General Information

DUNU prides itself on being constantly at the cutting edge of audio technology. Last year, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, DUNU launched LUNA, one of the world’s first and only pure beryllium foil dynamic driver in-ears. As a project developed from an unconstrained budget, in a quest to extract an unprecedented level of performance from one of the most exclusive driver materials available for high-end audio, LUNA’s driver was fabricated with a complex, composite assembly technique, utilizing separate materials for the dome, surround, and attachment points for the voice coil, for which DUNU was awarded an exclusive patent by the CNIPA (ZL20202008721.5).

Following LUNA’s success, DUNU set a goal to extend these innovative dynamic driver construction techniques across the company’s entire earphone product line. With ZEN, DUNU introduces the ECLIPSƎ driver platform, a collection of exclusive, next-generation driver technologies. Combining the trickle-down driver fabrication techniques derived from LUNA, an ultra-powerful ring type motor assembly, and refined voicing methods, ECLIPSƎ is a next generation paradigm for dynamic drivers.

A magnesium-aluminum alloy dome with a specific W-shaped morphology serves as the centerpiece of ZEN's 13.5 mm ECLIPSƎ driver and allows ZEN to transcend performance standards at its price point. Furthermore, it is coated via high temperature, filtered, pulsed cathode arc deposition with nanoporous amorphous carbon (nanoDLC).

nanoDLC greatly augments the strength of the alloy dome by filling microscopic pores in the metal with non-hydrogenated, tetrahedral carbon (sp3-hybridized), at levels previously unachievable through plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) techniques classically used on polymer substrates. With nanoDLC, the sound reproduction surface on the ZEN yields physical properties that inch ever closer to pure diamond.

Chief engineer Andy Zhao, never one to settle on his laurels, designed a machine milled, ring-type, neodymium-based magnet assembly that achieves over 1.8 T magnetic field strength at the voice coil, one of the very highest figures achieved across the industry so far. The basis of this ring-type design will serve as the template for all ECLIPSƎ models to come.

With voicing cues taken from extensive feedback relating to LUNA, ZEN signifies the next step of evolution in DUNU’s tuning approach. Whereas LUNA utilized a very purist, traditionally-minded voicing philosophy, ZEN combines a series of response-shaping dampers in conjunction with DUNU’s proprietary Air Control Impedance System (ACIS). ACIS, a bass reflex technique first implemented in the DK-4001, helps reinforce bass frequencies below 100 Hz, providing ZEN with a robust sub-bass response that doesn’t bleed into other frequencies.

Taken together, ECLIPSƎ has allowed ZEN to supersede company expectations for what is possible at its price. “ZEN will appeal to audio lovers who desire a product that nears the level of technical performance set by LUNA, but at a more broad-based entry point,” says Kevin Sun, Global Director of Business Development for DUNU.

On the exterior front, ZEN is a continuation of partnered discussions with industrial designer Moses Xu to express a cohesively themed design brief. This is DUNU’s third such collaboration with Xu, reexamining the curves and lines that have defined DUNU’s product identity over the years for a minimal reduction of those shapes.

Translating the concepts on the drawing board to the physical form meant a return to a medium very familiar to DUNU technicians. Machined from durable, monolithic 316 stainless steel and PVD finished in a scratch-resistant, understated wet black coat, ZEN is a stolid, yet expressive — reflective of ZEN’s overarching product philosophy.

Usage-wise, ZEN continues DUNU’s tradition of bundling a premium cable with the convenient Quick-Switch modular plug system as well as a generous fit kit of different ear tips. ZEN’s designated cable is the DUW-03, an 8-core silver-plated copper cable first bundled with the Studio SA6, now finished with MMCX connectors. Aside from the standard 3.5 mm TRS single-ended plug, a 2.5 mm TRRS balanced plug and 4.4 mm TRRRS balanced plugs are also included.

ZEN retails for an MSRP of $699.99 US dollars.

Media Resources

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Layman1

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: dynamic, energetic, engaging, musical, solid design and engineering, multi-plug cable
Cons: slightly incoherent at times, rolled off treble (depends on whether you actually want that or not!)
Introduction:

Dunu are a well-established company by now and will need little introduction from me.
Having produced many well-regarded IEMs in the budget range, they pushed into the TOTL market with their acclaimed Luna earphone.
They undertook a very lengthy R&D process to produce the pure beryllium foil
dynamic driver for the Luna, including devising the materials and manufacturing methods to implement the tech they’d developed. Part of their mission since then has to allow that tech and optimised manufacturing process to filter down into new mid-range and budget models.

