Moondrop Aria 2021: Alpha Dog

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out Moondrop’s newest sub-100 USD release, the completely revamped Aria.

The original Aria came out in 2018 and featured a more traditional barrel shaped housing. The shells were brass with an attractive chrome coating and housed dynamic drivers with carbon nanotube diaphragms. The cable looked to be the same as that on the Spaceship, affixed to the earpieces with durable metal hardware.

The 2021 Aria drops all but the name and some of the accessories from the original incarnation. The new shell strongly pulls from the Starfield before it with a similar low profile design and cable over-ear intention. The cable is now removable and utilizes a cloth coating. The 10mm dynamic driver being used is set within a brass cavity and has an LCP (liquid crystal polymer) diaphragm with imported Japanese Daikoku-CCAW voice coils, just like the Starfield.

At a price of only 79.00 USD and measurements that line up extremely well with 109 USD Starfield, the Aria seems too good to be true. Is it? Let’s find out.

What I Hear It’s not too good to be true. The Aria is just that good. As you’d expect from the basically identical measurements, it sounds extremely similar to the Starfield, though not identical. I found the Aria just a hint cooler, brighter, and sharper with a slightly tighter low end presentation. The differences are very, very minor, hardly noticeable really, but flipping between the two or using one earpiece from each product at the same time, differences are audible.

Treble is solidly extended with a mild, very pleasing 7k peak that gives the presentation just the right amount of sparkle amidst the presence region bias. Cymbals, chimes, etc. push through with just the right amount of emphasis, adding energy but not overstepping into harshness or causing fatigue. Notes also attack and decay with a natural speed that doesn’t distract. Like the Starfield, the Aria’s treble manages to be neither tiring nor dull, finding an ideal balance of technical competence and entertainment value. Thanks to a reserved lower treble bump, the Aria outputs plenty of detail without sounding overly analytic and dry. Even at listening volumes I’m not comfortable with, the Aria remains very non-fatiguing, though I still prefer the Starfield’s slightly more mellow presentation for long listening sessions.

Dropping into the mid-range we find that vocals and instruments are comfortably weighted, with a slight tilt towards a lean presentation that highlights the Aria’s outstanding clarity and audible coherence. While the upper mids see a step up in prominence, I didn’t find it causing any issues with an overly aggressive or fatiguing presence, though it does contribute to the natural snap of the Aria’s attack qualities. Timbre is outstanding and a step above most other products I’ve heard in recent memory, though the hint of added brightness to the presentation puts it a notch below the Starfield. In the end, picking apart individual elements in a track is made fairly effortless. Multi-driver and much more expensive products will show the Aria the door here, but for a budget friendly single dynamic you’ll hardly find better.

When it comes to bass the Starfield was a bit soft in its presentation. Good, but a bit underwhelming when it came to punch and impact. The Aria sees improvements here as it feels a bit more precise and energetic. The linear nature of the Starfield’s low end is retained with a smooth transition from lower to upper bass. Sub-bass presence is good with the Aria having no problems providing a satisfying visceral rumble when called up, though I find the Starfield’s slightly more loose presentation more satisfying in this one area. Mid-bass is quick with a snappy punch that kicks extra nice at volumes a little higher than I usually listen. Texture and detail are lovely. The info-rich low notes of The Prodigy and Tobacco are reproduced properly and nothing comes across overly smooth or one-note.

When it comes to sound stage I found the Aria above average with a well rounded with a fairly even width and depth. Vocals by default sit just at the edge of the outer ear with sounds and effects convincingly soaring well off into the distance, or pulling further in for an extra intimate presence when called upon. Imaging is just as good as the Starfield with nuanced channel-to-channel movements being exceptionally clear and easy to follow. The larger than average staging does a good job of showing off the Aria’s layered presentation with live recordings displaying clear depth between instruments. I also really enjoy this one with video games as you can tracks sounds and movements or simply immerse yourself in the story without being distracted by odd behaviour. Instrument separation is also excellent with busy tracks being handled quite well, even at fairly high volumes. I’d still rather a multi-driver setup for those situations though.

Overall, the Aria is an unabashed winner of a product. You get Starfield levels of performance at a lower price. This is to my ears the best single dynamic product in this price range thanks to it’s technical competence, tuning versatility, and non-fatiguing nature. It has got clarity, a good sound stage, tight bass, and no glaring flaws. The Starfield is a bit smoother and somehow even less fatiguing, but it’s hard to argue that such minor differences are worth an extra 30 USD. To my dismay, because I adore it, the Aria makes the Starfield kinda obsolete.

Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with a Dayton iMM-6)

Shozy Form 1.1 (74.99 USD): The Form 1.1 comes across significantly bassier than the Aria, despite not being all that much more elevated in the low end. This perceived difference comes about as a result of the Form 1.1’s midrange being more linear and less raised than that of the Aria. While the Aria has the advantage when it comes to speed and control, the Form 1.1 provides a hint more texture and a more visceral experience as a result of it’s more leisurely driver. The midrange of the Aria, as previously noted, is more enhanced from around 1k to 6k where they once again line up. This results in the Form 1.1 sounding warmer and more dense, giving up detail and clarity to the Aria. Timbre quality on both is equally good with a slight advantage going to the Form 1.1 Treble out of the Aria is cleaner and tighter with better defined notes and more air. The Aria’s presence region bias leaves it in a better place when it comes to detail retrieval but it lacks brilliance region sparkle which is present in the 1.1. Both products sound about equal when it comes to snap and attack with each handling rapid passages just fine. When it comes to sound stage the Aria easily takes the cake. The Form 1.1 is quite average in this regard. While it has a nicely rounded stage like the Aria, vocals have a more intimate default presence with sounds staying closer to the ear. Imaging and layering qualities are more nuanced through the Aria with the Form 1.1 being more of a match at keeping individual instruments well separated.

Overall I slightly prefer the Aria, though the Form 1.1 holds it’s own with a signature that is a bit more entertaining thanks to it’s bigger, bouncier bass and upper treble sheen. I’d happily use either as a daily driver.

KBEAR Diamond (79.00 USD): Bass on the Diamond is slower, digs deeper with greater visceral feedback, and is more prominent overall, but the sheer presence of the midbass is too much and leaves it sounding a bit muddy next to the squeaky clean Aria. The Aria’s low end is also more textured. The Aria’s extra speed gives it punch and attack that the Diamond is missing. The Aria’s midrange is more more even in terms of upper and lower balance so male and female vocals sound more evenly represented. The Diamond’s upper mid bump gives it additional presence but throws off the balance considerably. Timbre quality is good on both but the Aria sounds more natural and accurate, lacking the unnecessary sheen of the Diamond. Treble out of the Aria is more detailed and better controlled, free of the splash that haunts the Diamond. The Diamond’s sound stage lacks the width of the Aria, but isn’t too far off in terms of depth. Imaging, layering, and separation are all in Moondrop’s camp which competes with much more expensive products in these regards.

Overall I unquestionably prefer the Aria. It performs on the same level as the Starfield, or slightly above, an earphone which already handily bested the Diamond.

In The Ear Like the Starfield, the Aria is a gorgeous looking earphone thanks to the matte black, rose gold colour combination. The matte black paint job feels very durable, unlike the apparently chip-prone glossy purplish-blue we saw on the Starfield (though mine has yet to chip). I love that Aria is printed on the rear of each housing in the same delicate cursive font used elsewhere. It looks classy and reminds me of older Knowledge Zenith products that printed the left and right indicators in cursive. Fitment of the two halves of the shell is good, but there is a prominent seam circling the base of the face plate that may or may not bother some. The ports for the removable cable are recessed a couple millimetres into the housing offering a snug fit for the plugs and enhanced protection from accidents and careless owners that shove the earphone in their pocket. This is a well-built product.

The cable Moondrop includes with the Aria is not my favourite. I’m not a huge fan of cloth cables at the best of times. While this is one of the better ones, it still suffers from the usual foibles. It kinks easily and is tangle prone above the y-split. One thing it does better than every other cloth cable I’ve tried is prevent cable noise from being transmitted into the ear. These is none. I’m sure a big part of this comes down to the excellent preformed ear guides, but either way it’s great. This to me is its saving grace. That and the excellent 90 degree angled jack which has extremely beefy strain relief, similar to what we’ve seen from past HiFiMAN cables. The metal y-split and chin cinch are also nice additions, though there is no strain relief. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cable started to fray around there with more use. Not a bad cable, but far from my favourite. For the purposes of testing I used it, but otherwise swapped immediately to the Starfield’s cable which I personally find far superior.

Just as with the Starfield, I find the Aria’s ergonomics outstanding, if not improved thanks to the lessened weight of the new shells. The low profile design and low mass keeps weight distribution even around your outer ear. While it has a fairly shallow fit, there is never the feeling of a compromised seal. Isolation isn’t quite as good. I don’t find this entirely surprising given the shallow fit and twin vents on the inside of each earpiece. Of course, foam tips help mitigate this sound leak somewhat, but not enough to make the Aria an ideal pick for routine use in noisy areas like a coffee shop or on transit.

In The Box The Aria’s packaging is some of the nicest available in the sub-100 USD segment. The front of the exterior sheath contains some of Moondrop’s high quality artwork and the Aria model name in delicate cursive. Flipping to the rear of the sheath you’re provided a list of specifications and large graph of the Aria’s frequency response. As has been the case with past products, I have found the provided measurements to be quite accurate and not the usual marketing fluff other brands use simply to draw attention. Removing the sheath reveals a compact black box. Printed in an attractive rose gold you find the model name surrounding but delicately curving lines. Moondrop’s logo can be found on the magnetic flap, also in rose gold foil. Personally, I think it looks fantastic and really gives the impression that something special is inside. Lifting the flap you find the Aria’s earpieces set within an extremely dense foam insert coated with a felt-like material. Beneath is sits a cardboard insert that mirrors the design on the lid. It opens via a piano black ribbon to reveal one of Moondrop’s excellent clam shell cases, held securely in place by the same dense foam as the earpieces. Inside the case are all the included accessories. In all you get:

  • Moondrop Aria earphones
  • Clam shell carrying case
  • 0.78mm cloth coated, twisted cable
  • Single flange silicone ear tips (s/m/l x2)

Overall a very premium feeling unboxing experience, only to find inside a very standard accessory kit. That said, the included accessories are of higher quality than most of the competition. The included tips use a grippy, soft silicone that reliably seals and causes zero discomfort. Some more tip variety would have been welcome, though I appreciate Moondrop doubling up on each size in case you lose a tip or two. The clam shell case is one I adore and having been using extensively with the Starfield for over a year. It is smaller in circumference than most, but has enough depth to comfortably hold the earphones and spare tips while still fitting in most pockets. It has a pleasing texture too thanks to the grippy, knobbled surface.

Final Thoughts Well, this one is a no brainer. If you’ve got 80 bucks to spend on an earphone and want what is arguably the most versatile and competent all-rounder on the market, the Aria is it. It looks cool, offers performance that matches products a tier higher, is well built and extremely comfortable, comes with high quality accessories, and the packaging is gorgeous. Moondrop continues on their path to becoming a leader in the industry, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Thanks for reading.

– B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Moondrop for providing a sample of the Aria for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions and do not represent Moondrop or any other entity. At the time of writing the Aria was retailing for 79.00 USD: www.aliexpress.com/item/1005002368718730.html / https://www.moondroplab.com/aria

Specifications

  • Driver: 10mm dynamic w/ LCP (liquid crystal polymer) diaphragm and dual magnets
  • Impedance: 32 ohms +/- 15% @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 122dB/Vrms @ 1kHz
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz-36kHz

Gear Used For Testing LG G6, DDHiFi TC35B, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

Fleetwood Mac – Rumors

Tobacco – F****d Up Friends

6 thoughts on “Moondrop Aria 2021: Alpha Dog

    1. They’re actually a bit closer than you’d expect. DQ6 is surprisingly a little more balanced thanks to a reduced upper-mid lift giving it a more linear transition through the frequencies. Aria is a hint bassier, has more forward mids that come across a touch more lean but also more detailed. Aria has a bit more upper treble energy. Sound stage is pretty similar with the Aria having the edge thanks to a thinner note presentation and better overall air. Overall the Aria is more technically competent and detailed, though I would give the DQ6 the edge in instrument layering. Given the price difference, the DQ6 comes out strong but I still think the Aria is the one to get if you can afford it.

      Hope this helps.

      – B9

      Like

  1. Moondrop obliterating their competition one tier at a time. Really want to buy this but have already gotten the SSPs. Rest assured, if I need a new iem moondrop will be my first option.

    Thanks for the review B9

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was not feeling down about getting the SSPs at all, they serve me well and for the price they are unbeatable :). Also I can lay sideways while using them so win win lol

        Liked by 1 person

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