In this DUNU Studio SA6 review, I’m checking out another in-ear monitor from DUNU’s studio line. The Studio SA6 has 6 drivers per side, as the name would suggest. It also features a 3-way crossover and unique stabilized wood faceplates. Going into this review, I hoped that the SA6 would be a more rounded and complete offering than the entry-level SA3. Well, it is. And then some.
DUNU Studio SA6’s packaging is more utilitarian than the DK series. It comes in a much smaller black box surrounded by a colourful cardboard sleeve. Inside is a blue faux leather carrying case containing the earphones and cable. The rest of the accessories are stored in another smaller box. Here’s what’s included:
DUNU Studio SA6 earphones
Detachable 8-core SPC modular cable
3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter
4.4 mm TRRRS balanced plug
3.5 mm TRS single-ended plug
2.5 mm TRRS balanced plug
Cleaning brush/switch tool
11 pair of silicone eartips in 3 different types
Arguably the most interesting physical feature of DUNU Studio SA6 is its stabilized wood faceplates. Not only do they look great but they make every earpiece truly unique. The shell bodies are made from hand-poured German resin and are immaculate in their construction.
Internally, the SA6 houses 6 Knowles balanced armature drivers and a 3-way crossover. In an unusual twist, these shells are actually smaller than the DUNU Studio SA3 which only has 3 BA drivers per side. The SA6 has a 3-bore nozzle. Although it looks rather short, it has a lip that holds eartips securely in place and the insertion depth is actually quite deep due to the shape and fit of the shells.
Of course, the other big feature of the SA6 is its tuning switch that lets you choose between the Default Signature (switch position ‘I’) and Atmospheric Immersion (switch position ‘ON’). I’ll cover the effects of the sound modes in the sound section below. What I love about this switch compared to other variants I’ve used is that this one does not require a tool and can be changed by hand.
In terms of comfort, the DUNU SA6 is superb. The molded shells fit in my ears much like a custom made in-ear monitor. Not only does this make them comfortable but also means they provide good noise isolation.
When DUNU makes a cable you know you’re in for a treat. SA6 cable is an 8-core silver-plated copper wire with a tidy, uniform braid. The cable components are all matching polished alloy, including the circular chin slider.
Of course, the big feature of higher-end DUNU cables is the modular plug system. That allows you to change the termination plug to either 3.5mm single-ended or 2.5mm/4.4mm balanced, all of which are included in the package.
The cable handles well and is reasonably supple for an 8-core type. There is minimal microphonics and it feels very robust as well as looking and feeling premium.
As mentioned above, the DUNU Studio SA6 has 2 separate tuning modes, namely ‘Default Signature’ and ‘Atmospheric Immersion’. While the ‘Atmospheric Immersion’ may sound fancy, it basically means default signature plus an almost imperceptible touch of added warmth. The difference is so miniscule the switch almost seems like a moot point but I guess the option of a tiny change is better than none?
The SA6 has a neutral and linear response. This is truly a reference sounding IEM and just what you’d expect for something carrying the ‘Studio’ moniker. My immediate impressions on the first listen were of clarity, transparency and timbre. Add to those the typical nimbleness of a BA bass and fast transients from top to bottom and that’s what the SA6 delivers.
SA6 has a fundamentally BA bass. Do I need to say more? Okay, fine. It’s fast, textured and tightly controlled. There’s slightly more emphasis on the sub-bass which gives the overall bass response some much-needed weight.
But the extent of SA6’s bass authority is limited by physics, as we know by now: balanced armature drivers simply cannot move air like a dynamic driver. The SA6 reinforces this theory by producing sub-bass that can be heard but not really felt in the sense of rumble. Having said that, the Studio SA6 comes much closer to a dynamic driver experience than most multi-BA units can.
In reality, the SA6 bass has enough meat on its bones to satisfy everyone except the most serious bassheads. It’s delightfully nuanced and lifelike in terms of thickness and decay. In Zero Cult’s “Sweet Apathy”, SA6 sculpts the bass notes with a satisfying thump and slam yet absolutely zero audible distortion.
What strikes me most about SA6’s midrange is the tone quality. This is a very accurate IEM when it comes to timbre as it produces true-to-life, neutral notes. But don’t mistake that description for dry or analytical. The mids have just the right amount of body and roundness to give the sound a natural, organic warmth without adding synthetic colour.
Tracks like Melody Gardot’s “March For Mingus – Live” really highlight the Studio SA6’s midrange mastery and the accuracy of its tone. The double bass, horn and piano sound remarkably lifelike, as do Melody’s vocals and the applause from the live audience.
A key part of SA6’s sound signature is its treble which is both lively and smooth, sufficiently dense but still breathy. I have to say, I think this is about a good a treble as you can find in a mid-tier IEM.
It’s adequately bright and transparent but somehow remains deliciously creamy. But perhaps creamy is not the right term for SA6’s treble because although it is very smooth, it’s also light and airy. So maybe cotton candy would be a better descriptor. My guess is that the 6kHz dip combined with the excellent extension is instrumental in crafting this fine treble. Whatever the case may be, it works.
The soundstage is average in size with a slightly forward position. Where the SA6’s stage really shines is in its imaging and positioning. The clean presentation and black background make for a very holographic space. Instrument separation is excellent and SA6 creates layers of depth around the centre image.
Fearless S8F ($489)
The Fearless S8F is an 8-driver multi-BA unit. It has a more v-shaped sound than the SA6 with a warmer, fuller mid-bass and lower midrange. It has a similar light sub-bass rumble but it’s more audible on the SA6 due to the DUNU’s more neutral mids.
Mid-bass notes are more audible on the S8F and male vocals have more body on the S8F but aren’t quite as articulate or nuanced. The SA6 has a cleaner midrange with a blacker background and less warm air between spaces.
Both of these IEMs is similar in their treble response, however, the SA6 has better extension and more air in the upper treble. S8F’s soundstage is more intimate, a result of the combination of its fuller bass and mids, plus its less-extended treble.
Panther Audio Aura DX4 ($469)
The Panther Audio Aura DX4 is a quad-driver hybrid with a 1DD + 3BA configuration. Aura DX4 has a warmer and more linear tonality. Its mid-bass sits slightly in front of the sub-bass, making it more punchy. But because of the dynamic driver, Aura DX4’s sub-bass is more physical and authoritative than on the SA6.
The midrange is more full-bodied with rounder notes. SA6 has thinner but cleaner mids and better instrument separation in comparison. Treble response is similar on both units but Aura DX4’s added warmth and prominent midrange makes its treble less forward in contrast.
Aura DX4 has a more intimate and upfront presentation. Vocals and the mids in general are more upfront and warmer. This gives it a sligthly smaller soundstage but one with excellent width whereas the SA6 is more evenly spread between width and depth.
I was admittedly sceptical initially of how the DUNU Studio SA6 would perform after being somewhat underwhelmed by its younger sibling the SA3. However, once I started listening, it was easy to tell the SA6 is a much more complete product.
It has great tonal balance, dynamics, detail and clarity. Despite being uncoloured and accurate in tone, it still sounds organic and inviting. The SA6 is not only a great option as a professional studio monitor, but it’s also perfect for discerning audiophiles looking for accuracy and musicality. In fact, it’s so good that I’m adding it to my best IEMs list.