Massive starlight on every nuance and detail!
PROS: Good tuning for the major part, exceptional clarity and micro-detail retrieval, good soundstage and imaging, fast and precise bass dynamics, overall precision and attack, good build quality with excellent shiny finish, attractive stock shell design.
CONS: Substantially north of neutral lower and upper treble boosts will be troublesome for the treble sensitive, TRI should fill the shell cavity with a bit more resin to add some heft, stock cable isn’t the best at this price point.
The product was kindly provided by TRI/KBEAR for a review. I covered custom fees and taxes for it.
TRI is KBEAR’s premium line of in-ear monitors and are brands of Shenzhen Lingyin Technology Co. Ltd. China. KBEAR mainly offers value for money IEMs and cables under $100 whereas TRI is positioned as a more premium lineup of IEMs, mostly $100 and above.
- Drivers – 1 Carbon Nanotube Dynamic Driver, 2 Sonion Balanced Armatures, 4 Sonion Electrostatic Drivers.
- Impedance – 14Ω
- Sensitivity – 102dB ± 3dB
- Frequency response range: 20-23kHz
- Cable – High-Quality Silver Plated Cable
Included in the box.
- TRI Starlight
- 2-pin Cable with 3.5mm jack
- Carry case
- Cleaning cloth
Starlight, like the Starshine, has semi-custom shaped shells made out of resin. The shells are finished beautifully and I could spot no imperfections even under bright light. The shells are filled with minimal resin on the inside which makes them quite a bit lighter than full resin filled IEMs like Moondrop S8. I personally like full resin shells but less resin actually makes the internals easier to fix in case of warranty repairs. The shells have a translucent black bottom, carbon fibre with golden flakes faceplate design and the TRI logo on top. The shells have a vent for the dynamic driver right below the 2-pin sockets. The nozzle is a bit short and relies on a well extending ear tip for a medium insertion fit.
Cable – Starlight’s stock 2-core SPC cable has a 3.5mm jack, is supple, tangle free with minimal microphonics but is disappointing when you compare it to its cheaper sibling Starshine’s stock copper and silver-plated mixed braided 2.5mm balanced cable (called Rhyme), which comes with 3.5mm and 4.4mm adapters. Considering this is TRI’s flagship and they have some very nice cables under their brand as a cable manufacturer, Starlight should’ve definitely come with a better stock cable, preferably a balanced one with extra adapters like Starshine’s.
Case – It’s a faux leather case with a magnetic closing mechanism. It barely fits the Starlight and the cable. You can’t really put any accessories in the tiny pouch or else the lid won’t shut. They should’ve chosen a more roomy case that could’ve fit at least some of the stock accessories.
Fit and Comfort.
Starlight has a fairly comfortable shallow fit with most stock tips because of its short nozzle. I either use foam ear tips, particularly the Moondrop MIS-tips, or BGVP E01 silicone ear tips in Large size for the best fit and sound. I prefer the foam ear tips though for Starlight, which help with a nice deep and snug fit as well as tame a bit of the bright treble.
Drivability – Even though Starlight has a 14Ω impedance rating, its sensitivity is on the lower side and it needs decent amount of power to sound its best. Because it has a brighter signature, I recommend pairing it with a warmer DAP with good output power.
Graphs are measured using an IEC60318-4 (IEC711) setup. You can compare all the graphs on my IEM Graph Database here – Animagus Squiglink.
Summary – Starlight has a Harman Target style tuning below 5kHz (treble region), with a bass shelf of 5-6dBs below 200Hz, a neutral lower-midrange presentation and a forward upper-midrange with around 8-9dB of pinna gain. Post 5kHz, it moves away from Harman Target drastically. It significantly boosts lower and upper-treble, more than 7-8dB above neutral, which puts Starlight straight into the treble-head category. It has mountain boosts around 8kHz and 16kHz, the latter making it an exceptionally airy IEM. Its treble tuning in fact reminds me a lot of 64 Audio’s Tia Trio but since Starlight has a slightly lower bass shelf than Tia Trio, its treble is a bit more prominent in comparison. A deeper, more snug fit as well as foam ear tips help tame the treble down a bit but it still remains significantly above neutral. It is definitely not for the treble sensitive.
The brighter signature allows it to have exceptionally high clarity and micro-detail retrieval. With foam tips and a nice snug fit, warmer mixed songs of artists like John Mayer, The Bros Landreth, Coldplay, Hunter Hayes, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Twenty One Pilots actually sound really good. Starlight with such tracks has really good bass slam, exceptional clarity, excellent imaging and an impressive open and airy holographic soundstage with an out of head experience (which I don’t say lightly). Even though it has wowing quality with such mixes, Starlight isn’t a versatile jack of all trades IEM like similarly priced Harman Target IEMs – Moondrop S8 or Softears RSV. With neutral to brighter songs, hi-hats and cymbals sound extra prominent, sparkly and sometimes even splashy, acoustics tend to sound extra crispy with prominent attack, and brighter vocals tend to sound sibilant. The treble timbre also isn’t the most natural and the significant boosting adds a thin character to the signature.
