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:

01.jpg
02.jpg
03.jpg
04.jpg
05.jpg

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.

292EF1B3-03EE-4D8A-BF66-D24E694937F4.jpeg


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

1B06177D-8374-41B7-9768-3339CE1AB7BC.jpeg


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
1B3F97D2-C565-477B-86AC-AB1A56E02A44.jpeg


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

oUhkrtt6Sjrj98iX4BJV9Ev_NQBcXyxAWlQC1zeogo1GnextiQhr2zhPNT6ujsuI_aJWOU0maXsaXhnhlXtCaTC5NXU6fgya0FzPMmgAs3sataett2nqpdvzVxnKSEskt2hSbeWu


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.

BF09346B-E829-411E-B5F2-C7F26D0B751A.jpeg
Last edited:

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
_DSC5033 (2).jpg


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.

_DSC5014 (2).jpg


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

_DSC5046-2.jpg


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.

_DSC5010-2 (2).jpg


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.

_DSC5065.jpg


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.

_DSC5016.jpg


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.

_DSC0037.jpg


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.

_DSC5217 (2).jpg


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.
Last edited:
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

Codename john

100+ Head-Fier
The black pearl
Pros: Bass , Midrange, Imaging , Tonality , Wonderful cable, Innovation.
Cons: Treble roll off may not suit all tastes.
Screenshot_20210326-172727.jpg

This is not going to be a long detailed , rambling review. Being honest those that have reviewed the ZEN thus far I hold in high regard and couldn't possibly reach their high standards ! It's more of an emotional soliloquy about a product I like a hell of a lot. Like a rapper freestyling in one take with a bit of editing after the event. My love affair with "chi fi' started with the Dunu 2000j. I had bought the akg 3003 , at the time it was endgame. An expensive set that luckily I got at a discounted price from my local exchange store. I loved them. A few months later , I purchased the Dunu 2000js. Out of curiosity and again a good price. I was staggered that a set that was a quarter of the price of my AKG actually sounded wayyyy better. I became a DUNU fan. Over the next few years I bought the Sennheiser ie800 also Ultimate ears UE900. As a DJ work was plentiful. I focussed on music production , running club nights , touring etc. The 2000s were my go to while travelling. I got on the Chi Fi bandwagon in 2018. I wondered to myself "where Dunu at?" . The titan and falcon had passed me by. Last spring I was intrigued by Dunu new line up DK 2001,3001 and the 4001 piqued my interest. The Luna a bit out of my reach. I purchased the 2001 and fell in love again. I was happy Dunu eleviated the spiciness of the 2000j. Timbre and tonality were spot on. The lows were punchy. The mids sublime. Once again these were my go to's . We were now in Lockdown in London . I had a lot more time on my hands . Listening to music became almost like meditation . IEMS become my mode of transport out of the monotony. I began to hear about the fabled ZEN around November of 2020. I read about the trickled down technology from the Luna. How Dunu had scientifically built the Zen using futuristic methods. I have grown to love a single dynamic over the last 18 months. The cohesiveness, the feeling of sound coming to you in one whole. By the end of 2020 single dynamics were a thing. Let's cut to the chase ! Jan 2021 the ZEN arrived . Immediately I was enamoured by the packaging. Stylish and elegant. The cable looked expensive and blingy. Like a platinum rope chain Jay Z would wear. Put it this way I would be wary wearing them in the hood ! The 3.5 single ended & balanced 2.5/4.4 interchangeable adapters were to my liking. The ZEN themselves were smaller than I thought they would be. They look like black pearls. The heft feels strangely dense and luxurious. They looked and felt like the real deal. I plugged them into my fiio M15 , I felt engaged immediately. I left them to burn in before critical analysis. 80 hours seemed like a lifetime. Whether you believe in burn in or not to my ears the sound had changed. The tonality sounded more rounded. More crystalline. The harshness of the upper mids were tamed. That night I decided to road test them. After 4 hours or so I didn't want to put them down. I was bewitched. The bass morphs to whatever your listening. Sometimes thick , agile subs. Other times they would sit in the background making the mids take the floor. Midbass has perfect slam. Fast and taut. Kick drums were on point with the right amount of decay. The lows sounded so natural. Never showy. The lows are technically the best I've heard to date. The low mids are smooth with a whiff of warmth. Marvin Gaye sounded so right. His falsetto never shrill or too cold . The upper mids had the right amount of bite and spice. Female vocals were nuanced with the right amount of weight , resolution and emotion. At rare moments ( It's too late by Carole King) her voice peaked slightly too much. No sibilance. Her voice just stepped over my threshold. The highs are a bone of contention to many. Some have written that the roll off is too drastic. Treble trails are almost non existent. Whilst I understand where they are coming from for my library which consists of soul , jazz , funk , soft rock and dance music it was never an issue. I find whilst there could be a bit more extended they suited my taste. I found the highs smooth and silky. With a good amount of weight and decay. Finely tuned. Just the right amount of sauce. Your mileage may vary. The soundstage has good width , height and great depth. Sound images play beautifully in the field. The ZEN are musical without necessarily being "fun" . Percussion have such great density and tone. Guitars , strings and vocals sound perfect. There is an organic feel to staging. Some sets the stage is so wide you can get a bit lost in the sound. As a DJ there is a huge difference between playing to 10,000 people than there is playing to an intimate crowd of say 200. You fill the space , there is much more of engagement and emotion playing to a smaller crowd. The ZEN stage immerses you with sound. Makes you connect with your music. To each his own. Some may like playing to a larger crowd. To wrap it up I am enchanted by the ZEN. As the name suggests it does have a meditational effect if you let it. After all these years DUNU have done it again. They have created a futuristic , modern , emotional , resolute piece of technology that deserves your attention..
Last edited:
digititus
digititus
Nice review. Hope to see you in your day job again soon!:man_dancing:
asifur
asifur

RikudouGoku

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Bass
Mids/vocals
Lower-treble quality
Imaging
Instrument separation
Macro-details
Accessories
Modular cable
Build quality
Source revealing
Cons: Upper-treble roll-off causes lack of micro-details, air and probably one of the factors for the average soundstage
Fatiguing
Not for lower-treble-sensitive people
Below average isolation
Source revealing
Not the tightest fit, not suited for physical activities
20210210_173852.jpg


Disclaimer: I received this review unit from Dunu. Thank you very much.

Price: 700 usd

Specifications:

Driver Config: DD with Magnesium alloy pure metal diaphragm

Frequency Response Range:5-40000Hz

Impedance:16Ohm

Sensitivity:108dB/mW

Cable: 8 Core OCC Silver-Plated Cable

Cable Length:1.2m

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


20210210_180034.jpg

Accessories:

S/M/L “Sony EP-EX11” tips (seems to be the Sony tips)

S/M/L silicone grey tips

S/M/L silicone white tips

M foam tips

Balanced 2.5/4.4mm modular adapter

SE 3.5mm modular adapter

Airplane adapter

6.35mm adapter

Shirt clip

Cleaning tool

Hard case

Woven pouch

Cleaning cloth

20210210_175450.jpg

20210210_174850.jpg

20210210_174910.jpg

20210210_175030.jpg

20210210_175332.jpg

Cable: 8-core SPC modular cable, not very thick for an 8-core cable. Metal connectors/dividers with a very tight (functional) chin-slider. The cable itself is on the stiffer side. The modular system is done better here than on the Fiio FD5 cable in my opinion, much easier to detach/attach the different connectors. Measurement wise all the different connectors (2.5mm, 3.5mm, 4.4mm) are measuring between 0.21-0.23, so the differences are most likely due to unit variation. There is definitely no need to get a 3rd party cable with the Zen.


20210210_174259.jpg

20210210_174500.jpg

20210210_174514.jpg

20210210_174557.jpg

20210210_174633.jpg

20210210_174714.jpg

Build: The entire shell is made out of stainless steel. The nozzle has a metal mesh to protect against wax/dust with a lip that allows for 2 ways of placing the tips, one that allows for a deeper fit and the other with a shallower fit. I recommend using a deep fit as possible as that will shift the resonance peak closer to the upper treble where the Zen struggles the most. There is a strong magnetic field that pulls the units together when they are close (or repels them depending on the position) which can be annoying. Fingerprint magnet, but fortunately doesn’t stick out as much thanks to the black color.

Fit: Since the shell is on the smaller side, it doesn’t fill up your entire ears but fit is still good. Although not secure enough for physical activities where you will most likely need to readjust it from time to time.

Comfort: Very comfortable for me, the edge on the faceplate side doesn’t feel sharp at all even though it doesn’t actually have a rounded-off edge (2.5d).

Isolation: Below average isolation, the vents does affect the isolation a bit. But not as much as you would think based on the looks. Not recommended for situations where a lot of isolation is needed but not a problem for normal usage.


Setup: Ibasso DX160 (low-gain, volume around 25), Final Audio Type E LL tips, Stock cable 4.4mm

Lows:
mid-bass focused over sub-bass but not bloated at all as that would usually imply. Tightness and speed are very good while the texture and extension are exceptional (very beryllium like, despite not using beryllium). Sub-bass quantity, while good is definitely not suited for bassheads as it would need more quantity for that.

Mid-bass: Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), speed, tightness and texture are very good. Quantity is fine as well, but the cymbals are very much recessed (thanks to the upper-treble roll-off). The (02:55-03:01) section with the chopper is hearable but a bit muffled by the upper-treble roll-off.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), bass texture, speed and tightness are exceptional and quantity is fun as well. Tonality wise is also surprisingly accurate as it on the warmer side (very high ability of adapting the tonality to suit the specific track, despite the massive lower-treble that usually makes it bright).

Sub-bass: Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extension is very good, rumble quantity is good as well but not enough for bassheads for sure. Punch quantity is good but it could be tighter, faster and more textured.

Will Sparks – Sick like that (03:08-03:22), quantity could be a bit higher to make it more fun but tightness and speed are very good. While texture is extremely good.

Mids: Along with the bass, the best part of this iem. Both male and female vocals are exceptionally good. Balancing is a bit more towards the female vocals but not too much to cause a big contrast between the two. Although the upper-treble roll-off is affecting (negatively) the female vocals a bit more than it does for male vocals.

Female-vocals: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), forward vocals that is very clean and not shouty at all. Tonality is very accurate and timbre as well. Although that upper-treble roll-off is unfortunately causing a lack of air and micro-details here.

Yuki Hayashi – MightU (01:58-02:55), Same as above.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), unexpectedly it is only a bit shouty (rather than death by treble as the graph would imply).

Hiroyuki Sawano – Crescent (02:07-02:26), shoutier here than on the track above.

Male-vocals: Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (00:57-01:17), very tonally accurate and natural timbre for the vocals but the upper-treble roll-off is causing a lack of micro-details.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), very natural vocals and good tonality, although it does need a bit more warmth to be more tonally accurate. The upper-treble roll-off isn’t affecting the vocals that much here (but it certainly affects the instruments where it sounds muffled).

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), Electric guitars are not sharp at all and they are very natural (upper-treble roll-off is actually beneficial here to tame the sharp guitars).

Deuce – America (03:03-03:16), The upper-treble roll-off helps with mitigating the shoutyness so it is actually beneficial here.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), cello timbre, tonality, texture and details are very good. Violin timbre and texture are very good as well, but the tonality and details are bottlenecked by the upper-treble roll-off so violins don’t sound as natural as the cellos.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), tonality and timbre are good, but lacking the upper-treble thanks to the roll-off.

Soundstage: Big for an iem for sure, but there are iems in the lower price ranges that are a lot bigger because the upper-treble roll-off is bottlenecking the soundstage as well as the air.

