TWS true wireless earphones - under $50
THREE STARS - The Moondrop Nekocake TWS does one thing very good: delivering a balanced sound on the cheap.
Moondrop Nekocake specs and features:
Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC codec
IPX4 waterproof (splashproof)
4 - 6 hours listening on a full charge (ANC on/ off)
Charging case can charge earpieces fully 3 times
Comes with 3 sizes ear tips, USB-C cable, English manual
Below this Moondrop Nekocake review, you will find comparisons of the Moondrop Nekocake vs Moondrop Sparks, Fiil T1 Lite, and QCY T5
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Design, comfort and battery life
You can't mistake the Moondrop Nekocake for any TWS on the market. It has a distinctive design, not so much in shape, but in execution. The white charging case has purple accents on the lid, front, and bottom, and its anime-like cartoon logo makes it lose all generic-ness.
The case can recharge the earbuds three times fully before needing new power via USB-C and feels sturdy enough, with a magnet that holds the lid in place. Especially if you own the Moondrop Sparks, you can't miss the family appearance - the case is precisely as high but a little thinner and smaller.
The earbuds themselves have an eyecatching look as well, with the cat-head-logo and Moondrop writing on the stems. Their shape is familiar, happily: the stems attach to an oval shape that rests easily and comfortably in average sized-ears, and are backed by an IPX4 waterproof rating that protects them against water splashes and light rain.
Moondrop advertises the Nekocake with 4 hours of playtime on a single charge, but that's the score with ANC turned on. With ANC off, expect to get around a solid 6 hours of playtime.
The most surprising bit of the design, however, happens IN your ears. The voice prompts of the Nekocake are done by an anime-like girl, shouting ANC OON!, AAA-NC OFF! or CONNEEECTED in your ears. It's certainly different and not as annoying as it reads - really - but it's a thing you may or may not like.
Controls and connectivity
The controls of the Moondrop Nekocake are basic:
Tap L or R to play/pause music
Hold L or R to switch ANC on or off
Double-tap R to skip a song
Double-tap L to return a song
Triple-tap L or R to activate the voice assistant
Unfortunately, the controls aren't very precise. It's hard to skip or return a track, let alone to activate the voice assistant, as the Nekocake often registers the wrong amount of taps on the earbuds. Volume controls are missing as well and can't be added via the app.
The pairing of the earbuds can be a bit tricky as well. It seems you always have to take one earbud out first - the right one, in my case - to guarantee it to work. If you take them out both simultaneously, one earbud (in my case the right one) may not always pair and play music. This is an annoyance when you want to grab these for a quick commute.
Other connectivity is decent. The Bluetooth signal holds up strongly up to 9-10 meters away from your device, but there can be occasional slight hiccups between the left and right bud. Music doesn't automatically pause when you take an earbud out.
Calling and watching movies
Unfortunately, the Nekocake still bears a problem of older wireless earbuds: it doesn't play videos well. The sound has some delay to what you see on the screen, which is especially noticeable on the YouTube-app. There's also a heavy delay in sound effects while playing games.
Phone calls are another weakness of the Nekocake. Expect some I can barely hear you's when you're calling, as your voice is soft and muffled. Noises from your surroundings are clearly audible, and things like trains and scooters overrule your voice. Wind noise may not be very loud on the line, but it's still enough to take your voice away. Video calls don't fare much better, with your voice again muffled and soft in Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings.
Moondrop Nekocake app quality
The Moondrop Nekocake is supported by the Moondrop Link app on iPhone, but it doesn't work too well.
You may have to press the Nekocake button in the app three times before it actually connects to the earbuds, and every failed attempt takes a few seconds. Patience is in order.
The app functions are limited:
Change the controls (although you can't add volume controls)
Read the product manual
Choose between five different equalizers
Still, it's recommended to try the app along with the earbuds, as it does unlock the equalizers - and you definitely want to try those out. More on that in the sound part below.
ANC test of Moondrop nekocake
ANC quality: The active noise cancelling of the Nekocake isn't very strong. It takes away some brighter and darker sounds from your surroundings, but nearly all frequencies are still audible, including nearby chatter and distant traffic. Constant background noises are reduced well, but since the ANC shows a white noise floor, there are often still too many things going on around you with the ANC on.
Transparency mode quality: Surprisingly, the Nekocake doesn't have a Transparency or Ambient mode, so it can't put through traffic and chatter clearly when you need it.
Wind noise reduction: Unfortunately, the Moondrop catches a lot of wind noise already with its form factor - whether you use ANC or not. If you're on a bike, running, or plain walking, expect a lot of wind noise to interfere with your music.
Also read: The best wireless ANC earbuds
Sound quality of Moondrop Nekocake: Balanced
Affordable noise-cancelling wireless earbuds tend to sound bassy with recessed vocals, or a bit too bright. However, the Moondrop Nekocake is one of the most balanced earphone you can buy for under 50 dollars.
There's barely a dominant factor in the music - the bass, lows, mids, and highs work together well.
The Nekocake's upper mids and highs feel open and are well-extended. Brighter instruments like violins and cymbals and female and higher male vocals sound forward and clear, without appearing sharp. Even Björk's vocal outbursts in It's Oh So Quiet are controlled well. Some sibilance (audible hissing on s-tones) can occur, yet the level of detail in both higher-pitched vocals is good. Center-mids are represented well, with plenty of room for acoustic guitars, snare drums, and the audible striking of piano keys.
Moondrop doesn't skip the lower-mids: they have a nice presence, and drums and darker electronic tones are even subtly elevated, sometimes making lower male vocals appear a bit recessed. While higher frequencies are a bit more forward, music isn't without warmth.
Balanced also doesn't mean without bass: the Nekocake has a steady mid-bass slam that provides especially modern and dance genres with a gentle thump. It's got good pacing, and while it's not the tightest offering, bass tones are cut off before they start to bloat. The sub-bass doesn't reveal itself easily, but it's capable of a controlled rumble and shows nice depth, as always wonderfully demonstrated by James Blake's Limit to Your Love.
Still, the bass isn't extremely textured, just like the soundstage isn't extremely wide, or vocals aren't extremely clear, or center-mids sound extremely natural - they're perhaps just a tiny bit too metallic for it. Extreme isn't a word to describe the Nekocake - it's tonal balance above all else.
But then, there are some equalizers that can overhaul the sound...
Moondrop Classic slims down the entire bass area to a gentle mid-bass slap, and removes the emphasis on the lower-mids as well. Center mids like snare drums enjoy more attention, but overall, it has a flatter sound while maintaining the tonality of the default equalizer. It reminds a bit of the beloved Moondrop Crescent IEM, as the sound feels un-boosted and 'fair' in all frequencies.
Nobass is a bit of a weird setting, as it doesn't seem to remove the bass from the Balanced equalizer and sounds the same. This setting may not be optimized yet.
X' Dynamic transforms the Nekocake into a V-shaped bass beast. Upper-mids and thus brighter vocals are more forward as opposed to the rest of the higher mids, and the mid-bass is severely boosted. The bass has more body, produces deeper and longer-lasting thumps, and as lower-mids are also elevated, music sounds warm and energizing with this equalizer - while the bass still isn't overdone. In non-dance and electronic genres, the sound can appear a bit hollow at times, but it's guilty-pleasure enjoyable.
Wenneborstel is another bass-injected equalizer, but it sounds a tad flatter than X' Dynamic, with more evenness among the higher frequencies, whereas X' concentrates them more on the upper-mids. Center-mids and smoother (female) vocals pop a bit more, but as lower-mids are less emphasized, some darker male vocals can appear a bit recessed compared to the heavily boosted mid-bass.
With a balanced and open default sound and a neat selection of equalizers to choose from, the Moondrop Nekocake is a fun and affordable pair of listeners' earbuds.
Moondrop Nekocake comparisons
Moondrop Nekocake vs Moondrop Sparks: Which is better?
The Moondrop Sparks costs over twice as much as the Nekocake and doesn't have a waterproof rating or ANC. Both have app support with multiple equalizers. When you pit the default sound of the Sparks and Nekocake against each other, the Sparks is more expansive. It has an airier sound, a wider soundstage with more precise instrument placement and left-right separation. The Sparks bass is tighter, with quicker rolling-off mid-bass and more subtle sub-bass, and the increased weight on higher-pitched vocals makes them sound more energetic and gives them more detail. Voices are a bit more recessed on the Nekocake, but as a result, they're less bright and peaky as well, adding up to the friendlier and more balanced character from the Nekocake.
Moondrop Sparks review ($80 - $100)
Moondrop Nekocake vs Fiil T1 Lite
As Nekocake's ANC is underwhelming, you may as well opt for a great-sounding non-ANC alternative. The $35 Fiil T1 Lite has a thumper mid-bass and reveals a surprising amount of extra nuances in lower mid-tones and center-mids; there are details on your left-right the Nekocake doesn't pick up so easily. The Moondrop sounds cleaner in the mids and controls upper-mids better, preventing sharp outbursts the Fiil T1 Lite can display occasionally. Both earbuds let you add bass via the app equalizers. The T1 Lite mainly adds more bass body and warmth to the same sound, maintaining a better balance between bass strength and vocals, whereas the Nekocake X' Dynamic and Wenneborstel EQ's make lower vocals sound much more recessed, missing the same balance - but also sounding more comfortable than the sometimes peaky Fiil.
Fiil T1 Lite review ($35)
Moondrop Nekocake vs QCY T5
If you want a balanced sound on a budget, you can't overlook the $15 QCY T5, which still walks this fine line between a warm and open sound. It has more lower-mid emphasis than the Nekocake and sounds a little warmer as well. The Nekocake has tighter bass and airier sound, with slightly clearer instrumental separation than the T5. While both don't sound anywhere near too bright, the Nekocake extends highs a bit further and puts vocals more forward; especially lower male vocals are more outspoken. As the Nekocake doesn't deliver better connectivity, controls, or call quality than the T5, you may save yourself some money. The Nekocake does have almost twice the battery life on a single charge and comes with more equalizers.
QCY T5 review ($15)
The Moondrop Nekocake isn't for everyone. Controls, call clarity, and noise cancelling all underperform. Yet… it still may be great for you if you value sound quality above anything else. Backed by some fun equalizers, the Nekocake has a wonderfully balanced sound for affordable wireless earbuds.
Three stars - Worth considering
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