Pros: Cutting edge solid design in both build and sound.
Nicely balanced musical harmonish tuning with enhanced bass, upper mids, and a clean detailed treble. Excelling in tonal, timbral and dynamic qualities with exceptional dimensional imaging and head stage. Pro level accessories package. Comes with one of the absolute best cables in the industry with DUNUs proprietary modular terminations in all popular formats. Superb versatile tuning. Easy to drive and scales to nicer sources. Very transparent of source matchings.
Cons: The shiny onyx black finish means they will attract dust and finger oils. Cleaning wipe highly recommended for OCD types. Not enough time in the day to listen to your collection with the Zens.
These turbulent times we live in saw a bit of a side effect of being at home and conforming to the new norms. More and more folks are getting into personal audio and with that trend we are witnessing advances for the in ear monitor. Dynamic designs are seeing newer innovations and advancements and DUNU is playing a big role.
A newer earphone design should be more than just aesthetically pleasing, it has to please why we get into the hobby in the first place, the sound. DUNU has created some great earphones in the past, present and today we will dive deep into what makes the new DUNU Zen what it is and why I feel it has become a new benchmark for dynamic earphones at the price range.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of how and why. I would like to give a hearty thanks and an appreciation for Tom of DUNU for being one of the best reps for any company could ask for. Give this man a raise DUNU! Other reps here on the threads should take some lessons from this man. This is how you represent. Appreciate you and your commitment to DUNU and our hobby. That being said, yes the Zen is a review sample and these here are my thoughts on what is essentially an upgrade to what you own.
The word Zen means peaceful and calm, from an old Japanese Mahayana Buddhism noun with the value of meditation and intuition. Adjectively it has to do with being in a relaxed peaceful state.
You don’t name an earphone called the Zen when it is gonna be your average or standard earphone. You just don’t do it, but does the new earphones from Dunu live up to the name? A state of Zen is one part state of mind, peaceful tranquility with enlightenment. Listening to the Zens is a harmonic revelation that not all earphones are equal in what it does. Earphones designs just simply don’t get much better. The Zen: package
Zens arrive in a larger all black box. Everything was thought out on the packaging. What you get in the larger box is a completeness that DUNU is extremely good at. Inside the Zen box includes the earphones and cables for the up layer.
The bottom layer sees several boxes outfitted with 3 sets of silicones and a pair of medium sized foams, modular plugs for the cables. A Dunu engraved blue zip up pouch with a pockets to store your tips. A shirt clip, airplane adapters, cleaning tool a stereo adapter, a cleaning cloth and a custom mesh pouch to store the shells in. Will explain why this was thrown in later. The Zen: cable
DUNUs proprietary monocrystalline 8 core silver plated copper modular cable, the DUW-03 happens to match the Zens sonic character to a T. Meaning no need to upgrade the cable. In fact trying out a variety of aftermarket cables, I ended up reverting back to the stock cables. Dunus modular connectors are on another level vs other manufacturers implementations. I recently got to review a few different earphones with modular connectors for their cables and unfortunately those are not what comes on the DUW-03.
These cables are about as boutique as your gonna get. No way this was the type of cable you're getting even a few years back for any level of earphone. The cables are on the thicker side of cable land but I wouldn't change a single aspect of the cables, especially how it pairs with the Zen. It was one of the many positives about DUNUs previous SA6 offering which also uses the same cable in a 2 pin configuration and here it matches up even better with the Zens. This cable is so good it has a model number. Let me put it that way.
The Zen: innovation
Dunus Luna for me was a revelation in a pure Beryllium dynamic design. Which was a one off production Dunu created from the ground up but in doing so they were able to learn new techniques and methods for what is to become their new Eclipse platform. The Zens incorporates a 13.5mm magnesium-aluminum alloy dynamic driver with a W shaped morphology which is then coated with a nanoporous amorphous carbon or NanoDLC coating. Then they took this highly resolving driver to the next level by utilizing a neodymium magnetic assembly that reaches 1.8 tesla. With even more techniques and designs to make the Zen what it is. You can read about more here.
