I actually never took it out so can’t say. I sent the Clairvoyance to some other reviewers so wont be able to test right now.
COVID has prevent me from going out much but I don’t believe there was an issue beyond what you’d normally face with other IEMs. Certainly not to the level of something like the Sony EX800ST or EX1000.
I listen to a lot of soundtracks and I would list that as mainly classical, at least the instruments used are the same.
But do you agree or would you put soundtracks in a different category?
(I try to find out, if it is the Monarch or the Clairvoyance I should get)
Not Antdroid but I personally group music without lyrics as “instrumentals”. This essentially covers classical, soundtracks, OSTs, etc. The without lyrics clause is more for tracks that utilize vocals more as an instrument without conveying a message. The only caveat to this would be music that is dominated by digital instruments, such as techno or EDM which I don’t listen to.
And in these cases, I think Clairvoyance is the way to go. You won’t be taking much advantage of the subbass and treble forwardness in more classical style music IMO.
If one had to pick between the 4 and 5 which IEM would you guys choose? I know there’s a bit of a price differential but it seems most reviewers favor the 4 over the more expensive 5.
I just got the Legacy 4 in yesterday and spent a brief amount of time on it but from my first impressions, I think they fill different niches. Legacy 4 is a straightforward IEM that’s just plain good for listening to music. The Legacy 5 is more of a relaxed IEM that you use for a long time at a desk while working. To me, the biggest difference between them is its staging. The L4 feels rather in your face while the L5 has a more open feeling. I’ll be sure to A/B test them when I write my review.
Thanks for the advice. Look forward to your comparison.
Well, I got a pair of the Legay 4s today and I’m listening to them as I type. I had hoped for a few things from these:
- Enough treble to sound decent even with foams? So far so good.
- No problem with somewhat deep insertion because vents are on top rather than facing inside of ear? So far so good.
- Sound better than the Starfield? TBD
One thing I will say is that with well sealing tips like the Acoustune AET07 or Sedna Xelastec, these things have a wicked amount of driver flex, like not just on insertion and removal, but also if I move my jaw. No such issues with foam so far.
Okay, I’ve had a couple of days with the Legacy 4 now including a few hours of pink noise burn in (though I’m not convinced that burn in makes any difference). I don’t know if/when I’ll have time for a full review, but since there’s a fair amount of hype around these right now, I thought I’d share my impressions, which are actually a bit negative. In a nutshell, I just don’t find myself reaching for the Legacy 4, even though it’s a new toy and I really want to like it. Part of that might just be personal preference, but I think it goes beyond that.
As reviewers have noted, these come with quite the fancy box, including a large outer zipper case and nice, softly lined smaller zipper carrying case. Unfortunately for me, the foam packaging inserts have that caustic Chinese foam smell that I associate with cheap Hifiman products and the smell contaminated the cable. It’s bad enough that the cable alone makes my eyes water after a little listening time. Assuming it’s the same chemical that Hifiman uses, the smell will eventually dissipate, but it’s a pretty negative aspect of the unboxing experience that needs mentioning.
The shells look pretty and the cable is quite nice, stench notwithstanding. There is however one major flaw with the build - the nozzle has 3 large openings and no filter screen, meaning that earwax can and eventually will get in there. The included tips don’t include a filter screen either, so I’m not exactly sure what they’re thinking with the design. Not so bueno.
Comfort is great, but there’s one caveat. These are really small IEMs and fit into my ears perfectly. The nozzle also isn’t too thick or too long for comfort. However… the nozzle is quite slick and doesn’t grab tips very well. When using really grippy tips like Sedna Xelastec, the tip will sometimes remain stuck in my ear canal when I pull out the IEM. I can still remove the tip by hand, but it’s not a pleasant experience.
Okay, this is of course why I got these. I had hoped that maybe they’d work well with foam tips because I find foam very comfortable, and they do work okay with foam, but it still smooths out the treble a bit too much and dulls the bass. It’s totally listenable, but it’s not excellent. I actually prefer the KZ ZS10 Pro with foam–the extremely V-shaped signature survives bass and treble cuts from the foam better.
I was able to obtain the best sound using Sony MH755 and Sedna Xelastec tips, with the number 2 dip switch on. The Sony tips bring out a bit more bass punch and smooth out the treble only a little, whereas the Xelastec tips are a bit brighter though still fills out the bass better than the stock tips or foams. However, even with the best tips, the Legacy 4 can sometimes sound thin, and the treble sometimes a bit off (not sharp really, but almost hissy for lack of a better word). No matter what I do, the Legacy 4 always sounds pretty decent, but I’m just not falling in love with the sound. Vocals are presented very well, bass has some nice punchiness to it and actually extends low, and timbre is not bad, but the lack of bottom end warmth and what sounds like lack of treble air keeps me from falling in love with these. Also from a staging perspective, they sound pretty flat. Not holographic in the least.
