are built like absolute tanks (albeit not overly large or bulky ones). They also recently released a USB type-C to type-C OTG cable that has quickly become my go-to for pairing portable devices and even more recently a lightning to USB-C that eliminates the need for the camera kit. Nothing in the DD-hifi catalog lacks for utility and they have become my first stop for adapters etc because of that. So, when their rep asked if I’d be interested in the beta of their first iem, I was thrilled because I knew if they followed the same design process, it should be a good one. I wasn’t thrilled with the tuning on the earlier beta and can say they made considerable adjustment and improvements in the final product. The result is a very novel in-ear that delivers a very nice near neutral listening experience. The dual connections give the user more options and even if you don’t see the need immediately, it could become handy in the event of a broken connector as you could simply flip them and connect a different cable and keep going. I’ve even seen one comment suggesting connect both and bi-amp the Janus (I think this is a poor idea for the record). For a first in-ear from the company, I find the Janus to be impressive as it takes the things I knew DD was good at previously and adds tuning and in-ear design to the list. This one is well worth a try if you get the chance.
- Bass - 7.5/107.5/10
- Mids - 8/108/10
- Treble - 7/107/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 6/106/10
Pros: Near neutral signature, very coherent delivery, good detail, polite treble
Cons: Dual connections may be seen as gimmick to some, won’t please bassheads