Review written by Jake Cheriff
Review sample provided on loan for evaluation by headphones.com
Before about a year ago, it had never occurred to me that people had any use for IEMs (in-ear-monitors) besides musicians performing on stage using them for monitoring purposes. Until then, my only experience with IEMs was limited to my Shure SE215’s which I would never choose for casual or critical listening over any of the other full-sized headphones in my collection. The SE215 sounds dull and they’re not exactly comfortable. On stage, however, the Shures were a huge game changer. The difference between monitoring via a stage wedge - the kind of speaker that rests on the stage floor and points up towards a performer - and monitoring via in-ear-monitors is monumental - the first show I played using IEMs for monitoring was a revelation. I could hear myself and my band in glorious detail that previously seemed impossible. It was only recently, however, that I experienced IEMs that would be worthwhile in other settings. The Oracle is one such IEM.
Conventional wisdom on r/headphones and other forums like headphones.com is such that the best open-back headphone will outclass the best IEM at a given price and that rings true in my experience. But there are some settings in which open-back headphones are not exactly appropriate. In fact, open-back headphones are not ideal in most settings. Noisy environments, close quarters with roommates/partners, and on-the-go listening situations all demand headphones that have good isolation and portability. IEMs excel in both of these departments.
But what about Airpods?
I love my AirPods Pro. The wireless convenience is simply unbeatable. The active noise cancelation is superb. The ‘transparency’ feature is brilliant. It’s no surprise that Apple sold over 100 million AirPods in 2020. But the sound quality of Airpods/AirPods Pro simply doesn’t hold a candle to the THIEAUDIO Oracle . In fact, the sound quality of AirPods/AirPods Pro doesn’t hold a candle to the Moondrop Blessing2:Dusk which is less than half the price of the Oracle . I use my Airpods Pro every day to listen to things like podcasts and news but when one of my favorite artists releases a new record, I’m not going to reach for AirPods to experience it for the first time. That, to me, would be like watching the new Dune movie on an iPhone. You’ll get the point, but you’ll be missing quite a lot. Recorded music, when it’s produced competently, simply has more potential to move, to inspire, and to restore us than AirPods are capable of relaying. The THIEAUDIO Oracle is another story.
I have mixed feelings about the case. It seems like an appropriately secure case for something that’s going to go inside my ears on a regular basis. It’s like a tiny little pelican flight case. The problem I have with the case is that it looks like it’s clear but it’s actually opaque due to the dark soft squishy material inside the top. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s a little annoying that there’s no way to know if the IEMs are inside or not without opening the case - especially because it looks like it would be a clear case. Schrödinger's Oracle…
I absolutely love the fact that they ship these, when purchased with the 2.5mm balanced option, with adapters for both 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced. I wish this was standard protocol. Hats off to THIEAUDIO!
If the choice is between having nothing in my ears and having the Oracles in my ears - I’d choose nothing. That said, the Oracle is far less offensive to my ears than the Blessing 2:Dusk which I typically can’t keep in my ears for much longer than a single LP. The Oracle is about on par with the U12t in terms of comfort inside the ear canal but the Oracle is actually less awkward, in my opinion, in the way that it’s shape conforms to the ears exterior.
- iPhone - Hidisz S9
- MacBook - Motu M2
While the sub bass isn’t the punchiest I’ve heard, it does sound nice and confident right down to the lowest sub frequencies. The low end sounds superbly even and accurate compared to most other headphones I’ve heard which either start to roll off under 100 Hz or emphasize one octave more than another. The Oracle’s low end is also rich with detail - it’s easy to hear where a kick drum ends and a bass guitar begins even when their fundamental frequencies are close together or overlapping. Listening to “Great White Way” by Do Nothing, the bass guitar sounds especially articulate despite the song’s complicated and detail-rich arrangement. Listening to “Fall Into a Dream” by Foxwarren, the low end hits considerably harder on the Moondrop Blessing2:Dusk but the Oracle does a much better job articulating the low end’s dynamic nuances and harmonic details. On the U12t , the bass slams a little harder but in terms of bass quantity, it sounds a little overkill for the song. One time I went to see Andy Shauf (lead singer of the band Foxwarren) play at a venue in New Jersey and whoever was mixing the show did not understand the assignment. Andy Shauf’s rhythm section, recorded and live, is extremely quiet and delicate. Whoever was mixing the show made the bass and kick so loud and thunderous that it ruined the whole show for me. The U12t has a similar effect on “Fall Into a Dream” albeit much less severe.
The mids are also phenomenal. Compared to the much more expensive and esteemed 64 Audio U12t , the mids sound more forward and intense. While the reference leaning 3 kHz region makes for a less forgiving listening experience (than the U12t), I much prefer the accuracy and intensity of the Oracle on most of my reference tracks. Listening to “So Good” by French Cassettes, I much prefer the more forward vocals on the Oracle compared to the more subdued - almost buried vocals of the U12t .
