Pros: Clarity, refined and exciting bass, imaging, versatility
Cons: vertical cable jack, somewhat ineffective tips
Firstly, I'll plagiarize an adage I see around this site often: “I am no audiophile," but I love critically listening to music and searching for the most enjoyable sound possible within my budget. After careful review of the competition in IEM's, I ordered these units. During their transit I received the most helpful reviews possible from member ih8tickets, who owns the Noble 3c. I echo many of his sentiments throughout the review. This is one of my first reviews and I'm completely upfront with admitting my complete ignorance to a lot of technical terms I see thrown around here, but I’ll do my best with describing what I hear. Without further ado, I’ll follow a generic packaging/build/isolation/sound format for reviewing the Noble3U. I rate these aspects on a 1-10 scale with a price-to-quality ratio kept in mind. I drive the Noble3's with a fiio X1 with no eq and use FLAC/WAV files.
The Noble 3U is packaged in the same way all other Noble products are received.
Included are 4 sets of s/m/l sized tips. One set has red tubes, another with blue; the tips in the blue set have an odd horizontal strip of rubber within each tip and seem softer than those in the red set. I’ve since cut the horizontal strips. Also included are dual-flange and hybrid tip sets. My favorite part of the package is an Otterbox-esque carrying case for the headphones. It seems like there may not be enough room for them in the case, but when strategically placed I’ve never had a problem. The interior of the case is cushioned. Also included is the familiar soft carrying bag for IEM’s we often see. This one is one of the higher quality bags I’ve encountered. Finally, a cleaning tool and card of ownership is included, as well as two branded bands for “amp-clamp” use. Very nice of Noble to include these things. It makes me feel like I purchased a premium product rather than justifying sub-par packaging with the “entry-level” label. My only gripe may be that none of the tips seem to work as well as other recommended aftermarket tips (no problem here should the customs be purchased)
Not much to say here. As with the packaging, it is the same as other Noble Universal IEM’s, as far as I can tell. Wonderfully sturdy plastic is used for the housings and a tough, braded cable is used. The left/right housings are noted at the connector sites with blue/red dots marking each. As over-ear only phones, it’s hard to mix up which housing goes where. My only tiff with the build is that Noble decided to use a vertical cable-jack, meaning it doesn’t sit flush with any device…unfortunate, but by no means insufferable. I haven’t had a problem with this yet. The housings are quite light. The Noble logo on the exterior of each unit is nice, and the same goes for the three screws seen on the exterior – classy. I give an 8.5/10 because while the headphones are built with mastery they don’t seem to surpass the build of other headphones in the same league – they are slightly better than the ie80 for the cables alone. I would say the housings are about equal in durability, weight, and general appearance to the ie80.
I think the isolation of these units is superb and highly tip dependent, as with all universal IEM’s I’ve toured. They far surpass the ie80 and sit on par with the Shure SE215 or any IEM’s from the Monster Turbine series in isolation of outside noise. They isolate a bit better than the ATH im70 as well. They reduce about 80% of outside noise with a good seal, exactly the amount I would like while commuting. I like being able to hear (just slightly) the commotion around me when I need, for safety reasons.
The comfort is still a work in progress…I am still in the thick of “tip rolling” to find just the right fit. While I do prefer the blue tips, they tend to “squeak” out of my canals immediately after insertion and cease at a point that creates bass recession – this is such a common issue with IEM’s and a colossal motivator for many to throw down the coin for the customs. I’ve used Auvio tips as I use on the ie8/ie80, but these hurt my canals after a while. The best tips I’ve used so far are the Monster Supertips.
Sound quality: 9/10
A mostly neutral signature is present. Most tracks are reproduced with striking note presence and imaging. Those are the terms I would use to describe the signature in general: mostly-neutral with striking imaging. This model is ever-so-gently v-shaped. This headphone reproduces beautifully in all ranges (lows/mids/highs) with no overbearing strength in any category. Across the spectrum there is an apparent focus on clarity. If I had to say, I think there is a noticeable tilt to the warm side, but I should emphasize that it is a gentle tilt towards warmness at most.