Today, I’m going to be looking at an IEM which does exactly that, via DUNU’s new Eclipse driver platform which, to quote DUNU themselves, showcases ‘a collection of exclusive, next generation driver technologies’.
All the details of the technology employed – far more than I could hope to fit in here – is available on the dedicated DUNU Zen page here on Head-Fi:
https://www.head-fi.org/threads/zen-by-dunu-our-first-model-designed-around-next-generation-driver-platform-eclipsƎ.949689/

On here, you will also find a plethora of impressions, links to reviews, questions and answers, and – as is de rigueur on any self-respecting Head-Fi thread these days - some memes involving cats and stuff :sweat_smile:
At USD $699 at the time of writing, the Zen - according to the IEM world’s ever-changing pricing norms - would fit today at the mid-upper end of the mid-range price tier.
My sincere thanks to Tom and the team at Dunu, for providing me with a review unit to keep in exchange for an honest review.

With these ‘starters’ in place, it’s time to move on to the main course, which you can begin by feasting your eyes upon the photos in the following section :D

Photos:

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Unboxing, packaging and accessories:

I think the packaging is of a reasonable standard for this price point; it’s fairly classy and everything is squared away inside in its own place. The accessories package was a mixed affair; a dark blue carrying case was included, which looked to be made from leather or PU Leather; it’s not really to my taste, but since such things are so dependent on one’s personal preferences, I won’t count that as a negative.
I would mention though that the $399 Unique Melody 3DT IEM, released around the same time, includes a case made by the prestigious Korean artisan company Dignis; as such, I think DUNU could perhaps up their game in this particular aspect of their accessorising.

A generous selection of ear tips was provided, along with DUW-03, an 8-core silver-plated copper cable that previously came with the SA6, only with MMCX connectors this time around for the Zen. It’s got a somewhat rubbery feel and is fairly chunky given the 8-wire construction and aforementioned rubbery sleeve, but in use I found no issues with it.
The cable employs DUNU’s modular plug system, coming with all 3 major plug options in the box from which to choose; 3.5mm SE along with 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced. Huge plus points for this choice, which I’ve sadly seen lacking on IEMs at more than double the price!

A cleaning tool and a guitar-style adaptor round out the package.
The IEM itself is pretty nice. This will depend very much on one’s personal taste.

It’s not the artwork-like unique beauty of the SA6; this – in keeping with the Eclipse theme of the DD platform – does have a design that is blacked out, which also allows light to play across the surface in an appealing way. It’s a more subtle design in a glossy black that regrettably collects fingerprints faster than a policeman chasing the ‘collars of the month’ award. Nevertheless a degree of simple but elegant artistry in how these IEMs are designed.
The shells are made from stainless steel and seem very solid and well-engineered.

The Fit:

The nozzle of the Zen seems longer comparatively than the SA6 and DK-2001 that I reviewed previously; I was able to get a good seal using my New Bee foam tips which lasted undisturbed throughout lengthy listening sessions, including cooking whilst listening.
There was no discomfort or fatigue.

The Sound:

I listened using the Sony WM1Z DAP, with MrWalkman’s custom FW (DMP-WM1 Mk I), and the DX220MAX, combined with a variety of tracks in lossless or hi-res lossless format, from a wide variety of genres.
I’ll begin with the summary of my findings, then a couple of comparisons, followed by a brief conclusion.

Low end:

I hear the Zen as having a moderately tuned sub-bass – with my own slightly basshead tendencies, I would personally prefer quite a bit more of this. Along with this, there’s a comparatively elevated mid-bass, albeit still fairly average in terms of quantity. The impact and slam are, I would say, not much above neutral.
This contrasts with the mid-bass, which I found to be a bit variable in delivery, depending on the source material. On neutrally mastered tracks, I found the low end to be slightly unsatisfying, but with tracks with a more full-bodied and powerful mastering (of the drums and bass) the mid-bass of the Zen was able to deliver an engaging and rich performance.

However, this is where -on a few occasions - the discrepancy I felt between the sub-bass and mid-bass became slightly jarring; you could have full-bodied, toe-tapping bass strums, but quite anaemic sounding drums to go with it.
On most songs, it all came together and everything sounded great, but not quite consistently enough for me to completely ignore this issue.

