ThieAudio Prestige Review - Too Close to the Sun?
The Prestige is ThieAudio’s latest flagship IEM that retails for $1299 and consists of a 1DD/4BA/4EST driver configuration. While this isn't ThieAudio’s first flagship IEM, I'd forgive readers for not remembering. The V16 (16BA, $1499) and V14 (14BA, $999) were released some time ago and overshadowed by their younger siblings, the Monarch and Clairvoyance, which both offered better value and superior sound quality. Can the Prestige break this pattern, and prove it’s truly worthy of flagship status? Let’s take a closer listen.
This unit was provided for review by Linsoul. The Prestige can be purchased here. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
What we like
- Exciting sound signature with fantastic treble extension
- High-clarity, sharp presentation
What we don’t like
- Timbre needs improvement and upper-treble sounds unnatural
- Bass sounds quick and dry
- Accessories could be better
Source & Drivability
All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX300 and my iPhone 13 Mini with lossless files. The stock silicone tips were used. The Prestige takes a decent amount of power to drive (sitting at around 37% volume on my iPhone with the Apple dongle), but I had no issue hitting my usual listening volume of ~70dB on either device. If you would like to learn more about my listening methodology, then I would encourage you to check out this page.
The Prestige has a standard unboxing experience. Inside are the following accessories:
- Microfiber cloth
- Silicone tips s/m/l
- Foam tips s/m/l
- 2-pin 0.78mm cable with swappable terminations
- Medium-sized carrying case
The included cable has a slightly thick diameter with a hint of rubber-y texture to the sheath. The cable hardware is anodized black aluminum. Incidentally, this is the same cable hardware that is included with the ThieAudio Oracle MKII’s cable - a cable for which I already thought felt quite cheap - so that’s somewhat disappointing. I believe that the interchangeable connector system could also benefit from some improvement, such as the addition of a locking mechanism. On the bright side, you do get the flexibility of choosing from all three major terminations.
We’ve seen a return to the lightweight, zippered-case that is included with the ThieAudio Monarch MKII and V16 Divinity IEMs. On the inside of the case is a mesh pocket for storing accessories. It’s a case that’s on the larger side - you probably won’t be pocketing it - and somewhat cheap feeling.
Overall, I found build quality to be good. The Prestige has an ergonomic shell that I had no trouble wearing for a couple hours. There is a vent at the back of the shell, ostensibly for the IEM’s dynamic driver, which seems to relieve some pressure build-up. As usual, fit and comfort are subjective to the end user. But I definitely found this to be more comfortable than something like the Monarch IEMs. The faceplate of the Prestige has a subtle but attractive blend of glitter-infused on a dark backdrop, reminding me of a galaxy or outer space.
The frequency response below was taken off of a clone IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at ~8kHz. As such, measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate. If you would like to compare the Prestige to other IEMs that I have measured, please see here.
The bass response of the Prestige is mostly just palatable. This might come as surprising given that it has a really promising bass curve on paper. But subjectively, it’s less satisfying than I’d expect. The good part: it has stereotypical dynamic driver attack transients, with a more explosive, sharp leading edge to bass notes. Simultaneously, they almost sound overly dry and hollow, lacking in the thickness and generous decay that I associate with good dynamic driver implementations. At the end of the day, the bass on the Prestige sounds more like an afterthought.
Moving to greener pastures, the midrange of the Prestige shares a fair amount of ground with the ThieAudio Monarch MKII, which is a good thing given that the midrange was the Monarch MKII's standout. Comparatively, I would say that the Prestige's midrange is generally slightly more reserved, especially in the female vocal presence regions around 4kHz, but not necessarily thicker overall. In any case, this is a fairly "correct" sounding midrange that appeals to my sensibilities with a more muted upper-midrange. The biggest criticism I would point out is a minor lack of body from ~1-2kHz. To my ears this makes male vocals sound somewhat odd (hence my “not necessarily thicker overall” comment), especially in conjunction with the lack of texture.
I think the Prestige’s lack of texture is mostly a product of its treble response. The Prestige’s treble is interesting in the sense that it has fantastic extension (well up to the limits of my hearing and even par with something like the venerable Elysian Annihilator), but it simply doesn't sound correct. This unnaturalness is rooted in a number of upper-treble peaks which beget a bright and almost puffy quality to a lot of instruments. Frankly, it's fatiguing at even my quieter listening volumes and still doesn't sound particularly detailed. Ostensibly, this is a product of masking from the sheer quantity of upper-treble and it being outside the normal, or what I'd consider tasteful, parameters of my HRTF. On the topic of masking, I suspect that the excessive upper-treble presence also contributes to the Prestige's unsatisfactory bass decay I highlighted earlier.
Technicalities on the Prestige are just decent, especially for its price point. To me, the detail sounds forced. This is in the sense that it has very little texture to any parts of its presentation, and its timbre sounds highly unnatural. It’s not as bad as the worst offenders I’ve heard in this department like the Moondrop Solis or Empire Ears ESR MKII, which make use of just BAs and ESTs, but it’s pushing it. Some listeners might find the heavy upper-treble to be a boon to a sense of detail, though.
Generally, the imaging of the Prestige again falls into the bucket of “just acceptable.” It sounds very wide in terms of soundstage, but I would not consider its layering ability - the distinction between individual instruments and their position on the stage - to be noteworthy. As most would know, my listening discography leans brighter, and I find it difficult to track between instruments on certain tracks due to how bright the treble leans.
The most natural point of comparison for the Prestige would be the Monarch MKII, given that it is the star of the ThieAudio lineup. The most positive way of framing this would be that the Prestige is a more exciting, bombastic version of the Monarch MKII for those who felt the Monarch MKII was too neutral, too sterile.” It does indeed fix some of the flaws of the Monarch MKII, primarily the milquetoast treble extension. Now, the more critical framing would be “the Prestige is a gimped version of the Monarch MKII, capsized by simply leaning too far into a colored sound.”
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the Prestige is interesting - and not necessarily in a good way - in that it illustrates the importance of fine-tuning treble response. I wish more time had been taken to refine its EST implementation because I do think there is some potential to the way its ESTs have been implemented. For now though, I'm left to ponder where the Prestige falls in today's market. It's not better than the Monarch MKII (at least I don't think so) and it's certainly not better than the Symphonium Helios which absolutely runs circles around it in treble tuning. It’s a simple matter of the Prestige’s treble having flown too close to the sun. And as for whether I would recommend it, I think you can probably infer my answer.