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Moondrop KATO IEM Review

The next-gen KXXS

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

Moondrop has become one of the most exciting brands in in HiFi, delivering hit after hit in its mid-to-upper range line. Last year, I reviewed the KXXS, the company’s mid-range single-dynamic driver flagship. It was an impressive offering and a stellar introduction to the brand. After more than two years of R&D, Moondrop is back with its successor in the KATO. Built from stainless steel, and featuring the company’s new 10mm Ultra Linear driver technology, is the KATO a worthy successor to the KXXS?

Specifications

  • Current Price: $189.99 (HiFiGo
  • Newly-Developed ULT Super Linear Dynamic Driver.
  • 3rd Generation DLC(Diamond-Like Carbon) Composite Diaphragm
  • Interchangeable Nozzle Design
  • 3rd Generation Patented Anti-Blocking Acoustic Filter
  • Newly Designed Spring Silicone Ear Tips
  • Professional Tuning Following VDSF Target Response
  • High-Quality Copper Thick Silver-Plated Cable
  • Gold-Plated 2-pin 0.78mm Connectors

Moondrop KATO - Unboxing and Key Features

The KATO’s relationship to the KXXS is written all over its design, and it’s clear that Moondrop intentionally found specific points to “grow.” Take the box — the packaging and presentation are similar, but the KATO is clearly stepped up with fancier packaging that opens like a book. 

Moondrop is a master at presentation, and that’s clear here. From the “Moondrop presents” embossed on the inner cover to the way in which the monitors are displayed, almost jewelry-like, alongside the accessories. Inside the box, we have a nice faux leather carrying case, a silver-finished copper cable, six pairs of S/M/L ear tips (3 each silicone and memory foam), and a set of alternate brass sound tubes.  It’s a full package and it all feels well-made. 

The earphones themselves are gorgeous. Like the KXXS, they’re made of stainless steel, but the KATO uses a new metal powder injection molding process, which has allowed them to bevel the surface a bit like a gemstone. I was sent the matte version, but it’s also available in a mirror finish. Even the matte version does a good job of catching the light and playing with shadow for a very unique look. If there’s one thing you can say about Moondrop, it’s that they know how to make good-looking earphones. 

Inside the metal shells is the company’s brand new Ultra Linear Technology driver using a diamond-like carbon diaphragm. The material is rigid yet resilient, allowing it to quickly and precisely move inside of its magnetic field. The inner walls have also been formed with an irregular surface and phase guide components in an effort to reduce standing waves and distortion. According to Moondrop, this design allows for greater dynamic range, improved tonality, and better soundstage.

Another evolution is that the sound tubes are now replaceable. The pre-assembled tubes simply screw off and can be replaced with a second brass set. I struggled to discern a difference between them, but it’s nice to see them included regardless. Should anything happen to the original, you’ll be able to swap to the brass and continue listening to your earphones. 

The cable on the KATO definitely feels higher quality than the KXXS, but in the end, I still find the KXXS easier to manage. The KATO’s cable is thicker and instead of a rope-like braid is two coiled strands wound around each other. It looks great and works fine (and the metal ends are a very nice touch that lends it a premium feel). The plastic coating on the outside seems slightly thicker, however, which makes the cable stiffer and more prone to hang up on things. If this bothers you, it uses a standard 2-pin connection so is easily replaceable.

Moondrop KATO - Comfort and Fit

I struggled to find a good fit with the KATO with silicone tips. The diameter of the sound tubes is large enough that I had to pull my left ear back and really work it in there to find a good seal. If I moved too much (even just working at my desk) it would sometimes come loose and need to be reseated. I haven’t had this issue with many other earbuds, but the KATO isn’t the first I’ve encountered it with, so this has more to do with my anatomy than a fault of the earphones. Still, if you have smaller ears, be aware that fit could be an issue.

Thankfully, Moondrop included foam ear tips which helped (but didn’t completely solve) me overcome that challenge. It’s a shame, because I prefer silicon, and especially the new Spring tips Moondrop has designed for the Kato. They have a unique look and sound great with a proper fit. 

Despite their angular look and metal build, once you find the proper tips, they're surprisingly comfortable. They're not too heavy and aren't uncomfortable to have against your skin. Those little angles really don't press or jab as they look like they might. 

Moondrop KATO - Listening Impressions

After spending the last few weeks testing tribrid earphones, it was refreshing to come back to a single dynamic driver that comes in under $200. Anyone who tells you that you have to spend hundreds of dollars to pick up a great-sounding earphone doesn’t know what they’re talking about and the KATO proves it. Dollar for dollar, this is a model for the kind of performance you should expect at this price point.

The KATO is a warm headphone, but not overly so. Listening to Jonny Craig’s Going Under, the bass comes in deep and low, giving the song a wide, resonating foundation. When the kick drums come in, they have punch and enough speed that they sound realistic. Swapping to Atreyu’s Bleeding Mascara (throwback post-hardcore FTW), the machine-gun kicks were clear an articulate when many headphones (including the Aria) can’t keep up and become muddy.

Mids are absolutely solid. There’s tons of detail in the guitars. Moving to Atreyu’s Right Side of the Bed, the layering between the tracks (instruments) really shines through, which is perfect for syncopated harmonies. Going the other direction with Coheed and Cambria’s Pearl of the Stars is no less impressive. Acoustic guitars have a very realistic and detailed sound that almost sparkles when two are playing at once. 

Highs are clearly tuned up, but I didn’t find the Kato to be sibilant or fatiguing at safe listening levels. High hats, cymbals, and bells pop out and add shimmer. Turned up too loud, they could become fatiguing, but the same is true of most earphones. If you like to jam out, it’s something to keep in mind and could be wise to use an EQ in those instances.

One of the more impressive qualities of the KATO is its soundstage. Some of Moondrop’s marketing claims prove true here. For a closed-back earphone, it feels surprisingly wide. Imaging and positioning in that headspace is distinct and easy to interpret. This also makes it a decent choice for some impromptu gaming. They still won’t compete with an open-back gaming headset, but turn on Dolby Atmos and you might be surprised how capable they are.

For its price, it’s also surprisingly adept at digging out detail and resolution in music and games. If you have an ear for fine details in music, the KATO don’t disappoint. Take a song like Delirium Trigger by Coheed and Cambria. There’s is a lot going on in that song, and I’ve listened to it for it for nearly 20 years. I know that song inside out, and can the KATO allow me to hear the tiny nuances like the texture of the chunk, dirty guitars, even on the original, lower quality recording. 

Final Thoughts

The Moondrop KATO is a worthy successor to the KXXS. It delivers excellent sound quality and is well priced for what it delivers. I only wish it fit better, but with memory foam tips, I’m still able to hear them to their fullest potential. If you’ve been looking for a step up from your Starfield or Aria, this is a worthy choice. 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.
 
 
8.0Great
Pros
  • Robust, eye-catching build
  • Excellent bass performance
  • Good soundstage
  • Lots of detail in the mids and highs
Cons
  • Cable is a bit stiff
  • Fit can be an issue


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight