This is a relatively small but well-crafted three-piece shell design with the first two plates housing the drivers, MMCX connectors and small venting port for the dynamic driver to breath on the lower side. The final piece, the nozzle or the front housing as Light Harmonic call it, is made from a copper alloy and provides quite a distinct visual contrast to the all blue of the shell. The copper alloy also doubles as an acoustic damping filter (CAAD) for the final tuning of the Stella.
The nozzle is fairly long, so it will place a fair amount of emphasis on the tips you use to get a good seal. This is a diminutive IEM by any standard and there is no semi-custom shell design from the likes of iBasso for assisting with the seal. Its all in the nozzle. The comfort levels are actually very good save for the MMCX stem which, combined with the MMCX connector on the cable side, makes for a longish stiff presence that runs across my ear. If you position it right, you won’t feel much pressure though. Pushing it slightly forward seems to do the trick.
I have seen some comments regarding the front pressing onto the outer ear but it seemed ok for me so this is likely down to individual ear shapes than something inherent in the Stela shape.
I mentioned the tips and boy does the Stella require some serious adjusting to get the seal just right with the supplied tips. Light Harmonic supply two sets of tips. Some large and tall silicone tips and a set of longish foam equivalents. All come in small, medium and large size. The seal is so important with the Stella. An imperfect seal will rob it off much needed bass warmth, body and impact without which it just doesn’t sound good.
With the silicone tips I found angling the Stella slightly out towards the front with the rear pushed in gently gave me the best seal for bass response on the Stella. I much preferred the foam tips for 2 reasons. First, a much better seal with far less adjusting in the ear. And second, superior passive isolation on background noises over the silicone tips. I could add a third also by simply saying I preferred the meatier sound from the Stella with the foam tips.
The Stella comes with 2 cables in balanced and unbalanced terminations. I quite appreciate that given my Cayin N5ii comes with both 2.5mm and 3.5mm outputs. I do also have a Sony NW-WM1Zwith some 4.4mm converters so I can easily pair the Stella with that also without having to go unbalanced only.
Apart from the terminations (wiring/grounding) the cables are identical in build. These are 4-core SPC using a 6N OFC copper grade wiring. I suspect an upgraded cable will yield some good results but the supplied ones are nice and smooth sounding to my ear and rarely sound overly compressed.
The physical build is attractive with only a slight bit of kink when untangled and in use. Microphonics is also very low. I did a tap test below and above the y-splitter and didn’t hear anything disturbing. Both cables have matching blue anodized barrels with right angled jacks (2.5mm and 3.5mm) and sturdy looking strain relief.
I was less of a fan of the memory wire on the cable which seems a bit overly arched and long. It never really sat on my ear as I had hoped it would and stuck out the back a little. I use glasses for specific things from time to time and the memory wire messed with my glasses now and then. I would prefer no memory wire at all in all honesty or something a bit more discreet.
The tuning of the Stella is quite unlike a lot of other hybrids I have tried before. Generally, the likes of the Dorado and something like the Fidue A91 have a low-end response that is slightly disproportionate to the balanced armature signature. I do love the weighting of the A91 dynamic driver, but the BA tuning was a bit tame and didn’t quite get the most out of a potentially exciting low-end. The Dorado went in the opposite direction with a huge thumping warm bass sound that dominated everything else.
The Stella’s is much more deftly tuned to my ear as a hybrid. I can still tell it is a hybrid, but the coherency is much better than those the two competitors. The Stella is lightly u-shaped with a slight low-end bump, some good vocal presence , especially for female vocals and an exciting and forward treble presence.
The staging is more width and height than heavy-handed low-end power, but the perception of depth and air is still very good. I don’t find it shallow sounding, just lacking in gut-wrenching sub-bass presence.
With the low-end it is quite controlled sounding meaning it is fairly linear though slightly raised by around 3-4dB from 20HZ to 200Hz. It does not have any emphasis or bumps from sub or mid-bass so its marginally warm but lacks a little in impact and overt coloration.
You do get a nice sense of depth though and it does help the Stela create quite an open and airy sound, but it is not overly meaty or powerful sounding either. At best I can describe it as articulate but neutral in quality and quantity. What impresses me most is the level of definition that beryllium driver can deliver with some impressive clarity. This is also a quick sounding dynamic driver with some excellent bass control. Nothing muddy or ponderous about the Stella’s bass performance.
Despite the low-end not being the meatiest the tonal balance in the mids is superb if you are a jazz vocalist lover, which I am. These tracks tend to require less low-end power, and this is when the Stella is in its element. I did mention that little 1-2k bump and how the Stella seems to tease the best out of female vocals. I am a big fan of Halie Loren and the performance of Halie and Stella seem a match made in heaven, both for detail and a neutral and quite accurate sounding timbre.
I am particularly pleased that the lively Stella treble refrains from sounding overly sibilant or creating a distracting splashy percussion tone with tracks like Stormy Weather and the lead title track from her Butterfly Blue album. The balance is just right with a superb black background and plenty of space for Halie’s vocals to shine.
There is a slight lack of weight in the lower-mids with a slight dip in the curve. Combined with a lack of low-end power the Stella’s instrumental timbre is quite neutral and clean for me. Instrumental separation is very good though and imaging is excellent. Take Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors for a spin with that bongo and drum intro. The Stella’s stereo imaging is rock solid. You can absolutely nail that initial drum beat in the right field followed by the fast bongo echo in the left. Very clean and immersive sounding.
I am on the fence a little with the Stella treble. At times it is great, with a clean but forward signature that brings out a very high perception of clarity and air to the Stella sound. Other times it comes across as too forward, perhaps too hard sounding and eventually too bright or fatiguing sounding for tracks with a heavy high-pitched cymbal and hi-hat presence.
The Stella seems to be relatively unforgiving of high energy bright mixes and more at home with acoustics and more nuanced or detailed instrumental arrangements where clarity and control are more important than an all-out attack on the senses. Perhaps a limitation on the BA tuning but I does mean I find the Stella to be more niche than an all-rounder for its treble tuning.
Even more on sound can be found on the last page of this review, right here: https://www.headfonia.com/review-light-harmonic-stella/3