Moondrop In-Ears Reviews, Impressions and Discussion

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by shotgunshane, Oct 10, 2020.

  1. Crinacle

    Crinacle Friend

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    I never really liked the SSR so an "SSR with more bass" isn't really going to tickle my fancy.

    The Illumination is an interesting direction for Moondrop, but $800 for that level of performance probably isn't going to cut it in this market. That and the fact that Moondrop set their own bar absurdly high with the Blessing 2 and S8 around that price bracket.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 3, 2020
  2. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    Crinacle, I just want to thank you publicly for your "rankings" list. I bought Moondrop Blessing 2, Sony M9 and ThieAudio Monarch based on your rankings and they are all really great sounding IEMs.
     
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  3. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    Back here again about the Starfield. I said this on my semi-review about why I try out entry-level stuff at times:

    Friend yesterday message me saying this (you guys know my real name already):

    Pic 3.JPG

    Then I told him the Starfields would meet his requirements:

    pic 4.JPG



    Then he gotten his pair:
    pic 1.JPG

    pic 2.JPG



    This is why I try entry-level stuff. IRL friends bug me for stuff and I hate to recommend them stuff that I personally haven't tried out.
     
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  4. TurbinoZ100000

    TurbinoZ100000 Acquaintance

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    Price and the prospect of DD timbre aside, does the Illumination offer much over the B2?
     
  5. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    A generous Friend loaned me their Blessing 2 ("B2"). I really don't have a need to get one, but I been curious on Hybrids that don't cost an arm/leg. From reviewing @Crinacle's graph on his site, my only minor concern was the 3k area. Honestly, before I listened to them I thought they were be good for $320ish.

    But I was wrong....very wrong. The B2 surpass my expectations on an affordable Hybrid that doesn't suck. @shotgunshane said it best on its strengths in the initial post. I consider it a neutral tuning that could have a minor brightness issue depending on your setup, and the DD for bass (mostly focused on sub-bass impact) is fantastic. No, this is not a bass cannon IEM. No, the Starfield also from Moondrop is cheaper and does rumble better if that's your thing. However, the B2 gives the bass its life. I will prefer a DD driver for bass, I just need that liveliness in the area. It's tighter bass for sure, but it does it job well when it is called upon.

    The Mids and Highs are pretty damn solid. The Mids to me are not forwarded at all, and vocals come out with great clarity for a cheaper IEM that only cost $320ish. Music notes from the BA drivers on the Mids/Highs work seamlessly with the DD driver. Nothing in the sound range sticks out like a sore thumb. If you prefer a more forward Mids, these aren't really for you IMO.

    The Highs as stated earlier is also pretty damn solid. I think one of the downside of cheaper IEMs is the treble extension isn't the best. I believe that is the case with the B2, but honestly they do them do well that it doesn't brother me at all. It's pretty lively, makes the music not dull, and it is done tastefully.

    Depending on you equipment, the Upper Mids/Lower Treble can get annoying. I think for some the 3kish peak was annoying for some people, but not me. On both of my desktop amps (SW51+ and DNA Starlett) I need to run the B2 in High Ohm Output Impedance mode. With regards to Input Impedance, I didn't think the IEMatch at 2.5 ohm/High change the sound that much at all. If I can I would prefer to not use IEMatch, and the B2 works wonders for that. When you have the right setup, the enjoyment of the B2 goes up.

    I almost forgot, these are fantastic for the price for layering/separation and decent staging for an IEM. You can only do so much for the price of a B2. However, for what you get I believe people can get away selling them for $600 and others wouldn't know the difference.

    The IEM fit was pretty good for my ears, but I can tell that for some smaller ears it could be a challenge to have them fit. The IEM unit itself is kind of biggish, and the nozzle length isn't the longest of the bunch. I had no issues with the fit with the included tip. The stock cable is also nice and it is better than the Starfield stock cable. The IEM build quality is fantastic for the price, and once again I think people can sell it for $600 and no one would know the difference.

    My only really minor complaint is I wish the sucker had just a little more sub-bass. Well, that problem is solved with the B2 Dusk edition that you can get from Shenzhen Audio for only $10 more. I'll live with the minor adjustment in 2k-3k on the Dusk for the trade-off of more sub-bass. Highly recommended.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  6. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Moondrop Illumination Review
    Single Dynamic Driver
    MSRP $799

    The Moondrop Illumination in this review was a loaner kindly provided by ShenzhenAudio.