What does all this mean to you, the enthusiast? It means your getting a cutting edge driver and tech inside the Zens. If the tuning is not up to par all this tech as you know, don’t mean a thing. The solid Zen
Zens housings are made of monolithic 316 stainless steel and finished with a PVD coating for scratch resistance in a wet black color. Strong and sturdy you can tell the quality of the construction is as every bit as cutting edge and robust as the internals. Subjectively is quite the looker. Absolutely modern in design and looks, no one is gonna mistake the Zen for any other earphone in the market.
The Zens have such strong magnets. You will notice the housing pieces attracting to one another and will stick to each other. Yes folks that is strong! This is the reasoning for the divided pocket pouch they provide, to keep your ear pieces separate when storing them for the night. The finish is shiny and will leave a residue of your finger oils. Keeping that polished surface clean just means you gotta have your cleaning cloth with you at times. If you're a bit on the OCD side you will most definitely need a clean cloth with you which DUNU so happens to provide. The mmcx connectors are of high quality and unlike other manufacturers where I actually worry how many times I can take out a cable before something gives. I am not so worried on the connectors here. Consistently clean in how your cable connects. I know folks like their 2 pins but if all the mmcx connectors show this level of consistency, I doubt there would be much issue. Plus the likelihood you're actually gonna find an upgrade to the DUW-03 is not likely. The Zen: in the ears.
Sound analysis was done after an extensive 150 hours of burn in. Sources used with the Zens include my Fiio M15,Fiio X1,Shanling M6 pro, M5s, M3s, Ibasso DX160, Sony ZX300, Cryin N5ii and my amps IBasso PB3, IFI Black Label.
DUNU DNA and sound design shows with the Zens. In reviewing their Lunas. Dunus foundation so happens to be with tuning the tried and true dynamic earphones. Zen seems to be the end results of years of design and tuning. Overall sonic character is a well balanced harmonish tuning with some added flavoring that enhances what we love about our music. Enhanced bass range, upper mids with a detailed clean treble end.The Zens have a superb tonal balance with a technical ability that is among the very best for dynamic earphones. Showing accurate tonal qualities and a rangy timbrally dynamic sound. Not thin and not thick in note weight, the sound has an exceptional body of note and is tactile from all the sound ranges. Despite the name, Zen is an energetic bold sound with a very versatile balanced tuning. Has a very good dimensional wide and deeper than taller sound stage, the immersive qualities of the Zens are in full force and you're gonna love how these things sound from your favorite sources. The Zen: High Life
Treble sees a fine balancing of one part definition and a good dose of clarity. Treble for the most part is well rounded. No secret treble is one of the most important aspects of a higher end tuning and here we have a clear resolving ability of the Zen drivers at work. In fine tuning the Zens sound profile. Careful treble tuning has been done here and you get a more natural take on the treble end vs being overly elevated in one region of the treble for the sake of high fidelity. I appreciate that treble is not emphasized more than the rest of the sound spectrum. Treble shows a moderate extension and a focus more toward lower treble to mid trebles an anti sibilance dip and a peak around 8.5Khz. Not overly cooked and certainly not lacking shimmer and sparkle, in my opinion is crafted well so the treble is not glare prone or lacking in emphasis. Showing that fine balance of presence, agility and clarity, treble could have a bit more air but for what is on there, not much to complain about.
I have seen a few folks mention that upper trebles needs more extension. You know to be honest I don’t really hear it that way. Definition of all parts of the sound is a strong suit for the Zens and the treble is no different. If I was to nitpick it is the 8.5Khz peak that is not emphasized more than the rest of the sound still shows a touch of splash for treble presence at times but does not sound unnatural or cause any fatigue. Don't know if it was due to mostly using the Fiio M15 which is a neutrally balanced tuning with excellent extension on both ends but this pairing is stunning with the Zens. I do notice more warmer sounding sources, the upper trebles can sound slightly reserved sounding in comparison, as warmer sounding sources can show more emphasis in the bass to mids regions of sound, so the Zen is clearly showing how transparent the sound is based on your sources. The Zen: Master of sources.
