A prestigious masterclass in neutrality and refinement.
By this point of your personal audio journey, you’ve likely heard of Thieaudio’s ‘tribrid line’ of IEMs. This line uses a variety of dynamic, balanced armature, and electrostatic drivers for bass, midrange, and treble frequencies, respectively.
I was immediately gobsmacked when I first encountered the Monarch MKI in late 2020. Outstanding sub-bass depth, astounding clarity, and an oh-so-compelling sound signature made these my favorite pair of IEMs to date. Since then, they’ve been my number-one choice for high-end music on the go.
With the initial success of the tribrid line, Thieaudio didn’t rest on their laurels, and the original Monarch and Clairvoyance have been joined by the Monarch MKII and III, Oracle MKI and II, Excalibur, Prestige MKI, and now the TOTL LTD.
- Smooth, balanced sound
- Terrific detail without fatigue
- Comfortable, ergonomic shape
- Modular cable
- Large size won’t fit all ears
- Bass-heads may want more dynamics
- No faceplate choices, unlike other models
All the tribrids in the lineup are physically similar, with sparkly faceplates mated to shiny black resin bodies in distinctive ergonomic shapes. While all contain dynamic, BA, and electrostatic drivers, the number of drivers ranges from 5-10 per IEM.
The original Monarch is so great, and given that the Prestige LTD is positioned higher in the lineup, I was extremely excited to try out this pair of revised tribrid IEMs. Can the LTD truly eclipse Thieaudio’s former masterpiece, my precious Monarchs?
Unboxing and First Impression
Thieaudio is a creative endeavor of Chi-Fi mega-retailer 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 [sic] engineers in his or her field to oversee the design, engineering, and manufacturing of the products.”
- Form: IEM
- Drivers: 4 Sonion electrostatic drivers + 2 Knowles mid-treble balanced armatures + 2 Sonion low-mid balanced armatures + 10mm dynamic subwoofer per side
- Crossover: 5-way Crossover
- Impedance (Ohm): 11Ω
- Sensitivity (dB): 95dB @1kHz
- Removable Cable: Y, 1.2m
- Source Jack: Modular 3.5mm TRS, 2.5 and 4.4mm TRRS
- Cup/Shell Jack: 2-Pin, 0.78mm
The LTD are housed in a typical, if large, book-style cardboard box in a paper sleeve displaying specs and pictures. Within the box, the ample zip-up case and IEMs are nestled in velvet-covered back foam.
You’ll discover the ear tips and three modular cable plugs inside the hard-shelled case.
In the box
- Prestige LTD IEMs
- Modular cable with 2.5, 3.5, and 4.4mm plugs
- 3 pairs of foam ear tips (S, M, L)
- 3 pairs of silicone ear tips (S, M, L)
- Zippered hard case
- Dust cloth
The 1.2m modular cable is constructed from 6N OCC with silver and graphene-silver plating. Notably, it is terminated in a 4-pin “Smart Switch” connector that allows for swapping between the included 2.5, 3.5, and 4.4mm jacks. On the other end are fairly typical 2-pin, 0.78mm plugs.
The cable is in a twisted Litz structure rather than a tight braid and holds its form well. It’s made of a pleasant-to-touch rubber material that helps stave off microphonics. It’s a substantial and meaty feeling cable that imparts a feeling of intrinsic worth.
As I’ve come to expect from Thieaudio IEMs, the opaque black bodies are constructed from medical-grade resin and anatomically shaped. In fact, the LTD are based on the all-BA, TOTL V16 Divinity IEMs.
Unsurprisingly, the 9-driver IEMs are fairly large, but the flawless finish and intelligently designed shape make them easy to adjust to, and I can wear them for hours without discomfort.
The face plates have a sparkly space motif reminiscent of deep-space pictures. Thieaudio claims the faceplates are all “individually decorated and coated, presenting a truly bespoke experience.” While flashier options are available for the Monarch MKIII, the LTD faceplates are limited to a more subdued black and pinkish-copper colorway with tiny multicolored sparkles.
There is a single port on the back surface of the body, and the nozzles are constructed from stainless steel with a lip to hold onto the ear tips securely.
I appreciate the smart, no-nonsense design.
The claim to fame with the Thieaudio tribrid lineup is the combination of electrostatic, BA, and dynamic drivers. This time, we get 4 Sonion electrostatic drivers, 2 Knowles mid-treble balanced armatures, 2 Sonion low-mid balanced armatures, and a 10mm dynamic driver per each side of the Prestige LTD.
All these drivers are tied to a 5-way crossover, tasked with balancing and merging all these different sound signatures into a coherent whole.
And that leads to the big question with multi-driver IEMs. Can 18 drivers jammed into your ears really sound uniform and articulate?
