Current testing methodology is v1.2
July 6, 2023
MOONDROP CHU II
4.02 x 3.62 x 1.89 in
Moondrop, the darling of the Chi-Fi audiophile community, fired up one of the most significant hype trains with the release of the Chu.
While I was very late to that train when I reviewed it earlier this year, the Chu definitely proved itself to be a very compelling budget killer with a few caveats. For me, it was mainly its unwieldy, removable cable, but many other people have reported their own sets of problems.
Well, Moondrop has responded to all of that feedback with the release of the Moondrop Chu II. Touted to be the “endgame of entry-level IEMs”, Moondrop wants this IEM to be the best in the $20 or less bracket with no exceptions.
How did they do this? Were their solutions any good? And why does it look like a Moondrop Lan? All this and more after the jump.
Moondrop Chu II
A budget endgame earphone forced into the mold of a name it doesn’t quite deserve
he Moondrop Chu II is one of the greatest sub-$20 earphones we have ever come across. Combining an approachable but highly capable sound signature with great ergonomics and durability, it’s now the new must-buy IEM for budding audiophiles on a budget.
That said, its name implies it is a successor to the also-excellent Moondrop Chu. And while it does improve on some parts, its sound is too much of a departure to justify calling it an upgrade — much less a Chu in the first place. It’s an interesting dilemma that gives the Chu II a bit of an identity crisis.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back in-ear monitor
- Driver Type: 10mm dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 119 dB
- Impedance: 18 Ohms
What’s in the Box?
- Moondrop Chu II earphones
- 3 pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
- 1.2m cable (0.78mm 2-pin to 3.5mm TRS)
- Carrying pouch
Stuff I like
- Simpler, less finicky fit
- Ridiculously good value
- Much appreciated removable cable
Stuff I like less
- Sound is a sidegrade to the Chu
- Doesn’t include Spring ear tips
- Unimpressive isolation
Comparable products to consider
The Chu II’s removable cable and better ergonomics make it hard to recommend the first one, but the original Moondrop Chu has an airier, brighter sound that some might like (myself included) — and most importantly, it comes with Moondrop Spring tips that otherwise would cost almost as much as the earphones themselves.
A Bit of Background
If you’ve shopped around for earphones at any time within the last couple of years or so, an example from Moondrop most likely showed up as a recommendation at least once.
This Chinese earphone maker has been one of the most popular brands in the audiophile community in recent times, thanks to their striking designs, excellent value for money, and generally great performance with just about every design they’ve released.
The Chu was especially good. Released in early 2022, it succeeded the Spaceship as Moondrop’s primary budget model at the $20 mark. And to put its story short, it took the community by storm.
It was a budget killer with a tone and capabilities that punched far above its price tag, but I felt was held back by its inconvenient physical design (and especially that damn cable). The Moondrop Chu II was marketed as being an improvement on the original—but as we will cover later, whether it’s an improvement across the board is a bit debatable.
Moondrop has always managed to keep their unboxings quite nice even at the low end of the price spectrum. While the necessity of an anime girl on the box art is still hotly contested by older audiophiles who don’t like anime, I still feel it’s a pretty nice touch.
On paper, the accessories are basically the same. You get ear tips in three sizes and a carrying case. Thanks to the proper around-the-ear cable design, we get to drop the generic earloops that came with the original Chu.
However, as you’ll see in the image above, there are two main differences: the carrying pouch and the ear tips. Fans of the original Chu will be disappointed to learn that the new version doesn’t come with Moondrop’s specially designed “Spring” ear tips. This was a massive value add-on to the original as Moondrop would sell a 3-pack of these ear tips for a rather outrageous $15.
As for me? I don’t mind them dropping the Spring tips as I honestly never really liked them.
If the choice to drop the Spring ear tips from the Moondrop Chu II’s accessories package was a cost-cutting measure, I absolutely welcome them doing so to allow the Chu to get the build upgrades it so desperately needed.
The original Chu’s cable was non-removable and fused to the housings with very little strain relief, which made me worry quite a bit about their durability. Thankfully, the Chu II moves to a removable cable design with a housing that’s shaped like a smaller version of the Moondrop Lan.
This, of course, is nothing new for Moondrop, as they’ve released lots of earphones that are slight redesigns of old ones (see the KXXS, Kato, and Starfield as an example). Arguably the only design that the Chu II shares with its predecessor is the color scheme, fern leaf motif, and painting style that’s notorious for chipping off over time. Even now Moondrop still doesn’t give their paintjobs a proper clear coat.
If there’s anything I have to nitpick, though, it’s the included cable itself. I don’t mind them bundling a cheap cable with a cheap earphone but for some reason, they seem to have opted for one with clear plastic insulation and metal inner shielding.
While only time will tell if the insulation will crumble away, I can say from experience that this is the kind of cable that will turn yellow in a few months — just look at the photo above as a reference.
Fit and Comfort
Considering the bump-up in build quality that the Moondrop Chu II has over its predecessor, it naturally had me wondering what corners had to be cut to make this possible. In this case, it was the ear tips.
If you liked the Spring ear tips from the Chu, the ones included with the Chu II won’t be very impressive. But I didn’t like the Springs as they were overly grippy. The fit was too shallow for my tastes and it had flanges that were really soft and floppy.
The Chu II and their more conventional ear tips didn’t introduce any surprises to work around, making them much easier to fit for me. The small housings and its flat outer base allow them to fit flush, which is a plus for anyone who likes lying on their side with earphones on.