Tonality: Generally, on the brighter side, but is very capable of adapting its tonality to the track its playing so tonality is unexpectedly very versatile, signature is balanced, with a bit elevated bass, forward vocals (especially female) and boosted lower-treble. Note weight isn’t thick nor thin more in the middle, but a bit more towards thickness so it sounds more musical rather than analytical.

Details: Tons of macro-details (the lower-treble quantity is definitely one factor for that) but the micro-details is severely lacking and that is definitely thanks to the upper-treble roll-off.

Instrument Separation: Both the instrument separation and imaging are very good, while the soundstage isn’t something impressive in this price range, the separation/imaging definitely are.

Songs that highlight the IEM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za8aapTmp44 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVbHP_1UoWY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Max9zbRJ_Gc https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qbqSgRFvbc https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Grto8dtDI



Good genres:
Jack of all trades master of none type of iem. But works great with electronic music and hip-hop, R&B.

Bad genres: Worse with acoustic music where the upper-treble roll-off hurts cymbals and violins a lot.



Comparisons (DX160 setup):

IEM: Blon BL-03 (mesh mod), Azla SednaEarfit light short ML tips, Cable 196 4.4mm

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Extends lower on the Zen, but rumbles a lot more on the 03. Punch quantity is also a bit higher on the 03, but tighter, faster and more textured on the Zen.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), quantity is a bit higher on the 03. But tighter, faster and more textured on the Zen, while it is a bit bloated on the 03 and the difference in technicalities are very apparent.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), much cleaner on the Zen thanks to the bass being faster and tighter (texture is also better) but also because the technicalities (instrument separation, imaging) on the 03 can’t keep up with the speed so it sounds pretty chaotic.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), much more detailed on the Zen, but otherwise the tonality is pretty similar and sounds very natural on both. (Bigger difference with the instruments rather than vocals, much cleaner on the Zen and sounds low-res on the 03.)

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), a bit warmer and less peaky on the 03.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), a bit more forward vocals on the Zen while it is cleaner and more detailed. Tonality is pretty similar with the vocals, but the instruments are warmer on the 03 and is more tonally correct.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), non-fatiguing (warmer) and a bit less peaky on the 03.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), cello tonality, texture and details are better on the Zen while timbre is equal. Violin tonality, texture, details and timbre are better on the Zen.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), much cleaner and more tonally correct on the Zen, sounds low-res and a bit chaotic on the 03.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), bigger (and airier) soundstage on the Zen. Imaging and instrument separation on the Zen is outclassing the 03. Timbre is equal.

Overall: The difference in technicalities and overall resolution are very apparent here. Despite the upper-treble roll-off that the Zen has (while the 03 does not), it is much more detailed overall thanks to the macro-details. The 03 only wins in having a more relaxing and less fatiguing sound.



IEM: Fiio FD5, Sony EP-EX11 L tips, Stock 4.4mm cable

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends lower on the Zen but rumble more on the FD5. Punch quantity is also higher on the FD5 but texture, speed and tightness are all better on the Zen, to the point where the FD5 is a tiny bit bloated due to the rumble quantity.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), a bit more quantity on the FD5, but better texture, speed and tightness on the Zen.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), similar quantity but better textured on the Zen so it feels pretty similar. Speed is pretty similar, but tighter and sounds cleaner on the Zen.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), much more forward vocals on the Zen. Tonality is more correct on the Zen, with similar warmth on the instruments but brighter vocals.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), both are fatiguing but much more air and micro-details on the FD5.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), more forward vocals on the Zen but more tonally correct on the FD5 due to it being warmer. More macro-details on the Zen but more micro-details (and air) on the FD5.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), very similar in that both are fatiguing.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cello tonality is better on the FD5 while texture, details and timbre are similar. Violin tonality is better on the Zen while timbre and details are similar but texture is better on the FD5 (that upper-treble roll-off really hurts the violin with the Zen here and gives the FD5 an edge in treble extension).

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), tonality is a bit better on the FD5. Airier and more micro-details on the FD5 while the Zen has more forward vocals and more macro-details.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), Soundstage on the FD5 is outclassing the Zen and is also much airier. Instrument separation and imaging are much better on the Zen while timbre is similar. Macro-details is better on the Zen while micro-details is better on the FD5.

Overall: The Zen has better SQ overall, where it is much better with the bass, mids and accuracy with the instrument-separation/imaging. But the treble is the better tuned one on the FD5 (lower-treble has better quality on the Zen, while upper-treble is better on the FD5) and it got a much bigger soundstage and also more sub-bass quantity. So, the FD5 is the one for a more fun experience while the Zen is better for accuracy.



IEM: LZ A7 (pop-red), Final Audio Type E LL tips, Faaeal litz copper cable 4.4mm

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Rumbles more on the A7 but extends lower on the Zen. Texture, speed and tightness are better on the Zen. Punch quantity is a bit higher on the A7.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), more quantity on the A7 but much cleaner on the Zen due to the speed/tightness and still very fun thanks to the texture.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), similar quantity but much cleaner on the Zen.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), more forward and more tonally correct vocals on the Zen. Instrument tonality is very similar but a bit more natural on the Zen thanks to its edge on timbre. More macro-details on the Zen while the A7 has better micro-details.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), less fatiguing and less peaky on the A7.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality on the A7 but more forward and better clarity with the vocals on the Zen.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), Less-fatiguing and much tamer electric guitars on the A7. (cymbals are much better on the A7.)

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), cello tonality, details and timbre are better on the Zen. Violin tonality and timbre are better on the Zen but the overall naturality is still pretty similar due to the upper-treble roll-off on the Zen.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality on the A7 while vocals are more forward on the Zen. Clarity is better on the Zen but is lacking micro-details (and cymbals).

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), bigger soundstage on both width/depth with the A7. Macro-details on the Zen is better while micro-details are better on the A7. Imaging, instrument separation and timbre are better on the Zen.

Overall: The Zen is more technical and better bass, mids and lower-treble quality (upper-treble is better on the A7). While the A7 is the overall better tuned iem. A7 is better for a warmer and more relaxing sound.



IEM: Moondrop Blessing 2, Spinfits CP145 L tips, Faaeal litz copper cable 4.4mm

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends much lower on the Zen as well as rumble a lot more. Punch quantity is also higher on the Zen, texture is also on a whole other league on it. Tighter and faster on the B2 though, but does not sound natural at all.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), lacks a lot of quantity on the B2 while it is a bit faster and tighter. Texture is no contest, where the Zen is dominating. B2 sounds like a BA iem here, not natural and tonality is completely wrong (as well as timbre).

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), cleaner on the B2 due to the speed/tightness. But note-weight is too thin and tonality too bright on it so it sounds sharper.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), Vocal timbre is unnatural on the B2 due to it having a lot of BA timbre. Note-weight is a bit too thin on it as well, but tonality is similar (although still a bit too bright on the B2) as well as forwardness. Much more micro-details on the B2 though so overall detail is similar, even though the macro-details is better on the Zen.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), similarly fatiguing and peaky, but a bit worse on the B2.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), Vocal quantity is similar, but much better tonality and timbre on the Zen both with the vocals/instruments. Very artificial sounding on the B2.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), much sharper electric guitars on the B2

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cellos have better tonality, timbre, texture, details on the Zen. Violin timbre and texture are better on the Zen, but the B2 has a better tonality thanks to its upper-treble not being rolled-off and also better treble extension. So despite the B2 having a lot of BA timbre that is unnatural, overall naturality is still a tie with the violins.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), a bit more forward vocals on the B2, but better tonality and timbre on the Zen and also not shouty.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), soundstage is wider on the B2 (similar depth). Instrument separation, imaging and timbre are better on the Zen. Macro-details are better on the Zen while micro-details are better on the B2.

Overall: The B2 have a brighter and thinner-note weight, (that can’t adapt to a warmer or thicker tonality even when a track needs it) so it sounds more analytical than the Zen, coupled with a ton of BA timbre across the range that makes it very unnatural sounding. Zen is the better iem here.



IEM: Sony MDR-EX800ST (EQ, filterless), Final Audio Type E LL tips, stock cable 3.5mm

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends lower on the Zen as well as rumbles a bit more. Punch quantity is higher on the Zen and is more textured, but faster and tighter on the EX800ST.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), speed and tightness are similar, but better texture and more quantity on the Zen as well as much better resolution (and cleaner thanks to the instrument separation).

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), speed, tightness and quantity are similar but much cleaner on the Zen thanks the instrument separation, sounds chaotic on the EX800ST in comparison. Treble is also unrefined and very peaky on the EX800ST.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), instrument tonality is similarly accurate on both, but vocals are a bit brighter and correct on the Zen. Resolution is higher on the Zen thanks to the macro-details and instrument separation not making it a bit muddy. (micro-details are about equal.)

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), muddier and a bit chaotic on the EX800ST but still similarly peaky.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), much cleaner, detailed and natural on the Zen while the EX800ST is a bit grainy.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), a bit sharper electric guitar (and also vocals are a bit peaky as well) on the EX800ST and grainier as well.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), similar cello tonality, but more detailed and textured on the Zen. Violin tonality and details are better on the Zen, while the timbre and texture are a bit better on the EX800ST thanks to it sounding airier and more natural as result.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality, details and clarity on the Zen, a bit grainy on the EX800ST.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), Details, instrument separation and imaging on the Zen is another league. Timbre is a bit better on the Zen while the soundstage is much bigger and airier on the EX800ST.

Overall: The Zen is outclassing the EX800ST in pretty much all aspects except the soundstage.



IEM: Sony MDR-EX1000 (EQ), Final Audio Type E LL tips, stock cable 3.5mm

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Extends lower on the Zen but rumbles more on the EX1000. Punch quantity is similar but a bit more textured on the Zen while speed and tightness are similar.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), a bit more quantity on the Zen, texture, speed and tightness are a bit better on it as well.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), similar tightness and speed but more textured and a bit more quantity on the Zen.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), a bit better vocal tonality and more forward vocals on the Zen. Instrument tonality are very similar. Macro-details are better on the Zen but similar micro-details.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), more relaxing and non-fatiguing on the EX1000.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality and naturality on the EX1000 due to the warmth. But cleaner and more detailed on the Zen.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), more relaxing and non-fatiguing on the EX1000.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cello tonality, timbre and details are better on the EX1000. Violin timbre, tonality and details are also better on the EX1000. Treble extension is a bit better on the EX1000 and sounds more natural because it is a lot airier.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better timbre and tonality on the EX1000. But cleaner and more forward vocals on the Zen.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), much bigger soundstage both in width and depth on the EX1000 and also a lot airier. Timbre is also better on the EX1000. Imaging, instrument separation and macro-details are better on the Zen. Micro-details is similar (both have upper-treble roll-off and the Zen especially suffers from lack of air, the EX1000´s vent helps a lot more with air flow in/out, very similar to an open-back headphone/earbud.)

Overall: The EX1000 is more fun and natural so it suits acoustic music more than the Zen while being similarly versatile. Although the Zen has a better ability of adjusting its tonality to match the track, so it still wins in versatility and it also has better resolution overall and is more accurate (imaging).



IEM: Sony XBA-N3, Final Audio Type E tips LL, Tri Through cable 4.4mm

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends lower on the Zen but rumbles a lot more on the N3. Punch quantity is also a lot higher on the N3 but texture, speed and tightness are much better on the Zen. Tonality is a lot warmer on the N3 and is much cleaner on the Zen.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), Much cleaner on the Zen due to the speed/tightness and also has better texture. Much more quantity on the N3.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), sounds bloated on the N3 in comparison, much faster/tighter and textured bass on the Zen as well as more detailed.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), vocals are recessed on the N3, tonality, details and timbre are better on the Zen. Although instrument tonality is better on the N3.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), much more relaxing and non-fatiguing on the N3 but a bit bloated as well.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), better tonality with the N3 due to the warmth. But vocals are a bit recessed on them as well as being a bit bloated overall, while the Zen has a lot more details.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), much more relaxing and non-fatiguing on the N3 but slightly bloated.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cello tonality is better on the N3 but better details, timbre and texture on the Zen. Violin tonality, details, texture and timbre are better on the Zen but the N3 extends a bit higher so the highest violin notes are more natural.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality on the N3 (and cymbals) but better details and cleaner on the Zen.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), soundstage is bigger on the N3 but details (both macro and micro), instrument separation, imaging and timbre are better on the Zen.