The reason why I like to try out a bunch of different sources before writing a review is to see how good an earphone meshes with different sound profiles. Here the Zens actually is very versatile not only in how it is tuned but with the various match ups I tried with the Zens. They are easy enough to drive and to my ears the higher end the sound profile of your sources the better they sound. It sounds just as engaging from using it on my old Fiio X1.
Yes folks we are talking bout a $100 DAP that has been discontinued from 6 years ago. Sounds fantastic out of it. Don’t judge. My point is, if an intro level DAP sounds that good you can imagine how they sound on the Fiio M15. Zen doesn't care what you hook it up to be it a discontinued old source, an old amp, your phone or a more modern DAP, It will all sound good. Can’t say that about a lot of earphones I have reviewed. Overall Zen is versatile not only in tuning but in pairings with your sources. Zens obviously scales to nicer sounding sources but your cell phones will never sound better using the Zen as an earphone. The Zen: Euphoria
Zens base tuning has a foundation of balance with some upper mid emphasis in establishing a more musical tuning based on the harmon curve and for folks that love their tonal balancing with excellent details and dynamics across the sound spectrum. I present to you the Zens.
You know you're listening to some outstanding gear when you hear a favorite vocal track that will send shivers down your spine. The Zens have a slight skew toward upper mids but due to some outstanding layering the mids come full bored and in fact you will love how the Zens projects vocals with a reach that is difficult for a lot of earphones. The Zens have a semi open design with venting on the back of the housing which helps that lovely driver breathe also with the sound staging of the Zens. Sound stage is wider than deep or tall giving the overall stage a traditional sideways oval effect for sound stage. It has a headphone-like layering with outstanding imaging of the mid bands that makes the Zen special in my book. Nothing sounds canned or on a single plane of sound. Stage is wider than most earphones, throwing out sound in a dimensional manner. Vocal and instrumental timbre is substantial on the Zens. Presenting accurate clean renditions for stringed instruments, mids sound outlandishly superb resulting in an amped up engagement factor. For vocal lovers, take note. These will be right up your alley. The Club Zen: Disco in your ears.
Bass is infused with a tasteful amount of emphasis. We aren’t talking neutral bass here. A higher end earphone has nothing to do with bloat or uneven bass. You get the good stuff right out of the gate. A deep reaching tactile speedy tightness to the bass end of the Zen is every bit a quality mixed with the perfect quantity to get your head bobbin and foot tappin. A deep agile bass end with excellent low bass rumble. The bass shows a very similar ability as the rest of the sound signature. Defined and very versatile, with a quicker tighter punch and a natural decay. Bass end sounds very natural while showing an enthusiastic amount of emphasis, this quality bass is clearly separated from any of the mids and has its own space to work with. Bass shows pronounced quality when called for and is about as speedy as it gets for dynamic earphones.
The one area I feel Dunu has always excelled at is bass performance in their tunings. Bass for the Zen has that underlying resolving ability from the tech being used on the Zen and it clearly shows the type of bass folks will gravitate toward. No one likes a limp noodle slow bass. Here you get a top flight bass ability and detail that you know your gonna get with a higher end sound. Bass is very much like the technical term they used in describing their own drivers. Morphologic. There isn't a type of bass note or emphasis that sounds unnatural here. Bass is extremely good on the Zens. The Speedy Zen
Speedy drivers lead to more accurate sound, a clear correlation to a quicker transient response and a tighter sound. Here we got one of the speediest drivers around and you're gonna hear that for your speediest tracks. With no such thing as congestion for any track you throw at the Zens. Zens spacious balanced tuning will reveal every part of your most complicated speediest tracks. Again showing the superior speed of the drivers here. I can’t think of too many earphones that use dynamics that can match the speed of the Zens. To my ears these are an ideal solution for Metal fans. I have a very eclectic collection of music I listen to but I grew up going to Slayer, Pantara and Sepultura concerts. So just know these do metal justice in fact I will say they are the ultimate solution for metal. Aggressive when called for and heavenly when not. A State of Zen
In the end the Zens presents with a compelling reason why we spend that hard earned cash to play. Zens stellar performance is just one aspect of what you're getting. Their top tier class build and looks with an accessory package that is more akin to a TOTL package. You're most definitely getting what you're paying for and then some. Owning a lot of earphones and hearing a lot, you're gonna appreciate what separates this package to your other earphones. Seems to me DUNU is not messing around with the entire presentation here. If the Eclipse platform in the Zens are anything to go by it seems to me DUNU is only getting better at their craft. These earphones are a clear step forward for dynamic earphone fans and if you have the means. I can’t recommend an earphone highly enough. These are exceptional in every perceivable way.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on DUNUs new masterpiece. You're not going to have that dreaded buyers remorse when looking into a set. No way. No how.
