Precog's IEM Reviews & Impressions

I have never understood, why IEM companies don’t reach out to reviewers for tests; BEFORE they launch a new product. :thinking:

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Some do, but some just ignore that advice as well! :smiley:


While I am being a little tangential here, it would be great, @Precogvision, to read some impressions on your part of the new Thieaudio Monarch Mk2, in particular comparisons to some other IEMS that are using EST drivers, e.g. Kinera Nanna. Crinacle recently ranked the Mk2 as his #1 overall (top of his S category) IEM. He has previously critiqued IEMs that implement the ESTs poorly. As the Monarch has been pretty highly rated previously, it would be great to have a clearer idea both of what is uniquely good (if you agree) in the new Mk2 implementation, both compared to Mk1 and to other competing, similarly priced IEMs. Some on the HEAD-FI forum have cp’d it side by side to U12T, which seems a bit of an unfair comparison since they are quite differently put together.


Thieaudio Monarch MKII Impressions

Wow, I’m actually not late to the party by a year this time! I’m sure everyone knows about the Thieaudio Monarch already, but if you’re out of the loop it was one of last year’s most hyped tribrid IEMs - that I didn’t actually like very much. But that’s the past. Presently, Thieaudio is back for round two with the Monarch MKII. Let’s see if the Monarch MKII has what it takes to turn around my jaded paradigm.

First - listening to the OG Monarch again really reinforces how weak the dynamic driver being used in it is. It’s smeared, plasticky, and sounds like it has little texture despite the excellent sub-bass shelf. In this regard, I can confirm that the Monarch MK2 is at least a solid improvement in the texturing department wherein bass notes hit with more “grip” to them. But I can’t say I’m impressed outside of this. The slam on the Monarch MK2’s bass is rather mediocre and I hear more air being pushed in direct A/B with the 64A U12t’s BA bass. That’s also ignoring the still rather obvious blunting issues to attack wherein there’s poor distinction between successive bass hits. To be perfectly blunt : I expect better for dynamic driver bass, and the Monarch MKII’s bass barely clears the bar for me.

That said, I have to say I mostly like the midrange of the Monarch MK2. It’s more palpable, slightly thicker than its predecessor thanks to some more warmth around 200Hz. The upper-midrange, at least the pinna compensation, is very close to the Harman 2019 IEM target so it’s pushing it for extended listening and comes off quite forward. But there’s a small improvement in clarity and texturing relative to the OG Monarch; maybe a difference of ‘0.5’ by my metrics, but it’s definitely present. Between the Symphonium Helios and the Monarch MKII, I would also say that midrange transients on the Monarch MKII actually sound more natural. The midrange is noticeably “louder” on the Helios even if I think transients sound more energetic on that IEM. This reassures me that the Monarch MKII is at least not being completely propped upon its sheer macro-detail like its predecessor. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, the Monarch MKII’s treble response is likely the biggest turn-off to its tuning. It’s characterized by heavy amounts of 5kHz, so leading hits have a certain sharpness to them that makes you think “wow, that’s detail!” on initial listen, but it quickly becomes fatiguing to hear. This is followed by a minor slope off of the lower-treble which exacerbates the amplitude of this peak. It doesn’t sound like particularly compressed treble (it helps that it’s not a straight dagger like many Chi-Fi IEMs), but I do think the tuning itself could have been done better. Speaking of which, the Monarch MKII’s extension could also benefit from some more air over 15kHz. It’s probably not a big deal for most listeners, but the Helios still has better detail in the upper-treble for me, as does the 64A U12t. Maybe it’s just my younger ears that are sluts for treble air, but I digress.