One silver lining about my Legacy 4 purchase is that it got me to spend some more time tip rolling with my Moondrop Starfield, to the point where I now quite enjoy it with Xelastec tips or occasionally Final E tips if I want a more “fun” sound. Fit is great and the Xelastec TPE doesn’t seem to make me itch like most silicone. The bass isn’t quite as tight as on the Legacy 4, but it has a pleasant warmth and fullness to it (nothing overdone like on the BLONs), timbre is very nice, and the treble trades blows with the Legacy 4, lacking a little bit of resolution, but making up for it with better extension/air and just generally more smoothness.
Given its tuning, it’s almost like the Legacy 4 is positioned as a Starfield upgrade with better technicalities in the bass and more treble resolution, and on first listen it does seem to deliver, but for me it loses out on the enjoyment factor and the relatively modest gains elsewhere don’t make up for it.
Do I just like cheap earphones? Do I have bad taste?
It seems that my relationship with IEMs mirrors my relationship with restaurants. I can easily enjoy affordable meals that are well enough executed for their price, but when it comes to fancy dining, if it’s not excellent, I’m disappointed.
At about $200, the Legacy 4 is the 2nd most expensive IEM in my collection behind the Campfire Andromeda (OG), and excluding some throwaway level stuff like the KZ ZST, the Legacy 4 is my 3rd least favorite, just behind the Blon BL01, with the Andromeda in a distant last place. Besides the Starfield ($99), I prefer the QKZ VK4 with Horn Shaped Tips ($15+$10) for the quality of its bass and its staging ability (iffy timbre notwithstanding) and the KZ ZS10 Pro with foam tips ($40 + $6) for its fun sound signature that works well for casual listening on the go. Honestly, I’d even take the Sony MH755 with Xelastec tips over the Legacy 4–it’s a more fun signature, the the timbre actually sounds more natural and it really doesn’t sound any less detailed to me. Sure the cable sucks, but I can live with that.
Thieaudio Monarch Review - Cut and Dry
Yup, here’s another hype train that’s long since left the station. Sigh. Better late than never though, I suppose. Thieaudio took the IEM world by a storm last year with the release of two tribrid IEMs, the Monarch and Clairvoyance. Even now Thieaudio is reeling, struggling to catch up with the unprecedented demand. I’m sure you’ve already read a few reviews about this IEM, so I don’t mind dropping this right now: The Monarch is really good. In what appears to be a growing trend, it was tuned using the input of an IEM community member, and the results speak for themself. Still, rest assured I won’t be pulling any punches in my assessment, so follow along as I break down the nitty-gritty of one of last year’s most hyped IEMs.
This unit was kindly provided for review by Linsoul. You can purchase the Monarch from them here. As usual, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source and Drivability
All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160 and A&K SP1000M with lossless FLAC files. The Monarch requires a bit more power to drive than most IEMs. This is because the Sonion electret drivers inherently require more juice, and correct implementation requires dampening the other drivers in the IEM. Still, I had no trouble running it off of an iPhone with the Apple dongle or the aforementioned DAPs, and I experienced no hissing.
The Monarch arrives in a discrete, green cardboard box. Inside you’re greeted by a waxed paper emblazoned with Thieaudio’s logo. The following accessories are included:
- Faux leather case
- Medium SpinFit silicon tips
- s/m/l Tripowin Spiral Groove foam tips
- 0.78mm cable terminated with 2.5mm jack
- 2.5 to 4.4mm adapter, 2.5 to 3.5mm adapter
The cable itself is of good quality sporting full-metal hardware, but unfortunately, the adapter jacks leave something to be desired. They’re completely straight, quite long, and using them will significantly elongate the length of the jack making for some awkward pairings (images NFSW). I really would like to have seen L-shaped adapters included instead. Of course, none of this is an issue if you’re just going to use the stock 2.5mm jack.
The Monarch itself is on the larger side of things, so smaller ears beware. That’s just how it works when this many drivers (1DD/6BA/2EST) are being crammed into an IEM! The overall build quality is quite good with no surface inconsistencies to the finish or the seam where the acrylic shell and faceplate meet. Speaking of which, the faceplate is beautiful. It’s not quite my thing, but it looks way better than I was expecting given the images shown on the Monarch’s product page. Connector pins are flush, 2-pin 0.78mm and there is a metal grill at the IEM’s nozzle.
On paper, the tonality of the Monarch can be classified as “neutral with sub-bass boost”. It exhibits an incisive sub-bass shelf, a leaner midrange, and fairly linear, extended treble. The end-result is a clean, if not very “segmented” presentation in which there are clear delineations between each frequency band.