Pros: Fairly punchy and detailed low end. Very good vocal details. Wide and deep soundstage. DUNU cable with swappable plugs included. Scales well with better gear.
Cons: Upper treble a little relaxed. Upper Mids/lower treble have a slight boost that may come off sibilant at times. A little heavy. A little amp picky to sound its best.
I will always admit to being a sucker for a good hybrid iem. I found the FiiO FD1 and now old Moondrop KXXS pretty neat and that was my first time with single DD iems. I recently reviewed the DUNU LUNA which really blew my mind with it’s main focus on mids and it’s wide and deep soundstage. I personally liked the LUNA, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the price, though a lot of the cost was from the huge amount of R&D that came from that project. The talk was that this was the start and that newer products would come out at lower prices with trickle down tech from the LUNA. The ZEN on paper seems like a really fanrastic next step for DUNU. Let's see what the new ZEN and it’s nanoDLC coated single dynamic driver can do!
Quick shoutout to Kevin from DUNU for sending me the ZEN to test and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers, it never affects the rating of my review.
Onto the review of the ZEN! My personal preference is a dynamic hybrid iem where I get good hitting bass and have a brighter treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
IPhone 12 pro with headphone adapter, iFi hip dac, Lotoo PAW S1, iFi NEO iDSD, SMSL SU-9 feeding the SH-9 and SP400 amps.
The tech side of the ZEN
I won’t fill my review up with a bunch of marketing material for the ZEN as a lot of the other seasoned reviews will cover every detail in their reviews. I will however link all of the neat tech inside the ZEN below.
Looks and fit
The ZEN IMO is an absolute looker. It has a beautiful glossy black shell that has a nice weight to it. It also happens to be a fingerprint magnet and it currently looks hideous from me touching it. The sound nozzle is a little longer than what I normally see which makes it a little easier to find tips that work for my ears. The ZEN is a little heavy when worn but since I use the Ikko OH10 daily I wasn’t really bothered by the weight when listening for long sessions. The comfort in the ear is really good and the coating on the shell feels super smooth and this causes no chafing where the shell touches my ear when walking. The stock DUW-03 cable they include also looks fantastic. It had a wonderful silver and dark grey two tone finish. Pictures really don’t do it justice.
Packaging and accessories
The unboxing experience was rather impressive. I know a lot of the other reviews will be including pictures of all the accessories so I’ll not go heavy on the pictures of what’s included. Nonetheless, we get the iems and cable presented on the top layer. Underneath that we have the three plugs that work with DUNU’s quick switch plug system. They include a single ended 3.5mm plug, 2.5mm balanced plug and finally a balanced 4.4mm pentaconn plug. They include a little case that holds two different types of ear tips. A wider bore and small bore set. There is also a little box that holds the leather case that can be used to hold the ZEN when traveling. They also give an airplane adapter, quarter inch adapter, shirt clip(really nice) iem cleaning tool and a few extra tips such as their classic white tips. A nice cloth to constantly clean the glossy ZEN is included as well.
These final impressions were done off the SMSL SU-9 connected to the SMSL SP400. These are what the LUNA sounds like to my ears. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear. Still feel free to roast me if you don’t agree with my impressions though haha
The ZEN does low end impact really well. Things never sound bloated and when something calls for a good low end thump, the ZEN delivers. The low end sounds really detailed and fast as well. I would call this low end accurate with a little fun thrown in. I don’t have much to say other than I was very impressed with the presentation of the low end.
Much like it’s older sibling the LUNA, the mids are done really well here. The ZEN has a middle/upper mid bump that allows vocals to sound really emotional and I had a blast with the ZEN just like I did with the LUNA. A lot of instruments in this frequency range come through really well and detailed too. I think this is one of the ZEN’s strong points.
