Moondrop Variations Review / Comparisons
This short review is on Moondrop's latest EST tribrid - Variations which retails for $520. Please note that this unit was purchased myself and I have no affiliations with Moondrop. All views in this are my own, and therefore might differ from yours. I'm no audiophile, nor claim to be one. I'm just the average person who loves listening to music.
Compared to previous offerings from Moondrop, this unboxing has to be on the satisfying side. For example, the ear tips are no longer the cheap-feeling ones that beg for an upgrade. The cable feels somewhat better than the stock ones that come on S8 and Blessing2, but is still pretty wispy. The fact they gave interchangeable connectors is already a huge plus, and I long for other companies to do so for their mid-high tier models. Below are the contents of the box:
- Moondrop Variations earphones
- 6N OCC single copper crystal cable
- Box of eartips
- 2.5mm, 3.5mm, 4.4mm coaxial plugs
- Storage case (double the height of the Moondrop Sparks case)
- Usual documentation
Was one of the lucky few to receive the limited edition Moondrop deskmat (see pictures) so that's a nice touch.
It's excellent. With more and more mid-range/TOTL models entering the market, glad to see Moondrop keeping up with quality control and build quality. The somewhat translucent dark shell is neat because you can make out the internal structures, but not obscenely obvious like Blessing2 or Hum Reference. One issue with transparent shells is the yellowing on the interior over time, but with this choice of colour, you'll be spared from that. Also, the faceplate is simply gorgeous. Too many companies adopt coloured resin faceplates, so this is a refreshing touch.
SOUND (STOCK CABLE 3.5MM, SPINFIT CP155, FIIO BTR3K LDAC)
This was a shocker because this has to be the most subbass I've ever heard coming out of any Moondrop earphones. This is not to say midbass is limp, but tastefully textured and less prominent. What you end up with is a clean sounding low end that punches with satisfying energy. Not for bassheads who want that head-shaking response, but works well with pop and rock. Bass guitars have good speed and sound very much alive.
There is zero bleed from the lower frequencies into the mids. In reality, the presence of subbass over midbass makes the transition sound clean with near-perfect separation. Mids are clear and somewhat recessed slightly. Picture a hypothetical band with the guitarists and male lead singer in front. The singer is probably about 0.5 metres behind the guitarists. Male vocals are more on the neutral side, and there is quite the amount of detail in this region.
This warrants a section of its own. Similar to other Moondrop products, this region is where female vocals come to life. Female vocals are comparatively more forward than male vocals, but not shouty. Coupled with piano accompaniments, the upper midrange is to die for. For anyone with a playlist of many female vocal tracks, you might be in for a treat. Due to the clarity of the upper midrange, bad recordings can sound even worse.
This is where the EST drivers show their capabilities. I can't find any strange peaks at 4k or 6k hz that may be an issue with treble-sensitive listeners. Lower treble is sparkly and full of detail, yet never being too overbearing. The issue with hot treble is the ear fatigue it brings after a while, and it is impressive that there is none of that here. Sibilance is non-existent. There is a moderate amount of air maintained after 10k, and I find this pairs well with the subbass, giving your music the energy in both lows and highs.
COMPARISONS (ONLY WITH MODELS THAT I'VE SPENT SOME TIME LISTENING WITH)
Moondrop Blessing2 ($288 on sale):
Assuming stock configuration for both, Variations outshines Blessing2 in almost every aspect, be it clarity, detail retrieval, speed, extension. However, swap the Blessing2 stock cable with TA EST cable, swap the eartips with some cp155s and you have yourself a capable unit that punches way above its price bracket. Variations addresses Blessing2's weakness, which is the mediocre extension of the extreme lows and highs. Overall, Variations has more bass texture, cleaner sound throughout, and slightly sparklier treble. Female vocals are pronounced and warm on Blessing2.