Thieaudio Prestige LTD Sound
Rather than grabbing you by the ears and demanding your full attention, the Thieaudio Prestige LTD confidently reach out and gently stroke your cheek while giving you a sultry wink. Unlike tribrids I’ve tried in the past, the LTD are remarkably even-keeled and subtle in their presentation.
Every little nuance of the music is sublimely controlled, tight, and clean. There isn’t ‘too much’ of anything – nothing untoward jumps out of the presentation. Thankfully, the bump around 3-4 kHz is well restrained (a pet peeve of many tunings for me). What you get is an effortless neutrality and natural sound signature.
I’d hesitate to call the LTD ‘fun,’ as this is clearly not what they were tuned for. Rather, they are accurate and supremely capable of giving detail – free of harshness. They are easy to listen to and nonfatiguing.
In a word, smooth.
Compared to the original Monarch, or by all reports, the newer versions, the focus of the LTD sound signature is far more balanced – rather than boosted. The Monarch booms and sizzles; side by side, it can initially feel like the LTD are far lighter in the low frequencies.
Further listening makes it apparent that when the music demands subterranean bass, the LTD are more than up to the task. It’s just not dialed up to grab your attention all the time.
The bass stays nimble and doesn’t get bogged down, with lower frequency notes distinct and clearly differentiated.
The LTD bass is a half-step back, and this helps to maintain their neutral and natural voice. It’s a lighter touch that pays dividends in clarity and definition. This helps the LTD deftly negotiate extremely busy and complex music.
While they may not be the first choice of solely EDM aficionados, rock, classical, or metal listeners will surely not be disappointed. There’s sufficient weight to ground instruments and ensure that things sound natural and proper.
The LTD are midrange masters. The iron-fisted control of the low-end continues up into midrange frequencies, and everything sounds extraordinarily detailed and yet subtly presented. Music is offered gently and feels more like you are hearing something environmental rather than having sound projected directly down your ear canal.
The transition from dynamic driver to a variety of BA drivers is exceptionally seamless. It’s this coherence that really defines the LTD, as they sound just so smooth.
Voices sound unforced and presented with a real character. Female vocals shine with an effortless presentation that can trigger that hair-raising feeling.
I tend to equate IEMs with EST drivers with a near-supernatural elevated level of airiness and sparkle. This is the feeling the original Monarch present; a raised-beyond-normal sensation of high-end brilliance.
The LTD are masterfully restrained in the high-end, maintaining their neutrality. Sure, there’s gobs of detail if you listen for it, but it’s not cranked up to 11, and it’s possible just to background listen and groove out with the LTD – something that I don’t find possible with the Monarch. They demand too much of my attention for that.
The lack of an overwhelming low-end means that the LTD can be equally light-handed in the tuning of the high-end and still maintain a fundamental balance. There’s no v-shaped consumer profile with a jarring treble in an attempt to offset a boosted bass.
The situation that the LTD’s signature presents reminds me somewhat of the controversy with the Audeze LCD-5 (more so than the LTD’s actual sound). The initial reviews of the 5 were fairly mixed, with plenty of folks expecting typical Audeze tuning expressing dissatisfaction with the quantity of the bass on hand.
Similarly, I can see those coming from the Monarch line to feel something is missing with the Prestige LTD. The ‘wow’ factor of boosted dynamics that immediately grabs you upon first listen, perhaps. I admit, I wondered if they were a touch too ‘flat’ when I first popped them in.
Luckily, the Mojo 2 allows for immediate swaps with two headphone outputs, and with further listening, I found the Monarch began to sound far more fatiguing over the long term.
If you are a ‘listen-for-hours’ sort of IEM user, the refined and resolved nature of the LTD may be a perfect match.
Where to Buy
The Prestige LTD feel like a refined ‘audiophile’ revision of Thieaudio’s tribrid line. And I think this is exactly what Thieaudio was going for.
Trading some of the punch and sizzle of the Monarch for a smoother and more controlled presentation that is effortlessly non-fatiguing, the LTD are an unqualified success.
This isn’t to say they will perfectly fit all tastes, and plenty of our portable audiophile brethren prioritize a more powerful low-end over easy listening. There’s a place for all our individual preferences, and it turns out there’s space for multiple high-end offerings in Thieaudio’s tribrid lineup.
Once I got over my “these should be just like the Monarch but better” initial expectations, I allowed myself to listen and appreciate how the LTD sound unique and, in a few ways, better than their siblings. In the rarefied air of the kilo-buck plus IEM market, the LTD do enough to justify their TOTL status.
Maybe if I’m in the mood for an all-encompassing visceral slam, I’ll still reach for my beloved Monarchs, but I’m starting to fear the polite and well-mannered Prestige LTD may eclipse them as my first choice.