Moondrop KATO is a single 10mm ultra-linear technology dynamic driver IEM with a replaceable sound nozzle design. It is priced at $189.99
Disclaimer: The Moondrop KATO sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. We thank the team at Moondrop and Shenzhen Audio for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Moondrop products we have previously reviewed on Headfonics, click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
Moondrop has been consistent in crafting a different range of monitors at different price points.
Truly, offering a monitor for everyone from their entry-level single dynamic driver equipped Aria, the TWS beryllium-coated dynamic driver Sparks, the tribrid EST driver equipped Variations, to their top-of-the-line hybrid 4BA+2EST driver equipped Solis.
Two years after the well-received KXXS, the new Moondrop KATO joins Moondrop’s fleet of sub $200 single dynamic drivers.
Priced the same as the KXXS, KATO means KXXS Advanced Technology Optimized promising improvements on both the overall design and the performance.
The Moondrop KATO is a single 10mm dynamic driver universal monitor featuring Moondrop’s new-generation flagship dynamic driver which is being pitched as delivering a tight, fast, and low distortion performance.
To achieve that description, Moondrop has implemented a newly developed ULT, (Ultra-Linear-Technology), super-linear dynamic driver which targets lower distortion, natural timbre, and richer natural detail.
The ULT includes a more efficient composite magnetic circuit and a 3rd generation diamond-like carbon (DLC) composite diaphragm. This composite enhances dynamic range and high-frequency performance. Compared to the previous generation, it is said to measures lower nonlinear distortion, making sound smoother and more harmonious.
The KATO also includes their familiar lightweight Japanese-made Daikoku CCAW voice coil found in both the Starfield and the Aria. However, the KATO version of this coil has a lighter extra-fine upgrade compared to the previous models.
It is also tuned closely to the VDSF Response curve. The VDSF Response is a target frequency response curve based on the HRTF, (Head-related Transfer Function), which is one standard for an ideal monitor frequency response. The closer the monitor’s frequency response to the VDSF, the better timbre restoration, soundstage, and imaging is.
KATO has a silver mirror-like finish with a futuristic concept, with a play of light and shadow. Rotating the IEM, the light casts on the different angled surfaces of the monitor, showing its unique geometric features.
What’s surprising is the amount of technology and detail in achieving this unique-looking IEM. Every section of the surface is smoothened out by manual hand grinding and polishing to achieve a mirror-like finish.
Despite its pretty looks, shell strength and durability are also ensured through Moondrop’s MIM (Metal Powder Injection Molding) Technology. One downside of this amazing design, however, is that the surface is a fingerprint magnet. Moondrop, however, has dropped a fresh new matte-silver finish if you fancy a more subtle color.
The irregular geometric shell is accompanied by an anti-acoustic filter removable nozzle, preventing ear wax from blocking the filter. This clever design ensures the longevity of using KATO, with it being easy to clean and maintain.
Comfort & Isolation
Despite the metal build of KATO’s shell, it felt easy to the ears. The total weight of the monitors and cable combined did not feel heavy at all. It fitted perfectly, comfortable to wear for long periods.
Moondrop KATO really thought through the material design and it surely paid off with the impressive isolation. Compared to other monitors at this price range, KATO did exceptionally well.
Speech-level sounds are drowned out as if not even there. It was easy to immerse and make out the minute details in various tracks.
Moondrop is generous enough to include 2 kinds of tips for each size (S, M, L) – Moondrop’s new Spring Tips and Foam tips. The aesthetics of the Spring Tips complimented the overall look of the KATO monitors, white translucent color with stripes surrounding the dome vertically.
The amount of seal that the Spring Tips bring is surprisingly good. The foam tips are black on the exterior and conform to the mold when pinched. They also offer decent isolation, as foam tips expand and compress to give a good fit.
Among the 2 tips, I found the Spring Tips to have more isolation. It was also more comfortable in the ears and easier to attach and detach. Playing with the 2 tips, it was a struggle to put and remove the foam tips because of its memory foam material.
KATO comes with a decent stock cable. This is a high-purity copper silver-plated cable with a 4-core star-stranded structure. This composition aims to reduce skin effect and proximity effect delivering the sound signal as efficiently as possible.
Externally, the cable is coated with a transparent mixed-material which not only compliments the looks of the silver-plated cable but also ensures a tangle-free experience.
There were no problems with the memory wire, it has the right amount of memory retention that will sit comfortably on the ears. Also, moving around does not cause a lot of microphonics that will deter an enjoyable music experience.
The termination on the IEM side is a universal 0.78mm dual-pin interface, meant for cable rollers that want to expand on the stock offering, say an upgrade balanced cable or a Bluetooth cable.
Packaging & Accessories
Moondrop is known for its cutesy anime styling for its packaging and unboxing experience. True enough, Moondrop stays consistent with its Japanese inspirations and generous offerings for the KATO.
A splattering anime on the outer sleeve is matched with a contrasting minimal double-doored matte black box with a silver outlined text of KATO right in the middle. Beyond those double doors is an extra matte black sheet building up the anticipation of seeing those gorgeous monitors.
Finally, underneath the hood, there are numerous partitions to keep things organized. Transparent case with tips, velvet grey pouch, which contains the extra brass nozzles, and cables can be seen on the left and on the right, the leather blue hard case and the monitors fit snuggly.
On top of the removable nozzle design, KATO includes a brass and steel nozzle which can be interchanged to fit user preference. For me though there is hardly any notable difference in terms of sound between the two nozzles.
Examining further, the frequency response on the 2 nozzles follows a similar pattern, with only a very small difference between them. These minute differences may form a personal preference between steel and brass nozzles but otherwise, it might be an overstated feature.
The bass goes deep, oh my. The sub-bass is full-bodied and has a meaty rumble without feeling too empowering with a well-controlled mid-bass performance. It has a fast solid attack, with a bit of a slow delay, just enough to emphasize the low notes while still having a distinct gap on each note.
Bass-heavy tracks sound impressive with the KATOs. Lows are well incorporated across the frequency spectrum sounding impactful and textured whilst being neither muddy nor bloated.
The midrange is mostly even, with a good balance between the lower and upper midrange. Instruments sound natural on the KATOs, especially on how articulate and textured wind and string instruments are.
The violins, in particular, are presented in a warm and rich tonality. However, the piano did sound a bit thin in comparison. Nevertheless, instruments blended well in harmony, giving an exceptional midrange presentation.
Vocals presence is excellent. With the midrange tuned a bit further forward than the bass, vocals, both male and female, still have pop, even in bass-heavy tracks. Vocal layering is transparent with the KATO meaning overlapping vocals are clear and distinct.
The KATO’s treble tuning compliments the overall coloration of the IEM. Although the treble takes a back seat, it’s tuned to be neither dark nor bright with just enough presence to make the midrange shine also.
Treble extends well with the KATO, enough to notice its presence and brilliance. Although there is a lack of sparkle, cymbals and acoustic guitar strums are sharp and crisp with a pleasant airy and light presentation.
One thing they did well in the treble is its control. Higher frequency sounds natural with no harshness or sibilance felt, even in vocals hitting extended high notes. The KATO’s treble is tuned well enough to avoid fatigue in extended listening.
Staging on the KATOs is above average, but not exceptional at its price range. It provides enough headspace to feel the position of different instruments and vocals.
Imaging is fairly accurate on this pair. Layering is above average with multiple vocals presented in varying depths, especially when presented with vocal arrangements in unison. Ultimately, the sound feels projected in a 3-dimensional space, with instruments and vocals spread apart.
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