Overall: Very different sounding, they complement each other well with the more relaxing and fun N3 while the Zen is the more technical and brighter iem.



IEM: Sony XBA-Z5, Final Audio Type E tips LL, Faaeal Litz copper cable 4.4mm

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), extends a bit lower on the Zen, but rumbles a bit more on the Z5. Punch quantity is higher on the Z5, but much faster/tighter and more textured on the Zen.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), a bit more quantity on the Z5, but much faster/tighter and more textured on the Zen so it is cleaner while being similarly fun.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), faster, tighter and more textured on the Zen so it is much cleaner while the Z5 is bloated.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), better vocal-tonality and details on the Zen as well as more forward vocals rather than recessed like the Z5. But better instrument tonality on the Z5.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), more relaxing, non-fatiguing and not peaky at all on the Z5.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), tonality is a bit better on the Z5 but it is a bit too warm and thick as well. Cleaner and more detailed on the Zen.

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), more relaxing, non-fatiguing and not peaky at all on the Z5.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cello tonality is better on the Z5, but more detailed, better texture and timbre on the Zen. Violin tonality and timbre are better on the Zen but details is similar and treble extension is better on the Z5, so they are tied in overall naturality.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), a bit too warm tonality on the Z5 and a bit too bright on the Zen, so tonality is a tie. But vocals are more forward on the Zen rather than recessed and is cleaner and more detailed than the Z5.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), much bigger soundstage on the Z5. Timbre, instrument separation and imaging are better on the Zen. Macro-details is better on the Zen while micro-details is tied, so resolution is higher on the Zen.

Overall: The Z5 is a warmer, more relaxing and fun iem than the more technical and higher quality Zen.



IEM: Tanchjim Oxygen, Final Audio Type E LL tips, Tri Through

Bass:
Djuro – Drop that bass (01:15-01:30), Extends lower and rumbles more on the Zen. Punch quantity is similar but feels a lot more due to the Zen having much more texture. Speed and tightness are similar. Tonality is warmer on the Zen.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Pretenders (01:18-01:47), similar quantity but more texture on the Zen so it feels more impactful. Tightness and speed are similar so it is similarly clean while the Zen also sounds more fun due to it having that texture edge over the O2. Tonality is more correct on the Zen due to it being warmer.

Metallica – fight fire with fire (01:11-01:52), more textured on the Zen, but otherwise similar speed/tightness. Warmer tonality on the Zen while it is too bright on the O2.

Mids: Hiroyuki Sawano – OldToday (01:25-01:52), similarly forward vocals, but note-weight is a bit thicker on the Zen and it ends up sounding more natural. Macro-details are better on the Zen while micro-details are better on the O2. Vocal tonality is pretty similar but instruments are warmer and more natural on the Zen.

Evanescence – Bring me to life (01:18-01:35), more shouty and too bright on the O2.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Scapegoat (00:57-01:17), similar vocal quantity, but much more natural on the Zen due to it being too bright on the O2 (including the instruments, but the cymbals on the O2 are much better (forward) where you can barely hear them on the Zen).

Treble: Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day (03:24-03:42), sharper and way too bright tonality on the O2.

Hiroyuki Sawano – Lose (string version) (01:22-01:59), Cello tonality, details, texture and timbre are much better on the Zen. Violin details, texture, tonality and timbre are better on the O2.

Hiroyuki Sawano &Z (02:18-02:57), better tonality with the Zen. Similar detail (micro-details better on the O2, macro-details better on the Zen) but airier on the O2.

Technicalities: Shiro Sagisu – Hundred years war (02:24-02:57), wider soundstage on the O2 but similar depth. Timbre is equal. Imaging and instrument separation are better on the Zen. Macro-details better on the Zen while micro-details are better with the FD5.

Overall: Both of them shine with vocals and bass quality. But the Zen has a better ability to adapt its tonality (and note-weight) to the track it is playing, which gives it an edge in versatility. Which makes the Zen more of an all-rounder rather than the specialist (acoustic/vocals) O2.

DX160 Synergy: Very good, tonality with the DX160 is leaning towards warmth so that helps make the overall sound more relaxing and fatigue-free but it does affect the “base” tonality of the Zen more than with other sources. Volume control is excellent on the DX160 as well, even on a sensitive iem like the Zen.

Head-fi-limit: Well, this was about 1/3 of the review and the rest will go beyond head-fi´s character limit if I continued here, so the other 67% of the reviews is here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/...tqzBAlurCyMCOEso8/edit#heading=h.i0kn7h3tra91
(or you can skip to the conclusion below)


Conclusion: Well, this was a long review for sure, so here is a shorter TLDR:

The Zen is a pretty versatile iem, despite the lower-treble quantity as shown on graphs. It is able to adapt its tonality to match the track that is being played very well and it is also very sensitive to individual source´s tonality. Meaning that you can fine-tune it a bit more to your taste depending on the source used, I recommend a warmer source rather than a bright one though, as otherwise it can be a bit too bright.

Its technicalities are also very good and its accuracy (imaging/separation) are the best I have currently heard, although its soundstage isn’t nearly as big as some others it is compensating for it with accuracy instead. Details are good thanks to its macro-details but its micro-details leaves much to be desired and that is most likely due to the upper-treble roll-off that is affecting both the micro-details and the sense of air.

Bass and mids quality are amazing and also earns the nr 1 spot in my current collection. Treble however is a mixed bag, while the lower-treble is surprisingly NOT shouty for me (despite what the graphs implies) and is of very high quality. The upper-treble is the biggest bottleneck in this iem, it is rolled-off too much and that affects instruments such as violins and cymbals a lot (the highest notes of violins get affected (extension isn’t that good) and cymbals are just very recessed in a lot of tracks) while the sense of air and micro-details are heavily bottlenecked (and likely to be one of the factors for the size of the soundstage not being very big).

This is NOT for you if:

  • If you want to relax while listening to music, this is an intense iem.
  • If you listen to classical/acoustic music where acoustic instruments are important such as the violin/cymbals. Since the upper-treble roll-off affects them too much.
  • Prioritize the size of the soundstage over the accuracy (imaging/separation) (quantity over quality)
  • Are a basshead and wants a lot of bass quantity
This is for you if:

  • you listen to electronic music.
  • You prioritize accuracy over the size of the soundstage (quality over quantity)
  • You want a decently versatile iem
  • You listen to vocal focused music
  • You want a source revealing iem
  • You need a sensitive iem that can be played on low power sources like regular smartphones (I wouldn’t recommend getting an iem at this price range if you are using it with a smartphone though…)
Thanks for reading.


Graph:

Zen.png

EQ:

Sony MDR-EX800ST:


Low-shelf: 80hz, Q: 0.6, Gain: 6db

Low-shelf: 200hz, Q:0.7, Gain: 1.5db

Peak: 2500hz, Q:2.5, Gain 3db

Peak: 3650hz, Q:2, Gain: 3.5db

Peak: 5400hz, Q:3, Gain: -2dB

Peak: 6800hz, Q:2.7, Gain: 2.5db

High-shelf: 10 500hz, Q:1.1, Gain 4.5db

Preamp: -8db

Sony MDR-EX1000:

Low-shelf: 80hz, Q:0.6, Gain: 4db

Low-shelf: 200hz, Q:0.6, Gain: 2db

Peak: 3300hz, Q:2, Gain: 2db

Peak: 5500hz, Q:2.2, Gain: -6db

High-shelf: 10 000hz, Q:0.7, Gain: 2.5db

Preamp: -6db

Cable source: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/resistance-of-cables-pics-comments-and-links.907998/

Reference/test songs:
Last edited:
RikudouGoku
RikudouGoku
@mike138 Sony MDR-EX1000, LZ A6/A7, Fiio FD5, Tanchjim Oxygen, Aiderlot M5, Sony XBA-N3/Z5
asifur
asifur
@RikudouGoku I'd honestly disagree about the soundstage comment above. I had AB-ed Fiio FD5 with the Zen and I was using the same Dunu cable for both and Hiby R6pro and tested them on the same tracks... Zen does have an edge as far as soundstage is concerned. it felt more natural but does not have the holographic effect that the FD5 has when using the narrow tube.
RikudouGoku
RikudouGoku
@asifur I am using the stock tube, not the bass boosted narrow one on the FD5 which to me reduces the quality to much. Cant comment much on the soundstage there. But the stock tube FD5 is 100% a lot bigger than the Zen, the Zen has a very narrow soundstage and the lack of air doesnt help either.

Redcarmoose

Headphoneus Supremus
The Black Beauty
Pros: Alert and lively presentation texture
Deep precise and meaningful bass involvement
Confident, stylish, and charming looks
One-of-a-kind “art-piece” design
Flagship build and sound
Accessories galore
Rumored (and is) the most exciting IEM of the year
Cons: Just ever so slightly forward with some equipment and songs; otherwise 5/5
DUNU ZEN UNIVERSAL IEM
REVIEW BY REDCARMOOSE 2021


zen front page 1.jpg

So the question is........



Is DUNU giving customers what they want with the new ZEN universal IEM?

In short.... yes! I mean…….if Head-Fi had a 5 o’clock news the ZEN would be featured. The ZEN IS news and one of the most anticipated releases of the year. This review will go over the “hows” and the “whys”…….and hopefully get to the point of what this $699 flagship truly is.

Disclaimer:

A special thanks to Tom from DUNU for supplying the review sample.

Specifications:

FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
SENSITIVITY: 112 ± 1 dB at 1 kHz
IMPEDANCE: 16 Ω at 1 kHz
TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION: < 0.2% at 1 kHz
DRIVE MODULE

DIAPHRAGM: Magnesium-Aluminum alloy dome with nanoporous amorphous carbon coating (nanoDLC) and fully independent suspension surround
  • MAGNET ASSEMBLY: > 1.8 T External Ring-Type Neodymium Magnet

HOUSING
  • MATERIAL: 316 Stainless Steel
  • INTEGRATION(S): Patented Air Control Impedance System (ACIS)

INCLUDED CABLE
LENGTH: 1.2 ± 0.1 m
  • MATERIAL: 8 Core, High-Purity Mono-crystalline Silver-Plated Copper Litz Wire, Concentrically Arranged
  • CABLE CONNECTOR: Patented Catch-Hold® MMCX Connector
  • PLUG CONNECTOR: Patented DUNU Quick-Switch Modular Plug System
  • INCLUDED PLUG TERMINATION(S):
  • 4.4 mm TRRRS Balanced
  • 3.5 mm TRS Single-Ended
  • 2.5 mm TRRS Balanced

The DUNU Corporation Economies of Scale:

Economies of scale are cost advantages reaped by companies when production becomes efficient. In my career I’ve seen Economy Of Scale be the single greatest asset in allowing larger manufactures to get ahead (of the little guys) by offering better products at less cost for the consumer.

