MoonDrop Summer Launch Event Summary and Initial Thoughts
All photos are screenshots from MoonDrop’s conference on YouTube
If you know anything about IEMs, you’ll almost certainly have heard the name MoonDrop. They are most known for their line-up of well-tuned IEMs at highly competitive prices across the budget-midrange segments. From the Chu to the Aria to the Dusk, MoonDrop represents a sensible, down-to-earth, price/performance approach to better sound. While some have criticized MoonDrop for putting out the same product over and over again with minimal differences, there is no doubt that MoonDrop has played a key role in greatly advancing the IEM scene in the last few years and are arguably the foremost IEM manufacturer at the moment.
It makes sense then that MoonDrop has now set their sights on taking on the headphone market. On July 1st, 2022, MoonDrop held a conference to unveil three new open back headphones as their foray into this space. With each targeting a different price point and employing a different driver technology, it is clear that MoonDrop is serious about disrupting the headphone scene.
Below is a summary of the new products announced at the conference with my (Fc-Construct) thoughts on what they might mean for consumers and the market as a whole.
- MoonZero - Electrostatic Headphone
- MoonDrop Venus Planar Magnetic Headphone
- MoonDrop Void - Dynamic Driver Headphone
- Concluding Remarks
The first headphone to be announced at the event was their flagship electrostatic MoonZero. Their president, Herbert Zhang, spent almost half of their presentation speaking to the journey needed to create this it. From the need to gain skill and experience in audio engineering to a rigorous testing laboratory to the challenges of electrostatic manufacturing, Herbert speaks with pride in what MoonDrop has accomplished. It all culminates with the MoonZero.Screenshot of the MoonZero frequency response. Edited for clarity.
Here is the frequency response of the MoonZero. Red represents MoonDrop’s target curve while white is the MoonZero. Two things immediately come to mind when looking at this graph. First is the bass hump and subbass roll-off. A small bass hump <100 Hz can contribute a lot to the perception of bass quantity and overall tonal balance. The -5dB roll-off <40 Hz isn’t ideal but isn’t too much to worry about as we see similar roll-offs in other open back headphones. The second is the upper mids/lower treble pinna gain. Generally speaking, you want the peak of the upper mids to rest at around the 3 kHz mark. Here, MoonDrop has it closer to 4 kHz. This will have the greatest impact on vocal performance as 4 kHz is towards the tail end of their range; practically speaking, this may make vocals sound thinner than normal.
But I won’t be so quick to condemn MoonDrop here. Afterall, a number of HiFiMan’s headphones similarly have a pinna gain around 3 – 4 kHz and often exhibit a dip around the 1 – 2 kHz region. Yet many people still enjoy them, me included. In contrast, while the MoonZero admittedly is further skewed in the pinna gain, it does have a gradual rise into the peak which may help maintain vocal tonality. Given the unique sound presentation of the estats and planars, I’ll be very curious in how it will sound with this sort of tuning.The real question is where the MoonZero will land in the realm of estats. It’s a unique market as the barrier to entry is not only the headphone itself but the specialized amplifier required to power the headphones. As such, it adds a substantial cost on top of the headphone itself for anyone looking to enter estat ecosystem. I’d estimate a minimum of $300 – 500 extra and even then, we’re likely looking at something like an SRD-7 energizer rather than a full amplifier. You can get cheaper amplifiers but in my experience with Stax headphones, the sound quality of an estat greatly depends on the power supplied by their amplifiers, much more so than traditional headphones. In other words, committing to the MoonZero is no faint task. MoonDrop will have their work cut out for them to compete against the well-established Stax headphones that fall under the $1,000 mark that MoonDrop is aiming for. The interest and excitement may be there but number of hobbyists who can make the commitment are few and far between.
Of course, MoonDrop themselves recognize the high barrier to entry that estats have. As such, the second headphone they unveiled was the MoonDrop Venus, a planar magnetic headphone developed concurrently with the MoonZero and the same acoustic principles.Screenshot of the MoonDrop Venus frequency response. Edited for clarity.
