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Whether your tastes run to steampunk clockworks, Asian elegance or glittering mystique, with the Legacy 3, Thieaudio has set a new affordable IEM standard for choice in design and sound.
Thieaudio has been on a bit of a roll lately. Their high-end Voyager 14 IEMs have garnered much praise and talk of “end-game” performance. The trickle-down technology Voyager 3 IEMs (that I recently reviewed) were nothing short of excellent at their reasonable price point. Capitalizing on this successful formula, Thieaudio has now released the Legacy 3 as the budget counterpoint to their flagship Legacy 9 model.
Each hybrid Legacy 9 IEM is comprised of eight balanced armature (BA) drivers plus one 10 mm nano-membrane dynamic driver. The BAs used in the Legacy 9 are a combination of drivers from Knowles and Sonion.
As their naming convention makes evident, the Legacy 3 contains two BA drivers plus the same 10 mm dynamic driver per IEM. The starting price point of the Legacy 3 is $120 USD compared to the $550 USD Legacy 9. In exchange for the lower price, not only are there far fewer drivers, the BA drivers are ‘house-brand’ labelled “Thieaudio” rather than sourced from the more prestigious manufacturers.
What isn’t lacking, however, is the build quality or fit and finish of these finely crafted IEMs. In every way, these are built to the standards of the higher-priced models. The price of the Legacy 3 varies depending on the selection of the shell. While entirely an aesthetic choice, the price can increase as much as $25 for universal models.
The base ($120) model is the Clockworks and is the version I received for this review. They are translucent light blue in color with actual mechanical watch gears and parts embedded in the faceplate (each one is unique). The Mystique ($130) are an opaque blue, black and gold glitter swirl pattern. The ($144) Chinese White are opaque white with fine blue flowers and the ($140) Blue-AW11 have a bright blue gemstone appearance.
Thieaudio claims that the “…Legacy 3 was designed to provide an affordable in-ear monitor that would take no cuts in build or audio quality. While the Legacy 3 is an entry model into the Legacy series, its sound is the culmination of all of our skills and knowledge until now, and it falls nothing short of top of its class.”
Frankly, I was (and continue to be) very impressed with the all BA driver Voyager 3 model, even though I generally tend to prefer the sound of hybrid IEMs. So, imagine my surprise, when in walks the hybrid Legacy 3 boasting all the learnings of Thieaudio’s other great products, and at a price $40 less than the Voyager 3. I can’t help but have elevated expectations for this pair of IEMs.
Let’s see if they can meet my expectations.
- Really great sound with a natural tonality and coherence.
- Bass is outstanding. Deep and controlled.
- Build quality is excellent.
- Lots of choice in colors and faceplates.
- Excellent price for the level of performance.
- Not the end word in midrange detail.
- Treble extension may not satisfy some listeners.
- Cable doesn’t match the shells and isn’t quite as good as the Voyager 3 cable.
- Included accessories are sparse.
- No included instructions for the hardware EQ switches.
In my Voyager 3 review, I stated that “… Thieaudio doesn’t seem to have even so much as a website. Their Facebook page is almost entirely devoid of information, save for a few product pictures. They are located in China. They make headphones. And that’s about all I know.”
I’m happy to report that I know slightly more this time.
Turns out that Thieaudio is a new creative endeavor of Chi-Fi mega-company Linsoul Audio. Founded in 2019, the “…goal of Thieaudio was to serve as a creative platform for gathering the best teams of engineers … For each project, we hand select the most innovative and renown engineers in his or her field to oversee the design, engineering, and manufacturing of the products.”
The Thieaudio Voyager and Legacy IEM series are both headed by master audio engineer Chongjun, and “were created to bring about unparalleled sound performance that would rival the leading international brands.” The Voyager series is intended for musicians while the intended audience for the Legacy series are audiophiles and music enthusiasts.
In their own words, “Linsoul was founded in 2016 by Crazy HiFi team with the intention of providing world class customer service to the audiophile and music loving communities.” They curate audio products from Chinese Hi-Fi (Chi-Fi) companies and provide customization services including custom-molded IEMs.
“OUR STORY – The founder of Linsoul realized that Hifi music listening should be inspirational and modern stylish. It can be combined with sound quality and stylish to express your music style.
MISSION – To deliver Hi-Fi products that surpass the norm in terms of both Sound Quality and visual intrigue.” – Linsoul
I think it is important to note that the Story and Mission statements of Linsoul declare that they do not solely strive for products with the highest sound quality. Rather they refer to a combination of sound quality and visual style. It seems the aesthetic appeal of their products is as important as how they sound.