The DUW03 #8Core SPC Modular Cable System:

There are always accessories with an IEM purchase. The value of these extras is personal, yet it’s safe to say some companies do better with accessories than others. As far as the DUW03 #8Core SPC Modular Cable System goes…………..it’s probably the best single example of DUNU being able to include more. Small companies just can’t include a $350 “extra” cable with their $699 Flagship IEM offering. Probably the nicest cable feature is the newly patented modular-plug design? While the industry standard is to included extra (add on-top-of-each-other) 3.5mm or 4.4mm plug adapters, which start to elongate the plug; DUNU has kept the plug length the same with every plug-tip used.

In this
scenario there is a simple placement of the plug that effortlessly joins the cable. The joining feedback occurs with a nice robust “click”. Included is a 3.5mm, 4.4mm and 2.5mm plug. Aftermarket 3.5mm Pro plugs are available from DUNU.

Having different cable plug-tips means you can leave the MMCX plugs joined at the IEM, reducing the need to replace the entire cable to adapt to your different equipment.

The DUNU #8 core silver plated copper wire adds to the cable quality. Let’s not even get started on how nice the cable looks. A price-point and class-leading cable experience. It’s safe to say there are 100s of IEMs for sale this year (priced higher and lower) which fail to include such a special cable option. Most of the other manufacturers would love to include such a cable but fail to be able to do so.

To get to this adapter plug “nitty-gritty”! Stacking a 2.5mm plug onto/into another adapter (normally) makes the total plug length too long creating a large appendage off your DAP leading to a leverage point which can damage your DAP insert plug connections. It’s stupid, don’t do it.

Supposedly the DUW03 cable is scheduled to be offered as an aftermarket purchase choice, though presently only offered with the $699 ZEN and $549 Studio SA6 flagships.

These patents are all across the feature list here..............including the
Patented Catch-Hold® MMCX Connector, and DUNU Quick-Switch Modular Plug System adding value to the included cable.


DUNU
You never see this mentioned this way........but besides the cutting edge research and development DUNU does, there is one single thing that separates them from every other IEM maker.


Can you guess what that single thing is?


They make accessories!
top_top_i.jpg

So emerging as the first “accessory and IEM manufacturer”..................everyone else is playing catch-up. If the accessories were of bad quality none of this would be of concern. The fact is the included accessories actually improve the user experience. Even if you don’t want accessories, even if you dislike the added accessories, these are items that DUNU makes and often are only available in the product package. Much of the time the adds are imperative to a better experience.

What does all this mean? It means DUNU cares!

DUNU CARES

d_by_dunu.jpg

Due to economy of scale DUNU is able to manufacture in quantities and pass the savings on to you.

You and I both think we know what the best tips are.

What if a company knew more about the IEMs they make and what accessories to go with them? What if a company made the best accessories and gave them to you for free? Would that be a good thing?

I say all this because the L DUNU Blue tips are some of the best IEM tips I have ever found. I use them exclusively on a series of IEMs because they make the IEMs have the best imaging possible. Due to the middle-size shorter length and medium nozzle bore-circumference they work magic. They also have an interior circumference which allows them to stay in place on all the IEMs I use them with. Now if you have been in the audiophile IEM hobby for even a short while you already know that tips are everything. The tip sonic character is in order of importance 2nd only to the choice of IEM. They beat out cable choices and even EQ settings. In fact there is an intrinsic almost non-quantifiable aspect tips bring to the table that ultimately makes them essential to end sound goals. In ending here, there is a good chance the accessories will be a surprise in use.

This is what happens when an IEM company grows. They employ higher paid better designers, they increase research and development power, and they begin to express value for the consumer.

What is offered by Economy of Scale is higher paid engineers, better manufacturing standards, tighter quality control and the best part kids…………Space Age New Paradigm Development Ideas!

ECLIPS3_Driver_Comparison.001.png


Buzz-words:
So due to the enhanced R&D that comes comes buzz-words. These names simply describe innovations which have been developed and brought to life in the IEM. There can be a slight level of skepticism here due to regular ideas being repackaged and given “buzz-word” names. So let’s make a list here.


New 13.5mm ECLIPSƎ Driver Platform
Nanoporous Amorphous Carbon (NanoDLC)
New Ring-type Magnet with 1.8 Tesla power
316 Stainless Steel Housing

Air Control Impedance System (ACIS)


And finally the…………

Magnesium-aluminum Alloy dome DD with a specific W-shaped Morphology (note picture above)

Later (if you’re still with me) we will get to this whole innovation feature list. But...the last one really had me wondering? Are they simply renaming a regular Dynamic Driver Diaphragm? As you will see this driver (while resembling the 10mm DUNU LUNA in look)………..IS truly different than any IEM driver ever made. Supporting that “W-shape” buzz word diaphragm IS a bigger in circumference voice coil ring, and supporting this wild looking driver is an innovative driver surround ring. The center of the driver “alloy dome” actually has the added nanoDLC, which makes it different than what’s regularly found industry wide.

When you read about the tickle-down LUNA technology............one of the biggest hurdles was developing the LUNA surround-ring adhesive which takes 2 days to dry. Here our new “decoupling” surrounds again are another new innovation special and unique to the DUNU ZEN IEM.

So don’t question this nomenclature as it’s DUNU looking for words to try and convey their new developments and patients.


The ZEN is DUNU trickle-down engineering at it’s best. The same magic (of aesthetic design) can be seen in both IEMs as well as carryover driver technology accomplishments. The LUNA is titanium yet the ZEN is 316 stainless steel. I’ve never heard the LUNA, but part of me wonders........if the ZEN is also a small step forward in ideas made into reality as a subtle improvement over the LUNA? Rumor has it the ZEN is better tuned yet not quite as capable in areas.

The ECLIPSƎ system “W” driver shape offers both added surface area and ridges. So this results in the 13.5mm circumference surface area being actually larger and potentially pressurizing more space than a standard 13.5 mm driver.

The ridges offer increased structural integrity much like Ruffles potato chips or corrugated aluminum/fiberglass sheets. Then rigidity/hardness is then improved even more with the nanoDLC treatment to the dome area. A more rigid diaphragm, results in better responsiveness at the voice coil.

And………..
Why are all these manufactures pushing diamond-like hardness of the diaphragm membrane?

The answer is actually very simple.
Phase cancellation occurs when the driver moves in “off” places. “Driver-flex break-up mode” is an IEM dynamic driver moving in the opposite direction resulting in phase cancelation.


Due to the 13.5 mm circumference ECLIPSƎ driver (which is actually larger due to the “W”) a 1.8 Telsa magnetic flux strength motor assembly was needed.

1.8 Telsa is the highest number achieved across the industry for strength directly at the voice coil. This exact ring type assembly is slated as a component in future ECLIPSƎ platform DUNU creations.

Zen weight 21 grams

LUNA weight 10.3 grams

I’ve never tried the LUNA, but nozzle length has been increased for the ZEN as well as physical weight, adding to placement feedback. This is DUNU listening to community communication and making a better fitting IEM with a longer nozzle. This is DUNU making a resonance absorbing 316 stainless steal shell to increase feedback of placement positioning.


Single DD verses all BA or Hybrid:
And while it’s easy to start to get excited about this single DD methodology, how can one driver be good? Typically balanced armatures have been added to single dynamic drivers to increase technicalities in midrange and treble.... thus the hybrids. So why at this point in time do we want to take all the parts back-out? Balanced armatures are special as they are small and will produce a desired (focused) frequency response. BA drivers offer a quick attack sonic edge. If asked I would say the biggest issue with BAs is off-timbre and grain. In the list of things people criticize BA drivers for it's typically a lack of bass decay, metallic sheens and/or nasal tone. Surprisingly some all BA IEMs will seem perfectly fine until that guitar part (you’ve heard for 20 years) comes up and it’s obvious that the tone/timbre is way off, surprisingly off. When that happens you’ll never look at that IEM the same way again…..yet other better all BA IEMs seem to walk around such pitfalls?

Random DD choice Hybrid and single DD examples in comparison:

5mm (Sony IER-Z1R Hybrid Tweeter)

7mm (Kinera Nanna Hybrid)
8mm (Thieaudio Legacy 4 Hybrid)
9mm Sony (XBA-N3 Hybrid)
10mm (Thieaudio Legacy 5,3, Monarch and Clairvoyance Hybrids)
12mm (Sony XBA-A2 Hybrid) (Sony IER-Z1R Hybrid)
13mm (DUNU DK 3001 Pro Hybrid)
13.5mm (The DUNU ZEN Single DD)

16mm (The Sony XBA-Z5 Hybrid) (MDR-EX1000 single DD)


Dynamic drivers have their own set of issues and imperfections at hand. One of the benefits of making them smaller is ease of control. But as mentioned above bigger means driver flex, unless stiffer. Out of the blue lately we now have new single DD IEMs capitalizing on new DD technology.


There are more, but this is a small list.
Final Audio A8000 single DD
DUNU LUNA single DD
Shozy Black Hole single DD
DUNU ZEN single DD

Moondrop Illumination single DD

The Issue With Adding Extra Drivers:

Combined drivers demand a crossover network. Typically two or more drivers get individual frequencies sent off by a small crossover network which separates a portion of the audio bandwidth and directs it to the desired driver. It’s actually questionable how important the electronic crossover system is as the IEM tubes past the driver have individual filters which try and focus the frequency range by absorbing specific frequency energy. Still we are left with the end task of trying to seamlessly blend many drivers output into a cohesive whole. Some of the problems arise as reactions of the different drivers are not always linear in response. The other issue with multiple drivers comes from attempting to get correct phase alignment. A single DD basically takes a vacation from all of these issues all at once. No filters, no crossovers, no BA timbre issues along with an enhancement of the natural decay some are focused on experiencing. This all comes down to what is called closeness and purity. Pure because it comes from a simpler place and closer as our ear canal is actually less occluded from the actual driver.

DUNU ZEN DRIVER TECHNOLOGY with nanoDLC:
nanoDLC increases rigidity of the center alloy dome by filling microscopic pores in the metal with non-hydrogenated, tetrahedral carbon. (sp3-hybridized). In simple terms it’s just another coated diaphragm....the breakthrough is that it surpasses the PECVD process.

ACIS:
All the driver technology would not matter if not added to the (ACIS) Air Control Impedance System. This of course is a fancy way of expressing the air-in-and-out ports which are used to frequency tune the driver. So in ending here the ECLIPSƎ driver platform has been added to the ZEN 316 stainless steel body as a foundation to lower resonance and create the best tune possible with prior used ACIS technology.

This ends the innovation description section:



Wait? A box just showed up?

zen 1.jpg

DUNU 2ghghd.jpg

dunu wwqrytyc.jpg

done zen.jpg

dunu tips.jpg


It's interesting to note the name "DUNU” is written in small letters around the base of some tips.


dunu 5 top sound 5.jpg



Besides the IEMs...............

1) You get a nice woven pouch to place the ZEN IEMs in for transport

2) You get a shirt clip
3) You get a 1/4 inch adapter
4) You gat an airplane adapter
5) You get a cleaning cloth that works wonders
6) You get a zippered IEM hard-case
7) Small, Medium and Large black tips
8) Small, Medium and Large white tips
9) Small, Medium and Large Clear Grey tips
10) One pair back foam tips
11) You get a cleaning brush
12) The included modular cable described above

13) 3.5mm plug, 4.4 plug and 2.5mm plug

DSC_0055.jpg


ZEN 1A 1A.mk 3.jpg


top_sound_3.jpg



The aesthetics of the Zen Universal IEM


Of all the abruptness found in nature, once in a while there becomes a stoic t
ranquillity, the way mountains ignore a storm. It’s that organized peacefulness that the Zen shape keys into.


Yet if you look close the Dunu Zen is smiling......smiling due to the loud chaos it knows it’s capable of.


People always ask what my favorite I
EM and headphone color is. I reply……..regular black, shiny black and flat black. To me the DUNU ZEN is very Batman?


