Review Date: 15 April 2022
DAC: Dual Cirrus Logic CS43198
Headphone Ports: 3.5mm Single-ended and 4.4mm Balanced.
Power (3.5mm Single Ended): 2 Vrms
Power (4.4mm Balanced): 4 Vrms
Frequency Response Range: 6Hz-85kHz(±1dB).
Background Noise(4.4mm): 1.5uV(AES17 20K Hz).
Background Noise(3.5mm): 1.2uV(AES17 20K Hz)
Line-Out(3.5mm): 2Vrms(High-gain), 1.4Vrms(Low-gain).
Line-Out(4.4mm): 4Vrms(High), 2.8Vrms(Low).
IEMs and Earbuds:
- Etymotic ER4SR (Single BA, 45 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
- Shure KSE1500 (Single Electrostatic 200V, KSA1200 Energizer)
- Kinera Idun Golden (3BA + 1DD Hybrid, 32 Ohm, 112db Sensitivity)
- Tripowin HBB Olina (Single DD, 32 Ohm, 110db Sensitivity)
- VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ (Single DD, 320 Ohm)
- VE Monk GONE SPC
- FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (Magnetic Planar, 50 Ohm, 91db Sensitivity)
- Beyerdynamic DT880 (Dynamic Drivers, 600 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
- Windows 10, Foobar 2000 (USB 3.0 Power)
- LG V50 ThinQ (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
- Sony Xperia X Compact (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
- HiBy Music Player App (USB Exclusive Mode)
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
Moondrop caused quite a stir in the Audio community (especially ChiFi) when words got out that they are releasing their first ever DAC/Amp dongle. Already immensely popular and successful in the IEMs segment, the anticipation for Moondrop flagship Dongle is probably one of the most exciting thing to happen in quarter 1 of 2022.
Named Moon River 2 (was there a Moon River 1?), it is set to enrich the premium Dongles option for the consumer. Seemingly at least two new models being released every month.
I must thank HiFiGo for their customary superb services in fulfilling my order with priority and sending me the unit literally the next day after they received it.
At the time of this review, I have already spent over 300 hours on my Moon River 2. Using it regularly – with all of my listening equipment.
Build, Functions, Usability
Moon River 2 introduced to the world with bold and unassuming design. Seemingly CNC machined from solid aluminum block, it offers unique angular design which reminded me a lot to Sci-Fi stuffs like Blade Runner etc. Some hint of Aztec ziggurat too, with the “sloping stairways” on one side. All finished in solid black powdercoat. Moondrop opted not to use any bling element here. Just spartan and bold design that I find very appealing.
As with the normal standard nowadays, Moon River 2 has two ports on one end – 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL. The other end being USB Type C female, which will then allow for replacement of any USB C (OTG compliant) cables to be used. The stock cable included, is nothing like I have ever seen before. Totally transparent from plug to plug. Design wise I can appreciate the creativity here. In real life the cable itself looked beautiful and unique. However, I must say that Moondrop should have paid more attention towards conventional cable design instead – thicker and better shielded. You see, the cable being flat, it is also somewhat thinner than ideal. For one, I need to be careful to NOT subject that cable to excessive movement as it seems to be somewhat flimsy. Secondly, my Moon River 2 will pick up RF interferences a few times whenever my phone (which is my primary device for audio) experience fluctuations on the GSM/LTE/4G signals. And this can be bothersome when moving about. A better shielded cable would have been able to mitigate these two issues.
Moon River 2 has hardware volume adjusters on the left side. At first it confuses me a bit as the way they are designed, I thought it was a combo of slider and push buttons. However upon reading the manual, they are just two buttons – volume up and volume down. Unfortunately they are NOT independent. The buttons serve as remote control of the host volume.
Now. Personally I see two issues here with the volume adjusters. Issue number one, they are not as tactile as they should be. I need to press them slightly harder than normal to get it to shift to the desired levels. On top of that, the response seems to be sluggish as sometimes I need to press twice to get it moving. This is consistent on my two phones of LG V50 and Sony Xperia X Compact. It behaves similarly when connected to my laptop as well.
Secondly, the jump between volume levels are not refined. Jumping from volume of 6/32 to 7/30 on HiBy Music App will emit sudden surge in loudness that can be more than tolerable. The same can be said for usage on YouTube Music and Tidal App – both of which runs on Android stock SRC and honestly I find it annoying that the loudness levels exhibiting big gaps. The only way to mitigate this issue is to use UAPP or any custom ROM Android host which will allow for the user to define the volume steps. HiBy Music App can be configured to do finer adjustment too, by setting it to Software Volume mode (not automatic). Nonetheless, I had hoped that Moondrop would have paid more attention to this. Getting the ideal volume level is one of the major factor for enjoying music.
On the aspect of power drain, I am a bit surprised that Moon River 2 only manage to score 4 hours of usage from 100% to 1% on my Sony Xperia X Compact (2700 mAH battery, Android 8, Airplane Mode). Driving 32 Ohm IEMs. To make sure that this wasn’t a fluke, I run the test 3 times and the results remained the same. In comparison, Cayin RU6, iBasso DC05 scored 6 hours and the likes of xDuoo Link2 BAL and HiBy FC5 scored almost 7 hours. Ovidius B1 scored 10 hours!. The results will still be the same running on 3.5mm SE. All in all, it is below my expectation on this subject.