Once again, we see a similar story to the MoonZero in the Venus’ tuning, albeit a little less extreme.
I think the real challenge with planar headphones would be the level of competition that exists. At the moment, HiFiman essentially commands the planar market. At $600, the Venus is expensive. Comparing against HiFiMan’s main lineup, the Venus’ price is roughly on par with the Ananda (which is $700 but frequently goes on sale) and more expensive than the $500 Edition XS. HiFiMan additionally has other options such as the HE6v2 around this price or if we look at the price/performance crown, it’ll be a hard sell against the ever-popular Sundara at $300.Furthermore, MoonDrop isn’t the only new entrant into the planar space. Linsoul’s sub-brand Thieaudio is soon releasing their first planar, the Thieaudio Wraith. Though details are scarce, Thieaudio is in many ways similar to MoonDrop in its rise to prominence in the ChiFi IEM space and there are a lot of eyes on the Wraith’s success. All of this is in light of the recent efforts by other Chinese companies such as HarmonicDyne, Sivga, or GoldPlanar to make a dent in the planar space. Yet HiFiMan remains immovable. Will MoonDrop be the one to crack the code?
To round out their headphone line-up, Herbert reveals their dynamic driver offering: the MoonDrop Void. At $200, it aims to compete right in the heart of the beginner audiophile market.Screenshot of the MoonDrop Void frequency response. Edited for clarity.
Please note that for the graph of this headphone, MoonDrop chose to compare it against the Harman target (in red). Of all the tunings MoonDrop has shown so far, this is likely the most conventional. The low-end response is reminiscent of the HD6X0 series with its slight midbass hump, though here it is a little more elevated. The midrange is similarly a little forward, but this may be a good way to balance out the elevated low-end. Finally, the treble looks promising. The 5 kHz dip helps to dissipate lower treble energy to ease a little fatigue but maintains upper treble energy for some presence and air.But speaking of the $200 segment, the HD6X0 is close to the de facto standard here thanks to the HD6XX from (Mass)Drop and the numerous 2nd hand units floating around the market. Similarly, you can often find a used Sundara for the same price here or a new HE400se for nearly half the price. Though it’ll be challenging, I think MoonDrop should be able to claw a little bit of market share here. $200 is not exactly pocket change but it’s not out of reach for most people either. There will be plenty of customers looking for alternatives to the current options on the market and MoonDrop’s reputation in price/performance in IEMs will certainly play a big part in the interest around the Void.
So there you have it, all three of MoonDrop’s new headphones. At the time of publication, both the Venus and Void are set to be released in only a couple of days. While I’m not sure if headphones.com will carry these models, I’m sure the team at The Headphone Show (and myself) will look to review them whenever possible.
A few concerns linger around MoonDrop’s new headphones, however. First and foremost is the build quality and quality control. MoonDrop is no stranger to complaints around quality control in some of their IEM models. While I sincerely hope that they will have their headphone manufacturing down to the T, especially with Herbert’s emphasis on their new production facilities, there is likely to be some initial growing pains. The plasticky build quality of their entry-level Void doesn’t inspire much confidence but I’ll have to hold it in my hands to see for myself.
Are times a-changin’? It’s hard to tell given how entrenched the current headphone landscape is. I don’t envy MoonDrop’s position but at the same time, it’s exciting to when a passionate company truly wants to bring their creations to a greater group of people. What I do know is that every audio enthusiast should be happy with increased competition and options in the headphone world.
On July 29th, 2022 Thieaudio, which is another significant player in the IEM market launched their own planar-magnetic headphone, which they've named Wraith. The new Wraith model, which is fully measured and assembled by hand, aims to deliver a high degree of acoustic accuracy at the fairly affordable price of $549. For more information on the Wraith, check out this blogpost on Linsoul's website!
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