For intangibles outside of resolution, the Monarch MKII is a noticeable step-up in imaging capability. The OG Monarch had a rather 1-dimensional soundstage presentation (no height, no depth) and, on second listen, I don’t think its imaging is anything special. The Monarch MKII comes across more defined in its localization, thus mitigating the layering issues the OG Monarch had on busier stuff like Sawano Hiroyuki’s music. Between the Symphonium Helios and the Monarch MK2, I’d still give the Helios the win for that “speaker-like,” enveloping quality (which is really something of a meme when we’re talking about IEMs), but it’s close. Honestly, this is a great step forward and I think most listeners would be hard-pressed to find themselves outright dissatisfied with the Monarch MKII’s imaging chops. Lest you think me too praise-happy though, some readers will recall one of my biggest criticisms of the OG Monarch lay in its dynamic range. By this, I mean that there was a distinct lack of incisiveness to jumps in volume and vice versa in a track. Alas, this issue is still very much apparent on the Monarch MKII. Dynamic swings come across sort of “sputter-y” and dampened; the music just doesn’t seem to flow to my ears. I’m sorry, but there’s simply no contest versus the Helios much less the U12t for this metric.

As an assessment of value, the Monarch MKII enters a highly competitive scene, but I think it definitely has what it takes to compete. Relative to its predecessor, the coherency issues aren’t as glaring, the technicalities are more refined, and the tuning is slightly more palpable. Needless to say this is the best IEM I’ve heard yet from Thieaudio and I can give it my stamp of approval if you’re gauging for this type of high-clarity sound. I wouldn’t even begrudge someone who gravitates toward this over the Symphonium Helios despite the Helios coming out on top for the metrics I index for. But as for whether the Monarch MKII competes with “top-tier” IEMs, or is worthy of being called one…well, I think you already know my answer to that question. Further comparison outside what I’ve outlined above isn’t warranted in my eyes.

Score: 7/10


7Hz Timeless Review - All Aboard the Hype Train?


There’s a lot of variety when it comes to driver types in the IEM world, from dynamic drivers, BAs, ESTs, to piezo-electric tweeters. And of course planars . Planars are a staple in the headphone world, with headphones from manufacturers like Audeze and HiFiMAN reflecting as some of the best headphones the world has to offer. But when it comes to IEMs, the story is a bit different. And not in a good way. Suffice it to say that I have not been a fan of a single planar IEM that I have heard. At least in the case of technical marvels such as Audeze’s LCD-i4, the bottleneck seems to be tonal balance. This is where the Timeless comes in, having been touted by the community as being something of a tuning marvel amongst planar IEMs and at a mere $220 no less. Read on to find out how the Timeless stacks up to my ears.

This unit was provided for review courtesy of Linsoul from which you can buy the Timeless here. Thank you! As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.

Source & Drivability

All critical listening was done off of my iBasso DX300 and iPhone 13 Mini with lossless files. The stock cable and stock ear tips were used. The Timeless takes a moderate amount of power to drive, but no more than would be required of most single-DD IEMs. I found myself at ~ 30% volume on my iPhone to hit my usual listening levels of ~70dB.

The Tangibles

The Timeless arrives in a fairly small box with the following accessories inside:

  • Aluminum case
  • wide assortment of silicone tips
  • MMCX cable
  • Documents and QC card

I don’t like the case that comes with the Timeless. It’s milled out of solid aluminum with a magnetic latch, but something about it feels “off” to me. Maybe it’s the dried glue I can see leaking out from the felt lining inside. Maybe it was the grime smeared on the top of the case when it arrived, maybe it’s the chemical smell, maybe it’s the inconsistent machining. In all fairness, I don’t really expect good cases with a product like this, but this case could use some work.

The Timeless itself has a circular, aluminum shell mated to a plastic frame. Despite the quality-control memes I’ve read about on some forums, I don’t think this is a particularly poorly built IEM and close examination of the build didn’t point out any issues. If you’re concerned about the fit of the Timeless, go grab a nickel and stick it in your ear - there’s your fit test. Surprisingly, the Timeless actually sits pretty nicely - almost flush - in my ears. However, I found comfort to be more of a mixed bag, as I could feel the circular shells starting to dig in after a couple hours. As usual though, fit is 100% subjective and your mileage might vary!

The cable of the Timeless is pretty nice in my opinion - at least as far as usability is concerned. It’s fairly pliable, doesn’t kink, and locks into place solidly via the MMCX connectors. There’s even some slightly more complex machining that’s gone into the ‘vents’ on the hardware. You won’t see any complaints from me on this front.

