In the last few years, Moondrop has won the hearts of audiophiles due to its bang-for-your-buck IEMs; the brand has essentially become the poster child of the Chi-Fi movement. But Moondrop’s products, particularly at the flagship level, have never seen much traction: think of releases such as the Illumination, Solis, and Solis 2…that is, if you can even remember them. The Dark Saber (2DD/8BA) is Moondrop’s latest $800 flagship IEM, and I’m curious to hear whether it can spark a new flame for the brand, especially as we’ve seen the brand’s bull run on the market begin to taper off. Let’s take a closer listen.
This unit was provided on loan for review by Headphones.com. It will be returned after the review. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source & Drivability
All critical listening was done off of my iPhone 13 Mini with the Apple dongle and a Questyle M15 with lossless files. The stock cable and silicone tips were used. I had no issue hitting my usual listening volume of ~70dB with either source. If you would like to learn more about my listening methodology, then I would encourage you to check out this page.
The following accessories are included in the Dark Saber’s packaging:
- 2-pin 0.78mm cable with 3.5mm/4.4mm swappable terminations
- Zippered carrying case
- Two sets of silicone ear tips s/m/l
- Mesh pouch with middle split
I’m not a fan of the Dark Saber’s build quality. The plastic acrylic being used for the shell is on the thinner side, and I worry that it could possibly shatter if the IEM is dropped accidentally. Compared to the thicker shell of the Variations, or the filled shell of the Moondrop S8, the Dark Saber definitely leaves something to be desired in this department - especially when it costs a couple hundred dollars more than these IEMs.
The cable included with the Dark Saber follows the new trend of swappable terminations. Unscrewing a ring at the base of the cable termination allows the four-prong termination to be unplugged and eschewed for another. While not the best system that I’ve seen, this is definitely an improvement from the system used on the Variation’s cable (which I accidentally smashed on my unit).
The Dark Saber’s case is the zip case design seen with a slew of Moondrop’s other IEMs like the Blessing 3 and S8. However, it does have a more classy rendition of these cases thanks to a brown exterior and cream interior lining. It’s a solid case overall that won’t fit into a pant’s pocket, but that might fit into a jacket’s pocket.
The Moondrop S8 needs a word here. Released in 2020, it remains (in my opinion) one of Moondrop’s best IEMs and a shining example of the “kilobuck solution” (a growing crop of sub-$1000 IEMs with flagship level performance). Powered by 8BAs, it has a fantastic rendition of the Harman signature: upper-midrange and upper-treble focused which results in a strong sense of resolution and precise imaging performance. A minor qualm with it would be its bass response which, while well-integrated, is on the weaker side in terms of punchiness. Now enter the Dark Saber:
The measurement above was taken off an IEC-711 coupler. It should only be considered accurate up until ~8kHz as there is a resonance peak. If you'd like to compare the Dark Saber to hundreds of other IEMs I have measured, then please see here.
If you’re not familiar with reading graphs, the bottom line is that the Dark Saber is effectively the Moondrop S8 with a couple dynamic drivers shoved into the mix for some extra kick in the bass. You can read my in-depth review of the Moondrop S8 here to fill in some of the blanks.
But is this really the solution? After listening to the Dark Saber for some time, I’m not sure I agree.
Generally, I find the bass response of the Dark Saber to sound somewhat sloppy and incoherent with the rest of its frequency response. This is in the sense that the treble response of the Dark Saber has a series of small, consistent peaks which makes it sound crisp and inelastic in terms of the transients. On the other hand, the Dark Saber’s bass is much more sub-bass focused and ‘bouncy’ - it’s an odd juxtaposition to my ears.
Outside of this issue, the Dark Saber can be considered a well-rounded IEM by most standards. From the lower-midrange and up, it maintains the Moondrop S8’s analytical tuning. Listeners can expect a thinner midrange tuning with a slight emphasis on female vocals. The treble response of the Dark Saber is likewise on the thinner side and has decent extension (although perhaps not quite as much as the Moondrop S8). The Dark Saber’s treble is otherwise unremarkable, lacking some of the airy character that the original S8’s treble had.
The Bottom Line
The Dark Saber would best be considered different rather than better when compared to the Moondrop S8. Listeners who want some extra kick in the bass (and who want air pressure-relief on their IEM) might find themselves drawn to the Dark Saber, but I’ll continue to be vouching for the Moondrop S8 due to its superior build quality and more coherent sound signature.
And if you’re a listener who prioritizes bass response, then I would argue that the Moondrop Variations is a better fit for those requirements in the first place. Compared to the Dark Saber, the bass on the Variations is significantly more focused, it has a smoother treble response, comparable technical performance, and clocks in at several hundred dollars cheaper.
The Dark Saber seems to lack a selling point in Moondrop’s lineup; in my opinion, it isn’t worthy of being Moondrop’s new flagship IEM. But it doesn’t hurt to have options and it’s still a good sounding IEM.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://headphones.com/blogs/reviews/moondrop-dark-saber-impressions