Dunu Zen – Immersive !

If you're looking for an immersive IEM with holographic soundstage, deep powerful bass with excellent punch and control, a forward and articulate yet velvety midrange with rich textures and last but not least engaging treble with excellent extension then look no further, Zen will offer countless hours of musical bliss!

Pros

  • Holographic coherent and immersive soundstage with precise imaging
  • Very powerful and well extended bass with superb textures, impeccable control and excellent speed
  • Velvet like midrange with forward instrument and vocal placement, accurate tone and excellent bite
  • Engaging treble with excellent energy and extension
  • Non fatiguing and smooth tuning
  • All rounder IEM can do all genres very well
  • Superb build quality, excellent fit and isolation
  • Class leading innovative dynamic driver technology
  • Excellent stock cable with the quick switch system

Cons

  • 1.8T magnet means earpiece stick together very easily… be mindful of scratches! (and use the provided divider pouch for storage)
  • Minor sound leaking in dead quiet environment (as any vented IEMs though)
  • Depending on cable provider, upgrade cable might not work with catch and hold Zen mmcx socket (I know Penon Mix didn’t work for me)

Product Page : https://www.dunu-topsound.com/zen
Price : 699$

Fit, Build & Isolation

Dunu Zen features a simple and elegant design language with a S316L stainless steel housing and a classy piano black finish.

I love how light reflects on the shell although I must say, those are print magnets and despite all the efforts there might be some traces of prints in the pictures.

Dunu Zen sketches (courtesy of Dunu)

Dunu Zen design is the work of Moses Xu who designed the flagship Luna. There are clear commonalities as you can see :

But there are also differences mainly Zen has a deeper fit than Luna and also a larger shell with a much bigger vent for the Air Control Impedance System (ACIS). The spiral bass reflex system is the centerpiece of Zen circular design.

I found Zen to isolate better than Luna quite significantly and I credit this to the stainless steel vs titanium as well as deeper fit on the Zen. Zen is very comfortable to wear for long sessions. Due to the vent Zen will leak moderately which won’t matter unless someone is sleeping right next to you.

The stock cable is the DUW03 8 core silver plated cable that is bundled with Dunu SA6 as well and is excellent and comes with 2.5, 3.5 and 4.4 quick plug terminations. You can also not the plug matches the shell color and piano black finish, nice touch here.

Introduction

Do I still need to make introductions? Dunu is now a well established and respected brand in the audiophile world. Since 2014, Dunu has built a fairly complete lineup of dynamic and hybrid IEMs (Titan series, DN series, DK series). But it didn’t stop there and on the contratry, Dunu seems to accelerate and push the boundaries. First with the flagship Luna that is both a technological marvel with a full beryllium driver a world first in an IEM and a clear step up into exclusive packaging that few can match (aside from my Vision Ears Elysium, no other IEMs is such a memorable unboxing experience).  Second with the launch of the full BA Studio series with SA3 and the highly regarded SA6 and probably others coming up in the future.

The Zen is Luna’s singe dynamic driver little brother. Like Luna it pushes the boundaries from a technological standpoint. Eclipse is the name of the entire revamping of their dynamic driver technology and also patented. Eclipse drivers feature an external ring magnet with no less than 1.8 Tesla which is the more powerful magnet I have ever heard of in an IEM (and also make the left and right unit click together if you put them near to each other… a challenge for taking pics by the way). It also features a fully independent suspension system that reminds me of what Audioquest has done for the NightHawk or iBasso for the SR1 and SR2 headphones.

Dunu has also done a lot of work on coating. The nanoporous amorphous carbon diaphragm coating (nanoDLC) contains the highest ratio of sp3-to-sp2 hybridized carbon currently achievable. It’s deposited via a high temperature, filtered, pulsed cathode arc deposition technique compatible only with metal substrates. Dunu says the process allows for fewer gaps and surface imperfections, bringing the layer closer to pure diamond. One thing nobody can deny is Dunu has industrial capabilities and is a leader in bleeding edge manufacturing.

All of this is fascinating to us geeks but, how does this translate into sound quality for Zen?
Let’s check it out!

