Moondrop S8 ($699): How much does a flagship really have to cost?

Moondrop S8: How much does a flagship really have to cost?

Pros: Gorgeous looks
Excellent build
Very good fit
Sound fitting for a flagship
Should make others look hard at their price

Cons: Not as well known as some flagships?
Not mine
Not much else

Moondrop S8 ($699): How much does a flagship really have to cost?

S8

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Intro: The S8 and Blessing 2 were sent to me as part of a tour set up by @Wiljen. As such the units will be passed along to the next lucky participant. I thank Moondrop and Will for the tour units.

My first (and only) intro into the Moondrop was the Kanas Pro, which I liked quite a bit. Much has been written about the Blessing 2, but not enough about the S8, the flagship. Of the two, I could not choose a favorite, due to too many differences and the prices. Both have worthy points, and will be dealt with individually, except in the comparison part (familial heritage). Needless to say, I was excited to get both, as Moondrop is a company that seems to be going a bit different path than the typical Chinese HiFi manufacturer. Tuning of both is distinctly “western” but not without losing the familiarity of the Far East vibrancy. It definitely was my treat.



Specs:

Impedance: 16Ω±15%@1Khz
Frequency: Response 20-40kHz
Effective FR: 20-20kHz
Sensitivity: 122Db/Vrms
Channel Mismatch: ±1dB

Drivers: Dual High, Quad Mid, Dual Low.
Socket: 0.78 2pin flat (Legacy Westone)
Housing: Medical UV Acrylic
Cable: Litz 6N OFC 1/8″ Jack


Gear Used/Compared:

Dunu SA6 ($549)
UM 3DT ($399)
Noble Savant ($499)
Phonic BW4 ($500)
Fearless S6 Rui ($425)

MBP
Cayin N6ii mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
XDuoo XA-10
EarMen Eagle
iFi Zen CAN/DAC



Songs:

Alex Fox
Pink Floyd
Buena Vista Social Club
Elton John
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Shane Hennessy
Jeff Beck
Dave Matthews



In The Box:

The unit came to me on a tour, so the unboxing/in the box may vary. That said, Moondrop is well known for their presentations. The S8 takes a more luxurious note with the box.

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Technicals:

Per the Moondrop site: MOONDROP S8 has redesigned its crossover to go along with the 8 balanced armatures per side. Featuring the Sonion37 series dual driver with added bass response, a Knowles SWFK dual unit for the highs, with midrange covered by two of their proprietary customized Softears D-MID-B dual drivers. Its triple crossover changes respectively, tuned with precision for audible prominence. Another nice feature is that the cabling inside the shell is of OFC variety, a Moondrop requirement and much appreciated. Much has been stated lately about cables, and what they can/cannot do. The doubters cite the weak interconnect cables inside the shells as an example. I for one appreciate that Moondrop has taken the extra step to make for quality innards throughout.

The cable is a 6N oxygen free copper cable wound semi-tight. A plastic 90-degree jack adorns the end with soft flexible ear guides on the other. A round, metal y-splitter adorns the cable complete with Mandarin script.


Build/fit/finish:

A good thing over the last several years, from what I will call “budget brands,” is the quality of their construction including materials. Early iterations may have sounded OK, but in terms of looks and build quality were truly average. Moondrop from the off promoted a quality shell and form to their products.

With a two-part all-resin shell, polished even, you get a clear look into the inside showing off the drivers, crossover and wiring. The opacity of the edges gives a frosted look like one might find on a fine winters shopping foray in Norway. The kind where you are doing that last-minute Christmas shopping, but stop to admire the fine bakery wares (and smells!). The nozzle sits at a forward angle, and the larger shelled body sits further back, so isolation with the wrong tip can be a bit tedious. Silicon tips isolated well, better in fact than some much more expensive IEM’s I happen to have at the moment. No feeling of the two halves is had, so the smooth nature belies the look of a single unit. A slight “bump” mimics a custom feel and fits nicely inside the ear for support. To me this is the right size, allowing good fit, without being intrusive such as, “I know you feel me!!!”

Fit inside my average-sized ear is good, but the unit does stick out a bit. Using the included silicon’s, I was afforded a good seal and fit, with no change in seal as I rotated my head naturally like we all do. Top quality as one would hope from this price range.

