The original Thieaudio Monarch launched at a shockingly low price for a tribrid IEM, and delivered a great sound along with the tech and great price. Its successor Monarch MK2 seeks to up the ante, with improved performance and a new design. Does the Monarch MK2 bring new heights of flagship level performance at the under $1000 price point?
Build, Design, and Accessories
First off, these things are gorgeous. The faceplate evokes a high end Empire Ears or Noble Custom type design, with multilayered resin design. The shell is pretty large – it needs to be to accommodate nine drivers – and has a fairly large vent. The size might be an impediment if you have smaller ears. The cable is excellent, providing exchangeable tips to connect 3.5mm, 2.5mm or 4.4mm all with one cable. The cable’s cloth wrapper design has a premium feel, and the ear wrap arounds have just the right amount of tension and memory for my taste. Overall, the build and design look very much at home next to more expensive flagship IEMs.
For the rest of the package, you get a Thieaudio branded case, and a selection of silicone and foam eartips. Initially I just opted to use my standard SpinFit and Final E-Series tips for testing, but I found the included silicone tips improved some aspects of the sound – more on that in a minute. The case also has a section that work well for storing the various eartips. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t lose the cable tips, as the cables use a proprietary design for the exchangeable tip selection.
Monarch takes a nine driver tribrid design, and gives you exactly what you want from it: deep impactful bass, rich mids, and excellent, nonfatiguing, treble extension. What takes it beyond just being a solid tuning in a $999 tribrid IEM is the level of detail it provides, which feels like it’s at a whole other level.
In the bass, Monarch has some emphasis in the subbass region, providing a deep, full bass that hits hard and extends to the very bottom. There’s good texture in the low mids and a good transition from bass to mids that gives you the texture without any bloat or mud. The timbre is very neutral and natural, with a richness throughout the mids. The sense of resolution in the treble is excellent, giving you speed with a natural feeling to the attack and decay of cymbals, and high range synthesizers and symphonic instruments.
The soundstage is moderately sized, with a good feeling of width when it’s appropriate, and instruments feel well separated. The positioning is generally clear, but the overall 3D image sometimes feels a little too close to the listener or sometimes “in your head.” Experimenting with different eartips, particularly thinner silicone tips, seemed to improve the stage and imaging.
Tame Impala’s “Let it Happen” opens with a sliding synth sound, and quickly brings in the beat. Monarch MK2 gives you a surprising amount of detail and texture in the synth, and then delivers the beat impact and depth with a smoothness and clarity to the groove. The vocals are airy and a little ethereal, and the instruments extend strongly into the upper range of the treble with strong presence and definition, but even the brightest looping synths sounds don’t sound fatiguing with Monarch MK2’s execution of the EST treble.
On Red Hot Chili Peppers “The Power of Equality” Monarch MK2 sounds wide, with a good sense of distance between the stereo panned guitars. The treble extension and resolution is most notable with Chad Smith’s tight drumming, giving you just the right amount of a “wet” splash from the cymbals. The instruments are nicely textured, and the vocals well placed in the mix. The bass and vocals are centered in the image, but the vocals hit a little closer than “intimate”
With a delicate touch to the piano, and soulful, mournful vocals, Monarch MK2 delivers Nina Simone’s emotional performance of “Strange Fruit” in a way that puts you in the room. The vocal is incredibly realistic and personal. Simone sounds like she’s a few feet away, and the vocal dynamics are incredible, effortlessly presenting the rise and fall of the music. It sounds so raw and intimate, I had to pause for a moment to reflect on the song before I could continue my listening.
“Liars” by Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony showcases the dynamics of Monarch MK2: both macro and micro. Each of the symphonic instruments feels intricately detailed and rich, while Isakov’s baritone vocals are rich and emotive. As the orchestra swells and the vocals move from half whispered to full throated, there’s a strong dynamic, and a good mix of separation and cohesion as the sound moves from a single guitar with light punctuation from other instruments to a full orchestra playing fortissimo.
Comparison: Kinera Imperial Nanna 2.0
Being a Chinese IEM brand and releasing a revision of your $1000 range tribrid “flagship killer” type IEM in the last year seems to be pretty envogue, so we have Kinera Imperial Nanna (aka Nanna 2.0) here to compare with Thieaudio Monarch MK2. In terms of the package and design, both provide a premium package that puts many Western brands to shame, in particular, offering a great cable with multiple balanced terminations (Kinera through adapters and Thieaudio through swappable).
The build quality and design on both are also very premium, with stunning looks that wouldn’t be out of place on IEMs two to three times the price. Nanna has a few less drivers and a smaller shell to match, which also makes for a more universal, comfortable fit. In terms of overall presentation though, Monarch MK2 seemed a little more premium to me.
In sound, the two are close, but with some notable differences. In terms of overarching features, Monarch delivers stronger detail and mircodynamics, while Nanna has a more spacious sound and some stronger imaging characteristics. While the center of Monarch’s image would sometimes slip into the “in your head” feeling, Nanna pushes it further out, and there was in general stronger separation between instruments with Nanna. In terms of detail, Monarch has a much stronger sense of detail and texture.
Monarch provides a clearly stronger subbass region, while Nanna gives a little more presence to instruments like bass guitar and cello. At the same time, while the instruments that live in the lower mids/upper bass were more forward in Nanna’s mix, Monarch delivered them with more texture. Monarch’s midrange also had more body, though other midrange characteristics were similar. Both also extend nicely into the upper treble, with good extension but a nonfatiguing sound. Monarch has the edge in the resolution, but not by a lot.
What both IEMs capture is giving you aspects of top-dollar flagship IEMs at a fraction of the price. Take Monarchs resolution and bass extension, and add in Nanna’s soundstage and imaging, and you have an absolutely killer IEM. Taken apart, both still provide an excellent listening experience in the under $1000 range.
The Bottom Line
Thieaudio Monarch MK2 brings a fantastic tuning with the exquisite detail and strong dynamics highlighting an incredible listening experience. Monarch captures aspects of a flagship experience, like a highly resolving nature and its presentation of microdetail, and delivers them with an extreme amount of value for your money.