Current testing methodology is v1.2
April 8, 2022
4.41 x 4.37 x 1.65 in
For a hobby that gets as expensive as personal audio, it’s only natural to want to test the waters for as low a cost as possible before really committing to the “investment”.
Because of the sheer size of the potential market here, the low-budget category, which is usually defined as anything priced below $30, has become extremely competitive.
One of the most popular of these in recent memory is the Moondrop Chu. Priced at $20, the hype train surrounding them has given them the reputation of earphones that you just recommend to everyone.
And, as it was recommended to me, I naturally had to hear it for myself
The audiophile gold standard for the budget earphone category
Setting a very high bar for low-budget audiophiles, the Moondrop Chu offers a clean and well-balanced sound.
With a solid build quality, these earphones are quite lightweight and comfortable.
The soundstage could be a bit better but with its excellent sound and several included accessories, there’s really not much to complain about the Moondrop Chu, especially with its $20 price tag.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back in-ear monitor
- Driver Type: 10mm single dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 10 – 35,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 120 dB / mW (@ 1000 Hz)
- Impedance: 28 Ω @ 1000 Hz
- Cable: 1.2m
- Connector: Right-angled 3.5mm connector
What’s in the Box?
- Moondrop Chu earphones
- Carrying case
- Ear hooks
- 3 pairs of Moondrop Spring ear tips (S, M, L)
Stuff I like
- Versatile, capable sound that defies its price tag
- Premium look and feel for the price
- Includes Moondrop Spring ear tips
Stuff I like less
- Ear tips are hit or miss
- Frustrating cable
- Questionable housing design
Where to get it
Comparable products to consider
Not quite at the same level of performance, the smaller and cheaper Moondrop Quarks are a lot more comfortable to live with thanks to their more conventional design.
Overview and History
Moondrop has become one of the most notable names in the heated market of Chinese audio manufacturers, collectively known as “Chi-fi”.
With a catalog that ranges from the ultra-budget Quarks earphones to the Venus headphones and even some TWS designs like the NEKOCAKE, Moondrop has wowed the audiophile market in practically every product segment.
The Moondrop Chu is a step up from the Quarks, with a design direction aimed at a “lite” version of their more expensive Aria earphones.
Moondrop has given Chu a surprisingly premium first impression.
From the flip-out box to the decent range of accessories they include, the Moondrop Chu comes in a package that shows you it means business.
Some praise Moondrop for including 3 pairs of their Moondrop Spring ear tips with the Chu—a set that could be purchased separately for $15.
I hate to break it to them, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting the Chu for $5 extra—that just means you’re massively overpaying for the ear tips.
Of course, there is the elephant in the room—the anime girl Moondrop uses as their mascot, which attracted a bit of a polarizing opinion in the community. Personally, I don’t mind it, but I can understand why the old guard may not like this approach.
The build quality of the Moondrop Chu is generally pretty good.
However, the brand has made some very unusual design choices that drag the Chu to just below unstoppable in its price class. These design choices mostly revolve around housing and cable.
For some reason, the Moondrop Chu’s housings only have a few millimeters of strain relief between them and the cable. This is a pretty major weak point that can be put under stress any time you let the housings dangle under their own weight.
And I want to make clear that this happens a lot—from accidental drops and falls to pressing on the strain relief itself when you take the earphones off like a normal person.
The choice to use metal housings doesn’t help, either. While it boosts that “premium” feel, the extra weight from the housings only puts more strain on the cables than if they were made with plastic.
Now, there is nothing wrong with trying to make a pair of earphones feel premium and upscale.
But the Chu is also a $20 pair of earphones; they don’t need to feel premium to compete by any means, especially not when they perform as well as they do.
Fit and Comfort
For the most part, the Moondrop Chu has the comfort aspect nailed down.
The earphones themselves are small and don’t stick out of these ears too much, and the included Spring ear tips grip well and compress easily to adjust to slight differences in ear canal shape.
What I didn’t like was the cable. As mentioned previously, the Chu is designed with short strain reliefs on the housings, which means there’s a considerable length of cable that has to go around your ears to fit.
This would be fine if the cable didn’t already have skewed memory from how it was packed.