Bass is almost exclusively sub-bass, leveling off just after 100hZ, tight and controlled. From a tuning perspective? Awesome. The only issue that comes to mind is if your music doesn’t quite token those super low frequencies. Still, y’all know that I’m a stickler for the intangibles just as much as I am the tuning when it comes to my bass. And unfortunately, the Monarch’s bass is more middling in this regard. I don’t find it particularly lacking in texture; however, hits are articulated with a certain limpness to them in stark contrast to the incisive bass shelf. Even the 64 Audio U12t - a strictly BA IEM, mind you - has better tacility, dynamic slam than this down low in direct A/B comparison. If we split the difference, the Monarch’s bass is decent, but far from being great.
The midrange of the Monarch is characterized by a level trough from 200hZ-1kHz then a rise in the upper-midrange from 2-5kHz, resulting in what I’ve begun simply deeming as a “lean and mean” presentation. In this regard, the Monarch’s midrange is practically devoid of coloration, leaning slightly brighter and exhibiting abundant macro-detail. I’m almost reminded of the Empire Ears Odin in some respects, and indeed, the Monarch’s resolution is on par with some of the best in the game. Mind you, those are not words I sling lightly, and it’s high praise considering the Monarch clocks in at a fraction of the cost.
Moving into the treble, I hear what sounds about equal parts impact and crash. Transient attack is well-defined, largely devoid of the characteristic “wispiness” that so many EST setups exhibit. Roll-off begins post-10kHz, sloping fairly linearly to around 18kHz, after which it dips strongly and exits the limits of my hearing. While I do think the Monarch would benefit from some more air up top accordingly, make no mistake: This is treble done correctly, and I think most would be hard-pressed to complain.
The Monarch’s imaging is slightly above average. Incisiveness is excellent when it comes to left-right panning and positioning. The center image, however, takes on a more in-head quality with the Monarch struggling to re-create soundstage height and depth. Needless to say the result is a more 2-dimensional presentation (which is unfortunate given the impressive width) rather than one that completely envelopes the listener in a holographic bubble of sorts.
A.K.A. I moan and groan about why the IEM in question fails to meet my high standards, and the section of this review you’ll want to skip if this type of more critical talk offends you. But you’re not going to, right? ‘Cuz this is the juicy, fun stuff.
Subjectively, I have a lot more bones to pick, and here, we come back to the midrange. I can’t help but feel that tonal coherence is lacking; there is a fundamental disconnect between the scooped lower-mids and more elevated upper-mids. The opening guitar strings of Keith Urban’s “Kiss A Girl” are thin, feel they’re being plucked half-heartedly, and the violin work on Emiri Miyamoto’s “Amour” album sounds unnaturally strained, at times borderline honky on more lively passages. On a more intangible level, BA timbre is most definitely present, and while the Monarch’s midrange only exhibits grain in moderation, it’s toeing the line with soprano-oriented stuff, including a lot of the test tracks from Taeyeon I use. Perhaps just over my line, and the result is an overly dry, sterile presentation which I can’t bring myself to outright hate, but that I also can’t completely agree with. And don’t get me wrong, the Monarch’s been well-tuned in the most “objective” sense possible.
This nagging apprehension grows as I scrutinize the Monarch’s intangibles more closely. The Monarch’s technical performance seems largely predicated on its macro detail. Even then, macrodynamic ability is heavily lacking; swings are caught somewhere in the middle to slightly upwards-skewed, exacerbating the overly dry presentation. This is not unlike the Empire Ears Odin, but the Odin had a level of intangible coherency and detail retrieval to pull it off with which the Monarch simply lacks. Without getting crazy in-depth, we circle back to my comments on the “segmented” tonality. I’m inclined to say that a good number of the Monarch’s coherency issues are baked into the tuning which, in turn, is inherently responsible for its strong technical display - namely, sheer resolution. You see where I’m going; there is a sort of self-deprecating cycle at play between the Monarch’s tuning and intangibles. Suffice it to say that the Monarch is short more than a few cards of being a top-tier IEM. To be clear, I need stress that it is a terrific IEM for its respective price point. There is, however, a noticeable gap between the Monarch and the truly top-tier stuff in this reviewer’s opinion.
I’d liken the SA6 to being “the” $550 IEM, much like the Monarch is “the” $730 IEM. Both have been tuned very well and have the technical chops to be some of the most solid contenders in their respective price brackets. The SA6 follows a more traditional, U-shaped tuning with a dip in the lower-treble to prevent sibilance. It’s a warmer, smoother listen by comparison as a result. The Monarch takes a lead in technicalities with notably better resolution and positional cues; however, struggles like the SA6 with depth and soundstage height.
