Today, I’m reviewing the Moondrop Dawn dongle DAC. The Dawn is a fully balanced device with dual Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC chips. It’s priced at $69 for the 4.4mm balanced version and $64 for the 3.5mm single-ended version.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Shenzhen Audio for an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Moondrop Dawn Review
Dawn's sound quality rivals that of any other dongles under $100.
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Dynamic and clean sound
Transparent and resolving with a black background
Doesn't get hot when in use
No dual headphone sockets
Gain and filter options only available to Android users
What’s in the tin would be more accurate this time around. Instead of the usual flaky cardboard, Dawn comes in a round metal tin. Nice! We find the dongle DAC and a USB-C to USB-A adapter inside the container. It’s basic but gets the job done and a metal container is more useful than a throwaway box in my opinion.
At first glance, the Dawn reminded me of a feminine hygiene product. But once I got past that idea, the design of it started to grow on me. The chassis is made from an aluminium alloy. Unlike most dongles, Dawn has a cylindrical white body with clean lines and a minimalist vibe.
The cable is non-detachable which is a shame but fortunately, it’s robust and has good strain relief so it should last a good while. The cable and connector housing is transparent so you get a clear view of the tidy wiring within.
There are no onboard volume or playback controls. However, there is an obligatory single LED that glows different colours depending on the current sample rate. So make sure you’re playing a DSD256 file while flossing the Dawn for your friends.
Firmware updates are available and can be applied when Dawn is connected to a PC. You can also switch between High/Low gain and different filter modes via the Moondrop Link app but these features are only available on Android.
So how much power does the Dawn push? Well, the 4.4mm balanced version drives 230mw @ 32Ω and 54mw @ 300Ω. That’s enough grunt to power any IEM and efficient headphones. I wouldn’t recommend it for power-hungry monsters or 600Ω headphones but anything else (within reason) is doable.
I love the sound of the dual CS43131 DAC chips and they feature in some of my favourite dongles like the xDuoo Link2 Bal and ddHiFi TC44C. In the case of the Dawn, I’m really pleased with the sound that Moondrop squeezed out of them in this device.
From the moment I started listening, I was impressed by the spaciousness and staging the Dawn creates. It might sound crazy but to my ears, Dawn’s sound signature reminds me a lot of Moondrop’s IEMs. It sounds transparent and packed with details.
The bass extends deep and is tight and agile. There’s no exaggeration of the lows, just a clean and dynamic bass. The texture is plentiful and the definition is precise. Strap yourself in for some clean slam and impact because the Dawn rocks the lows when paired with competent IEMs or headphones.
I think it’s Dawn’s midrange that surprised me the most. I was stunned at how good the TRN Kirin sounds with this dongle. Normally, the Kirin lacks bite in the mids but it really comes to life with this DAC. The overall resolution and spaciousness really impressed me, especially considering Kirin’s warm tonality.
Dynamic driver IEMs like the Salnotes Zero benefit from Dawn too. I was stunned at the level of transparency and resolution once I had switched to a balanced cable and plugged it into the Dawn. The Dawn and Zero combo is one that any aspiring audiophile could love.
Dawn’s treble is crisp and airy. It doesn’t try to sharpen the image, it merely extends well enough to let the transducers do their best work. In addition, Dawn creates a black background enabling the treble to squeeze out every last detail. As a result, both the treble and the midrange are nuanced and layered.
Like other dual CS43131 DACs, Dawn’s soundstage is large and airy. But it achieves this without lifting the treble. It’s the low noise floor and overall resolution that makes the stage feel open and uncluttered. Correspondingly, the imaging is precise and the virtual space has good forward depth as well as width.
The Moondrop Dawn is one of the top-performing dongle DACs you can buy for under $100. In fact, its performance closely rivals that of its bigger sibling, the Moonriver 2 but at less than half the price.
Sure, a 3.5mm port would come in handy but you’re paying a lot more for the MR2 with minimal gains in performance. As it stands, the Dawn is a stellar performer and well worth the asking price, assuming you only need a 4.4mm headphone socket.