I have a Starfield on loan right now from Super*Review so I figured I’d drop a quick review.
But first, a quick spiel. I’ve owned the KXXS (the Starfield’s more premium brother) for more than a year at this point. In this time, I’ve been lucky enough to try and review dozens of IEMs, some very expensive ones, and yet, the KXXS remains a staple of my small collection. That alone should probably be a testament to how much I like the KXXS, and I have well over a couple hundred hours on my unit. Of course, this review isn’t about the KXXS; it’s about the Starfield, which promises comparable sonic performance at close to half the price. So let’s see how it stacks-up.
If you’ve read my reviews before, then you’ll know I don’t really care to cover the accessories, build, etc. too closely.
A lot of people say that the Starfield is Harman-tuned, and eh, sure, I can see the resemblance. The main deviation would be in the bass which slopes out further, lending some extra note-weight to male vocals (not at all a bad thing); the Harman target is a good deal more incisive at around 200hZ by comparison.
The bass on the Starfield is about equal parts sub-bass and mid-bass – considerably above neutral – and honestly, it’s not very good. At least not according to the metrics with which I’d normally qualify good bass. Transient attack is fairly soft – there’s no way around it – and dynamic slam is pretty lackluster with an oft-cited “pillowy-ness” to the way hits are articulated. The midrange of the Starfield is Harman-inspired, peaking at around 3kHz with a tad too much emphasis at around 4kHz which some might find bright initially; I know I certainly did on the KXXS. Interestingly, the KXXS actually has slightly more energy around this region, lending to a slightly brighter, “edgier” presentation. Treble is about equal parts milquetoast, rolling off fairly linearly post-5kHz with a tad bump in the mid-treble at around 8kHz and in the bottom air frequencies. Somewhat rolled-treble and extended bass shelf in-hand, the Starfield is, accordingly, a considerably warm IEM with a tendency to delve into congestion on more complex tracks.
For an IEM I like so much, I’ve already cited quite a few issues, right? But surely, you say, there’s a catch. And indeed there is: You can take all those criticisms and flip them on their head. Not unlike the 64 Audio U12t, the Starfield toes the line between being intangibly pleasing and slightly neutering resolution with its soft, blunted transient attack; decay is equally oh-so-natural. Stack on the pillowy-ness in the bass, and a minor peak at around 12kHz that lends treble to a pleasant haziness in the decay, and you have a recipe for terrific timbre and – argh, I hate to use this word – a highly musical presentation.
Of course, let’s not pretend that the Starfield is some technical savant or anything of the sort. It’s not. It’s a respectable technical performer for its price, sure, but it’s light years away from touching a lot of flagship stuff, much less top-tier stuff. Dynamics are generally compressed, imaging is only slightly above average, and layering is pretty “meh” hence the aforementioned congestion issues. Hell, Moondrop’s own SSR gives the Starfield a run for its money in the technical department! Still, you know, I don’t really mind. There’s something highly alluring about the way the Starfield shifts its perceived weaknesses into strengths, the way it straddles that line so neatly for my preferences, and it’s something I can’t get enough of each time I listen to it. Frankly, I’d take the Starfield or KXXS over pretty much anything else under $200 on the basis of preference.
Speaking of which, you’ll probably want me to compare it more closely with the KXXS. For most intents and purposes – at least tonally – they’re close to identical sans that slight upper-midrange bump on the KXXS. For whatever reason, I do find myself preferring that slight edginess to female vocals on the KXXS; the Starfield sounds plateaued in this range, a hair more fatiguingly so. Some friends have also noted that the macrodynamic performance of the KXXS is better; likewise, I would agree that the Starfield sounds a tad overly loud in the way it scales dynamic swings and not quite as pleasing in its transient attack by comparison. Needless to say I doubt I could pass an A/B test between the two of them, so perhaps it would be more apt to say I find the Starfield lacks some of that je ne sais quoi relative to my KXXS. That is, maybe it’s just the placebo and nostalgia getting to me.
In conclusion? There’s no question in my mind that the Starfield is a terrific IEM, an excellent value proposition all-round even if I’d personally swing those extra bucks for the KXXS, as crazy as it sounds. So shoot for the moon; if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars: the Starfield.