Sound Analysis

The frequency response below was taken off of an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at 8kHz, as such, measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate. You can visit this link to compare the Timeless to other IEMs that I have graphed.

Here, the Timeless certainly makes its mark for actually being listenable straight out of the box (unlike most all other planar IEMs I’ve heard). But let there be no mistake: listenable tonality is no substitute for good tonality. To my ears, the tuning of the Timeless is simply chock full of minor issues, namely 1) the bass shelf, 2) the amplitude of the pinna compensation, and 3) an unbalanced treble response. Collectively, they result in a presentation that impresses on first listen, but that slowly rings some alarm bells for me over more extended, critical listening.

Again, I have to admit that I was impressed when I first heard the bass on the Timeless. It strikes a good balance between sub-bass and mid-bass; while perhaps some might desire less mid-bass quantity, I tend to enjoy a “fuller” sound to my bass anyways. But closer listening has me feeling less satisfied. The slam of the Timeless is fairly pillowy in tandem with what some might deem the characteristically “soft” planar transients; I’ve heard BA IEMs (albeit more expensive ones) that slam harder. Similarly, I don’t think nuance on more complex genres such as drum n’ bass is as good as it could be, especially given planar magnetic transducers are generally praised for their low-end distinction. Overall, the Timeless has satisfying bass on the surface, but comes up shorter when I listen more closely.

Now let’s address the pinna compensation of the Timeless. For readers not familiar with this term, this is the region from 1-3kHz that should exhibit a steady rise to account for IEMs bypassing the ear’s natural resonance peak. While the Timeless does exhibit good amounts of bass presence to “balance” out some of the rise to its pinna compensation, I find that the upper-midrange of the Timeless is quite forward, almost annoyingly so at times. It teeters on what some might deem “shouty” - equally sounding like some vocalists are on the edge of sibilance - but never quite actually delving into it because of the subsequent slope off of 3kHz. The contrast to the thicker, slightly recessed lower-midrange makes this come across as all the more perplexing to my ears. If 7Hz had chosen to either 1) focus more energy away from the lower-midrange, or 2) mitigate the degree of pinna compensation, then I think this would have resulted in either a cleaner or a more natural sound respectively. Alas, as is, it just sounds slightly off to me.

Of course, these are more minor gripes with the Timeless. What’s definitely in need of work is the treble response. The Timeless is lacking some energy at what sounds like 5-6kHz with percussive hits coming across noticeably more defined, heavy , on its competitor the Moondrop Kato in A/B comparison. This perception of the Timeless’ treble is likely exacerbated by a subsequent peak at roughly 7-8kHz. Most all IEM will exhibit a peak here in measurements due to coupler resonance, but the one on the Timeless does seem to be a few decibels higher than I’d like, thus lending to a slightly “spicy” treble presentation. I found this to be especially apparent using any tips that were not the stock ones; the treble and the upper-midrange of the Timeless sounded sharp and unbalanced. It’s a shame given that outside of this, the Timeless actually has excellent treble extension - some of the best I’ve heard for $220.

Technical Performance

In a similar vein, I feel comfortable asserting that the Timeless is a stellar technical performer for $220. This is most apparent when it comes to traditional metrics of resolving capability. While transients on the Timeless are articulated with what I’d describe as a “brushed” quality to them, they are quick and lend the Timeless to clarity that belies its price point. The speed of the Timeless’ presentation is readily apparent on a track like Aimer’s “i-mage <in/AR>” wherein there is a strong sense of distinction between the rapid, individual plucks of the strings from the side channels and when the drums eventually enter in the center channel. It definitely has its competitor the Moondrop Kato beat here in A/B. However, something left more to personal interpretation would be the characteristic “planar timbre”. The Timeless leans drier in its presentation - some might say more compressed - and this is especially true when it comes to its treble response.