Of course, I have to note that this relates to my own personal preferences and there will be plenty of other IEMs that give me that feeling of slight dissatisfaction regarding the low end.
So if classic rock or other neutrally-mastered music is your thing and you really want to feel those drums and bass, then you’d be better off looking at something within your budget that approximates the sound signatures of the EE Nemesis or Legend X, CA Solaris, UM MEST Mk II, etc.
I am not so familiar with IEMs at the $700 price point, but I’m sure others on the dedicated Zen thread here can advise accordingly!

Another side-effect of the low-end tuning is that I occasionally hear the presentation of a song to have slight inconsistencies. It’s not noticeable most of the time, and even when it is, it’s a subtle effect that might go over many people’s heads (I’m in ‘critical listening mode’ as I write this, haha).
An example would be Rage Against The Machine – ‘Bullet in the head’.
Following the breakdown, from 3m 6s into the song, the instruments all come roaring back in. When the repeated bass riff hits the lower notes, there’s a palpable feeling of weight, impact and power coming off of those bass notes, but as soon as those bass notes move higher, that feeling disappears immediately.
Whilst I play some guitar, I’m not familiar with the bass as an instrument, and maybe this is simply the feeling one would get in in real life? Anyway, I’m just writing what I hear.
Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts :D

Mids:

I hear the lower mids as being fairly neutral, with somewhat forward upper mids.
For me, there’s a warmth and weight from the mid-bass that spreads into the mids, more prominent in the lower mids and attenuating as the frequency increases into the upper mids. Female vocals can come across as a bit sharp and piercing occasionally; a hazard of those forward upper mids, although male vocals on the whole sound reasonably full-bodied and enjoyable, if perhaps a little bit lacking in presence and weight.

With one of my go-to test tracks, Hong Kong opera singer Alison Lau’s rendition of ‘Lascia la spina’ the strings have a gorgeously full-bodied warmth, but I did feel the harpsichord in the background had a bit less of the prominence and sparkle that I enjoy on other IEMs in my collection.
Also, as mentioned the vocals can be too piercing for me at times, although in fairness with my treble sensitivity, that issue comes up with this song on many IEMs and usually only the most smooth and non-fatiguing ones will pass that test.


Treble:

The treble is interesting. And no, that’s not a euphemism for ‘a bit rubbish’ :D
It’s somewhat rolled off, and from graphs I’ve seen has a prominent spike between 8-9 kHz.
Different kinds of ear tips will either exacerbate or reduce this; with my New Bee foam tips, it was never really something I noticed to be honest.

Going simply on what I hear, there’s not the immediate sense of air and spaciousness that you’ll get with some IEMs; as mentioned previously, there’s also a sense of intimacy brought about by the size and weight of the notes. However, unlike some IEMs I’ve heard, this doesn’t result in a muddy or congested feeling, even on songs with fairly dense and complex arrangements, or where the mastering of the song has been done in an intimate way itself. There’s a well-judged degree of separation and a fairly black background that gives every vocal and instrument its own space to shine.

Technical performance and overall sound signature:

The increased note size engendered by that mid-bass creates a more intimate feel, although in fact the soundstage is reasonably wide and deep, with average height.
I found the layering and - especially – the imaging to be surprising (in a good way); things like backing vocals and additional instruments were highlighted enchantingly and details pop out very well against a fairly black background.
It’s definitely more on the musical side than reference, although it certainly is able to bring out those delightful small details in the music. For me, it’s more of a tonally coloured presentation and if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’d do well to give the Zen a listen if you have the chance.
On the other hand, if your tastes lean more towards neutral-reference and transparency, then DUNU’s SA6 would be well worth investigating.
Finally, I have to mention the timbre, which I think is done in a very engaging way and generally very lifelike.

Comparisons:

DUNU Zen vs DUNU SA6:
It’s pretty much chalk and cheese here; two radically different tunings.
The SA6 features a switch on each earphone that can be used to add a bump to the low end; I use this every time and find the sound to be essentially neutral reference with a touch of organic warmth; the detail retrieval, resolution and transparency of the SA6 are excellent.
I hear Zen to be less transparent and resolving. The detail retrieval on the Zen is not far behind at all, but just does it slightly differently. It’s hard to put my finger on how; I just found that different details stood out for me with the Zen, and in different ways. Perhaps an effect of its rather non-standard tuning.
Conversely, I found the Zen to have a significantly harder hitting and more enjoyable low end. It’s not a bass-head presentation by any means, but has enough of that DD goodness to leave most all-BA IEM’s in the shade.