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Sound:

Synopsis: Providing a thoroughly pleasant character, the S8 give good bass response when needed, and source provided. On songs such as Alex Fox’s live version of Guitar On Fire there is a point about 1/3 the way through the song where a very strong bass guitar kicks in. And this can be felt through the S8. Not a visceral thump, but the presence of it provides for quality of sound. Mids come along very well, and on Dave Matthew’s Here On Out, his voice sound is sweet and melodic. The stunning solo voice on Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky sounds marvelous if a bit thin as well. Definition of instruments is quite good and layered. Not the most expansive of sound but thoroughly satisfying. Vocals of both male and female are quite good, with a bit of treble sparkle up top. The “western tuning” is definitely present here, with nothing too bitey up top.

Further:

Bass while not too punchy and overbearing makes its presence felt when called upon as mentioned above. I liken this to a more “reference” tuning, but not without that lower end. Reach is fairly deep but not as punchy as the Hero or 5×5 or Gae Bolg. This isn’t a slam against the S8 for the level of bass response compliments the tonality quite well. On Virginia In The Rain, this presence plays nicely with Dave’s vocal presentation and the percussives, which move into the nether regions. As a result, mid-range presence on Again And Again comes across as vibrant and thorough. There is a tendency to be slightly behind the character of the rest, but not enough to bother me. Of late I have had many with a slightly to more than slightly lifted mid presence, so this is a nice change.

Throughout all of this, there is good timbre presented from the male vocals and to me the rest. Guitars played nicely as well in this range, with good definition. I am on a kick of Spanish guitar work of late, and Alex Fox along with Ottmar Leibert sounded quite nice through the S8. Nothing of note lacking. Treble comes across as clean without being shouty or lacking in quality. Sometimes with a midrange defined like the S8 has, the treble can suffer from thinness. I did not find this to be the case on the S8. Because of this synergy I find good presence and detail retrieval. Clarity comes across as very good as a result.

I get a more expansive soundstage than deep but think of a western scene on Panoramic screens and you get a good impression. Not lacking in depth, just broader than deeper. Height is good, but not extraordinary to me. As a result, instrumentation is good, even above average, but not excellent. No matter, this is not a hinderance to me either. I find the presentation quite good when you combine all of the above. Separation comes across as above average as witnessed on Dave Matthews Do You Remember, especially when you get the acoustic guitar solos, which pop in and out. Layering is very good as well, and this song helps define that characteristic to me. A thoroughly pleasant presentation when all is combined. Of late, pretty much all I have heard have good to very good to excellent characteristics and the S8 thankfully continues this trend.

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Comparisons:

Moondrop S8 ($699) v Dunu SA6 ($549):

When given the chance to review the SA6, I agreed without hesitation. To say that I was blown away at the departure (to me) of the typical Dunu sound is an understatement. Pushing all of my right buttons, the SA6 continue to impress me, especially for the price and it is my current go-to at this price. Especially since you can semi-tune the unit with the pair of switches on the side. Gorgeous looks with sound to back it up make the SA6 a superb example of what Dunu is striving towards. Fit is a bit easier on the S8, with a more “custom” approach coming from the SA6. To me the SA6 does fit further into my ear, without pain.

The S8 goes deeper and has a bit more presence than the SA6, but the mids are sublime on the SA6. This alone might be a major selling point, but back it up with wonderful treble to boot and you have a winner. This one comes down to whether you want a bit more open, airy sound like the SA6; or one, which presents itself in a more overall character. Not that the SA6 is a one-trick pony mind you, but bass is a bit lacking, and hence falls a bit behind. I really could not decide on either if given the choice.


Moondrop S8 ($699) v UM 3DT ($399):

I included this even with the price difference due to massive respect for UM and how they approach innovation. To say the 3DT is also gorgeous would be the same as the SA6. Not shouty in looks, but that understated elegance that draws more hushed ooows and aaaahs from the crowd than a shouty WOW!

