av: Paradise found Thieaudio Monarch Mk II, Schitt Audio Vali 2+, Modi+, Shure TW2, Moondrop VARIATIONS

Ok, in the adventures of being a dance look alike, I ended up wanting a great set of in-ear monitors. Many people are not sure about Crinacle, but I have to say his sound tastes are close to mine. I’m not a bass-heavy kind of person and am trying to protect my high-end hearing (still have some)!

So first I tried the Moondrop Variations ($520 at Amazon) and I have to say they are phenomenal. My reference set. has been the Sennheiser HD-650 ($300 at Amazon) and the Etymotic ER-4P. I still love the Sennheiser and wish I had it. not lost my ER-4Ps, but I have to say the time has moved forward.

Moondrop VARIATIONS with Shure Aonic TW2 (minus Keychron Q2 Max bluetooth)

First, the Moondrop Variations are terrific. I’ve been using them with my Qudelix 5K ($110 Amazon), the iBasso DC6, and the Moondrop littleWHITE (Amazon for $79), and the sound has been balanced and great. They aren’t noise canceling, but with the latest ear tips, they are as good as an Apple AirPod Pro (I compared it with my AirPod Pro 2 on a flight).

But, they’ve never been that convenient. The Qudelix is awesome, but the wire is hard to manage if you are moving around and I almost lost the Qudelix twice. So I’ve been watching the Shure Aonic TW2 which is a behind-the-ear adapter, but at $190, it just seemed too much. Well, the price just fell to $170 and suddenly it seemed at least worth trying.

It is a little. hard to figure completely how to use it without a manual (why don’t they implement output to tell you what to do). However, if you load the Shure Play application on your phone, it makes it a little clearer, the short answer is that the charging box is quite clever. Sort of a hockey puck-sized holder (vs the tiny matchbox that is the AirPod 2), but it has a USB C connector and an MMX connector, so you need an MMX female to 4-pin female adapter (which costs an amazing $26 on Amazon!).

The biggest incompatibility has been with the Keychron Q2 Max in Bluetooth mode. When they are both connected to my Mac, I get stuttering and buffering issues. If I switch to the USB C connection or the dedicated 2.4GHz transmitter it works fine.

But I have to say the sound quality even at the lowly 44.1KHz that the MacBook Pro supports is great.

The hardest thing to figure out with the Shure RMCE-TW2 is how to use the controls. It’s not super intuitive:

  1. When you pull them out of their charging case, they should go on and you will see a blue light and red light turn on to indicate it is in pairing mode. This thing is tiny and you have to check for both the left and right side.
  2. To power it on, you just press and hold the button until you hear it say, “Pairing mode”. Power off is the same long press the buttons and it will turn them off.
  3. When you want to pair it turn it off with the long press, then press this and hold. The pairing seems to work well (to my relief the iPhone and my MacBook).
  4. If you quickly press the button twice then it changes to environment and regular mode. Environment mode means that the microphone on the TWS2 feeds back into the in-ear monitors so you don’t have to take them out to talk
  5. If you quick-press once on either side, it starts and stops the audio.
  6. It does have a microphone in the TWS itself and this works decently in a quiet room.
  7. If you want to bring the volume up, it is a quick press and hold the button on the right ear. To turn it down, it is quick to press the button on the left and then press and hold.
  8. I never use it, but three quick presses give you the voice assistant of your choice (you can select that from the mobile Shure PLAY application

In terms of earplugs, I tried the Spinfit but found that I would lose it when I stuck in my ear. Hard to get out! I ended up using the Contour T-600 which is foam and doesn’t have this problem. It’s too bad because the Spinfit with its dual hard rubber and soft works well.

Thieaudio Monarch Mk II and Schitt Audio Modi+ and with SoundSource

OK, I admit it, once I had the Crinacle A-rated Moondrop VARIATIONS, I couldn’t help but wonder what a true S-class audio experience is like, so I plopped down for the Thieaudio Monarch Mk II. I have to say the difference is subtle, but it is pretty amazing how good this sounds particularly when driven by the Schitt Modi+ which is a small tube amplifier. And with the MacBook and SoundSource, you can get 192Khz/24-bit audio.

Truthfully, I don’t know if this is that different in blind testing as I know what I’m using, but it is pretty amazing, the amount of subtle attack particularly in the trebles you can hear (assuming of course you’ve been protecting your ears and haven’t lost the 16kHz sensors in your ears).

The Schitt Audio Modi+ dedicated DAC and then I hooked it up with a Schitt Vali, which is an inexpensive tube amplifier. The main thing about this is that I had to find some high-quality RCA cables but it works like a charm. I’ve used the Schitt Magni as a combo DAC and amplifier and this little two stack works just as well.

The other addition is SoundSource which gives equalization for this to make it flat. I did find that it makes very little difference for the Thieaudio as it is so natively flat but the detail at the high end is incredible.

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