DUNU Zen vs Unique Melody Mini-MEST:
The Mini-MEST features 3 balanced armature drivers, along with UM’s custom Bone Conduction Driver (BCD), which seems to add coherence and body to the sound signature.
The tunings of these two IEMs are more similar than Zen vs SA6 above, but still quite diverse on the whole.
I hear the Mini-MEST to have faster transients, with instruments having more clearly defined ‘edges’. Perhaps surprisingly, compared with the single DD setup of the Zen, I hear the Mini-MEST to sound more cohesive and also smoother and more balanced. Timbre is very good on both, although I might give the edge to the Mini-MEST here.

The Zen’s low end hits with more impact and power though – unsurprising in a DD vs BA comparison – although as I mentioned in my Mini-MEST review, the low end on the Mini-MEST is the most DD-like I’ve yet heard on an all-BA IEM.
On the other hand, I’d say the Mini-MEST pulls significantly ahead technically.

What they both have in common is an engaging musicality and a dynamic and energetic signature.
It's worth adding as I close that everyone has different preferences and it just so happened that the Mini-MEST, when I reviewed it, managed the rare feat of ticking pretty much all my boxes and I am a big fan of it. Others will prefer the Zen.
If in doubt, try them both out (if at all possible) :wink:


Conclusion:

I think the Zen distinguishes itself with a unique sound signature, as befits one of the few single-driver offerings in the market at this price point.
It’s rich, dynamic, and full-bodied. Sometimes powerful and frequently foot-tappingly musical. It’s intimate but not congested, with a solid technical performance with particular strengths in the imaging and layering.
I felt that the tuning occasionally came off as a bit uneven, but on the whole it was very enjoyable. Overall, if the audio qualities I’ve described are piquing your interests, then I’d highly recommend giving the Zen a listen.

Precogvision

Reviewer at Headphones.com
Pros: - excellent macrodynamic punch
- lots of accessories, all of good quality
- premium construction
Cons: - upper-midrange is too forward
- treble roll-off
- the above contrasted to a 9-10kHz peak
Hey all, here’s my long-belated Zen review. This showed up a couple months ago, I put an hour or two on it, and then promptly forgot about it with all the other stuff I have going through my hands. Yeah. Obviously, that’s not the greatest first impression, but I also don’t think it’s fair to leave DUNU hanging when they sent this out with the expectation of a review. So here we are.

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This unit was provided for review by Tom of DUNU. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and impressions to the best of my ability.

Presentation & Accessories

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Nailed it. I don’t think I’ve been disappointed by any DUNU unboxing experience, and the Zen bears no exception. Lots of goodies you'll receive:
  • Eartips 6x pairs
  • Airline adapter
  • shirt clip
  • microfiber cloth
  • split microfiber baggie for the IEMs
  • case
  • DUW03 cable with 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.5mm adapters
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Love the case; I even stole an extra off of MRS because I liked it so much. I'm not sure if I'm the biggest fan of the new cable, though. It's certainly more robust than the DUW02, but it also feels somewhat tacky, overly heavy. I think I'd prefer something slimmer. As usual, you have DUNU's terrific modular system covering you in all common terminations. Anyways, I'd prefer not to focus on this stuff too much, as other reviewers have no doubt covered them in much greater detail already. That in mind, onto the sound.

Sound Analysis

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As a whole, I'm not sure what to call the Zen's response, but I'd say there's more of an "Asian" music tilt to things going on here that'll mostly closely favor said genres. The bass on the Zen is...fine. Sounds mid-bass leaning to my ears with adequate amounts of slam and texture. Honestly, I'm not sure what else to say here. $700 material? Not really. Certainly not in the tuning department, and something like the ER2XR has it beat in tuning and intangibles.

There is a distinct divide to the Zen’s midrange. The lower-midrange is fine, leaning slightly warmer. But the upper-midrange needs work. It’s simply too emphasized from 3-4kHz lending to overly forward, edgy female vocals. And no, I’m not saying this just because it’s the complete opposite of my target curve. There are ways to walk this line without falling prey like the Zen has; the Moondrop IEMs are an excellent example.

