I thought about adding this review to the regular Moondrop thread but after reading the following review, you'll probably understand why I started an independent thread. I was so inspired, I actually took my own pictures, which I haven't done in a long time. Also note I've not provided my normal measurements, as my StudioSix AudioTools for iOS continues to produce unexplained bass rolloff on all in-ears. I need download and learn to use REW on my Mac. Moondrop Kato MSRP: $189.99 Review sample provided by ShenzhenAudio TLDR: Just go buy the Kato and don’t look back; my new defacto recommendation Preamble The IEM world is a constantly evolving, new model dropping, never-ending carousel that seems to move faster and faster. If one wants to stay relevant, it seems one must keep up with the Joneses, so don’t blink! Moondrop is back with a new model named Kato. Kato is an acronym which stands for KXXS Advanced Technology Optimized. Moondrop, in its marketing, has used the word ‘flagship’ in conjunction with Kato. Since $190 is a far cry from their TOTL models, I’m going to take this to mean this model is meant to be serious step up from the previous models this one replaces in the Kanas Pro, KXXS and KXXX. Build, Aesthetics and Accessories Kato is a fantastic looking in-ear. The metal injection molded stainless steel housings have a mirrored finish that would make any Harley owner jealous. (I understand Moondrop also offers a flat silver finish.) The housings have a multi-faceted look on both the outer facing cover, as well as the underside of the housing. There are two sets of nozzles for Kato: Steel and Brass (more on these nozzles later). Inside Kato packs a new third generation 10mm DLC (Diamond-like Carbon) composite diaphragm single dynamic driver. Apparently the driver has been in development for a couple of years. Also new to this model is its larger brass internal acoustic cavity. Continuing with the mirrored, chrome-like theme, is the new stock cable. This thing is an aesthetic masterpiece. The wire is 4-core star stranded, silver plated copper. It’s very shiny and matches the overall aesthetic perfectly. I’m not sure of the gauge but it straddles the line of a thicker boutique cable: visually pleasing heft combined with thin cable usability: soft, pliable and very little memory. While 4 core, it has the appearance of 2 cores (smooth up top and twisted at bottom). It’s finished with a mirrored finished Y-split, slider and straight plug (the pin connectors are clear overmold). Moondrop even developed new tips for this release- Spring Silicone ear tips. These clear, wide bore tips have a slight gummy feel to them, similar-ish to Azla Xelastec tips. The silicone is ribbed instead of completely smooth. They are really comfy and seem to stay glued in place much better than the average tip. I understand Moondrop will sell these separately and would make a very nice addition to an IEM user’s tip arsenal. Also included are some foam tip, similar to the Campfire style, for those that don’t like silicone. Rounding out the accessories is apparently another newly designed carrying case. It’s a small blue leatherette case with fold over flap that magnetically closes. The flap has pleasing gray strip of leatherette across it with Moondrop branding. Inside has a felt-like lining. All in all a decent a case that goes well with the overall aesthetic. Moondrop really put some effort into the cosmetics of this release. Sound The Kato seems to blend a little bit of everything I love about Moondrop tunings. It’s not neutral like the Blessing 2 or Illumination but it’s not too far colored either. It’s not as laid back as Starfield or Aria but there’s not a fatiguing bone in it’s body. I’ve never heard the KXXS and KXXX models but I did own the Kanas Pro for a brief period; Kato’s tuning is better than what I remember of that model in every way possible. Bass has a pleasant boost that’s centered on deep and sub bass. There’s plenty of rumble and slam when called for but maintains a good sense of nimbleness. If I were to complain, perhaps lacking in just a bit of mid bass impact. Overall the bass is well textured and satisfying without encroaching into bass head territory. The midrange is about perfect for my tastes. It sounds balanced and transparent, yet smooth. Vocals and rock guitars are fantastic. There’s heaping helpings of nuance, resolution and naturalness. Treble is non-fatiguing, yet somehow improved upon all the previous Moondrop non-fatiguing treble tunings. Sparkle is evident and pleasing, yet simultaneously built for long term listening. Regarding the different nozzles: best I can tell, there is nothing different about the nozzles except the metal, much like JVC did with the original FD01. I cannot detect any difference between the two metals. The nozzle tubes are empty, so you could choose to mod a set of nozzles, but I don’t really see that being a viable idea, as it would only reduce the treble level, unless perhaps you are really, really sensitive to treble. Frankly I find Kato treble a very good blend between easy going, yet still maintaining nice sparkle, transient response and detail, so I wouldn’t want to take any of that away. Comparisons via Mac Mini >> Pi2AES (via AES) >> RME ADI-2 PRO FS R All comparisons conducted with stainless steel nozzle Vs Starfield Overall bass levels are quite similar. Both are pleasantly boosted and centered in deep and sub bass. The major different is in the quality. Kato bass is more solid and noticeably more nimble. Starfield bass is softer edged, feels a bit slower/blurrier and just isn’t as textured as