Where to start? Moondrop is a Chinese IEM manufacturer that has seen consistent growth in the ChiFi market. They seem to have hit on a winning formula and are milking it for every last drop. That’s capitalism at its finest but hey, if it works, go with it right? In this review, I’m looking at the Moondrop Aria earphone. The Aria is (in a nutshell) a trickle-down product following in the footsteps of the Moondrop KXXS and Starfield.
In fact, it is so similar to the previously mentioned models that you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference in a blind test. But guess what? That is a massive plus for consumers because it means they can get virtually the same performance as the high-tier models at a fraction of the cost. Let’s dive deeper.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Build quality and design
Transient response and clarity
Not for bassheads
Driver Unit: LCP liquid crystal diaphragm-10mm diameter double cavity magnetic diaphragm dynamic unit
Headphone Socket : 0.78mm 2-pin
Sensitivity: 122dB/Vrms (@1kHz)
Frequency response : 5Hz-36000Hz
Effective frequency response: 20Hz~20000Hz
Packaging & Accessories
Aria’s box comes with an attractive black cardboard sleeve with a pretty waifu illustration on the front. On the back of the sleeve is a lift of specifications and a frequency response graph. The actual box has a matte black finish with gold-coloured highlights. It’s a classy looking package and fairly extravagant for something in this price range. Here’s what you get inside the box:
Moondrop Aria earphones
Detachable fabric braided 0.78mm 2-pin cable
Zipper carrying case
6 pairs of silicone eartips
Plastic tweezers tool
6 pairs of spare nozzle filters
Documentation & warranty card
The Moondrop Aria shells are crafted using metal injection moulding and CNC carving processing. The end result is a very elegant design with a matte black finish and a gold striped pattern on the faceplates. Internally, Aria has a 10mm LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) dynamic driver housed in a brass cavity.
On the top side of the shells is the Aria model name printed in a stylish typeface. Just near the top edge of the housings is a small vent and there’s another one near the base of the nozzle. These nozzles share the same lipless design as the ones on the Starfield but I haven’t had any issues with eartips coming loose.
Aria comes with several replaceable nozzle filters which can be swapped out if the old ones become clogged with ear wax over time. It seems that Aria was built with longevity in mind, considering the filter system and the improved shell finish: It looks to be more resilient than the Starfield’s paint which was known to chip fairly easily.
The included cable has a braided fabric sheath. Its 0.78mm connector housings are plastic and it has heat-shrink ear guides for increased stability and comfort. The Y-split, chin slider and right-angled plug are all matching black aluminium.
In terms of handling, the cable performs well and has minimal microphonics. When I first took it out of the box it was haphazardly wound up and was quite a mess but it has since relaxed and is now manageable. Overall, it’s a decent cable and matches the aesthetic of the earphones nicely.
First impressions of the Aria reminded me a lot of the Moondrop Starfield. In fact, I could almost just say Aria is a more affordable Starfield and finish the review there. That’s how close they are. But you know I don’t roll like that so let’s break it down.
Aria has a balanced sound with a subtle lift in the bass, upper midrange and lower treble. The overall tonality is U-shaped with some added warmth from the boosted bass response. While the midrange isn’t what I would call full-bodied, it doesn’t sound thin either but rather finds the middle ground.
The bass is subtly lifted and linear from sub to mid-bass, giving Aria a low end that’s only lightly boosted yet still confident. The bass seems a tad tighter and has a faster decay than the Starfield but still has plenty of drive and gusto. One of the most common criticisms of the Starfield was its loose bass and I feel that has been improved with the Aria, yet it’s still a “fun” bass tuning.
Aria’s bass doesn’t feel slow or heavy but is rhythmic and melodic. It doesn’t have the clean lines of a balanced armature bass but it sounds natural and engaging. There is enough body and warmth to drive hip-hop, pop and jazz tracks yet it’s also nimble enough for metal and other complex music genres.