That aside, the Zen’s weakest point is no doubt its treble response. It is largely rolled-off post 10kHz; both measurements and subjective listening corroborate this. This is not uncommon with a lot of DD IEMs; however, the problem to my ears lies in the attempt that was made to offset said roll-off. The Zen’s treble is strongly emphasized at ~9-10kHz not unlike, say, the Campfire Andromeda. Unlike the Andromeda though, there’s just not enough presence sub-1kHz to offset this peak. Leading impacts and crash sound overly emphasized; contrasted to the roll-off post-10kHz, triggers the dreaded “in a pit” effect where it sounds like percussive instruments are bearing down on a listener.

Technicalities

As a whole, I would say the Zen’s technicalities are middling. Not horrible for $700, but a long ways off class leading. The one area that really “shines” - that is, through the largely rolled off treble - is the Zen’s macrodynamic ability. By this, I am most closely referencing the ability of an IEM to scale decibel gradations. The Zen has a good deal of “heft” and punch to the way it articulates dynamic swings. Although it’s been too long since I’ve heard the DUNU Luna to draw a comparison, I recall the Luna’s macrodynamic ability being more strongly predicated on sheer contrast. An interesting juxtaposition, I think. But no less a worthy performance from the Zen here, and suffice it to say the Zen might be the most capable IEM I have heard at $700 for this characteristic.

Select Comparison

Those who have read my DUNU SA6 review will know that it is an IEM that I hold in very high regard. I went in with zero expectations and was utterly captivated with what I heard, so much so that it went directly onto my list of favorite IEMs. So I will be blunt: In this reviewer’s opinion only, the SA6 is a significant jump over the Zen. The tuning of the SA6 is a good deal more balanced and technicalities are refined to a higher degree. I see no reason to purchase the Zen unless one desires - above all else - its aforementioned macrodynamic ability that I highlighted earlier.

I suppose the Moondrop Illumination is also a natural point of comparison to the Zen given they are both 1DDs. Again, I will be blunt: I am not the biggest fan of the Illumination. The Illumination has a more balanced tuning with comparable technical performance. Where these IEMs differ most, then, is in timbre. The Illumination is extremely smooth in transient attack and decay, perhaps too smooth. There is a distinct lack of vigor, a certain mellowness to its presentation that underwhelms. Really, if I had to pick my poison, I think I’d go for the Zen, but those who want a smoother, less fatiguing listen might opt for the Illumination.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, the Zen is pretty alright. It doesn't do anything outright wrong, but I also don't think its sonic performance is quite to the level of its asking price. I will add that it is difficult to assess value of more expensive single DD IEMs as there's simply not many on the market; they tend to be bottlenecked in the technical department by design too. But if nothing else, DUNU has at least shown that they can trickle down some of the unique qualities that made the original Luna special.

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Hddad70

Head-Fier
Review Of the DUNU ZEN
Pros: Highly Engaging
Clean Transients And Good Dynamics
Detailed Mids and Bass
Innovative Design
Excellent Cable
Comfortable
Cons: Treble Roll Off
Upper Mids Peak
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DUNU ZEN
Introspection
In December of 2020, DUNU announced they would be releasing the ZEN, a brand new single DD IEM that would be implementing similar driver fabrication techniques derived from the LUNA but for less than half the price. No doubt the LUNA is a technical beast but $1,700 is a little out of reach for many buyers. With the introduction of the ZEN, DUNU showcases its latest ECLIPSE Driver Platform and its newly developed dynamic driver made of magnesium-aluminum alloy with a diaphragm with a nanoporous-amorphous diamond-like carbon coating. Priced at $699, this new more affordable DD IEM is a welcome addition to DUNU's already impressive line-up.

DUNU sent me the ZEN for review in exchange for my honest thoughts. I do not get compensated in any way. Shoutout to Tom at DUNU for his time and for providing me this opportunity.