The highs are tame here to my ears. There is still a little bit of sparkle at times to some higher frequency notes but for the most part things sound a little relaxed. While I would prefer a bit more energy up top, things still sound very detailed. Micro details still come through really well even with the lack of upper treble energy. This is a good example of a detailed top end that doesn’t sound ultra bright like a scalpel scraping on metal.
Soundstage is fairly wide and deep for an iem. This is another one of the strong points IMO of the ZEN. This is something that scales well depending on the source gear being used. When the ZEN is allowed to stretch its legs with soundstage, it really goes for the gold. The imaging is also fantastic on the ZEN. It’s easy to pick out where each sound is placed in the stage the ZEN presents. I heard no dead spots in any of the side to side sound sweeps and just like the LUNA I found this to be impressive overall when it came to the stage and imaging.
I threw the DUNU Chord cable, DUNU Noble/Stellar(LUNA) cable and Null Audio Lune cable at the ZEN. I wasn’t willing to constantly swap MMCX cables or deal with the nightmare that is unplugging them so I didn’t get to do nearly as much cable rolling as I would on a 2 pin iem. The Chord and Stellar(LUNA’s cable) give the ZEN a little more of a LUNA feel. I found the lows and highs somewhat tame vs the stock cable. The Lune cable sounded a lot like the DUW-03 stock cable that comes with the ZEN. I really didn’t see a need for an aftermarket cable unless you don’t like the thickness and weight of the included DUW-03 which I’ll get into below.
The stock cable(DUW-03) is absolutely beautiful to my eyes and I decided to leave it be for the last leg of testing. The two tone color scheme is really appealing to myself and I really like the thicker cable material. This thicker cable does make it heavier and this can cause some ear fatigue when listening for longer sessions if you’re not used to it. The stock cable also makes use of swappable plugs so this ends up being an all in one system. It helps that they include the common portable plugs so the need to get an aftermarket cable will come down to personal preferences. I personally wouldn’t change the cable. I will note that the included 4.4mm plug hated the hip dac and any movement at the plug end would cause a static noise spike. I swapped to one of the other 4.4mm DUNU plugs I have and things worked fine. I have no clue why just the hip dac hated that plug but I thought I should mention it.
Unlike the LUNA, there were no spinfits included with the ZEN. The included tips work fairly well but I got the best balance out of the spinfit CP145 which also happens to seal the best for my ears. Small bore tips make the ZEN into a harder hitting low end iem and the super wide bore tips tend to extend the treble at the cost of the low end frequencies. I found that the grey stock tips, classic blue DUNU tips, CP145 and Symbio tips all worked well here as they all end up in between the wide and small bore tips. I find the ZEN takes well to tip rolling. I would say definitely trying different tips out to see what sounds good to your ears.
*IEM comparison note*
So I made the decision to avoid doing a comparison to the non single DD iems I had as the only thing I had in this price range was the 1st gen Campfire Andromeda and now discontinued ADV Sound M5-5D. They both sound rather different and while I like the Andros as a top dollar all BA standard, I also like the ZEN way more. Any time I popped the Andros in my ear I was instantly staring at the ZEN wondering when I would get bored and swap iems. I thought about comparing the ADV Sound M5-5D hybrid(was $650) but it sounds super bright and the mids are rather recessed. I normally liked this but the LUNA and ZEN made me appreciate mids a lot more since I’ve had the chance to listen to them. So while the LUNA is the only thing I’m gonna compare the ZEN to, I plan to use the ZEN in future single DD iem reviews.
DUNU LUNA comparison
I was thinking the ZEN would maybe be a mini LUNA with everything taken down a step or two. It turned out to sound like its own thing instead. Some things are close if not the same such as the wide and deep soundstage as well as the fantastic imaging that the LUNA had. The LUNA does have some advantages over the ZEN. The LUNA is super lightweight and can last longer listening sessions. The magic mids the LUNA has makes it a specific iem tuned for a specific use. It excels at what it does and the ZEN can’t quite match it the same way. The ZEN however sounds “fun” yet still very accurate in detail retrieval and I find the ZEN a better all rounder over the LUNA for everyday use. I think both are absolutely fantastic.
