Summary – As I mentioned earlier, S8 follows the Harman Target Curve closely but Moondrop developed their own modified version of the curve, calling it VDSF. S8’s bass boost is a few dBs lesser than the original HTC and the upper 3-6kHz range too is a bit easier. As a result, S8 makes for an easier and smoother listen where the bass is precise, fun yet always in control, lower mids have accurate natural tonality though pushed slightly behind in the stage, upper mids are forward while maintaining the natural tonality and the treble is relatively natural and smooth. But, I have a minor complaint with S8 that I have with HTC in general. S8’s upper mids or Harman upper mids in general have the tendency to come off as forward and slightly peaky in the first listen. Though acclimatizing to them doesn’t take much time and they become enjoyable very quickly and start sounding quite natural, something you then start wondering if is the true natural. Nevertheless I think HTC can do with a few dBs less of gain in the primary upper mids peak, which will help it sound even more natural and even. Of course this is subjective and will heavily depend on one’s preferences and/or the kind of IEMs one has been listening to and likes.
I also want to mention that I read some initial impressions on the internet where people were complaining about S8’s treble. Well I don’t think it is the treble really, it’s again the perception of the upper mids peak. S8’s treble, i.e. post 5kHz is in fact quite natural, smooth and kinda shadowed by the forward upper mids peak but the treble is certainly NOT rolled off by any means. It is tuned to have enough energy required for an unhindered smooth listening experience, just the right amount required for the details and clarity. S8’s upper mids peak actually starts a natural incline at around 1kHz and declines at around 5kH where the highest point of the peak is 10dBs more than the bottom bed of the lower mids. This is exactly what makes S8 and HTC in general sound slightly peaky when you first start listening to it, especially coming from something like a CA Andromeda or Fiio FH7, which do not have the upper mids as forward.
With that said, S8 is actually a very good IEM and is surely one of the nicest that I’ve heard at its price point or under $1000. So, let’s dig in deeper and see how it sounds.
Bass – So much fun! It has slam, punch but always sounds in control with good attack and speed. There is no perceivable roll-off and so the sub-bass is well present and the energy is available from quite low. Bass goes pretty deep with good rumble. The sub-bass post the 3:27 mark in Hans Zimmer’s ‘Why so serious’ plays out very well with the sub-bass giving the intended rumbly effect which is intended to sound like the calm before the storm (before the big drums kick in). S8’s bass is more sub-bass dominant than mid-bass as it has the Moondrop signature curve’s gradual recession which starts post 60-70Hz. Yet crunchy overdriven bass tones which are mid-bass and upper bass dominant are still a lot of fun and quite well presented in the center. All in all, S8’s bass is going to keep the bass lover in you happy and satisfied as the quality and quantity are both pretty good considering all things.
Mids – Lower mids are pushed slightly behind in the soundstage owing to the recessed character of Moondrop’s house tuning as well as the HTC. They have a clean lower-mids character and accurate tonality which makes most instruments lying in the range, especially drums and deeper vocals, a joy to listen to. As I mentioned earlier, upper mids are forward and present which pushes the vocals, guitars and string instruments forward, though keeping the overall tonality of the instruments intact. With the lower mids pushed slightly behind and upper mids being forward and prominent, it helps give a 3D-ish layering to S8’s soundstage. Though I feel that even though heavy distortion guitars are a lot of fun, they are ever so slightly more forward than they are supposed to be. Nevertheless, it does not take away from the fact that S8 does most things in the midrange right (very well in fact) and very little wrong.
Treble – The peaks post 5kHz are not as prominent as the upper mids peak and as a result, the treble is pretty natural and smooth. That helps instruments like guitars and orchestral instruments sound exactly how they are in real life or were recorded in the track without any artificial boosting of treble for that extra sparkle or sizzle as that artificial treble makes string attack and guitar slides sound much more prominent than they actually are in real life. There is no sibilance or any other intrusive treble issues. Though I sometimes long for a dB or two of upper treble and air. This is subjective and depends on how you like your treble served.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation.
S8’s soundstage width is wider than average, though not as wide as some TOTLs out there. If only it was that wide but ‘you can’t always get what you want’ (cue fade in Rolling Stones song’s chorus). Jokes apart, it does depth very well though with a nice black background and that helps with a nice layered 3D-ish imaging of the song. Imaging precision is also very good and resolution and instrument separation is commendable.
