Shuoer S12 ($169): One of the most surprising IEMs I’ve reviewed as of late, the S12 is smaller and has a more novel driver type with real benefits in listening. Starting down low, the S12 has a more isolated bass boost and a higher contrast W-shaped character while the Elixir strikes as being more even-handed and balanced. The S12 sounds bassier in turn and it provides a slightly tighter note presentation despite having thicker, harder hitting notes. The Elixir sounds tonally cleaner and more natural, it has better separation which means it sounds about as detailed despite not being quite as controlled. The S12 doesn’t provide the same versatility in the midrange as the Elixir. It sounds thinner and more strained.
The Elixir has bigger, more filled-in vocals. It sounds more natural and consistent. The S12 has excellent layering and resolving power but its timbre just sounds a bit off by comparison. The treble is notably brighter on the S12 but also much more extended. It has more tizz and sparkle with a wispier note presentation. The Elixir is more natural and textured with good definition but less air and headroom. It sounds more focused and normal which some may enjoy. In return, the S12 has much better micro-detail retrieval and a faster note presentation, being the more nuanced performer in all regards. It has a wider stage and better layering but less depth.
Moondrop KATO ($189): The KATO provides a similar voicing especially within the midrange with a slightly higher contrast sound. To my ears, the KATO is slightly bassier with my preferred silver nozzles. This is most notable in the mid-bass which is one step fuller and gives its low-end a greater sense of volume and fullness. The sub-bass also hits a bit harder on the KATO. On the contrary, the Elixir isn’t quite as dynamic and punchy but has an appreciably cleaner presentation. It has better separation and similar levels of driver control and definition resulting in superior detail retrieval. The midrange is very similar on both as is the tuning. The Elixir strikes as being a bit more open and revealing than the KATO which offers a little more mid-bass warmth and a smoother lower-treble.
The KATO sounds more coherent and a little more laid back overall. Those wanting greater clarity and separation will enjoy the cleaner Elixir whilst the KATO offers a slightly more powerful voicing with a little less dryness. The Elixir provides a bit more lower-treble bite and a nice keen note attack that gives it good bite and detail retrieval. The KATO sounds a bit smoother on the leading edge but has greater shimmer and air above. To my ears, the KATO appears to extend slightly better and resolves slightly more fine detail. It also provides a slightly larger and more layered soundstage whilst the Elixir pulls ahead on separation.
Dunu Falcon Pro ($219): Another single DD IEM, the Falcon Pro sports better build quality and smaller shells plus a warmer tuning. I used the reference filter for this comparison. Immediately, the Falcon Pro is warmer with a bigger mid-bass. It extends well but has less power and rumble than the Elixir despite having a bit more bass overall. The Falcon Pro has a rich, thick texture but also some rounding of its notes. The Elixir strikes as being much cleaner tonally and better separated. To my ears, the driver is slightly faster and more defined leading to a more nuanced sound. The midrange is more transparent and balanced on the Elixir. The Falcon Pro has a more laid-back midrange with a bit more clarity and articulation balanced out by a bigger, warmer bass.
In turn, though its top-end is brighter, the Falcon Pro still sounds warmer and fuller. The Elixir does sound more linear and coherent whilst the higher contrast Falcon sounds more obviously coloured and less consistent between albums of differing mastering style. As aforementioned, the Falcon Pro also has a brighter treble, giving it a more U-shaped character. The Elixir has a slightly cleaner transient response with a more defined leading edge and better texturing. The Falcon Pro has a bit more air and shimmer but less fine detail retrieval in the foreground. Both have similar layering but the Elixir does expand a bit more in terms of soundstage size.
It’s getting difficult to accurately evaluate these earphones seeing as so many perform to such a high level. Very quickly, the cash-grab companies have been weeded out and replaced with a multitude of higher-quality and, most importantly, more reliable competitors. Thieaudio is one such brand as I’ve enjoyed many of their offerings in the past and suspect I will continue to do so into the future. It is simply unfortunate that the Elixir, unlike the recently reviewed S12, does not have a single defining attribute that elevates it above the rest. This is a simple, focused package that just ticks all the boxes. It’s nicely balanced, very tonally clean and has one of the more capable drivers in class. In the same vein, the Elixir also has an utter lack of polarising qualities – safe has come to have a negative connotation but I can hardly see this as a bad thing. Under scrutiny, the midrange is a little thin, the treble not quite as open as the very best. Still, don’t let the lack of tuning or modular cable fool you. The Elixir is wonderfully charming right out of the box and very much in the same leagues as class leaders as an overall package especially if you prefer a clean and articulate sound.
The Elixir is available from Linsoul (International) for $209 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Linsoul or Thieaudio and receive no earnings from purchases made through these links.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – dont smile at me
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Courtney Barnett – Rae Street
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Jasen – BYE
John Mayer – Continuum
Kanye West – Ye
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride