Moondrop S8 Review - Kilobuck Solution
Review written by @Precogvision
Moondrop. Progenitor of the perplexing dynamic that is waifu and high-fidelity audio; one of the most distinguished Chi-Fi brands in the IEM world thanks to their calculated approach to tuning. It’s also no secret, however, that they seem to have met something of a plateau with their recent SSR/SSP and Illumination IEMs. So why not take a little trip back in time to the Solution S8? The S8 is an IEM that was on my radar almost a year ago, but quickly dropped off given the release of the smash-hit that was the Blessing 2. But it’s here now, and better late than never. In this review, I’ll be taking a look at if the S8 still has what it takes to play in the highly competitive, kilobuck bracket - though I’m sure you’ve already inferred my thoughts given the title of this review, so perhaps why would be more apt.
Source and Driveability
The S8 takes more power to drive than most BA IEMs, but you should have no trouble powering it off of mobile devices. In fact, I find this preferable as the S8 doesn’t exhibit hissing off of any of my sources, and most of my listening is done at lower volumes. All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160 (volume ~18) and A&K SP1000M (volume ~45) with lossless FLAC files, stock tips, and the stock cable.
Like most Moondrop IEMs, you’re presented with a box featuring one of their waifu mascots. It’s okay if you don’t like anime. You can just toss the package; of course, you know what they say: No waifu, no laifu. But I digress; the following accessories are included inside:
- Airplane adapter
- Soft-carry case
- Assortment of silicon tips
- Moondrop 2-pin 0.78mm cable
As usual, the cable is a bit of a letdown; aside from featuring a janky, plastic Y-splitter, there’s no choke to cinch where the cable separates. The S8 itself though is very, very nice. From the contoured acrylic shell, to the implementation of the faceplate, it all screams smooth, slick, and refined. Because the acrylic shell is see-through, you’re given a clear view of all the drivers and circuitry inside too! Maybe it’s just me, but the S8 seems to capture the essence of the word “moondrop” perfectly. I also really enjoy the fit on the S8, and it seals superbly for my ears. As usual, your mileage might vary and all that. It’s also worth considering that because this IEM is not vented, pressure can build-up over prolonged periods of listening.
Frequency response measured off of an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at 8kHz; as such, measurements after this point should not be considered accurate.
Moondrop tunes many of their IEMs to what they call the VDSD target curve; this is essentially their take on the popular Harman target curve. For those who might not be familiar with it, the Harman target curve is an aggregate tuning that reflects the sound preferences of the majority of listeners. Because this is a majority curve, it does not reflect the minority; however, Moondrop has also taken some creative liberties here and there on the S8, and I think the result is pretty darn solid.
We can see from the frequency response graph the largely sub-bass oriented curve the S8 follows; it hits my preferences very closely sans knocking a couple dB off the Harman target. The biggest bottleneck here, then, is going to be the S8’s intangibles. Transient attack is quite snappy, but like most BA IEMs, the S8 expectedly struggles with reproducing bass texture and dynamic slam because, you know, there’s nigh zero decay.
Of course, when Moondrop IEMs (and the Harman target by extension) are in the picture, there’s one other thing that comes to mind: upper-mids. Upper-midrange presence generally has two key consequences. One is a thinner note weight, that is the perception of thickness (or lack thereof) to notes, and the other is greater perceived resolution. Indeed, the S8 presents very good macro detail here to my ears, albeit with the characteristically thin transients that most BA IEMs exhibit. Some might also find it borderline shouty, perhaps bright, on first listen. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the midrange has been done very solidly on the S8, and like most Moondrop IEMs, it flies particularly well with female-vocal tracks.
But where the S8 deviates heavily from the Harman target and Moondrop’s other IEMs is in the treble. The Harman target is generally characterized by a gentle slope off of 10kHz and the subsequent “air” frequencies. On the contrary, it sounds like the S8 peaks right around the cusp of those air frequencies at ~8kHz (irrespective of the resonance peak shown on the graph) after which it slopes fairly linearly to 19kHz, perhaps with a minor peak somewhere in-between. I have to admit, this is a very interesting quality I’ve not heard before. It lends the S8 to a “floaty-bloaty” quality in which there’s a certain inflatedness to the decay of instruments, and yet said decay is quite smooth and well-extended. Stack on a minor, lower-treble peak at 6kHz, and this is most definitely a treble-head’s IEM. Tunings like this tend to be more divisive, and whether this is good or bad I think is better left to personal preference; admittedly I quite enjoy it.
And we haven't even gotten to the S8's bread-and-butter: technicalities. It excels in this metric, carrying over a lot - and then some - of what made its younger sibling the Moondrop Blessing 2 great. Whereas the B2 exhibited minor image diffusal (certainly above average for its price), the S8’s staging feels a good deal more refined if not as open; there's excellent distinction between instruments and their sharp, precise positioning. The S8’s resolving capability is also nothing short of astounding for the price. Transient attack exhibits excellent speed, and from the quicker tracks I threw at it like Tiffany’s “I Just Wanna Dance” to more nuanced tracks like Tom Day’s “Where Were We,” the S8 never congested. One could certainly make the argument that the S8 is pumping out detail simply by virtue of its strong upper-midrange presence and lower-treble peak; however, this is no less a worthy means of achieving resolution in my eyes. Furthermore, the S8 has the resolving capability to back it up.
What do I mean by this? I often make a distinction between resolution and detail retrieval, which are subsets of overall resolving capability. Resolution is simply the clarity with which a note is articulated, and it’s generally a consequence of quicker transient attack or more upper-midrange and treble presence. This can often lend itself to the perception of detail; however, I would not necessarily consider an IEM with good resolution to be entirely resolving either. To this end, detail retrieval is sometimes referred to as “internal” or “true” detail, and it’s indicative of an IEM’s ability to capture the smallest of details, to bring them to the forefront of the sound. While this certainly still has some overlap with frequency response, I tend to think of it more as an intangible property, one that’s much more difficult to achieve. Like so, I’d wager even the S8’s detail retrieval is comparable with many of the best in the kilobuck bracket.
On the flip side of the coin, there are little things here and there that prevent the S8 from claiming coveted top-tier status. Imaging is still not holographic to my ears, and disappointingly so given the copious amounts of pseudo-air the S8 exhibits up top. I also hear minor macrodynamic compression, and in particular, I’m led to question the S8’s microdynamic ability on tracks like Sawano Hiroyuki’s “Cage” where the S8 smears over the small shift in the snare drum hit at 0:35 that should echo considerably more throughout the stage, as well as the nuance of the hits at 3:15 onwards. Nonetheless, these are trifles, and I freely admit that if you told me there was another IEM that could match the S8 for technicalities at this price point, you’d be falling on deaf ears.
Blessing 2 / Blessing 2: Dusk - $320 / $330
I know - there’s no shortage of listeners that’ll attest to the B2 trading blows with its older brother, the S8. But I have to say, I just don’t think the B2 is comparable. Often the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and this is where the B2 stumbles hard. The lackluster DD bass, the minor 6Hz peak which exacerbates the rather thin note weight, and the plasticky, gritty treble, all impress the notion of a less than coherent IEM. You’ll note that these are mostly intangible flaws; I’d posit the B2 is tuned just as well - perhaps even better - as the S8 for those who enjoy less bass and a more linear treble response. Synergy on a more intimate level, however, tends to be the distinction between a “very good” IEM and an “excellent” IEM, descriptors with which the B2 and S8 fall into respectively to my ears.
But what happens if you put the tuning of the B2 into even more capable hands? Enter the Blessing 2: Dusk. The Dusk is a Moondrop collaboration with popular IEM reviewer Crinacle. It fixes some of the aforementioned issues with a thicker, more sub-bass heavy sound. While the S8 still holds a solid technical edge, the tonal balance on the Dusk is nothing short of exceptional. Likewise, whereas the B2 fell somewhat short by comparison, I really do think the Dusk deserves to be in the same conversation as the S8. Go for the Dusk if you enjoy heavy, DD bass and a thicker midrange, and go for the S8 if you enjoy a leaner sound that prioritizes treble and technicalities.
Campfire Andromeda 2020 - $1099
The Andromeda 2020 is one of my favorite kilobuck IEMs. From it’s terrific holographic imaging to its spacious layering chops, it has that special sauce with which I can’t help but find the S8 lacking, despite the S8 trading blows technically. Their tonal balances are also quite different. The Andromeda 2020’s biggest issue lies in its midrange presentation; there is a fundamental disconnect between the thicker lower-midrange and the dipped upper-midrange. This lends the lower-midrange to a bloaty characteristic which I can’t say I’m a fan of, and the S8’s midrange is leaner, more balanced by comparison. Both IEMs exhibit characteristically poor BA bass, but conversely, very good treble extension. I wouldn’t feel comfortable confidently recommending one over the other, as they both do so much right and so little wrong. Maybe go for the Andromeda 2020 if you want ever-so-slightly better technical chops (mainly the holographic imaging), and go for the S8 if you want to save some money.
Here’s another difficult comparison to make. On paper, the IER-M9 is probably the better IEM. From its tuning to its intangible performance, it’s an incredibly safe IEM. Too safe for my preferences, in fact, and the more I listened to it, the more boring it got. But credit where credit is due, the IER-M9 circumvents a lot of the issues that plague both the S8 and the Andromeda 2020. Its bass response exhibits some decent density and texture at the expense of minor bloat, and the timbre is a good deal more weighty than your typical BA IEM. In this reviewer’s opinion, the IER-M9 is the safest IEM you can buy for a grand, and if you enjoy a warmer, more relaxed tuning that maintains a high degree of technical chops, this could be the ticket.
As much as I enjoy weebing out over Moondrop’s waifus, I’ll be the first to admit that the sound is what I’m ultimately here for. And the S8 delivers. This is an IEM that comfortably trades blows with the best in the kilobuck bracket, not to mention an IEM that also undercuts said best IEMs by a couple hundred dollars. This is the kilobuck solution, and while it might not hit every listener’s preferences (after all, no IEM will), it’s an IEM that I think should at least be on every discerning listener’s shortlist. And in a lot of respects, at least for me, the S8 captures the essence of Moondrop in their heyday; it’s this same essence with which I hope Moondrop is able to continue endowing upon their future IEMs.
- Aimer - Hakuchuumu
- David Nail - Let It Rain
- Dreamcatcher - Silent Night
- Illenium & Excision - Gold
- Girls’ Generation - Galaxy Supernova
- Joe Nichols - Sunny and 75
- Keith Urban - Defying Gravity (2009)
- Sabai - Million Days
- Sawano Hiroyuki - Best of Vocal Works Remastered (2020)
- Taeyeon - My Voice (2017)
- Tiffany - I Just Wanna Dance
- Tom Day - Where Were We
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