Let’s dig in deeper…
Bass – Even though the bass has a Harman Target style bass shelf of 5-6dBs, Starlight’s treble boosts dominate the tuning and you feel the slam and rumble majorly shine with warmer mixed tracks or tracks which have prominent bass playing, not so much with brighter tracks. With neutral and brighter tracks, the treble boosts take over and the bass sounds leaner than neutral, with kick drums and bass not having as much punch and slam as required to sound true to the mix. If you pull the 8kHz and 16kHz sliders down in your graphic equaliser by at least 5-6dBs, you get a more neutral tuning and that’s when the bass actually shines with better tonality and timbre, like a proper Harman Target tuned IEM. With that said, the dynamic driver TRI has used is actually of very good quality and plays notes with very good precision, speed and attack. I’d recommend EQing the 8kHz and 16kHz bands down to actually hear the dynamic driver at its best. I wish the treble boosts were a bit more balanced compared to the bass for Starlight’s bass to shine.
Mids – Starlight has a linear, reference-style midrange presentation with flat lower-midrange and forward upper-midrange with around 8-9dB of pinna gain with peak at 2.6kHz, the gain being on the easier side of Harman Target. It has a tiny dip in the 3k-5kHz which restricts it from having an absolutely accurate upper-midrange but that’s more me nitpicking. But the problem is that the treble boosts add thinness to the signature and as a result, the midrange sounds a bit leaner. Overall, midrange has exceptionally high resolution and excellent sense of layering and separation between instruments.
Treble – Starlight is a straight out treble-head’s IEM. It has a dip in the 5k-7kHz region and then substantially north of neutral lower-treble and upper-treble boosts around 8kHz and 16kHz, which are responsible for its super sizzly, energetic and vivid sound signature. It’s definitely not for the treble sensitive since it is well above what I consider neutral (at least by 7-8dBs). It’s extra sizzly, sparkly and at times sharp. In brighter tracks, it adds extra sizzle and sparkle to vocals and sharp attack & splashiness to cymbals, acoustics and orchestral horns. It also tends to make brighter vocals sound sibilant but sounds fine with organic and warmer sounding vocals. This airy presentation adds thinness to the signature, which I see some people enjoy and some complain. It makes instruments have a leaner tonality and timbre than natural. Foam ear tips and extremely snug fitting silicone ear tips help in taming these treble boosts a bit but Starlight still remains a bright IEM even with them.
As I said before, these boosts actually sound much better with neutral and warm-ish mixed records like John Mayer’s Continuum, Battle Studies and Born & Raised, The Bros Landreth’s ‘Let it Lie’, Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’, etc., making them sound much more exciting and fun. It highly increases the resolution and micro-detail retrieval of these warmer songs, which adds new life into these songs and pushes the instrument detail into overdrive. I personally like a good airy presentation and can enjoy Starlight with such artists but there are times when the vocal, hi-hat and cymbals sparkle and sizzle becomes a bit too distracting in songs. I’m definitely not a fan of the timbre of over-boosted Sonion EST drivers.
Technical Performance – Because of its bright signature, it has exceptionally high sense of resolution and micro-detail retrieval, where you’re going to hear every minute detail in the track. What I personally like is that it has an extremely clean, wide, open and airy soundstage with good imaging – which enables an out of head experience that isn’t a regular affair in case of IEMs. But all this is at the cost of it coming off bright and not being a versatile IEM.
TRI Starshine – Starshine is a hybrid with 2BA + 2EST whereas Starlight is a tri-brid with 1DD+2BA+4EST drivers. Both Starlight and Starshine are bright IEMs but are tuned quite differently. Starlight follows a Harman target style tuning till 5kHz. They both have similar bass quantity but Starlight has a neutral lower-midrange whereas Starshine has a much fuller midrange in the 250-1kHz. Post that both have a forward upper-midrange presentation but Starlight has the primary peak at 2.6kHz whereas Starshine has it at 4kHz. Both have similar strong lower-treble and upper-treble boost but Starlight comes off brighter since Starshine’s fuller-midrange makes it sound warmer than Starlight. When it comes to technical performance, Starlight is the stronger performer with stronger imaging and a more holographic soundstage with deeper depth, though width is similar. Starlight also has stronger micro-detail retrieval, resolution as well as separation between instruments. Starlight is tuned more tonally accurate than Starshine between 20-5kHz but you need to EQ down both IEM’s treble quantities for them to sound more natural.
