Another Moondrop single-DD. Yes, I've only reviewed the Kanas Pro, KXXS, KXXX, Starfield, Aria, Kato, and the Illumination - all of which sounded pretty darn similar. Did I leave any others out? Well, see, there's also the SSR, Quarks, Sparks, Nekocake, and the Spaceship (which the Chu is the spiritual successor to). It's not hard to imagine why it might get a little tiring reviewing these IEMs given how many there are! But a new IEM is a new IEM, and to little surprise, the Chu has been the hot talk of the community since it was released - mostly thanks to its appealing $20 price point and Moondrop's consistent track-record. In this review, I'll be answering the question of whether it lives up to expectations.
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This unit was provided for review by Shenzhen Audio and can be purchased from here. Thank you! As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source & Drivability
All critical listening was done off an iBasso DX300 and iPhone 13 Mini with lossless files. The stock cable and silicone ear tips were used. The Chu takes a moderate amount of power to drive, but I had no issue hitting my usual listening volumes on these sources. If you'd like to learn more about my listening methodology, test tracks, and general beliefs in audio, then I would encourage you to check out this page.
Included with the Chu are the following accessories:
- Spring Ear tips s/m/l
- Rubber ear guide hooks
- Felt pouch
The build quality of the Chu belies its $20 price point. It's constructed of solid aluminum which lends to a reliable heft, and its paint job is similar in quality to its older brother, the Moondrop Aria. Something to consider is that the Chu does not have a detachable cable. The way the cable is attached to the housing of the IEM is also somewhat awkward; it wraps around backwards relative to how most cables would be inserted. To mitigate possible alignment issues with the ear, Moondrop has included a pair of rubber ear hooks for which the cable is held to via friction. I did not feel it was necessary to utilize this accessory; however, the option is there should you need it. For fit and comfort, the Chu is a small IEM like most of Moondrop's single-DDs. I had no issues wearing it comfortably for several hours; of course, your mileage might vary.
One of the selling points of the Chu is its inclusion of Moondrop's new spring ear-tips. Personally, I have to state that I am not a fan of this variety of ear tip. They're just a little too...you know, springy, so it feels like they don't quite insert into my ears as deeply as I'd like. The tips are more grippy than your usual silicone ones, though, so the IEMs you're using them on won't fall out of your ears. In terms of what they do to an IEM's sonic presentation, these ear tips usually have the effect of dissipating bass impact (ostensibly because of the less rigid silicone being used) and, consequently, boosting perception of the midrange and treble regions for more clarity. in terms of other accessories, the case that comes with the Chu is a nice inclusion given that most IEMs in this price range choose to forego a case altogether. It's made out of a felt-like fabric and utilizes a button snap. It doesn't offer any real crush protection; however, it's certainly better than storing your IEMs unwrapped in a pocket.
Overall, I'd say this is a really solid package for $20 that makes it feel like you've gotten your money's worth. It's worth noting that there's an alternative version of the Chu that comes with an in-line microphone for an extra two dollars. Unfortunately, this isn't the version I received so I am unable to comment on the microphone quality.
The frequency response below was taken off an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at ~8kHz, so measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate. If you'd like to compare the Moondrop Chu to other IEMs I've graphed, I'd encourage you to check out this link.
Let's quickly lay down some reasons why one might consider passing on the Chu:
1. The Chu is a little too bright for its own good. It exhibits a plateau from ~5-7kHz which overemphasizes the leading impact of instruments such as hi-hats and cymbals. In addition to this, especially on cymbals, I observe a sense of splashy-ness to the way they crash and fade out, perhaps a product of resonance at ~12kHz (in sine sweeps by ear, YMMV). The Chu's treble neither sounds particularly controlled nor quite correct in terms of timbre.
2. Despite a 6dB bass boost over 1kHz, the Chu has some of the softest bass that I've run across in my time evaluating IEMs. Now, I can hear the boost and I can tell the Chu's bass extends reasonably low, yet there's very little feeling of excursiveness or air being pushed. Perhaps this sentiment can be partially attributed to the spring ear tips; however, the Chu is also lacking a good deal in the note definition - by extension, slam - department. Spoilers for technicality talk below.
3. As always applies to these type of more "analytical" tunings, some listeners might be predisposed to find the Chu's notes too thin or to find themselves desiring a warmer, more bass heavy tuning.
Now, it's imperative to state that these are all niggles - especially because we're talking about a $20 IEM. When one observes the budget front-runners, ironically, they almost universally sport aggressive colorations in an effort to make them stand out. The Chu flips this paradigm, and if one is indexing for a more "balanced" frequency response...there's no question that the Chu mostly hits the nail on the head. It's definitely a leaner, more analytical listen that emphasizes the upper-midrange and treble regions accordingly; however, it mostly does so without toeing over the line into shouty-ness or harshness. You'd be scarce to find something tuned this well at $20.
No doubt some hearts will be broken here: the Chu's technical performance is not great. And at least in my humble opinion, not just because it's a "single-DD" or "cheap" as some might like to suggest. I always make it a point to run A/B comparisons during my evaluation process, and relative to Moondrop's SSR for example, I find the SSR to have noticeably sharper transients and a more nuanced layering of dense, fast-paced tracks. Relative to the marvel CCA CRA ($15), I also find the CCA CRA to have stronger clarity and - more importantly to some listeners - to sport a significantly greater sense of slam. Relative to the Moondrop KXXS (which is essentially the Moondrop Starfield/Aria comparison), I again find the older sibling to out-resolve the Chu, although the Chu does sound quite open in terms of staging. To this end, I would consider the Chu's imaging chops to be above average - especially for $20 - but temper your expectations with respects to resolution and all that other fun stuff.
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The Bottom Line
I'd usually leave brand talk out, but this is something important that I feel needs to be said: lately, Moondrop doesn't seem to know how to do anything but re-hash the same IEM over and over at cheaper price points.
You're getting a better product for less - which is a good thing of course - but what's the intangible cost? For example, how would you feel if you bought a Moondrop Illumination for $800 only to see it be made obsolete by the Moondrop Kato less than a year later for - get this - $200? Or perhaps something that hits closer to home: if you bought a Quarks several months ago, you jumped the gun because the Chu is better in every metric of sound and build, plus it's easily the better value overall even if it costs a few bucks more. You can see why there's a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction, ennui perhaps, that comes attached with these new releases.
So what would I like to see instead? I'd welcome releases from Moondrop that push the boundaries of what's possible at the flagship level. Look at the Moondrop S8; it's still relevant in the market two years later. Two years just seems like a long time to be standing still for what once used to seem like such a progressive company. And to be clear, all these sentiments are coming from someone who has bought Moondrop IEMs with his own money and happily shilled them in the past.
Moving back to the Chu though, I think it's tacit that the Chu is "worth it" and a good value. You should buy it. Hell, you could probably get away with blind buying it! Just don't expect it to exceed expectations for raw sound quality outside the context of its appealing price.