Dunu SA-6 ($499):An Ocean’s view of sound

Pros: Gorgeous look
Excellent cable
Interchangeable jacks
Build quality
Tunable sound
Warm, rich tonality
Overall pleasing sound (to me)

Cons: The extra knob, which mimics a CIEM
To some, the switch does not do much
Not really much here

Dunu SA-6 ($499):An Ocean’s view of sound
4.25 stars

Dunu SA-6

Intro:

Waiting for the Luna was something I had forgotten about as other fine wares graced my abode. But when Dunu contacted me to see if I was willing to try the SA-6 (6 BA’s per side) while I wait for my turn, I wholeheartedly agreed. As “luck” would have it, the SA-6 arrived the same day as the Luna due to continued shipping restrictions around the globe. I do not fault this at all as I had a plethora of gear to get through. Clearing time while I waited both led to a “near” empty queue (not really but it sounds good…) so I could devote time to the pair.

I am concurrently writing both due to time constraints, which can be a blessing as I have no choice but to compare the “lesser” SA-6 to the Luna. Costing 1/3 the price, it will be an interesting one indeed.

I thank Dunu for the review sample, and as agreed upon, both highlights and potential, lowlights will be shared. All they ask is for an open honest review, and critique and as such they have a dedicated HeadFi page (for the reviewers) to voice considerations, which can be addressed immediately. This is not secrecy, but a concise way of coagulating responses of both positive and negative. I applaud Dunu for this approach and plan to use it.

It is also agreed that the unit may be asked back for at any time and as such is mine to keep until otherwise stated. I cannot sell the unit for profit, as that is a really uncool and dirty trick. Don’t do it.

From the site: Take control of the SA6’s bass response by activating the atmospheric immersion DIP switch, easily accessible without the need for tools.

We wrap this sonic package inside hand-poured, hand-finished UV acrylic shells, and cap them with elegantly striated stabilized wood faceplates.

Lacquered by skilled hands and handled with tender loving care, the Studio SA6 signals a revival of artisan craftsmanship in premium earphones.



Specs:

  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz (HI-RES certified)
  • Impedance: 60 Ω at 1 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 113 ± 1 dB at 1 kHz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.5% at 1 kHz

Driver config:

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


Tuning modes:

  • Default Signature (Switch Position ‘I’)
  • Atmospheric Immersion (Switch Position ‘ON’)

Housing material:

  • Shell: German Nice-Fit Hand-Poured UV Acrylic Resin
  • Faceplate: High-Grade Stabilized Wood

Cable config:

  • Wire Material: 8 Core, High-Purity, Monocrystalline, Silver-Plated Copper
  • Length: 1.2 ± 0.1 m
  • Connector: 2-Pin (0.78 mm)
  • 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

Gear Used for comparison:

Fearless Audio S6Rui ($499)
Hidyzs MS4 ($300-)
Noble Savant II ($499)
Audiofly AF-180 mk2 ($499)
Phonic BW4 ($535)

Shanling M6P
Cayin N6 mk2
MBP/Little Dot mk3se
MBP/Yulong DA-Art
MBP/Sparrow


Songlist:

Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Tidal MQA

Unboxing:

Coming in a colorful box, you get the wrap around model number in a large number. The back is laden with interesting print, and in the quest to make a really cool box, the letters are all white and somewhat hard to read. Sliding the sleeve off, you are met with a glossy black-lidded box, laden with logo. Opening you find the blue Dunu zippered case (of good size), the IEM, extra thick cable, two sets of tips and the three different jacks (2.5bal, 3.5se, 4.4bal). I did end up keeping all of the above in the case, and while a somewhat tight fit; it works.

Not to minimize the unboxing here, but the IEM is so gorgeous at which to look, I move on.

Fit/Finish/Build:

Made of German acrylic resin one would expect excellent craftmanship and one would be correct. With a semi-custom “node” near the back you get the feeling of not only quality but of customization as well. Cover that with luck-of-the-draw stabilized wood faceplates and you have a near-unique “custom” IEM. For those that are unaware, stabilized wood is an epoxy resin/recycled/reclaimed wood mix, which can be easily poured into various shapes and with various colors. If you are aware of the Audioquest Nighthawk, then you know what stabilized wood can do. Both gorgeous and it can environmentally friendly as well (even the resin) and you get the feeling of minimizing impact upon the earth. Stabilized wood also serves the purpose of filling potential pores in the wood, which may change structure over time, thus minimizing potential temperature/humidity impact. Again, add in the ability to custom color and the result is gorgeous and a near one-off for each customer.

