We gotta admit we were somewhat curious — and perplexed — when we received the Dual Painted Tunes earphones for review. They come in a plastic paint tube, and we could not quite figure out what paint and earphones have in common. Even after visiting Dual’s website, we still had trouble making the connection.
Eventually, we figured out that the paint angle has something to do with the earphones being available in cheerful, bright, paint-like colors such as “passionate red” or “sky blue.” Each pair of earphones comes with its own color-matched paint tube. Dual’s unique presentation certainly would make them stand out in an increasingly crowded market segment. The packaging might even be enough to convince a few folks to purchase the earphones out of sheer curiosity, which might be what Dual had in mind when it developed the idea.
Out of the box—er, tube
Luckily, we didn’t have to figure out how to squeeze these earphones out of their storage tube. We simply opened the button flap at the end of the tube and pulled out the earphones. (The tube cap does screw on and off.)
In addition to color options, Dual outfits the Painted Tunes with an iPod/iPhone/iPad-friendly in-line mike. The paint tube serves as a storage and carrying case, and in daily use we found it was a convenient, protective way to transport our earphones. Other features include a flat-cable design said to be tangle-free and three different-sized sets of silicone eartips.
We started listening to the Painted Tunes the way we thought most folks shopping for $20 earphones might—straight from the headphone outputs of an iPhone 4, iPod shuffle and Dell laptop. We also kept handy some stock iPod shuffle earbuds and a plethora of giveaway earbuds for comparison.
We appreciated the earphones’ secure fit. Although they were not the most comfortable canal phones we’ve tried, the Painted Tunes remained firmly seated during normal use and movement. We can think of many other $20 earphones that offer far less security.
Once we turned our attention to the music, however, we were less impressed. The Painted Tunes had overwhelming bass output. Enhanced bass can be a glorious thing, but the Painted Tunes’ bottom-heavy response gave sounds such as kick drums, bass guitars, synthesized bass and some male vocals an overbearing, muddy, congested and ill-defined sound.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Painted Tunes’ musical spectrum was no improvement. The midrange and treble went too far in the opposite direction and sometimes seemed to be almost missing in action. Listening to the latest remaster of Strawberry Fields Forever from the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album, we had trouble hearing this track’s wonderful cacophony of instruments — Mellotron, maracas, cellos and tambourine — with the sort of clarity and timbre we know is present on the recording.
Regardless of the type of music we tried, everything from the midrange on up sounded heavily suppressed and shelved down through the Painted Tunes earphones. Once we resumed listening to music that was already heavy in the bass, the sound took on a plugged-up, head cold kind of tonal character. The effect was similar to turning a receiver’s bass knob up to 5 and turning the midrange and treble controls down to minus 6.
Just to make sure we were giving Dual’s earphones the best possible chance for success (and to be sure what we were hearing was not because of something in our own ears), we set the earphones aside for a few days. Again, we tested them with many kinds of music and even asked other users to evaluate them. In every instance, we concluded that the Painted Tunes earphones sounded too bottom-heavy and too closed-in from the midrange through the treble to be recommendable for any type of music or listener.
Although Dual mentions the Painted Tunes offers excellent noise isolation, we found them to be only average. They offered a little bit of noise reduction with in-room conversations and average TV volume levels, but nothing more; we clearly could hear other ambient sounds.
In spite of the earphones’ secure fit and eye-catching color options, we cannot recommend Dual’s Painted Tunes because they lack too much midrange and treble information for music to sound enjoyable through them. Sure, we realize they are only $20, but we can think of other earphones at or near this price that sound noticeably better, such as the recently reviewed JVC HA-FX40s. Those are listed with a $30 MSRP but can usually be found for around $20 at online retailers. Unless you have your heart set on those bright Painted Tunes colors, we recommend looking elsewhere.
- Nice assortment of color options
- In-line mike for mobile devices
- Paint tube packaging is actually a convenient storage solution
- Emphasized bass region sounds thick and muddy
- Shelved-down midrange and treble results in congested tonal balance
- Overall sound is too closed-in to be enjoyable, regardless of music genre
- Ineffective noise isolation