Review : ThieAudio Monarch
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
In this review, we will look at one of Thieaudio's first tribrid earphone to hit the market, the Thieaudio Monarch!
Disclaimer : This unit is a personal unit purchased at retail price
Thieaudio is an up and coming earphone brand that has been praised for releasing good sounding, well-built earphones. They have released 2 series of earphones (Voyager and Legacy) and 1 headphone previously. Tribrid earphones are the latest trend in higher end earphones these days as it contains a mix of Balanced Armature, Dynamic and Electrostatic drivers and if done right, it would sound sound amazing across all frequencies. Now Thieaudio is competing in the tribrid market with the release of 2 new earphones, namely the Thieaudio Monarch and the Thieaudio Clairvoyance.
As I was looking for a new main earphone that is a tribrid, and given how well their Voyager 14 and Legacy 3 sounds to me, I decided to go big and take a gamble on the Monarch. I am proud to announce that the Monarch did not disappoint and it was the best bet I have ever made thus far! Let's dive in deeper below!
Sound : Harman Curve; Midbass are slightly laidback
The chart below represents how I perceive the Thieaudio Monarch
Driver : 1 x Dynamic Driver + 6 x Balanced Armature Drivers + 2 Electrostatic Drivers
Socket : 2-pin (0.78mm)
Price : 729 USD
Where to buy it : Linsoul
Insane separation and detail retrieval
Highs and lows has very good extension
Top-notch quality sound (more explained below)
Good build quality
Cable included pairs very well with the earphone
Very complete accessory pack
Mids slightly laidback for me, but still retains quality
Lacking small and large sized silicone eartips
Suitable Genres : All-rounder
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
1 set of each different sized foam eartips (S, M, L)
1 pair of SpinFit CP100 eartips
1 x Silver-Plated 4 core 5N-Litz OCC 100 copper cable (2.5mm)
1 x Thieaudio Monarch
1 x Semi-hard synthetic leather earphone case
1 x 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter
1 x 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter
I have bought several high ends earphones in the past that cost much more than this and this is the first time I am seeing such a complete package. It comes with everything you ever need such as SpinFit tips, foam tips and carrying case. Then to top it all off, they reterminated the stock cable in 2.5mm and give you adapters for 4.4mm and 3.5mm!
I was seriously surprised when I first unboxed this earphone because I never expected the adapters nor the SpinFit tips. Most people (myself included) probably just expected the default silicone eartips but Thieaudio has gone out of their way to include better eartips by giving SpinFits. I can understand the rationale for giving a single M sized SpinFit, as most people buying such an expensive would have many different eartips at their disposal. However, I still think that they should have at least given a small and large sized silicone eartips for some users that are entering into the high-end earphone game for the first time.
Still, Thieaudio manages to include a very complete accessories package that just pleasantly surprised me from the start. Great job! Just take note of the small and large sized silicone eartips though.
Linsoul provides 2 options for the Monarch at this point of writing, a universal shell option and a custom form option. For the universal, you get to choose between the default faceplate (seen above) or a different shell color and a plethora of faceplate designs for 60 USD more. For 100 USD more, you can get the Monarch in a custom form. Similarly to the universals, you can add 60 USD more on top of that to choose your own shell and faceplate color and design respectively.
For my Monarch, I did not want to do any custom design nor have it in a custom form so I opted for the default universal option. The default option comes with a glitter and abalone shell for the faceplate and apparently, the shell is slightly translucent as seen in the picture above. From the pictures on Linsoul's site, the shell looks like it is in black but it is not, it is slightly translucent that allows you to see some of the drivers under bright light and I love that look! To tell apart the Monarch and Clairvoyance in its default universal form is that the Monarch has hints of orange glitter in the faceplate while the Clairvoyance has none.
The build quality of the Monarch is top-notch : shell is thick enough but to retain the premium feeling without weighing too much, faceplate design is excellent and edges mostly feel smooth. I found that there is some unpolished segments of the Monarch on the right earphone where a small part of the edges feels a bit rough. However, that is not really an issue for me as it does not cause any discomfort for me when wearing it nor is it noticeable.
The 2-pin sockets on the earphone are flushed to the earphones. There was no option on the site to get it done in recessed form though I did read on their Discord channel that you could actually message them about it to get it done. The earphone also sports a bass vent on the back of each side of the earphone but it has been covered with a mesh so you do not need to worry that anything might get in!