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Price

$699


Specs

Driver Config: DD with Magnesium alloy pure metal diaphragm

Impedance:16Ohm

Sensitivity:108dB/mW

Frequency Response Range:5-40000Hz


Accessories

Hard case

Woven protective IEM pouch (Brown)

Assortment of S/M/L ear tips

Shirt clip

Cleaning tool

Cleaning cloth


Cable

Cable: 8 Core OCC Silver-Plated Cable

Connector: MMCX

Plug Connector: Patented DUNU Quick-Switch Modular Plug System

Included Plug Termination(s): 4.4 mm TRRS Balanced, 3.5 mm TRS Single-Ended, 2.5 mm TRRS Balanced

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No doubt, 2020 has been a challenge for all of us. But for me, 2021 is turning out to be even a little more challenging. With my parents in their twilight years and the prospect of being an empty nester, life could look very different for my wife and me very soon. These new worries combined with preexisting old worries have me seeking out moments of solace more than usual and being more intentional about how I spend those moments. That includes my listening time. My parents and my children have now become my priority so it leaves very little time for critical listening. And what little time I do have is used for emotional/spiritual listening or learning music. Subsequently, a review that would normally take me only a few weeks is now taking a couple of months or more. I’ve even had to temporarily take a step back from my YouTube channel. I will continue to do videos just not as frequently.

I’ve always felt like I’ve been able to stay pretty objective when reviewing audio products. But something I became aware of during various stages of my life was that as I got older the way I listened to music slowly changed. Life changes, experiences, hardship, loss and the good things too I’m sure are all reasons for this. But the times that seem like the most change occurred were the times of major loss or hardship. When my brother passed away in 2009 I lost interest in music and audio almost completely. For nearly 3 years I went through a type of musical depression mostly only listening to music to learn drum parts. Up to that point, music was everything to me and because of loss it suddenly meant almost nothing. It sucked. It was a long road back but eventually, I rediscovered my passion for music and with it a newfound passion for portable audio. But something had changed. Maybe it’s different for everybody but for me, it seems like with every major life event/change whether good or bad I find myself increasingly becoming more of an emotional listener. Of course, this was only one of many life events/changes where I experienced a type of listening metamorphosis. But these most recent events seem to have affected me the most.

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After several weeks of dealing with stuff, my wife and I thought it would be good to get away with the family for a few days. We found a cabin nestled in the woods of Fort Bragg, Ca. just a few miles from the beautiful rocky beaches of Northern California. Of course, the priority was family but I did take some time alone for some therapeutic listening. The cabin was quiet and secluded, just what we needed. The seating area on the front porch was very quaint and looked out into a dense forest. The only things I could hear were birds and the wind blowing through the trees. It was sublime. The mornings were a little chili but still nice so with coffee in hand, DUNU ZEN’s, DX-160, Plenue II MK2, and Lotoo Paw S1 I would begin listening.

I’ve spent a lot of time with the ZEN’s over the past couple of months but my time with them at the cabin was the most memorable. My first few weeks of testing were primarily focused on technical capabilities, tuning, and overall performance but the listening sessions at the cabin were not that at all. These sessions were for one purpose only, a time of reflection desperately needed emotional reprieve. Maybe it was a coincidence….maybe it wasn't. One thing I do know is that the timing of the arrival of the DUNU ZEN could not have been better.

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Test Tracks

David Benoit - Morning Sojourn
Yellowjackets - Memoirs, My Old School, Dewey (For Miles)
Doug MacLeod - Break The Chain
Chris Jones - No Sanctuary Here
Grace Jones - Hurricane Dub
Jacob Collier - In My Room
Jazz At The Pawnshop - Lady Be Good
Hans Theesink - Missing You
Vaun - Listen
Sting, Live In Berlin - Fields Of Gold
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Little Wing
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
Chet Baker - Travlin’ Light
Choir Of Young Believers - Hollow Talk
Tingvall Trio - Dance

Build and Design

The housing of the ZEN is made from stainless steel and has a gloss black (actually more of a dark gunmetal gray) finish. When I first unboxed the ZEN I was immediately struck by its elegant design. It has a very premium look and feel but can be a fingerprint magnet. It also has good weight in the hand but not so heavy as to cause discomfort in the ears. The design of the ZEN is gorgeous and stays true to DUNU's signature circular shell shape. Of course, the build quality of the cable is exceptional and is class-leading in my opinion.

Comfort and Fit

The comfort and fit of the ZEN are excellent. I had no issues with discomfort or fit during long listening sessions. Its round shell sits very comfortably in my ears and the nozzle length is just right to achieve proper insertion depth and good isolation.