In fact, to ensure that the Legacy series stands out, they declare that “…each model gets a unique (and oftentimes a boutique custom add on for other brands) design. It’s an extra expense we are willing to take… Handmade and selected faceplate, custom cable…”
Legacy 3 Specifications
- Crossover: 3-way crossover
- Driver Type: Hybrid – 2BA + proprietary 10mm Nano-Membrane dynamic diaphragm driver
- Noise Cancellation: 26dB
- Sensitivity: 108 dB at 1 kHz
- Impedance: 8.6-9.5 Ohm at 1 kHz
- IEM Connector: Recessed 0.78 mm 2-Pin
- Cable Plug: 3.5 mm Unbalanced
- Cable Length: 1.2 m
- Cable Material: Custom 7N 8-core OCC copper cable
Legacy 3 Packaging
Unlike the Voyager 3’s basic brown cardboard box, the Legacy 3 has an attractive and unusual black retail box that folds open down the middle. There’s nothing to indicate a model number or name, nor is there any other information on the box other than a circular cardboard Thieaudio button, but it does present more professionally than the Voyager 3 unboxing experience.
In the Box
- Black (or brown) faux-leather case
- 3 pairs of black silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
- SIM card ejector tool (the same as packaged with a cell phone)
- Black 2-pin cable
- Legacy 3 IEMs
- A pointless piece of cardboard that states “Musical Liberation Awaits”. This should be instructions and explanation for the EQ switches!
This is a pretty sparse selection of accessories; however, it does cover the basics.
The case, while entirely functional with an interior mesh pouch, is too tall and bulky to easily fit in a pocket. While more or less the same shape as the Shozy Form 1.4 case, it is almost 10 mm higher. You can easily store multiple pairs of IEMs inside but overall, I prefer the Voyager 3’s smaller circular metal case.
Forgive me. Since I just reviewed the Voyager 3, I can’t help but directly compare them to the Legacy 3. And boy, the cable is one thing that I love about the Voyager 3. If you remember “…it may be the nicest included IEM cable I’ve seen to date. The silver-plated copper 8-core wire is soft, malleable, and is beautifully braided. Length is just right (1.2 m) and I found it almost entirely non-microphonic.”
The black cable included with the Legacy 3 is thinner and has a more rubberized finish than the Voyager 3 cable. It shares the same professional braid, and very similar 3.5mm plug, y-split, chin slider and 0.72 mm 2-pin IEM plugs. The 3.5 mm single-ended jack and y-splitter are solely silver in color, rather than adorned with carbon fiber inserts (which would have actually matched the black cable).
It’s absolutely a fine cable, but simply not as luxurious as the Voyager 3 cable. The black color really doesn’t match the blue and gold colorway of the Clockworks IEMs. The rubbery finish seems to be adept at absorbing microphonics but is a bit easy to tangle.
The cable is made of 7N 8-core OCC copper cable and Thieaudio claims it was “…made specifically for the Legacy 3. We chose copper as it emphasizes the smooth and warm characteristic of the IEM, bringing to life the detail and texture within the sound.” It works well and I see little reason to upgrade it.
Legacy 3 Design
The design and construction of the Legacy 3 are certainly strong points in their favor. They are hand-built from medical grade resin and each earpiece takes almost an entire day to build. Thieaudio is proud to proclaim that “…the outcome is something that no mass produced product can ever achieve.”
The Clockwork model incorporates actual mechanical watch components, arranged by hand on the faceplate, and then sealed with resin. While containing similar components, each Clockwork faceplate is unique, and certainly adds to the luxury impression of the IEMs.
The resin is remarkably clear, giving a good look at internal components, drivers, wires, switches, gears etc. It’s just a matter of taste, but I think I would have preferred a different color than light blue, but they certainly are striking and distinctive looking.
There is a small metal vent near the 2-pin socket on each IEM body, and just like the Voyager 3, there are two tiny physical EQ switches set flush within the body, and two sound bore holes molded within the resin. These bores are shaped and sized to tune the frequency of the sounds from the drivers within the IEM chamber.
The nozzles appear fairly long but due to their non-uniform shape (they are not simple cylinders), and because there is no lip or ring on the nozzle to stop movement, the tips protrude a bit beyond the end of the nozzle. This isn’t an issue with the included tips because they are fairly stiff, dense and hold their shape well. However, it is something to consider if looking to tip swap.
Overall these are very comfortable IEMs for my ears. They are small enough to sit flush with my outer ear and the large tip size creates a comfortable seal. The shape is smooth and ergonomic and basically everything I expect a good IEM to be.