“That’s fine,” you might think. “I’ll just use the included ear loops in the box.”
While the ear loops aren’t bad, they’re quite literally the generic, universal type of ear loop with a single size.
What happens, then, is that there’s still a noticeable length of cable running from the Chu that isn’t covered by the ear loop and still dangles annoyingly when you take the earphones off.
Integrating an ear hook into the Chu, which is just a more rigid tubing added over the original cable, would’ve been a more elegant solution to this. It would probably even help with durability by acting as an extra-long strain relief.
The sound signature of the Chu almost perfectly lands on Moondrop’s own target frequency response curve, which they call VDSF or Virtual Diffuse Sound Field.
For the nerdier headphone enthusiasts out there, VDSF is a fusion of two of the most popular frequency target curves: the Harman in-ear target and the diffuse field curve.
Now, what this means requires a lengthy explanation that deserves its own article, but what you do need to know is that the Moondrop Chu has a well-balanced and slightly forward sound signature that’s far more capable than it has any right to be.
With a sound aimed more toward audiophiles, Chu’s bass is noticeably on the leaner side.
There’s a decent amount of mid-bass punch demonstrated in songs like “어푸” by IU, but nothing particularly intense.
What it does have a lot of is sub-bass power. Haywyre’s sub-bass line in “Storyteller” is reproduced clearly with a satisfying rumble despite the brighter skew of the song, and the growl of Tennyson’s bass in “Get Gone” is visceral and impactful.
It’s not bass-head material, but it’s very satisfying nonetheless.
The midrange tuning of the Chu shows a level of refinement that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before from earphones of this price.
It’s very even-handed with its presentation and reproduces details with piercing clarity. Even with denser recordings like M2U’s “Like I Am” the Chu holds the piece together with no part of the mix ever being overshadowed by the other.
Very often is the treble a pitfall for budget earphones, especially at the Chu’s $20 price point.
This is understandable as damping and tuning these higher frequencies is a lot harder to do, and tricky to execute on a limited budget.
Moondrop, however, has managed to pull it off. Even on deliberately harsh tracks like Darren Korb’s “Brusher Patrol”, the Chu’s treble retains its crispness without being grating on the ears.
The soundstage is another common weak point for a lot of budget earphones.
Unlike the treble, the Moondrop Chu didn’t quite overcome this—pulling it yet another rung down from perfection.
The sound space it produces is very in-your-head, with the music feeling like it spreads from inside your head out to your temples.
Of course, this experience is pretty dependent on the recording that you listen to. Some tracks like Masashi Hamauzu’s “March of the Dreadnoughts” have a very wide and immersive mix that extends beyond Chu’s typical space.
I do have to praise the Chu on its imaging ability. Despite the density of “March of the Dreadnoughts” and other songs from the Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack like “Saber’s Edge”, the Chu competently reproduces the space without missing any details.
There isn’t much more to say about the Chu in terms of value—if the sound quality alone is anything to go by, the Moondrop Chu is immediately worth a try, especially at $20.
It’s able to handle just about any music you throw at with a balance and cleanness that you used to only see in $100 earphones and up.
The Moondrop Chu is, by all means, one of the most compelling deals the audiophile scene has ever seen in the last few years.
With a balanced but engaging tone and technical capability that rivals earphones priced many times higher, it’s hard to see the Chu as anything less than a must-buy earphone for anyone from first-time audiophiles to savvy shoppers who want a cheap but excellent pair of earphones to beat around on the daily commute.
Of course, it’s still not the perfect budget earphone.
The balanced, mass-appeal sound may work for most people, but it only works for most people. There will inevitably be those that want more bass or less harshness or a wider soundstage or any myriad of those things.
And while they’re cheap enough to just buy another one when they break, replacement is only needless waste—I would’ve liked to see them build the Chu a bit more sensibly.
Despite my reservations, the Moondrop Chu will still be my go-to recommendation for those who want to get into great audio on a budget. More specific needs can always be figured out later, but for most people, this is more than enough.
Freelance writer, part-time streamer, full-time disappointment. Got into headphones too early in life and now knows too much about them.
This post was last updated on 2023-03-28 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.