The TRI Starsea: a clear contender in the price-range!
Welcome everyone back to The Neighborhood! Once again, it’s Your Friendly Neighborhood Reviewer with InToit Reviews. Today’s we’re taking a look at the TRI Starsea. This thing has a bit of an odd name, but given its colorway… I get it… This thing caught my attention after Z reviewed it, and I’m glad it did, because at its price, to the right customer, this thing is a steal. So let’s, get InToit!
So, after watching Z’s review, per usual, I had almost zero idea what these would sound like. I just knew by the tone of his voice, that he liked’em. However; as per standard, I don’t’ think Z had enough time to spend with this set to give it a proper review, but this is why you subscribe to your boy here, right? Anyhow, these do take some time to work in. I used these “off and on” again for a few weeks, and they took about a full two weeks of continuous play time to settle in. Most notably, the bass driver lacked some expression right out of the box, and the primary balanced armature unit; three-frequencies Knowles balanced armature, took some time to develop in the lower mid-range. But after this occurred, I’m happy to say that this is a pretty balanced set, with exceptional detail and clarity for the its price. Speaking of which, these come in at $136 on Amazon, but I have also seen them on sale for as little as $109. So at that price, these compete directly with the likes of the Moondrop Starfield, and Simgot EN700 Pro in the marketplace, but do they put up a fight in terms of build and sound? That’s the question, right? But before we go any further, I wanted to disclose that the TRI Starsea was sent into the channel for review by KeepHiFi. They’ve been a supporter of The Neighborhood for awhile now, and I really appreciate them sending in the Starsea for review. Nevertheless, all opinions, commentary, and criticisms are my own, and I have not been influenced to say anything in particular in this review.
And with that out of the way, let’s get into the build. In my opinion, at this time, this is the premier build in this price range, at this time. The shell is constructed of a see-through purples resin with a purple, black, and blue swirled faceplate. The overall construction is light weight, and the fit is ergonomic. The shell itself is on the smaller size, and insertion depth of the nozzle is neither too shallow, nor too deep. In general, I think this will fit most people’s ears, and do so most comfortably. I can wear these all day without any comfort issues, and I barely realize they’re there. The isolation on here is superb as well. I was monitoring a stream of speakers with the music blaring a few feet in front of me, near-field, and I was amazed that I couldn’t even hear the speakers themselves with these in my ears. They do not seem like they are that isolative, at first, but they are one to note if isolation is one of your primary goals.
The cable these come with is a very soft, comfortable, and easy to use silver-plated copper cable that initiates in a flush 2-pin connection and terminates in a straight 3.5mm jack. The chin-slider on the cable is a disc of metal with two small wholes in it for the left and right extensions, and it may be my favorite chin-slider on a cable to date. If I had one critique of the package here, it is that I would have wished for the cable to have been a balanced 2.5mm cable with a 3.5 mm adaptor provided.
The package also comes jam packed with a set of red and black foam tips, a yellow narrow bored set of silicones, a red medium bored set of silicones, and a black wider bored silicone tips. The red tips were the most analytical and direct, the yellow sounded the most traditionally V shaped to the ear, and the black offered the best tonal balance, and was the most ambient, airy, and dimensional. As I preferred the latter signature most, the tips I settled on for this set were the widest bored black silicones, so all future sound commentary will be in consideration of that set. A silver-grey, hard-shell carry case with a magnetized lid, and a switch tool are also provided. So, you get a very nice set of accessories here with your Starsea, especially for an IEM in this price-range.
So, let’s talk about what’s inside the shell, and the switches on the back. The driver configuration here is 2 BA, 1 DD; consisting of one three frequencies Knowles ED-29689 balanced armature, one custom TRI-HIGH-A high frequency balanced armature, and a composite silicon crystal biological diaphragm dynamic. The micro switches on the back of the IEMs toggle between four modes: “amazing bass” (switch 1 up, switch 2 down), “exquisite pure tone” (both switches down), “beautiful vocals” (switch 1 down, switch 2 up), and “balanced tuning” (both switches in the up position). In general, with switch 1 down, this set was bit bass light, and with switch 2 in the down position the soundstage was tad wider with less intense upper mids and more treble roll off, but I felt that this made the set a bit too dark and recessed. So, my preference, and where I think this set shines, is with both switches in the up position, although I would say that it is more mandatory to engage switch 2 than it is to engage switch 1, as I really didn’t enjoy this set with the second switch down. So, all sound commentary will presume that both switches have been engaged, as I think most people will prefer this setting on this set. And, as I said before, presume use of the black, widest-bored tips.
So, let’s start with the bass, this is not a bassy set in general, even with the bass switch engaged. These have open-backed headphones levels of bass at best. The bass does have some mild sub-bass texture to it, and is fairly balanced, but there is not a ton of midbass nor upper bass emphasis here, and macrodynamics are somewhat lacking in comparison to a lot of other IEMs. Furthermore, I did find that the amount of low-end emphasis could vary from source to source, with some sources producing a more emphasized low-end in comparison to others. Nevertheless, I felt the low-end was lean, but sufficient for the majority of music, and even surprised me on occasion when called upon. For example, when played on the Centrance DACport HD the track “Destinations” by Gesaffeslstein pulled out more than enough bass from the Starsea. And although it is not always the most defined, and won’t satisfy everyone with its low-end on every track, the Starsea always seems to prioritize bass quality over quantity, without any chance of ever bleeding into the rest of the mix. In contrast, microdynamics and transient reproductions were less source dependent, quite detailed overall, and should satisfy most listeners.
With the regard to the mids, the midrange overall is decently forward enough, but upper mids are more forward than the lower mids on occasion by a small, but noticeable margin. However; compared to something like the Final Audio A4000, I’d say there’s further lower mid-range representation found here in the TRI Starsea than there is in that set. Yet, with specific regard to vocals, vocal representation was consistently well centered, and generally at least a step more forward than the rest of the mix. To my ears, both male and female vocals were really nicely done, and I’d say that vocal reproduction is one of the standout characteristics of this set, even if male vocals may be slightly less pronounced than female ones.
Still, where the mid-range really starts to shine with the Starsea is in its smooth, pleasing and relatively accurate delivery. Although this can vary from a U to a V shape presentation depending upon which switches are activated, I never felt that the mid-range was anything other than articulate, detailed, and soft in its delivery. Tones are never harsh, strident, or shouty in my opinion, even if there is some upper midrange forwardness on occasion. In other words, while there is some forwardness to its character at times, it is always mild in its delivery, and lesser pronounced instrumentation was always forward enough to be relevant to one’s ears. A good sonic example of this was depicted on the track “Chan Chan” by the Buena Vista Social Club, where all instrumentation felt as if they were in a pleasing, perfect balance on the Starsea.
The lower treble is generally more represented and more forward than the upper ranges of the treble, but things do extend out well enough to maintain good representation and detail overall. In other words, extension is good here, as there is observable information out to about 14K or so, but the lower treble is more forward than the information in the later treble. Because of this tuning, symbols, high hat hits, and block strikes display good information but are never piercing, overly striking, or offensive. Although I like the top-end presentation of the FH3 as well, I would say that the Starsea’s top end was more consistent in its expression and representation, and less harsh on occasion. I would describe the overall treble experience of the Starsea as delicately crisp and softly detailed.
In fact, I would say that detailing and resolution aptitudes are superior standouts for the Starsea. I have heard a number of sets many times the price of the Starsea that can’t keep up with it in this regard. Detailing and resolution capabilities even seem to surpass the Final A400 that I just reviewed and loved for its ability to resolve at its price. Furthermore, these at least keep up with, if not surpass the detail and resolution of some of my other favorites in the price-range, such as the Ikko OH10 and the Shozy Rouge. I think the Starsea takes good advantage of its unique BA configuration of drivers here, uniquely separating itself in a number of ways from the presentation of those other sets. In comparison to something like the Starfield or the EN700 PRO, these offer greater precision and clarity. The FiiO FH3 does a better job of keeping up, but the Starsea has great dimensionality, better decay, and is less leading in its edge. And did I mention that the Starsea seems to scale better with amplification compared to these other sets as well? Off the Gold Note DS-10 Plus, the Starsea really seemed to shine, and took on a higher-end character in terms of its presentation overall.
And while, the staging of the Starsea isn’t that wide at the ears, it does widen as one listens forward. I would describe the stage as almost baseball-diamond-like in shape, with greater layer, separation, and distinction of instruments occurring out in front of the listener in dimensional space. Imaging wasn’t prefect in terms of placement at times; however, as I’d say there seems to be some mild blobbing occurring, that if one pays particular attention while tracking, may sound odd at times due to the irregular shaped stage. But, the Starsea is better than a lot of other sets in this regard at the same time, and I think very few people will be so picky as to find this to be a deal-breaker for them, as distinctiveness of the image and instrumentation, as well as layering capabilities, were top notch for the Starsea. So, despite some slight imperfections, I still felt the stage of the Starsea came across as natural and well layered to the listener.
Overall, I would say that the TRI Starsea has a great build and design, with a well thought out package of accessories. The sound is precise, clear, and technical, and its isolation exceeds expectations. And while it lacks some dynamics, particularly in the low-end department, at this time, in my opinion, it is the IEM to beat in the $100-$150 dollar price range. And, perhaps, beyond it. Other recommendations such as the Moondrop Starfield, Simgot EN700 Pro, ThieAudio Legacy 3, and FiiO FH3 may have their own colt followings at this point in time, but I think its only matter of time for the Starsea to catch up, as those who value resolution and clarity the most will be most attracted to this set.
*Thanks to KeepHiFi for sending in the TRI Starsea for Review!
*Gold Note DS-10 Plus available from Gestalt Audio Design: https://gestalt.audio/
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