Thieaudo states that “…the proprietary 10mm Nano-Membrane dynamic diaphragm driver used in the Legacy 3 is the same high-quality driver as that of its older brother, the Legacy 9.” Of note, is that the BA drivers do differ between the Voyager and Legacy models. Through the clear shell it is possible to read “Thieaudio” printed on the high-frequency BA driver in the Legacy 3, rather than the Knowles drivers used in the Voyager 3.
While the construction of the Legacy 3 IEM shell appears very similar to the Voyager 3, it is in the selection and implementation of drivers that set the two IEM series apart. It becomes a direct comparison of the performance of an all-BA design vs a hybrid design.
This leads to certain expectations. The dynamic driver in the Legacy 3 should be able to produce bigger, deeper bass, but perhaps at the expense of control and clarity. Are the prestigious Knowles BA drivers in the Voyager 3 better at producing midrange and high frequencies than the Thieaudio branded drivers? Can this new, lower-priced model, steal the thunder from the excellent Voyager 3?
Tune in next week when we will find out the fate of… no, wait… let’s discuss all that now.
Legacy 3 Sound
Thieaudio states that they “…tuned it to provide a thumpy, yet clean bass, making the mid-bass frequency transition right at 400Hz to create a warm but distinct mid section. The mids emphasize instrument and vocal clarity, which are enhanced by a smooth treble… we required a comfortable and natural, yet still highly detailed and transparent high-frequency section.”
So, from the above statement, we should expect big, clean bass, with a slightly warm, natural-sounding midrange and somewhat relaxed but transparent, coherent treble. I have to say, this is pretty much a spot-on description for the Legacy 3.
I was struck by just how much the Voyager 3 are a successful jack-of-all-musical-genres (if I can massacre a phrase). They do pretty much everything right with all musical styles. The Legacy 3 are a little bit different. While they certainly share a similar tuning, there’s perhaps a touch less detail, and certainly, a bigger low end to better emphasize some bass-centric music styles.
Tuning and the Hardware EQ Switches
A big part of the Legacy 3 (and Voyager 3) flexibility is due to the 2 hardware EQ switches. I do not expect folks will tailor the switches depending on what type of music they are listening to (I certainly don’t). What I do expect is that after some extensive listening, and a liberal amount of playing around with the switches, you will find what sounds ‘best’ to you and stick with it.
“…the integration of a low and high tuning switch then allows the user to adjust the level of the bass and treble to fit their personal musical preference… a tuning switch to increase or decrease the level of certain channels. This independent circuit mechanism means that the phase is not altered even as you utilize the switch, which ultimately means no worrying about bass bleeds or mid scooping.
The two tuning switches (we decided on two rather than three or four as more does not necessarily indicate proper implementation) allows for four different tuning arrangement going from the standard reference tuning so that the listener can select their desired sound based on their musical preference.” Thieaudio.
This time I was able to locate a diagram from Thieaudio that provides some description. Following the switch position convention of (switch 1, switch 2) where 0 is down and 1 is up:
|Switch Position (x,x)
|Switch 2 Up (x,1)
|Switch 2 Down (x,0)
|Switch 1 Up (1,x)
|Switch 1 Down (0,x)
While I preferred the bass boost position of (1,1) with the Voyager 3, I found I preferred the Vocals (0,1) position with the Legacy 3. The Legacy 3’s dynamic driver is more than capable of providing prodigious bass in the switch 1 down position. The high end of the Legacy 3 is quite relaxed and the switch 2 up position helps yield a bit more extension and airiness to the sound.
The (0,1) Vocals position seems to yield the best overall tonal balance to my ears. I based all my further sound comments on listening with the switches in this position.
Overall Sound Impressions
These are another pair of terrific all-around performers from Thieaudio. While they don’t have the largest soundstage, nor are they delivering the pinnacle of detail retrieval, they provide a balanced and vibrant sound. The Legacy 3 have natural tonality, which works great with almost anything you throw at them.
The Legacy 3 are slightly less sensitive than the Voyager 3 but have a much lower impedance (expressed as a range from 8.6 ohm – 9.5 ohm). This low impedance may lead to unwanted noise or hiss from sources unable to deliver an ultra-clean low impedance output. In my experience, my iPhone dongle or Chord Mojo were both able to drive the Legacy 3 well.
It’s great. Need I say more? Fine…
The dynamic driver is exactly what you hope it will be. It digs deep, slams hard but maintains excellent control. The clarity and contrast between hits really are quite outstanding. Individual instruments and notes are easily discernable.
This control may come at the expense of some of the quantity that a true basshead could yearn for. However, for most folks, the Legacy 3 delivers plenty of low-end weight, with excellent extension and texture.