Kato. Male vocals carry similar, realistic weight. However, Starfield sounds a bit veiled compared to the clearer, more transparent Kato. The same carries over in to female vocals, where Starfield sounds a little tamer, more subdued and Kato more energetic and transparent. Kato’s greater clarity and transparency in the midrange translates to a more nuanced and resolving vocal. While clearer, more transparent and with greater energy, Kato never lends itself to any added harshness nor sibilance. Rock guitars carry similar differences in the same vein as vocals. Starfield is a bit more reserved and relaxed, whereas distortion rock guitars have a more grit and sizzle with Kato. The leading edge of power guitar chords just have more realistic bite with Kato. Kato engages more, pulls you into the performance, where Starfield lets you relax a bit more and let the music wash over you. Neither Kato nor Starfield would be considered bright or airy in-ears. For the most part treble is easy going but reasonably detailed. Kato, however, does add just a little more sparkle and presence, as well as improved transient response over Starfield to take it to the next level. The small bit of extra presence makes for a little better treble timbre for crashes, rides and hi-hats, as well as making it better at digging out low level detail. Kato sounds noticeably bigger in every direction versus Starfield. There’s more space around instruments and performers, imaging is improved and is overall better layered. There’s less gray and more blackness. Starfield and Kato are obviously cut from the same cloth, but Kato is most definitely the next couple of levels up on refinement and technical performance. Vs Illumination Bass levels on Illumination are more linear; there’s more balance between deep, mid and upper bass, it’s also more neutral in overall quantity. As such, even though it has less overall bass, it doesn’t necessarily come across as all that much leaner than Kato. The increase of deep and sub bass level in Kato feel incremental. While there is noticeably more rumble in Kato, it’s a modest and pleasant boost that doesn’t detract from the rest of the frequency response. Male vocals are eerily similar between the two. Similar weight with similar clarity. There is more spread between the two in female vocals. Illumination carries a bit more energy and clarity in female vocals, versus the ever so slightly more relaxed Kato. The biggest difference is the ability of Illumination to bring out vocal nuances like pursing of lips and the intake of breath before a note. In this regard Illumination just sounds more transparent and true. Rock guitars carry a little more heft on Kato and sound noticeably more aggressive in Illumination. At times, and at higher volumes, Illumination can straddle the line of just being a little too forward with some big rock guitar sounds. Kato reigns it in just about right, allowing for a bit more room to really ‘rock out’ volume-wise. Like Kato over Starfield before, but this time it’s Illumination that brings just a little more sparkle and presence over Kato, as well as little extra treble weight for a more realistic timbre up top. Stage-wise, Kato competes pretty well with Illumination with a well rounded presentation. It keeps up in imaging and layering as well. Where Illumination tops Kato is in width, it sounds a good bit wider and albeit noticeably more up front. Otherwise they are fairly similar in height and depth. Vs JVC FDX1 (green filters) Bass on the FDX1 is leaner overall versus Kato. Its impact is less, as well as less rumble. While the difference isn’t large it’s easily noticeable. Kato’s bass feels just as quick as the production FDX1 but has much better texture and resolution. When listening to bass driving music, the Kato is just more pleasing and satisfying down low in every aspect. Both male and female vocals have a more natural and balanced tone on Kato, versus a more forward and slightly nasally effect on the FDX1. Perhaps it's the better balanced tone but the Kato does out resolve the FDX1 on low level vocal nuances. It’s more nuanced and more natural sounding, and while the FDX1 is extremely clear, much of that clarity is due to it’s accentuated upper mid to lower treble transition. Due to this slightly exaggeration there is an inherent leanness in the FDX1 that is not present in Kato. All in all, the Kato is a more transparent and realistic window for vocals. Arena rock guitars have excellent bite and attack on the FDX1 but there is an inherent leanness here as well; and while they don’t quite soar as much on Kato, they are much better balanced and without the added fatigue associated with the FDX1. Treble on the FDX1 is timbrely very good, however it can be slightly masked/overshadowed by it’s emphasis at the upper midrange and lower treble transition. Kato doesn’t have this same issue, and while its treble timbre isn’t better the FDX1, its sparkle and resolution is more evident, yet still easy going. The FDX1 is known for being fairly average in staging, imaging and layering. Kato easily betters the FDX1 in all these metrics. In particular it sounds taller and deeper than the FDX1, with more space between instruments and performers. The Kato just has more room to breath and presents things on a grander, easier to differentiate scale. Gushing Fanboy Conclusion Frankly, it’s a bit tough to not gush about this in-ear. It’s stupendously good and not just for the money. The fact that it’s less than $200 is mind blowing. Kato is simply a great all rounder. Not only is it going on my list, it is now my defacto recommendation.