Moondrop S8 ($630 on sale):
This is Moondrop's answer to a more mature Blessing2. Detail retrieval is roughly the same, although S8 has a more mellow tonality with a lusher vocal representation. On the other hand, Variations has better speed. Imaging and instrument separation on both are solid. S8 as an all-BA configuration suffers from a weaker bass response despite being one of the best that does not sound too artificial. Both units are not the best at male vocals, but they're not slouches either. Female vocals? Pick your poison.
Kiwi Ears Orchestra ($499):
Kiwi Ears is a new brand on Linsoul that released its 8 BA flagship model. This puts it in the same price bracket as Variations that comes in at $520. To me, both are incredible performers in their own right and can be considered end game for people who enjoy BA timbre and are unwilling to shell out thousands for that extra 5-10% improvement in sound. Therefore, I cannot say one is better than another, rather they are side-grades. Orchestra has an extremely pleasing tonality that adds some warmth to vocal tracks, both male and female. Detail retrieval on Orchestra edges out Variations in the mids, while bass texture is superior on Variations. Clarity wise, they are excellent units and earn the right to compete with the kilobucks.
Thieaudio Monarch ($729):
Venturing into more expensive territory, Monarch has a more balanced bass response that works with almost any kind of music. Mids are similar for both, with Monarch perhaps having that much more lushness. Female vocals stand out more on Variations, while Monarch has a mellower treble response. Soundstage is arguably similar, both having that 3d effect that works well with orchestral music. Neither are suitable for bassheads. A thing to note is Monarch comes with the EST cable which is far superior in terms of sound quality than Moondrop's offerings.
Hidition Viento R "A configuration" ($930):
Without a doubt, the Viento edges out Variations in terms of tuning across all spectrums, and to me, represents what balanced sound is like. Viento sounds more natural than Variations, though taking a step back in terms of energy and detail in the extreme ends, making string instruments sound scarily textured and realistic. As a result, Variations has better speed than Viento, though not by much. Soundstage wise, Viento is very slightly narrower, but has more depth. Do note that Viento CIEM version can affect the sound, so this comparison was with the UIEM version.
Unique Melody MEST v1 ($1099):
One of UM's coveted models, Mest is known for its pleasing U-shape tuning that works with any music genre. Detail retrieval on Mest is superior to Variations, but the treble can get a little too hot on Mest at times. Variations has more emphasis on female vocals, while Mest provides a largely balanced midrange that is neither forward nor recessed. Soundstage is roughly the same for both models. Imaging is more accurate on Mest, as with instrument separation. Good to note that Mest is experiencing a huge price drop due to the release of Mest v2.
Seeaudio Neo ($1099):
This should have been Seeaudio's flagship over Kaguya. It's a 10 BA configuration that has a scarily impressive bass response that can put DD drivers to shame. A problem with BA drivers is the bass sounds artificial, yet Seeaudio has somehow managed to overturn that. Clarity and separation is stellar on Neo, with Variations close behind. Soundstage is wider on Neo, but Variations has more depth. Subbass quantity and quality is similar, though Neo has a meaty midbass. Treble sparkle and air is more present in Variations, as with female vocals.
qdc VX ($2100):
Needless to say, VX outperforms Variations in every technical aspect. Bass response is somehow even stronger on VX even with mid and high switches flipped. My only gripes with VX are that it can sound a little too analytical at times and the overwhelming detail retrieval can be too much to handle. Both have pleasing tonality, while VX has a more 3d soundstage. Well, the price difference has to be justified right?
Is this the best I've ever heard? Definitely not. Is this one of the best? Yes, in some aspects. Variations shows its strengths in the overall tuning and clarity, with a subbass sub-bass emphasis over midbass and less shouty female vocals. Where it can be improved is the representation of male vocals in the lower mids and perhaps the soundstage width. And of course, the cable which is a given by now.
Moondrop has once again released a good product that is competitive for the price, and easily competes with more expensive offerings from outdated brand. Depending on how you like your music, Moondrop Variations should be high on the radar to lookout for.