Moondrop Dawn Review

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Moondrop Dawn – Sound Signature & Performance

The Dawn is downright impressive. The portable USB DAC & AMP market is crawling with products and every day more of them are being released by companies around the world. The rivalry is harsher than ever and this is always great for us the consumers.

The Dawn is a very competitive and impressive product that I believe offers almost twice the value of its current price tag. Let me describe it to you without further ado.

The Dawn sounds clean, open, spacious, and detailed. In many ways, it reminds me of Moonriver 2. The Dawn offers a similar tonal balance, transparency, and resolution while being $120 USD cheaper.

Of course, there are a few differences, especially on the technical level and we are going to take a look at them but this is quite surprising and electrifying.

The Dawn is a good DAC, it does a great job of reflecting the signatures of the IEMs you pair it with, without overly saturating or manipulating their signatures. The Dawn features good tonal balance and comes with a neutral, balanced signature with no emphasis on any region.

It is a capable DAC with a surprisingly good technical foundation. Let’s take a closer look at the SQ and technicalities.

Low

The Dawn is capable of delivering impactful yet agile bass. The sub and mid-bass quantity are great. The Dawn can easily extend and reach when the track asks for it. It does not feel like it is lacking any body in bass and shapes its response well according to the track’s requirements.

Pairing it with an equally capable in-ear monitor gets you a tight, fast bass with a great slam and that’s quite good at any price point.

The extension is nice, but don’t expect class-A grade sub rumble performance out of a 2,5cm super-portable device. Overall, the bass has adequate presence, carries a good amount of detail, and feels fast enough to feel dynamic. 

Mid

The midrange is clean, resolving, and articulate. The note-weight is medium-rare and pairing the Dawn with highly analytical IEMs hurt its tonal balance but for everything else, it offers a wonderful midrange recipe.

The transition from bass to mids is smooth. The vocals feel articulate, clean, and natural. The stringed instruments do not lack body and their timbre feels great for a DAC that is sub-100. It is almost too good to be true.

The upper mids are controlled yet expansive and they carry a good amount of detail also. The presentation feels airy and spacious partly due to the well-done tuning of this region. Hi-hats and cymbals never sound dull or too harsh as they carry a good amount of excitement while staying away from the sibilance.

Treble

The Dawn’s treble reproduction is impressive, just like its midrange. The Dawn offers a clean, extended and controlled treble. It is not overdone, or it is not boosted to impose a false sense of resolution, it is rather well-done and it does not feel aggressive or lacking in any way.

The bite is there when the track asks for it, and so is the extension. The treble sounds resolving, clean and dynamic. It boosts the perceived sense of articulacy. This section feels almost identical, tonally, to the Moonriver 2. Both of the devices have really energetic, detailed yet natural treble responses.

Technical Capability

From the technical standpoint, the Dawn could easily be the best sub-150$ DAC & AMP I’ve heard in 2022. It offers a great tonal balance, great clarity, and a spacious and airy presentation on top of these.

The PRaT is almost as good as the MoonRiver 2, it feels dynamic, energetic, and fast. It handles congestion well and multi-instrumented complex passages are easy dilemmas when paired with an equally capable IEM.

Soundstage-wise, the Dawn plays in a similar lane as with Moonriver 2. It does not feel like it has the most expansive stage in the history of portable DAC AMPs. It is adequately proportioned. Compared to its rivals, it is above average in width and average in depth.

The most impressive side of the Dawn is its tonal performance, no doubt. It feels coherent, and linear across the frequency spectrum. No overlapping, no dips, no peaks, no saturation. It is a damn good DAC & AMP and certainly punches above its price tag.

Comparisons

vs. Moondrop Moonriver 2

You can think of Moonriver 2 as the evolved and more premium Dawn. It offers a better build-quality, detachable cable, better and slimmer design, dual flagship CL DACs and an extra 3.5mm headphone jack. Sound-wise Moonriver 2 offers slightly better PRaT and slightly more detail-retrieval and resolution.

The Moonriver 2’s treble extension is a tad more, quantity-wise. Also, it has a slightly flatter sub and mid-bass reproduction but these are slight differences and don’t rule out the fact that there is a huge price difference between the both of the units.  

vs. Shanling UA3

The UA3 is one of the latest DAC & AMPs from Shanling. It utilizes AKM’s new DAC AK4493SEQ. For the amp stage, the UA3 uses Ricore RT6963 in dual configuration. The UA3 offers superior decoding up to 32bit / 768khz and DSD512.

It comes with a UA1.0 / 2.0 switch so it has improved compatibility. The UA3 can dish out 211 mW into a 32-ohm load so they are almost identical in this regard, however, the UA3 comes with an extra 3.5mm HPO.

Sound-wise, the UA3 is warmer, bolder, and has more forward mids compared to the Dawn. The Dawn feels more spacious and airy, with superior dynamism and energy. The UA3 has a bigger, more impactful bass compared to the Dawn. The Dawn is more resolving and offers a better tonal balance in comparison. The UA3 retails for $109 USD.

Last Words

After Moonriver 2, Kato, and Variations, I had big expectations and it is quite pleasing to say that my expectations were met. The Dawn offers excellent sound quality, and great build and design. It has a compact and portable form factor and has enough juice to drive almost anything you’d need on the go.

The Dawn deserved every last bit of this recommendation. If you are looking for a solid DAC up to $150 USD, be sure to give this one a try. It will surprise you!