The Blessing 2:Dusk has mids tuned almost identically to the Oracle which makes it easy to hear just how much more resolving the mids are on the Oracle - especially the low mids. Listening to “House of Cards” by Radiohead, the vocal reverb, the guitar, the bass, and the kick are all more homogenous and less distinct where they meet/overlap in the low mids on the Dusk compared to the Oracle which does a fantastic job at keeping each instrument detached and rich with detail.
THIEAUDIO claims that “…The Oracle was designed with professional studio use in mind, and is tuned as proper monitors. The mid frequencies are ruler flat to bring about a neutral reproduction of instruments and vocals that is uncolored.” I’m happy to report that I think they nailed it!
The treble tuning also sounds great to my ears. Compared to the U12t , the treble is much less detailed and nuanced on the Oracle . The opposite is true compared to the Dusk which sounds like much more of a blunt instrument in the way that it reproduces (or fails to reproduce) treble details. Listening to “Doomsday” by Mini Trees, the Oracle struggles to reproduce all of the track’s dense upper treble details in the guitars, synths, and vocal harmonies - at least to the level of the U12t . Compared to the Dusk however, the Oracle sounds pristine. The Dusk still manages to pull off a compelling and musical execution of the song with a punchy low end and phenomenal tuning, but the Oracle sounds far more natural and detailed. The cymbals and other percussive elements sound especially artificial on the Dusk compared to the Oracle .
The soundstage of the Oracle , to my ears, is more intimate than spacious. Compared to my open-back headphone collection, the Oracle obviously sounds more closed in and narrow. The sense of depth, however, is fantastic. Listening to ”Lonely Days” by Sam Evian, the Oracle doesn’t really stand a chance in terms of width and height compared to an open-back over-ear headphone like the HiFiMan Sundara. But in terms of depth and imaging, I’d say the Oracle is right up there with the Sundara. Listening to “Smaller Now” by Margaux, I love how the horns on the Oracle sit back, growling and churning behind Margaux’s vocals. Switching to the Dusk, there’s much less sense of a Z-axis of sound. Switching to the U12t , elements like the horns are much more spread out. I actually prefer the way that the Oracle handles the sense of space on “Smaller Now.” I think that the Oracle’s more intimate and compiled presentation makes the mix sound more cohesive than it does on the more open sounding U12t . On other tracks like “The Number Thirteen” by Louis Prince, the U12t’s expansive soundstage is a real treat compared to the more straight-ahead presentation of the Oracle.
My main job is music production. I’ve been using headphones as my primary mixing/mastering reference in the studio since I purchased a pair of Focal Clears in early 2020. Before that I would switch back and forth between a pair of Neumann KH120 speakers and Sennheiser HD 6XX headphones, zeroing in on a final mix that would rarely translate properly to other playback devices like car speakers, AirPods, and bluetooth speakers. I found, pretty much immediately, that mixes done on the Focal headphones would translate to other sources with far more consistency than mixes done via the Neumanns or Sennheisers. The Focal’s superb tonal balance, impressive dynamic capabilities, and rich detail resolution sound, to me, like a cleaner window into the mix and all of its individual elements.
Since then, I’ve experimented with various different headphones to see how they measure up as a studio tool. The THIEAUDIO Oracle is one of the only other headphones/earphones that I’ve found with a competitively balanced frequency response - so balanced that I feel confident listening to mixes and making notes for future revisions. For the actual task of mixing, however, I’ve found IEMs in general to be a non-starter due to their inherent passive noise cancelation. Being plunged into intense artificial silence every time I press pause or render audio makes the music production process particularly unpleasant. I also find the feeling of fullness in my ears from IEMs significantly more fatiguing than wearing open-back headphones like the Focal Clear.
As a mix engineer and performer, I think that the Oracle is a very compelling product. The fact that you can have an IEM that’s as detailed as something like a HiFiMan Sundara, but as efficient and convenient as earbuds is a very exciting value proposition. I would not hesitate to use the Oracle as a reference tool due to it’s remarkably agreeable tonality. To mix a record from start to finish, I’d prefer to use something that has a better sense of macrodynamics and soundstage than the Oracle has. If I have the option to use headphones instead of IEMs, I’ll pretty much always choose headphones because I’d rather not have anything in my ears. But I’ve been bringing the Oracles around New York City with me for a week or two now and having that kind of listening experience available on the move - walking around, working at a cafe, taking the subway - has been really neat. The passive noise cancelation inherent to the Oracle’s IEM design ended up causing me too much anxiety walking around my Brooklyn neighborhood due to drivers and bikers with their avant-garde adherence to traffic laws. Your mileage may vary. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to new records by Sam Evian, Hand Habits, and Toth in transit and away from my studio this week. I also enjoyed listening to music while my partner edited videos in the same room - something that doesn’t always go over well with open-back cans. The THIEAUDIO Oracle , in my opinion, is a fantastic option for anyone seeking an elevated listening experience on the go or in less than ideal listening settings.