Dunu SA6 MSRP $549.99 The Dunu SA6 is a six balanced armature in-ear. In fact, it is Dunu’s first foray into an all armature setup. The shell is a hand poured universal with stabilized wood faceplates. The faceplates come in many different colors and patterns but I don’t think you can choose, rather it is just random selection. The tour set is a bit boring looking but I’ve seen some nice purple and blue hues online. The shell shape is a semi custom-like universal. It’s plenty comfortable but the nozzles are pretty very short. You’re not going to achieve deep fit here. The nozzle doesn’t seem to have any ridge or notch to keep tips in place but I’ve yet to experience a tip getting stuck in my ear. The stock cable is an 8 core monster. Don’t get me wrong, it looks fabulous. Flexibility is very good too. But it’s heavy and it’s a lot of cable to wind up and put in the case. Did I mention it is heavy? I know many people love the bling and luxurious look/feel of braided 8 core cables but it’s just not for me. I’d prefer a 4 core cable for best portability, while maintaining a similarish boutique look. It also comes with the fantastic Dunu modular plug system. All 3 modular plug options (3.5mm, 2.5mm and 4.4mm) are included. Cable is terminated in .78mm 2 pin connectors. The case reminds me of the old leather Campfire cases, minus the faux lambswool on the inside. It’s practical, roomy and functional. Normally I’m not a fan of the supplied Dunu tips in previous models, but the ones supplied with this loaner are pretty good; particularly the solid blue ones, as they remind me a little of my favorite Ortofon tips. That being said, my Ortofon tips are still more supple feeling and the super short nozzle worked better for me with long Azla Sednaearfits. Sound! My first impressions were of a very mild V with a slight downward tilt but after a while I’ve settled on neutral with slight bass boost. There is a switch that turns on “atmospheric immersion mode”, which seems to boost the bass a few db’s pretty evenly across the entire low range. While pleasantly done, I prefer the switches in default mode, for the more neutral of the two approaches, but I can see many enjoying the little extra thump and rumble. The most striking factor about the SA6 is its tonality. Tonal balance is fantastic. It just sounds right. Full stop. I find it hard to complain about anything sonically. This is only $550? This is insane value in today’s market and I think Dunu could easily have asked for more with zero complaints. Previously this price range has kind of been no-mans land but now it is clearly SA6 territory and it dominates anything I’ve heard in this price range previously. Comparisons >< The following comparisons were done using a Schiit Modius into the Drop THX 789. Measurements are from crinacle.com. Vs Campfire Andromeda (OG) The SA6 has more of a deep bass emphasis and bass texturing is more defined. While the SA6 initially seems slightly bassier due to this emphasis, Andromeda is the one that sounds warmer and hazier from its greater upper bass presence. It’s this upper bass presence, combined with the relaxed upper midrange that can give Andromeda its wall of sound effect. While I think this effect also contributes to its wide stereo image, the SA6 just simply sounds cleaner and more tonally accurate from bass through the midrange. Simply put, the SA6 midrange sounds tonally even. Both male and female vocals just sound right; its frequency response brings balance to both. In comparison, Andromeda carries similar weight to male vocals but female vocals lack energy and carry too much lower midrange emphasis. Again the SA6 surpasses the OG Andromeda in clarity and transparency through the midrange. Rock music distortion guitars have always been something I enjoy on Andromeda, with its wide stereo image and wall of guitars sound, but the SA6 presents them with more realistic bite and attack. Rock guitars soar on the more tonally even SA6. It’s been all SA6 up until this point. Where the SA6 falls short of the OG Andromeda is in treble. The SA6 treble, for the most part, is pleasant and unoffending. Occasionally it can sound a little zippy or grainy, but really never presses any problem areas. Where it struggles is in timbre and sounds a bit more typically BA here, particularly when compared with Andromeda. In contrast, Andromeda has a more realistic timbre. Cymbal crashes sound brassier and ring more true (in a realistic way). But really this is OG Andromeda bread and butter territory, and without direct comparison, I could learn to be content with the SA6 here. The SA6 staging is well proportioned and above average for an all armature in-ear. Of course Andromeda sounds noticeably wider but I don’t really feel like the SA6 lacks in anything. It’s arguably just as resolving with a bit better imaging due to its cleaner, more define notes. The SA6 is solid in all technical aspects. After comparing with, what is in my estimation, a legend in the OG