The Timeless also stumbles when it comes to its imaging performance. I’d say it’s somewhere within the realm of average, perhaps slightly below average if I’m being more harsh. It’s worth noting that I’ve seen a wide spectrum of impressions on various forums about the imaging performance of the Timeless, some attributing it to differences in frequency response (ie. poor quality control). That said, I have heard two units (of which mine measures as one of the best I’ve seen) and A/B with similarly priced contenders such as the Tanchjim Hana 2021, the Moondrop Kato, and the Dunu Falcon Pro presents a noticeable gap in the imaging department. On Sawano Hiroyuki’s “A/Z”, for example, the opening electronic beeps are relegated almost solely to the left-right channels and they sound squeezed together. Again - the Timeless is definitely fast and detailed. But it’s hard to knock the feeling that its localization ability (outside of the usual left, right, center) and its soundstage ambiance in general are somewhat subpar.

Assessment of Value

The Timeless joins a pack of new ~$200 IEMs that have hit the market, each of these IEMs having won praise for a relatively strong price to performance ratio:

  • DUNU Falcon Pro
  • Moondrop Kato
  • Tanchjim Hana 2021

I think it’s safe to say that the Timeless at least competes with these IEMs. Perhaps not in terms of tuning - especially it comes to versus the Moondrop Kato and the Tanchjim Hana 2021 - but it definitely has a small technical edge over all three IEMs. The Timeless, then, is the IEM to buy if you’re indexing more heavily for an upfront, high-clarity sound. On the other hand, the Falcon Pro might be considered the antithesis of the Timeless. It has a considerably less clean presentation, yet its treble, imaging chops and timbre run laps around the Timeless for listeners who are after a more laidback, natural sound.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion, the 7Hz Timeless certainly merits some of the praise it’s received. It’s probably the best planar IEM as a whole that I’ve heard to date (if you ignore DSP in the case of Audeze’s IEMs). You could even say it’s shifted the paradigm of the planar landscape and what we, as consumers, should expect from planar IEMs in the future. That in mind, I would give the Timeless a solid recommendation if you’re after the planar sound and the technical advantage it brings. But I also don’t think I’m entirely aboard the hype train. In the context of the broader market, it’s my opinion that there are IEMs such as the Tanchjim Hana 2021 and the Moondrop Kato that edge out the Timeless as a total package. An even better question might be whether the Timeless can “stand the test of time” as its name implies, especially considering I’ve already listened to another planar IEM with a near-identical frequency response to the Timeless. Perhaps the Timeless is just the spark for what we can expect in the future from this neglected (or rather, poorly implemented) IEM driver type.

Reference Tracks

  • Aimer - Hakuchuumu
  • David Nail - Let It Rain
  • Everglow - DUN DUN
  • Girls’ Generation - Galaxy Supernova
  • Illenium - Broken Ones
  • Joe Nichols - Sunny and 75
  • Keith Urban - Defying Gravity (2009)
  • Keiichi Okabe - Weight of the World (NieR:Automata Original Soundtrack)
  • Sabai - Million Days
  • Sawano Hiroyuki - Best of Vocal Works Remastered (2020)
  • Taeyeon - My Voice (2017)
  • Tiffany - I Just Wanna Dance

You know, I’ve gotten countless IEMs, from the dirt cheap (e.g. VK4), to many hundreds spent (e.g. UM Pro 50), starting around 2015 in this hobby. In spite of that, my enduring favorites are my Etymotic ER series. I keep coming back to them and they always do it for me. I’m starting to think, why bother getting any more? It looks like the ER series truly are my endgame, and they have been for 17+ years (ER4-P), and I have simply failed to realize that fact. I really should just stop now with my ER(2,3, and 4)XRs.


I really should try some Etys again. I tried them early on and disliked their sound signature and their violation of my ear holes. But over the years my ear holes have been sufficiently violated and my tuning preferences have changed so maybe I’ll come around on Ety.


Everybody’s ear canals are different. The Etys bring the transducer as close as possible to the ear drum, and that’s a big part of their magic, along with class-leading isolation. I don’t need to tell you that comfort is a matter of choosing the best ear tip type, size, and shape. There are an abundance of options to choose from, from Etymotic and others, for the determined, and the patient, to try. Good luck.


I do wish I could get the Ety sound without the invasive fit. For now I’ve settled on the VK4 with Xelastecs and a little EQ as my “endgame” IEM, which I know is likely not even close to most people’s preference.

