From Dusk till Dawn
Pros: + Very musical and engaging
+ Balanced sound signature with natural timbre
+ Crystal clean and transparent
+ Full bodied and dynamic
+ Dead silent without EMI noise
+ Powerful enough with two gain settings
+ User selectable low pass filters
+ Good build quality and competitively priced
Cons: – Somewhat bulkier than the competition
– Paint finish is prone to chipping
– Moondrop LINK application needs some polishing
– No hardware buttons
– No MQA decoding (if you care)
The review sample was kindly provided by Shenzhen audio in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the Dawn is $69.99 and you can buy it from Shenzhen audio online shop.
If you are into the headphones hobby there is no chance that you don’t know about Moondrop.
Founded in 2015, is among the most well known manufacturers of IEMs with many successful products like the Aria Snow and the Kato.
The company is striving to produce earphones that combine excellent performance with friendly prices that don’t break the bank.
Moondrop also designed one of the first USB DAC dongles in the market when such products were not so popular.
It was the Moonriver 1 that wasn’t mass produced, then followed by the Moonriver 2 and now they are expanding their USB DAC line with the Dawn that is available into two versions, one with 4.4mm output and the another with 3.5mm.
Moondrop Dawn 4.4mm
The Dawn 4.4mm is Moondrops latest portable USB DAC/amp designed with fully-balanced audio circuitry.
It houses two CS43131 high performance DAC chips that perform four-channel balanced signal decoding.
Thus Moondrop Dawn brings superb performance achieving a high signal to noise ratio and ultra-low distortion.
Thanks to the balanced architecture the Dawn outputs a maximum line-out power of 4Vrms or 230mW at 32Ω load.
Moreover the Dawn comes equipped with dual independent crystal oscillators that ensure high quality digital signal transmission with ultra-low signal jitter.
The Dawn supports decoding up to 32-Bit/768kHz PCM and native DSD256 but no MQA.
It is compatible with Android and Windows OS while it is also compatible with Apple devices through adapters but due to the limitation of power supply for the lighting interface the maximum power output is limited to 1Vrms or 32.5mW at 32Ω.
Build quality and appearance
The Dawn has a barrel type shaped body that is made from aviation grade aluminum with a satin white matte painting.
Build quality is excellent while the shell has high rigidity and is thick enough to offer shielding from the external electromagnetic interference.
The painted surface is very beautiful looking but this kind of finish is more prone to scratching than full metal alloy surfaces.
Measuring 120×16.4mm and weighing 13.7g, the Dawn is compact sized and lightweight enough but somewhat bulkier than similar products like the FiiO KA2.
The USB type C cable is permanently attached to the main body by the means of a thick plastic ring.
There are strain reliefs at both ends of the cable which is made with a customized parallel arrangement of high purity, copper silver plated wires, a structure that is more beneficial to the transmission of digital signals.
There are no hardware buttons and the user have to control volume and playback from the host device.
The Dawn comes packed in a metallic rounded box together with a USB-A to USB-C adapter of high quality.
Moondrop LINK application
The Dawn is compatible with the Moondrop LINK android application that allows the user to switch between 2V or 4V output and select one of the five available low pass filters.
You can also customize the notification LED between on, temporarily off and off.
The communication between the application and Dawn is flawless, your selections are permanently stored on the device memory but for some strange reason they are not highlighted into the user panel so you never know what you have selected…
The Dawn has an inaudible internal noise floor and it doesn’t pick EMI even when placed near to the cell phone antenna.
Power output is more than enough for most earphones and it can also drive pretty well sensitive headphones like the Sennheiser HD660S.
I have used various IEMs including the FiiO FA7S, Moondrop Aria Snow and Meze ADVAR among others.
Sound performance is really stellar, the Dawn is very musical and engaging with excellent technicalities for the category without missing anything compared to the competition.
The overall sound signature is that of the CS43131, a little more musical and natural sounding when compared to the slightly more technical ESS products.
In this way it much resembles similar USB DAC dongles that use the same chip configuration, like the now discontinued iBasso DC04 and ddHiFi TC44B.
The Dawn is clear, clean and open sounding with great transparency and excellent detail retrieval.
Frequency response is absolutely linear, the sound signature is balanced with a convincingly natural timbre, especially with the NOS low pass filter, which is my favorite one.
Sub bass extension is great, the bass is impactful, fast and dynamic with excellent control and well defined layering.
The presentation is quite full bodied and weighty, this is not a lean sounding DAC, the sound is full throughout the whole frequency range.
The mid range is expressed with clarity and excellent articulation, plenty of harmonic saturation and a wealth of overtones, the overall texture is painted with vivid colors.
Treble is extended, resolving and not rolled but still smooth and controlled without inducing any fatiguing brightness while it doesn’t sound too artificial or digital.
I have been listening to this new album by Alison Balsom which has a few pieces that combine a lot of high pitched instruments together with her trumpet and nothing sounded out of tune, piercing or harsh while there was some great frequency coherency from top to bottom.
Very controlled is also the timing and the naturalness of the decay, the Dawn is neither too fast nor slow, it sits somewhere in the middle, it is not dull nor aggressive making it suitable for all types of music, from electronic to classical.
The benefits of the dual DAC architecture are apparent in the soundstage which is heard expanded and spacious with above average imaging and a rather holographic (for the category) presentation.
Compared to the FiiO KA2 ($60)
This is another, dual CS43131 USB DAC dongle with similar functionality and parameters albeit somewhat less powerful than the Dawn.
It can do 153mW at 32Ω and the max output voltage is limited to 2.2Vrms but in exchange you get a lower power consumption.
You can use the FiiO Control application to configure the gain, channel balance and select between the five available low pass filters.
The FiiO application is considerably more polished with a friendlier and aesthetically pleasing user interface.
The FiiO PCM decoding is limited to 384kHz instead of 768kHz but it is Apple friendly as it also comes in a lightning cable version and its power output will not be limited to 1Vrms.
Both devices sound almost identical with the most subtle differences if any.
The FiiO KA2 is slightly more aggressive and bolder, a little more agile and treble forward with a faster decay.
Still natural and engaging with a convincing timbre is just an idea more lean – dry sounding and more detailed than the Dawn, with a hint of extra upper treble enthusiasm.
Another thing of notice is that the Dawn offers better dynamics and control over all earphones and especially the lower sensitivity ones.
You will be hard pressed to choose the one over the other, I suppose the FiiO will better suit people who like their tunes a little more exciting and technical or want to save $10 while the Dawn will be the better choice for acoustic instruments and timbre enthusiasts.
Thus said, both of them are a welcomed addition to their ESS siblings that have flooded the market.
In the end
The Moondrop Dawn is a really excellent sounding USB DAC dongle without any negatives, the performance and overall value are definitely greater than the modest asking price.
Nothing more to add, this is highly recommended without any strings attached.
Moondrop, well done.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.