Summary – To our regular readers and others who are aware of Moondrop’s products, it will come as no surprise that Kato too is tuned to Moondrop’s in-house target curve called Virtual Diffusion Sound Field (VDSF), which is their extremely close take on the Harman Target curve. Kato has a nice 6-7dB bass shelf below 200Hz, very clean and linear lower-midrange, very nice ~10dB pinna gain (forward upper-midrange) with primary peak at around 2.75kHz, very well balanced treble tuning which is exciting but always smooth and has fairly good upper-treble extension till 20kHz.
If I had to sum up Kato in one sentence – It sounds right. It presents mixes very well, where instruments and vocals not only have very good tonality and timbre, they’re also placed very accurately in the soundstage. On top of that, it has a very dynamic presentation with excellent clarity, resolution and separation between instrument layers for the price. It has a pleasing and addictive quality, and I can happily listen to it for hours on the end without any complaints.
Kato comes with 2 sets of nozzles – Steel & Brass. I primarily hear the Brass nozzle boosting the 15kHz upper-treble peak by a few dBs, which makes Kato sound slightly more open and airy compared to the stock Steel nozzle. I personally prefer the Brass nozzle.
Kato vs KXXS – Kato and KXXS sound similar-ish in the larger scheme of things but Kato is a significant refinement over KXXS and other sub-$200 Moondrop DD IEMs when you test and analyse them properly in detail. Kato has very slightly less gain in the 4-5kHz region, a tiny bit more lower-treble around 8kHz and slightly less of the upper-treble peak around 14kHz that KXXS had, all of which make Kato sound even better balanced in comparison. A/B testing them across multiple genres and songs, Kato definitely comes across as the more mature and refined IEM. It has a more dynamic and realistic presentation as well as a better sense of space. It has taller soundstage boundaries, a cleaner and clearer centre image with better sense of depth, a blacker background and slightly better overall resolution and clarity. All of them make Kato sound more natural and I hear Kato reproducing the songs a bit more authentically. The sound refinement is definitely an upgrade over all previous Moondrop sub-$200 1DD IEMs – KXXS, Starfield and Aria.
Let’s dig in deeper…
Bass – Kato has a very nice, tastefully executed bass shelf of 6-7dBs below 200Hz. It has very good and natural sounding sub-bass rumble and impact. Mid-bass and upper-bass are ever so slightly boosted in comparison to the Harman Target but come across neutral-ish as a whole. Kato has very pleasing and natural bass tonality and timbre, without any of it bleeding or overpowering the midrange. I hear an improvement in bass attack, resolution and precision over KXXS, with Kato coming out as more dynamic sounding out of the two.
Mids – Upper-midrange has a forward presentation with around 10dB pinna gain while lower midrange is very clean and linear with very slightly fuller body in the 250-500Hz than absolutely neutral. Vocals and all instruments have very natural tone and timbre along with good resolution and separation between layers for the asking price.
Treble – Treble is well-balanced, smooth, clean and clear. Kato has a very natural treble presentation, which keeps tonality and timbre of instruments sounding on point, without any harshness or sibilance creeping in. It has very good clarity and detail retrieval for the price. Kato has good amount of air up top and extends well till 20kHz.
Technical Performance (Soundstage, imaging and separation) – Soundstage sounds very clean and has good width and depth along with tall boundaries. It has a blacker background than KXXS and resolves reverb trails fading into depth better. Kato has very good separation between layers for the price, especially considering it being a single dynamic driver IEM. Imaging too is very good, better than KXXS and Aria in my opinion.
Moondrop Blessing2 – Even though Blessing2 is significantly more expensive, it is an upgrade option for many and I think most would like to know how Kato performs in comparison. Blessing2 is a hybrid and has 1DD+4BA. Blessing2 is brighter right off the bat. Kato has a bigger bass shelf and has fatter and punchier bass impact and rumble. It also has a more dynamic bass presentation. Blessing2’s bass has sharper transients and is quicker but lacks outright punch and rumble because of a lower linear bass shelf. It is however more resolving of the micro-details in the bass performance. Blessing2’s lower-midrange sounds ever so slightly cleaner and more neutral in the 250-500Hz range but they’re similarly tuned from 500-5kHz and have the same 10dB pinna gain. Blessing2 is slightly brighter in lower-treble as well as airier in upper-treble. Kato has a slightly warmer and fuller presentation in comparison and a smoother and more pleasing tonality relatively. Blessing2 has a leaner presentation compared to Kato and a cleaner and more open sounding soundstage as a result, which is also more resolving. Blessing2 has better technical performance, especially imaging, detail retrieval and separation but Kato is no slouch for its asking price. It’s all a relative and they both do very well for their respective price segments and sound signatures.
Tanchjim Oxygen – Oxygen has smaller shells with a short and stout nozzle which leads to a shallower fit. I like Kato’s fit much more. Oxygen too is tuned close to the Harman Target. They both have a similar tuning philosophy but also a couple of differences. Oxygen has slightly more gain in the 4-6kHz range and a bit more upper-treble. As a result, it sounds airier, a tiny bit more energetic with stronger instrument definition and resolution but can also come across shoutier than Kato. Kato is a bit warmer in comparison. Vocals and guitars are a smidgen more present and drum instruments have sharper stick attack in Oxygen, which may or may not be your thing depending on your preferences. Overall, Kato has a more pleasing tonality and presentation, sounds punchier and has a more dynamic and hard hitting bass presentation. Oxygen’s soundstage sounds slightly leaner, cleaner and more open but both have similar soundstage boundaries. Tuning differences aside, I think both have similarly good technical performance for their respecting tunings, where both have an upper hand in one thing or another and the final choice will likely depend on one’s liking and preferences rather an outright superiority in my opinion.
Even though Moondrop has a proven track record of releasing very well tuned IEMs one after the other which go on to become prominent recommendations in their respective price segments, I think they’ve definitely upped their game with Kato not just in sound refinement compared to KXXS/Starfield/Aria but also in quality of accessories and packaging when compared to their more expensive flagship offerings. Kato is a very well tuned IEM with very good instrument tonality and timbre, a very dynamic and realistic presentation, good bass rumble and impact, good technical performance for the price and a pleasing reference-ish sound signature that I particularly look for in EDC (Every Day Carry) IEMs. Along with a comfortable fit and an excellent cable, I don’t have much, in fact anything to complain about. Kato’s refinements are definitely a significant improvement and step in the right direction for Moondrop and their single dynamic driver tuning capabilities and not really a side grade to its predecessors, in my opinion. So, if you’re in the market looking for a sub-$200 IEM, Kato is a very easy recommendation from my side. Highly recommended!
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs- HiBy R6 2020 & iBasso DX160
- Phone – Oneplus 7 Pro
- Laptop – Apple MacBook Pro 15″
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