MOONDROP KATO Review: Bright side of Harman target

THE PLUS:
-Excellent tonal balance
-Great resolution
-Fast attack
-Good imaging
-free of sibilance and splashyness
-above average technicalities
-bright but smooth enough
-nice construction and very nice cable

THE SO-SO:
-slightly bright timbre
-lack of sub bass extension and thickness
-average soundstage
-treble lack sparkle decay
-violin sound off
-musicality isn’t always there (subjective, and mostly based to vocal emotivity perception)

TONALITY: 8.2/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8.5/10
CONSTRUCTION: 8.5/10
SOUND VALUE: 8/10

Moondrop doesn’t need presentation. Let’s just say it’s a chifi IEM company that give lot of effort in their tuning even if it’s near 100% based on Harman target. We can underline too that their latest offering, the Aria, is among best sub-100$ IEM money can get. This review was make months ago, but prisonner of my broken laptop, now that the laptop is repair, it’s free to go. The Moondrop Kato follow the KXX, Kanas, Starfield and Aria harman obsession journey, but with it’s own twist. Let’s see how it turn out in this review.

CONSTRUCTION

Moondrop have good taste when it come to unique IEM design, and the Kato is no exception. The all mirror metal body have intricate sculpted body with subtle angles that look very elegant. The issue with mirror finish is that it’s prompt to easy scratching, but Moondrop make another Kato model with mate finish for those worry about this factual issue. In term of durability, these look very sturdy. In term of comfort, it’s very good too.

For the first time, i’m extremely happy with the cable included, it’s an high quality SPC cable that feel very durable and keep the sound crisp and balanced. As well, Moondrop include very unique ear tips, the Spring, which are very nice and a bit similar to Azla in the sens they are sticky and offer secure fit. Another thing to note, the nozzle can be unscrew and Moondrop sell other nozzle type made of copper, which surely affect the sound rendering.
You can buy them here:https://hifigo.com/products/moondrop-kato-nozzle-replaceable-acoustic

SOUND IMPRESSIONS

Overall sound presentation :
If Aria was a smooth near impressionist Harman neutral tuning with slight sub bass boost, the KATO is an expressionist vivid Harman neutral, near W shape and perhaps the brightest of the Moondrop line up. The KATO wake you up, but doesn’t beat you up. It have extra emphasis in texture and treble bite, a crisp, crunchy treble, a more thumpy mid bass that keep mids clean. Its very well balanced too, but not as mid centric as other Moondrop offering.

Timbre wise, it isn’t thin, but just a hint grainy and raspy, in that regard Aria is more natural, organic and polished. To my ears, timbre is most negative aspect of Kato and affect tone of some higher range instruments in a fuzzy way.

Dynamic is very hefty, fowards and lively, i don’t feel it lack weight but its more about attack edge than lead. Mids are a bid leaner than the rest so they feel bland, female vocal aren’t exquisite to my ears compared to Aria and Starfield which are more present.

I find the KATO to excell with jazz and even rock, classical too since violin sound energic and realist. Bass is fast and acoustic bass have good grip and texture, but is a bit scooped in full extension. Percussions are put foward, super well extracted, with rich texture so i would listen to guitar jazz trio and find myself blown away by the accurate, head banging presentation.

Yep, the ULT (Ultra linear) DLC dynamic driver in the KATO excell in speed and control, offering a well define imaging and extracting lotta micro details, all in a linear yet muscular tonality. Resolution is excellent too.

TREBLE is the focus of the show with the KATO, which is surprising for this type of tuning, level of sound info it deliver is more similar to a multi-BA or hybrid IEM, as well, it’s snappy, abrasive yet not splashy or harsh. Sometime, tonality seem to have too much emphasis in higher harmonic, which is more evident with saxophone and human voice that will lack a bit of roundness, body and widen presence. One thing sure, youll never miss any percussions part with this IEM, and man, they are so mesmerizing in details that sometime it take all my attention even if they aren’t unbalanced.

MIDS are a bit more lean, making the KATO feel like a soft V shaped brightish harman, but it’s just due to slight extra mid treble presence since we never have to search for the mids, nor they mix up with other instrument, they have their own place in the middle without being pushed fowards, vocal aren’t coloured, they are intimate, well textured and while not sibilant, they dont lack energy or bite. Still, I don’t think the KATO are made for vocal lover, more for instrumental music. Tone of instrument are right, even electric guitar sound realist which is rare for an Harman tuned IEM, piano in the other hand is a bit dry, saxophone too lack a bit of openess and timbre isn’t very thick. This isn’t your typical Harman mids, Starfield having fuller lusher mid range and vocal.

BASS is where i’m less sure about the presentation, especially in sub-bass rumble, extension, separation. While we have a hint more kick drum presence than typical warm Harman bass, it’s still lacking in heavy ‘’oomph’’ and weighty slam, but the texture compensate lack of density by permiting good bass line extraction and definition, fast and precise with the right instrument like slap or acoustic bass, but for synth sub bass that need 20-50hz density it will feel a bit light and boxy. Hum, i mean, the rumble lack a bit of flexibility to articulate very low bass line, like in IAMDDB ‘’moonlight’’ track, it lack a bit of juice and organic articulation so i wouldn’t suggest KATO for electronic music nor trap rap or big sub slam rap, for R&B it’s better since the electronic drum need speed and control, for soul it’s hit or miss, and as said, for rock and even jazz its quite good.

When it come to SOUNDSTAGE, they are above average, not the widest but they have great deepness. It doesn’t lack air or space, and spatiality is clean enough to feel circular in openess.

IMAGING is another highlight of these, sharp and precise with good separation space, you have a great balance between sound layers and static presence which make the instrument separation fully articulate and accurate. It’s only the bass that is harder to pin point and I can’t explain why.

COMPARISONS

VS FINAL A4000 (1DD-170$)
A vaguely warmer tone, though not so for a Moondrop. The KATO have a lower resolution, a less biting and fast attack but a little fuller mediums. Bass is softer and warmer, less textured and controlled. The mids are fuller, organic, natural and emphatic. The highs are darker and more colorful, extracting only specific parts of the music and shadowing the rest. Technically, it’s noticeably inferior to the A4000s, less peppy and articulate. On the other hand, the spatiality is broader, less intimate although also less deep. The impact of the percussion is more slippery, lacking precision and separation. Cohesion is more consistent than the A4000s, which in this case is a minus. Here, it is the subjective judgment of the musicality that will decide everyone’s preference, because the KATOs are not bad technically and the tone is safer than the A4000s. For vocal music I would go with the KATO, for instrumental and anything that benefits from high resolution and fast attack I would opt for the A4000 which I ultimately find more versatile in performance.

VS MOONDROP ARIA (1 LCP DD-80$)
Kato is notably brighter, with more punchy and textured mid bass, so whole presentation is more energic and lively while smoother and more laid back with Aria. Sub bass of Aria have more rumble and dig deeper, offering sub bass line with longer decay and thicker-cleaner vibrance. Kick drum is less present and it’s attack feel sloppier too. Mids are more intimate with the KATO, more centered, less airy and open and wide in presence than Aria, making it feeling a bit in your head and more recessed, timbre is brighter too, less natural and well rounded in a organic way. High are more vivid, snappy and dig more micro details, pushing percussions line more fowards with Kato, micro definition is better too but overall tonal balance is more cohesive (and darker) as a whole with the Aria, you get immerse in its wide sound space without distraction. Male vocal are a bit fuller with Aria too. We have more sound info with Kato. Imaging is more precise and crisp with Kato. Soundstage is wider taller with Aria but less deep.
All in all, while i find the Aria better balanced, technicalities go to KATO both in attack speed and control, resolution. If you find the Aria to lean, smoothly organic and boring, the Kato is the logical answer, unless your all about vocal.

CONCLUSION

The KATO is one of these rare IEM that is greatly technical yet not clinical, cold or too bright sounding, musicality is there even if overall presentation is serious and even severely authoritative. This isn’t your typical Harman tuning, even if yes, they are similar in tonality to Aria and Starfield, but the attack being faster and more snappy as well as resolution more boosted, it perhaps can represent the gateway drugs for those that find boring too lean sounding Harman tuned IEM.
While the sound benefit isn’t as high as the mythical Aria (law of diminushing return), it’s sure another great IEM from Moondrop that will stay in my precious collection of superior dynamic drivers IEM!

—-

I wanna thanks KEEPHIFI for sending me this review sample after my request. I’m not affiliated to this audio distributor nor he dictate or compromise my honnest point of view.
You can buy the Moondrop Kato for 190$ here:
https://keephifi.com/products/moondrop-kato

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