I had the Timeless in the house for a bit, and @Precogvision describes what I didn’t like about it more eloquently than I ever could. The low-brow version is that I just didn’t find it engaging. Quoting my take on the Timeless from another forum:

I listened to a fair amount of music with the Timeless, from progressive metal like Tool to symphonic classical like Mahler, from folk rock by Joni Mitchell to electronica by Talvin Singh, and of course some of my favorite Bach choral music from the RIAS chamber choir. The Timeless sounded impressively clear and detailed on everything, but it never pulled me into the music. On Tool, the speed and articulation of the bass was enjoyable, but it lacked the aggressiveness that makes my blood pump on this kind of music. On Mahler, the whole orchestra is well presented, but the crazy dynamic swings of his music sound tamed. Joni Mitchell’s guitar playing sounded great, but the soul of her music is in her voice, sweet and raw at once, and it just didn’t grab me. Talvin Singh actually sounded pretty good and I can’t actually complain here, but again I didn’t notice any special sauce. Bach’s Motets were the most disappointing. This music is at its heart church music and sounds like it was recorded in a largish church, spanning from the profound depths of the low male vocals to the sweet, almost ethereal highs of the females. At its best, this recording transports me into almost a trancelike state. The Timeless completely lost the reverb and depth of the church, and the vocals sounded flat and a little lifeless.


You mentioned the LCDi-4, I have been wondering how the Timeless measures against the LCD-i3/4 series, I know is a big price difference but just curious how they compare.

Me too. I have the iSINE 20 and the LCDi3 and enjoy them both. With EQ - cipher cable, or the BT Cipher cable. If I use the regular cable they sound like crap unless I use EQ, ROONs EQ for the 20 is spot on, and the LCDi4 EQ works fine for the LCDi3.

I’m way too cheap to buy the LCDi4.


I actually own the iSine20 and the LCDi3, and yes, I sometimes I wonder how the LCDi4 compares to the i3, but I can’t afford the i4 anyway, I got the i3 used on a very good price, I usually use them with Roon and the Audeze presets too, but yes, just wondering how the Timeless compares to this Audeze breeds.

The LCD-i4 is definitely more technical even though I cannot A/B them. I have the iSine 20 on hand for A/B, though. The iSine 20 sounds considerably more open to me in terms of staging and layers much more nicely than the Timeless. It also has an edge in detail retrieval with less of the compressed thing going on in the treble. Perhaps a difference of A+/S- vs. A- grade technicalities in the iSine 20’s favor. Of course, convenience is the biggest bottleneck with the Audeze IEMs. The iSine sounds way more borked than the Timeless without the use of DSP, plus the ear hooks are annoying (for me).


Thank you for the response, yes, the original ear hooks that come with iSine 20 are not user friendly, the LCD-i3 comes with the new design, curved ear hook, much better, I like those better, they are way more comfortable, but yes, Audeze do need the EQ to sound good, I usually use them with Roon so not a big deal for me since I use the Audeze presets or the EQ settings from Oratory or Crinacle.


Effect Audio Axiom Impressions​

This is not going to be a positive set of impressions. Still, I would like to commend Effect Audio for making their IEM accessible for demo via a world tour. My hope is that they can consider making some revisions to their IEM that I think would greatly benefit its competitiveness on the kilobuck market. Starting from the build and accessories (or rather, lack thereof), here are my brief thoughts:

  • There is no included case or cable. I really would like to have at least seen a case being included, especially to protect an IEM this expensive. I don’t really understand the appeal of not including a cable either. If someone doesn’t already have one, they need to buy another which just means more waste piling up.
  • The ear tips are generic wide-bore silicones. I would like to have at least seen something like Azla Sedna ear tips being included.
  • The build quality of the Axiom itself is very good. The shell ergonomics remind me of an even more sized down CFA Solaris 2020.
  • The swappable modules are pretty interesting. I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem that needs solving, but I can see the appeal for some users.

