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Moondrop Starfield Review – Harbinger

Pros –

Refined VDSF tuning, Strong detail retrieval, Stunning design and build, Supple Litz cable

Cons – 

Somewhat sloppy bass reproduction, Average noise isolation

Verdict – 

The Starfield’s reasonable pricing, excellent versatility and minimal-compromise design make it a strong purchase for newcomers and seasoned audiophiles alike.


Introduction –

I was first introduced to the China-based company by my friend and fellow reviewer Klaus, who is certainly very knowledgeable about audio and whose opinion I hold in high regard. He was enthusiastic about a new company, Moondrop, and their first in-ear, the Kanas Pro. Though I never had the opportunity to demo this earphone, the company’s name stuck in my mind and seemingly, many others, as they’ve now climbed to international notoriety and are currently inundated with review requests. For the company has come far, delicately refining their interpretations of the famous Harman curve. The Starfield is one of their most successful ventures, tracing the curve just as religiously as its predecessors but at a more approachable $109 USD asking price. As we’re about to see, Moondrop makes every dollar count in their designs. You can read all about the Starfield here and treat yourself to one here.

 

The Pitch –

VDSF Tuning

Neutral has become a more subjective term over the years as more minds contribute to different curves simulating different acoustic environments. Most famous are the Diffuse and newer Harman curve, both have their share of fans and critics. Moondrop’s first IEMs traced the Harman Curve incredibly well, a selling point for the company and sound foundation for developing their own curve called virtual diffuse sound field (VDSF). Similar to its name, this is Moondrop’s appropriation of the diffuse-field neutral curve, the target hit by the famous Etymotic earphones. Comparatively, they’ve toned down the highs and upped the bass which is, to my ear, a combination between diffuse-field and Harman neutral.  Compared to Harman earphones, however, I do hear a smoother upper-midrange and uptick of energy within the lower-treble. Though both diffuse-field and Harman are considered by most critics not to showcase perfect balance, the VDSF curve is a refined and mostly natural-sounding tuning that is a pleasure to see at this price range.

Carbon Nanotube Driver

Where the former KXXS implemented a diamond-like carbon coating on the same diaphragm as the Kanas Pro before it, the Starfield employs a redesigned driver. It features carbon-nanotubes woven into a polymer film to create a combination of lightness and rigidity. Alongside, Japanese imported Daikoku CCAW voice coils, the Starfield’s driver is rapid accelerating, low in distortion and well-controlled, promising improved transient response in addition to strong end to end extension. Readers familiar with my work will know that I’m all for a well-done single driver over a model that fails to juggle the numerous variables involved in tuning a multi-driver design.

Litz Cable

The Starfield comes with a 24AWG 4N OFC cable with Litz structure. The Litz configuration consists of multiple thin strands of wire with individual insulation that minimises skin effect and transmission loss due to opposing EMF in other strands. This is said to be especially suitable for high-frequency signals. There are 6 Litz configurations in ascending order of complexity, though the exact configuration of the Starfield’s cable is not stated. Some also consider Litz wires to be more resistant to oxidation due to their more insulated design.

 

Unboxing – 

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The Starfield assumes a minimalist unboxing experience with a clean box adorned with appealing artwork. Inside is a hard box containing the earphones and accessories within a card inlet. Moondrop includes 6 pairs of silicone ear tips, all in various sizes to ensure a comfortable seal. As there is such a wide range of sizes, the user can also slightly alter the fit depth and sound to their preference. The Starfield comes with a solid zipper case for travel. It’s also good to see Moondrop providing additional metal mesh nozzle filters in addition to a pair of plastic tweezers to install them.

 

Design –

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The Starfield is a pleasure to look at, nailing the fundamentals with practicality and style. The housings adopt a 2-piece metal construction with gorgeous pearlescent blue paintwork. The central seem is prominent but smoothly finished and the earphones possess a premium density in the hand and ear. Two vents are visible on the inner face, as such, wind noise is not an issue when wearing these earphones outside. Though I’ve heard that chipping can be an issue, I didn’t experience any during my weeks of testing. This issue can be mitigated by wrapping the earphones around 4 fingers from the earpieces rather than the plug to avoid impact and chips in addition to using the included carrying case.

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Up top, it employs a 0.78mm 2-pin removable cable. As aforementioned, the cable is of excellent construction with 4N OFC conductors arranged in a Litz geometry. It’s a 4-wire braided unit with a soft, supple jacket. Alongside an over-ear fit, the cable carries no microphonic noise and coils easily for storage with no memory. The metal Y-split is very fashionable, featuring the Moondrop insignia printed on its surface and its weight takes the slack off the cable to keep it routed over the ear, a nice touch. Meanwhile, the right-angle 3.5mm plug demonstrates good construction with ample strain relief while the ear-guides provide comfortable and stable wear with their soft pre-moulded design.

 

Fit & Isolation –

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Though certainly on the larger side, the Starfield is ergonomically shaped with flattened rear and contoured inner face that conforms well to the curves of the outer ear. As the housings are thin, the Starfield provides a reasonably low-profile fit too. The nozzles are tapered and nicely angled to neutrally position the earphones, thereby, avoiding contact with the outer ear and hotspot formation over long listening sessions. Fit depth is medium but can be quite deep when sizing down tips. I found a slightly shallower fit provided a more balanced sound by preventing over-intimate vocals and a slightly warmer low-end. The earphones provide a strong seal but no driver flex or pressure due to their more open, vented nature. As a result, noise isolation is average, just suitable for general commute but definitely not adequate for loud environments such as air travel.

 

Sound –

Moondrop Starfield

Testing Methodology: Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. Note that 7-8KHz peaks are artefacts of my measurement setup. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1K.

 

Tonality –

The Starfield has excellent channel balance, suggesting strict quality control. It provides a mostly balanced if slightly mid-forward and neutrally toned sound overall. To my ears, this is not a sound of perfect linearity. There is sound technical ability at play, sub-bass has good quantity and power while mid and upper-bass are clean and balanced. There’s a smooth transition into a lightly subdued lower-midrange before a climb to 3KHz prominence, creating a clear, open and somewhat forward vocal presentation. Meanwhile, the 4KHz region is a touch attenuated while the treble is fairly linear. As such, this is a signature that comes across as clean, forward and revealing without being excessively bright, sharp or fatiguing up top.

 

Bass –

Lows altogether are clean and natural and represent modest performance. Sub-bass extension is very good which, alongside lifted quantity, delivers concise, physical slam at the very bottom in addition to pleasing power and weight. The mid-bass and upper-bass are both linear and well-balanced instigating a light low-end warmth and slightly fuller notes. As will become a running theme in this review, the tuning is very well-executed, there is no bloat or tubbiness and the tone is natural.

It is with regards to technicality that the Starfield falters. Driver control is only moderate, not muddy or boomy as its tuning is well-metered, but a touch loose and lacking the defined transients of some competitors. Decay is reasonably quick but there is a distinct lack of definition and a smoother texture so the sound is lacking some separation and organisation, especially noticeable on complex tracks such as Dirty Loop’s Next To You. Nonetheless, this low-end isn’t overtly sloppy and will be sure to engage with its depth, dynamics and clean tuning.

 

Mids –

The midrange, I find to be especially sensitive to the whims of the bass and treble. It is Moondrop’s close adoption of the Harman curve that grants this earphone a delightfully natural and refined midrange presentation one would not expect at this price. There’s a small dip in the lower-midrange providing bass/midrange separation before rising to prominent around 3KHz. As such, this isn’t a full-bodied sound, but one with mostly neutral tone and warmth alongside a slightly bright and vocal-forward presentation. In turn, its presentation is revealing and clean while well-metered bass emphasis upholds balance and imbues some additional body.

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Vocals are a touch thin and slightly enlarged size with accurate articulation; lacking rasp or sibilance. The 4KHz region is also impressively linear, imbuing a lovely balance between delicacy and density while maintaining alluring openness and extension. There isn’t a hint of truncation here nor coolness despite lying on the brighter side. As the upper-midrange does sit forward, they are a touch intimate and, in terms of timbre, aren’t perfectly accurate. Still, they get darn close, the tuning is superb if you’re looking for clean, clear and natural vocals.