    The Illumination is Moondrop’s take on a high end single dynamic driver based in-ear. It contains an 11mm liquid crystal polymer (LCP) dome and peek suspension. The housing is titanium alloy with 6 visible front vents. The housings are gold in color, something I find a little on the gaudy side and would much prefer a more elegant titanium color. The housings are light and comfortable; they are also supposedly very scratch resistant due to a tin plating. Due to the vents, isolation isn’t so good; without music I can easily hear someone talking in the same room. According to Moondrop, the vented front chamber helps to suppress resonances and pressure. I never experienced any driver flex and the Illumination frequency response comes across very smooth.

    The stock cable is a silver plated copper, two core wire. It is loosely twisted and is pretty lightweight and comfortable. While flexible, it does have some memory effect, meaning while it lays flat and doesn’t tangle badly, it does retain some of its stored shape and bends. The over the ear portion contains no wire but has a preformed shrink-like material to maintain the curve. It utilizes .78mm over-molded 2 pin connectors. With this cable, Moondrop has implemented their new interchangeable plug system. It comes with the standard three: 3.5mm single ended, 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced. The plug system is easy enough to use but is disappointingly a type of plastic rather than metal. The y-split is metal, however, lacks a chin slider. For the premium of the MSRP, I would like to see a slightly more robust plug system and a bit better premium earpiece connectors, as well as a y-split with chin slider.

    The rest of the accessories round out with a similar rectangular zipper case similar to the Blessing 2, two sets of silicone tips and a set of foam tips.

    Images from Moondroplab.com
    vents.png cable and plugs.jpg housings.jpg MDFR.png




    Sound


    The Illumination is best described as diffuse-field neutral. It really sounds like a high end Etymotic dynamic driver in-ear. Bass feels right, to me, for a neutrally tuned in-ear. It doesn’t sound anemic and it doesn’t sound elevated; extension and texture is very good. Decay is speedy but natural sounding. It’s also very easy to drive and sounds good on just about anything.

    Illumination.jpg

    When looking at Crinacle’s measurements of the Illumination I was worried about it sounding a bit hot in the upper midrange between 2 and 3k, as the venerable ER-4S with stock green filters could sound hot here to me. However, with the right tips, the Illumination just sounds so smooth, perhaps even buttery smooth. With the Illumination, I eschewed my typical wide bore tips and opted for the narrower bore Final E tips. This eliminated any hotness or grain I detected in some songs in that upper midrange.

    Treble is pretty easy going, perhaps a little too easy going with the Final E tips but this is the trade off I chose. With short wide bore tips, you can get a little more air and treble presence but at the cost of a little more upper mid presence as well. However, it’s worth experimenting with a variety of tips to get the most out of it for your ears.

    While the Illumination doesn’t have large staging, it never sounds boxy. The vented driver simply sounds open and effortless. I’d say staging is average in width and height and a little above in depth. It's vocally engaging and intimate. It’s smoothness makes it fantastically musical but at the same time lacking in resolution, especially compared to other in-ears in this price bracket.



    Comparisons

    All comparative graphs below were performed by me using a 711 clone coupler, Apple lightning dongle and AudioTools on an iPhone 12 Pro. Anything over 10k is not reliable.


    Vs Drop x JVC FXD1
    RME ADI-2 Pro FS R
    FDX1 with green filters and Ortofon tips; Illumination with Final E tips

    Illumination FDX1.jpeg

    Illumination bass sounds denser, slightly richer thanks to a more linear bass, whereas the FDX1 is tilted to deep/sub bass in direct comparison. The FDX1 sub bass is definitely more elevated over Illumination though. It gives a good bit more of that deep rumble, even if it sounds a little thinner overall. Where the FDX1 will excel with electronic and rap music, Illumination is going to sound more natural and fuller on my rock music dominated library.

    The slight edge in richness the Illumination holds over the FDX1 carries over into male vocals, which carry a little more weight and sound slightly more intimate. Illumination also does a better job of letting you hear the small vocal inflection nuances; these aren’t large differences but it’s there, as subtle as it is.