Now moving to what really matters: the sound. The sole aspect of sound quality which I think the Axiom is currently passable as a kilobuck monitor lies in its imaging performance. Akin to the CFA Solaris, the Axiom has a quality with which the side channels come across as tall and grand in nature. Yes, the Axiom is fairly holographic in its presentation even if I would not consider its instrument localization to be excellent. This is at least partially due to some of the tuning decisions made with the Axiom. I would describe the Axiom’s sound, then, as an unabashedly colored one that is trying to go for something along the lines of CFA’s Andromeda or Solaris IEMs.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of bass performance. The bass on the Axiom sounds excessively bloated until all of 1kHz, yet it has an issue - akin to the original Solaris - wherein there’s very poor texturing and it comes across more BA than it does DD. If you’ve ever wondered why some people call too much mid-bass “farty,” well, this is a prime example of it. You can still screw up bass quite a lot without making it sound outright offensive, and that’s exactly how I feel about the midrange on the Axiom. It’s a weird combination of scooped out upper-midrange followed by a peak in the lower-treble at 5kHz. Female vocals are effectively pushed behind in the mix yet sound sibilant on trailing ends of consonances. And if you thought I was done, no, it gets worse. I understand - to a certain degree - the tuning direction taken with the Axiom up until this point. It’s a more relaxed, musical, gooey sort of tuning - I get it. But the treble of the Axiom is surprisingly peaky given; in addition to the 5kHz peak, I hear what sounds like a strong plateau at around 12-13kHz. Treble instruments simply sound metallic and harsh. There’s seemingly very little air after this point too; really, it’s a wonder that the Axiom even has the staging chops it does. Staging aside, technicalities on the Axiom mostly don’t warrant consideration in my eyes - or at least certainly not for $1500. Detailing in the bass and midrange frequencies is rather poor due to the combination of too much presence under 1kHz and the mostly scooped out upper-midrange. Treble detail often comes across as faked due to the general peakiness of the response.

Despite the brazen nature of my reviews, it’s especially difficult for me to approach negative reviews when the product in question is more expensive like this. People almost expect stuff like Chi-Fi to flop; however, it’s another matter entirely when it’s a boutique brand. And I’m sure I’m going to get some fun comments blaming cable/source synergy, burn-in, the works - that’s fine. Either way, in my humble opinion only, the Axiom is in need of a major re-tune. This is tuning that I’d expect at a tenth of the price and, even at that price, there are IEMs that punch far above in tuning competency than what the Axiom displays.

Score: 3/10


Sometimes it’s a " Swing & a Miss" when it comes down to it. That’s why I read @Precogvision 's ( and other reviewers ) reviews. It’s the right thing to do pointing out failures & weaknesses, how else will Effect Audio be able to improve?

Mark Gosdin


I think you have the experience with IEMs, to make a review like this and being on a solid ground doing so. And the community need you and the other reviewers to be honest, so we don’t waste our money. Especially at $1500.

Bad tuning (ouch), no cable and no case (you serious Effect Audio?), only generic silicone tips (come on…). But apart from these minor elements, we as customers should find it a great IEM???

Thanks Precogvision; keep up the good work :+1:


DUNU Titan S Impressions

I wanted to directly A/B these with the Moondrop Aria, but it doesn’t seem I’ll be able to do that soon so I’ll just discuss what I think about these IEMs. My unit is a pre-production sample; however, I don’t believe any major changes are expected. The first couple minutes I listened to the Titan S, I could tell they were at least “good”. Further listening here and there over the last few weeks tells me they’re not much more than that, but such is the plight of budget IEMs.

Generally, the Titan S has a Harman-oriented tonality with some minor deviations that make it perceptively hit closer to a reference sound. The bass shelf, for example, eschews some quantity relative to the Moondrop Aria for a less warm, more controlled response. The midrange of the Titan S is pretty solid as well. It can get sort of in-your-face at times, but never to the point of which it’s offensive. That in mind, I find it’s pretty reminiscent of the universal Viento-B’s upper-midrange (just, you know, without the sibilance). The treble is where things get a little spicy. It’s relatively smooth sailing until the upper-treble. Here, there’s definitely a peak à la the Moondrop single-DD IEMs, but graphs can be deceiving. The peak of the Titan S actually sounds noticeably greater in amplitude relative to my KXXS which has something of a haziness to treble decay. On one hand…this does lend to better perceived extension. Conversely, it lends to a slightly metallic timbre. I wish this had been dampened some more; still, it does play into the cleaner tonality that the Titan S is going for against the Moondrop Aria. I don’t expect class-leading treble at this price point anyways. Similarly, technicalities are more or less what you’d expect. Head-to-head with the KXXS, I find the two to be about par for detail with the KXXS sporting slightly more expansive imaging. I do recall the KXXS being slightly more technical than the Aria, though, so I think that the Titan S is perfectly competitive in the technical department.