 

Page 1: Moondrop, The Dawn, Packaging & Accessories, Design & Build Quality, User Experience & Power

Page 2: Sound Signature, High, Mid, Low, Technical Capability, Comparisons, Last Words

4.4/5 - (259 votes)
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Long time Tech Enthusiast, an ambitious petrol-head, Yagiz likes his gadgets and always finds new ways into the tinkerer's world. He tries to improve anything and everything he gets his hands onto. Loves an occasional shine on the rocks.

19 Comments

  • Reply August 10, 2022

    Darren kinnersley

    What a great review, I’ve been thinking about getting a dongle like this, but I didn’t know which way to go, but you have pointed me in the right direction. My new iems will thankyou

    • Reply August 15, 2022

      Yagiz

      Thanks for your kind words Darren, it is a great little DAC indeed and I’m sure you’ll be content with it.

      Happy listening!

  • Reply August 11, 2022

    antonio

    would this work for a 300ohm headphone such as the HD 800S?

    • Reply August 15, 2022

      Yagiz

      I would not pair a 1500$ flagship headphone with a ultra portable USB dongle to be honest. We have reviewed wonderful DAC & Amp stacks, I’d recommend checking those out.

  • Reply August 16, 2022

    Pradeep

    Would it pair well with 7Hz salnotes dioko to use with my oneplus 9 phone.

    • Reply August 17, 2022

      Yagiz

      Hello Pradeep,
      Sorry, I do not have that earphone.

  • Reply August 17, 2022

    ND

    I have a Samsung Note 10+ phone running Android 12. Do I need to have UAPP or Tidal to take advantage of this DAC, or will it work with other music apps such as Samsung Music, Amazon Music etc?

    • Reply August 17, 2022

      Yagiz

      Hello ND, I hope you are well.
      Many manufacturers have removed the 3.5mm port and started selling their own USB-C DAC dongles. This means that almost all applications on Android 12 now support USB-DACs, including default applications such as Samsung Music. So my answer to your question is yes, very likely you will be able to use Dawn without the need for UAPP.

  • Reply August 22, 2022

    Al

    Hi, May I know the IEM brand and model (Burgundy/red) shown alongside in the second picture on this page with the Moondrop Dawn? Many Thanks

    • Reply August 22, 2022

      Yagiz

      Hello,

      Yanyin Canon. A wonderful IEM that we will review soon! Stay tuned!

  • Reply August 29, 2022

    Bellamy

    Hello great review as always. I have a question, since my cans almost all come with 3.5mm jack so i want to know how about 3.5mm version of this dac is that good as the 4.4mm version? Or i just get the 4.4mm version and use converter? Thanks in advance

    • Reply September 3, 2022

      Yagiz

      Hello Bellamy, thank you for reading the review.

      According to official 3.5mm and 4.4mm specs, the 4.4mm version is superior on paper. I unfornutalely don’t have the 3.5mm version so I can’t really say if these numbers mean anything in real-life performance.

  • Reply September 14, 2022

    Matej

    Hello, loved the review. I have a quetion. Would this Dac pair nicely with the Moondrop Kato? Thanks in advance!

    • Reply September 14, 2022

      Yagiz

      Yes, definitely. Kato is one of the best monitors under the 200 mark, value/performance wise. The Dawn is also awesome and punches above its weight class. The syngery is great!

  • Reply October 7, 2022

    Tim De Smet

    I’m wondering if it would be overkill to use this with a pair of moondrop aria IEMs?

    • Reply October 7, 2022

      Yagiz

      Of course not. It matches the Aria well.

  • Reply November 7, 2022

    Axel Zamora

    I’ve seen many DAC for my Letshuoer S12, but i’m not sure about

    I’m thinking between Moondrop DAWN, Sonata E44, Ibasso DC06 and HIBY FC4

    Wich one would I choose and why

    A lot of thanks

  • Reply January 18, 2023

    Kenji

    Hi! I feel a bit late to the party, but I’ve been debating between getting the Moondrop Dawn and the E1DA 9038D as an on-the-go DAC/AMP combo to use with my iPhone and ER4SRs. I saw that you said you wouldn’t recommend the E1DA 9038D with ER4SRs because it wouldn’t be forgiving, but as someone who loves being able to hear every little detail including mistakes, would you recommend the E1DA 9038D more?

    Moondrop Dawn is about half the price of the E1DA 9038D so I would love to get the Dawn, but it seems like the 9038D would be able to provide more detail so I wanted to know your comparison between the two DAC/AMP combos.

    Thank you!

    • Reply January 19, 2023

      Yagiz

      It is never late to obtain good-sounding DACs, my dude.
      If you’re after every detail there is, E1DA’s 9038D will be worth the extra 40-ish difference. The 9038D is slightly more revealing compared to the Dawn. Do know that the difference is rather small and you’ll be paying double. However, this is only sound-wise. You should also factor in that E1DA comes with a changeable USB cable, which is a plus, especially when it comes to durability. If you tend to use your devices for more than a year, I’d recommend paying the extra. Apart from that, E1DA has a new version now called 9038D6K, which I requested but couldn’t get an answer so I don’t know what has changed. You can do your own due diligence and choose accordingly. Plus, do not forget that E1DA also offers some sort of customizability with their in-house developed APP for Android called ”Tweak9038”.

      Cheers!
      Y

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