Last but not least, Moon River 2 does get a bit warm after 2 hours of usage. But this is absolutely normal for a Dongle of this specifications. Most DUAL DAC Dongles will exhibit similar behavior.
Let me put it this way. All the Cons on design and features I ranted earlier? all complaints gone when it comes to the sonic performances of Moon River 2. From the get go I was already impressed on how well it synergizes with my Etymotic ER4SR. The sound being truthfully neutral, natural and near organic – almost analogue.
There’s richness and proper weight in dynamic transients. The output is wholesome as it is properly dense. So very well balanced from end to end in the entire frequency range. No attempt to overdo any segment. Bass, Treble, Mids all sounding in harmony with fluid vibrancy that remains neutral, smooth and crisp.
Moon River 2 is totally free from any sort of coloration. It is also totally free from any element of Pinna Glare commonly heard from ESS Sabre devices. Moon River 2 does not exhibit any unsavory edginess or sizzle in the upper Mids or Treble. There’s no chance for the paired partners to end up being sibilant no matter how resolving and transparent they are. Such is the case with my ultra resolving Shure KSE1500 and the bright-ish Beyerdynamic DT880. The same can be said of my Tripowin Olina, which shines beautifully with that 4 Vrms of power from the 4.4mm BAL port.
On the other hand, Moon River 2 worked amazingly well with “warmer” sounding partners too. In fact I am hearing some of the best output coming from my Fostex T40RP MK3, Kinera Idun Golden and VE ZEN 2.0 – all of which are the more organic sounding unit natively. This is how a great and properly tuned DAC/Amp should behave, It does not care if the paired partners are bright or warm. This versatility and adaptability is probably one of the biggest strength of Moon River 2.
Technically, Moon River 2 is right up there with the very best of performers. It has wide spacious soundstage to equal xDuoo Link2 BAL and CEntrance DACport HD. There’s good sense of openness and space. The imaging being sharp and precise. Spatial stereo spread so holographic that when I was playing Fallout 76, using my open backed earbuds, I almost thought that the sound were from my surroundings.
Moon River 2 has the expected competencies when it comes to resolution, transparency and details. The limit set by what the paired partners can stretch. Which means on my KSE1500, the sonic performance is nothing short of breathtaking and mesmerizing. So very fluid and believable with no hint of artificial reproduction. It was effortless to track individual layers. The speed and resolution being clean and distinct.
It is also worth to note that Moon River 2 seems to be quite forgiving to Lo-Fi as well. With more than half of my songs collection being Black Metal and obscure music productions, I was actually surprised how well the combo of Moon River 2 + Kinera Idun Golden/Olina with those rough music/recordings.
Moon River 2 did not disappoints. That 4 Vrms of goodness is not just for show. It has the power even to drive my Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm properly. The same can be said of Fostex T40RP MK3, both of which are super hard to drive.
Comparing Moon River 2 against my dedicated desktop DAC/Amp stack of iFi ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN Can, I will say that Moon River 2 performs close to 95%. The loudness alone more than enough with the volume set at 40/100 on my Windows 10 laptop, if I crank any higher and it can be very loud. But what’s more important, the output is rich and fluid. About the only thing that I would say the ZEN stack performs better would be the energy level and attack which appear more vibrant. Otherwise if not comparing side by side, Moon River 2 totally can serve as a worthy substitute.
The difference between 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL thankfully is quite marginal. Which means that the sound quality itself is consistent on either port. However, especially for scalable pairing partners, the BAL will then exhibit crisper imaging, transients and openness. Loudness difference between the two ports are also marginal, with my Olina, I set it to 6/32 of volume on the 3.5mm SE, and 5/32 when switched to 4.4mm BAL.
All things considered, Moondrop lived up to the expectations with this Moon River 2. The key elements, Moon River 2 being so exquisitely well balanced to be neutral and organic – with some hint of analogue touches depending on which partner being paired. As I said earlier, the measure of a great DAC/Amp is that they don’t care what type of partners being paired to, be it warm or bright, it just works. Versatility is what makes a great source highly sought after. Moon River 2 also lived up to the 4 Vrms power rating, easily driving stubborn partners properly and satisfactorily. While at it, of course Moon River 2 being agile enough to be delicate with highly sensitive IEMs, totally free from any background noises.
What I do wish that could have been done better, the way Moon River 2 handle volume adjustments. The hardware buttons are not user friendly at all, and the step gaps between levels could use more refinement. Not forgetting less than impressive battery endurance at just 4 hours when competitors offers 6 hours objectively. Last but not least, Moondrop should have forgo the fancy transparent USB C cable and went for something more robust and less likely to get RF interferences.
Well, despite all the Cons which are all on features, I will say that Moon River 2 is among the best released this year yet. The sonic performances can easily make me forget any grouses, immersed in sheer sonic bliss we are fortunate to experience in such compact form factor nowadays.
- Superbly well balanced neutral and natural sound
- Top notch technical prowess
- Great driving power
- Highly versatile and adaptable to any partners
- Clunky volume adjusters
- Less than ideal volume loudness gap between levels
- Battery drain to the host fell short of competitors
- Stock USB Cable prone to RF interferences
Best Pairing: Anything up to 600 Ohms
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