Sound

The Zen is aptly named : it’s a smooth and full sounding IEM but as it should be there is a yang to this yin as it does also feature energetic bass, mids articulation and nice treble energy and presence. Zen striking quality is how immersive it manages to be, in fact one of the most immersive IEM I have ever heard : it draws you into the music with a very holographic soundstage and then keeps you engaged with a strong aptitude to convey rhythm without any harshness, lulls you into meditation with it’s velvety midrange with rich textures and adds some well placed just spicey enough treble to keep you excited.

Bass

Zen is firmly grounded with superb sub bass extension and spot on presence. As usual I ran Aphex Twin “Ageispolis” and I was instantly impressed. Clearly the 1.8T magnet does wonder to provide a sense of power and the acoustic design definitely makes it absolutely clean with no saturation from the sub bass. This is a very hard things to pull of in an IEM even a vented one. It’s a balancing act between control and power and I must say Dunu managed to pull off maybe the best sub bass tuning I have heard to date or at least one of the best especially with Shanling M8 Zen reaches elite levels but R6 2020 did a fantastic job as well. Although the Zen doesn’t really need more power than the R6 2020 can deliver (750mW at 32 ohms) and runs very well on medium gain, it also scales very well with power. Plug the Zen to an amp like iFi Audio Zen Can and you reach pure basshead level experience.

It doesn’t stop there, the mid bass is just as remarkable and Renaud Garcia-Fons double bass in “Aljamiado” and in Ayo “Throw it away” exhibited impressive power that aside from excellent headphones I have rarely heard those tracks portrayed like this. Call me impressed. Okvsho “Algoriddim” and Marian Hill “Differently” then revealed how snappy the bass attack can be on the Zen as well as a clean, quick decay of bass notes that seem to appear and disappear almost instantly. The Zen then showed me how apt it can reveal rich and detailed textures on the drums in Ted Poor “Emilia” and Nenad Vasilic “Lupafte”. Of notes also in that department Dominique Fils-Aimé “Birds” and Okou “Serpentine”.

To sum it up, the Zen bass is somewhat of squaring the circle of sorts, rarely have I found such a balanced of clean and quick yet richly textured bass with excellent sub and mid bass balanced and it gives the Zen this sense of cohesiveness and bass presence that is really intoxicating while not distracting from the mids or highs either.

Mids

Zen midrange is yin with its smooth, full and velvety and richly textured but it’s also yang with my kind of midrange that has big sized instruments with forward placement and nice bite yet avoiding any aggressiveness or sibilance thanks to a 5 to 8 kHz dip.

The lower mids has good presence but not overly so, there is no dip for clarity but no excessive bump either therefore it’s a full but not what I would call a colored midrange that leans toward a warmer presentation. Out of the fairly reference Hiby R6 2020 the Zen sounds spot on in terms of tone. It takes on a fuller presentation with richer textures and a bit more warmth out of the Shanling M8 but it still retains a very balanced nature.

I really enjoyed tracks like Gerry Mulligan and Ben Webster mythical “Chelsea bridge” for the Zen had all the presence and fullness while retaining superb bite on the saxophones. The same goes for Lucy Dixon “Nagasaki” where Samy Daussat’s higher pitched guitar note joins Sebastien Gastine deeply seated double bass to make for a very engaging experience with the Zen.

Zen upper mids are both safe and exciting with good bite and Hank Levy highly energetic “Whiplash” definitely had superb energy while never straying into agressive territory. This track is definitely my go to test to find if an IEM has reached good bite while remaining safe and many IEMs fail at this test and make me wince. The Zen kept this track interesting but at the same time highly exciting.

Interestingly Zen has a fairly forward midrange with a clear 2 to 5 kHz presence that is not unlike one of my favorite IEMs of all time in Custom Art FIBAE7 but manages to keep its midrange even more open than the FIBAE7 thanks to a bigger soundstage. Electric guitar have excellent presence and buzz, brass instruments have excellent bite, snare drums are crisp and cymbals have very satisfying sizzle.

Zen enjoys both big sized instruments and great separation thanks to the sheer space it has to offer, making for a very engaging midrange. This is somewhat reminiscent of one of the most impressive midrange I have heard namely Vision Ears Elysium no less (review coming up soon). Out of DX300 the Zen has increased separation with a superb stage size highlighting its staging potential.

