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Moondrop Chu: budget audiophile disruptor!

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Neighborhood! Today we’re looking at a budget, attached-wire IEM coming in at around $20 dollars in the form of the Moondrop Chu. It can’t be any good? Can it? Let’s get InToit!

Let’s briefly address the build. The shell here is all metal, black with a graphic and relatively small- somewhere in-between the size of Moondrop’s own S.S.R. and Aria. The big kicker here is that here the cable is attached. The shell fits nicely, and has a decent heft to its size without being too heavy, but I’m not really sure why they used an attached cable here? In my opinion, with out its included rubber earhooks, its kind of too large for an attached cable and it dangles awlwardly at the end of it. The earhooks help, but I’m still not a fan this type of design, and think that Moondrop should have made these 2-pin, detachable, even if it cost us another $5 bucks.

The wire itself is nice-enough (not too thick or too thin), and encased in a rubberized sheath, but I haven’t been able to fully straighten it out since it arrived, but this could relax with use over time. There’s also a large, rubberized y-split without a chin sinch and with the Moondrop emblem, that I excused on the Quarks given its price, and I’ll mostly do that again here, but I would have liked an integrated slider or for it to be to be smaller, as the thing is larger than the 3.5mm jack at the end of the cable. There’s both an integrated mic version of these and a without mic variant. SHENZHENAUDIO sent me the version without the mic, but with a cheaper, integrated cable IEM like this one, I’d be more willing to risk an imbalance or other wiring issues in order have a microphone for voice calls. In any case, I wasn’t able to test the microphone because this version wasn’t what was sent.

The included pouch is an envelope made of felt with a snap-on style metal fastener. Its barely big enough to house the IEMs, and it does so awkwardly. In addition to being too small, it’s also overly stiff in its construction. I think Moondrop should have considered including a case similar to the one that comes with the Aria- even if it were to cost the consumer more money. My hope is that one day Moondrop will release a pro or special edition version of this set that would include a better, detachable cable, and a nice case. Say something like they did with the Stardust.

Moondrop’s own Spring ear tips also come with this set, and this is a high value proposition given that this IEM only costs around $20 dollars and a set of spring ear tips cost about $13 dollars at the time of this review. These tips are mostly comfortable, at least at first, but their bore is also rather stiff, and its outer rim does wear on the inside of my ear canal over the course of a day. You should also note that Moondrop’s large Spring ear tip is the size of many medium ear tips from other companies, so these definitely run on the small side. If you have larger ear holes the tips that come with this set might not fit you, as only a set of small, medium, and large are included in the box.

Still, the sound here is unbelievable for the cost. The Chu seriously keeps up with other sets that cost as much as $100 dollars. Compared to Moondrop’s own Aria, the presentation here is different in that it is more even and less V-shaped, less relaxed, and less wide, but clarity, detail, separation, and resolution are strikingly similar if not better executed. Just know that if you’re looking for soundstage with the Chu, you’re not really going to get it. The Chu is an intimate presentation, even if it has a decent depth to its image.

Another thing to know about the Chu, is that it’s mids and early treble are unnaturally forward and overaccentuated on occasion on some recordings, but I never really found the Chu to be shouty in its manner. Instead, I just found it to sound sort of “off” in comparison to what I would normally expect to hear from the track. For example, some mid-ranged guitar riffs were more “in the listener’s face” and highlighted to a greater extent than they usually are. The song, “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse depicts this phenomenon when played back on the Chu. Because of such an occurrence, the Chu does come across as slightly “hot” to my ear. Still, audiophiles that look for a forward vocal character will love the Chu, and vocals within the mid-range are hauntingly well done.

Treble extension and air quality aren’t anything to write home about, but again it keeps up with most stand-outs below $100 dollars. One reviewer referred to the Chu as slightly metallic in its timbre, but I think this is a misunderstanding, inaccurate description, and definite reach. Instead, I think what he is trying to account for is that the Chu’s transients are a bit quick in their attack is a bit sharp in their decay. So, rest assured, there simply isn’t any metallic tinge here to observe.

General timbre of the Chu is neutral-ish, but leaning slightly warm. Note weight is mostly full-bodied, and warmed-throughout by its rather lush bottom-end. Bass note character is mostly even and taught in its entirety, but also mildly defuse at the same time. Yet, unlike many budget offerings, the Chu is not a bass cannon. Overall, I’d describe the Chu’s bass as “musical-in-nature” and “robust enough.” It’s sufficiently dynamic and adequately vigorous to project almost any type of genre well. I still respect the reference quality of the S.S.R.’s bass response, but there’s definitely a bit “more meat-on-the-bone” here with the Chu, and, as a result, I think the Chu will unquestionably be a bit more of a crowd pleaser in comparison.

Other comparisons to consider should consist of the HZSound Waist Drum and the Astrotec Vesna. The Waist Drum comes in a tad more expensive; around $35 dollars, while the Vesna is priced more likewise to the Chu: around $20 dollars. To my ear, the Waist Drum sounds remarkedly similar to the Chu in that it’s a slightly neutral-ish, warm-leaning In Ear Monitor, but the Waist Drum also is not as forward in the mid-range and early treble, much larger in its stage width, has an additional top-end treble emphasis, and maybe slightly less-detailed, but more hearty in its bottom-end. The Waist Drum is also uniquely open back in its construction and comes with a detachable cable. Furthermore, its ironic that the Waist Drum looks like the discontinued Moondrop Spaceship- the IEM that the Chu is replacing in Moondrop’s lineup.

In contrast, the Astrotec Vesna has the most neutral timbre between the three, even if there is some mild dryness here or there to be aware of. The Vesna is also bass-light and thinner in its note-weight in comparison to the Chu. With that said, the Vesna can still surprise with its low-end presence depending upon the track, as it can sometimes really dig deep when called to do so; even if it’s not consistently thumpy or rumbly for its listener.

Like the Waist Drum, the Vesna also stages wider and has additional treble, but in comparison, may seem top-end heavy to some. Like the Chu, the Vesna is a well-thought-out non-detachable cable IEM, but the Vesna has a chin-slider, is designed to be worn down-ear rather than over ear, and requires the purchase of additional ear tips, as the stock tips don’t really do this one any form of justice. Farsil the Wizard turned me onto the Ludos foam tips with these, and they are a game changer for sure. I had passed this IEM off as a “waste of time” prior to this discovery. And, although all three of these IEMs rely on a single dynamic driver, the driver in the Vesna might also be considered of a higher quality to some (at least on paper), as it is constructed of an LCP, like the Tanchjim Hana, Moondrop Aria, Tin Hifi T3 Plus, and other more expensive sets.

So, the Moondrop Chu, has been a disrupter of an IEM on the audiophile scene since its release. It essentially raises the bar in sound at its price, but HZSound and Astrotec have also heeded the call- stepping up their game in the budget space as well. With IEMs such as these lurking around, at their affordable prices, it’s simply a great time for an audiophile to be alive and able to listen.

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