Stellaris – shines a little too bright!
PROS: Very good technical performance, wide, deep and open soundstage, very good left to right separation and imaging, detail retrieval and resolution, attractive shell design, good tips and case for the price.
CONS: Stock tuning is bright, unorthodox quirky fit takes some tip rolling to get right.
Moondrop is one of the most popular brands to emerge out of China in recent years. They’re based out of Chengdu, Sichuan and quickly became fan favourites with products like Kanas, Kanas Pro, KXXS, Starfield, Aria, Aria SE, Kato, Blessing2, A8, S8, etc. Most of their entry level products are made out of metals but their upper range are majorly resin based IEMs with semi-custom shells like Blessing2, S8 and Solis. They even make earbuds named ShiroYuki, Namesless, VX, Liebesleid, Chaconne, etc and have recently released a TWS IEM called Sparks too. They like to dabble with popular target curves and have received critical acclaim and appreciation for their tuning based on their in-house target curve called Virtual Diffusion Sound Field (VDSF) that they try hitting with most of their IEMs.
Official Distributor – Moondrop Stellaris ($110, Shenzhen Audio)
- Driver – 14.5mm planar driver
- Impedance – 36 Ω +/- 15% (@1kHz)
- Sensitivity – 117dB/Vrms (@1kHz)
- Frequency Response – 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Cable – 0.78 mm 2-Pin with 3.5 mm termination
Included in the box.
- Moondrop Stellaris
- SoftEars Ultra Clear silicone tips (SML)
- MIS-Tip foam ear tips (SML)
- 2-pin, 3.5mm Cable
- Leatherette carry case
- Anime postcard
Stellaris’ metal shells remind me of the Starlight. They have an even better paint job with a highly attractive starry galaxy ‘Star Wars’ like theme. The long nozzles are a continuation of the shell and have a tiny lip to hold the ear tips. Nothing much to complain about in build quality.
Fit and Comfort.
Stellaris has an unorthodox fit because of its cylindrical sell and extremely long nozzle. The large foam tips did fit me quite well but I had to tip roll to find a decent fit with silicone tips. Once I had a good fit, the shells did remain comfortable for long sessions. Still, it’s on the quirky side and you will have to tip roll to find the best pairing. I however highly recommend using the foam tips not just for the fit but also for its signature.
Graphs are measured using an IEC60318-4 (IEC711) setup. You can compare all the graphs on my IEM Graph Database here – Animagus Squiglink.
Summary – Most Moondrop IEMs generally follow their VDSF target curve but Stellaris moves quite a lot away from the target and enters bright W-shape territory, primarily because of 3 north of neutral peaks – 6dB north 2.2kHz peak, 6dB north 8kHz peak and 14dB north 11.5kHz peak. It makes for a energetic and lively signature but not all is sunshine and rainbows. The big 14dB boost at 11.5kHz highlights the 11k-12kHz region a bit too much and introduces not just a ton of brightness but also a metallic tinge to the signature. Stellaris definitely sounds much better with foam tip as it tames the treble boosts by a couple of dBs but it is still a bright IEM and treble sensitive will have to tread with caution with this one.
Overall, Stellaris has a 6dB bass boost, slightly scooped lower-midrange, forward upper-midrange with around 12dB pinna gain at its peak and bright treble tuning. It does make for a very lively, heavily detailed and resolving signature but one that is also both bright and lean. It has very good technical performance and once you EQ and tame those 3 peaks, both its tonality and technical performance shines exceptionally well (more on this later). I have 2 sets of EQ suggestions that transform the Stellaris into a great sounding IEM, so if you’re into EQ and have the Stellaris, I highly recommend checking them out!
Let’s dig in deeper…
Bass – Even though Stellaris has a 6dB bass shelf, the treble takes the spotlight and the bass comes off more neutral than boosted. It has really good, fast transient presentation with exceptional attack for the price. It does have rumble and punch when the song calls for it but it’s not too upfront and is placed behind the rest of the instruments as a supporting instrument than a dominating one. Use my EQ suggestions to EQ the Stellaris and the bass shines.
Midrange – The lower-midrange is slightly scooped and with the boosted treble, it makes for a leaner than neutral signature. The upper-midrange has a forward presentation with about 12dB pinna gain at its highest point which presents vocals and instruments nice and forward. It has a twin peak upper-midrange like the U12t but since the 2.2kHz is boosted a bit above neutral and comes a little early instead of the more accurate 2.75kHz, it introduces slight nasal tinge to the tonality. Besides that the midrange is fairly well done and once you EQ and bring that 2.2kHz down by a couple of dB, Stellaris sounds quite good.
Treble – Treble is where Stellaris’ stock tuning falters majorly. The 8kHz peak is still fine but the 11.5kHz peak is boosted significantly above neutral and adds brightness and metallic tinge to tonality which is quite polarising. It sounds okay-ish with warmer mixed songs but definitely not with neutral or brighter songs. I can see this being a major problem for the treble sensitive. On the other hand, Stellaris has really good treble extension that really does wonders with technical performance. Again, once you take care of the 8kHz and 11.5kHz peak with EQ, it really shows Stellaris’ true potential and what could’ve been great as stock.
Technical Performance – Tonal problems aside, Stellaris does have really good technical performance, which comes through even better when you EQ the problematic tonal peaks down. More than clarity and detail retrieval, which are really good, it’s the left to right separation, soundstage and imaging that impressed me most! The bright treble might restrict you from appreciating the technical prowess right away but once EQ’d, you’ll notice that Stellaris is able to produce a very nice, wide and deep, engulfing soundstage – which is quite uncommon for IEMs at this price point. It has very good instrument placement and imaging, with good amount of space between them.
Drivability – Stellaris does like a bit of power. You can kinda drive it to decent levels with a laptop and phone but I’d recommend pairing it with a capable DAP or a powerful dongle. Because of its bright tuning, it pairs better with warmer sources.
Of course I’m not suggesting these EQ profiles to defend the Stellaris. This is something I was experimenting with to make Stellaris pleasant to listen to for myself and thought I’ll share it so that everyone could try it out. Nothing takes away from the fact that Stellaris’ stock tuning is bright and that Moondrop should’ve spent more time on it!
I remeasured Stellaris with the EQ profiles ON for you to see how it affects the FR. You can copy paste these settings in a text file and directly import it into any Equaliser that accepts .txt EQ profiles. This is a good starting point and feel free to edit the EQ settings to your liking!
– 4 band EQ only to fix the north of neutral peaks and EQ in some extension after.
This is simplest EQ just to sort out the problematic peaks. You can EQ the peaks up and down to taste.
Preamp: -4.7 dB
Filter 1: ON PK Fc 2313 Hz Gain -4.0 dB Q 1.000
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 8365 Hz Gain -3.0 dB Q 5.000
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 11830 Hz Gain -14.0 dB Q 5.000
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 17000 Hz Gain 5.0 dB Q 1.000
– Multi-band EQ to EQ Stellaris to my Preference Target.
You can adjust the bass shelf as well as any other frequency band to taste.
Preamp: -12.9 dB
Filter 1: ON PK Fc 22 Hz Gain -0.9 dB Q 1.400
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 49 Hz Gain -0.5 dB Q 1.300
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 50 Hz Gain 0.6 dB Q 2.000
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 69 Hz Gain 0.8 dB Q 0.800
Filter 5: ON PK Fc 460 Hz Gain 1.4 dB Q 0.600
Filter 6: ON PK Fc 2300 Hz Gain -7.2 dB Q 1.600
Filter 7: ON PK Fc 3300 Hz Gain 3.9 dB Q 1.700
Filter 8: ON PK Fc 4000 Hz Gain 1.8 dB Q 2.000
Filter 9: ON PK Fc 5300 Hz Gain -3.6 dB Q 2.000
Filter 10: ON PK Fc 6700 Hz Gain 3.7 dB Q 1.900
Filter 11: ON PK Fc 7100 Hz Gain 2.7 dB Q 2.000
Filter 12: ON PK Fc 8100 Hz Gain -4.9 dB Q 2.000
Filter 13: ON PK Fc 9526 Hz Gain 5.0 dB Q 11.000
Filter 14: ON PK Fc 11830 Hz Gain -9.0 dB Q 10.000
Filter 15: ON PK Fc 12000 Hz Gain -12.0 dB Q 2.000
Filter 16: ON PK Fc 14000 Hz Gain 3.3 dB Q 0.500
Filter 17: ON PK Fc 15565 Hz Gain 7.0 dB Q 8.000
Filter 18: ON PK Fc 20000 Hz Gain 12.0 dB Q 1.300
Moondrop Aria Snow Edition.
