Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. Of note, the 8kHz peak is present on listening but may be enhanced in measurements due to coupler resonance.
EST Rambles –
Off the bat, the Starshine is not the most efficient earphone which tells me it will have a more aggressive electrostatic implementation. Most dub these tweeter systems smooth as they are inefficient and, therefore, treble is often quieter than the rest of the sound. This is not the case here with the qualities of the EST system being on full display for better or for worse.
Where many earphones have moved towards a reference curve of some description, the Starshine has a rather unique sound signature. The bass and midrange sit in good balance though the presentation is defined more by a pronounced treble peak that sits at the forefront, forming a reverse L-shaped sound. TRI have done their best to balance this out with a warm, full low-end and a well-bodied and mostly naturally tuned midrange so altogether, treble doesn’t dominate the sound. This style of presentation is instigated by a moderate mid-bass lift, a slightly beefed up lower-midrange and a progressive climb through the midrange to a 3kHz hump. The treble is less typical; following the upper-mid emphasis, it tapers off naturally as you’d see on many competitors. However, is then has a sharp 8kHz spike followed by an aggressive wideband upper-treble lift. This grants the earphone a very sparkly, energetic presentation with standout extension and headroom for its price. However, this comes at the cost of a very sharp foreground detail presentation that can fatigue over time depending on your tolerance to treble.
The stock tips are comfortable and offer a decent sound experience, but I would definitely advise playing around here. The treble peak lies in a relatively sensitive region but, sharpness can be partially alleviated by altering the tips and fit depth. I had the best experience with JVC Spiral Dots sized down to smalls from my usual medium. Alongside the longer nozzles and small shells, this have me a comfortable, deep fit depth. Of all the tips I tested including Spinfits, Azla Sedna Fits/Sedna fit short and Final E-tips, these provided the most refined and least sharp treble presentation. While it remains a bright and peaky earphone , I would recommended these tips if your heart is set on this IEM or you are a current owner and find them a bit hot.
Unlike many competitors, the Starshine makes do with just a single BA woofer but is tuned to provide a more robust low-end experience, nonetheless. Still, pressure is absent, extension and slam are limited, and sub-bass extension isn’t especially impressive. You get a tight, slightly laid-back impact and some rumble at the very bottom but not much else. Focus is centred more around the mid-bass with a mild hump that continues partway into the upper bass. This instigates a warm, full note structure that serves to counteract the brighter midrange and treble tuning – it also means that you don’t miss sub-bass extension too much as it retains a fairly robust and well-bodied presentation. As the lower-mids are also quite present, this suggests to me that TRI have intentional colouration of the midrange to provide a fulller sound meaning the Starshine won’t appeal to those valuing tonal transparency in turn.
The timbre is otherwise decent as the emphasis here is fairly tame and the tuning is progressive overall. I am not opposed to a warm tuning like this so long as definition and timbre aren’t overly affected, and this is accomplished here. As expected, the BA driver decays quickly and offers a well-defined note structure with great control. This goes far to minimise congestion and bloat and also means separation performs at a good level. It isn’t an especially separated or detailed bass response nor one with outstanding dynamics, but noticeably faster than your average DD and with a fuller tuning that helps with texture over most BA IEMs too. This is a pleasing warm, musical tuning with a decent timbre and mid-pack quality and extension for a midrange BA earphone. The mid-bass is punchy and nicely textured, and the tuning is in good taste in the context of its mid and treble tuning too, broadening appeal.
Coming from an earphone like the Moondrop Variations or Etymotic EVO, the Starshine does sound clearly coloured but still relatively natural overall. The timbre does not offer perfect accuracy, but the voicing is sound with only some small quirks. The midrange tuning itself is mostly in good taste; the presentation being coloured mostly by the surrounding frequencies. Separation from the low end is slightly reduced due to a more present lower midrange but remains ample to avoid muffle or congestion. In turn, the earphone carries a moderately warm tone and slightly enhanced note body that serves to counteract the enhanced top-end. Vocals also don’t overwhelm midrange instruments, sitting in good balance. With a progressive climb to 3kHz prominence and a modest nadir in the lower-treble, the voicing is pleasantly coherent on a whole. Instruments are flattered with a very complete structure and rich, filled-in notes while vocals benefit from enhanced clarity and definition without suffering from any thinness.
Above is where the Starshine runs into issues as the treble also colours the midrange by lifting clarity, openness and articulation. The sizeable middle-treble peak and slightly more prominent 4kHz region mean vocals do sound slightly diminished in size, and the midrange does take a backseat to the higher frequencies. This is my biggest complaint with voicing as the Starshine does have a slightly strained and, at times, sibilant vocal presentation due to its disproportionate lift in articulation. You can temper this by using filters on the nozzle, but this does harm extension and sparkle which are this earphone’s defining strengths. Altogether, the midrange may not represent the textbook reference executions we’ve seen popularised by competitors, but it also doesn’t stand out as a weak point of this earphone with some charming musical qualities that will appeal to most listeners.
