Audiophiles on a budget are spoilt for choice thanks to plenty of excellent, affordable IEMs from various brands based in China, that are available in India. A lot of these ‘Chi Fi' brands come and go, but one particular brand has stuck around for a while and has consistently produced excellent, value-driven products. Moondrop is popular for its budget and mid-range audiophile IEMs, and its most recent launch is the Moondrop Chu, which has been the subject of some hype in audiophile circles.
Priced at Rs. 1,999 for the variant with an in-line microphone and remote in India, the Moondrop Chu is a good-looking pair of in-ear monitors with 3.5mm wired connectivity, 10mm dynamic drivers, and a promise of neutral tuning and detailed sound. Is this the best affordable audiophile-friendly pair of earphones you can buy right now? Find out in this review.
Like many of the niche, audiophile products from China, the Moondrop Chu should not be judged by its unusual name. The earphones look rather nice for a product priced under Rs. 2,000, with the metal earpieces sporting an interesting leaf-like pattern. The only product logo on the headset is on the plastic Y-splitter module on the cable, while the earpieces have markings only to indicate the left and right channels.
The Moondrop Chu has a transparent, fixed cable with an in-line remote and microphone, and a 3.5mm plug for connectivity to the source device. The three-button remote has controls for volume and playback. You can opt for the variant without the in-line remote and microphone if you prefer, which costs a bit less at Rs. 1,799.
I found the fit of the Moondrop Chu to be a bit tricky, because of how long it takes to get the fit right. The silicone ear tips offered a decent seal and hold, and the ear hooks (included in the box) let the cables slip in and stay in place for security, but it always took some effort and time to adjust the cable length below the ear hooks and fit them in place.
It got a bit quicker to do over time, but it definitely isn't as easy as on the similarly priced Final Audio E1000C and KZ Audio ZSN Pro X. However, the Moondrop Chu feels a lot more solid and premium than the Final Audio and KZ headsets, and also looks a lot nicer.
The Moondrop Chu has 10mm dynamic drivers, a frequency response range of 10-35,000Hz, an impedance rating of 28Ohms, and a sensitivity rating of 120dB. The specifications make it easy to drive with even basic source devices such as budget smartphones, and can be comfortably driven by the Shanling UA2 portable DAC. The sales package includes three pairs of silicone ear tips, rubber ear hooks, and a small fabric carry case.
With Bluetooth headsets becoming more affordable in the past few years while simultaneously improving in audio quality, many prefer the convenience of wireless connectivity to wired headphones and earphones. However, wired listening has the key benefit of offering much better sound quality, and the Moondrop Chu delivers sound that is convincingly better than even the best true wireless earphones you can buy right now.
For this review, I had the Moondrop Chu connected to a OnePlus 9 Pro (Review) with a Shanling UA2 DAC in the middle, and used Apple Music to stream high-resolution audio tracks. I also used an iPad mini (2019) as an alternate source, connecting the earphone directly to its 3.5mm headphone jack.
In both cases, I found the Moondrop Chu to be very loud; I found the 60 percent volume level on the iPad to be sufficient generally, while I didn't dare to go past the 50 percent level with the Shanling UA2 DAC driving the earphones. The sound felt rich and tonally excellent, with the earphones managing to keep up with the powerful input signal without any audible issues. With a good fit, the sound was engaging, revealing, and full of energy.
With Hold Back Love by Dutch funk trio Kraak & Smaak, the beat sounded deep and impactful, thanks to the tight, responsive bass on the Moondrop Chu. The mid-tempo pace of the track allowed for plenty of detail to be heard, including the faint instruments in the background, and particularly in the vocals which sounded clean, cohesive, and realistic beyond what I've heard on any other entry-level audiophile earphones.
Switching to more melodic genres, I listened to a cover of Psapp's Cosy In The Rocket by The Chillout Airlines Crew. The sound was detailed, while the soundstage was spacious and rich, offering the kind of precise, immersive sound that only a good pair of IEM can. Everything in the track from the gentle vocals to the playful tune sounded rich and full of character on the Moondrop Chu. Although the tight bass tended to capture my attention, I found the mid-range to be refined as well.
At times, I found the treble a bit harsh on the Moondrop Chu, particularly at higher volumes where the earphones were already pushing hard. At the same time, the aggressive bass also tended to cause a bit of listener fatigue in certain bass-focused tracks, such as Take A Look Around by Limp Bizkit. Like many IEMs in the audiophile-focused category, the Moondrop Chu has a tendency to get overwhelmed by fast, overpowering tracks, and performs best with melodic, progressive music, particularly the house and soft rock genres.
The Moondrop Chu is a musical pair of earphones at its core, but the microphone did give it a bit of flexibility with use. Performance on calls was decent indoors, and I even used the earphones to record a lengthy audio clip on one occasion in a quiet room, to good effect. Strangely, using the Shanling UA2 DAC seemed to disable the microphone and in-line remote entirely, but these worked fine when the earphones were directly connected to my iPad.
There are quite a few decent options for audiophile-grade IEMs at under Rs. 2,000, but none that I've had a chance to use have been as much fun as the Moondrop Chu. Although the process of putting them on is time-consuming and tricky, this is a well-built pair of earphones that more than makes up for its shortcomings with its performance, particularly when paired with a good DAC and high-resolution audio tracks.
Small shortcomings in the sound are present, but these are entirely forgivable given the price of the Moondrop Chu and its reasonable capabilities as a hands-free headset. On the whole, this is perhaps the best starter IEM that I can recommend right now, and is an impressive demonstration of just what can be achieved on a tight budget, in terms of sound quality.