Moondrop Starfield: A New Benchmark
Today we’re checking out one of Moondrop’s more recent releases, the Starfield.
Moondrop is a Chinese company out of Chengdu and has rapidly risen to fame within the audiophile community. They are known for earphones and earbuds that follow the Harman tuning curve, but with a spin here and there to give each product a unique sound, at an affordable price and with stellar build quality and interesting designs. My time with the Starfield has showed these qualities to ring true, and I have been seriously impressed with the performance on tap from a product costing just over 100 USD.
The most apparent change I’ve noticed as you move up in price is not necessarily the frequency response curve, but overall refinement and technical capability. As earphones get more expensive (and this is not a set rule because there are definitely exceptions) they get smoother and more mature sounding without making sacrifices to achieve those qualities. Imaging, layering, and separation all improve, giving off a more natural presentation. That was something that I adored about the Brainwavz B400, and why it’s still one of my favorite iems to this day. It’s staging is simply a step above everything else I’ve heard in the price range, and more in line with the performance you get from much more expensive gear. The same can be said for the Starfield which to me is all the more surprising and impressive because it does it with a single dynamic driver, not four balanced armatures ala. B400.
The Starfield is a fantastic product worth your attention, and this is why.
What I Hear Treble is decently well extended with a comfortable level of upper treble emphasis. Cymbals, chimes, etc. are not overly present giving the Starfield’s presentation some sparkle and satisfying air between notes. It manages to be neither tiring nor dull, and for my preferences hits an elusive mark of a near perfect balance of technical competence and entertainment value. Lower treble is slightly elevated giving the Starfield’s presentation plenty of detail without being overly analytic. This further feeds in why this earphone is so enjoyable over long term listening sessions. Even at listening volumes I’m not comfortable with, it remains shockingly fatigue free. The 10mm carbon nanotube driver the Starfueld is equipped with is reasonably quick too, with a fairly accurate attack and decay.
The Starfield’s midrange is less recessed than other iems that chase the Harman curve, which I was very glad to hear. It’s still a u-shaped tune, but not excessively so. Vocals and instruments are well-weighted, leaning ever so slightly towards a lighter style that helps improve clarity. Upper and lower mid balance is very even and linear with neither range showing a significant boost in presence. Upper mids are slightly more prominent, but not enough to warrant more than a passing remark. It doesn’t lead to a shouty or overly aggressive presentation whatsoever. Timbre is outstanding and a step above most other products I’ve heard in recent memory. Picking apart varied instruments in a busy ensemble is fairly effortless with only various multi-driver or mega-buck iems competing. Few single dynamics I’ve heard sound quite as accurate.
Bass on the Starfield in conservatively elevated with a moderate density and weight. The presentation is quite linear her too, from upper bass to lower where it starts to roll off, thereby reducing emphasis on the lowest of notes. There is still plenty of air being moved though, and the Starfield can certainly satisfy with notes that are meant to be felt more than heard. Mid-bass is reasonably quick and displays a decent level of punch. On occasion it comes across a tad soft and lacking impact. Texture and detail are excellent with grungy bass notes being accurately reproduced. Nothing feels overly smoothed and certainly not one-note. It’s a typically dynamic sounding low end.
The Starfield’s sound stage is greater in width than depth with the ability to toss effects past the sides of your head and well off into the distance. Imaging is especially impressive and nuanced with fine channel-to-channel movements being exceptionally clear and obvious. Off hand, the only sub-200 USD earphone I can think of that bests it is the Brainwavz B400. The larger than average staging helps give the Starfield a very layered presentation with live recordings displaying clear depth between instruments. It also works well with gaming letting you judge distance fairly accurately in racing and combat titles. Instrument separation is also above average and only at extremely high volumes did I ever find tracks becoming congested or muddied, something that in my experience is fairly common to single dynamic earphones.
