Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard but can’t be bothered to fully review. Thus I won’t get too in-depth, nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.
I remember the early days when barely anyone has even heard of the brand “Moondrop”. It was by pure accident that I stumbled upon measurements of the original Blessing on the Ear-Fi Blog, at which point my interest was piqued enough to start asking around for sample units to review.
It’s funny in retrospect, how this almost-underground upstart company managed to hit the Harman in-ear target better than Harman could. And so established their reputation as the “Target Hitter”, tuning their IEMs to Harman (and Diffuse Field in the case of the Spaceship).
I don’t think anyone, myself included, would’ve expected that Moondrop would become one of the greatest chifi powerhouses of the new generation, churning out product after product that received their own share of critical acclaim and mainstream hype. Their meteoric rise no doubt contributed to many other chifi companies’ consideration of Western academic curves as viable targets, which may be why we’ve been seeing a renaissance of chifi IEMs attempting to emulate Harman (to varying degrees of success).
Their current star-studded cast include the Spaceship, the KXXS and more recently, the Starfield and the upcoming Blessing 2. The S8 is Moondrop’s surprise update to the A8, an IEM that has long since been their flagship though lingers in the shadow of its more popular, far cheaper siblings.
Let’s see if Moondrop’s flagship deserves a spot in the limelight, for once.
Driver configuration: 8BA
Let’s begin with some exposition. Skip this chunk of text if you want to cut to the chase.
I’ve made no secret of my opinions on the state of chifi over the years. In my eyes, it seems that the Chinese have been rather aimless in their pursuit of fidelity, focusing on asinine things such as driver count and chasing irrelevant awards that ultimately had no bearing on how good their IEMs would eventually sound. For many companies, the prevailing strategy is to knock out as many new models as possible, dangling a shiny new toy over their easily-distracted fanbase every time the hype inevitably dies down. Because when the hype dies, it dies quick.
It’s no surprise and this also ties in to their tuning strategies, i.e. throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. I also like to call it the “Pan Sieve Strategy”, where you’d take a bunch of dirt and starting sieving away in hopes of finding that shiny nugget lying in there somewhere, much like the miners during the infamous gold rush. Except this time, imagine the dirt being the vast ocean of garbage chifi, and the gold nuggets being the rare few that prove themselves to be above the rest.
Now I’m not going to pretend that the Harman Target is perfect by any means, but it is a pretty decent target in terms of mainstream appeal. So what happens when a chifi company finally takes advantage of this “blueprint” that was effectively handed to them on a silver platter?
All of a sudden, the pan sieve is useless. All of a sudden, companies are churning out proverbial gold nuggets like water. Some minor modifications to the recipe here and there, taking some creative liberties where it mattered, creating something arguably better than mere proverbial gold.
All of a sudden… the gold rush ended.
By most accounts, you could claim that the S8 is tuned to Harman. You can tell that Moondrop asserts their “creative liberties” past 3kHz, tuning it to be less energetic in the upper-midrange regions which is absolutely a welcome change to me. Apart from that, the S8 is almost a dead ringer for Harman, signature-wise.
What truly surprised me was how safe the S8 sounded. And it wasn’t boring-safe like the Noble K10 was, oh no. This was “safe” in the sense that everyone I knew who heard the S8 with me could agree that it was, at very least, a great performer. Some may have issues with the usual weaknesses of Harman-tuned IEMs such as the thinner midrange or the shoutiness, but even so the thinness issue wasn’t as bad as, say, the AKG N5005, and the shouty mids weren’t as bad as the similarly-tuned Tanchjim Oxygen.
The S8 has everything else in spades: pinpoint-precise attack, highly-defined notes and resolution solidly in the realm of TOTL veterans. The expected weaknesses apply: the timbre & decay suffers and so I find myself wanting more body out of its almost-anemic notes, the bass response is still pretty mediocre even knowing that it’s a BA IEM, but at the end of the day the S8 was an extremely technical monitor that wasn’t afraid to flex it all.
I realised that I also haven’t formally talked about the Moondrop A8 before, so I’ll take this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
The A8 is more-or-less identical to the S8 in tonality with one distinct difference: the bass. The A8 sounds like it has significantly more bass by virtue of contrasting the lower midrange scoop with the bass boost. It’s also this contrast that I assume contributes to the mild bloat that I hear in the bass notes; nothing egregious, mind you, but certainly a concern worth pointing out. The weight of the A8 is also a tad thinner than the S8, which doesn’t do it many favours unless you’re a stickler for fast, clear notes.
The S8 is not perfect and still has some potential dealbreakers, but it’s good. Scary good. Like, nothing-can-top-this-under-$1,000 good. I’ve said before that it’ll be checkmate when the Chinese finally know what the hell they’re doing tuning-wise because they’ve been aimless in that regard for a good part of the decade. For the longest time, the West could still hold onto the fact that they had the tuning know-how that the Chinese didn’t, and their price premiums could at least be justified in this last vestige of Western superiority.
Now, an established target curve seems to be the great equaliser. It’s time to wake up, else be left in the dust.
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