Of course, such a positive impression comes with a disclaimer, personal preference is key. Those valuing coherence will still want to consider that this isn’t a warm or rich earphone with perfectly resolved notes. From a technical standpoint, I can also see a similar trend as the low-end with resolution being middle of the road as are layering and dimension. In the grand scheme of things, I would personally have preferred a slightly denser and smoother voicing by toning down the upper-midrange. However, I would honestly be challenged to find a more desirable combination of midrange qualities around this price point.

 

Highs –

Beyond establishing a detailed and extended image, tuning the high-end has been a source of much deliberation in the audio world and surely is an area that many are sensitive to. The Starfield is well refined here, with the dynamic driver taking the sharp edge off transients while retaining plenty of crispness and presence. The lower-treble is a touch smooth, sitting just behind the upper-mids while the middle-treble has a small peak around 8KHz before a sharp fall-off. This imbues a pristine sense of clarity while ample instrument body is derived from lower emphasis. Resultantly, highs don’t sound brittle, splashy or strident in the slightest.

Instrumentation is clean and crisp while detail retrieval is excellent even if this isn’t immediately apparent due to their smoothness. Body is somewhat thin while note attack is smooth, thereby preventing the top-end from fatiguing the listener and contributing to a more controlled and composed image. The background is dark and clean with a moderate amount of air and background detail retrieval. A peak in the upper-treble also contributes to clean transients and even a touch of sparkle. Extension is quite good as is resolution though obviously, the sound isn’t abounding with micro-details and minutiae. It is, nonetheless, a well-metered tuning that is natural for the most part with an uptick of air and final octave energy

 

Soundstage –

The Starfield creates quite an expansive soundstage that extends just beyond the periphery of the head. It is well-rounded with pleasing ability to project depth and vocals too. Imaging is accurate if not razer sharp, vocals are strongly centred while instruments fan out to the side. Layers are defined with good contrast between background and foreground, while instruments are organised coherently crafting a pleasing sense of directionality and immersion. Separation is also good, some fine textures are lost in the bass, but the midrange is nicely defined as is the high-end on behalf of the earphone’s darker background.

 

Driveability –

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This is an easy earphone to drive with a 122dB sensitivity and 32 ohm impedance, meaning that it is both efficient and fairly resistant to hiss. Being a single dynamic driver, the earphone also is very source agnostic, sounding basically identical in terms of signature from the 10-ohm Hiby R6 as my JDS Labs Atom desktop setup. The Starfield scales well with a bit more power and drive from a dedicated source. Comparing the Pixel 4 dongle to Earmen TR-AMP yielded greater driver control with cleaner transients. The midrange became a touch smoother and the highs more refined, sounding a touch brittle with the dongle. That said, the Starfield is surely more forgiving of the source than most earphones and, therefore, represents a good choice for listeners who may not own a high-end source or simply want an earphone to listen from their smartphone on the go.

 

Comparisons –

iBasso IT01 ($99): The IT01 has a more V-shaped sound and its Tesla driver delivers excellent quality for the price. It has better extension and noticeably more bass quantity, especially within the mid-bass, being fuller and warmer. It has more bloat but immediately superior driver control yielding better note definition and separation. The IT01 has a similar midrange tuning but is more laid-back compared to its bigger bass. It too is quite natural, warmer due to its greater bass, less cohrerent due to a more recessed lower-midrange.

The Starfield is more vocal-forward while the IT01 is a bit glossier with a touch less body, more low-end warmth and more lower-treble presence. The Starfield sounds more linear and with a more accurate timbre while the IT01 is a touch more engaging without sounding overly skewed. The IT01’s treble is crisper and more aggressive with a 5KHz peak while the Starfield is more linear with smoother note attack. The Starfield has more instrument texture and foreground detail retrieval where the IT01 has more detail presence but thinner instruments lacking the same resolution. The Starfield has more air and better extension enabling a slightly wider soundstage alongside more coherent imaging and layering.

Samsung Galaxy Buds ($129): Following Samsung’s acquisition of AKG and Harman, it’s unsurprising that their products have provided some impressive fidelity and stay faithful to the Harman curve in terms of tuning. This begs the question, is there much more to this comparison besides tuning? Simply put, yes, the Starfield provides a noticeably more insightful and immersive image. Though they share their signatures very closely bottom to top, the Starfield provides noticeably better sub-bass extension in addition to a tighter, more controlled low-end. Both are very natural through the midrange and similar in tone and body.