Honestly, this is probably the IEM I’d personally buy if I had $700, and I think it’s one of the Monarch’s few competitors. The S8 adheres closely to the Harman target curve, adding a tad more presence back to the lower-midrange and some more upper-midrange. It’s a little leaner in the notes perhaps, and likewise fairly dry, but not to the extent of the Monarch. I do find the midrange somewhat cleaner in the decay with less grain. You lose some of the timbre benefits of the Monarch’s DD, while the treble on the S8 is superbly extended, noticeably more than on the Monarch. Technicalities are about par between the two IEMs; however, the S8 takes the cake in coherency. Needless to say, these two IEMs are very different flavors. Like big sub-bass and max clarity? Go for the Monarch. Prioritize coherency and treble extension? Or enjoy weeb tuning? You’re going to want the S8.
Whereas the Monarch has taken a clean, calculated approach to tuning, the MEST goes for a more unconventional, W-shaped tuning which I think will appeal to those who want more spice to their sound. Along these lines, the MEST also makes use of the EST drivers, but is more lower-treble oriented. On a technical level, the MEST is one of the few IEMs that approaches truly holographic levels of imaging and it exhibits excellent layering. Resolution is also a small step ahead of the Monarch, particularly in the midrange, where decay is a good deal cleaner. Like the Monarch, the MEST falters in coherence, but from a more intangible point standpoint. I’m inclined to say the MEST is the “better” IEM overall; however, it’s important to remember that it’s almost twice the cost and presents a very different flavor of sound.
Needless to say I’ve been assessing the Monarch to standards with which many, much more expensive IEMs have kneeled. But a monarch does not kneel. And do forgive the theatrics, but just as a king would command one’s respect - irrespective of a clash of opinion - I am obligated to recognize the Monarch’s impressive sonic prowess. For $730, the Monarch is a game changer: One of the best tribrid IEMs on the market by virtue of how well-rounded it is, one of the best IEMs bar none in its price bracket. Sure, it’s still pretty dry sounding. But it’s also a cut and dry, straightforward recommendation in the most positive sense, an IEM that (mostly) lives up to its moniker and that warrants a solid thumbs-up from this reviewer.
- Aimer - Hakuchuumu
- David Nail - Let It Rain
- Dreamcatcher - Silent Night
- Illenium & Excision - Gold
- Girls’ Generation - Galaxy Supernova
- Joe Nichols - Sunny and 75
- Keith Urban - Defying Gravity (2009)
- Sabai - Million Days
- Sawano Hiroyuki - Best of Vocal Works Remastered (2020)
- Taeyeon - My Voice (2017)
- Tiffany - I Just Wanna Dance
- Tom Day - Where Were We
What a great review!
But you are not helping me in deciding whether or not I should get the Monarch, the Clairvoyance or just look upwards to the Mest or even higher.
I have the S8 and I really like it, as in REALLY like it. The one thing is just, that I can’t get myself to pay +$1200-1400 for an IEM and then 25% VAT on top to import it. But I am very curious about top-tier (or from the Monarch/Clairvoyance level) and what it may give me.
More reviews like this please, it made me understand top-tier IEMs a bit better
Edit: And then the electrostats… Those intrigues me, so maybe the Monarch? …or perhaps the Clairvoyance
Really impressive review Precog. As always very detailed easy to read and shooting straight from the hip. Great stuff.
FWIW, I recently tried Spinfit CP100 tips with the Legacy 4 and they might be the best match I’ve found for it, but I still don’t love this IEM.
I don’t know if anyone was interested in getting the custom fit IEM versions of the Monarch or Clairvoyance, but Linsoul/Thieaudio annonced those will no longer be offered. Here’s a link to their announcement.
What I saw says it was temporary. I hope it is.
Putting monarch through its paces as we speak. So far, pretty good impressions. Will post more soon.
Looks like there’s a couple more Thieaudio IEMs coming soon.
Seems to be some mid-fi EST models at $539 for the Thieaudio Oracle and $529.00 for the Thieaudio Excalibur.
Interestingly enough, both of them have the same driver setup at 2 EST + 2 BA + 1 DD. They look to be a more affordable version of the Monarch and Clairvoyance.
Personally speaking, I wish they didn’t look like the Monarch and Clair…
I was aiming at getting the Oracle, but with only $200 apart it will probably be the Monarch. I had hoped for a $350-$400 price.
The Legacy 4 has redeemed itself a bit in my eyes. I wanted to enjoy some Mahler today, and my usual setup wasn’t giving me the clarity i crave on this kind of music, and the string section lacked some of its natural stridency.
For locks I tried the Legacy 4, and it definitely have me the clarity and stridency, though the strings lacked some air. As usual it did sound too thin and had some harshness to it. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I got more serious about EQing it. With the below relatively simple EQ and some ePro horn shaped tips, the Legacy 4 actually became quite enjoyable, and it may just turn into my go to for orchestral music anyway.