See this site for some spectacular stabilized wood representation: https://stabilizedwoods.com/.

Anywho, the melding of the faceplate and acrylic shell is flawless. One is hard pressed to see let alone know the shell and faceplate were separate. Nicely done. With an easily accessible On/Off “Atmospheric Immersion” switch on the back, you can easily tailor the tune on the fly. This seems to be getting more de rigor with many manufacturers putting their own signature to the multiple tuning set up. I do note a difference and appreciate it. That will be dealt with below. A rather large vent hole rides up top, big enough to sport a cross-hatched grate like you would find in the street. This is of course for the bass tuning and does its job.

With a three-hole “near tubeless” thick nozzle, silicon tips held well. I would imagine foamies might slip and slide and will gauge this later in the test. I say near-tubeless for in the nozzle there are no tubes, but where the BA’s congregate into those three holes, there are tubs joining each pair to the respective tube, then tubeless part in the nozzle. Since the shell is poured resin, it is of no concern to me. The whole unit exudes quality, and this bodes well for the unit and against the competition.

Since the nozzle is of a larger diameter and slightly angled, some may find fit a bit difficult. But in my average sized ear canals and with the included white shaft silicons, I had no problem. The cable lays over my ear well, even if the cable is a bit stiff and large. The over-ear bend is tight and fits well without pinching. This fit does not even bother my glasses. The SA-6 fits fairly deep into my ear as well, making for a near flat parallel of my ear. This also aids in isolation as well. I had no problems with isolation and found myself missing several conversations with peers as they approached my desk unbeknownst to me.

A word about tips. Much has been said of late in some groups about “what tip works best,” and “which tip is your favorite.” Well, I usually go with Comply Isolation or Comfort tips depending upon the IEM. That said, I am growing in appreciation for the stock tips included in many that have come my way of late. If I had to choose a silicon though, it would be the Azla SednaEarfit, which are superb. And now the disclaimer: use what fits you the best and what gives YOU the best sound. In other words, the signature YOU like. While it is fine to ask for suggestions, do not mimic someone’s choices simply because they tout it as “the best” or “best sounding.” You should be the judge and no one else. As such, I find tip comparison guides pretty much moot and ridiculous as it is for one person’s specific ear or using a machine. Good on them for sampling many tips, but I poopoo recommendations (even mine above). Use the choices as a guide and nothing else.

Sound:

Over the last 2-3 weeks there has been an upshot (more like rocket-shot) of interest in not only the SA-6, but the Luna. As stated above, I have both on hand. The SA-6 using the gorgeously colored stabilized wood makes an all but done deal guarantee that yours will be unique, pattern-wise. The to-do over the SA-6 has gone well beyond the look, and into the sound as well. For you see, it was not until recently that not only did the driver war back off, but that BA’s could be thought to provide decent to very good bass.

I’m here to tell you that with the Atmospheric Immersion switched on, this is some darn fine bass. And as such, the gap continues to shorten between dynamic drivers and balanced armatures. On Ziggy’s See Dem Fake Leaders (for some reason I am playing that song a lot right now…), the bass runs deep and rich. But not what I would call lush. A bit lushier than not, but certainly not full-on lush. And with a tight line, speedy decay; this makes for a very good presentation that runs its course, then gets out of the way. I may have to get my Legend X out to compare the bass. Following with Ky-Mani Marley’s The Chant, that bass line holds true. It is good, and when the task is over, moves out of the way. It certainly shows the working partnership between Sonion and Dunu in collaborating on this special, SA-6 specific balanced armature.

Vocals are pushed forward and up a bit, in the midsection, but do not become shouty or too much. Clear and crisp, the dual Knowles custom ba’s do their job as well. Separation and plays well into this when the lowers and mids cross. There is no muddiness here, and I like that the sound allows all to come across cleanly. Heathen’s (the Mutemath version), sounds simply sublime. Coming in deep and soft, followed by the build, which culminates with Tyler’s vocals coming in just as softly and you get the sense of immersion that is desired of the song. With excellent width as well, you get that spacious presentation desired.