ItsFit Fusion – Well they have very little in common. Fusion has a modern signature whereas S8 sounds relatively smoother. Fusion relies on its treble for the details and clarity whereas S8 relies more on its upper mids for the same. Both Fusion and S8 have a very enjoyable bass presentation where S8 has more sub-bass rumble and a more organic presentation whereas Fusion’s bass has more snap with equally good extension down low. Fusion lower mids sounds more modern but are pushed slightly back in the soundstage whereas S8’s sound more organic and natural relatively. S8’s upper mids are more forward and prominent whereas Fusion’s treble seems more present and snappy. Fusion’s soundstage is larger but S8’s sounds more natural and organic overall. Both have very good imaging and instrument separation capabilities.
Shozy Pola39 – Again, Pola39 too sounds quite different from S8 with Pola39 having modern treble and attack and S8 sounding more natural and smoother relatively. Both Pola39 and S8’s bass is super articulate and fun. Pola39 has a dynamic driver handling bass whereas S8 has a Sonion BA handling the same, but S8 still parallels the dynamic driver’s performance quite competitively. Surprisingly S8 has more bass punch, attack and better sub-bass impact and rumble. Pola39’s lower mids are slightly fuller than S8 whereas S8 has better clarity and resolution there. S8’s upper mids on the other hand are more forward which allows majority of instruments to have better attack and presence whereas Pola39’s treble is more unique and present owing to the EST driver on duty and as a result sounds more modernistic. Pola39’s soundstage is airier and slightly wider whereas S8’s sounds more natural and deeper. S8 has better resolution and instrument separation capabilities owing to 8 balanced armatures at work.
Moondrop KXXS – Now since S8 is the oldest sibling in Moondrop’s lineup, I reckon a lot of people would like to know how both these siblings play alongside each other. Both KXXS and S8 are tuned close to the Harman Target curve with some creative liberties. KXXS has a single dynamic handling the full frequency range whereas S8 has 8 balanced armatures. Loosely, both have a similar bass presentation, KXXS’ lower mids are slightly fuller, S8’s upper mids are ever so slightly forward and more present, and KXXS has more presence in treble, particularly the 5kHz and the sizzle around 12kHz. But because of different driver technologies, they have a different feel and flavor. Now since S8 has 8 balanced armatures, it has better resolution, better instrument separation and is even more precise in imaging. S8 has a slightly warmer and a more organic touch to the presentation whereas KXXS feels sparkly and airier because of the treble character. Besides that, they are both tuned to hit Moondrop’s house sound and hence feel like blood brothers sharing some of the DNA.
Well, so there you go! Another IEM from Moondrop that is tuned with a better and more refined take on the Harman Target curve. It does a lot of things right and very little wrong. It is built very well, comes in a nice Anime style box, has ear tips in multiple sizes for one to nail the perfect fit as well as has a nice carry case which serves its purpose well. The cable, even though has good 6N OFC Litz wire, is a bit of a letdown because of the cheap jack and connectors. Nevertheless, S8 wins big in the sound department and that is the first and foremost requirement of an IEM. It sounds very good and with an extremely comfortable fit, is highly addictive. Moondrop makes great products and KXXS has been in my list of all-time favorites for a while now. Now I think it is time to add S8 to the list too. If you want Moondrop’s take on the Harman Target but only have $200 to spare, I highly suggest you get the KXXS. But if you have the budget and want a smooth, more resolving and highly refined take on the same, I highly recommend getting the S8! It is certainly one of my favorite IEMs under $1000 now. I’d love to see Moondrop’s take on more varieties of sound signatures that tap into different segments of the audiophile crowd next. With Moondrop’s proven technical expertise, I’m hoping that’s not far away.
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs- Hiby R6 Pro & iBasso DX160
- Oneplus 7 Pro
Reference Songs list.
- Normandie – White Flag album
- Dave Matthews – Shake Me Like a Monkey
- Foo Fighters- The Pretender, Best of you & Everlong
- Coldplay- Paradise, Up in flames & Everglow + Everyday Life Album
- Ed Sheeran- Thinking out loud, Bloodstream & Galway Girl
- Chainsmokers – Somebody, Sickboy, This Feeling & Closer
- John Mayer- Slow dancing in a burning room, Stop this Train & Say
- Gavin James- Always & Hearts on fire
- Switchfoot- Meant to live & Dare you to move
- Our Lady Peace – Do You Like It & Innocent
- Linkin Park- Papercut, Somewhere I belong & Talking to myself
- Maroon 5- She will be loved, Payphone & Lost stars
- Lifehouse- All in all & Come back down
- Breaking Benjamin – Diary of Jane
- Karnivool- Simple boy & Goliath
- Dead Letter Circus- Real you
- I Am Giant- Purple heart, City limits & Transmission
- Muse – Panic station
- James Bay – Hold back the river