What more is there to say? I’ll reiterate: the Titan S is just… good . And I say this in the best sense possible. It makes no glaring mistakes as far as I can tell, and it’s a given that the build quality is going to be solid because this is DUNU we’re talking about. I can totally see this being a worthy alternative to the Aria for listeners who are after a slightly cleaner, more analytical sound. Shoutout to DUNU for sending these in for evaluation.

Score: 5/10

All critical listening was done with the stock tips, the stock cable, and my iBasso DX300.


The convenience is the reason I love my i4s. I can wear them and still be aware of my surroundings. I can use them with the cipher cable and my iPhone or with the Anker usb-c adapter and my M11. Recently I’ve gotten the Qudelix. I really haven’t listened enough to have a full opinion but it seems that just selecting the Oratory i4 preset here better drives the i4. It’s really good!


I’m not sure if I’ll be posting much else before the year ends, so I’ll keep this brief: I want to thank everyone who’s supported and read my reviews! It’s been an awesome second year in the hobby for me, and I feel that I’ve gotten more comfortable as a reviewer and that my listening skills have matured. But I’m not content with stopping at that. I can’t talk about them too closely yet, but I have a couple of projects in the works (outside of reviewing) that I think should be exciting. My hope is to gain even more experience from them to take my reviews and knowledge of this hobby to the next level.

Again, thanks so much for the support, and happy holidays everyone!

Here’s an update to my year-end favorite IEMs:

64 Audio U12t

Yeah, you already knew this would be making the list. The U12t follows what would be pretty close to my ideal target curve: a strong sub-bass emphasis, a linear midrange, and an easy-on-the-ears yet superbly extended treble response. The 2-5kHz dip to the upper-midrange is my favorite part of the tuning, begetting an unprecedented sense of depth I’ve not heard in another IEM; the U12t excels at projecting the center image, making it feel like the vocalist is actually there in front of you. Intangibly, the U12t also knows no equal to my ears. While I don’t think the U12t is the most uber-crisp IEM, as there’s a certain softness to its transient attack, the U12t’s macrodynamic ability, layering, and BA bass are all top-notch. There’s not much else that hasn’t been said before, but make no mistake that the U12t is one of the best BA IEMs on the market, if not the best BA IEM on the market, if only by virtue of how well-rounded it is. It likewise remains my top recommendation whenever I’m asked which flagship IEM I’d buy.


This is getting added back after I removed it some time ago. The SA6 follows a QDC-inspired tuning, but it couldn’t be more different when it comes to the intangibles. It has more bass texture than the QDC IEMs and a wet, slightly soft characteristic to its transients that’s a whole lot more reminiscent of the U12t. The SA6, then, is expectedly one of the better offenders of BA timbre. The SA6 has a few minor tuning grievances like its ever-so-slightly uneven upper-midrange and treble response. Staging and layering on the SA6 are also honestly nothing special. But damn, it’s just such a well-rounded set overall, one that I slap on and find myself getting lost in the music.

Elysian Annihilator 2021​

The Annihilator’s standout is its treble response. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still the one and only true implementation of the Sonion ESTs. It sports almost linear extension and the lightning quick tactility that true electrostatics like the Shure KSE1200 deliver. The general dynamics and transients on the Annihilator are also nothing short of extraordinary. Music zips by on the Annihilator and dynamic swings are articulated with superb macro-contrast; the Annihilator only falls short in the micro-contrast department wherein there’s some compression to its individual instrument lines. Speaking of which, the bass on the Annihilator is sort of “meh” in terms of tactility even if I do enjoy how quick it is. But no matter - give it up for one of the select few IEMs to blow me away.