Moving up the scale, thankfully the treble does not present what I might call the “typical shouty” top end of ba’s. While there is good reach, I hear neither sibilance nor a brittle character to the uppers. This could be due to a slight push of the upper mids, as noted above, which counter any potential top end rush. Maybe I’m just making that up and the top end is appealing to me. It really does not matter, as I am pleased with the presentation, and do feel the upper end is tamed nicely, but without losing that spark, which necessitates good reach. I find good texture to cymbals for example, but without sibilance or a grating perspective, which can leave me cringing. Speed matches the bass, and as such makes the overall character of the Dunu quite quick of transition.

Mind you this does not mean it is without depth of sound or a rich warmth. No, the SA-6 actually comes across as decently rich and to me with what I would call a “balanced armature” warmth that makes one a believer. I’ve heard plenty of too-sparkly, too-shouty balanced armature IEM’s, which seemed to be the flavor of the month, only to be thrown in the dresser after their month is up. The SA-6 is built to stay around well AFTER that next flavor of the month comes across your browser. I still have some of my favorite “flavors” in hand, and still hold them in the highest regard. That longevity is something I am really starting to look for in any audio purchase I make, and the Dunu would certainly fit that bill.

For now, I sit back and relish Adele’s Hello, allowing myself a listen without scribbling.

I think what has struck me while sitting back to listen (currently Lazarus, from Bowie) is that the imaging is so spot on. Realistic and accurate are analytical descriptors I would use, but it is so much more than that. Coming out of the Shanling M6 Pro, and tidal MQA the sound is fast, accurate and smooth. It is one thing to be precise, accurate and analytical; but something completely different to add a degree of rich clarity to that equation. The sound is indeed precise, quick of decay and with a separation, which allows you that precision mentioned above. On China Girl, I replay SRV’s seminal guitar work. Mind you this was before he really took off, and his finger strets are phenomenal. Over and over I listened to these two songs, pinpointing what it was that I liked about the presentation.

With the Atmospheric Immersion switched on, the added layers of warmth and bass seal the deal. Even with the switch off, the sound is excellent. But I kept (and will continue to…) the switch on for probably 85% or the time. This is akin to the 3D switch on any of many iFi amps, which give a better sense of “presence.” Just a really nice immersion with which to participate. Then the kicking song of All The Young Girls Love Alice plays, and the clarity returns in full force. Nice stuff, indeed.

I think sometimes reviewers tend to pick on the negative items, instead of focusing on the positives. While it is not bad to mention those negatives (where warranted), it must be in the perspective of what you do not like, not an overall bad. Our “job” is to promote the pros/cons of the item, but in the perspective of who might like (or dislike) the item and for what. We are but one voice in this cacophony of words and must keep grounded that our one voice can aid or sink a product. Are there a plethora of fine products out there now? You bet, and there is certainly enough variation to find something for everyone. So, our “job” is to find that user-ship who would like the product. This is why I go on and on with items I like, such as the SA-6. Is it perfect? Certainly not. But it does tick most of the boxes I like.


Comparisons:

Dunu SA6 ($549) vs Fearless Audio S6Rui ($499):

Right off the bat, the S6Rui has a much brighter signature. Those who prefer a brighter signature will prefer the Fearless. And for some reason, the Rui has a much narrower soundstage as well. While it is not bad, intimate would definitely be an apt description. The vocal presentation is a bit more forward as well. While the SA6 presents vocals up front and a bit higher, the S6Rui’s vocal presentation is more forward yet. There is also a tinge of sibilance in some songs, which may be that push towards a brighter signature showing in a truly sparkling manner.

Bass presentation is better in the SA6, but the S6Rui is not bad by any means. The Fearless provides plenty of clarity and that crispness presented would be excellent for EDM, JPop or KPop. This could very well be a hipster’s dream IEM. I do appreciate it but prefer the overall signature of the SA6.