To put it simply, the Starfield is easily one of the best sounding single dynamic earphones I’ve heard, regardless of price. The mildly u-shaped tune gives it impressive versatility across genres while remaining technically impressive in terms of clarity and sound stage. Like my other favorite sub-200 USD earphone, the Brainwavz B400, the Starfield is always entertaining and never fails to put a smile on my face. It’s good for long listening sessions, and can even be used to analyze tracks if you want, though there are others that better it in this regard. It has a true jack-of-all-trades tune that doesn’t really sacrifice much of anything to get there.
Select Comparisons (volumes matched with Dayton Audio iMM-6)
KB EAR Diamond (79.00 USD): Bass on the Diamond is slower, digs deeper (Starfield seems to roll off slightly), and is more prominent, but the sheer presence of the midbass overwhelm. Bass out of the Diamond lacks the texture and nuance of the Starfield. Starfield also has more punch and authority to notes. The Starfield’s midrange is more forward and more even in terms of upper and lower balance so male and female vocals sound more evenly represented. Timbre is similarly good with the Starfield having a very slight edge. Treble out of the Starfield is more detailed and better controlled (i.e splash free) though the brilliance region could use a boost to put it more in line with the Diamond’s presentation. The Diamond’s sound stage lacks the width of the Starfield’s, but isn’t too far off in terms of depth. Imaging, layering, and separation are all in Moondrop’s backyard though, all of which are some of the best I’ve experienced in a sub-200 USD earphone.
The Starfield’s improved detail and technical ability combined with a more balanced signature (still u-shaped though) has me picking it up over the Diamond every time.
In terms of build, the Starfield has a much neater, more interesting paint job and imo is one of the coolest looking iems around. Fit of the component parts goes to the Diamond though, since seams on the Starfield are much more noticeable. Comfort and isolation are just very slightly better with the Starfield for me, with foam tips making it pretty much a wash. When it comes to the cable, as much as I love the Diamond’s I am a huge fan of thin and light braided cables. The Starfield’s certainly lacks the durability factor but it stays out of the way and I quite enjoy it. Most will probably prefer the Diamond’s cable though.
TinHiFi T4 (79.00-119.00 USD): Bass on the Starfield is a little heavier and warmer with similar extension. The T4 is more textured and faster handling rapid notes even better, but like the Starfield can lack impact at times. The T4’s midrange is more forward with more upper mid emphasis. It has a cooler tonality and less accurate timbre as a result. Clarity and detail are similar with the T4 having a very slight edge. While neither earphone adds sibilance to a track, it’s more prominent through the T4. Overall a much less forgiving midrange than the Starfields is. Treble out of the T4 is more prominent from lower to upper giving it’s presentation extra energy and sparkle. Attack and decay are snappier than they are out of the Starfield giving it a more analytic feel. Sound stage is pretty even between the two with the Starfield’s less forward mids giving the impression of a more distant and rounded stage. The T4 can toss effects further away despite a more intimate starting point. Imaging is notably more nuanced out of the Starfield while both provide excellent layering and separation.
I’ll give the Starfield a slight edge in overall sound quality due to the T4’s mediocre imaging, but otherwise they trade blow for blow and are both outstanding earphones. Go with the T4 if you like a more neutral leaning sound, and the Starfield if you prefer some extra low end and general warmth.
In terms of build, both are great. The T4’s design isn’t as eye catching but fit and finish is better, and since it features bare metal, you won’t have to worry about paint chips as seems to be an issue for some with the Starfield. While I like MMCX connectors, the T4’s have too much play and feel nowhere near as secure as the Starfield’s excellent recessed 0.78mm 2-pin ports. The Starfield’s cable is also nicer. While the T4’s cable is thicker and has a nice chin cinch, it’s also quite bouncy and sticky. The Starfield’s cable is light and lean and rarely gets in the way. Both have well-design preformed ear guides.
Brainwavz B400 (169.50 USD): The quad-armature B400 has been my sub-200 USD benchmark for a couple years now, and while the Starfield doesn’t quite unseat it, the fact they’re even being compared should give you an idea of how much I respect the Starfield and its performance.
