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Moondrop Kato Honest Review | Still the best in 2023?

Hi all and welcome back to The Neighborhood!. Thanks to Shenzhen Audio we’re taking a look the Moondrop Kato. The Kato is a single dynamic driven IEM that has some pretty special roots with its Diamond Like Coating driver. It all started with the Kanas Pro, which utilized the first generation of Moondrops DLC driver and was one of my favorite IEMs for its era. Then came the KXXS, which got high marks from many audiophiles and possessed upgraded vocals, but lacked the stage of the original. Now we’re looking at Moondrop’s third generation DLC with the Kato. And this may be the best one yet! Let’s get inToit!

So let me point out the at Moondrop recently came out with newer colorways for the Kato, which include matte silver and iridescent blue shells as options. Nevertheless, Shenzhen Audio provided me with the original polished silver version. All three are stunning to look at, but I think I might prefer the blue if I got a chance to pick for myself. Mine has picked up some mild scratches with use (and you may see some of those in the photos for this review), but these do get a lot of use, as they are one of my favorite IEMs under $200 dollars right now.

But, no matter their exterior, the shells themselves are of a moderate size and weight. There’s some heft to these, as they are made out of a dense stainless steel rather than something like a lighter weight aluminum. But the shell isn’t very thick, and it’s contoured design leads nicely into the nozzle, which is neither too shallow nor too invasive, but is somewhat broader than most. There are two options for the nozzle, as they screw off and on to provide different tuning filters- a silver nozzle and a brass nozzle. Between the two, there was only a mild difference in sound, but I did prefer the brass nozzle, as it’s timbre was slightly warmer, and its energy felt slightly livelier and more musical compared to the silver variant. But, with either nozzle, they fit in my ear without difficulty and were extremely comfortable to wear- that is aside from their included silicone ear tips.

These come with Moondrop’s new Spring Ear Tips, and I’ve already mentioned in a number of reviews that I don’t really find them to be very comfortable, but I know others do- so your milage may vary. Luckily Moondrop also included some pretty squishy foam ear tips that sound quite nice and result in these sounding more even to my ear. In terms of aftermarket silicone ear tips, I did enjoy the Kato with both Final Type E Ear Tips, SpinFit CP145’s, TRI Clarion Silicones, and Softears Liquid Silicone Ear Tips. But for the purposes of this review, unless otherwise stated, assume that the sound commentary will address the Kato with its stock foam tips or Softears Silicone Ear Tips affixed, as those produced the best outcomes for my ears.

The cable is a thicker, PU-sheathed, 4-core silver plated cooper wire that initiates in plastic 2-pin connectors and terminates in a silver, straight, 3.5mm jack. I really like this cable and it mostly flows well despite being on the thicker side of things. It also has a nice integrated chin slider, so the Y-split is adjustable to meet the listener’s needs.

The unboxing experience of the Kato was also top notch. Per usual with Moondrop, there’s a WAIFU on the box, but this one look rather classy and sets the expectation for elegance as one begins to delve into the package. The presentation box is nice, and explains the history of this IEM that I discussed in intro to this review. In addition to the other accessories already mentioned, there’s also a grey velvet bag (presumably to hold your tips and, or filters), and a nice navy embossed leather carrying case, with a silver accent, which is also lined with a black velvet material on the inside to keep your Kato looking shiny and new.

Like other Moondrop IEMs, the company has tuned the Kato to match its VDSF target curve. To my ear these sound more like a U-shaped tuning or a shallow V. And for that type of tuning, the Kato is spectacular. Pound for pound, at just under $200 dollars, this is one of the best IEM’s available right now for the money.

Others have criticized the soundstage of this thing, but I personally think the Kato stages quite well, with excellent height and depth to the sonic picture. There is limited width to the presentation, but it images accurately within the sound field, and has above average instrument distinctiveness with a natural amount of separation between both notes and instruments-besting the Kansas Pro in this manner. Even so, staging is not as wide as the Kanas Pro, but it is a bit more 3D in terms of the sound delivered. Peripheral details are excellent, a strength of the Kato, and very clear to the ear.

