Dunu Studio SA6 Review




The Studio series is a new lineup of multi-balanced armature (BA) in-ear monitors from the Chinese brand Dunu. If you have not heard of Dunu, they are not a new company like most of the Chinese brands that get hyped up on a weekly basis. Dunu has been around for 26 years and have been a known name in the portable audio world for some time. I believe the Studio series, however, is their first foray into an all-BA setup. Their lineup up until this point featured dynamic driver and hybrid (dynamic driver + BA) product forms and the Studio series changes it up with no DD this time around.

It was brought to my attention that 7-8 years ago, Dunu had a custom monitor called the DC4 which was a 4-BA CIEM, so this perhaps makes the Studio Series the first universal all-BA IEMs. Thanks for pointing this out Redcarmoose!

The first of the series was the SA3, which features 3-BA drivers and unfortunately I have not had a chance to get my ears on them yet. This newer set is the SA6, which features a 6-BA setup as the name implies, and is as follows: 

Bass: Sonion AcuPass Vented Dual Woofer
Midrange: Knowles Custom Midrange Driver (×2)
Treble: Knowles Custom Dual Tweeter

Before I move further, I do like to thank Tom Tsai from DUNU for preparing this review sample unit to me for a chance to audition them ahead of the US release, however at the time of writing this, they are available now in many US retailers such as Musicteck, Audio 46, and Linsoul.



Unboxing

The review sample SA6 I received did not come in a box, however came secured in the blue leather zippered carrying case that has the brand name DUNU etched into the top. The cable included is a silver-plated copper 8-core cable that is various shades of silver and gray and wound together to make a nice, braid that looks thick, but is actually easy to handle and can be bundled but not get tangled or become too stiff. The connectors on this set is surprisingly 2-pin connectors. Other Dunu products I have tried have used mmcx. The source end is a silver variant of the patented Dunu quick-switch modular plug system, and this unit came with 3.5mm, as well as 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced modular plugs.




The SA6 shell is a nice small-ish custom-like fit and I found it was very comfortable to wear. My wife also tried wearing it and really enjoyed the fit as well. The faceplate on the SA6 series is a very cool stabilized wood and acrylic resin. 

Stabilized wood, for those who may not know, is dried wood that has been embedded with resin and heated and heat cured in a vacuum to harden the resin and bonds it to the wood. The result is a very cool looking art piece that is part plastic and part wood, and the added color for the resin can make the grains glow.

Moving back to the shell again, Dunu slipped in a toggle dip switch on the rear side of the IEM shell. This switch flips on "Atmospheric" mode and switches off to it's default tuning. The "On/Atmospheric" tuning seems to add a gentle bass and lower mid-range boost  making the IEM a little more warm and mid-focused, but I'll discuss a bit more in the sound section next.



Sound Impressions

The Dunu SA6 has a balanced sound signature that has a slight bass bump, and a smooth mid-range and treble. I don't really consider it neutral, as it does have a bit of coloration, but it's only slight. The general sound is more intimate, but not claustrophobic sounding, and has a good amount of resolution and sound separation.



The low-end of the SA6 has a bass shelf starting around 300Hz that rises gently up 7 dB above the mid-range. This is the same no matter the switch position, however there is a slight, very slight, bass boost with the switch on, but its really not a big change of about 1-2dB. The bass has a small amount of rumble and has a little amount of slam and impact. It does have a slight mid-bass focus over sub-bass, but only slight, and I find it is a good bass response for many or all genres. 

The Sonion driver used is vented, meaning that it does use additional air to increase the driver movement to create a larger bass response, but this does make it sound slightly less resolving than if it were unvented. In practice, I find the bass response to have some decent decay amount, while also have a little bit of tactile response. It's not powerful and well-textured as a good dynamic driver, but it is solid for the price range and being a multi-BA set.

While the coherency isn't the best I heard, it's quite good. There's little disjointed sounds in this product, and I think that helps create a nice robust mid-range that is evenly tuned, though some may find the upper-mids not risen enough, as it only 5 dB above 1KHz and 7 dB above the rest of the mid-range, as this unit does have an earlier rise to the treble and pinna compensation area of the frequency response curve.