When it comes to bass, performance is unexpectedly close but favours the Starfield with it’s dynamic drivers. Notes hit with greater impact and it moves more air thank to improved extension and more sub-bass presence. They start the process of rolling off around the same time though. In favour of the B400 is texture and speed. The B400’s midrange is notably more forward and intimate with more detail and similar clarity. Vocals have a bit more meat to them which really benefits female voices. Timbre on the B400 is great, but the Starfield sounds just a bit more natural, most noticeable to me with pianos. Treble on both earphones is quite relaxed with the B400 sounding more lively in the upper treble region. Once again, detail and clarity reside in the B400’s camp, but the differences are fairly minor. While the B400’s sound stage is clearly the smaller and more intimate of the two, its multi-driver setup gives it a clear edge in layering and separation. Imaging on both is also well above-average in my opinion, with the B400 giving listeners even more precise movement and depth to it’s presentation.
I absolutely adore both of these products and could easily live with either as my only earphone. They’re that good. In the Starfield’s favour, its more relaxed mid-range and deeper bass gives it a more chill vibe, whereas the more mid-forward B400 demands your attention. I still favour the B400’s presentation, but I’d be 100% content with either. Given the price difference and the B400’s sub-par build quality, that is a win for the Starfield.
In terms of build, no contest. The Starfield’s painted steel shells are miles ahead of the B400’s 3D-printed shells in everything but comfort and isolation. Moondrop also equipped the Starfield with a nicer cable, though one that likely won’t be quite as durable as the more heavy duty one that Brainwavz provides.
In The Ear The Starfield is a gorgeous looking earphone with an organic, low profile design. Fit of the component parts is good, but there is a prominent seam circling the base of the face plate that may or may not bother some. The ports for the removable cable are recessed a couple millimetres into the housing offering a snug fit for the plugs and enhanced protection from accidents and careless owners that shove the earphone in their pocket. Unlike most other products in the Moondrop range, the Starfield is painted an eye-catching metallic blue with the Starfield name on the right earpiece, and a compass on the left. Personally, I think they’re one of the best looking products on the market and are oozing style. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air from the bare metal, or chrome, or black earphones that are oh so common. Keep in mind though that this paint job doesn’t seem to be the most durable thing in the world with numerous examples of them being chipped floating around the web. As long as you’re not slinging the Starfield around your neck when not in use, letting the earpieces clack together while you walk, or stuffing them in your pocket without first being set within the case or some other protective carrying device, you should be okay.
The cable Moondrop includes with the Starfield is going to be a divisive one in my opinion. There are those that like a thin, lightweight cable, of which the Starfield’s is. Strain relief is good at the 90 degree angled jack, but lacking entirely at the chunky metal y-split. Leading up to the earphones are preformed ear guides which again, some like, some detest. The plugs themselves continue the lightweight theme and are small and unobtrusive. For me personally, I love this cable. The blue colouring matches the rest of the product, the low mass keeps it from tugging at your ears when running or doing anything more vigorous than a walk, and it doesn’t seem to catch on your environment often. It’s like a slightly beefier, cheaper feeling version of the EarNiNE EN2J’s cable. On the other hand, the braid kinda loose (though not as bad as the TinHifi P1’s), and the lack of strain relief at the y-split is somewhat concerning for overall longevity. For something that is as nice to actually use as this cable is, I can accept the negatives in place, even if they don’t have to be there.
So the Starfield is pretty well built, looks good, and the cable is decent. How is it to actually wear? For me, fantastic! Despite the weight of the dense metal shells, the Starfield’s ergonomics are outstanding. The low profile design keeps weight distribution fairly even around your outer ear, and while it has a fairly shallow fit, there is never the feeling of a compromised seal. Isolation unfortunately is not amazing. I don’t find this entirely surprising given the shallow fit and twin vents on the inside of each earpiece. Of course, foam tips help mitigate this sound leak somewhat, but not enough to make the Starfield an ideal pick for routine use in noisy areas like a coffee shop or on transit.
In The Box Moondrop equipped the Starfield with some classy packaging. The outer sleeve is beautifully designed with a number of neat touches. The brand is known for prominently featuring Anime girls on their boxes, and while one appears here she is merely a silhouette set against a starry night sky. In the sky is the Starfield name and the statement “Listen to the Sound of Stars”, surrounded by two lines that mimic the upper and lower edges of the left earpiece. This sort of attention to detail goes a long way in setting Moondrop apart from the competition in my eyes, as I’m someone that truly appreciates when a brand puts effort into their packaging. Out back of the sleeve is an image of the Starfield’s right earpiece, but deconstructed to show off the component parts. Slipping off the sleeve reveals a blue box printed with the Moondrop logo in silver foil lettering. The speckled texturing of the box reminds me of what Campfire Audio does with their cardboard, though here it is much more subtle.
Removing the lid you find the blue specking continues. The top half of the interior is dominated by a cardboard covered foam insert in which the Starfield’s earpieces are set. Starfield in silver foil lettering resides just below the earphones. Lifting out this insert reveals a covered compartment where some extra accessories along with the manual, contact info, and QA cards are stored. Backing up a bit, the rest of the package contains a compact clam shell case in which the rest of the accessories can be found. In all you get:
- Starfield earphones
- 0.78mm 2-pin 24AWG Litz 4N OFC 1.2M cable
- Carrying case
- 3 spare pairs of metal nozzle filters
- Single flange silicone tips (s/m/l x2)
This is a very simple but enriching unboxing experience. Outside of the sleeve being tough to remove initially, the rest of the experience is fuss free. The design is attractive and well thought out, as is the accessory kit. The clam shell case is smaller in circumference than most, but has enough depth to comfortably hold the earphones and spare tips while still fitting in most pockets. It has a pleasing texture too thanks to the grippy, knobbled surface. The tweezers and spare filters are something you usually only get with vastly more expensive products and were a welcome surprise. Lastly, the included tips are top quality and use a grippy, soft silicone that reliably seals and causes zero discomfort. Some more tip variety would have been welcome though.
Final Thoughts It continues to be an amazing time for fans of portable audio. It’s hard to find a bad sounding earphone. Everything from super cheap budget gear to high end earphones is usually at the very least competent, if not very good. Unfortunately, that also means that it takes something seriously impressive to stand out. The Starfield is one of those rare products.
The Starfield pops visually. It performs at a level that was unimaginable for a product around 100 USD a few years back. The build quality is good. The packaging is nice. The accessory kit isn’t full of cheap, throwaway extras, like a case that you can pick up on Aliexpress for 50 cents. The overall presentation and performance is a step above most of the competition. Moondrop aimed high with the Starfield, and absolutely nailed it. If you’re looking to buy an earphone for under 200 USD right now, take a long hard look at the Starfield. I have a feeling this one is going to remain a strong contender for quite a while.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer Thanks to Nappoler with Hifigo.com for arranging a sample of the Starfield for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions and are not representative of Moondrop, Hifigo, or any other entity. At the time of writing the Starfield retailed for 109.00 USD: https://hifigo.com/products/moondrop-starfield-carbon-nanotube-diaphragm-dynamic-earphone / www.aliexpress.com/item/4000644906074.html
- Driver: 10mm Carbon Nanotube dual cavity dynamic driver with Japanese Daikoku CCAW voice coils
- Impedance: 32Ω±15% (@1khz)
- Sensitivity: 122dB/Vrms(@1khz)
- Frequency Response: 10Hz-36,000 Hz
- Cable: 0.78mm 2-pin 24AWG Litz 4N OFC 1.2M
Devices Used For Testing LG G6, LG Q70, XDuoo Link, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501, Periodic Audio Nickle, Shanling M0, Hifiman MegaMini
Some Test Tunes
Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams