Moondrop Moon River 2 Review: Lighting Up the River

While I mostly use a DAP or battery powered portable DAC/amp, I do use wired dongles for my iPad and laptop. When I heard Moondrop was releasing a dongle I was fairly surprised. I love a lot of their recent IEM releases so I was very interested in checking out their first shot at the dongle world. I heard there was a prototype moon river in the past and it supposedly never made it to production so now we have a moon river 2 for consumer release. More confusing than I would like but I’ve had my unit for about two weeks and I’m ready to give my take on this little dongle. The Moon River 2(going with MR2 for the rest of the review) uses a set of CS43198 DAC chips from Cirrus Logic and comes in at $189.00.

Quick shoutout to Shenzhenaudio for hooking me up with a review unit. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.

Looks and Feel

The MR2 looks really neat in person. It looked 3D printed when I first saw the pictures online and I didn’t realize it was all metal till I got it in my hands. They went with a cool design that I actually really like. I personally love 4.4mm Pentaconn but a lot of the dongles that support 4.4mm are all thicker devices. Not the MR2!! You can tell they took the board and connectors and just made a unique design in order to have the whole dongle be as thin and lightweight as possible while keeping an all metal design. The only thing I don’t like from the design is the bright LED that blinds you whenever the unit is on. I’m not sure how this ever made it past the design team when they made such a pretty device then ruined it by blinding the users. 

Accessories and unboxing

The box has a nice plastic sleeve around a box that looks and feels like it was made from recycled cardboard. The PCB layout is printed on the box and the back of the box has a sticker with tech specs. It also has Moondrop’s Mascot(Waifu for you degens) drawn with the old school line art. When you flip open the box cover, you get the MR2 dongle presented in the foam. Under the foam you get the transparent flat USB-C cable, a simple USB-C to USB-A adapter, QC card and a nice user guide. I think this set of accessories is fine but I would have liked to see a lightning to USB-C cable included as well.


These final impressions were done wired via my Apple iPhone and iPad Pro. This will be what the MR2 sounded like with all the headphones I used. Things like headphone pairings will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.

The Moon River 2 goes for a brighter sound signature overall. I however wouldn’t call it clinical or thin sounding. It handles the bass fairly well with a more natural sound that lacks a little impact/slam but it does produce decent thumps when called for. The mids go for a clarity over neutral tuning and this can be heard in the instruments. Everything sounds clean and there is a perceived sense of detail. Vocals for the most part come in clear but lacking a little detail to my ears. The treble is the “star of the show” and there is a bigger focus on brightness and cleanliness. I can’t quite call it clinical since It doesn’t sound terrible and lean but it just has extra energy and speed. Everything is nice and sharp and I found the treble off the MR2 to be really enjoyable and I think Moondrop did well with the sound signature of the Moon River 2. 


Soundstage and imaging tend to be headphone specific(at least to me) but DAC/amps can add a little extra on occasion. While the amount added is extremely small, it can sometimes make a bigger impact on headphones and IEMs plugged in the DAC/amp. The MR2 is average when it comes to both staging and imaging. Average is fine as the headphones will be doing most of the wow factor in the staging department. The imaging was accurate as I expect it to be on a DAC/amp.

Wired connectivity

So what can the little MR2 handle via max sample rates you ask? Well it can handle all the normal sample rates and it can upscale all the way up to 32bit 768 kHz which is very impressive for a dongle. It can do DSD whether its native or upscaling to DSD256 as well with zero sound issues or clipping. I won’t get into whether or not upscaling is worth it. If a device says I can run it at a certain max sample rate, I let Audirvana run it max since why not. I can’t tell a difference in upscaling honestly nor have I attempted to A/B test upscaling but I was still impressed the MR2 worked fine at the top sample rate of 768 kHz. It does heat up a little when pushing it hard but for normal samples rates, it stays mostly cool.

EMI noise?

None! I had no noise when the MR2 was near my iPhone from the stock cable or other cables I had. I did have to use a different adapter however as the cheap one I normally used did get static noise once in a while. The DDHIFI adapter I had showed zero issues with EMI. I have a lot of audio devices that seem to all have a meltdown with EMI noise when my iPhone 12 Pro gets anywhere near them when I have it running off cellular data. My Hiby R6 2020 gets angry and buzzes intensely and the Lotoo PAW S1 I have also starts buzzing when it is near my iPhone. Not having any noise break through the MR2 tells me it was properly shielded(for the most part) when it was designed. 

Personal grips with the Moon River 2?

So right off the bat, I really don’t like the bright LED. I Believe this is something that can be fixed via a firmware update so I have high hopes this will be something solved later on. It isn’t a deal breaker but it's irritating when this device is used at night and it lights up the whole area. 

The other grip I have is that the MR2 doesn’t have a memory of the last gain you used. Devices from Apple remember the last volume used and it sets back once it detects the MR2. The MR2 always goes to high gain when it powers on. I use IEMs mostly and I believe most people will use the MR2 with IEMs in general. I think it should start on low gain if the MR2 is unable to retain a memory of the last used gain.

