- Mid-bass lacking
- Mids can get thin
- Stock Cable
Disclaimer: The unit used for this review was paid full price with my own money on HifiGo. No incentives were given to say anything else but the truth in my own words. English is not my native language so I apologize upfront for any kind of miswording.
- Inside the box
- Sources, accessories and fit
- Sound Signature and Technicalities
- Music Analysis
Moondrop needs no introduction – any audiophile that has looked in the IEM world has come across with the brand. Variations it’s one the brand’s newest releases and their first tribrid, using:
- For bass: 10mm liquid crystal diaphragm composite copper inner-cavity dynamic driver;
- For midrange: Softears-D-Mid-B (Customized mid-frequency composite balanced armature driver);
- For treble treble: SONION high-power electrostatic driver.
Moondrop Variations enters the market with a 520$ MSRP, placing it within one of the most competitive brackets of the hobby currently (tribrids), while still being one of the cheapest competitors.
Inside the box
- Standard 2 pin copper cable with a modular termination (not a good one to be honest – spaguetti);
- 3 termination modules: 3.5mm single-ended, 2.5mm balanced and 4.4mm balanced;
- Carrying fake leather box;
- 3 Sets of Moondrop Silicone tips (S to L);
- 3 Sets of Foam tips (S to L);
- A tweezer and replacement filters;
- Anime cards;
- Warranty card.
Sources, accessories and fit
To get my impressions only flac files were used only. Both Shanling M3X and Luxury & Precision W2 were used, but in the end the final thoughts were used only with the set connected to L&P W2 on 4.4mm balanced using the stock cable. As for tips, all the review was done using Spinfit CP155 medium size.
Variations shell uses the same size and format as its predecessor Blessing 2. It’s a pseudo custom shell, on the bigger side, with a long and large nozzle. Any people that fits one of them, will probably fit the other. To my ears, they strike as the maximum size I can hold, so anything above this won’t fit. As for comfort, they aren’t the best to me after some hours, but as always, YMMV. Isolation is average to my ears.
A quick word about the filters: They don’t change the sound in any way. Mine came already off and I didn’t bother to replace them at all. also they don’t look any good when applied,
Sound Signature and Technicalities
Variations comes across as a sub-bass focused monitor, with a sterile sound signature and a sparkly treble. Its neutral with sub-bass boost clearly has some Thieaudio Monarch pedigree resemblance on it, which most will find appealing since it’s generally considered the most resolving IEM under 750 USD.
The strongest point of this tuning is its bass. It’s without a doubt one of the best sub-bass texture, extension and elevation I’ve ever heard. When a track goes low, it comes alive, shows it’s claws and rumbles like it should. My favourite trait of this set, by a margin – I consider it best in class so far.
Now that we’ve seen all the pretty, what about the ugly? To achieve such tuning, the mid-bass shelf is somewhat abrupt, forming a small dip, starting around 200hz, recessing this frequency. This means that anything that hits this frequency zone will be somewhat recessed, even more noticeable on busy tracks due to other parts’ elevation. In short, bass guitars, kick drums, male vocals and others will not be as forward or even come along as somewhat muted, which makes a frontal collision with my personal library. This detail will also make it sound somewhat thinner and more analytical, leaving me wishing for some more warmth sometimes.
Mids follow the same pattern, sometimes lacking note weight or warmth for my preferences, but still present and not recessed – just less of an “in your face” presentation that can be found on more mid focused IEMs. As expected, female vocals will sound more present than the male’s counterpart.
Despite all of that, the detail on it is top notch and well textured. Upper mids are very well done, a little more elevated than my personal taste but I liked it as they never came out as shouty or intense.
The treble comes out as a close second to its sub-bass. Detailed, energetic while not piercing, airy, detailed and very well extended. Clearly a good implementation of EST drivers for that sweet smoothness, that will make sparkle lovers happy. Instruments like cymbal strikes and electric guitars might sound a bit emphasized, but with good decay while retaining some naturalness to it.
Soundstage is wide and outside your head. It has good depth and some height. When paired with its great imaging, any presentation comes alive, as if you’re on the first row. Lastly but not least, the level of detail of this set is outstanding, benchmarking and the one to beat at its price.
- London Grammar – Metal and Dust
Female vocals will come out as a bit thin and lacking some warmth, but with good details. Sparkles all over.