The stock cable also feels great, it is soft yet feels durable and does not weigh down on my ears despite being thicker than most stock cables in the market. The 2.5mm jack on the cable feels very sturdy but looks slightly awkward to use with my Cayin N6ii audio player since it only has a 4.4mm jack and requires an adapter, making it look like it's sticking out quite a bit.
Despite all these, I still think that the Monarch is a well-built earphone with its gorgeous faceplate design, the sturdy and premium feeling shell and awesome looking high-quality cable.
COMFORT AND ISOLATION
The Monarch sits comfortably for the most part. I regularly use this for 1 to 2 hours at a time and do not feel any issues with its fit. However, after about 3 hours of wearing this, I can feel that the bottom corner of my right ear was starting to ache a little, causing a slight discomfort. This would probably be fine for most people as you usually wouldn't wear it for 3 hours straight but it's still something to note. The shell is slightly thicker than most earphones, thus it might not be flushed to your ear and stick out a little more than usual as seen in the picture below. Do note that I have medium sized ears as noted by several earphone shop staff.
The Monarch rests comfortably in my ear too with the SpinFit tips provided and does not move about when shaking my head from side to side despite the nozzles being slightly larger than most. Using the Monarch with my AZLA Sedna earfit tips provided the best comfort and sound for me, as it inserts deeper into my ear canal and is narrow than the SpinFit tips. I highly recommend getting eartips with shorter nozzles than the SpinFit tips to have it sit deeper in the ear canal.
Isolation is decent on this earphone, I was able to obtain a good seal and had no sound leak out from my earphones. Travelling on buses is no issue and it does block out most of the engine sounds for me. However for trains, the vibrations tend to affect the sound a little. All I needed to do to mitigate this was to crank up the volume a little and it sounds good enough for me.
Overall, comfort is great as long as you're not using it for very long hours and isolation is decent enough for most cases. I highly recommend that you get a pair of eartips that has a shorter nozzle than the SpinFit tips to make it more flushed against the ear.
Before I give a general overview of the sound, the setup I use to test the sound of the Monarch are as follows :
DAP - Cayin N6ii (T01)
Cable - Stock (with 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter; balanced output)
Eartips - AZLA Sedna Earfit tips (did not use stock tips because I want to review it at its best)
The Monarch has a sound closer to the Harman curve, with the dip starting at the midbass segment till the upper mid segment (excluding). Every segment (highs, mids or lows) produced by the Monarch is of very high quality. Highs are airy and thick with good extension, mids sound very natural with bite/attack when needed and the bass goes deep and low but does not overwhelm. Due to how well the separation is done, you can always clearly hear each layer and they never bleed into each other while maintaining coherency. By tuning the sound as is, it provides a very comfortable listening session at any time of day, allowing one to immerse themselves into the music while not losing out any intricate details such as the decay of the treble and certain instruments such as snare drums. The overall feels that I get of the Monarch is closer to that of studio monitors as the sound is extremely clean but it definitely has some slight coloring to the sound.
As I got many questions comparing this to the Thieaudio Voyager 14 (V14), I decided to include some comparisons in my review. Any comparisons to the V14 in this segment are based on its stock cable with 3.5mm, unbalanced output. As the focus here isn't on the V14, I wouldn't compare both using unbalanced output (and also I did not get the stock cable of the V14 in 4.4mm so it would not be that fair anyways).
The Monarch has realistic and airy highs that has a very decent extension without ever sounding sibilant though it uses 2 Electrostatic drivers. I personally find the highs to have some "thickness" to it. If treble is too thin and has too much extension, I feel that it would sound "grainy" and harsh, thus lacking substance.
I know that many would find the treble on the Sony IER Z1R to be the best and I think it is great too, but personally the treble is too tiring for me as its too harsh for my tastes. I prefer treble where it's more tamed; knowing that it can provide that sparkle when needed but not always dishing it out in your face. The Monarch achieves that for me: when I need the highs to sparkle it gives, else it shines bright enough for me to enjoy it comfortably.
