Listening to “Fly Me To The Moon” on the KATO can really fly one to audio nirvana.
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!
In This Article
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.
- Form: IEMs
- Drivers: 1 x 10mm Ultra Linear Technology (ULT) dynamic driver with 3rd generation DLC Diaphragm
- Impedance (Ohm): 32 Ω
- Sensitivity (dB): 123dB/Nrms
- Frequency Response (Hz): 10 Hz – 45 KHz
- Removable Cable: Y
- Cable: 4 core silver plated copper cable
- Cup/Shell Plug: 2 pin 0.78 mm
- Mic: N
An anime girl on the package is here to greet us, as per the typical Moondrop art concept.
Removing this external sleeve, we see a black inner packaging.
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)
- Leatherette carrying case
- Soft carry pouch
- Anime girl postcard
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.
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.
I like that the cable features 2-pin connectors, as I have had my fair share of MMCX mishaps with frequent cable changes.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
How much of an upgrade is this from the starfield? I’m considering upgrading but not sure how much better the kato actually is.
I haven’t tried the Starfield but I have bought the Aria 2021 and ballpark I would say the Kato is about 20% better than the Aria in technicalities, while retaining the same tonality.
Kato is also thicker in note weight and lusher in the midrange, with the Aria sounding a bit thinner in note weight. Kato also has a tuning nozzle to change the presentation slightly.
As per the diminishing returns rule in this audio hobby, generally there will be marginal gains as one goes up the budget -> midFI -> top of the line ladder.
I guess different strokes for different folks, some wanna chase that last 10% sonic fidelity at all costs, whereas some go for price to performance ratio!
Tea, kato, ikko oh10… Which is the best iem under 500€. I prefer big soundtage.
I have not tried the Tea, but have read good things about it.
But the IKKO OH10 definitely has bigger soundstage than the Kato. The OH10 is quite a nice basshead set, V shaped, good all rounder. However, it is large and heavy, and I get discomfort with it after using it for longer listening sessions.
I would suggest that if you can, try to audition it first, in case the comfort/fit doesn’t suit you. No point having a very heavenly sound, if one cannot tolerate the comfort for more than a few minutes!
Kato still has better timbral accuracy than the OH10 as per its single DD roots, but otherwise in terms of technical performance, the OH10 is better. Some people prioritize timbre over technicalities and vice versa.
So ikko oh10 and Kato are both better than 7hz timeless?
Sorry Sir, I’ve not tried the Timeless. But perhaps you can ask Kazi who has and he can perhaps give some comparisons.