Of course, there’s also the option of using the Springs from the Chu and putting them on the Chu II — the fit will feel slightly different but it’ll still be pretty comfortable.
What caught me the most by surprise about the Moondrop Chu II was their target sound tuning.
For those out of the loop, Moondrop has its own in-house sound target that they call VDSF, or Virtual Diffuse Sound Field. To spare you the lengthy details, their sound target could be described as a brighter version of the Harman target, with less of a bass boost and more emphasis on the mids.
The first Chu was meant to be their flag-bearer on the budget end, following this VDSF target to a T and serving as a great introduction to Moondrop’s house sound.
The Chu II… doesn’t do that. In a rare departure from this sound, the Chu II seems to be tuned much closer to the mainstream Harman In-Ear Target, with a significantly warmer tilt compared to the Chu. Let’s break it down further.
Although the difference in treble emphasis will be the first thing you notice when you’re coming from the original modal, the Moondrop Chu II’s bass response stands out as a very welcome change.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Chu is no slouch in the low-end. The way it interacts with the bright upper frequencies gives it a uniquely clear and well-defined tone. The Moondrop Chu II, however, takes things a step further by reining in the mid-bass and adding a lot more oomph in the sub-bass.
808s and similarly low basslines like in ENNY’s “Peng Black Girls” get tons of tasteful rumble with practically no midrange bleed. I cited the opening buzzy bassline of Tennyson’s “Feelwitchu” as a highlight of the Chu’s bass detail and the Chu II, however, takes this up a notch with just that bit more sub-bass that hits the sweet spot for me.
The Moondrop Chu II gives a very even-handed treatment to vocals despite the slight warm lift from the bass. Female vocals like in Popola’s version of “Song of the Ancients” are handled with an appropriate reverence. Samm Henshaw’s comes through well despite the rather crunchy mix of “Broke“.
Its midrange clarity is a standout across all songs but is especially great when songs give the human voice the space to breathe like in the minimal production of Doja Cat’s “Attention“.
As great as it is, though, the Chu II’s midrange doesn’t do anything interesting on its own merits. The brighter presence of the first Chu gives it an interesting flavor that I didn’t quite get to cover the first time around but is noticeable if you jump between the two.
The treble tilt of the original model has been flipped on its head in the Moondrop Chu II, producing a smoother and more laid-back presentation. As someone who likes brighter sound signatures, I thought I’d be disappointed by the change. this stopped being the case after a few listens, though, as the Chu II still keeps that detail from its predecessor.
There’s quite a bit of upper treble air and extension smoothed over, but it does take the edge off of harsh upper frequencies like the cymbals in “Rainy Boots” by inabakumori without really affecting its clarity in most other songs. Smoothed over sibilance peaks is also super appreciated.
Of all the things to talk about with the Moondrop Chu II, the soundstage is the one that stands out to me the least for two reasons.
For one, my ears can’t really tell much of a difference between the new and the old Chu. The original was already very good at imaging given its price class, although it didn’t do much in terms of size — to me, it felt like it was ear-width. If the Chu II improved on it in any way, I never noticed during my listening sessions.
But if we’re being honest, the first Chu has already set the bar high enough given its cost constraints. I find it a bit unreasonable to expect much more.
Given the Moondrop Chu II’s positioning as a product, there are two questions that need to be answered when we tackle their value proposition.
Let’s start with the easy one: purely on its own merit, the Chu II is a must-buy at its price of under $20. With a sound quality as good as this, I’d say it’s still worth buying at $100 if it has a fancier cable and accessories package.
But if you already have the Chu, is the Chu II an upgrade that warrants a name that implies it’s a second generation of something? I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong, the Chu II does fix a lot of problems that I had with the first one, mostly in the ergonomics department. But from a sound perspective, I can’t quite say the same — the Chu II sounds substantially different from its predecessor so you can’t make an apples-to-apples comparison anymore.
As much of a cop-out as this answer is, it really does come down to personal preference.
If you really want the brighter Moondrop VDSF sound, the original Chu is the cheapest way to get it — and you get a pack of Spring ear tips as a bonus. But for most people, I’d be more inclined to recommend the Chu II because of its smoother top end, stronger bass, and better physical design.
The Moondrop Chu II is an earphone with an identity crisis.
Whether they were able to read my mind or were just keenly aware of the limitations of the old design, the Moondrop Chu II managed to fix every little issue I had with the Chu and still push the envelope a couple of steps further.
The design improvements help a lot with both fit and longevity and drive home its point of being a $20 earphone that gives $100 ones a run for their money.
But in doing so, I feel that Moondrop has stepped a bit too far away from what makes the Chu what it is. Giving this earphone the “Chu” name set a lot of expectations for me before I even opened the box, and I would imagine this was the same for anyone else who bought this.
By all metrics, it was able to blow right past them — though not always in the way I expected. But in terms of looks, the Chu II looks closer to the Lan than its predecessor, while the original felt more like a miniature Aria. And in terms of sound, the gap between the two is even wider.
What I’m saying is that the Chu II isn’t really a successor — it’s an entirely different earphone.
It’s an amazing earphone, of course, living up to that “budget endgame” moniker in every sense. But the Moondrop Chu II is an earphone that, by any other name, would be just as impressive.
This post was last updated on 2023-11-28 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.