Table of Contents
Moondrop. Their products have been widely regarded as benchmarks in their respectively price brackets, for instance the $100 price bracket in the Starfield, the $300 bracket in the Blessing 2, and the sub-$1,000 bracket in the S8. So I guess it makes sense that Moondrop has now set their sights on a highly competitive market: the sub-$50 bracket.
The “Super Spaceship Reference”, also known in its shortened form as simply “SSR”, is their update to the Spaceship. Shifting from the bullet-style design to the over-ear design, the SSR is one of the SSR/SSP twins, and also promises to be slightly more “neutral” than the Spaceship and has garnered expectedly-high hype ever since its announcement.
Unfortunately due to some cable issues in manufacturing, Moondrop has suspended sales of the SSR for the next month or two so don’t expect your orders to come in anytime soon if you do decide to make the purchase.
Driver configuration: single DD
This SSR was kindly provided by ShenZhenAudio.
Signature & Tonality
The SSR’s signature can be described as “diffuse-field neutral”, though to my ears I’d also consider it “bright-leaning” or “upper-midrange forward” depending on how specific you want to get.
It is characterised by a huge upper-midrange emphasis that is somewhat in-line with the Diffuse Field target, though interestingly it actually registers slightly brighter than DF:
Most of you may already know my opinions on the Harman Target so it should be easy to guess what my opinions are of the Diffuse Field tuning, which is basically bass boost-less Harman with even more upper mids and treble. Naturally, the SSR blasts past the bounds of what I’d consider as tolerable, with the high contrast between its lower and upper midrange resulting in a shrill and intense presentation that I can barely stand for more than 15 minutes at a time.
The other problem with this type of signature (for me) is my listening volume. I’m a fairly low-volume listener (I would’ve liked to consider myself as “average”, but my experiences with numerous other music listeners have dashed those hopes) so the SSR is my worst match given equal-loudness contouring. If you’re not familiar with what that is, basically it means that humans perceive bass and treble to be softer at lower volumes (or alternatively, that midrange sensitivity is higher at lower volumes). As such, I’m kind of stuck between two weird spots with the SSR:
- At my comfortable listening volumes (~80-82dB), the SSR sounds far too shouty and intense, causing me to drop the volume.
- At lower volumes, the perceived tonality of the SSR becomes even more skewed to the upper midrange, making things sound tinny and almost telephonic.
- Increasing the volume does help in re-balancing the tonality slightly, but then I get listening fatigue (and potential hearing damage!) by going beyond my comfortable listening levels.
This is the upper-midrange equivalent of the overly-bassy celebrity-endorsed headphone that every audiophile loves to hate on. That said, I personally prefer this kind of signature as opposed to a dirty 20dB bass boost but it’s hard to ignore the chasm between the presentation of lower frequency instruments versus higher frequency ones. Apart from this, there is also an almost hall-like, hollow quality to the SSR’s presentation, which could work for live recordings but ultimately sounds really unnatural on studio recordings.
That is not you say that you will absolutely dislike the SSR’s tonal imbalance, since there are people out there who would like extremely coloured presentations. And despite my scathing descriptions, it’s not the worst IEM I’ve heard and is actually fairly usable for some of my tracks. But in terms of my grading system which attempts some form of pseudo-objectivity… the SSR isn’t quite up there.
Tone grade: C-
Yes, the tuning of the SSR leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you’re someone who’s sensitive to “shout” like me. But damn, despite the tonal quirks it is one hell of a technical monitor.
I think the first thing that most people would notice about the SSR’s technical ability is in its imaging capabilities; the aforementioned “hollow quality” actually aids the SSR in this regard to a certain extent. There is a sense of spaciousness and width in its staging that is not found often in IEMs, much less an IEM in the bottom-rung of the price pool. Positional cues are on-point with very little overlap in instruments, making this pretty appropriate for orchestral tracks.
Resolution-wise the SSR also performs pretty solid, easily beating out its immediate competitors. Notes are well-defined with sharp initial attack, so smearing and general “fuzziness around the notes” are kept to a minimum. Overall, a fairly detailed IEM that can probably trade blows with far more expensive IEMs on this technical front, though don’t expect endgame levels of detailing.
The timbre was a surprise point for me; despite the tonal nasties, the SSR’s timbre is actually fairly uncoloured and even “thick” at times, at least for the bass. Despite the subdued presentation in the lower frequencies, the texturing in the bass is actually pretty decent with the SSR being able to dig pretty low without going “farty”, a commonality in many neutrally-tuned IEMs. If not for the high-frequency bias, I could honestly find myself enjoying the SSR’s bass… though of course I’d prefer some extra sub-bass for the added rumble.
Technical grade: B
This is tough since the SSR is basically a specialist’s IEM with this huge divide between its weakness (tuning) and its strength (technicalities).
In terms of my rating system it’s straightforward: a price tag of $40 provides a leeway that is not afforded to more expensive sets, so the SSR is still “worth it” despite its quirks.
However, it is important to note that the SSR is not going to be a “safe blind buy” (though I discourage all forms of blind buying anyways). Sure it may have one of the best technicals I’ve heard in a budget IEM, but tuning is usually the first thing that people hear as well as the thing that determines if it fits into one’s personal preferences.
Value Rating: ★
In my opinion the SSR is Moondrop’s biggest stumble in terms of what they’re known for: consistently great tuning. The SSR is an intense-sounding, monitor-style IEM that may have a small niche in treble/midrange extremists, but would be a tough call as a general recommendation.
However, the $40 price tag is nothing to scoff at and with the level of technicalities it has, so it at least has that going for it if you’re one who prioritises such intangibles in your listening experience.