disclaimer: Dunu kindly offered the SA3 for review. I have no affiliation with Dunu or any of its subsidiaries, nor have any of them had any input into the review process. If you have an interest in purchasing the Sa3 or learning more about Dunu products, check their website or facebook page.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The new studio SA3 comes in a Blue outer carton with thee name on front and specs on reverse. Inside that, a black pressboard lift top style box protects the contents. A top foam layer cradles the earpieces while the rest of the kit hides inside a soft case that rests in the lower layer. The kit consists of earpieces, cable, case, cleaning tool, and 3 sizes of 3 different types of silicone tips. The tips offer different bore diameters and insertion depths to give listeners the most flexibility to find a good comfortable fit and seal. Foams are not included. I do want to give props to Dunu for the case as it is spacious enough to hold the cable and earpieces without cramping. Too many budget models include a case that is either useless or at the very least overcrowded and potentially damaging to the contents by forcing things to rub or scratch.
The Shell is a 2 part affair in the now common semi-custom shape with a 3d-printed resin inner shell that includes the nozzle and a handmade faceplate made of a photo-curable resin. The faceplates are all unique with a white pattern hand-drawn on the blue background in a wave or cloudlike pattern. The left faceplate has a large 3 while the right has the word Dunu in gold lettering. Nozzles exit the bottom front with no rake and allow for a fairly deep insertion and improves isolation a bit. Since the Sa3 is an all BA model, venting is not required or present. L/R markings are present on the top most point of the underside of the shells. Kudos to Dunu for molding the nozzles into the shells as many would have used an aluminum part for ease of construction instead. Nozzles are solid with a nice lip for tip retention and a single large bore with a screen at the exit to protect from debris. Size is on the large side for a 3 BA model and may present an issue for people with very small ears but was comfortable for me for extended periods with little or no physical fatigue.
The SA3 is Dunu’s first all balanced armature in-ear to my knowledge as they started out making dynamic driver models, then stepped into hybrids, and now the new Studio series presents at least one all balanced armature model with more potentially on the way as the line expands. Drivers used are all Knowles made with two of the same driver handling the lows and mids (presumably a full range driver with a low-pass filter) and a single driver handling the highs. Crossover is listed as a 2 way damperless design. Dunu is being a bit secretive about which exact drivers are used and one can’t blame them as any competitive advantage they might have is lost if everybody knows exactly how they did it. Nominal impedance is listed as 13Ω with a sensitivity of 112 dB/mW which puts them into the easy to drive category and use bears that out as I found they paired well with phones, tablets, and lower powered sources and while they scaled a little qualitatively with improved sources, they really don’t benefit from additional power.
The cable provided with the Sa3 is silver plated oxygen free copper in a 4 strand braid from the jack to the splitter and two strand twists from splitter to bi-pin connectors. The Jack is 3.5mm single ended connector in a straight metal casing. The jack casing is ringed for better grip and highly polished. The splitter and chin-slider share the same construction as the jack, which is a nice touch as often sliders are a simple bead or rubber-band. At the north end, pre-formed earhooks culminate in 0.78mm bi-pin connectors in translucent housings. My one gripe is that the connectors are marked L/R on the connector housing in a way that is near impossible to see in certain light and does not make it easy for indexing properly. While the cables don’t identify front pin with a dot like many do, the fact that the earhook enforces a single orientation more or less eliminates the need for that indicator.
Sub-bass has good presence but is typical of BA bass. It is fast, clean, well textured, but lacking a bit in impact and rolls-off a bit higher than typical DD models. Roll-off becomes evident below the 50Hz mark and pronounced below 40Hz. Mid-bass is roughly equal to the sub-bass and shares much the same character, it is fast, precise and well behaved but isn’t particularly emphasized. There is a bit more slam than rumble, but this is not the iem for bassheads but for those looking for a fairly linear, textured, and detailed low end, the SA3 does a good job of providing that.
Lower mids and true mids are linear with the lows giving male vocals good clarity and detail and a fairly full presentation. Guitar growl is good as well with the driver having enough speed to make edges sharp and transients well rendered. The upper mids rise to become the dominant feature of the landscape when combined with the lower treble. Female vocals are a step ahead of their male counterparts but both cut through cleanly and make the Sa3 a good choice for vocal or choral pieces. Strings are well presented as well with good energy and detail and a near natural tone. While the boost in upper-mids gives the Sa3 a bit of brightness, it stops short of becoming harsh and I found not tendency toward sibilance or fatigue.
After the lower treble boost, the Sa3 drops back and while it has fairly good extension, it is quite polite. Here again, the Sa3 has good detail and texture and quick transients help give it a nice clean sound. The Sa3 has more air than sparkle due to its tuning, but the trade off is an in ear with very little fatigue or harsh notes. It does a good job of smoothing a few rough edges in tracks that are strident by nature. Snare rattle is very tight and speed may be a little too fast on decay for a completely natural sound. Cymbals on the other hand have good tone, but lack that last touch of energy needed to sound entirely realistic.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Soundstage is about equal in size in both width and depth but is not overly large in any dimension giving the Sa3 a fairly intimate presentation. Seating the orchestra is straight forward with good spacing between instruments. Imaging is good, but positions are somewhat imprecise particularly movements around the center of the stage. Layering is quite good at reasonable volumes and honestly is better than expected at normal listening levels. It does break up a bit at higher levels (95dB or so) so those looking to duplicate concert volume may find it less than pleasing.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Dunu has made some impressive in-ears over the years. I was a fan of the original Titan when they were working solely with dynamic drivers and then again of the DK2001 when they started building hybrids. I guess it should come as no surprise that Dunu would eventually build an all balanced armature model as so much of the market is dominated by those. The fact Dunu is releasing two models, the Sa3 with Knowles drivers and the Sa6 with a mix of Sonion and Knowles drivers shows a pretty solid commitment to moving into this market segment. Shells also show a change for Dunu in that most of the previous models have been metal shells. The DM480 was the first 3d printed shell and now the Studio models adopt that same process in a bit more elaborate shell.
Technicalities aside, the Sa3 acquits itself well in both comfort and sound quality. It doesn’t necessarily break a lot of new ground as sound goes with a signature not atypical of other all balanced armature models. Having said that, the Sa3 has a fairly neutral signature with a vocal lift that will appeal to many and does little to fatigue either physically or sonically. The Sa3 has the kind of transparency and detail you expect from a multi-driver model and walks the line between neutral and the sometimes cold nature of balanced armatures. I think Dunu hit the target fairly solidly for a first attempt at an all BA and look forward to see what the Sa6 offers as its bigger brother. If it maintains the basic signature of the Sa3 and adds more low end and detail it too will be good one. I find the Sa3 a good choice as a daily driver as it handles most genres equally well as long as volumes are kept to moderate levels.
- Bass - 6.5/106.5/10
- Mids - 7.5/107.5/10
- Treble - 7/107/10
- Soundstage - 7.5/107.5/10
- Imaging - 7/107/10
Pros: good kit, great case, good detail and texture
Cons: Some distortion at high volumes, bass roll-off typical of balanced armature.