As I've listened to more and more IEMs and switch out genres, I find that my personal target compensation for my listening enjoyment has seen a smaller and reduced amount of rise in this upper-midrange and presence region. This takes away a more forward sounding female voice, and also reduces the guitar attacks, but I find it presents a more natural and less fatiguing presence that creates perhaps a more open soundstage in the process. The SA6 hits pretty well for me. 

There is a big dip in the lower treble, and it's eerily similar to the qdc Anole VX, which I've owned and still love. In fact, the majority of the mid-range and treble hits the VX curve quite closely, with the major difference being the lower mid-range and bass region, which is much warmer on the VX. Now that said, I don't find the same glaring tonality issues with the SA6 as I do on the VX. I believe this might have to do with the bigger spike up between 7-9KHz on the VX, which isn't quite as drastic of a bump on the SA6. 

In this aspect, I tried to recreate some of the sibilance issues I had on the VX and some of the songs I found with odd timbre, and I wasn't able to find the traces of sibilance in those pop songs like Tegan & Sara's Boyfriend, or Norah Jones' Seven Years. The SA6 doesn't have the sharper and edgier tone of the VX.

I really enjoyed listening the SA6 with various genres, however it felt most comfortable with rock music for me. No matter if it was alternative or grunge music like Mother Love Bone's Chloe Dancer or The Smashing Pumpkin's Disarm, or if it was singer-songwriter music like First Aid Kit or Sondre Lerche, I found the SA6 to have a nice natural sound that had just enough tactile bass and a smooth mid-range to sound very pleasant. Yes, it's a tad soft on the lower end, but I'm not complaining too much. 

Comparisons

The Dunu SA6 is priced at $550 USD and with that it'll probably be compared directly with it's hybrid sibling, the Dunu DK3001 Pro. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this review, I loaned my set out and can only give auditory memory impressions which should only be taken with a grain of salt. I remember the DK3001 Pro to sound a bit warmer and more laid-back, but with nice tonality. I think, from memory again, that the SA6 improves upon the DK3001 Pro in resolution, imaging, and soundstage, while competing head to head otherwise, despite not having a dynamic driver to handle bass. I am fairly confident that I enjoyed my time with the SA6 more so than my time with the $479 DK3001 Pro, though I did like that one as well.



Another comparison I think people may bring up is how it competes with the Mini MEST, which is priced at $599 and is the more budget-friendly sibling of the popular MEST unit from Unique Melody. In this case, these two are multi-BA IEMs, however the Mini MEST also includes a bone conductor driver. I found the Mini to have a warmer sound signature and a brighter treble response, but lacks great treble extension. The Mini's sound signature is more V-shaped, while the SA6 is a more U-shaped sound. I find the SA6 to be more preferred overall for my personal preferences.



The popular Moondrop Blessing 2 has finally returned back to me after nearly 9 months on tour around the continent. I finally got a chance to re-listen to it recently and compared it to the SA6. With the Blessing 2, I think that the upper mid-range, and treble, are both shoutier and brighter than the SA6, while the overall sound is leaner in its presentation. The Blessing 2 bass is a little more punchy, but doesn't quite have the overall warmth and resolution that the SA6 does. I found both are equally resolving across the board however, but the SA6 is less fatiguing and has better treble extension.





Wrap-Up

The DUNU SA6 is another solid product from this Chinese brand and one of its first entries into multi-BA IEMs. I think they did a great job with this one, from the tuning, to the nice fitting shell geometry, and to the stunning stabilized wood faceplates with each set being unique. The accessories are also a wonderful addition to the package with a nice case and cable with swappable plugs.

This is one of those sets that I think is done well across the board and I think can be easily enjoyed, but of course, this is just my opinion, and also my wife's, who quickly took this review sample from me the day I got them and listened to them for several days before reluctantly giving them back so I can finish this review.

The few negatives I have on this set are pretty minimal. I think the tuning switches are unnecessary and don't change the tonality enough to warrant the additional labor and parts cost, and that it doesn't quite have a strong sub-bass performance, but those aren't deal-breakers for me. This is a good set, and recommend at least considering this one if you're looking for a $500-ish multi-BA set.

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