TRI Audio is a subsidiary of the popular KBEAR ChiFi brand. They tend to target the high-end brackets while the KBEAR products are more entry-level. Today, In this review, I’m taking a look at the new TRI Starsea earphones.
The TRI Starsea is a hybrid triple-driver unit with one dynamic driver and two balanced armature drivers (1DD+2BA). What makes this in-ear monitor (IEM) interesting is its dual tuning switches which is a feature rarely seen at this price point.
The box comes wrapped in a purple cardboard sleeve with a glossy image of the earphones on the front and a list of specifications on the back. The box proper is black with a reflective gold TRI logo on the top.
Inside the box the included accessories are quite generous. Here’s what you get:
TRI Starsea earphones
Detachable 8-core SPC 0.78mm 2-pin cable
3 pairs of silicone eartips in 3 types (9 pairs in total)
2 pairs of foam eartips
Pin switch tool
The TRI Starsea 3D-printed shells are made from imported German resin and have a pseudo-custom shape. The medical-grade resin is transparent purple while the faceplates have an attractive swirled purple and black celluloid pattern. In the middle of the faceplates is a silver TRI Audio logo.
There’s a single small vent just in front of the 0.78mm 2-pin connectors. For added durability and resonance control, the nozzle is made of aluminium and has a protective metal mesh.
On the top side of the earphones are the dual tuning switches. The switches are really tiny and unfortunately can’t be manipulated by hand; you’ll need the included tool to switch between tuning modes.
TRI have done a great job with the shape of the Starsea’s shells. They’re exceptionally comfortable even during long listening sessions. All of the surface area is smooth with rounded edges and they fit my ears like a glove.
Noise isolation is above average making Starsea perfect for distraction free listening in noisy places. You could even use these as a monitor for live performances if that’s your thing. Overall, the build quality is top-notch.
The included 8-core silver-plated copper cable handles beautifully. It’s supple, drapes well and has next to no microphonics. The 2-pin connector housings, Y-split and straight 3.5mm termination are all matching polished aluminium. There’s also an aluminium chin slider which adds to the cable’s premium feel.
The TRI Starsea has a mature, linear sound signature with a spacious soundstage. It doesn’t have a really upfront presentation but is more laid-back and therefore suitable for long listening sessions. I would call the tone slightly on the warm side of neutral. The level of detail and instrument separation is impressive and Starsea scores quite highly in technical aspects.
Balanced and beautiful vocals settings sound near identical and this is reflected in my measurements. The amazing bass and standard settings are likewise almost indistinguishable from each other. However, the 2 sound profiles that you get do sound noticeably different and both are definitely usable/viable.
Compared to the standard (default) setting, the balanced/vocals mode has a subtle sub-bass roll-off but is boosted from the upper bass (80Hz) through the core midrange (up to 1kHz). Standard/bass is more like a traditional mild-V shaped signature while balanced/vocals mode has attenuated bass and a forward midrange which gives vocals more body and fullness.
Furthermore, due to less midrange body in the standard/bass modes, Starsea’s treble sounds a bit more forward and livelier than on the balanced/vocals settings but is still what I would consider smooth.
The 8mm dynamic driver creates a bass that’s boosted slightly above neutral. It transitions from the sub-bass to the mid-bass in a linear manner which gives it fullness and authority. Upper bass is thinner so at times Starsea lacks richness here and in the lower midrange.
Leading edges are a little blunted making kick drums hit with thickness but not a lot of punch or texture. However, the control is good and the bass sounds clean with no noticeable midrange bleed. Starsea can dig fairly deep into sub-bass territory but it’s a light, tidy rumble and not a basshead wall-shaker.
Mids are Starsea’s main focus, in particular the upper midrange which is more forward relative to the bass and is mostly in line with the lower treble. Male vocals are a tad thinner albeit with good texture in standard mode and switching over to the beautiful vocals setting gives them more body and gusto.
In Bjor Riis “This House” Starsea presents the vocals intimately but the piano and guitar feel spacious and spread out while maintaining good density. Starsea’s excellent soundstage is a real standout regardless of what you’re listening to.
Female vocals sound great in all modes but I prefer standard which doesn’t lean towards shouty like the vocal setting sometimes can. Resolution and instrument separation are excellent and individual instruments are easy to distinguish even in complex passages.
Starsea’s treble is crisp and detailed even though it’s not especially forward in the mix. The treble extension is good too, giving cymbals and high-hats a natural sheen and decay. There’s plenty of airiness and the occasional touch of sparkle.
Although the lower treble can sound a tad bright at times it doesn’t get harsh or fatiguing. Sibilance is mercifully absent too but the treble still provides ample detail and clarity to the overall sound.
TRI Starsea’s soundstage is one of the better ones I’ve heard at this price point. It’s fairly large in dimensions but the central image is dense and has an upfront position. Width is good and sounds reach to the edge or just beyond the headspace. There’s less depth than width but Starsea is able to create layers in front of the listener.
Instrument separation is very good for an IEM at this price point and stereo imaging is solid. Starsea can paint a perceptible 3D image making the soundstage one of its most exciting features.
FiiO FH3 ($129)
The FiiO FH3 is a hybrid triple-driver (1DD+2BA) earphone. It has a meatier bass and more upfront presentation than Starsea which sounds more laid-back in comparison. If sub-bass rumble is something you’re into, the FH3 is sure to please and creates a more guttural rumble than Starsea.
FH3 has a more robust sound whereas Starsea sounds more refined and delicate. Starsea’s presentation is light and spacious compared to FH3’s denser, warmer sound. The FH3 has a more intimate soundstage compared to Starsea which has an open, expansive stage.
IKKO OH1 ($139)
The IKKO OH1 is a hybrid dual-driver (1DD+1BA) IEM. OH1 has more of a conventional v-shaped signature with boosted bass and treble levels plus a slightly recessed midrange. The bass is noticeably more forward on OH1 and it delivers a wicked deep sub-bass rumble to boot.
OH1’s midrange is recessed in comparison to the Starsea. It rides a valley between the undulating swells of the boosted bass and upper midrange. Although OH1 treble looks more energetic it sits further back in the mix than it does with Starsea.
The result is a darker, thicker bass region and relaxed top end. It’s the leanness of the core midrange and boosted upper-mids that keep OH1 from sounding excessively dark. In comparison, Starsea is more linear, brighter, has a more expansive soundstage plus superior instrument separation.
The TRI Starsea is a very compelling earphone and one that offers great value for money. It’s well-built, comfortable and technically nimble. Having multiple sound configurations is a bonus, as is the generous and well-rounded accessory bundle. If this is the direction TRI is going, I can’t wait to see (and hear) more.