Everyone has a different tolerance for brightness and sensitivity at different frequencies so I won’t be too scathing here. I will say these are not for my ears. The lower treble a touch smooth, sitting just behind the midrange which helps to prevent excess sharpness in the vocal presentation. However, above lies a reasonably large 8kHz peak (varies slightly based on fit depth) that sits at the forefront of its sound. This is a problematic region to emphasize as it can increase sibilance and glare – both issues here. S’ are pronounced and can wear on the ear over time. Cymbals, especially high hats, are almost piercing on many tracks such as Elton John’s “Rocket Man” as the peak is both large and isolated with minimal smoothness surrounding. As with most EST earphones, the note presentation isn’t quite as hard-edged as that of a BA driver which is its biggest saving grace if not quite adequate to restore balance. There are upsides here, that said, so I can see this earphone appealing to some listeners who may not mind the sharper sound or have more fortunate ear canal anatomy than myself.
In particular, the Starshine has excellent detail retrieval both in the foreground and background. While it does miss some texture and fine detail due to its thin note body, clarity and crispness are both exceptional. It is also nicely resolving of micro-details and presents them aggressively, reinforcing its detail retrieval to the listener. Outstanding extension contributes greatly here, albeit the bright-on-bright tuning isn’t ideal for organisation and layering. The 8k peak does help to retain some focus in the foreground while the upper-treble receives a wide-band lift delivering huge sparkle and headroom. All in all, the Starshine cannot be considered a poorly designed earphone as it does possess the extension and resolution to back up such an audacious treble tuning, it is simply one with polarising colouration. Again, resolution isn’t quite on the level of a high-end IEM, but impressively close, the main differentiator being the level of tonal refinement for overall musical enjoyment and immersion. The Starshine is still able to achieve atmospheric, holographic imaging that belies its price. Just consider your sensitivity to 8k peaks before making a purchase decision.
Another strength of the Starshine, while the dimensions are not huge in-class, it does have an open and airy sound that exacerbates its sense of space. I found depth especially impressive, able to project better than most, while width was just about average. However, I found that the upfront detail presentation means treble instruments often sound quite immediate and intimate. Imaging is good for the most part. You do get a very well-defined foreground and a floatier and more atmospheric background with good delineation. However, elements tend to get pushed forwards or backwards, so it lacks the nuance of more balanced models. This means that though the centre image is very strong and the two layers are distinct, the Starshine isn’t especially organised on a whole nor pinpoint accurate in its localisation. Rather, it assumes a more holographic quality, prioritising speed and energy over sheer acuity and focus. Separation performs above average, though I did find treble could overwhelm the midrange and bass at times. That said, small details are easy to discern as, though the earphone is bright with a bright background on top, it has a very clear treble note presentation.
The Starshine has a whopping 53-ohm impedance and a lower 98dB sensitivity. This makes it less efficient than most IEMs, requiring a lot more power to reach the same listening volume. That said, the nature of the driver types means you don’t necessarily need huge amounts of power to achieve a controlled and dynamic bass, it is more regarding the volume output and noise side of things.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
Switching between the Shanling M2X (1-ohm) and Hiby R6 (10-ohms) revealed minimal change in the bass and midrange but a noticeable regression in treble quantity. I quite enjoyed the smoother treble presentation from the R6, it definitely sounded less peaky and instruments had more body. In turn, do watch the output impedance of your source as it will impact the sound. It can be used to tailor to personal preference and experimenting with impedance adaptors is an additional modality of personalisation.
The Starshine doesn’t require much output power to achieve a dynamic sound. It was perfectly content even from my Xperia 5 II’s headphone jack with minimal difference to the Shanling M2X. Treble was well-detailed and extended, but the dedicated source did give a wider soundstage. A similar trend was observed when switching to my desktop stack. Volume output is the primary concern and will push portable sources. For instance, I am a low volume listener yet still required 17/30 volume steps on my 5 II. On the contrary, this means it is basically impervious to source noise.
Suggested Pair Ups
The Starshine is sensitive to output impedance though only in the treble. It also doesn’t require a heap of driving power in terms of dynamics and tolerates noisier sources well but does need a fair amount of volume due to its high impedance. Higher output impedance sources provided a smoother treble which was to my preference and I would recommend experimenting with this if you find them sharp as I did. In terms of source colouration, the Starshine is not a picky earphone but benefits from a smoother top-end given its sharpness.