"JET (Instrumental)" by POLKADOT STINGRAY has a lot of high hats and cymbals in the song, and I hear them all with great clarity and air in them but never harsh nor fatiguing. For instance, from 2.15 to 2.26, you can hear 2 types of cymbals from the drums easily; one drumstick is hitting the high hats and the other is hitting a stiffer (or the inner parts) part of another cymbal, one on each side of the earphone. It's amazing how you can tell such subtle details on this earphone. Still, with so many details playing in your ears, you still hear the entirety of the electric guitar with its chucking and notes being played.
In Polyphia's "Look But Don't Touch", the treble always shines throughout the song, with high hats and the electric guitars having almost the same presence but never intruding each others space in the intro (first 40 seconds into the song). Also in Polyphia's "G.O.A.T", you can hear how the high hats and cymbals provide that driving force in the rhythm through the entirety of the song.
In essence, highs on the Monarch are ever-present but never overstepping into the other segments. Treble quality and extension is excellent and never sounds harsh nor fatiguing at all.
The mids here are generally more laid back compared to the highs and lows but when you hear it, the mids are thick and have bite/attack to it. This
Listening to Kana-Boon's "You Estas", you can clearly hear the separation in the vocals, lead and rhythm guitars. Drums seemed to be tucked a tad further behind but that's just how the song is mixed after confirming it with the V14 and my UE Tf10 too.
I really like using Mabel's "Balloon (self-cover)" to test the mids as there are electric guitars (rhythm and lead) and an ample amount of snare drums and kick drums. Once again, mids are clearly laid back but upon closer inspection, it has the attack of the snare drums and the bite of the strumming of the electric guitars. While all of this is going on, the vocals sound realistic and do not overpower the other instruments in the mids section. Fantastic! Personally I would have preferred the mids to have more presence but this is still good enough for me.
Another good track to test this is also Mabel's "Charles (self-cover)" in the same album, but maybe that would be more suitable for kick drums and bass.
Moving on to vocals, POLKADOT STINGRAY's "FREE" have very clear and realistic vocals and you can hear the intensity of the vocals still. Also, you can hear the decay of each note/chord of the electric guitar and its an absolute treat to listen to! "浪费" by Yoga Lin plays well on the Monarch, you can hear the decay of each line he sings with such accuracy. I also like how you could hear the backup vocals in the background near the last minute of the song.
However, I also noticed that there are possibly other earphones that can help you listen out for mids much more easily such as the V14, where the drums, guitars and vocals are more obvious and have a greater intensity to them. Mids on the V14 are definitely much more audible than the Monarch, but both earphones have great midrange quality to them!
To summarise, mids has the least presence compared to highs and lows but upon closer inspection, it still reproduces high quality mids. Vocals have a natural tonality, drums and guitar retains decent bite/attack with a decent amount of decay that makes you interested to listen out for it more. Personally, I like more mid presence but this is alright too as it retains that good quality mids still.
(This unit has been used for less than 100 hours so the dynamic driver has yet to be burnt in fully yet. I will edit it if my impression of it changes after 100 hours)
Low ends on the Monarch tends toward the subbass section more, while the mid-bass tends to sound a tad laidback. Bass goes very deep when you need it to but it doesn't overstep into the other segments. I don't like tons of bass in my music, but I want it to always be there without overpowering the rest of the instruments and the Monarch does that perfectly.
"It Gets Funkier IV" from Vulfpeck clearly showcases this : From 1:09 to 1:25 the bassist plays at the higher frets, hence it sounds slightly softer and when he starts playing at 2:01 to 2:08 onwards as he starts playing at the lower frets, you start to hear that the bass has more slightly more impact.
My friend introduced me to "Prey" by OZI and the Monarch executes this song exactly how I like it. Bass and high hats are the core of the rhythm, while vocals take center stage. You can even hear the subtle detail of airiness in the singer's voice. Simply Amazing! On top of that, my friend played some House music on this earphones and the Monarch actually reproduced those very well too! As I do not listen to House genres I will not talk much about these genres, but I felt the need to put this in to showcase the true prowess of the Monarch.
Listening to "ODD FUTURE" by UVERworld and you can always feel the slam of that kick drum throughout the song. Also during the first 2 seconds of the song, the bass goes very deep that you can hear and feel the rumble.
Another incredible show of subbass power by the Monarch is how it could reproduce the lows of the bass of "Classical Times" by the Voca People from 3:15 to 3:23. It rumbles with so much authority that it just gives you goosebumps! Just try it with your current gear now and you'd understand what I mean. Also if you want a good bass rumble, listen to VoicePlay's cover of "Survivor" at 1.20 to 1.25. That deep deep bass done by the talented Tim Foust is just so alluring!
