For two years, Thieaudio's Monarch Mk2 reigned as my favorite IEM. Despite owning pricier options, I always returned to the Mk2 due to its balanced tuning. So, when the Mk3 was released, I eagerly grabbed it. After three weeks and 50 hours of listening, I'm ready to share my thoughts, primarily comparing it to the Mk2.
My setup includes a MacBook connected via USB to an RME ADI DAC or ifi Zen Dac V2. I source music from Apple Music and local FLAC files, spanning English pop, rock, Bollywood, Coke Studio, and early 2000s Hindi albums.
The Mk3 unboxing mirrors Thieaudio's standard. The package includes three sets of silicone and foam ear tips, a cleaning cloth, and a cable tie. I prefer my AZLA SednaEarfit Light ear tips for comfort. The carrying case matches the Mk2's design and size, accommodating the IEMs, my USB DAC, and interconnect cable.
The included silver-plated copper cable is soft, supple, and high-quality. While not braided like the Mk2, it feels lighter and better. The modular termination allows easy switching between 3.5mm and 4.4/2.5mm plugs, improving on the Mk2's tight and slippery cable termination.
Build Quality/Wearing Comfort:
The Mk3's classy, seamless resin body lacks sharp edges. Though slightly larger, it fits better in the ear than the Mk2, with a snug fit and minimal bulge. It's comfortable for 60-70 minutes, thanks to "MS" size AZLA SednaEarfit Light ear tips.
The Mk3 presents a new sound style rather than evolving from the Mk2.
Mk3 excels in bass, balancing sub-bass and mid-bass for richness and rumble without overpowering lower mids. It's excellent for pop, Punjabi, Bollywood, and EDM. Bass texture surpasses the Mk2 without smothering the mids.
The Mk3's mid-range is slightly recessed compared to the Mk2 but maintains critical details. This enhances soundstage depth, especially for male vocals, which are fuller. Female vocals gain clarity, though on high-energy tracks, the Mk3 approaches fatigue for some.
Treble is a toss-up between Mk2 and Mk3. Mk3 extends treble impressively but adds energy, especially in the lower treble, which can be fatiguing on less-mastered tracks. Mk2's tuning maintains better balance but offers less air and detail.
Another interesting note, on my Mk2 I tried to simulate the FR of Mk3 by compensating a few db here and there on the parametric EQ of my Roon DSP but I failed to get a Mk3-like result. The bass region of Mk3 is very difficult to simulate on Mk2 by equalization.
Mk3 edges ahead technically, with better resolution, layering, and holographic soundstage. Note attack and decay are more precise, lending a dynamic edge. Mk3's timbre feels more accurate.
The Mk2 remains incredibly close to my preferred tuning, making it challenging to declare a clear winner between the Mk2 and Mk3. The Mk3, as a standalone IEM, shines brilliantly. Considering the price point at which the Mk2 is offered, it faces minimal competition, primarily from its own sibling, the Mk3.
Contrary to common expectations that a newer version of a product should surpass its predecessor, the Mk3 follows a different path. If the Mk2 aligns with your preferred sound signature and has served you well for three years, it remains an exceptional choice. However, for those with the means and a desire to explore a spicier and more vibrant sound signature, the Mk3 beckons. It possesses a distinctive character, style, and boldness that may resonate with discerning audiophiles.