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Overall Sound Signature

The overall sound signature of the ZEN is balanced U-shaped. There is an 8-9k peak that can sometimes cause the treble to sound uneven in certain recordings. The upper mids are more forward while the lower mids have a warm presentation. The bass is elevated but still balanced overall. Of course, because this is a single dynamic driver none of the issues you typically have with BA, hybrid, or tribrid configurations like poor coherency or BA timbre are present. If I had to choose one defining attribute that stands out to me the most It would be the ZEN’s ability to engage the listener. Probably due to the physicality and weight the dynamic driver gives to notes usually not present in BA IEMs. From the very first note, the ZEN drew me in taking almost no time for me to get lost in the music. There are very few IEMs that I’ve listened to that upon first listen could almost immediately engage me.

Treble

The treble of the ZEN has somewhat of a relaxed, non-fatiguing presentation due to the treble roll-off after 8-9k. While the amount of roll-off is enough to cause live recordings to lack air there is still enough upper treble presence to give a sense of openness and atmosphere. There is an 8-9k peak that can cause some recordings to be borderline shouty. Fortunately, this problem can be corrected almost completely by simply changing to foam tips. Despite the treble's laid-back presentation, there is still enough energy to satisfy and I do feel that it compliments the rest of the frequency presentation quite well. Cymbals have good texture and decay never sounding unnatural or lacking energy. Hi-hats have good sizzle and detail but can sound somewhat dark on certain recordings. The soundstage width of the ZEN is average bordering on intimate however it has above average depth. Imaging is pinpoint accurate giving vocals and instruments their own defined space within the soundstage.

Mids

The upper mids of the ZEN are slightly more forward giving higher male vocals, pianos, guitars, and horns an intimate presentation. However, there is still enough distance to give an appropriate sense of space between the listener and the vocals and instruments. Not too close, not too far away, just right. Female vocals and some higher stringed instruments have a slightly more forward presentation but still appropriate, never sounding claustrophobic or overly intimate. The stick attack on toms and snares is excellent as is the hammer attack on kick drums. Moving further into the mids, there is a slight dip and then they began to elevate again in the lower mids giving a sense of warmth to lower-mid notes. Lower male vocals, some cello notes, toms, floor toms, and some deeper tuned snares sound full-bodied and have good weight. Instrument separation, layering, and texture in the mids are excellent and are among some of the best I’ve heard.

Bass

This is without a doubt my favorite part of the tuning of the ZEN. With bass reproduction, typically there are trade-offs with your average dynamic driver. While dynamic drivers can have excellent slam, dynamics, realistic weight, and punch, well-tuned balanced armature drivers can deliver more speed and definition and generally can sound more accurate. However, this is not your average dynamic driver. The ZEN seemingly defies the laws of physics and gives you the best of both worlds. The ZENs 13.5mm ECLIPSE driver not only delivers slam, dynamics, weight, and punch it also supplies an ample amount of definition, texture, and layering. While not the best bass I’ve heard it is undoubtedly among the best giving it a massive advantage over many other dynamic driver IEMs in its price range. Which leads us to……..

Technicalities

The DUNU LUNA is well known for being one the most technically capable dynamic driver IEMs available and when DUNU announced they would be implementing similar driver fabrication techniques in the ZEN, consumer’s expectations were high. Of course, at less than half the price I don't think there was the expectation of the ZEN to be technically equal to the LUNA but at least better than most dynamic driver IEMs in that price range.

“There aren’t many products that can deliver on dynamics and speed simultaneously. With conventional diaphragms or even coated diaphragms, increasing dynamic performance comes at the cost of speed. And conversely, if a driver is made to have clean transients then dynamics are sacrificed. The ZEN shows these two attributes are not mutually exclusive.”

- Andy Zhao, DUNU Chief Engineer


So does the ZEN deliver both clean transients and dynamics? Yes. Especially in the mids and bass. As matter of fact, the ZEN produces some of the most technical mids and bass I’ve ever heard in a dynamic driver IEM in this price range. The technicalities of the treble are not quite up to the level of the mids and bass however, it is still good. And while the ZEN is not as technically capable as the LUNA it is very close. It’s only a small step down in my opinion. Which again, is quite impressive for $699. I also prefer the tuning of the ZEN over the LUNA.

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SA6 Comparison

While these have two completely different driver designs I feel they are close enough in price to warrant comparison. The SA6 has a more balanced frequency response than the ZEN and is generally closer to my personal tuning preference. The SA6 also has more treble presence delivering more air, sparkle, and high-frequency detail. I also find the SA6 slightly more comfortable. Where the ZEN bests the SA6, in my opinion, is in its ability to engage the listener. The ZEN delivers much greater impact, giving notes a sense of physicality and weight. Something most BA driver IEMs could never do. And again, while I do prefer the overall tuning of the SA6 I find the ZEN to be more captivating and during these last couple of months, I’ve found myself reaching for the ZEN over the SA6 and I think I know why.

