Improved build quality and tolerances, Exceptionally linear and well-detailed treble, Highly natural midrange voicing and timbre, Sub-bass boost minimises tonal colouration, Solid driver quality, Low-profile modular cable
Sub-bass boost harms separation, Larger shells won’t suit all, Dainty EST note presentation may polarise
The Variations is a brilliant update to the venerable Blessing 2 that retains a strong sense of value even at its elevated price point through a combination of tonal refinement and technical accomplishment.
Moondrop have been a popular and well-regarded name in audio for some years now. And, a lot of their current success and prominence can likely be attributed to the Blessing 2. This 5-driver hybrid offered a detailed sound and a very mature DF-neutral inspired tuning with a moderate bass boost for wider appeal. It was positioned at an incredibly accessible price point (as far as enthusiast earphones go) making it an instant hit with critics and users alike, remaining one of the most frequent recommendations at its price point. The Variations is Moondrop’s latest effort and clear parallels can be drawn between it and the B2. It sports the same chassis with a revised smoked matte finish and updated cable. Most importantly, the driver setup has been revised, with a new LCP dynamic driver woofer, 2nd generation Soft Ears midrange balanced armature array and Sonion’s electrostatic tweeter array on top. With a moderate price bump, the Variations sets its sights on the new wave of estat touting midrange IEMs.
I would like to thank Herbert from Moondrop and the team at Soft Ears very much for their quick communication and for their generosity in accommodating a discounted Variations for honest review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones at a slightly reduced cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Drivers: 10mm DD, 2x Mid BA, 2x Electrostatic treble
- Materials: Resin + stainless steel
- Frequency Response: 9 Hz – 40 kHz
- Impedance: 15.2 Ohms @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 118 dB @ 1 kHz
Behind the Design –
LCP Dynamic Driver
Liquid crystal polymer dynamic drivers have become very popular recently for their desirable acoustic properties. It is a very hard material which permits a thinner, lighter weight diaphragm (9 micron) for a more agile transient response and a more detailed sound. Compared to metal-plated or metal drivers, they are cheap to produce which brings down the cost of the overall earphone. It should also represent enhanced mechanical properties relative to the paper-cone driver on the Blessing 2.
Custom BA drivers
Leveraging their relationship with a prominent BA manufacturer in China, Soft Ears are able to design their own BA drivers. By designing the driver themselves, the company is granted more control over the frequency response and time response of the drivers. This allows for smoother crossover points and a more coherent overall sound in the context of a tribrid driver setup especially. The Variations uses the Softears-D-Mid-B dual mid driver array, an update to the Type-A dual driver setup used in the Blessing 2.
Sonion EST tweeters
Sonion’s tweeters implement an ultra-light membrane driven by electrostatic force, offering one of the cleanest and quickest transient responses of all driver types. In turn, distortion is very low into the ultra-sonic frequencies delivering strong extension and resolution. They are, however, difficult to implement given the need for a high-voltage transformer that lowers their sensitivity, making pairing with other driver types difficult. The Variations also uses the 2nd generation tweeter array which sports a rough 3dB bump in sensitivity, opening more avenues for precise tuning and integration into a hybrid unit.
Taking a look at Sonion’s datasheet, the frequency response of their dual tweeter setup offers twin peaks at 4 kHz and 7 kHz. This further complicates their implementation as bringing up treble response means simultaneously bringing up the upper midrange which can introduce odd timbral characteristics. Moondrop here have prioritised the timbre over imbuing the sparkliest and most energetic treble, for an altogether linear and refined sound.
Leveraging 3D printing, Moondrop are able to precisely tune the acoustics around the drivers. This includes the frequency divider, a physical low frequency band-pass filer and physical filter structure that work in tandem with the electronic crossover circuits to achieve phase coherence across the 3 driver types. The acoustic properties work hand in hand with electronic crossover components in the form of a medium high-frequency low-pass smoothing filter, RC low-pass filter, high-pass filter and equalisation circuit. In addition, Moondrop were able to slightly alter the frequency response further according to their VDSF reference curve. All of these are especially important given the estat drivers are less sensitive than other driver types, hence, phase cancellation becomes a large issue. Implementing acoustic measures such as a horn to these drivers can enhance the efficiency of the overall system.
