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Review: Moondrop KATO IEMs – Moon River

The Moondrop KATO score high marks in the 3 Ts of technicalities, tonality and timbral accuracy.
The Moondrop KATO score high marks in the 3 Ts of technicalities, tonality and timbral accuracy.

Listening to “Fly Me To The Moon” on the KATO can really fly one to audio nirvana.

Thank you, Shenzhen Audio, for providing the Moondrop KATO review unit.

Moondrop likely needs no introduction. They have been very successful in recent years in the IEM scene, with many well-regarded products under their stable.

Today we will be putting their latest hype train, the Moondrop KATO, through the paces. Read on!

The Moondrop KATO score high marks in the 3 Ts of technicalities, tonality and timbral accuracy.
Bottom Line

The KATO are one of the stand-out releases of 2021, featuring high scores in timbral accuracy, tonality, and technical performance.

What We Like
  • Solid yet beautiful build
  • Generous accessories
  • Organic and natural timbre
  • Great melding of excellent technicalities and tonality
  • Forward vocals without veering to shoutiness
  • Tuning nozzle provided to give a slightly different presentation in sound
  • Above-average isolation
What We Don't Like
  • May lack a midbass thump for bassheads
  • Comfort may be hit or miss with longer sessions due to the weight
  • Not the widest soundstage

Company Overview

Moondrop was formed in 2015, and since then, they have come leaps and bounds and are now considered to be one of the preeminent leaders in the CHI-FI industry.

Moondrop generally tunes their IEMs to their in-house sound signature, the virtual diffuse sound field (VDSF), which is kind of an amalgam between diffuse field and Harman tuning.

Moondrop is popular among CHI-FI enthusiasts, and they have released some crowd favourite IEMs, such as the Blessing 2, Dusk, Aria 2021 and Starfield (just to name a few), and even ventured into earbuds, some of which are considered best-in-class (eg Chaconne and Liebesleid). Moondrop recently entered the TWS game with the Sparks and Nekocake.

Technical Specifications

Packaging

An anime girl on the package is here to greet us, as per the typical Moondrop art concept.

Definitely one for the otakus!
Definitely one for the otakus!

Removing this external sleeve, we see a black inner packaging.

The inner packaging opens in the middle.
The inner packaging opens in the middle.
Inside are a treasure trove of accessories.
Inside are a treasure trove of accessories.

In the box

  • Moondrop KATO IEMs
  • 3 pairs of Moondrop Spring Tips (silicone ear tips) (S, M, L)
  • 3 pairs of foam tips (S, M, L)
  • 2 pairs of external nozzles (for tuning)
  • Cable
  • Leatherette carrying case
  • Soft carry pouch
  • Anime girl postcard
The anime postcard may actually be the most important accessory for our otaku brethren. Maybe it is even more important than the IEM themselves!
The anime postcard may actually be the most important accessory for our otaku brethren. Maybe it is even more important than the IEM themselves!
The foam eartips dampen the treble.
The foam eartips dampen the treble.

The included silicone Moondrop Spring Tips (in white) are newly designed, and as of the time of writing, I have not seen them sold separately. These tips apparently have a special structure that reduces distortion from the nozzle and suppresses unwanted resonances.

The Spring Tips are also advertised to give a better fit and isolation, and I concur, with isolation on the KATO being above average for a pair of single DD vented IEMs. The KATO are quite usable outdoors, but they won’t beat some unvented BA-type IEMs in terms of absolute passive isolation.

The accessory packaging is generous, as befits gear at this price point. One doesn’t really need to source for aftermarket alternatives.

Cable

The included cable is a 4 core silver-plated copper cable. It is well braided, with good heft and thickness, and is not tangly, but it does have slight microphonics. There is a chin cinch to secure the fit.

The cable here is of good quality, with a L/R letter embossed on the terminals to indicate their respective sides.
The cable here is of good quality, with a L/R letter embossed on the terminals to indicate their respective sides.

I like that the cable features 2-pin connectors, as I have had my fair share of MMCX mishaps with frequent cable changes.

Case

Moondrop provides a soft carry pouch and a harder leatherette blue case.
Moondrop provides a soft carry pouch and a harder leatherette blue case.

Design

My KATO have a matte finish, but apparently, there will be only one batch like this due to production difficulties. The majority of KATO units come in a silver mirror-like finish.

Sadly, the matte finish version of the KATO are gonna be limited editions, as production has ceased.
Sadly, the matte finish version of the KATO are gonna be limited editions, as production has ceased.

In all likelihood, you will be getting the silver version, which are really a looker, but maybe more prone to fingerprints or scratches! Moondrop advertises that each shell is cast using a detailed metallurgy process with repeated manual grinding to make it ultra-smooth.

Do note that the 2-pin housing on the KATO is recessed, and this may limit they types of aftermarket 2-pin cables that can be paired with them.
Do note that the 2-pin housing on the KATO is recessed, and this may limit they types of aftermarket 2-pin cables that can be paired with them.
The KATO have 2 tuning nozzles included in the package that can be easily screwed on and off the IEMs. The brass nozzles give more warmth to the midrange, with music having a slightly thicker note weight, though with a slight loss in resolution. The silver nozzles give less heft in the music body, but provide better clarity, and are my preferred configuration.

The nozzles are apparently also designed with a special filter to prevent blockages; some IEMs can get intermittent sound cut-out due to moisture or debris gaining entry with poorly implemented filters.

Comfort

The KATO are quite ergonomic, but as they are on the heavier side. I expect that some users may experience comfort issues with longer listening sessions.

The Kato are double vented, I did not find any driver flex during usage.
The Kato are double vented, I did not find any driver flex during usage.