The bass response was relative and adjustable depending upon tips affixed, so people might be able to “pick their poison” here depending on the tips they use. As I’ve already stated, I liked the Kato best with either the foam tips that came in the box or Liquid Silicone Ear Tips from Softears. The Spring Tips, which some adore, were just not comfortable for my ears over long listening sessions, and also produced a little bit too much a bloom and boom in bass response for my preferences. The bass here works with all genres from heavy demand categories to those with lower bass requirements. It’s neither too sluggish, nor too quickly resolving, but is less snappy than some may desire. But when it comes to the bass, I feel that these have a nice groove to them. Bass detail is not supreme, and more implied at times. But there is a decent amount of bass information here to satisfy most listeners. I also think bass presence levels will satisfy the masses, including bassheads, but if you’re bass adverse, these might be too much for you.

The mid-range does enough in my humble opinion. I won’t say that it’s recessed, but it is dipped slightly bellow bass presence levels. Despite this reduction, it does sound relatively even overall to the ear, and is smooth and detailed in a what I would say is a “relaxed manner.” Vocals are not as ghostly in their presentation as they are in the KXXS, but they are isolated well enough, and put quite simply just an enjoyable listen. Both male and female vocals lay just atop the rest of the mix

The treble has some energy here or there in order to sustain one’s interest, but is mostly smooth and liquid sounding as well. The later treble does roll off significantly from 9K, but it never really feels lacking in treble detail or air to my ears. Perhaps this is because it comes back after 12k for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t an airy set, and the treble detail doesn’t really sparkle per say, but I believe there will be enough treble detail and information present by the Kato to satisfy most. Another way to put this would be to say that despite its roll off, it’s treble is very acceptable to the ear. Like the mid-range, it’s enough treble to fit in with the context of the sonic image as a whole. And it is this context as a whole that does wow its listener often in the course of a listening session. Nevertheless, truth-through-treble-seekers may find it somewhat lacking in this department.

In terms of additional comparison’s, I really think the best competition that the Kato has around It’s price range is RAPTGO Leaf D01; which is about $130, but I’ll also give an honorable mention to the ThieAudio Elixir; which comes in at about $210. The Leaf is a bit less intense in the bass and bit more intense later on in the presentation; which might induce listen fatigue over longer listening sessions for some. Overall, the Leaf D01 is more of a mid-forward listen compared to the Kato, but it may be a bit to aggressively elevated in spots for some. However; I did truly enjoy this with guitars and instruments of the like. To accomplish its unique sound, makes use of a 10mm Japanese LCP driver, so the presentation is a bit more globally taut- including its transients and bottom-end performance. A con for the Leaf is that it comes across a bit more “2D” in comparison to the Kato at times, while a pro for the Leaf is that it is lighter weight in comparison to the Kato and fits more ergonomically in my ear.

The Elixir is an honorable mention, because it requires a bit of work and still comes in at a higher price than the Kato without any real additional sound performance to speak of. By work, I mean that the cable was terrible in terms of the sound quality it produced, and a cable swap was a must in order to even use it. Even a $15-dollar, Yinyoo cable sounded better than the one that was included. Additionally, like the Kato, the Elixir didn’t perform well with it’s included silicones, and it required that the tips be swapped to either the foam tips in the box (which actually did perform well) or Ludos Memory Foam Ear Tips (which performed even better). If the D01 is a bit brighter than the Kato, the Elixir is a bit darker in its tonality. Even so, it is sprinkled with a bit more treble energy and extension to my ear, even if this isn’t readily apparent visually on a graph.

Clarity and resolution of each of these sets are comparable, and it really just kind of depends on the tonality and frequency response characteristics that one prefers. If you’re looking for more of an analog feel, I might suggest the Elixir. A more intense, snappy mid-forward set; the Leaf. The Kato is more of a jack-of-all-trades and relaxed rider of the middle-line, which will probably appeal to most.

To summarize, the Kato is an exceptional IEM for the money, and is likely, even months after its release, to be the defacto recommendation in the price-range for a single dynamic at this time. It’s a really good “all-arounder,” and I’m hard pressed to say its better than the Kanas Pro, but it probably is in all facets except stage width and timbre. The latter of which is only smidge better in the Kanas Pro and likely won’t be noticeable by most. It’s mid-range and treble performance are relatively consistent, and its bass reproduction can be dialed in depending upon tips affixed. It’s well-built and comes in at a nice price, with an excellent accessory package that includes everything one could need. Some may diminish it’s capacity for greatness by referring to it as a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none, but I am generally wowed by its performance still and often. In my review of the Variations, I said the Kato surprisingly gets you most of the way there for less than half of the price. To close out this review, I’ll assert this point again, as this is perhaps this set’s greatest selling point.

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