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Thieaudio Elixir Review – Safe Ain’t Bad

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasised due to my measurement setup which I found to be the case here. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. I gave the Elixir 100hrs burn-in to ensure maximum performance prior to subjective breakdown.

Tonality –

The Elixir is an appealing earphone with a nicely balanced sound profile. It doesn’t strike me as a perfectly neutral earphone but isn’t too far off with just a light warm tonality due to a few dB of enhancement through the mid and sub-bass and a nice, even enhancement through the lower-treble. The midrange resembles most of the Harman earphones on the market such as those from Moondrop. This is a very good thing for this affords the Elixir with a natural, refined and balanced voicing that lies just on the revealing side to my ears.

Treble is a little darker than most around the 8kHz region but isn’t overtly recessed. Those wanting a crisp, aggressive treble will be left wanting as a result, however, the Elixir upholds good detail presence with sustained presence through the 5kHz region alongside a higher peak just above the nadir. Altogether, this makes the Elixir a well-articulated monitor with good tri-frequency balance and long-term listenability alongside a top end that has a thin yet energetic character retaining engagement.

Bass –

Looking online I saw some conflicting opinions with some users dubbing the Elixir as neutral, some bass boosted. In listening, I found them to offer a mostly balanced level of bass that complemented the rest of their sound well. Tuning is typical Harman-target meaning you get a moderate bump through the sub and, to a lesser extent, mid-bass. This lends the Elixir a slightly full and emboldened note presentation, however, this isn’t overt so long as you aren’t listening in direct comparison to a DF neutral IEM for example. Good separation is maintained and they do strike as sounding a touch cleaner than most Harman-style earphones including the Moondrop KATO whilst upholding a similar level of body and presence suitable for a wide array of genres.

I was also enamoured with the quality of the bass presentation which benefits both from a well-considered tuning but also a solid technical foundation. It’s performing on the higher end of the price tier with commendable driver control that falls just short of the best. Notes are well-defined but do miss just a little texture compared to class leaders. This is, however, aided by the slightly cleaner mid-bass tuning as compared to the KATO, the Elixir does have slightly better separation that helps to compensate for its slight reduction in raw definition. Decay is natural and attack is reasonably tight too, working in tandem with a well pressurised sub-bass to deliver convincing if not outstanding dynamics. While not the fastest bass, it is a very well-tuned one which yields an enjoyable and flexible listening experience alongside strong sense of overall balance.

Mids –

As you would expect, the midrange offers a balanced and refined character. It boasts a very clean tonality which gives the earphone plenty of definition despite not having huge clarity enhancing qualities. This makes for a pleasant and genre versatile listen albeit with just a little dyness notable on some male vocals. There isn’t anything that stands out as wrong or offensive about the Elixir otherwise, and this grants it great widespread appeal. Moondrop has played around with similar curves through the years and have refined it greatly, the Elixir offers parity in this regard despite being one of Thieaudio’s first models of this price range and driver type. As the KATO and Elixir are so similar, the key differences lie more in the surrounding frequencies. For instance, the Elixir has slightly less mid-bass and also slightly more lower-treble.

Accordingly, it comes across as slightly more revealing due to its cleaner tonality and more articulate top-end. To my ears, it remains a natural and mostly forgiving sound. The Elixir has great long-term listenability and less intensity than most Harman-target in ears due to a well restrained upper-midrange. It does so whilst retaining a highly natural voicing and excellent balance between male and female vocals. It isn’t quite as coherent as some competitors but retains a sense of vocal size and body whilst minimising fatiguing properties such as sibilance and intensity. As always, this comes down to personal preference, and if you do tend to find Harman in-ears overly full or warm, this is a cleaner alternative with good resolving power to boot.

Highs –

This price range is quite intriguing in that there are copious strong options all with varying levels of brightness. The Elixir lies just slightly on the brighter side. While the bump in lower treble presence and, especially the wideband nature of this emphasis is very welcome, the downside to this is a relative reduction in mid-treble brilliance in order to avoid excessive overall brightness. Competitors such as the KATO do provide greater note clarity and a bit more crispness and presence as a result. In return, the Elixir has a well-defined note attack with good bite and defined notes whilst minimising fatigue and sharpness.

This yields a thin but clean presentation with good presence and clarity. While it lacks the more natural decay and background detail presence of the KATO, the Elixir maintains sound overall treble presence and more than ample headroom to prevent congestion. Moreover, extension is quite good, not outstanding like the recently reviewed Shuoer S12, but certainly within the same leagues as the best performing single dynamics around this asking price. Altogether, you won’t get sparkle and micro-detail like a good hybrid but a well voiced, clean and nicely detailed treble with a pleasant sense of atmosphere and zero overbearing qualities.  

Soundstage –

I would categorise the soundstage as above average if not outstanding. This applies to the level of expansion which stretches beyond the head but not quite to the same extent as class leaders. Nonetheless, they never left me wanting. Moreover, the Elixir has pleasing imaging with good localisation and direction. A weakness that stands out to me is layering which is slightly let down by the style of tuning. There isn’t as much delineation between foreground and background as on many competitors. That said, separation is quite good, aided by strong balance and a tight, well controlled driver. This means that detail retrieval performs overall at a strong level in class and each note has some ether surrounding it which helps to isolate small nuances.

Driveability –

While it isn’t quite as sensitive as some BA IEMs, with a low 18 ohm impedance and a 112 dB sensitivity, the Elixir is an efficient earphone that will reach ear splitting volumes even from portable sources. At the same time, it isn’t too hiss sensitive, a quality low volume listeners will appreciate.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Being a single dynamic driver earphone, you would think that the Elixir would provide a flat impedance curve and this is indeed the case from my testing. This means that the earphone will sound nigh identical from sources up to 20 Ohms and likely well beyond. Those with multiple sources or without a dedicated source with a low output impedance will appreciate the consistency of the frequency response.

Driving Power

Switching between my desktop stack with THX789 and the Shanling M2X revealed minimal changes overall. The desktop stack provided a more spacious stage and a slightly more defined, robust bass, but otherwise minimal changes to balance or control. Overall, this is a strength of this design as it is very easy to drive and will happily pair even with dongles and other low-power sources. In addition, at volume 0 with the amp circuit active, zero hiss was to be heard on the M2X indicating good hiss resistance for those with noisier sources.

Suggested Pair Ups

The Elixir is an efficient IEM that is very easy to drive. With its flat impedance curve, you can happily drive this even from integrated laptop audio solutions without issue though, of course, many tend to be quite terrible. Due to the efficiency, even a dongle is fine and minimal benefit can be had with better amplification beyond greater volume output. Tonally, the Elixir pairs well with a warmer source as I’ve found it to fill in vocals a little more. Being quite a balanced and smooth earphone, you can easily adjust source pairings to taste as the tuning is tolerant of both greater warmth and brightness.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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