On to vocals, Zen is a very intense IEM with forward vocal placement. My usual test with Etta James “At last” revealed both a highly engaging presentation devoid of any sibilance or harshness especially when Etta’s voice goes to the edge. In a more modern genre, Hollydays “Sensible” Élise Preys voice gave me shivers and conveys beautifully the frayed emotions of the interpret. In a similar register, Freya Ridings amazing vocal performance in “Lost without you” is pure emotion while remaining smooth at all times even from the detail oriented Hiby R6 2020. Male vocals are adequately portrayed and 82 years old legendary voice Leonard Cohen in “You want it darker” is deep, full of grit and emotions of this track that sound like a legacy of his remarkable career. Hans Theessink version of “Saint James Infirmary” is as good as I have heard it with the soulful, gritty grain of Hans voice. Switching to Shanling M8 adds a bit more power to male vocals and also makes the female vocals sweeter and this pairing is excellent as well.

Treble

Given the Zen bass presence and forward mids, to maintain the Zen balanced nature Dunu infused some energy into the Zen lower treble and a quiet presence to the upper end of the range.

The Zen lower treble is my favorite kind, with all the experience gained on the previous models it’s tastefully done and this is both an exciting and safe treble energy even when pushing the volume. It’s also a treble that features excellent note weight which is so important to me especially for piano notes. The piano intro of The Hot Sardines “Comes love (l’amour s’en fout)” was really beautifully portrayed and consistent across the range the Zen has excellent speed with a snappy attack and clean decay that lingers a bit when called for. Laurie Anderson “Born, Never Asked” is a complex track where the Zen adequately portrays both the marimba strikes (speedy and clean) and the violin prominent role in that track all the while keeping up with the hand claps rhythmic baseline. Switching from Hiby R6 2020, iBasso DX300 brings additional smoothness with a more relaxed presentation and longer decaying notes.

Zen upper treble is well extended and spot on presence to my ears that is neither to discreet (lacking resolution) nor too forward (details become distracting). Listening to the airy synth sounds and overtones in Infected Mushroom “Jeenge” the detail retrieval and resolution on that track is just a testimony to the Zen’s ability especially out of Hiby R6 2020 and Shanling M8 that extract the best out of the Zen upper treble. This makes the Zen a “deceptively” resolving IEM as it’s does not push details forward like some detail monster IEMs but it does extract boatloads of details in a very elegant and understated way : in short, what I call a refined upper treble.

Verdict

The Zen was a most anticipated release from Dunu especially after the Luna’s success but also pure dynamic drivers are too few on the market in a day and age where tribrids are taking over. This is all the more of an event that there is quite a bit of innovation with the new Eclipse design packing 1.8T magnet, suspension system and acoustics work with ACIS. Clearly it’s more than marketing given Zen performance at its price point which honestly is very impressive.

Zen is a very immersive IEM with a remarkable tuning coherence. Dunu writes on its product page “Engineered by the mind, voiced from the heart” : it’s clear that it reflects in the Zen tuning and to me the goal has been reached. As I wrote early on, Zen is not only a smooth and full sounding IEM but as it should be there is a yang to this yin as it does also feature energetic bass, mids articulation and nice treble energy and presence.

If you’re looking for an immersive IEM with holographic soundstage, deep powerful bass with excellent punch and control, a forward and articulate yet velvety midrange with rich textures and last but not least engaging treble with excellent extension then look no further, Zen will offer countless hours of musical bliss!

Listening notes
I spent approximately a hundred hours with the Zen, listening mostly on Hiby R6 2020 using the stock cable balanced. I also spent significant time with iBasso DX300 and Shanling M8 as well as iFi Audio Zen Can from all sources through LO balanced.  

Special Thanks
Thanks to Dunu for providing a review unit of the ZenAs usual, this review is my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review. 

Accessories

  • Leather hard carry case with divider pouch
  • Wide selection of S,M, L tips

Cable

  • MATERIAL: 8 Core, High-Purity Monocrystalline 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

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)

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