Note: This article is based upon the video "Another Killer Moondrop! - Variations TRIBRID Review” made by Joshua Valour on his YouTube channel and is printed here in partnership with Joshua Valour. The review was originally posted on August 16th, 2021. Edits have been made for clarity and length.
We sent Joshua Valour the Moondrop Variations Tribid IEM to get his thoughts.
"I do think that Moondrop have fully redeemed themselves with this one," he said in a review posted on his YouTube channel. "This should have been what the Illumination was for the price."
Watch his review below or keep scrolling for our lightly edited transcript!
Today we’re going to be talking about the Moondrop Variation Tribrid. I felt a little bit burned by Moondrop the last time I reviewed a more expensive IEM. The Variation comes in at about $520, so it’s definitely not cheap. I really, really like Moondrop’s lower-end headphones like the Aria and Starfield, but the Illumination, which is about the same price as the Variation, I didn’t really care for so much. Today, we’re going to see if they can redeem themselves for the middleweight division of IEMs.
Quick disclosure: Apos, the audio store, sent this out for review. Moondrop has nothing to do with this review, and, of course, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
So this thing’s construction is one of the coolest features about it, both externally and internally. This features a 3D-printed resin that I actually mistook for frosted glass. On the outside it’s slightly transparent. It’s pretty cool. It’s also fairly dense. It legit feels like molded glass. It’s got this metal faceplate with minimal design on the outside. The ear stem itself is on the larger side of medium, so it’s not going to fit smaller ear holes.
Now, the design itself, to me, feels much more like a custom than a universal IEM, which is really cool for me, but because of the more aggressive design, it may not fit all ears.
It comes with a copper cable that has a termination that you can change to a 2.5mm or a 4.4mm, but it’s just the tip--not a whole separate cable.
Triple Driver Design
Now, internally, this features one of my favorite systems, which is a triple driver design system. This actually features five drivers of three different types. There are three balanced armature drivers that handle the mid-range, a dynamic driver for the bass--it gets a little bit of that thump in there--and then there’s an e-stat driver for the top-end. I’m a huge fan of this system. The Fir M5 uses the same triple driver system, and that headphone is not only much more expensive but it’s also one of my favorites. So, going into this, I was pretty excited.
Sound Tuning/ Tonality
I’m going to start with my favorite features and work down from there, but I will say this: if you have any experience with the Moondrop Aria headphone, this headphone sounds like that headphone on steroids. It has the Aria tuning but with hyper-resolution, great dynamics for bass response, and even better mid-range response.
It’s still definitely a fun tuning. It’s not a super-accurate, super-neutral, boring tuning that some other Moondrops seem to be going for. It leans more towards the Aria side of things than it does the Starfield side of things. I think that’s perfectly fine, because this thing, as just an enjoyment headphone, is pretty wonderful. The overall tonality is slightly warmer-shifted, and I personally enjoy it. It doesn’t feel dry or under-saturated or cold in any region.
I think the treble is probably my favorite feature of this headphone, because it’s got that glittery aspect, where nothing is super-bright. Nothing is forced down your throat or anything like that. It just has hyper-resolution, good texture, good tonality, and it’s just an enjoyable, pleasing treble response.
Now, this may lean a little dark for some users. It does have a peak at about 9K. I’m much more sensitive to the 7K region though, and that area seems to really irritate me, and there’s a pretty big 7K dip in here. So, again, this leans towards my preferences. After about 10K, it starts to slope off quite a bit. The upper region of the treble response is not going to be really super-forward. Despite that, I felt like the resolution of that region was really good, but coming from something like the Fir M5, which is about six times as expensive as this headphone and has a more fulfilled upper treble response and is more lively, but given the price differentiation, I’m perfectly willing to make the sacrifices that this has: high resolution but lower forwardness.
There is a pretty big dip in the mid-range, just like the Aria. I felt like the separation factor between the vocalist and the background was really good. You still get this seemingly-isolated vocalist, and they’re actually pretty broad, they can be big, but the frequency response is just not as forward. I think this headphone would benefit from a more forward mid-range experience though. I don’t find it bad. It’s pretty enjoyable to listen to, but vocals definitely feel like they’re just part of the mix rather than the focus. I don’t mind the tuning of this personally, but I do tend to prefer a little bit more forward mid-range tuning.
Now, the bass response is really good. The dynamic driver does what it’s supposed to do, which is to provide good resolution and excellent punch. I feel like you get that and a mix of satisfying thump for those people wanting more rhythm-based music, but you also get a decent amount of texture. Now, the reason why bass is on the end of the list is because, while it’s very good, I just don’t feel like it’s five times better than the Aria. It’s good. It’s better. It’s clearly superior. But it’s not way, way better.
Imaging and Soundstage
The imaging and soundstage--similar to just about every IEM that features an e-stat driver--is super-precise. The body--the main bulk of the positioning for the sound stage--is actually fairly intimate, but then you get something that’s like way off in the distance, and it really shows you the capability of this driver if it’s paired with really good music. Overall, you get a personal listening experience with spotty performance on the real outskirts, but it’s capable of producing music on the outskirts--so it’s kind of weird in that way.
Okay, so some competition at lower prices and higher prices. The sound-staging is good, but it’s not the widest I’ve seen. I’ve even seen much cheaper IEMs like the FInal Audio a4000 that is wider in terms of sound-staging. I haven’t found a great mid-range-performing headphone for this price. I’ve found good ones, but I haven’t found a great one, so I’m still on the search for a really mid-range-focused IEM with a middleweight price tag.
The bass response is very good. It’s definitely better than the Illumination, like, by far, and it’s better than any other Moondrop that I’ve heard, but it does get beat out by slightly more expensive IEMs like the ie900 from Sennheiser. But again, that’s like double the price tag, so it’s not exactly fair.
So, overall, I do think that Moondrop have fully redeemed themselves with this one. This should have been what the Illumination was for the price. I’m glad we have options, but if you’re into the more v-shaped fun tuning of the Variation, and you’re looking around this price tag for a well-built IEM, I do think that this is a fair IEM for its price tag and its sound quality.
Now, the value position of this. I do think it’s on the upper end of what I would charge for this. The price tag is fair, but I wouldn’t really say that it punches above its price tag like some of their lower-end Moondrops, which really hit above their price category. This one is about even with what I would expect at this price range. It’s got a lot of high quality features. You’re starting to see some really special features pop up, but it also has some detriments that keep it from really skyrocketing into the stratosphere of competition.
Okay, guys, I think that’s gonna wrap it up. Thanks a lot for watching. Until next time. My name is Josh. Signing off. Peace.