    On female vocals, both display great energy and transparency. The differences are rather small but female vocals sound ever so slightly more intimate and more refined on the Illumination. The term refined here is really about a bit of smoothness or put another way, lack of any grain. While switching back in forth between the two, the FDX1 has a hint of rawness, of grain that is not present in the Illumination. Otherwise, female vocals are simply fantastic on both.

    Rock guitars are pretty similar between the two as well. Both have great crunch and attack, lending to a realistic sound. Difference are much like the difference in vocals. They’re a little fuller, richer and smoother on the Illumination; a little thinner, a little rawer and edgier on the FDX1.

    Treble on the FDX1 has bit better realistic timbre. Brass sounds brassier. In this respect the FDX1 has bit better top end resolution. While I’ve mentioned before, in other review comparisons, that the ~4k peak of the FDX1 can obscure treble detail, this is even more on point with the treble of Illumination. Sure the Final E tips may also have a slight impact in this but they also just had an undeniable smoothness to their presentation with Illumination. At any rate, Illumination rolls off fairly quickly up top and the diffuse field 2~3k peak seemingly obscures top end resolution a bit more.

    Staging on the FDX1 is solidly on the average side of things. It’s not a knock on its ability here but let’s just say it’s nothing special/notable here. It’s good, it’s respectable, it’s solid. Illumination is much in line with this as well. With its more intimate vocals, it does give a bit better sense of depth, and perhaps its more solid bottom end helps for a little tighter/better imaging.

    Personally, I like everything about Illumination’s sound over the FDX1. It’s a little more neutral, a little more even and refined sounding. It’s just more pleasing. But it’s over 3x more expensive. That’s a tough sell. Otherwise the FDX1 build is every bit as nice, which makes for its very strong value proposition.


    Vs Etymotic ER4XR
    RME ADI-2 Pro FS R
    ER4XR with Comply P foam tips; Illumination with Final E tips

    Illumination ER4XR.jpeg

    Bass on the Illumination is a bit warmer and denser than the ER4XR. It has a bit more impact as well as rumble. The Ety bass is quicker, more nimble but misses the more natural feeling of decay and air movement of the Illumination. The Illumination bass really makes me think this is what an ER4XR tuned dynamic driver would sound like.

    Male vocals are wonderfully intimate and forward on both, however, the ER4XR has a hint of the speaking into cupped hands effect, which comes from a touch more amplitude between 1~1.5k. This is not present on the Illumination, so vocals come from a blacker space and sound a little smoother overall. While this effect on the ER4XR can make for a little fatigue over time, particularly at higher volumes, I do find the Ety more resolving of nuances, which it pushes further to the forefront.

    For me, the ER4 variants have been my personal benchmark for how transparent and energetic female vocals should sound. Illumination comes very, very close. On Illumination female vocals are a little brighter and a little more full bodied. Like with male vocals, Illumination has more space around the vocals, while being a little smoother in presentation. The ER4XR sounds a bit more mid-centric in direct a/b, and again the 1~1.5k bump of the Ety plays a part in sounding more nuanced, more resolving of low level detail.

    The Illumination has a little more lower treble presence, so it sounds a little brighter; in a good way. The ER4XR sounds surprisingly tame in treble, if a bit relaxed, lending towards it’s mid-centric side of neutral sound. However the ER4XR does have a little more extension and air up top. While not accentuated it is noticeable next to the more rolled mid to upper treble of Illumination. As to which would be more resolving here would most likely depend up the song. At times Illumination does a better job of letting me delineate between cymbal crashes and hi-hats and others Illumination glosses over treble details in the higher registers that the Ety picks up on. That being said, the Illumination treble timbre is ultimately more natural and realistic next to the ER4XR.

    Etymotic in-ears aren’t really known for their staging abilities. The ER4XR, while very resolving, particularly through the midrange, is decidedly in-head. Illumination sounds wider, deeper and taller. While not as resolving as the Ety as a whole, its sonic image is more dynamic and spacious.

    The Illumination is about the closest in-ear we have to a dynamic driver ER4 variant. It’s easier to wear, thanks to its shallower insertion. This is an important factor if you take your monitors in and out quite often to talk to someone. At MSRP it’s roughly 2x the cost of the ER4 models, however authorized Etymotic retailers often have sales well below MSRP. Regardless of price, I think the Illumination is something every ER4 aficionado should hear.


    Vs Gaudio Nair
    RME ADI-2 Pro FS R
    Nair and Illumination with Final E tips

    Illumination Nair.jpeg

    Bass between the Nair and Illumination goes much the same way as it did with the ER4XR. The Nair sounds quicker, more nimble, with tighter impact. On Illumination, sub bass rumble is more apparent with more forward texture. Bass feels more natural with with its longer decay and greater sense of air movement. While the actual level of deep boost Illumination has over the Nair is minimal, it is noticeably fuller, richer in note as you’d expect a dynamic driver to be over an armature.

    Male vocals are more forward and intimate on Illumination, yet they are slightly more fleshed out with a hair more heft on the Nair. The Nair, like the ER4XR, has more 1~1.5k presence than Illumination, although less than the Ety. The result is the Nair being more resolving and nuanced with vocal inflections without the cupped hands effect. It has the resolution without the potential for fatigue. Illumination is just lacking a little bit in middle to lower mids, and while I don’t think male vocals sound thin, I suspect this is where some of the lack of midrange resolution stems from. Otherwise the Illumination just comes across buttery smooth without a hint of grain in the midrange.

    Female vocals are more forward, lively and energetic on Illumination, all without being fatiguing. On the Nair, it's apparent there is a bit less energy in the upper midrange but there’s more middle midrange transparency. Again there is more low level resolution of vocal inflection nuance. Differences aside, Lzzy Hale is an absolute joy to listen to on both in-ears, putting on display the full power and range of her voice.

    Treble presentation is pretty similar on both, in that they both lack extension and and air from middle to upper treble. However, due to lower elevation of upper midrange frequencies on Nair, and a slightly bigger lower treble bump, treble comes across mostly a little crisper but not really brighter. I quite like the crispness of the Nair treble presentation, giving cymbals a bit more bite, whereas treble timbre on Illumination is just a bit more natural sounding.

    Nair is comparable to Illumination in width and height of the image but Illumination sounds noticeably deeper. Where the Illumination is energetic yet smooth, lively yet refined, the Nair is crisp, clear and nuanced. Toms and snares have more bite and definition on the Nair; Illumination gives body to rock guitars where Nair gives you the grit and crunch. Where Nair edges out in resolution, Illumination sounds more natural overall.

    Price is pretty comparable here, with Nair MSRP being about $50 more. What you get for that extra is seemingly much nicer build quality. Gaudio housings are some of the best on the market, and while the cable lacks the interchangeable plugs of the Moondrop cable, the Satin Audio wire, y-split, pin connector and plug are all much more robust and premium looking. Gaudio is great reminder that premium in-ear build and esthetics don’t have come in the kilobuck range.



    Conclusion

    I really like the Moondrop Illumination. For me it’s Etymotic like tuning but with comfortable, shallow fit shells is really enjoyable all the way around. It’s neutral, it’s musical and it’s pleasantly smooth. I can listen to it for long durations and just get lost in the music. There’s no frequency response fatigue, nor physical fit fatigue. This is my favorite single dynamic I’ve heard. Sure there are dynamic driver in-ears that do certain things better (the Sony EX1000 quickly comes to mind) and of course, I haven’t heard them all. On the downside it lacks resolution for the price bracket it’s in and I’m not crazy about the aesthetics. Maybe I’m biased against gold but I don’t like bling. I like subtle and elegant. And I just feel it’s expensive for what it is.

    Moondrop continues to impress and they have earned my respect with so many well designed and well tuned models. Illumination is going on my list. As mentioned earlier, the Moondrop Illumination is something every ER4 aficionado should hear.
     
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  7. Metro

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    You set that up perfectly for me. They should get together and do a bundled promotion.
    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Ronion

    Ronion Rando

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    Nice thread. As an owner of the FDX1, I really appreciate it and it’s value even more, but I have to say that these Moondrop have peaked my interest. I’m most interested in the Aria D/T it’s price and looks as the possibility of laying on my side while wearing them. Any opinions on that possibility would be nice.
     

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