Dunu SA6 ($549) vs Hidyzs MS4 ($300-):

The MS4 is still one of my favorite IEM’s at this price, even if the overall signature is a bit bright for my tastes. Clarity and a nice crisp sound signature define this, which bodes well for female vocals. There is a crisp nature to the air between notes here that the SA6 cannot match. But that should not dissuade you from the clarity wrought from the SA6. Bass runs deeper and faster on the SA6 as well.

This would be the conundrum of which I spoke right before the comparisons. There are so many good choices out there, we do have an obligation to try and decipher the differences so you can make an informed choice. Ultimately, though one should be able to try these before purchasing. I know that is tough in the world situation right now, but we try.

The cable on the Hidyzs is a bit finicky as well, but thankfully you get two, including one with a mic so you should be fine. Fit is a bit better as well, what with the smaller housing. So this one comes down to whether you like a more forward signature, or one, which has very good air between the notes. Your choice.


Dunu SA6 ($549) vs Noble Savant II ($499):

This one needs no introduction, as I have used it in reviews before. The Savant is quite mid-centric to me, with a subdued midrange that appeals to me. Bass reach is not quite as deep as the SA6 (or perceived reach) and is a bit slower to respond. This is definitely more laid back than the SA6 as well. Lazarus sounds almost sluggish, until you realize the song is supposed to be wrought with pain and suffering. Instantly one of my favorite Bowie songs, this one on the Savant defines the characteristic of the song impeccably. Toned down treble compared to the SA6 makes me want for further reach up top, but I do so like the signature. A mellow ride in a Miata on a hot summer day versus a hot air balloon in the evening of that same day. Both are fabulous but for differing reasons.

Dunu SA6 ($549) vs Audiofly AF-180 mk2 ($499):

From memory, the Audiofly provides a vibrant open signature, but does not have the bass reach of the SA6. The companies first “flagship,” the AF180 acquaints itself well here with good vocal presentation and a certain sparkle up top to keep you interested. I did enjoy my time with the unit, and appreciated the signature, which featured a fine vocal presentation at its core.

Here though, the SA6 presents a more rounded signature, and one in which I appreciate the characteristics. It is amazing what can be done with 6 ba’s per side. Especially ones that specialize the way they do here.


Dunu SA6 ($549) vs Phonic BW4 ($535):

The Phonic came my way after seeing and IG post. I followed that with reading a review of the BW3. Contacting Kenneth, the owner we reached an agreement to procure a BW4. Sending pictures and other very useful information during the process, we communicated often (I still do). To say that the BW4 is gorgeous, would be a right statement. Arriving during the summer, the “wonderful heat and humidity” of the prairie states darkened the Padulak wood nicely. I chose that wood for its warmer signature, and deeper reaching bass. I am not disappointed. Providing a somewhat vibrant, rich tonality to the overall signature, the BW4 is akin to having that fine brandy in front of the fire after a wonderful dinner. Somewhat laidback, the signature fits my favors nicely. Coming in a sumptuously smelling leather case, the presentation of the product is every bit part of the equation as is the sound. Much like Dunu and the SA6 as well.

The SA6 has a more open sound, and deeper reaching bass as well. Turn the switch to “on” and you get a better sense of vibrancy from the SA6 as well. As both are aimed at the same market, they arrive at the point differently. Dunu is a large manufacturer. Phonic is not. For being the little guy, the BW4 acquits itself very well and can handle this segment with aplomb. If you want a very nice vibrant sound, the SA6 is very good. If you want a handcrafted richer tonality to your song, then please look into the Phonic BW4. Both are wonderful examples at how you may not even need to move upscale after this price point. No, really.

Finale:

Anticipation turned to new toy syndrome, which consequently turned into review-mode. This then led to comparison-mode. And now we are in finale-mode. I’m not sure what else I can say other than I both appreciate the support and that the SA6 is really quite good. Other than the added knob, which is used for stability, and that the mids are a bit too high for me, the Dunu hits all of the right chords. Options for jacks, tuning ability (somewhat, and mostly the lower end, which is fine with me), stunning looks, and the sound to back it up; make the SA6 a very positive outcome. I enjoy the sound immensely and you may as well. The only way you will be able to tell is to try one yourself, and that is how it should be.

I thank Dunu for the sample and appreciate the support. This is a wonderful unit, that hopefully does very well.

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