Moondrop B2: Dusk

What happens when you put the tuning of the already-good B2 into more capable hands? Well, you get the Dusk tuned by the (in)famous IEM reviewer Crinacle. The tonal balance of the Dusk is nothing short of exceptional with a terrific sub-bass shelf and balanced, slightly thicker midrange. There is nothing, and I mean nothing , under a grand - hell, maybe even in the flagship arena - that tops how well this thing’s been tuned. Expectedly, the intangibles remain the bottleneck to what is an otherwise terrific IEM. While the Dusk maintains much of what made B2 great, the Dusk’s bass is un-characteristically dry for a DD, and its imaging isn’t quite as good as its brother. Still, it cleans up a lot of the BA timbre, and if the B2 was “nothing tops this under $300 good,” suffice it to say the Dusk is in a class of its own at this price point.

Symphonium Audio Helios​

The Helios has a squeaky-clean tonality with some of the best treble that I’ve heard; it’s nearly linear up to the limits of my hearing without any egregious peaks or valleys. But the Helios is by no means analytical either. Whether by virtue of the longer than average tubing being used or that excellent treble response, imaging is slightly out-of-head and triggers the “behind the ears” effect that only the most holographic IEMs deliver. BA timbre is present - I don’t think that the Helios has a “lifelike” presentation relative to, say, the ThieAudio Monarch MKII - but there is a great sense of vibrancy to transients and the Helios is at least above-average in the bass department. The only real point of contention with this IEM would be the chunky shells.

Tanchjim Hana 2021

With the Hana 2021, Tanchjim has made major strides from the original Hana which I felt was overly shouty and anemic. Think of the Hana 2021 as a baby Oxygen, or a Moondrop $100 single-DD IEM on steroids. It has almost the exact same tonality, leaning just a tad more V-shaped. Where it distinguishes itself is in timbre - not all dynamic drivers are created equal. The Hana 2021 has slightly sharper attack transients than the KXXS, but decays longer and more smoothly, resulting in one of the most pleasant timbres that I’ve heard. Imaging is also slightly out-of-head and dynamics are certainly not as flat. Honestly, my biggest critique about this IEM is that it’s too blingy!


Photo credit: Den-Fi

It’s not an IEM, but out of the numerous headphones that I got to hear this year, this is the only one that really stood out to me. The PhilPhone is a modded headphone that meshes an Audio Technica housing with a Foster bio-dynamic driver. It follows that the PhilPhone’s bass response is nothing short of breathtaking. It delivers slam, dynamics, and reverb for days. Perhaps even more impressive is just how much EQ you can slap on the bass without it distorting. Outside of this, the tonality of the PhilPhone is solid but not mind-blowing. The biggest issue would probably be a few peaks in the upper-treble which lend to a brighter treble response. Regardless, I can say that this is the only headphone that I have interest in owning at this point in time. The PhilPhone also has solid detail and imaging, certainly nothing that would leave me wanting for its price point.

Honorable Mentions​

Here are some IEMs that impressed me this year and that I think will become staples in the market, but that I personally don’t jive with for one reason or another.


What has the world come to? Am I actually putting a $15 IEM on this list? Well…yes. Yes, I am. The tonality of the CCA is still pretty bad within the context of more expensive IEMs, but it’s within the realm of manageable and, more importantly, I cannot think of a more technical IEM for this price. Contrary to the mediocre components KZ usually uses in their IEMs, the CCA’s dynamic driver is darn competent. It slams hard, resolution is solid, and treble extension is unbelievably good for a budget IEM. Just be aware that this is a brighter, more forward listen.

ThieAudio Monarch MKII

The bass on the Monarch MKII is still pretty disappointing even within the context of its predecessor, and, personally, I think the treble response could use some work. But I cannot ignore the midrange on this IEM. It’s basically balls-to-the-wall for max clarity and, while it can be fatiguing, the sheer detail is truly commendable. The Monarch MKII’s midrange decay pattern is spot-on with just a hint of grain. Combined with the sharp attack (which I can’t help but feel lacks a sense of vibrancy), transients sound incredibly true-to-life here. Layering is also top-notch for a kilobuck even if imaging does not come across particularly holographic.