The body and fullness of the bass carry over a little into the midrange, providing warmth without having an adverse effect on the soundstage. There’s still plenty of room for the midrange to breathe, thanks to the bass control, even despite the naturalness of its decay. In “Barbados” from the Jazz at the Pawn Shop album (Arne Domnérus) the rhythmic double bass can be clearly heard throughout the song without being lost amongst the other instruments nor dominating the scene.
Aria’s midrange has a neutral note size but inherits some warmth from the bass. So, even though it’s inherently neutral in nature, there’s enough forwardness and fullness to maintain engagement. In Bootsy Collins’ “I’m Busy – Off Da Hook”, the bass slams yet there’s still ample room for the vocals to flourish and grab your attention.
Aria has good midrange clarity, resolution and detail retrieval. True to its lineage, Aria’s lower mids are slightly less pronounced than the upper midrange zone but male vocals still sound chesty and powerful. Although the upper midrange is pronounced, it’s not shouty, sibilant or grating.
As you might expect from a Harman-based tuning, Aria’s upper midrange is a little rolled off but its ample extension provides lightness and air to the sound. Furthermore, like so many of its peers, Aria has a lower-treble emphasis, peaking at 5kHz before starting its roll-off.
So this is another smooth and warmer treble tuning but to its credit, Aria still has plentiful air and openness in its sound. Detail retrieval is good and while it’s not the most precise or sparkly treble, it adds ample clarity and definition.
The soundstage dimensions are average in size but thanks to the instrument separation and control, the stage is well organized and tidy. Vocals have a neutral stage position, being neither too close nor distant.
Instrument separation is impressive, especially considering it’s a single dynamic driver doing all the work. As such, Aria is more than capable of keeping up with complex tracks (within reason) and also does a pretty good job with imaging and instrument layering.
iBasso IT00 ($69)
The iBasso IT00 is a single dynamic driver IEM. It has an upfront presentation compared to Aria’s more spacious sound. IT00 has more sub and mid bass giving it a meatier low end with more kick and rumble.
IT00’s midrange has more body and fullness. Vocals are pushed forward further compared to the Aria. Aria sound more open with smaller note size and thinner vocals. IT00 is just as resolving but Aria has superior detail retrieval.
Compared to the Aria, the IT00 treble is more subdued. Treble notes are rounder and warmer than the Aria. The IT00 treble falls off more rapidly above 4kHz, making it more suitable for treble-sensitive folk. Aria has a cleaner, lighter overall presentation compared to IT00’s upfront and bold sound.
Whizzer HE01 ($79)
The Whizzer HE01 is another single dynamic driver earphone. It has a light V-shaped signature that’s just slightly more pronounced than Aria. The HE01 has a more upfront and expressive sound compared to Aria’s lighter, more ambient presentation.
The HE01 bass is more elevated than the Aria and favours the mid-bass over the sub-bass. Although both share an upper midrange lift, the HE01 is fuller in the lower midrange which gives it extra warmth and body. Vocals are larger and more forward on the HE01 compared to Aria’s leaner and cooler midrange tone.
Both IEMs share similarities again in the treble, however, the HE01 is more energetic in the highs but is just as smooth as the Aria. When it comes to detail retrieval both IEMs are on par. However, Aria has better imaging and a cleaner soundstage thanks to its leaner midrange and increased instrument separation.
The Moondrop Aria is basically a copy of its bigger sibling the Moondrop Starfield. In fact, it’s so similar I have some difficulty telling them apart in a blind test. Even on technical merits, the two are near indistinguishable.
Considering the Starfield has been one of the benchmark $100 IEMs for over a year already, that makes the Moondrop Aria a real no-brainer for prospective buyers. It has excellent build quality and comfort plus it just sounds darn good.
If you’ve been tempted by the Starfield but didn’t want to cross that $100 threshold then now is the perfect time to jump on the Aria. Likewise, if you’re shopping for something in the entry-level tier you should definitely put this earphone on your hotlist. I know it’s going on mine.