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  • Writer's pictureinToit Reviews

The Moondrop Joker: if you don't like these, the joke's on you!

Hello there, and welcome back to The Neighborhood. Let’s take a look a closed back studio monitor from Moondrop: The Joker! Are they playing a joke on the audio community? Let’s get inToit!

The Joker comes in priced low at a cost of $79.99 from Shenzhen Audio who set this set into the channel for review. Its mostly a plastic construction and its surprisingly light weight as a result. The quality of the plastic here is at least as good as a 500 series from Sennheiser, if not better, but not quite as good as a 600 series. The outer cup of the closed back, while appearing to be plastic, seems to actually be made of brass, and according to advertising will patina over time. In any case, they seem like they’ll hold up to some abuse, either in the studio or in a home. The headband extenders are spring steal, and the cups swivel about as much as a 600 series can. The clamp is good, and it holds tight on my head without too much pressure to be uncomfortable. There’s a two foam pads under the headband covered in a breathable jersey material. This is the same material that is on the inner, side portion of the pad that touches the face. The inside and outside of the pad are comprised of a leatherette that is perforated uniquely at the top and bottom of both the inside and outside. The foam isn’t as pliable as memory foam but comfortable nevertheless.

The connection at the base of the earcup is a dual 3.5mm, and Moondrop includes a twisted, cloth-wrapped cable that terminates in an angled 3.5mm plug with a separate 6.35mm adapter provided as well. Inside the cup is a Full-Size 50mm Dynamic Driver, which is slightly vented on the backside of the earcup by a small, long slit. Sensitivity is 106 dB and 68 ohms ±15% @1kHz. Despite their relatively low impedance rating, I listened to the Joker powered by both solid state and tube amplifiers, and the performed well on each. The Truthear Shio was excellent from my phone and the Darkvoice 336se was entrancing at my desk. I also enjoyed the Joker with my reference Tron Signature Amplifier and the Bravo Audio Ocean hybrid tube amplifier with a Raytheon 12AU7 installed. But it didn’t pair well with everything, as I found it a bit too brittle and thin off of the Hiby FC3, which might not have had enough power to amplify the Joker fully from only 73 mw of single-ended output. But perplexingly, I was able to drive the Joker over Bluetooth with the BTR 3K’s single-end output of only 78 mw, even if it did take a lot of its capacity to do so. In any case, this still suggests that one might need at least a little bit more power than a standard output jack to power the Joker appropriately.

With regard to the sound, it’s marketed as a monitor, and I think that’s a smart way to go about things, as it does offer a relatively balanced, monitor-like sound. Timbre can vary a bit if not well powered, leaning bright and thin in such circumstances, but if well-powered, its mostly a neutral set in its tones, with its note weight being close to that of the Sennheiser 560s. At times, I will note that the Joker does have a very small hint of metallic timbre, but this was also somewhat dependent upon the device driving it.

Resolution and clarity for the price is surprisingly good. It’s actually about as clear as my modded Sennheiser 58X, which is about twice the price of the Joker and an introductory reference level can. The general character of the Joker is somewhat mid-forward without venturing into aggressivity. Its treble is decently well-extended, with a mild amount of air and limited sparkle, but this has more of a traditional monitor voicing, and, like monitors tend to do, does start to noticeably fall off after 10K or so. As such, the Joker is not likely to satisfy many true treble heads. The bass has excellent low-end information, and is relatively nimble, even rumbling at times, but bottom-end presence levels, dynamics, and slam are limited. So, this won’t be a headphone to appeal to bass heads really either. And because bass amplitudes are limited and the treble isn’t super far-reaching, one might want to exercise caution when using the Joker to test upper and lower limits as a monitor, as I can could see someone mistakenly jacking up the bass on a track or missing some potential sibilance or treble harshness in a recording during an evaluation, as the Joker really isn’t always going to be the best at exposing such problems during playback. Nevertheless, as a budget offering, its good enough, and this makes it more appealing to listen to for enjoyment in any case.

Even so, these a great, wide stage for a closed back, especially at this price. Separation of notes and instruments is distinct and well-spaced. You can really distinguish from one instrument to the next, and pick up nuances of how each instrument is played. Imaging is well-done, and transients, while not striking are pretty decent. Decay characteristics and peripheral sounds are also largely natural in conveyance. Vocals are well-isolated and richly delivered to the ear, both for males and female vocalists alike. I do not hear any additive sibilance or harshness beyond what is already present on the track. General depth of the image is above average, and there’s enough detail to satisfy most listeners below the $300 dollar price point.

The sound signature here actually reminds me a lot of how a well implemented bookshelf speaker might present without a subwoofer. It may not be as full range or low-end cable as a full-sized speaker, but the presentation of sounds is clear, distinct, cohesive, and with excellent imaging and staging properties. In fact, during my first listen to the Joker, I thought, “This really reminds me of something....” I couldn’t quite place it, and then it came to me: “The Kef LS50.” The LS50 has certainly been an extremely popular speaker that has historically pleased the masses. And as such, I think the Moondrop Joker as a closed back headphone likely will too. So, if you can appreciate the presentation of bookshelves without the addition of a subwoofer, you’ll likely appreciate the sonics that the Joker dishes out as well.