The Shape Is The Name

Look where the ZEN name is on the IEM. DUNU decided to use the cable mount cylinder for the location.....................avoiding the main shell housing for advertising space. Names are not needed due to the unique "art" statement in looks.............transcending any need for anything else. There exists a small R and L on the outside facing area of the cylinder housing. The ZEN name...................facing in, is only seen when not in use.


Designed by DUNU.jpg


The DUNU ZEN v The Sony IER-Z1R
First off let me preface this by saying the IER-Z1R IS my favorite IEM. Once I got wind of its possible existence, I waited and saved-up. Prior to the IER-Z1R I did some listening of new flagships like the 64Audio N8, the CA Atlas and after purchase did a continuation of comparisons with the Noble Audio Khan and qdc Anole VX. The second week in the wild I wrote a long review for the IER-Z1R, and I still stand by every word written.


https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/sony-ier-z1r.23390/reviews#item-review-21713

With that said, the IER-Z1R is not going to be for everyone. The IER is $1600-$2000, it’s heavy and doesn’t fit everyone. People also feel that it’s not cohesive due to it being a hybrid. The IER-Z1R is difficult to drive correctly and offers a very different style of midrange that the whole signature somehow uses as a fulcrum? In this section I will explain what the ZEN and IER-Z1R share in common and how they differ. At first I questioned the relevance of such a battle. Then after a couple days of guessing I found this to be the most exciting single part of the review......maybe? Lol

The IER-Z1R:
For me the IER-Z1R is the end of the road. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to experience. The IER seemingly does no wrong. Due to the combined efforts of a 12mm DD, high-midrange BA and 5mm super-tweeter DD driver, the IER seems not only technical but timbre/tonally correct.

The IER-Z1R is slightly more detailed than the ZEN. I also feel it's more natural. Still the ZEN offers its own take which is very unique and different. In fact the ZEN does things the IER just can't do; namely the mids. At the same time the ZEN has way better bass from a phone or iPod Touch. The ZEN bass is always focused and quality, where the IER-Z1R has lower midrange fog when under-powered. The ZEN also has speed in the bass department equal to the IER, yet still different. I'd like to say the IER has better bass timbre, but it would actually seem unfair in this case. As much as these two are different, they are exciting in the same way to me.


https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/dunu-studio-sa6.24665/reviews#item-review-24391

DUNU ZEN v DUNU Studio SA6
Admittedly the new Studio SA6 is better tuned...............still I would take the DUNU ZEN over it. It’s not a choice of which is a more even and correct frequency response, though most of the time that does take critical precedence. The choice is simply the low-end going on. The fact that below frequency point 2K there is more to love and love a lot! Intertwined with that is better decay, a more realistic timbre and a more comfortable fit.


The SA6 will always have those better upper midrange acoustic guitar sparklers and added harmonic complexity. I gave the DUNU ZEN 1/2 a star less (than the SA6) due to the SA6 being better rounded. But to me the soundstage is (way-way) better on the DUNU ZEN. The ZEN offers better dynamics plus added physicality in bass. Note, I use the word “dynamic”......................yet the word actually has an amorphous audiophile meaning. If dynamic meant authoritative, robust and powerful, then yes, by all means............the ZEN is more dynamic than the Studio SA6.

The ZEN is thicker, the SA6 slightly anemic in contrast. The SA6 is smarter but the ZEN is more fun and gets all the ladies. But if there was one single trait that could be revealed here..............it’s that the ZEN has an unmistakable groove. The ZEN has a swagger and attitude the SA6 lacks! This one trait comes together with Rock and Metal because deep down at the soul of the music there is a connected rhythm and pace. That pace started along time ago when rock was born and it’s a bass string and a drum hit which move and dance around a beat in time. It’s these interactions that the ZEN focuses on and brings to heart. This my friends is where the emotion is. This is what makes 18 year olds rock out and scream....and the ZEN simply does that better than the SA6.

graph..jpg


The Sound………………………


Sound Quality Results:

Midrange/Treble:
The Zen has two peaks which could be an area of concern for most. First a jump at 2.5K and another at the 8.5K area. After that the treble drops off into the ocean!

Though once you visit ZEN TOWN...... you won’t want to leave. No need to have any extra treble ruin the thickness and lushness going on around town?


The Missing Treble:

If anything it offers a nice contrast to all the (brighter-up-top) big sparklers I have in my collection. And there is not all that much taken out, it just looks that way due to the 8.5K ridge. The treble makes the ZEN as unique as the rest of the found frequencies. The ZEN will always be looked at as warm/neutral, with an accentuated bass stance and treble to act as a balance. The issue may be for folks sensitive in these energy areas. Now while the ZEN can be listened to loud, there is a small slight forwardness that is hard to ignore and actually unique in my experience. In personal use the aspect smoothed out after 75 hours of mental and physical IEM burn-in....though your millage my vary? As when you can start to embrace this IEM and love this IEM, that aspect needs to be addressed and understood. So it is what it is. But due to this tune comes a style of detail and possibly separation/soundstage.........resulting from such character. Generally these style of FRs can be looked at as subtle U tunes with an extra add on. It’s really this “brightness" (for lack of a better word) that separates the ZEN from something like the modern Sony house sound. In ending on these thoughts, I actually would not have this tune any other way. Especially how the ZEN does cymbals out to the side and compact dense growling guitars. My only loss here is not being able to play poorly recorded (old-old) music, as the ZEN is almost too revealing at times. Never strident, but walking slightly close to harsh, depending on the file. Later in this review you will read my music tests. Fascinating as it is, the ZEN plays most (well recorded) albums flawlessly. Interesting too, this has absolutely nothing to do with genre choice. In contrast to some brighter all BA IEMs the ZEN is really a *****cat. Lol

Lower Midrange/Bass:
You may have discovered this whole tune totally works for me…….and I’m going to get to why!


The lower midrange! To tell you the truth, the lower midrange has been my enemy for a couple years now. I blamed it for making the free IEMs you get with phones bad. Just in general all over the audiophile world the lower midrange has been getting a lot of criticism. In 2018-2021 the lower midrange has been blamed for basically ruining EVERYTHING. If you’re into lower midrange you’re a second class citizen. Most today want a clean sub bass and have blamed the lower midrange for wreaking the mids. You know who your are out there! This style of prejudice isn’t right. All frequencies deserve equal love. Well the ZEN has arrived to change things up. Now up for grabs is the ultimate rhythm machine. The movement in music here is seemingly brought on by great PRaT. The timing is so good and those lower mids are never in the way? Maybe it’s the 2.5K peak going way out front? It’s a mystery why this balance works so good? But it works.

Bass:
When you hear the word bass-head IEM you may think of an audio hobby which is ignoring fidelity to get bass. This IEM does bass great……..because it’s so fast and fun. It’s the star of the show, except for the lower midrange which is just as remarkable here. The bass you ask? Full, round, classy, emotional, big, physical, powerful, giant, controlled, life-changing, priceless, unique, class-leading, provocative, sexy……………and just right. I could go on but you get the picture.

End of Sound Review Section:


Music Testing Results:

This is fairly simple……..music gets played and the ZEN gets judged.

Artist: Nightwish

Song: Our Decades In The Sun
Quality: 44/24bit

Album: Endless Forms Most Beautiful

If this write-up wasn’t OCD/ADHD or ODD enough for you we will now go to level two. In subjective testing I will listen to a couple soundtracks first to try and get ideas as to an IEMs behavior. After a couple days with the ZEN it was time to really take THE test. This single test is so important that if an IEM has issues, I will hear them here, and not look at the IEM the same way ever again. Yes, there are different levels of IEM ability, but this is a sink or swim style of event.

One of my ultimate test tracks is a Nighwish song called “Our Decades In The Sun”. For the uninitiated here it’s about the softest girliest semi-metal song around. It’s metal your Grandma would probably like. Yet don’t let the softness fool you. This single song is an elaborate torture test………..yet at the same time an economic time saver covering numerous bases all in 6 minutes and 38 seconds.



Lyrics:
I climbed off your back
Not so long ago
To a blooming meadow
To a path you'd made for the lightest feet
Mother
I am always close to you
I will be waving
Every time you leave
Oh, I am you
The care, the love, the memories
We are the story of one
Father
I am always close to you
I will be waving
Every time you leave
Oh, I am you
The care, the love, the memories
You are forever in me
This verse we wrote
On a road home
For you
All this for you
Our walk has been sublime
A soaring ride and gentle lead
You have the heart of a true friend
One day we'll meet on that shore again
Mother
I am always close to you
I will be waving
Every time you leave
Oh, I am you
The care, the love, the memories
We are the story of one
Father
I am always close to you
I will be waving
Every time you leave
Oh, I am you
The care, the love, the memories
You are forever in me


Time markers listed later valid only to original song not the YouTube video here.

This ballad is very intense actually causing the musicians all to cry while recording it. But beyond that, the song has a message adding to the experience. IMO

Floor Jansen is always the center point starting off as the song develops. The test in essence is the tone, timbre positioning and small delicate embellishments in her voice. The key here is her exquisite use of vibrato. It’s really her against the ability of the IEM to pick-up and transfer what she is doing. Her voice reigns supreme as one of the singular greatest recorded entities in modern times. So yes, the ZEN does her voice. I’ve heard it a smidge more forward, but there is nothing at all going on wrong with this replay. Besides the basic skeleton of the piano (making you guess this song was written on the piano)......the structure here is additive and next will be introduced at (44 seconds in) the giant bass. It sounds like synth added to regular bass, or regular bass that has been lower frequency enhanced. Whatever it truly is, it’s a challenge to get right, but the ZEN passes this section. The bass, the piano, her voice and an acoustic guitar really make the first half of this song. Everything sounds natural and as it should. The background strings need to be mentioned too, as well as the small choir elements. Next the big test of electric guitar as at 2.08 comes a unique guitar tone probably only used by symphonic metal bands? This guitar tone is a pretty much impossible for all but the very best all BA IEMs to pull-off. Lucky we don’t have to worry about that here. The guitar tone sounds exactly right, relentless, cutting, jagged and sharp.

Strange that I use this song as a test as it’s actually filled almost to the brim with recording artifacts. The artifacts maybe help enhance the mood, but they are what they are. This song suffers from a bass artifact you hear (in Classical) often when timpani drums are recorded where the lows break-up and reach saturation to the point of distortion. The clarity and transparency of the ZEN transfers the emotion of the song. We can describe IEM technicalities, tone, timbre and FR all day, but if the emotion is not there in the replay..........all is lost. I went and once again listened to (this song) using the IER-Z1R and ZEN together as kind of of a battle to find truth. The results helped add to the ZEN v IER-Z1R section above. To summarize here, the ZEN passed in flying colors. And while I make fun of the recording issues implanted in this test song, it’s generally a real good litmus test of character and ability. And while the ZEN didn’t reach the IER-Z1R level of accomplishments during the multiple song listens, the ZEN gets an 8.7 score with the IER-Z1R getting a full TOTL 10. The rating difference was due to the IER making her voice slightly more detailed and real. The treble was just so slightly more polished yet of course this test is not fair with the IER 3X the price. For most maybe these small differences wouldn’t mean much. The important part was the ZEN performed the size and drama in the file. The ZEN was challenged yet stood the test.

Special note:
As testing continued, the song was then played back with the ZEN IEMs and the Sony TA-ZH1ES reference desktop. The continuation of the ZEN with this song will be a story told at the end of this review, titled “Desktop Endgame”.


Album: Blade Runner 2045 OST

Artists: Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
Quality: 16/44.1


This would be the song I would use to show someone how ZEN does bass at the total extreme end of things. I can only imagine the look on someone who has not experienced anything like this before. With the ZEN the very beginning is kind of like that sound you hear deep inside a building when there is a big truck outside. The bass frequencies somehow making it out of the motor then going into the walls and vibrating a desk and your teeth. It’s a visceral thing and truly special with the ZEN. Any fears of ability about bass due to the Nightwish recording artifacts are now put to rest. This is the real deal, the full enchilada and one IEM to keep.