The Starfield’s transients are a touch cleaner with greater note resolution, though they are strikingly similar. The Starfield has a touch more vocal extension and lower-treble crispness alongside noticeably greater detail retrieval. It extends better with a cleaner background and more sparkle. As a result, the Starfield has a wider soundstage and better imaging. Those looking for a nicely tuned Bluetooth earphone will want to look into the Galaxy Buds which seem to the buck the trend of overly bass-heavy wireless earphones.

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Final Audio E4000 ($149): The E4000 is a slightly more L-shaped earphone with more bass and smoother treble. The E4000 has better sub-bass extension with more pressure and more mid and sub-bass quantity. As its sub and mid-bass are quite linear, the E4000 doesn’t suffer from too much bloat while the more balanced Starfield is slightly cleaner. Both resemble each other closely through the lower and centre-midrange region with 3KHz prominence, the E4000 tones it down a bit, aligning with my ideal smother and denser image slightly more where the Starfield is more neutrally toned with better vocal extension and clarity.

As the E4000 has more bass and a smoother lower-treble and upper-midrange, it is notably fuller and smoother and its tone is slightly warmer, it also lacks the intensity of the Starfield. Both earphones have a smoother treble with excellent retrieval for the price, the E4000 is slightly warmer and more organic, the Starfield is cleaner and crisper with more air and separation. The E4000 has a darker background, both extend similarly. The E4000 has a slightly wider soundstage where the Starfield has better separation besides the bass where it is noticeably less controlled.

Simgot EN700 Pro ($149): The EN700 Pro features a more U-shaped sound with bigger bass and slightly crisper treble. The EN700 Pro has slightly more impact and slam with greater mid-bass emphasis. Its low-end has slightly better control and quicker decay, resulting in a more aggressive texture. The cleaner Starfield has more separation but is smoother and less defined. The EN700 Pro has a natural, warm midrange and is a touch laid-back while the Starfield is cleaner in tone, smoother and more forward. Both have an accurate timbre in addition to appropriate body and articulation.

The EN700 Pro is a touch warmer and less intense sounding, it also has slightly more focus on articulation due to its more forward lower-treble where the Starfield is noticeably smoother. The EN700 Pro has a crisper top-end with more note attack and thinner instrument body on behalf of its 6KHz peak. The Starfield is cleaner and has better detail retrieval. It has more air while the EN700 Pro has a slightly cleaner background. The Starfield extends a touch more with more sparkle and background detail while the EN700 Pro is more open with a wider soundstage on behalf of its form factor.

 

Verdict –

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Moondrop has carved out a very loyal niche in the hobby. With the Starfield, as my first experience with the company, I can see this is for good reason. The Starfield is priced well and doesn’t make any fatal compromises in either build or sound. Its tuning showcases remarkable refinement, accurately tracing the Harman curve while refining some of its faults. It remains a tad intense in the upper-midrange though elsewhere, the Starfield is balanced and progressive with an uptick of engagement in the bass to retain drive and fullness. The low-end itself does mire its performance, being neither tight nor especially well-controlled. As such, this earphone appeals best to listeners wanting a delicate and revealing midrange alongside a natural and well-detailed treble while those wanting deep, defined bass will want to investigate the myriad excellent alternatives within this price range. Which brings me to my final say, the Starfield is modestly priced for what it offers. Though not perfect, it specialises in versatility. Accordingly, the Starfield makes for a strong purchase and an excellent introduction for newcomers to the best aspects of the audio hobby.

The Starfield is available from on HifiGo (International) for $109 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with HiFiGO or Moondrop and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

 

Track List –

Crush – NAPPA

Dirty Loops – Next To You

H.E.R – I Used To Know Her

Missy Higgins – The Sound of White

Nirvana – Nevermind

Pixies – Doolittle

The Weeknd – After Hours

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

 

3 thoughts on “Moondrop Starfield Review – Harbinger Leave a comment

    • Hi bc,

      Sorry I haven’t tried the Sphere before. From looking at the driver types and reviews online, both appear to be quite balanced earphones. The Sphere, being BA as opposed to a dynamic driver on the Starfield, you can expect a quicker sound but with less bass heft. Take this with a grain of salt of course!

      Best,
      Ryan.

      Like

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