Compared to 1More Triple Driver Over Ears, the Joker is a more even and linear presentation. The Triple Driver’s presentation is largely known for its low-end and dynamics. But on certain tracks, the 1More can also display occasional harshness or sibilance, which can feel a bit assaultive to the ears. There’s a rather large peak which apexes around 5K in the presence region of the upper-midrange that is largely responsible for this. Even so, many have been able tolerate this, which is why this headphone has remained popular as closed back option for as long as it has. I modified mine, destroying the stock pads in the process, in order to be able to use slightly large, Brainwavz sheepskin ear pads with it. With this modification, the Triple Driver actually becomes and over ear headphone, as it was largely on ear, and certainly less comfortable otherwise. The Joker is most assuredly a more timid performer compared to the 1More with regard to both dynamics and presence levels, but I not only find it less intense to endure over the course of longer listening sessions, but also find it to be more informative. Detail in the upper ranges is certainly just as good as the 1More, and in the low-end, the quality of the information is enhanced- even if the impact and level is less. And even though the 1More is no slouch in the stage department, the Joker still stages better, and has notably better separation. The 1More also comes in at a more expensive price tag at around $109 dollars these days, and at least benefits from the pad modification I spoke about if one has anything other than small sized ears. Still, some may prefer the more intensive, dynamic, and less-than-monitor-like presentation of the Triple Driver, which is certainly built better; being constructed mostly out of heavier metal and leather (instead of the Joker’s cheaper plastic, leatherette, and cloth).

Compared to the Venture Electronics Supernova, which comes in cheaper at $50 bucks, and has single-left-sided, single-ended entry compared to the Joker’s dual-sided cable entry, the Supernova definitely looks the part of a traditional studio monitor a bit more than the Joker does. Still, it’s built notably cheaper. For instance, I’m not sure it’s even fair to call its tension strap “leatherette,” as it may be the most plasticky and cheapest feeling leatherette strap that this channel has ever come across to date. Additionally, the design of the Supernova appears to lack some forethought, as the headband’s support, which is just two slender pieces of spring steal, knocks into the cups, rubbing on them and producing signs of wear as a result. Its earcups are also even smaller than that of the Triple Drive, and are also uncomfortable for me to wear for longer listening sessions unless I swap in Brainwavz HM5 Sheepskin Ear Pads, which isn’t a perfect fit, but does work out quite nicely overall. The Supernova also seems to be a bit more sensitive to amplifier gain compared to the Joker, and can get a bit overly intense when powered off of an amplifier with a higher level of output. In terms of the sound in general, while I like it’s sound for its price, the Supernova is certainly less sophisticated of a presentation compared to the Joker. Separation, soundstage technical performance are notably worse. With that said, resolution of Supernova may actually be a hair better, even though the level of detail is assuredly inferior. Regrettably, the Supernova doubles down on its detail though- forcing it in its listeners face much more than the Joker does. In general, the Joker is a flatter, tamer sound signature, while the Supernova is more intense and more dynamic, but less balanced and capable. If picking a cheaper monitor to equip a new studio, I’d gravitate towards the Joker between the two, as it has a more even frequency response, isolates sounds better, is built better for longevity, and comes better equipped for comfort out of the box.

With that said, if one has been paying attention to headphone releases from Moondrop recently, the Joker might look somewhat similar to a prior offering from them: the Void, which was white and opened back rather than black and closed back. Criticisms of that headphone suggested that it was too far off a neutral presentation, a bit too intimate in its staging, easily confused, and hazy in its detailing. People also suggested that if the Void were priced closer to $100 dollars, they might have been less critical of it. I didn’t get to hear the Void myself, but if those reviews were even remotely accurate, the Joker certainly sounds like Moondrop listened to the critiques of the Void, and made excellent adjustments with this headphone.

The Joker is actually one of my favorite closed back, budget offerings out right now. This paired with a 4XX, 58X, 6XX, or even a 560s would be a hell of an opened/closed duo for someone just getting into the hobby. With the 4XX I’d recommend pairing these sets with a Bravo Audio Ocean, if you can still find one. A Geshelli Labs Archel Pro Series Amp would work nicely with the 58X, and with the 560s, an OTL like the Darkvoice 336se would be a good match. My recommendation for the 6XX for would be to go with the iFi 6xx Signature Amplifier, which in addition to being a great amp for the 6XX itself is also a slightly warmer presentation with the Joker. Closed back headphones that would be an upgrade from the Joker would be the Beyerdynamic DT177X GO or the EMU Teak, so make sure to check out my video on those options if you’re budget can afford a bit more than what the Joker offers.

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