Artist: Ghost
Song: Helvetesfonster
Album: Prequel

Quality: 16/24bit


This is maybe the brightest snare drum in my music collection. It works as a great test to really see if the ZEN smoothed out after it’s 75 hours of burn in. This song also will show some amazing bass positioning. The question here is if the mood of this atmospheric rock installment was a success? Absolutely! And while I may have remembered the flute just ever so slightly more forward, we are spitting hairs here. Lol

Artist: Klaus Schulze
Album: Klaus Schulze Goes Classic
Quality: 16/44.1 FLAC


I have nothing really to say about this song? I just thought our little playlist needed some childlike happiness and levity. Carry on……………

This sounds like Christmas at Disneyland!


Artist; Queensrÿche
Song: Jet City Woman
Quality: 16/44.1 FLAC

Album: Empire


If you were wondering about a song the DUNU ZEN does perfect here it is. That perfect sound way back in background that seems like a click-track...........the way the ZEN places that sound's reverb. Geoff Tate’s vocal are dead on perfect, perfect tone, perfect stage placement, everything....the stuff of dreams here.

You may think the snare drum would maybe sound not exactly right as that snare area can be our spectrum missing link, but no.......all is well, and better than well it’s perfect. The chorus on the side to side by the band.......ahh, just right. But really there is one super special one thing....can you guess what that would be? That’s right..........the guitar tone and timbre, of course, this is our IEM strong point and possibly technically better even than the bass guitar. Oh gosh......this is technicolor guitar. Not colored guitar.........but real and vividly special “one-of-a-kind” guitar playback. It’s the kind of replay that could have you play the song over again over and over as you never knew how great this guitar sounded. It’s like the guitar has a whole bunch of different effects, but they chose them to fit each part of the song and decided to give the listener a cornucopia of tones...........just because they could. The kick is mixed right in pushing it all along, doing its job. Wait till the lead guitar takes over...........and you tell me if this tone and positioning isn’t the cats meow!

The fact is this whole album (Empire) is precious with the ZEN. There is nothing short of a house fire that could pull me away.


Artist: Queensrÿche
Song: Silent Lucidity
Quality: 16/44.1 FLAC

Album: Empire


Interestingly Geoff Tate’s voice is just ever so slightly set back than I remember it to be? Obviously..........now I would have to use other IEMs for reference. Tone wise his voice is perfect, it’s maybe just slightly less 3D? There is so much going on. This song not only showcases Tate’s voice, but the strings are absolutely an event going out to the sides. Once the song gets moving the snare drum and bass kick it into rhythm and pace......and finally mood. Near the halfway mark they channel in a Pink Floyd style of lead guitar which introduces the climax of the song. Most anyone is going to like the drumming separation and tone. Again the strings and backing vocals are the completion of the motor that runs this hit, and the ZEN gives a possibly unique but charming window of the workings at hand. All we are looking for are genuine musical experiences, that’s it. So when an IEM provides the honesty needed by being competent.........then there is nothing else asked for. If that said IEM is introducing its own slight stance on replay......as long as that replay is accepted (mentality) as natural.........then we are left with a unique tool in our IEM toolbox. If by chance the experience was a moment of value, that same IEM will be reached for across the top of other choices again and again, regardless of price or character.

EXTRA LEVEL:
Inverted Tips Mod:
inverted tips.jpg

After trying about 15 different tips I actually found a large selection which worked. Surprisingly the DUNU ZEN seemed somewhat stubborn in regards to gaining sound changes due to large bore or small bore tips. Typically a wide bore gets you a better soundstage, where small bore tips offer normally a darker tune, with more bass and a narrower soundstage. So while the ZEN did respond with small subtleties..........there was nothing really to write home about until I discovered the inverted tips.

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/flip-tips-or-fliptips-prepare-to-have-your-mind-blown.906357/

My journey to inverted tips started with another current new DD called the BLON BL-01. Inverted tips and a copper cable turned what would have been a mediocre signature into an absolute gem..........despite the $23 BLON BL-01 (entry level) price of admission.

Trying the inverted tips refused to work on the IER-Z1R due to the IEM hanging way outside the ear. And while it did drastically change the soundstage the frequency changes were not desirable. The IER lost its bass and the soundstage (while bigger) was not in any way accurately displayed. The IER lost its magic in frequency balance also.

top_sound_2.jpg

DSC_0089.jpg

Guess what?
Yep! The ZEN became a spectacle, an amazing new sounding IEM with the inverted tips. Soundstage gained at least 1 to 1.5 inches out. Imaging was increased, and the slight congestion issue was fully resolved. Not to say the compactness was something I couldn’t live with normally. The exact same corrections the made the BLON BL-01 amazing.........made the ZEN world class. This somehow works out because the tone and tune remain exactly the same except for slight subtracts in bass and imaging density. The great changes are soundstage and imaging. Though once opened up………there is a better perspective on the bass, allowing a slightly farther back perspective.......also increasing imaging and shape. Going back to our previously talked about Nightwish song “Our Decades In The Sun”.....we can clearly hear we lost maybe 10-20% of the bass density. And while there is also just a slight diminishment of bass vividness, there is such an abundance anyway both with the ZEN and this piece of music, it still sounds totally normal. Now we find benefits of sounding like an open-back headphone!


The only real reason I include this detour is it’s the very best this IEM has sounded. Though due to liking regular tips too, I switch back and forth. This all works due to the small form-factor size of the ZEN, yet now the IEM is much farther back from the ear drum, in-fact it’s not a inner-ear-monitor any longer. This is now some wild intermediary device somehow holding the soundstage of a full-size headphone........while at the same time holding the imaging like an IEM! The wider tips are expanded out (as can be seen here in the photograph). But the end result is an on-ear IEM. Somehow the airtight fit is arrived at as the bass is not too much of a loss.


Here is a list of music that was unusually amazing:

E-Mantra-Signals EP 44/24bit

E-Mantra-Moon Drifter 320Kilobits Per Second
KMFDM-Paradise 44/16bit
Die Antwoord-Future Baby 44/16bit
Igorrr-Downgrade Desert 44/16bit

Night Hex-Viziuni Nocturne 44/16bit

The ultimate test to see if your inverted tips fit is push on the outside of the IEM while in your ear and try and move the IEM back and forth while music is playing. If the sound always remains consistent your correct in your tip choice.


Desktop Endgame:

This has been a difficult review to write...........due to a lot going on. But the fun part has been the discoveries at hand. Part of the reason we do this is for the adventure. The fact is.......every new IEM is a new animal. Every new animal has a personality and a character not resembling the IEM which came before. Due to these differences every review is a story; and the story unfolds as the testing continues. This particular review had some unexpected results which I will put into detail here.

The test song described above “Our Decades In The Sun” was shown as demanding, yet with the DUNU ZEN our demands where unique and new hence full of unexpected results. Note too these issues described are very much individual and subsequently going to be slightly different user to user. Mostly these artifacts will be greater or lesser depending on the volume used. Keep in mind, this song is abnormal. I always thought the song was demanding but little did I know the pure tax the song and the ZEN would be for the Walkman 1A DAP?

DSC_0081.jpg

Sony TA-ZH1ES:
Typically it’s rare that a song and an IEM would require a desktop to cure the issues, let alone a $2200 desktop. But it is what it is. In this situation the TA shows itself to now be clearly superior to the DAPs while using the ZEN. Maybe it’s that big magnet, maybe the style of driver? Whatever is going on the TA showed it could do things right. In all my years with the TA and DAPs I’ve never come across this style of improvement.


The TA added imaging, and definition of positioning of elements. With this demo song even the bass imaging was now defined and delineated in reference to near by sounds like drums or strings. In short the ZEN is able to run off a simple iPod Touch, yet to reach the next level it needs something like the TA. Take note still much of this is going to depend on the volume needed and choice of music. In my experience here there was no question of the TA not being an improvement. Probably the biggest deal was the separation at hand, yet everything across the board sounded more real. Even snare drums that were bright and in danger of going into the “no-go" zone showed relaxing improvement. The TA with firmware 1.03 is on the darker side, yet the DSD up-sampling also sands down the rough edges. I’ll end with simply saying that synergy was found and this was surprisingly the very best the ZEN sounded in the testing period. No wild inverted tips were used but the regular clear Sony Silicone Hybrid Tips.

Take note the DUNU ZEN will be able to play fine off just about anything. Using a regular phone the sound is surprisingly audiophile. From regular DAPs it also scales up. Then if you wanted to go to a desktop, the ZEN will continue to improve and show how special it is.



Conclusion:
In conclusion it’s wise to always look at whole systems and not single elements. As it turned out, many very small character features were not truly the ZEN's fault but were artifacts of amplification. In this regard never under-estimate the places the ZEN can go. It is unique in the world of $699.00 IEMs to find one with what maybe unlimited scalability? Where “up” can the ZEN go to? I’m not really sure, but it’s full of surprises!

As far as generating interest and emotion.......few IEM releases have topped the mild hysteria surrounding this year’s ZEN offering. A newly popular company known for successful IEM releases. The introduction of next-generation “ECLIPSE” driver technologies. The magical combination of value, technology and “hope” from company who flat-out knows how to do a great IEM “tune”. At this point in time it’s safe to say the market is newly flooded with great sounding IEMs from every direction. I like to feel the ZEN is special; it’s special to me anyways. I hope this review gave you a glimpse of what is possible here? While not perfect, it’s the special character which I find enthralling and different. But besides all the talk, it’s really the musicality at hand that should be the center and most important aspect of this review. The ZEN is simply a tool to get close to your music, nothing more nothing less. As far as an object, it’s well made, beautifully designed and outperforms the expected task for the price asked here. To me it’s simply a classic.

Review End:

Disclaimer:

IEMs are ultimately a singular experience. The write-up here is a singular view. Don’t get caught-up in the hype but trust your own ears……………as ultimately nothing else matters except what sounds right to you. While an attempt was made to be critical here…….your ZEN sound quality and fit experience may differ.

My DUNU ZEN had 75 hours for this review. There was small changes in smoothness and fluidness found after burn-in. I would not judge this IEM with less than 75 hours on the clock.


I try and review IEMs emotionally. The goal is to learn how close I can get to favorite my tracks. Using this method will often result in thoughts and ideas that are hard to describe. It may be easier to use a template of words and processes, but that’s boring. I’m trying to communicate these ideas another way as much of the time my own concepts/adjectives simply sound better to me? I choose to use the word emotion here as the realism of playback has no way to be verified. There is no reference to what was recorded and saved as a musical document. The only thing we can possibly get IS emotion as the actual moment of the recording has been lost. What has been replaced as a music file is a new artistic creation, maybe better than the original, but none the less different.

After hearing Koss headphones against the Sennheiser HD 414 in 1975, I already knew Koss closed-backs were better for listening to Iron Man. So you could say I’ve been comparing headphones back to back since the mid-70s.

Growing-up with a baby-grand in the living room and my Mom a piano teacher, I refused to take lessons. Her record collection introduced me to The Moody Blues, Rod Stewart, James Taylor and the rest of the regulars found on 1970s FM radio. I took away her steam when she thought she was introducing me to Led Zeppelin for the first time. Not the actual band members of course, but Led Zeppelin Two on vinyl, and actually the song “Whole Lotta Love". I have somehow been into Zep since I was 12?

Her greatest collection was rare Gibson acoustics and small batch made luthier flat-tops which she inspired me to play!

What does this have to do with headphones? I’m not sure?