Sometimes, in poor executions, it is too much and it drowns out the midrange BA. And sometimes, as is the case with the Legacy 3, it blends exceptionally well into the midrange, without smothering delicacy or suffocating the whole sound in mud.
Detail versus musicality. It’s an age-old struggle. At what point does hearing every tiny nuance in the music take away from the experience of immersion? The Legacy 3 lean slightly away from detail in the midrange. Whether this suits your personal listening tastes is up to you.
This isn’t to say there isn’t clarity and detail at hand. In fact, the bass and treble regions are quite adept in the Legacy 3. However, I’d classify the Legacy 3 midrange a bit more on the musicality side of the equation. This is likely the intent of Thieaudio, as they stated the intended audience of the Legacy lineup is more for music enthusiasts than musicians. Intended for listeners rather than creators.
The midrange comes across as slightly forward, but delightfully natural, full, and clear. Voices are alive and vibrant sounding. Overall things sound like they should.
Thieaudio states that as a result of their tuning, the Legacy 3 has “…a coherent treble response that extends far, retrieves every detail, yet lacks any unnecessary dips or peaks.” I’d say that they were fairly successful in this endeavor.
The Legacy 3 treble is quite polite. It’s not overly extended, meaning that it avoids harshness and sibilance. If you are a die-hard treble-head, you may find that it doesn’t extend quite enough for your tastes. I think most folks will appreciate the lack of fatigue, but it does come at the expense of a bit of air or sparkle.
High-end detail is quite good, and tonality is excellent. Things sound clear, natural, and textured, but the overall feeling of the high end can be a bit stepped back in the mix. Easy to like, but perhaps not exceptional.
Legacy 3 Comparisons
Much has been said about the sheer level of performance that the Moondrop Starfield offer at their meager $110 price point. While I dislike the included cable (the Legacy 3 cable is superior), I really only have good things to say about the sound of these single dynamic driver wonders.
Compared to the slightly more expensive Legacy 3, the Starfield are smaller (which may be more comfortable for some), provide more midrange detail, and have a somewhat better soundstage. The overall sound signature is a bit cooler and has a less fun, and a less bassy sound than the Legacy 3.
The build quality of the Legacy 3 is better, with no chipping paint issues like the Starfield, and yes, the Legacy has a superior included cable.
Thieaudio Voyager 3
So similar. Both share a common, and very enjoyable, tuning.
For $40 more, the Voyager 3 are somewhat different sounding beasts, but in truth, both IEMs are pretty great. The Voyager 3 is slightly more versatile and remain the better multi-purpose option for all music styles. They really do sound terrific with everything.
The Legacy 3 has better sub-bass (expected with the hybrid design), with more visceral and punchy drum hits. Details and separation are slightly better with the Voyager 3, and the sound stage is pretty similar.
Physically, they share the same construction, with the Voyager 3 being a touch larger and thicker.
Shozy Form 1.4
At $200, the Shozy Form 1.4 are hard to recommend strongly over the $120 Legacy 3. Both are hybrid designs with similar non-fatiguing highs and a strong low end. The Shozy Form 1.4 may dig slightly deeper in the sub-bass, and overall, I think I prefer it (something about the 1.4 sound just speaks to me).
Nevertheless, if I were recommending what you spend your hard-earned money on, I’d give the nod to the excellent value presented by the Legacy 3. The 1.4’s sound is likely more polarizing; it’s a safer bet that more folks will prefer the Legacy 3.
It appears that Linsoul (under the guise as Thieaudio) has learned some valuable lessons from working with Chi-Fi manufacturers. The Voyager and now the Legacy series really feel like the cream of the crop. Chinese manufactures have churned out hundreds of IEM models, with varying levels of success, and Thieaudio seems to have paid attention to what works.
There is something enchanted going on around the $100-$150 USD price point for IEMs. Finally, the number and quality of drivers, crossovers, design, materials, fit, finish, and everything that makes a product special, are now becoming available at this affordable level.
Don’t get me wrong, there are strong contenders around the $50 price point. But what the extra investment seems to net you is in the refinement of sound quality. Hybrid and multi-driver IEMs especially suffer from lack of coherence if they aren’t tuned properly to hand off frequencies seamlessly between drivers.
But when it’s done right, and such is the case with the Legacy 3, music is delicately and seamlessly reproduced. What appears effortless is undoubtedly the result of incomprehensibly difficult hard work, planning, and design.
The Legacy 3 are outstanding IEMs. Refined and coherent. Fun and musical. Engaging and nuanced. Perhaps they are not quite as versatile or detailed as the Voyager 3, however, the Legacy 3 are significantly less expensive. Either is an excellent choice and both are worthy to satisfy (and likely delight) the musical desires of portable audio enthusiasts.