Andromeda, the SA6 come away looking good, I mean really damn good. Vs Gaudio Nair The deep bass emphasis of the SA6 is particularly noticeable when comparing to the more neutral and linear sounding Nair. While the Nair has good low end, flat extension, the SA6’s greater rumble lends it to a richer note that is more overt in its bass texture. True sub notes are going be more palpable on the SA6. The thicker and richer note weight of the SA6 carries into the midrange, lending to fuller, more natural sounding male vocal. Both have engaging, energetic female vocals. The Nair sounding hair lighter and more nimble, and the SA6 sounding a hair fuller with just a hint more accentuated sibilance. Either way, both do a very good job of not adding to what was recorded. Everything about the SA6 seems to just have a natural weight and balance; and though while the Nair is leaner sounding, transients are quicker and rock guitars have more life like edge and attack; the staccato snap of snares are a little more tangible and defined. Nair treble is quick and crisp. While never piercing or painful, it gives the full effect of the ride and crash with fairly convincing timbre. In comparison, the SA6 is a bit more forgiving and a little less crisp, thanks to the dip around 6k, but with a bit more typical armature timbre as well. Staging on the SA6 sounds overall bigger in all directions compared to the more intimate Nair. Instrument positioning and layering is stronger, more noticeable on the SA6, while I’d give the edge to pure resolution of low level detail to the Nair. Wrap up Ω $550. WTF. I think I mentioned this is an insanely good value. I mean, it is an INSANELY good value. While you can get in-ears that do some things, perhaps even many things better, you’re going to have to pay a lot more. And then I wonder if the trade off will even be worth it? The trade off of missing out on the excellent tonality and balance of the Dunu SA6. Dunu Zen MSRP $699.99 The Dunu Zen is a single dynamic driver in-ear. As I understand it, this is a new, in-house developed driver consisting of Mg/Al for the dome and separate thermoplastic polymer surround. This separate surround material allows for the dome to be larger, as compared to drivers where the materials are the same for the dome and surround. Stock cable is the same as the SA6, which includes all the pros and cons as listed above. However, instead of 2-pin, the Zen version is MMCX. The connectors used prevent it from freely swiveling unintendedly. While the SA6 tour unit didn’t come with the retail packaging that the Zen did, I suspect the unboxing experience is similar, and that is to say it rivals something like higher-end Sony offerings. As with the SA6, the Zen shares the same case, all modular plug options and a plentiful selection of good quality tips. The fit is fantastic. The Zen are pretty small and fit flush in the ears. It doesn’t take any real precision to make them fit, more like just push and play. Sound! My first impressions are of a very slightly downward sloping U, or better yet, W shaped signature. Bass is full bodied, without being over done or really even ever creeping in to a bassy signature. Sub extension is very good and bass texturing is plenty above average thanks to a clean and controlled bottom end. Both male and female vocals carry a natural weight, without emphasis as a specialist one way or the other, and placement is front and center. The top end is a little bit more of an enigma, in that total treble presence seems relaxed but there is a peak between 7.5 and 8k that brings plenty of sparkle but also seems to thin out the treble note a bit. From dunu-topsound.com Keep in mind this graph is stretched and the vertical blocks are 15db scale. Crinacle has yet to measure the Zen. Comparisons >< The following comparisons were done using a Schiit Modius into the Drop THX 789. Note: I don’t notice significant changes with run-in. Anything more than overnight is a waste of my time. My mood, fit from session to session, and eartips certainly impact sound more. However, to help ameliorate concerns over run-in and impressions of the tour unit, it has been run-in for approximately 75 hours before my comparisons started. Vs Campfire Solaris (OG) Bass is flatter, less boosted on Solaris, and while Zen has more bass presence, it’s not by a great margin. The Zen bass emphasis in deep/sub bass, and while it rumbles a little harder, it doesn’t have the bass texturing and layering of the Solaris. Male vocals have similar weight and naturalness, and both are on the forward side. Female vocals, on the other hand, display greater differences. Female vocals area richer in weight with deeper body on Solaris. In contrast they are thinner and lighter with a bit more raw energy on Zen. The difference in female vocals are similarly different in presentation of rock guitars. On Solaris they carry more weight and noticeably thicker sound but on Zen, while lighter/thinner, they have better bite and greater