My biggest learning experiences were from making a wrong purchase. I tried to make the AKG k701 work-out and it almost did after a year of forcing myself to enjoy it. The AKG k701 taught me another sound signature I could relate with. IEM frequency response (overall tone) is probably 80% of the path to win-win. Today…..I’m able to like a whole bunch of sound signatures. Yet inside of that “tune”……the FR, timbre, positioning, detail and pace need to be closer to correct to value the IEM high.

In the world of IEMs there are values, well-rounders, one-trick ponies, overpriced values and overpriced rip-offs. Still, I’m always trying to make stuff workout by finding the good aspects of a monitor. Where some reviewers use only the included tips and cables, I’m trying to emulate the enthusiast who would be curious if improvements could be found near by. Often different than included cables I seek, different tips also……… to try and look for correction where I think it could be found. While I’m not positive burn-in is real, it’s just a method of being complete.

Here is a list of the equipment I use to test IEMs:

1) Sony NW-WM1Z with MrWalkman DMP-Z1 emulation in “J” region with Rockbox region changer both 4.4mm and 3.5mm
2) Sony NW-WM1A with MrWalkman DMP-Z1 emulation in “J” region with Rockbox region changer both 4.4mm and 3.5mm
3) Sony desktop TA-ZH1ES DAC/Amplifier Firmware 1.03
4) FiiO E17K Alpen DAC/Amplifier
5) Schiit Asgard One
6) Cambridge Audio DACMagic Plus DAC
7) MacBook Air with Colibri FLAC
8) Woo Audio WA3 tube amplifier

9) Apple iPod Touch Generation 5


Typically I start out with soundtracks at first. I use soundtracks as they seem to be the best recordings of real instruments that I own. Typically with-in these soundtracks will be positioning I know, timbre I am familiar with, as well as soundstage transients I’ve become to know. I’m probably most impressed by the sheer size of the experience, so I look to find that in recordings. There are small instrument tones that I use to help me focus on replay character. The image as well as its placement in the stage can be either heard in brilliance or lackluster with all faults noted simultaneously. I have songs with a bass tone that helps find the limits of the bass ability.


When I switch to another music genre it seems there are paths to know if an IEM is well rounded or simply does a few genres correctly. Most success is from an even and correct frequency response. Timbre and tone, technicalities and the less tangibles all come together within the best examples. Yet in experience, there are no perfect IEMs to be found, only better and lesser examples of the art. The most difficult thing is simply missing an example of a major fault due to keying in on the great aspects. The simple way to learn is just taking the time to explore. Eventually that IEM that has issues will become exposed and noticed. The best and easiest way I know is actually by using the smallest grouping of music that that I’m most familiar with. The flip side is that music could actually be stale and boring so there is nothing wrong with using new music to simply get an idea of the entertainment factor.

Besides the few details of music in the review, this is another list more complete:
John Williams-Star Wars The Force Awakens 96/24bit

Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL-Batman v Superman 96/24bit
Metallica-Metallica 48/24bit
Delain- Apocalypse and Chill 44/24bit
Hans Zimmer-The Dark Knight Rises 192/24bit
Yello-Stella DSD (vinyl needle drop) 5.6 MHz
Dead Can Dance-Anastasis 44/24bit
Dead Can Dance-Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun 88.2/24bit
Yello-Point 48/24bit
Judas Priest-Firepower 48/24bit
Korn-Twisted Transistor 96/24bit
Haken-Virus 44/24bit
Katy Perry-Witness 44/24bit

Nightwish-Endless Forms Most Beautiful 44/24bit
Accurate - The music is (as much as possible) unaltered by the recording or playback equipment.

Aggressive - Forward and bright sonic character.

Airy - Spacious, typically referring to upper midrange and treble.

Ambience - The overall impression, feeling, or mood evoked by an environment or acoustical space, such as the performance hall in which a recording was made.

Analytical - Detailed.....typically thought of as neutral or bright.

Articulate - The overall ability to offer fast transients and efficient imaging of instruments.

Attack - The leading edge of a note and the ability of a system to reproduce the attack transients in music.

Attack (2) - The time taken for a musical note to reach its peak amplitude eg. notes will tend to sound more defined rather than blended with other notes.

Balance - Usually the tuning of the earphone. A well-balanced headphone would not have one particularly dominant frequency, but rather all would be “balanced.”

Bass - The audio frequencies between about 60Hz and 250Hz.The lower end frequency of human hearing. Bass can be measured in quantity (heaviness) and quality (clarity). Other bass descriptors are “muddy” and “boomy.”

Basshead - Emphasized Bass.

Bloated - Excessive mid bass around 250 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies, low frequency resonances.

Blurred - Poor transient response. Vague stereo imaging, not focused.

Body - Fullness of sound. Substantialness of response.

Boomy - Excessive bass around 125 Hz. Typically edging into midrange and affecting pace.

Boxy - Having resonances as if the music were enclosed in a box. Sometimes an emphasis around 250 to 500 Hz. Often called cardboard box sounding, like boxes used as drums.

Breakup - When different points on the surface of a diaphragm begin to move out of sync, causing distortion. Breakup often occurs in dynamic drivers at high volumes as forces on the diaphragm increase. Breakup is less likely to occur at lower volumes or in planar magnetic or electrostatic headphone drivers.

Bright/Brightness - Boost in the upper frequencies or upper-mid range. Brightness is a feature enjoyed by many but walks a thin line to becoming unpleasant depending on the individual.

Brilliance - The 6kHz to 16kHz range controls the brilliance and clarity of sounds. Too much emphasis in this range can produce sibilance on the vocals.

Clear - Transparent.

Closed - A closed-in sound lacking in openness, delicacy, air, and fine detail usually caused by Roll-off above 10kHz; in contrast to Open.

Congestion - Poor clarity caused by overlapping sounds. Congested sound signatures lack detail and clarity, making it hard to hear separate instruments and may also be called muddy or muffled.

Coloration - The effect of a device on the music signal. The opposite of “neutral.” Various aspects can affect the tone, responsiveness or the frequency response of the music/audio.

Crisp - Clear.

Dark - A tonal balance that tilts downwards with increasing frequency. Opposite of bright. Weak high frequencies.

Decay - The fadeout of a note as it follows the attack.

Definition (or resolution) - The ability of a component to reveal the subtle information that is fundamental to high fidelity sound.

Delicate - High frequencies extending to 15 or 20 kHz without peaks.

Density - I personally started to use this word to describe note weight, and note authority.

Depth - A sense of distance (near to far) of different instruments.

Detail - The most delicate elements of the original sound and those which are the first to disappear with lesser equipment.

Detailed - Easy to hear tiny details in the music; articulate. Adequate high frequency response, sharp transient response.

Dry - Lack of reverberation or delay as produced by a damped environment. May come across as fine grained and lean. Opposite of wet.

Dynamic - The suggestion of energy and wide dynamic range. Related to perceived speed as well as contrasts in volume both large and small. Still in the end this word has many interpretations.

Edgy - Too much high frequency response. Trebly. Harmonics are too strong relative to the fundamentals. Distorted, having unwanted harmonics that add an edge or raspiness.

Euphonic - An appealing form of distortion that generally enhances perceived fidelity, often ascribed to the harmonic elaborations of some valve amps.

Fast - Good reproduction of rapid transients which increase the sense of realism and "snap".

Focus - A strong, precise sense of image projection.

Forward(ness) - Similar to an aggressive sound, a sense of image being projected in front of the speakers and of music being forced upon the listener. The opposite would be “Laid-back".

Full - Strong fundamentals relative to harmonics. Good low frequency response, not necessarily extended, but with adequate level around 100 to 300 Hz. Male voices are full around 125 Hz; female voices and violins are full around 250 Hz; sax is full around 250 to 400 Hz. Opposite of thin.

Grainy - A loss of smoothness resulting is a loss of clarity and transparency.

Grunt - Actually a guitar term intended to denote an authoritative and fast low end frequency response ability in hollow body jazz guitars.

Harsh - Too much upper midrange. Peaks in the frequency response between 2 and 6 kHz.

Highs - The audio frequencies above about 6000 Hz.

High Midrange (High Mids, Upper Mids) - The audio frequencies between about 2kHz and 6kHz.

Imaging - The sense that a voice or instrument is in a particular place in the room. Directly measured with square wave graphs and indicates transient edge response quality in the time domain.

Impedance - Indicates how much power is required for the driver. The higher the impedance, the more power is required to get the maximum quality and volume of sounds out of the driver. Electrical resistance to the flow of current in an AC circuit. The higher the impedance of the headphone, for instance, the less current will flow through it.

Layering - The reproduction of depth and receding distance, which audibly places the rows of performers one behind the other.

Laid-back - Recessed, distant-sounding, having exaggerated depth, usually because of a dished midrange. Compare "Forward".

Layering - The reproduction of depth and receding distance, which audibly places the rows of performers one behind the other.

Less-Tangibles - Everything other than FR, hence reverberations, texture, instrument timbre, soundstage etc…..etc.

Liquid - Textureless sound.

Low-Level Detail - The subtlest elements of musical sound, which include the delicate details of instrumental sounds and the final tail of reverberation decay.

Low Midrange (Low Mids) - The audio frequencies between about 250Hz and 2000Hz.

Lush - Harmonically complex, typicality thought of as thick with many additives. A rich tone and usually with some warmth to the overall presentation.

Metallic - Typicality an overall sheen which can become part of an off timbre response.

Midrange (Mids) - The audio frequencies between about 250 Hz and 6000 Hz.

Musical (or musicality) - A sense of cohesion and subjective "rightness" in the sound.

Nasal - Reproduced sound having the quality of a person speaking with their nose blocked. Closed off; a measured peak in the upper midrange followed by a complimentary dip.

Naturalness - Realism.

Opaque - Unclear, lacking Transparency.

Open - Sound which has height and "air", relates to clean upper midrange and treble.

Pace - Often assoc. with rhythm, a strong sense of timing and beat.

Physicality - Weight and realness, typicality used (by me) to describe bass, but can carry over to all frequencies. Female and male vocals could have physicality, if they sound real.

Piercing - Strident, hard on the ears, screechy. Having sharp, narrow peaks in the response around 3 to 10 kHz.

PRaT - Pace, rhythm and timing.

Presence Range - The presence range between 4kHz and 6kHz is responsible for the clarity and definition of voices and instruments. Increasing this range can make the music seem closer to the listener. Reducing the 5kHz content makes the sound more distant and transparent.

Presence - An emphasized instrument response around 5 kHz for most instruments, or around 2 to 5 kHz for kick drum and bass.

Punchy - Good reproduction of dynamics. Good transient response, with strong impact. Sometimes a bump around 5 kHz or 200 Hz.

Range - The distance between the lowest and highest tones.

Resolution - The clarity to separate and delineate musical information.

Reverb - Short for reverberation. A diminishing series of echoes spaced sufficiently closely in time that they merge into a smooth decay.

Rich - See Full. Also, having euphonic distortion made of even order harmonics.

Roll-off (Rolloff) - The gradual attenuation that occurs at the lower or upper frequency range of a driver, network, or system. The roll-off frequency is usually defined as the frequency where response is reduced by 3 dB.

Round - High frequency rolloff or dip. Not edgy.

Rhythm - The controlled movement of sounds in time.

Shrill - Strident, Steely.

Sibilant - The high unpleasant peaks that are usually unpleasant to the ear if too prevalent.

Sizzly - See Sibilant. Also, too much highs on cymbals.

Smeared - Lacking detail; poor transient response, too much leakage between microphones; poorly focused images.

Smooth - Describing the quality of sound reproduction having no irritating qualities; free from high-frequency peaks, and relaxing to listen to. Not necessarily a positive system attribute if accompanied by a slow, uninvolving character.