The ZEN is a little amp picky in the sense that while using portable DAC/amps or DAPs will work just fine, the ZEN can really stretch its legs when you feed it better source gear.
Lightning headphone adapter
While this would be a “crap I forgot my portable gear at home” recommendation for me, I don’t find the lightning adapter horrible sounding. It can reach high volumes fine but you lose a lot of the sound quality the ZEN can offer.
iFi hip dac
The hip dac makes a pretty good combo with the ZEN. While the stage isn’t as wide, the ZEN is still a pleasure to listen to with the hip dac. Since the hip dac is a warmish amp. The low end gets a nice lift even without the Xbass feature. When it is active the ZEN turns into a little bass cannon. It doesn’t distort but you can tell it also sounds like it will start distorting if pushed any harder. I like this combo and recommend this for portable use. As with pretty much all iems, I pick up a decent amount of hiss when running the ZEN out of the balanced port. Hiss disappears when run single ended.
Lotoo PAW S1
I don’t know why the S1 doesn’t get more love and testing time with iems. I use it mostly with my ipad which I don’t use often since I’m usually near my desktop setup. I happened to have the second one I own in my bag with my Ikko OH10 on the day that the ZEN arrived. Since it was the first device the ZEN was plugged into I decided to test the combo at home and on the go to see how it sounded. The S1 has a slightly warmer sound than the hip dac with a decent width to the soundstage so it complimented the ZEN pretty well out of its balanced port. While I could live with this combo, I found the power output to be slightly lacking in providing the dynamics and liveliness that I get from more powerful gear. I did find that even on high gain I had almost no floor noise with the ZEN.
iFi NEO iDSD/ SMSL SU/SH-9
I find both the NEO and SH-9 sound fairly the same when I A/B test them. The only real difference is that I find the NEO a little warmer and wider sounding and the SH-9 a bit more detailed with a deeper sound. On the NEO the ZEN does well with the wider sound. The NEO also has a slight upper mid boost that is very noticeable on the ZEN. I wasn’t a huge fan but I found the pairing fine nonetheless. I did pick up a decent amount of hiss off the balanced port of the NEO. The SH-9 had a little better upper frequency energy and sounded a little more balanced though I missed a little of that low end thump I got from other amps. I got no hiss out of the SH-9 plugged into the balanced output. It’s not truly balanced so take that as you will haha. I found both pairing perfectly acceptable with the ZEN.
The SP400 produces a really wide and deep soundstage when attached to the SU-9 and this worked fantastically with the ZEN. The low end has better details and impact with the SP400 as well. Mids are super detailed and sound the best out of the other setups I tried. The top end is still fairly tamed but I got the best detail out of this setup. This was my favorite setup out of everything I listened with. Unfortunately it’s also the most expensive setup I have as well. While I don’t think something in the $1000 range is needed, I like that the ZEN scales really well with the gear it’s attached to.
It doesn’t take much to get the ZEN to loud volume levels. To get the best sound quality I’d recommend good mid range DAP, portable DAC/amp or mid-high end desktop setup.
There was a decent amount of hype around the ZEN so I went into my first listen expecting an average listen. What I wasn’t expecting was to be blown away by the tuning of the ZEN. I was already won over by the looks of the ZEN as well as the cable and the unboxing experience. I wouldn't call this a mini LUNA, but I would say it took some of the best parts of the LUNA and became something really special with it’s own tuning. It’s not a perfect iem but goodness does it really try to check all the boxes on sound quality and looks. DUNU came out the gates of 2021 with a really special product. I think the ZEN is gonna be a big seller for DUNU and I expect all eyes will be on DUNU going forward to see what their next single DD release will be. I have a hard time finding any real faults with the ZEN. As such, I absolutely recommend the DUNU ZEN! There is a tour going on at the time of this review and If you’re on the fence with buying the ZEN then I’d recommend trying to get in on the listening tour. I think the ZEN is definitely worth looking at. While I’m a hardcore hybrid iem lover, I’m now very interested in single DDs and don’t plan to put the ZEN down anytime soon. Thanks for reading!