Both of these personal gripes can be fixed via a firmware update or at least I think a dimmer LED brightness and starting the device on low gain can be done via firmware. Luckily they promote the MR2 being firmware upgradable so I look forward to seeing how they handle customer suggestions going forward.

Single ended and balanced power output

I love me some power numbers via mW into 32 ohm loads. The MR2 claims no normal power output numbers and it drives me crazy. They talk about the MR2 being super capable with hard to drive cans but the only time they have mentioned actual power numbers was during the announcement video for the MR2. So the only thing I have to go off of is an engineer mentioning “up to 250mW into a 32 ohm”. More than likely that is from the 4.4mm Pentaconn jack. The MR2 can power everything I have just fine. I’m more of an IEM person so most dongles work just fine for my use cases. Even the 120 ohm Senn HD560S and 300 ohm ZMF Atrium were able to reach comfy volume easily.

IEM pairing opinions

Moondrop Aria

I found the Aria paired really well with the MR2. It has a punchier and dynamic sound overall which is interesting as I found the MR2 somewhat brighter sounding on most of the hybrid IEMs I tried. The aria and other single DD IEMs seemed to perform slightly differently when paired to the MR2. I found the lows to be accurate but I felt there was a little extra punch when it was called for. The mids stay clear and strong on the Aria but it never came in too hot. Vocals had good speed and I felt the Aria was performing correctly on the MR2. Same thing with the treble. It was good detail wise and everything sounded controlled with just a hint of extra zing up top.

Moondrop Variations

I had originally planned to only do only one Moondrop IEM but I love the Variations so here we go! I found this pairing a bit too bright for my tastes which is interesting as I liked the Aria off the MR2 which I feel is a little brighter for an IEM in general. I thought I might be hearing things but when I plugged the Variations into a different portable, I could tell the MR2 has just a brighter sound signature overall. I think the bass is better controlled off the MR2 and it still has good impact, but with a slightly quicker decay. The mids were accurate if not a little brighter. The vocals come in pretty well though I find the speed a little too fast and somewhat artificial sounding with this specific pairing. The treble has a lot of sparkle and it gets a little strong at times for me. I find the Variations a little picky on source gear for my personal preferences but I think this pairing works fine. 

THIEAUDIO Clairvoyance

The Clairs are my benchmark IEMs and they continue to be my favorite tuning even though I have some IEMs at double the price. The MR2 gives off a slightly brighter if not simply a cleaner sound. The Lows don’t sound as impactful but it doesn’t sound lean or overly lacking. The mids have a nice clarity and I found instruments had the right amount of detail. Vocals also come in well though I did feel they sounded just a hair congested and lacking some detail with this pairing. The treble was boosted and I thought it was fine since the Clairvoyance is a bit more natural sounding so the added brightness up top was welcome. I think this combo worked perfectly fine and I have no issues using the MR2 with the Clairvoyance.

Over ear pairings

ZMF Atrium

Whenever I have an expensive or unique headphone in, I’ll usually include it into the source reviews I’m doing at the same time. First of all, the Atrium is the same cost as 13 Moon River 2 units so I think this isn’t quite realistic for most users of the Atrium. It does sound a bit rough off the MR2. The Atrium loses a lot of its sweet sound and “soul” when paired to the MR2. The MR2 does feel a little underpowered at times. This could be due to the brighter signature or lack of power output. I always felt the Atrium sounded lean off the MR2 however. The lows lack any real impact. Mids sound bland and lacking any real energy. The treble is mushy and comes in rough with no real details. I know how good the Atrium can sound from my desktop stack. So in other words, maybe don’t use the Moon River 2 with super power hungry headphones.

DAC/Amp comparison

Khadas Tea

The Khadas is a warmer sounding portable and the sound signatures between the two are mostly noticeable. The Tea has a super sweet and warm sound that gives a lot of flavor to leaner sounding IEMs I use with it. The MR2 has a much brighter presentation in comparison. I would say the Tea is more colored for a source than some might like but MR2 is a very nice dongle to use for those hunting a more accurate sound with some added brightness. The detail retrieval overall is much better off the MR2 IMO.

Lotoo PAW S1

The PAW S1 is my go to dongle since it has a smooth yet detailed sound, nice display and it just feels like a step above a normal dongle. Both the S1 and MR2 have different sound signatures. The S1 goes for a warm and natural signature but still produces wonderful detail retrieval. It sets the bar for me personally when it comes to dongles. The MR2 has its brighter and faster sound that works well but I mostly like the S1 over it at the end of the day. I like the weight and looks of the MR2 over the S1 though. It won’t be replacing my S1 but it’s being used way more than I initially thought after comparing the two. I will also say the MR2 is mostly free of EMI noise that my S1 heavily suffers from.

Overall thoughts

Moondrops first dongle is a winner in my books. I don’t use dongles outside of my iPad or laptop these days. So for me, the MR2 will be in rotation and carried alongside the Lotoo PAW S1 when I need something for my iPad or laptop when I’m using those instead of my desktop setup. I have some small gripes with MR2 but overall I like the sound and looks. The Moon River 2 gets a full recommendation and thumbs up for putting some effort into their first dongle and not just throwing something together for the heck of it. I love most of Moondrops audio offerings and I’m always looking forward to their new releases. Thanks for reading!