Sound Signature - The unique intrinsic sound quality of a headphone, music player, DAC, or audio cable. Some audio products emphasize the higher treble ranges while others strengthen the bass. This overall sound profile of audio devices helps audiophiles fine-tune the listening experience by pairing the right headphone cable, DAC, or music player with their headphones.

Soundstage - An illusionary effect of headphones to produce a listening space front to back, up and down and right to left.

Speed - Pace and timing, can have relationship with overall “tune”.

Steely - Emphasized upper mids around 3 to 6 kHz. Peaky, non flat high frequency response. Metallic.

Strident - See Harsh, Edgy.

Sub-Bass - The audio frequencies between about 20Hz and 80Hz.

Sweet - Typically reference to smooth comfortable high pitch sounds.

Technical Ability - A blanket term for attack transients, imaging, decay, tonality, tonal balance, timbre, temperature, and texture. Overall frequency response (if even and correct) is considered part of technical ability.

Synergy - The interaction or cooperation of two or more audio components in an audio system, which, when combined produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Example: the synergy between a DAC and a headphone amp.

Texture - The timbre of multiple instruments playing together, though more accurately the instrument “voices” together.

Thick - Typically bass or lower midrange density.

Thin - Fundamentals are weak relative to harmonics; bass light.

Tight - Good low frequency transient response and detail.

Timbre - The tonal character of an instrument which separates it from other instruments of the same tone.

Timing - Tempo in relationships with clarity of pace.

Tinny - Thin harmonically narrow, metallic, in treble region.

Tone - The sound of definite pitch.

Transient - The leading edge of a percussive sound, though the term can be applied to any wave form.

Transparent - Easy to hear into the music, detailed, clear, not muddy. Wide flat frequency response, sharp time response, very low distortion and noise. A hear through quality that is akin to clarity and reveals all aspects of detail.

Treble - The highest part of music and voice. See Highs. (Most often used when referring to the treble control on amplifiers).

Upper Midrange (Upper Mids, High Mids) - The audio frequencies between 2 kHz and 6 kHz.

Vivid - A word often used to describe clarity and intensity.

Veiled- Lack of full clarity due to noise or loss of detail from limited transparency.

Warm - Good bass, adequate low frequencies, adequate fundamentals relative to harmonics. Not thin. Also excessive bass or mid bass. Also, pleasantly spacious, with adequate reverberation at low frequencies. Also see Rich, Round. Warm highs means sweet highs.

Weighty - Good low frequency response below about 50 Hz. A sense of substance and underpinning produced by deep, controlled bass. Suggesting an object of great weight or power, like a diesel locomotive.

Width - The apparent lateral spread of a stereo image. If appropriately recorded, a reproduced image should sound no wider or narrower than how it sounded originally.


Woolly - Loose, ill-defined bass.
Last edited:
DUNU-Topsound
DUNU-Topsound
@CT007 One last reference for you; if you'd like to take a deeper dive into the material properties of various DLC coatings, you can check out this document published by the US Department of Energy's Office of Scientific and Technical Information: https://www.osti.gov/pages/servlets/purl/1494310
ehjie
ehjie
Excellent Review. Thanks for the Tip!
Dionietzscheus
Dionietzscheus
Fantastic review, one of the best ever; the Zen is probably going to be my next upgrade: I have the FiiO FD5. Anyone who own both and would like to do a quick comparo? Thanks.

jwbrent

Headphoneus Supremus
The ZEN Sets the Bar in the Mid-Tier Price Range!
Pros: Beautiful aesthetic design with very high quality build and finish, well balanced reproduction, excellent resolution of micro-detail, nice cable with detachable fittings, good accessory pack
Cons: The pinna gain (~12dB @ 2.7kHz) may be too much for some
1611620996970.png


Introduction

The DUNU ZEN ($699) is the newest creation by this venerable maker and employs technology not seen before in a dynamic driver IEM. According to its press release, DUNU‘s new design is the first in a series of products to come that employs nano amorphous carbon (nanoDLC) as a coating for the 13.5mm magnesium/aluminum driver, a coating that enhances the performance of the driver by filling in microscopic pores on its metal surface in order to strengthen the diaphragm as well as to reduce resonance and coloration. This new technology brings the ZEN closer to a pure diamond design without necessitating the high cost that this would entail.

DUNU proclaims the design of the LUNA with its pure beryllium foil driver and its subsequent success led its engineers to develop nanoDLC (diamond-like carbon) as a cost effective method which mirrors some of the parameters found in beryllium. Let’s see how close in performance the ZEN gets to its big brother.

1611621093162.png

1611621161494.png


Performance


I’d like to first offer my thanks to Tom at DUNU for providing a free sample of the ZEN for my forthright opinion. I began my evaluation first by burning in the ZEN for 150 hours which, to my ears, enhanced its overall performance. Next, I listened to the ZEN balanced for about two weeks using my Sony NW-ZX300 with its custom firmware (DMP-300 FE) created by @MrWalkman. I also used my AK SA700 towards the end of my listening in order to learn whether the ZEN scales up with better source gear (it does). No EQ or other sound processing was used during my critical listening sessions, and my music files were CD rips from my library.

1611621292115.png


1611621424360.png
Israel Nash / Rain Plans / “Just Like Water”

I’m a big fan of this album which falls somewhat in the folk rock genre. Recorded at his house using analog tape and no digital processing, this song with its slow and easy tempo gets me relaxing and nodding my head, yet the ZEN brings a level of immediacy to Israel Nash’s vocals which have tremendous clarity and expression due to a forward presentation.

Compared to my LUNA, Nash’s vocals are a bit smoother though there is somewhat of a scratchy presentation in the upper-mids, no doubt due to the pinna gain frequency difference between the two (and the fact that the LUNA deserves a better source than the ZX300 which on occasion can reveal this tendency).

1611621509355.png
Stephen Marley / Mind Control / “Fed Up”

Bob Marley’s second oldest son after Ziggy, Stephen Marley‘s first solo album when released was a constant listen for me. I do love reggie music, and this song has me dancing and moving my hips when I listen to it. The notable quality I hear in this song is the well reproduced bass, there is a tautness to its portrayal that extends down into the sub-bass region that is very satisfying. I imagine the 1.8 Tesla ring magnet structure plays a large role here by exerting great control over the driver, and coupled with the stiffness created by the nanoDLC process, those that like clean bass with impact and delicacy will find a match here.

Listening to the LUNA, it just doesn’t have the extension into the sub-bass that the ZEN has, so a clear advantage here for the little brother.

1611621602785.png
Everything But The Girl / Amplified Heart / “Missing”

From the opening verse, this dance song played through the ZEN captured my interest like no other due to the dopamine rush I felt. Wow, just wow, Tracey Thorn’s vocals are beautifully rendered, and when the refrain comes in I’m fully lost in the music, and the moment. The treble and its extension is the notable quality here coming across in a silky fashion, yet still resolving very fine micro-detail. In fact, this is one of the hallmarks of this design, the ability to reveal tiny detail that contributes to an expansive soundspace, especially laterally.

When I reviewed the LUNA, I remarked on how the trebles were somewhat muted compared to other flagships in my collection. Summing up, the LUNA still holds some advantages over the ZEN, but at a $1,000 price difference it will be hard for many to justify the additional cost, the ZEN at its mid-tier price is that much of a revelatory transducer.

1611621762371.png

1611621879611.png


Summary

What an enjoyable surprise the ZEN has been. As someone who mainly collects flagships (Odin, VX-S, A8000, LUNA), going into this review I reflected on past under $1,000 IEMs I’ve owned and never thought one in this price category could compete with upper-tier models, but I believe the ZEN holds it own admirably. No, it doesn’t have the refinement that distinguishes flagships, but DUNU’s proprietary driver has allowed them to meet its objective, to bring high performance parameters down to a reasonably priced model, so I look forward to future releases using the same nanoDLC technology.

The ZEN will bring surprise and ecstatic pleasure to many who are in tune with its character, so for all those at DUNU responsible for this release, a job very well done!
Last edited:
jwbrent
jwbrent
The Zen has more sub-bass which gives the overall sound a nice weight which is lacking in the Luna. The midrange is more forward with the Zen creating a great sense of immediacy in the vocals. The Luna has greater presence in the upper-mids which contributes to a heightened sense of realism with instrument textures and harmonics. ✌️
M
MattKT
Thank you for such a thoughtful review! How would you say the Zen compares to models like the Lz A7 and Fiio FD5?
jwbrent
jwbrent
Thank you for the kind words. My collection is dominated by flagships, so I don’t have any experience with the two models you mentioned. I have owned the Moondrop S8 and final B—both also sell for $700—and felt the Zen surpassed the performance of both of these. ✌

Dsnuts

Headphoneus Supremus
DUNU Zen master
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.
DUNU ZEN
DSC07875.JPG
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.
DSC07871.JPG
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.
DSC07867.JPG
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.
DSC07881.JPG
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.
DSC07884.JPG
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.
DSC07885.JPG
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.
DSC07883.JPG
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.
1611446034971.png

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.
DSC07873.JPG
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.
DSC07886.JPG
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.
DSC07868.JPG
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.
DSC07888.JPG
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.
DSC07891.JPG
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.
DSC07877.JPG
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.
DSC07864.JPG
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.
DSC07870.JPG
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.
DSC07865.JPG
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.

Attachments

  • DSC07868.JPG
    DSC07868.JPG
    795.2 KB · Views: 0
Last edited:
Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
  • Like
Reactions: Dsnuts
M
MattKT
Thank you for such a thoughtful review! How would you say the Zen compares to models like the Lz A7 and Fiio FD5?
Dsnuts
Dsnuts
FD5 has more in common with the Zen than the A7 as they are both using some high resolution dynamic drivers but there is really where the similarities end. Zens are superior in refinements with a better balanced tuning and drives extremely well with any source you use them on. The difference is on the mids of the Zen vs the FD5. Zen is excellent for vocals and has a slightly upper mid forward signature vs the FD5 laid back mid bands.

corgifall

500+ Head-Fier
Give my ears all the ZEN
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.
IMG_4863.jpg


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.

More info on the ZEN can be found on the main DUNU ZEN announcement page:
https://www.head-fi.org/threads/zen-by-dunu-our-first-model-designed-around-next-generation-driver-platform-eclipsƎ.949689/

The ZEN can also be picked up from the DUNU store here: https://www.dunu-topsound.com/product-page/zen

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.


Gear used
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.

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/zen-by-dunu-our-first-model-designed-around-next-generation-driver-platform-eclipsƎ.949689/

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/zen-by-dunu-our-first-model-designed-around-next-generation-driver-platform-eclipsƎ.949689/post-16040119

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.
IMG_4864.jpg

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.
IMG_4869.jpgIMG_4870.jpg

Sound
These final impressions were done off the SMSL SU-9 connected to the SMSL SP400. These are what the ZEN 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

Lows
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.

Mids
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.

Highs
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/Imaging
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.

Cable rolling
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.

Stock cable
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.
IMG_4866.jpgIMG_4867.jpgIMG_4868.jpg

Tip rolling
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.
IMG_4865.jpg

*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.
IMG_4875.jpg

Amping Combinations
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.
IMG_4872.jpg

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.
IMG_4871.jpg

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.
IMG_4873.jpg

S.M.S.L. SU-9/SP400
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.
IMG_4874.jpg

Amping thoughts
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.

Overall thoughts
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!
Last edited:
corgifall
corgifall
Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to check out the Monarch. I’m sure another reviewer will have a good comparison with it eventually.
F700
F700
Nice review and pleasing read! 👍
shenzhenaudio
shenzhenaudio
Great review, no wonder ZEN could be recommended. :thumbsup:
Top