Conclusion

The ZEN showed up at my doorstep at a very strange time in my life. Just one day before I had received news that would likely change my life forever. And not in a good way. I remember sitting on the couch staring at the unopened package feeling kind of numb thinking there was no way I could review these. Honestly, in those moments I couldn’t have cared less about this stuff. I knew I wouldn’t be able to give the ZEN the time and effort it deserved. I had already decided to take a big step back from my review channel and even if I decided to do written reviews they would take way too long. I emailed Tom at Dunu and asked what I should do fully expecting him to have me send them back. Tom, of course, being the patient person that he is, told me to hold onto them and take my time. Tom, you are awesome. Thank you. So, there I sat, sad and frustrated. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just set the ZEN’s aside for the time being.

Over the next several days, I didn’t listen to music at all focusing on the challenges at hand and trying just to stay emotionally afloat. About a week later I finally sat down for a first, quick listening session with the ZEN. I was feeling sentimental and thought I would get back to my roots. There was a specific song I had in mind. It was off of the album “Like A River'' by the Yellowjackets. It was track number 5 “Memoirs” at about 1:39, Russell Ferrante began the piano solo that would literally be the beginning of my Jazz journey almost thirty years ago. This was the solo that made me fall in love with Jazz. I had heard this solo hundreds of times throughout my life but this night was different. No doubt, it was probably just my emotional state but this time it was almost as though I was hearing it for the first time.

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Two weeks later on a crisp Northern California morning, I had just sat down on the front porch of our little rental cabin looking out into the forest. My 2020 CA Solaris had arrived just a couple of days before and I had only spent a short time with them so I thought this would be a good time to try them out. It was perfect. I had just taken a few sips of my coffee when I remembered that night two weeks before. I grabbed my Plenue 2 MKII and frantically began searching for “Memoirs”. I plugged in my Solaris and began to listen. In all honesty, I was a little underwhelmed, at least at that moment. Not that they didn’t sound good, they just didn’t impact me the way the ZEN had. Just to clarify, I had no intention of doing any sort of comparisons at the cabin. I honestly, wasn’t really interested in anything other than just enjoying the music and clearing my head. But the Solaris just wasn’t doing it for me. I then grabbed my Monarch’s……...then the SA6’s. Still, all very good but they didn’t engage me the way the ZEN had. Which is crazy because these are some pretty incredible IEMs and are much closer to my tuning preference. I absolutely love the SA6 and the Monarch and suddenly I felt like they were kind of letting me down. So of course I then proceeded to finish out the rest of my listening with the ZEN.

I have to acknowledge the ZEN’s shortcomings. It’s lacking air and the upper mids are a little too elevated. I also wish it had just a little more sub-bass presence. That’s the reviewer side of me. Here is my human side. As I said before, the ZEN arrived at my doorstep at a very strange time in my life. It could have shown up any other time but it didn’t. Maybe it was a coincidence….maybe it wasn’t. All I know is that during these last several weeks I’ve needed music more than ever. And I’m sure if the ZEN had never arrived the SA6, Monarch, Solaris or Andromeda would have sufficed. But the ZEN did arrive and subsequently ended up being the IEM that I reach for more than any other in my collection. It’s also the IEM that gave me some of my most memorable listening moments ever. Is the ZEN perfect? No, It has its faults. But there is something that draws me to it time and time again. And whether it’s just the physicality and weight to notes or its perfectly natural timbre, the ZEN has an ability none of my other IEMs seem to have. The ability to utterly captivate me.
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shenzhenaudio
shenzhenaudio
Nice review! Deserve to read it, thank you.
earmonger
earmonger
Real life is more important than audio. Hoping your life journey is bearable and that music provides the joy you need.
K
Kobicohendrix
Thanks a lot for this wonderful review

Comments

milkdudd

100+ Head-Fier
Curious about opinions between the Dunu Zen and the Acoustune HS1677SS. Both are DD and are priced exactly the same. I intend to use my Chord mojo with Android OTG as the source. Probably a long shot to find someone who has had a chance to listen to both but it's worth a try. Thanks
 
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