I started my audiophile journey in November 2012 with a humble pair of Sennheiser CX200-II IEMs. Much has changed in the IEM scene since then, as the nascent product segment has matured and become increasingly competitive year after year. With the passing of the interesting year that was 2020, it’s time to take a look back at one of the most talked-about releases of the past year, the Thieaudio Clairvoyance, a tribrid with a dynamic driver, 5 balanced armatures, and 2 EST drivers per side.
Product Link: https://www.linsoul.com/products/thieaudio-clairvoyance
II) Non-audio Section
-Packaging: Comes in a dark green square box with a faux leathery texture and a pullout inner box containing the IEMs and accessories
-Accessories: Thieaudio EST silver cable terminated in 2.5mm balanced connector, 2.5mm to 3.5mm unbalanced adaptor, 2.5mm to 4.4mm balanced adaptor, faux leather case, 3 pairs of foam tips, 1 pair of Medium Spinfits
-Cable: Supple without being stiff, no appreciable cable memory, heat shrink earhooks are correctly angled; one of the nicer stock cables I’ve come across
-Build Quality: The abalone faceplates are stunning in person with no noticeable seams in the shell, and overall impression of the build is appropriate for the price point
-Fit: The pseudo-custom shell is comfortable for my ears even for longer listening sessions; however, the nozzle is quite large in diameter and so might present an issue for those with small ear canals. I have no issues achieving moderate insertion depth with my usual large eartips.
-Isolation: above average
III) Tonal Breakdown
The overall sound signature of the Clairvoyance is neutral with a substantial, but well-controlled bass boost. I would consider myself a mild basshead with some treble sensitivity, so this signature plays well with my preferences.
The subbass reaches deep, with plenty of rumble and weight courtesy of the dynamic driver. However, the midbass is somewhat loose and lacks a bit of texture; in some cases, basslines are slightly fuzzy and smoothed over compared to IEMs that I would consider to have high quality bass. Considering the overall amount of boost, the bass does not bleed into the mids and is well-tuned.
Because the bass boost is from around 200 Hz downward, the lower mids are clean without the usual coloration presented by a boost that starts from higher up. On the other hand, the upper mids in the pinna gain region teeter on the edge of being too forward, and as a result, vocals can become overly in-your-face on some mixes. Overall, the mids are mostly balanced with a weight that is neither thick nor thin.
At first listen, the treble comes across as quite polite and inoffensive, and I’d imagine it to be pleasant for most people. However, this region is where individual ear anatomy and personal preferences really start to come into play; although I would consider myself the opposite of a treblehead, I am very particular about treble balance, and this is where the Clairvoyance is most problematic in my opinion. Whenever percussion starts playing in a track on the Clairvoyance, my immediate reaction is, “That’s not quite right.” Due to small dips in the lower treble, cymbals are missing a bit of impact on the initial attack, then become a little too emphatic and metallic in the decay due to a boost in the upper treble. Snare drums lack a bit of the proper snap I would associate with a realistic portrayal, instead sounding a little dull and muffled on the initial hit.
Another instrument suffering from being “close, but not quite there,” electric guitars miss that last bit of bite and edge needed for proper presence in a well-recorded mix, another consequence of the small dips in the lower treble. Even though I might have just come across as being quite critical of the Clairvoyance’s treble, notice that with each point made, I had to qualify each criticism with “a bit” or “a little”; once again, I have to emphasize that most people would probably enjoy this particular treble presentation.
(A note about EQ: my preferred EQ for the Clairvoyance has a medium-bandwidth cut of 2 dB centered at 2.5 kHz, two narrow band boosts of 1.5 dB centered at 4.5 kHz and 6.5 kHz, and a narrow band cut of 3 dB centered at 12.5 kHz.)
Overall, while I have my specific quibbles about certain parts of the Clairvoyance’s frequency response, it is still very well-tuned in the grand scheme of things and would probably be very tonally pleasing to most people.
IV) Technical Breakdown
The Clairvoyance is a solid performer with regards to the intangibles, yet much like the tonality, there are a few things that could be improved. Soundstage size is above average for an IEM; the width and height are spacious enough to not feel claustrophobic but not particularly expansive either, while the depth is more impressive to me in that there is actually noticeable space from front to back, something that is challenging for most IEMs to portray.
Instrument separation is mostly very clean, although the slightly loose midbass that I mentioned earlier can be intrusive and does result in some smearing of instruments at times. Transient response also has slight issues related to percussive hits as mentioned earlier, with some dullness in the attack of notes and longer decay in the midbass compared to IEMs with quicker dynamic woofers.
Resolution is very good in the grand scheme of things: low level details pop through nicely and the atmosphere of recordings comes across clearly. Once again, the lackluster dynamic woofer is the bottleneck here, with midbass texture/detailing falling short compared to that of other frequency ranges.
This review was difficult for me to write in the sense that the Clairvoyance has so much going for it, yet for me, the nitpicks that are not annoying in isolation add up to a listening experience that just falls short of something great. An appropriate analogy here is a marathon runner who has run the first 26 miles well, only to start to stumble in the last 0.2 miles of the race: an admirable performance overall, but not without its flaws.
For some, the Clairvoyance could very well be their endgame. With excellent tonality and capable technical performance, it is certainly a very compelling option in its price bracket. Unfortunately for this reviewer, the Clairvoyance will not be the end of my search. Perhaps it is merely the perfectionist in me chasing for something greater all the time that has come through in this review. Like the marathon runner, I keep on moving forward, because ultimately the journey is its own reward.