Moondrop S8 – Moondrop has 8 balanced armature drivers. It follows Moondrop’s VDSF target, which takes inspiration from the Harman target. Moondrop S8 is a very balanced sounding IEM, which sounds much more neutral, even and natural compared to Starlight. They have very similar tuning till around 3kHz but post that the difference in their tuning makes them sound starkly different. Starlight is a much brighter sounding IEM and its treble boosts make it sound much leaner compared to S8. As a result, S8 has more bass punch, a more natural sounding midrange, a bit more pinna gain in upper-midrange with primary peak at 3kHz and very natural and even sounding treble tuning. Starlight’s brighter tuning does help with a sense of better micro-detail retrieval and resolution but once you EQ the treble down by around 5-6dB to the level of S8’s treble, they have similar-ish resolution and detail retrieval, with Starlight still having a slight upper hand. Starlight however does have a more open, wider and holographic soundstage, even when the treble is EQ’d to match S8. If you compare the stock tunings, S8 has better balance and is the more natural sounding IEM but Starlight has better technical performance in comparison.
Softears RSV – RSV or Reference Sound Five (5 BA drivers), follows the Harman target style of tuning and is tuned much more neutrally compared to Starlight. It has much better balance, natural tonality & timbre, slightly more sub-bass and a more neutral and authentic sounding midrange. Its treble tuning is on the neutral-warm side and makes for a very easy listen. Starlight on the other hand is a much brighter and energetic sounding IEM because of its significantly north of neutral lower and upper treble boosts. Starlight does have the better technical performance but at the cost of coming off a little too bright for the treble sensitive. RSV on the other hand has very pleasing natural timbre that is very easy to like and get along with, which is also excellent at being fatigue free in longer listening sessions.
ItsFit Fusion – Fusion too is a tri-brid with 1DD+2BA+Magnetostatic drivers. It has more bass punch, rumble and fullness compared to Starlight as well as slightly fuller lower-midrange presentation. Fusion has a forward upper-midrange presentation too but is notchy in its tuning with 2 peaks at 2.5kHz & 5kHz, and dips in the 1k-2kHz and 3k-5kHz region. As a result, Starlight with its Harman style tuning with primary peak at around 2.5kHz sounds more even. When it comes to treble, even though Fusion is a north of neutral bright in its lower-treble presentation, Starlight is a much brighter sounding IEM because of brighter lower-treble as well as upper-treble boosts. Soundstages of both IEMs are fairly wide but Starlight has a more holographic soundstage with deeper depth and stronger imaging. Starlight also has better micro-detail retrieval because of its brighter signature but Fusion is no slouch and is more even and better balanced in comparison.
Having reviewed Starshine and now Starlight, I think TRI definitely stands for Treble Response IEMs because of their treble focussed tuning of Starshine and even stronger boosting in Starlight. I reckon Starlight will be a polarising IEM. Some people will dig it for its hyper-boosted treble oriented vivid and energetic signature that brings out all the details right up your face and adds extra sparkle and sizzle to songs, while others, especially the treble sensitive, are going to have a problem with the same. Its signature does work quite well with warmer tracks but it isn’t a versatile jack of all trades. It is very well tuned till 5kHz and I think if TRI would’ve gone a bit easy on hyper boosting the EST drivers, cut their gain by at least 6dB (preferably 7-8dB), Starlight would’ve certainly made for a very special IEM at $800. It has pretty fine technical performance though with a very nice wide and deep soundstage, strong imaging and high micro-detail retrieval. But judging it solely on stock tuning for people whose preferences match mine, I’d highly recommend carefully assessing how much treble you’re okay with and if you’re open to EQing, before putting all your eggs in the ‘starlit basket’.
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs – iBasso DX240 | HiBy R6 2020
- Phone – OnePlus 7 Pro
- Laptop – Apple MacBook Pro 15″
Artists I like and listen to.
- Rock – Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Switchfoot, Imagine Dragons, Daughtry, Green Day, MuteMath, X Ambassadors, Dave Matthews Band, Vertical Horizon, Our Lady Peace, Lifehouse, Fall Out Boy, Breaking Benjamin, Muse, ACDC, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Biffy Clyro, I Am Giant, Normandie, Paramore, Slash & Guns N Roses, 3 Doors Down.
- Pop Rock – John Mayer, Coldplay, Paul McCartney, James Bay, Hunter Hayes, Niall Horan, Keith Urban, The Bros Landreth, Bryan Adams.
- Progressive Rock/Metal – Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Karnivool, Tool, Dead Letter Circus, Periphery, Lamb of God.
- Pop/Soft Rock – Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, OneRepublic, The Script, Gavin James, Magic Man, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Oasis, Panic! At the Disco, TwentyOne Pilots.
- EDM – Chainsmokers, Zedd.