- John Legend – All of Me
John’s vocals sound a bit thin and recessed, giving a somewhat lack of naturalness to the replay. Sparkles and reverb effects were pretty good.
- Jay Cosmic – The Tunnel (0:58 – 1:15)
Variation’s bread and butter – it’s speciality. Sub-bass extension and texture are best in class, which makes it a great replay.
- RHCP – Throw Away your television (0:00 – 0:15)
During the first 15 seconds of the intro, Variations mid-bass dip comes into play, muting the bass guitar and pushing it behind the rest of the band, showing its weakness. Any drummer or bass guitarist won’t like this set due to this particular reason.
- Laurent Garnier – Crispy Bacon
I use this techno classic to look into the tuning balance. Variations showed some lack of mid-bass thumb and slam, while displaying
- Hans Zimmer – Wallace
One of a kind replay. The bread and butter. If I had to choose a single track to listen to on Variations, it would be this one.
- Snarky Puppy – What about me?
The lack of mid-bass will be very present on this kind of Jazz tracks and I can’t recommend Variations for the genre. Percussion instruments will get lost in the way.
- Massive attack – Angel (0:00 – 0:20)
Everyone knows this track and it’s characteristics. Variations is no exception. Impressive, as expected.
- Ariana Grande – Touch it (0:52)
Sub-bass pad drop with an amazing texture. Brings bass and treble upfront compared to vocals. Might not be ideal for vocal heads, but it’s a very fun and different replay.
I’ll now compare Moondrop Variations to another two IEMs in a Tribrid Deathmatch. Every set will be using 4.4mm balanced and stock cable. All of them are running from Luxury & Precision W2 (Low gain, Tune 02, no EQ) with flac files. I listened to a lot of tracks on all the IEMs, but I used the following three to bring the divine judgment on:
- Billie Eilish – Oxytocin
- Agnes Obel – Curse
- Daft Punk – Aerodynamic
LETSHUOER EJ07m (Spinfit CP145, Tanchjim Tanya filters)
Variations has better sub-bass texture, extension and rumble, while EJ07m compensates for it with more mid-bass elevation, speed and slam. On busier and more dynamic genres like metal, Variations mid-bass will hit like a spoon while EJ07m will slam.
Mids presentation is more forward and detailed on EJ07m, making it a better suit for vocals as well.
Treble is fully on the Variations side. EJ has great presentation and detail for a darker treble, but Variations is just top of the class.
Technically, Variations gives the feel of being more resolving, but on micro details they are very close or 07m even surpasses it. Stage is deeper on Variations, but EJ07m has better imaging and sense of holographic acoustics.
Verdict: In my opinion, EJ07m is a superior IEM and for people that are more treble sensitive, it’s a no brain. Its tuning makes it very easy to most libraries and be used as an all arounder, while Variations comes out more as a fun set to have on the side. For sparkle lovers, Variations is the pick.
Xenns UP (Spinfit CP100)
Sub-bass is a no contest in favor of Variations best-in-class texture and presentation. But what about mid-bass? Mid-bass is one of my personal nitpicks with this set. This is where Xenns UP will win since mid-bass on Variations sometimes feels non-existent.
Regarding mids, I prefer Xenns UP presentation, even if they are elevated. The vocals on Variations feel pushed more in the background that I like (YMMV).
Treble rolls the exact same way as sub-bass in favour of Variations. Variations treble is less on my preferences, I usually prefer darker trebles, but credit where it’s due – Variations treble is awesome with some nice implementation of those EST drivers.
Technically, Variations turn the arena into a bloodbath. With some Monarch pedigree on its ADN, Variations is a tough bone to chew on.
Verdict: Variations as a sterile presentation of the sound, while Xenns makes you feel you’re at a beach party by comparison. Although Variations’ sub-bass and treble are best in class, I prefer mids presentation from UP. To put it briefly, to my library, Variations is to find detail and stains on records while UP is to enjoy a sound. Both are great at what they do, but they do completely different things – if Xenns put a warm instagram filter on, Variations reduce the saturation and increase detail.
Despite not fitting my library or preferences, it’s hard to not give credit where it’s deserved: Variations holds the flag for one of the most, if not the most, resolving IEM up to its price point. People looking for a very neutral IEM with a bass boost almost exclusive on the sub-bass region, should look no further. With the right library, it can be anyone’s end-game. I see it as a fun side IEM to have for specific tracks or genres and not as an all-rounder, but as always, ymmv.
Thanks for reading!
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