attack. In some ways the treble presentation is similar. Similar in that both have somewhat relaxed overall level of treble but both support an 8(ish)k peak that has plenty of sparkle. Due to the broader lower treble recession in Solaris, its rebound peak sounds brighter next to Zen. Treble weight is a little more natural on Solaris, whereas Zen can sound a little thin. However Solaris can suffer in timbre for horns, due to this recession, but cymbals and rides sound pretty realistic. Zen, in contrast fairs better with horns, but suffers a bit with cymbals and rides. Zen has a fairly wide presentation with pretty good depth and average height. Solaris is just bigger. It’s taller, deeper and just as wide. It’s just more lifelike for an in-ear. Solaris is more precise in its image; there is more room, more air between instruments and vocals. What Zen gives up in staging and imaging, it makes up for it with a more cohesive, organic presentation. Vs Moondrop Blessing 2 The B2 is noticeably leaner and flatter down low. However it’s not lacking in comparative extension. The criticism of the B2 bass is its relative lack of texture and feeling of being a little over damped. Zen sounds airier in bass with better texturing and layering. It’s just a better quality bass. However the flat extension of the B2 really makes the tilt of the Zen sub elevation noticeable, if a bit distracting at times. Male vocals have more heft, and sound more forward on Zen. B2 still has a natural sounding male vocal (it doesn’t sound thin) but it does sit a little further way for a less intimate performance. Both have natural and lifelike energy to female vocals but the B2 sounds more accurate here, with the Zen pushing perhaps a bit more elevated in the upper midrange. B2 treble is subdued sounding next to the more lively Zen and I wouldn’t call the Zen bright. Cymbals and rides do not have the sparkle of the Zen; they sound a bit drier, raspier, along with more muted. Zen has bit more air, a bit more crispness and a bit more treble realism. All in the all the Zen sounds simply bigger than the B2. It’s wider, deeper and taller. It’s also more upfront and intimate. Instruments have more space. It’s more resolving, with better imaging. Holistically, the B2 is more neutral, more accurate in frequency response and tone but the Zen outclasses it in the intangibles and technical aspects. Vs Drop+JVC FDX1 (production blue filters) Zen bass is fuller, more palpable in all the right ways. I really think the Zen bass is the upgrade to the FDX1 bass many owners are looking for. It’s just as speedy as the production FDX1 but has better texturing, layering and just has a more satisfying rumble. Male vocals on Zen have a bit more heft and weight; they sound just a little light on the FDX1 by comparison. Female vocals also have a bit more heft and weight but it’s a more natural balance than the leaner, more aggressive FDX1. While both sound forward in nature, the FDX1 is just more raw and aggressive, next to the comparatively more composed, yet just as forward Zen. I suspect this is due to the Zen being more filled in the middle mids (around 2k/2.5k). Both have a treble rebound peak in the same general area but the FDX1 is more subdued compared to its upper mid/lower treble peak. So treble details are slightly obscured on the FDX1 compared to the Zen, whose peak is closer in level to its upper mid peak. Tonality somewhat resembles here but resolution and timbre go to the Zen. The FDX1 is only average, at best, when it comes to staging. Next to Zen it just sound much smaller and intimate. Zen is easily noticeable as wider and taller. I really feel like Zen could be considered a direct upgrade to the FDX1, as it fixes many of the complaints I read from FDX1 owners. The question will be, do prospective buyers think its worth the 3x in price? Wrap Up Ω Zen is a solid offering in the higher end single dynamic world. It’s got fantastic build, as well as great fit and aesthetics. I was hoping for something a little more neutral and even keeled but it instead tilts towards a more consumer friendliness. Regardless, it is still well done. It’s also sensitive enough to get really loud on something like the Apple dongle (it gets much louder than the B2 and FDX1 at similar volume steps). But Wait, There’s More™ Zen Vs. SA6 On balance the SA6 sounds more neutral, tonally more balanced and accurate, as well as a little smoother, more even up top. Zen adds more excitement and fowardness, with a bit more rumble and natural decay, along with more liveliness up top. Zen is also bit more resolving, particularly micro dynamically and produces a wider soundscape. Both are good all rounders and should please most but the SA6 is really something special in my estimation. This level of performance and refinement at its price tag has been, until now, unheard of. Both of these in-ears are going on my recommendation list but the SA6 is something that I believe has staying power for years to come.