I am struck by the clarity of note emanating from within the 3DT. I really hate to state, “it punches above its weight,” but a more apt description might be, “why do others at this price not sound so good?” That would be better. Some manufacturers are noted as standard bearers and to me the “uniqueness” of UM might be one of them. Their flagship of yore, the Maestro V2 still graces my abode, and it shall for a good long time. The 3DT represents what has transpired since, and at this price I am hard pressed to find another that can compete. Bass almost on par with the S8, but faster (yes, it is) makes for a taut signature, but not without emotive effects. The mids and vocal treatment are well, a treat. I find this aspect to be at the top of the game in this price and we are very lucky to have such items on hand with which to compare and test.

I would state that the S8 is ever so slightly presented with more vibrancy in the tonality, but not by much. It will be a good comparison when I hit the Blessing2.


Moondrop S8 ($699) v Noble Savant II ($499):

The Savant came about after a conversation with a reviewer colleague. I took the plunge and do not regret it. Not having the bass of the S8, but thoroughly satisfying in tone, the Savant presents a more mature sound than the S8. That is, it is warmer and richer of tone. This is one that would be a great end of the evening listen. Narrower and more intimate in sound as well, there are no large cavernous concerts here. Intimate but not miniscule. Comparatively the S8 is wider and more open between notes and soundstage. That should not discount what Noble has done for the mid-fi market, though. The Savant definitely has made its mark in that richness of tone and warmth provided. A cohesive even tone results and for this, I do appreciate the tuning.


Moondrop S8 ($699) v Phonic BW4 ($500):

A pandemic conversation led to the connection with Kenneth, the proprietor and maker of these fine wooden IEM’s. choosing reclaimed wood for the shell, Kenneth led me through the choices, highlighting and recommending what he thought would be appropriate for my tastes. He did not miss. Sending picture throughout the process, I was amazed by his skill as a craftsman and photographer. Then I gave a listen. With 4 BA’s the BW4 provides a quick bass and vocals pushed a bit forward, but still centered as opposed to lifted (as per many of today). This is one made for acoustic work or female vocals. It also happens to work well with rock and EDM for the bass belies its BA character. Wide, deep and high the BW4 provides an excellent scale for the sound to bounce around in. I find myself turning the music up to enjoy it much of the time. Thankfully the treble is bright, but not overly so. I do find that I cannot take that voluminously loud sound for too long, where with the S8 I can. I find this due to the tuning and the push of the midrange, but it certainly is not off-putting.

The Phonic is one I wish more would look at for Kenneth makes some fine wares, not the least of which is the use of reclaimed wood. I had a pair of one model made for my wife, and she will barely let me listen let alone review them. I consider that a win on all fronts.


Moondrop S8 ($699) v Fearless S6 Rui ($425):

The S6 is an “older model” in the Fearless line up but bestows the history of Fearless Audio nicely. Excellent construction is had and could be thought of one of the earliest to raise the bar of Chinese fidelity with regard to top notch quality. To me it is a mid-centric oriented sound, with the treble and bass as support. Almost hourglass in sound, but reverse (pear?) the S6 provides excellent air between notes and a clarity that is at or near class leading for the time (and now). Bass is rumbly and does bleed into the mids, which have an air of artificiality to it. But I do not mind for the sound is one for getting you up and going. Were this more weatherproof, this would be the one to take to the gym (except all take TWS now…). A bit too midcentric for raising the volume for long periods (to me) it is the easiest to drive of the models here. For an older model, the S6Rui still holds its own and would be worth a look in the secondhand market for excellent string and guitar work.

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Finale:

What you get in the S8 is a thoroughly satisfying sound, with excellent build quality. I enjoyed the bass push, even though it was not deep or rich enough for me. It was quite satiating when taken as a whole within the tonality. And Moondrop should be commended for making an IEM, which sounds this good, is affordable and happens to be their flagship. Yes, affordable is a relative term, but we see that level of return price-wise drop almost by the month. Just three short years ago, the price at which these sell would be the realm of true flagships. Now we have stupid rich prices but the S8 eschews that for what I will call a bargain. You get top notch sound, excellent build, good looks, which aren’t garish or gaudy and a good fit to boot. What more do you need? I call this a winner.


Thanks to Moondrop for the loan of their flagship, it really was a treat.

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