DUNU is an IEM manufacturer with a great track record when it comes to producing high-quality earphones. They recently launched their Studio series in-ear monitors and in this review, I’m looking at the entry-level model, the DUNU SA3.
The SA3 has 3 balanced armature drivers per side, a 2- electronic crossover and gorgeous 3D-printed shells. Let’s see how it performs.
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Beautiful hand-painted shells
High-quality detachable cable
Accurate timbre from top to bottom
Excellent vocals reproduction
Treble is a little subdued
Bass lacks gusto
Shells are large for a 3-driver unit
Package and Accessories
The SA3 box comes wrapped in a dark blue cardboard sleeve which has the model number on the front and a specifications list on the back. Inside the box, you’re presented with the leatherette carrying case. Underneath the case is a smaller box which holds the rest of the accessories. Let’s break down the contents of the box in a list.
DUNU SA3 earphones
Detachable silver-plated OFC 0.78mm 2-pin cable
9 pairs of silicone eartips
Leatherette carrying case
Design, Comfort & Noise Isolation
The SA3 shells are 3D-printed photopolymer resin with gorgeous hand-finished Hokusai blue faceplates. Speaking of the faceplates, each one has been hand-painted, meaning that every individual unit is unique.
Apart from the white and blue Hokusai paint, the left faceplate has the number 3 in gold while the right side has DUNU branding. It’s a relatively simple but striking design and colourway.
In terms of comfort, the DUNU SA3 is about average for a 3D-printed shell. They are a bit large considering there are just 3 drivers inside. However, I find the ergonomics pleasing and the SA3 has slightly above-average passive noise isolation thanks to its closed ventless design.
They’re perfectly suitable for noisy environments and that passive noise isolation would also be really beneficial if you were performing live and using these as your stage monitors.
Cables are something that DUNU has traditionally done extremely well. I’m happy to say that the SA3 cable is also really nice. It’s a braided 27 AWG Kevlar-reinforced, high-purity silver-plated OFC cable with transparent insulation.
At the top, the transparent plastic 2-pin connectors are mercifully straight (I HATE those angled ones!) which is a godsend for people like myself who have larger ears. The standard heat-shrink ear guides are present but thankfully not too aggressively curved which makes the fit more natural.
The chin slider, Y-split and matching straight 3.5mm plug are all ringed aluminium and look pretty slick. In terms of handling, this cable rocks: it’s very malleable, drapes nicely and has minimal microphonics (which can be mostly eliminated using the cable cinch). It’s good to see that DUNU still make some of the best cables out there when it comes to universal IEMs.
With a low impedance of 13 Ω and sensitivity 112 dB, the DUNU SA3 has been designed to work with any source. Indeed, it can be driven with just about anything including phones, PCs, tablets, DAPs and does not require any extra amplification.
The SA3 has a neutral presentation with a slight emphasis on the vocal range. It has above-average clarity and good detail. But what really stands out is the accurate timbre and uncoloured nature of the sound.
This would certainly be a good set for monitoring midrange instruments and the human voice but it’s not the most engaging presentation when it comes to music listening. Having said that, certain music genres such as vocals-based, acoustic and classical can sound great with these. For other types like hip-hop, electronic and jazz etc., it doesn’t fare so well.
The SA3 bass is neutral and quite linear albeit with a typical balanced armature sub-bass roll-off. The mid-bass has a touch of warmth and has great definition, control and speed but very little overall impact.
This is not an IEM for bassheads; the quantity of bass just isn’t there and basslines sometimes have difficulty contending with the midrange. However, in terms of speed, texture and control, the BA drivers excel as expected. Furthermore, the lightness of the bass prevents any bleeding into the midrange which allows that region to shine.
Continuing the generally neutral character of the SA3, the midrange is uncoloured and accurate in tone. Vocals in particular, really stand out and sound, in a word, exceptional. Male voices are lean but natural although they might sound slightly gravelly on leaner sources.
Female vocals are intimate and intoxicating. In Above and Beyond’s “Can’t Sleep – Acoustic” Annie Drury’s voice sounds pure and articulat and floats effortlessly above the music. The piano and trumpet notes appear vibrant and clear without being glaring and the violins have a nice, natural resonance.
The treble is slightly laid back and emphasizes the lower treble range to give it sufficient spirit. However, the large dip starting at 9.5kHz draws some of the energy out of the treble, along with some of the detail one would expect to accompany a lean tonality such as this.
It’s a fairly safe treble tuning that doesn’t offer much in the way of sparkle or shimmer but on the plus side, it’s non-fatiguing and doesn’t show any signs of sibilance. Even inherently sibilant recordings such as The Pineapple Thief’s What We Have Sown album are tolerable on the SA3, despite having so little bass weight to counterbalance its upper registers.
The soundstage dimensions are about average in width and depth. The stage position is somewhat forward, making vocals intimate and fairly close to the listener. Imaging is good and there are good positional cues but layering is just moderate. Thanks to the fast transients of the BA drivers, the stage feels organised and doesn’t feel congested.
NF Audio NM2+ ($169)
The NF Audio NM2+ is a single dynamic driver IEM. The reason I’m comparing this with the SA3 is that it’s also aimed at musicians and has a reasonably neutral tuning. Although the graph above suggests these 2 IEMs have a similar bass quantity, that is not the case.
The NM2+ has better overall bass impact and extension, particularly in the sub-bass where the NM2+ has a rather exciting deep rumble and reach. The bass hits harder, moves more air and provides a more stable platform to counterbalance the raised upper midrange. It’s not quite as fast and isn’t as textured as the SA3 bass but it feels more natural in terms of the overall tonal balance.
Vocals aren’t as forward as they are on the SA3 but are slightly smoother in comparison. Those looking to specifically monitor vocals would be advised to use the SA3 for their neutral transparency and vocal nuance.
TenHz P4 Pro ($150)
The TenHz P4 Pro is a 4 BA driver unit. Both IEMs share similarities but the P4 Pro has a more dynamic presentation with increased lower bass and treble quantity. P4 Pro’s sub-bass gives produces a more tangible sub-bass rumble although the SA3 has slightly better extension. The SA3’s bass has superior definition and texture but is pushed back further in the mix.
When it comes to vocals, the SA3 is in a class of its own in this price range and it comes off more nuanced and articulate than the P4 Pro. Midrange resolution goes to the SA3 too due to its more linear bass and subdued treble. However, the P4 Pro has mildly better detail retrieval thanks to its extra treble presence, in addition to a more vivid attack on percussion instruments.
Both IEMs have average soundstage dimensions but I’d say the P4 Pro has a bit of extra depth because vocals aren’t so upfront as the SA3, giving the P4 a little more breathing room.
The DUNU SA3 poses a bit of a conundrum; On one hand, it has class-leading vocals reproduction plus excellent timbre, transparency and technical performance. Furthermore, the build quality, accessories and aesthetic are fantastic. On the other hand, the neutrality of its bass and the laid back treble ultimately result in a sound that oftentimes lacks engagement and fails to excite.
As a tool for midrange monitoring (particularly vocals), the SA3 is hard to match at this price. For music consumption, however, it works for certain genres but falls flat with others. That’s not to say this is a bad in-ear monitor, just that it’s not really ideal as an all-rounder.