Aria SE is a single dynamic driver IEM but makes for good comparison because it is one of my sub-$100 landmark IEMs with exceptionally good tuning. If I had to sum it up quickly, Aria SE is a much better balanced, warmer IEM which takes the cake when it comes to timbre and tonality, and Stellaris when it comes to technical performance.
Aria has better bass punch and rumble and a more neutral lower-midrange, which comes across slightly fuller than Stellaris. Stellaris on the other hand has fast bass transients, better centre image and resolves bass better overall. Both have a forward upper-midrange but Stellaris presents the instruments with more presence and definition because of slightly more pinna gain. Aria SE’s more natural pinna gain makes for better tonal presentation. Stellaris is much brighter in the treble region and has better extension up top but Aria SE has better balanced stock treble tuning. Stellaris has a bigger, more open soundstage and better left to right separation. It also has better clarity and resolution and depth layering, even when both IEMs are EQ’d to the same target curve.
Shuoer S12 has a 14.8mm planar driver and is priced a bit more at $149. S12 is much better balanced than Stellaris FR wise but it’s still the Stellaris that has slightly better technical performance.
Stock tuning wise, S12 is the better of the two as it has a better balanced, slightly warmer and fuller signature than the Stellaris. It has more bass rumble, punch but it’s the Stellaris that has better, quicker transient presentation as well as separation. S12 has more mid-bass and slightly fuller lower-midrange presentation that adds the warmth in S12’s signature whereas Stellaris comes across much leaner in comparison. Both have a forward upper-midrange presentation but it’s the S12 that is brighter in lower-treble whereas Stellaris is much brighter with its 11.5kHz mid-treble peak. Stellaris has better technical performance because of its leaner and brighter tuning. It has better left to right separation, a more open and deeper soundstage and better detail retrieval.
Even though Stellaris has really good technical performance, it’s the stock tuning that is quite a bit brighter than neutral and will definitely be polarising. I can most certainly say that it is going to be an issue for the treble sensitive or neutral heads, especially if you’re a person who does not like EQ. Frankly, this is a bit disappointing coming from Moondrop who I have come to expect big things from and is one of the companies that I see at the top of the target based tuning game. But it’s not all lost if you like to EQ because that planar driver is extremely capable when it comes to technical performance and takes EQ really well, which then makes the Stellaris sound like an IEM way more capable than its asking price. I’ve recommend 2 sets of EQ settings for convenience as a good starting point. So, if you like or don’t mind EQing, try it out.
But in stock form, I really can’t recommend the Stellaris for all. If only Moondrop hadn’t hurried to compete in the Planar Wars and had taken their time to tune it to excellence like their other IEMs, they could’ve hit it out of the park with this one, especially because it is one of the cheaper planar IEMs at its asking price of $110. But sadly that didn’t happen. So for my friends at Moondrop – I guess it’s time to buck up, get back to the tuning table and release a planar IEM that is as well tuned as your single DDs and multi-BA IEMs, with the technical performance of the Stellaris or even better to beat! I for one certainly look forward to a proper VDSF target tuned Stellaris!
Gear used for testing and review.
- DAPs – iBasso 240 & DX170
- 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.