Moving on to a jazzy bass, I could hear the bass line easily in Michael Buble's "Call Me Irresponsible". The bass is reproduced so cleanly and with a deep extension that you will always hear the slight rumble of the bass strings when plucked. There's also this bass slide from 2:55 to 2:56 that gave me goosebumps when I managed to hear it.
I will just make a general comment for rock/metal songs as bass is usually not the focal point in such genres. Bass in such genres is noticeable enough for you to hear the bass lines and give the songs enough depth. I think that it blends well in heavier rock/metal songs such as "Drain" by girugamesh and "Destiny" by Galneryus due to the slam you get from the mid-bass. The main focus for such songs are just the impact of the kick drums, which is just enough.
Though the mid bass takes a dip here, for most songs it is just enough. Sub bass is the main focus here so genres like jazz, house and funk can take advantage of the rumbly bass to reverberate into your hearts without overpowering.
In this segment I would talk about the other points of the Monarch such as its soundstage, imaging and separation.
I paired the Monarch with the PWAudio Xerxes (8-core, 4.4mm termination) and I was surprised to find that this cable did not pair that well with the Monarch as compared to the stock cable that came with it. The sound got cleaner and highs have better extension with the Xerxes cable but the bass got thinner and loses a bit of the rumble. Hence, I decided to just use the Monarch with the stock cable for my own daily use.
Soundstage is not very wide, singers and instruments tend to be only a few meters in front of you. It is as if you're listening to a personal performance. The sound produced generally sounds outside of your head still. However, due to the very accurate imaging produced by the Monarch, you can clearly hear that some instruments/layers are clearly further away from each other, but not that far apart that I would classify it as a wide soundstage. Imaging would be further explained below.
The Monarch has excellent imaging, every position of each instrument in a song can be heard very clearly with precise distance.
Using my favourite song for imaging, Chon's "Can't Wait" : you can hear high hats straight ahead of you, vocals are similar but closer, rhythm and lead guitar on each side of the earphones, never intersecting.
Acapella songs are also great for testing imaging. Listening to The Overtones' "Sh-boom (Life could be a dream)", harmonies are on the top right, vocals in the middle with drums behind it, trumpets to the left, and bass in the top left. I actually revisited this song while I was reviewing and the Monarch made this song so much more enjoyable!
The Monarch has excellent imaging in almost any genre. From acapella to even other genres not mentioned here such as classical and rock, the Monarch is able to accurately reproduce where each instrument is being placed at.
The Monarch just does this with so much ease, sometimes you just wonder how Thieaudio manages to do it while maintaining coherency in the music. I have heard some earphones that don't do separation as well and transitions between frequency sometimes gets cut off, hearing distinct layers but incoherent. I am happy to report that this never happens for the Monarch.
"Silent Knight" by Versailles is so well layered here that you can hear each instrument so clearly. Each layer never overlaps the other even when there are many instruments ongoing. Each note is also very distinct, never losing any detail.
I am also a big fan of acapella, so I decided to test the Monarch against the Voca People's "Classical Times" song (yes they did release an album and I have it on my player in FLAC. Don't judge haha). Each layer is very well separated, comparable or done even better than other "end-game" IEMs in the market like the U18t and the Noble Khan. Even when complex lines starts to play, you can still tell what each of them are singing. The backup vocals reveal itself during the chorus with so much ease in "Gambling Man" by The Overtones, I have never clearly heard the backup vocals until today and I had this song years ago. I get goosebumps listening to such well divided layers, this is simply amazing!
Testing this on an orchestral track "The Flight to Neverland - From "Hook" " by John Williams, the orchestra sounds coherent and never loses any details. Every instrument gets to you, the crashing of cymbals, xylophone, the percussions, strings. You get all the highs, mids and lows in a coherent complete gift that slowly unwraps itself to reveal the different layers clearly.
What can I say, the Thieaudio Monarch is a very well-done complete package, both in its accessories and sound. The sound of the Monarch is my type of sound, not overpowering the listener with too much bass or treble while maintaining coherency with superb layering and detail retrieval. If all these appeal to you, go get it now! At 729 USD, I honestly doubt you can find a better earphone than this that punches way above its weight. Thieaudio, you have outdone yourself once again, great job!