Internals

The Moondrop KATO are advertised to use 10mm ULT (Ultra Linear Technology) dynamic drivers, which have been in development for the past two years. This KATO ULT unit contains an in-house designed diamond-like carbon (DLC) composite diaphragm, utilizing three unique materials with different characteristics to form various parts of the diaphragm. DLC’s selling points are high rigidity, high damping coefficient, and light weight, with sonic performance purportedly exceeding that of beryllium drivers.

The KATO can be driven from weaker sources, but they scale with amping. I’ve tried the KATO with a humble smartphone and budget DAPs like the Shanling Q1 and Sony-NW A55, while they sounded decent on these, gear with more juice like the Schiit Asgard 3, E1DA 9038D, and Topping L30 unlocked their hidden potential.

Moondrop KATO Sound

The KATO follow Moondrop’s virtual diffuse sound field (VDSF) tuning philosophy (which is their in-house variant of the Harman curve), except they are bassier than the standard VDSF curve. The KATO are smooth yet detailed, with no awkward peaks or troughs in the spectrum.

As discussed above, the brass nozzles give more warmth and body to the music, but with a slight loss of resolution.
As discussed above, the brass nozzles give more warmth and body to the music, but with a slight loss of resolution.
The following sound impressions were done with the silver nozzles, which provide better clarity, though with a slightly thinner note weight.
This is a store provided graph of the Kato (courtesy of https://hifigo.com/products/moondrop-kato), which closely follows the VDSF curve.
This is a store provided graph of the Kato (courtesy of https://hifigo.com/products/moondrop-kato), which closely follows the VDSF curve.

In a nutshell, the KATO excellent do the 3 Ts: timbre, tonality, and technicalities.

Timbral accuracy on this set is organic and authentic, both for vocals and acoustic instruments.

Imaging, micro-details, clarity, and instrument separation are also very good for a single DD set. However, the soundstage is below average in terms of width, though the height and depth of the soundstage are good. Music sounded very natural, with minimal congestion or compression even on technically complex tracks.

Bass

The KATO has bass just slightly north of neutral and they aren’t a basshead set. The bass is actually focused more on the sub-bass, with moderate sub-bass extension. The bass is nimble and tight, with great texturing and timbre and no mid-bass bleed.

The KATO’s bass can keep up with fast and complex movements, but bass lovers might want a bit more mid-bass heft and thump. The KATO fall short in terms of quantity when it comes to bass-heavy genres such as EDM or hip hop.

The Kato are predominantly sub-bass focused, which is my preferred bass tuning.
The Kato are predominantly sub-bass focused, which is my preferred bass tuning.

Midrange

The lower midrange on the KATO is depressed a tinge, with a bump in the upper mids to give vocals some bite. The upper mids feature around 7 – 8 dB pinna gain, and I really like that this set pushes vocals forward without veering into shouty territory. That is an extremely tough line to balance.

The midrange is very transparent with good layering of instruments and vocals, but with a tinge of warmth added in to make it more “musical”.

Moon River aptly describes the lush and silky midrange.

Treble

The KATO’s treble is well done, being moderately extended without any harshness or sibilance. Micro-details can be heard, with cymbals and high hats not sounding splashy or overly pushed forwards.

Comparisons

I compared the Moondrop KATO with some other mid-FI single DD sets. Hybrids and pure BA IEMs were left out of the comparison as the different transducer types have their own pros and cons.

Vs. Tanchjim Oxygen

The venerable Tanchjim Oxygen have been one of the benchmark mid-FI single DD sets for the past few years.

The Oxygen and KATO both have very good timbre and tonality, as per their single DD roots. The Oxygen have the edge slightly in the technicalities department (soundstage, imaging, instrument separation, and details) and the Oxygen also have more air and treble energy.

The KATO on the other hand, have more sub-bass extension, a fuller note weight, and more heft to the music. The KATO also have tuning nozzles to give a slightly different presentation. Some have also complained about the short nozzle of the Oxygen giving fit issues, which isn’t the case with the KATO.

I do think the KATO is not too far away from the Oxygen as an overall package, just losing a bit of resolution compared to the latter, but the KATO come in at a substantially lower price point.

Vs. KBEAR Aurora

The KBEAR Aurora are a set tuned close to the harman curve, boasting good timbre and tonality. The Aurora also come in a nice silver mirror like finish, but the KATO are a league or two ahead when it comes to technicalities, with the Aurora more analogue sounding with less resolution.

Vs. KBEAR BElieve

The KBEAR BElieve and their purported OEM variant, the Vento Conductor T500 Pro, are a U-shaped set.

The KBEAR BElieve are much harder to drive than the KATO, which could be an issue for those with a weaker source. Both sets have good technical performance for a single DD set, but timbral accuracy and tonality are better on the KATO, with the KATO having faster and tighter bass with more texture, and with less prominent peaks in the treble too.

Where to Buy

Conclusion

The KATO are one of the stand-out releases of 2021, featuring high scores in timbral accuracy, tonality, and technical performance.

The included tuning nozzles do provide a subtle variation in the tuning to spice things up, and coupled with the nice shell and generous accessories, this set has my strong recommendation for an all-rounder Mid-FI single DD pair of IEMs.

The Kato are just slightly less technically proficient than the gold standard Tanchjim Oxygen, but the former are substantially cheaper.
The Kato are just slightly less technically proficient than the “gold standard” Tanchjim Oxygen, but the former are substantially cheaper.

If I were to nitpick, perhaps the KATO’s soundstage is not the most expansive, and bassheads might want a bit more bass kick. But, by and large, the KATO will be a crowd pleaser and they do most departments well. Indeed the KATO will be a benchmark comparison pair of single DD IEMs in the months to come.

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