The unboxing experience on the Variations is a real treat and the accessory set impresses as well. The outer sleeve with Moondrop’s signature anime artwork slides off to reveal a medium sized hard box. It has an angled bifold hinge that opens up to reveals the earpieces inside. Below are the remaining accessories. I enjoy the ear tips case, which keeps them organised and easy to carry. Inside are 3 pairs of silicone tips and 3 pairs of foam tips. They are custom made for Moondrop earphones with specific nozzle diameter and fit depth. Buyers also receive a nice pleather carrying case with magnetic lid and non-scratch suede interior. Inside is the copper cable alongside 3 termination adaptors allowing the Variations to work with 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm sources. The cable has a 4-pin plug that lets you swap between them and it’s one of the lowest profile modular connector implementations I’ve seen, really good stuff. In addition, Moondrop provide a set of tweezers and 5 pairs of adhesive nozzle filters which is a thoughtful addition for long-term use. Altogether, a very pleasing experience and a great set of accessories that didn’t leave me wanting.
If you’re at all familiar with the Blessing 2, you’ll feel right at home with the Variations as both use the same shell design. This means you receive a nice resin-filled shell with stainless steel faceplate that feels solid and dense in the hand, reinforcing the quality of the product. To differentiate between the two models, Moondrop have given the Variations darker faceplates with a revised laser etched pattern, and the transparent resin on Blessing 2 makes way for a smoked matte finish. This gives them a very interesting feel both in the hand and ear but I did find the matte finish was easy to scratch and did show oil marks quite obviously. If you’re OCD about these kinds of things, be sure to keep a microfibre cloth handy. Besides that, there’s little to complain about. This is a very well-built earphone and the quality of the finish is a step up from the Blessing 2 with slightly cleaner machining on the faceplates and slightly better matching with the housings too.
As before, the Variations uses a 2-pin 0.78mm removeable cable and it does deserve special mention. The cable itself is of pleasing quality and is a copper variant of the cables included on the higher end Soft Ears models. I did personally prefer the 4-wire braid on past Moondrop earphones but I understand many do not share these sentiments. The new cable is a bit thicker with an internal braid instead. It has a softer jacket which is prone to kinking but otherwise has minimal microphonic noise or memory and doesn’t tangle either. I found the pre-moulded ear guides were well-shaped and comfortable, providing a good ergonomic experience overall. The highlight is no doubt the termination which has a compact 4-pin plug able to interface with 3 adaptors included in the box. They simply snap into place with no screw-down or twisting mechanism which permits an especially low-profile modular plug. While it may not be as reliable with repeated use, I didn’t experience any issues with loosening during my testing. This means you get a modular connector supporting both single-ended and balanced connectivity that is essentially no larger than a regular connector, I’m a big fan.
Fit & Isolation –
As above, if you’re familiar with the Blessing 2, the Variations provides the same experience here with a practically identical shell design. This is a shapely earphone, rounded in all regards with no sharp edges. However, it is also on the larger side, especially height wise. My average sized ears accommodated the shells snugly and the height does provide a slightly more locked-in sensation in the concha/anti-helix of the ear. While I didn’t experience any comfort issues over longer listening, those with smaller ears may want to look elsewhere. They are otherwise well-shaped with a nicely angled nozzle and a slightly deeper fit depth when paired with the right tips.
The fit hugs the contour of the ears but their size means they aren’t especially low profile. I didn’t notice any driver flex and wearing pressure is minimal as they are vented. Like the Blessing 2, wind noise wasn’t an issue during testing despite being on the faceplate. Isolation is also very good considering this is a vented hybrid model. They are easily sufficient for commute and public transport, now more so than before due to their fuller sound tuning. I would still recommend a fully sealed or custom monitor for frequent travellers or use in especially loud environments, but these would do in a pinch with foam tips installed.