I can’t imagine improvements here for the price bracket. Bass is entirely focused on low bass. No mid-bass issues here. It is quick and agile, as well as keenly textured. Decay is simply impressive for the quantity produced. Quantity is pretty accurate on the whole, but is decidedly more than what's absolute neutrality. While I will go on to say the rest of the sound range suffers from the purported “unnatural” sounding reproduction of balanced armature drivers the bass is unaffected and comes across as organic as can be. The detail here is truly notable. Bass hits are remarkably accurate in placement and depth. The bass is never overbearing, but boy is it fun as all heck. Drums sound awesome and decisive. When the track calls for it, the impact will SLAM. Attack and decay both are wonderfully canny. These will not satisfy proper bassheads and may be a smidge too much bass for AKG/Grado lovers, but a massive majority will be impressed here I think. Well done and well executed all across the low end.
The only thing I'd like to emphasize in my initial review is that these would not satisfy proper bassheads. With that said, I've answered a few on the site already with the example of my girlfriend, another music lover: she IS a proper basshead through and through, and fell in love with these units. She doesn't find the bass inadequate at all and prefers no eq through the fiio X1 (rather than my +2 at 62db). The Noble 3 has bass better described as concise, refined, and focused in lieu of "in da club" boom-boom bass. My greatest - and only - tiff with the bass is that it doesn't exhibit that "moving of air" quality epic bass will. *sigh* I attribute this entirely to the BA drivers. When is Noble throwing down the gauntlet with a hybrid?? :)
Mids are neither forward nor recessed. Everything is upfront and present, but I will say vocals and violins stand out most to me. On some tracks the mids sound aggressive to me. I think this is due to what I perceive as “striking” note presence. Across the entire mid spectrum, I can’t point out any obvious weaknesses. Separation in the mid-range is wonderful and concise, and I have never had this experience listening to in-ears before. Other IEM’s sound stuffy and congested, even far too laid back in comparison now. Guitars are the weak-point if I had to say…but not tinny at all, just a little “unnatural” sounding to me (perhaps because I am coming from the ie80’s). The imaging in this range is fantastic and has a focus on clarity. I’m still getting used to the balanced armatures in this range whereas I think I have a pretty good grasp on the lows and highs. I can’t quite say if mids are notably recessed even though I think the Noble3 is slightly v-shaped – this is to say that there is a barely noticeable v-shape to the signature. I do think the highs and lows are a tad more striking than the mids, but again, everything here is present and can be aggressive when needed to my ears. Clarity and separation is notable above other qualities in the mid-range.
Mids are pretty neutral to my ears, neither forward nor recessed. Simply present and beautiful, though highly dependent on track quality. Vocals often SHINE above other instruments. Definitely some weakness in note weight to my ears in this range (comparing to D2000/ie80), but this may be a biased opinion (as I generally prefer a warmer sound than the N3 offers). With that being said, I think it's impressive the N3 is so pleasing to my ears with that bias in mind - I love the mids being so striking and better separated in comparison to any other headphone I've tried.
The highs stretch and soar, though may fall short for some. There is no weakness here for me. I have never experienced highs sounding so clear and inoffensive. Till from Innerfidelity mentioned some top-end weakness in the highs, but I find them astounding. Never are they sibilant or painful, though some electronic tracks can come across as a bit sharp in the high-hats. Other than that, female vocals and higher notes in general are serene. They are not laid-back whatsoever and refuse to take a passive presence. High note awareness is something I am still getting used to as well coming from the ie80’s, but I find them refreshingly accurate and lively while staying sparkling and agreeable. I think most will be impressed as I am.
This is the most interesting part of reviewing these headphones for me. I think the soundstage of the Noble3U is relatively large and capable, and I can only compare them to the ie80 to describe my thoughts. While the ie80 is characterized by a sweeping, vast soundstage the Noble3 produces what the track offers – this is to say that if a song has odd sounding note-placement or congestion it is due to the track, not the phones. With tracks that call for that vast, airy, big-and-tall soundscape the Noble’s will deliver with ease. With that said, these are the most airy IEM’s I’ve tried, though I would venture to guess there are more airy IEM’s with flatter signatures out there. They sound as if they are wanna-be open-backed over-ears at times, particularly with movie scores or jazz music. It’s almost like there is no limit to how big they can sound, but a lot depends on the track and amp. I’d say their soundstage is about as large as the ie80’s when called for, but less consistent. I will say I’ve never been able to point out where notes are coming from so accurately, namely in placement and distance from me, with perceived distance expressed in the soundstage being remarkable. Very cool stuff.
I’m glad to have taken the plunge on these headphones. I am still getting in touch with everything they have to offer, and at this point I would rate them over the ie80 in technical abilities. I think Noble has created another winner here and a competitive universal in-ear monitor at its price-point. $50 less and this IEM would viciously compete with others in the same range. This is one to consider for those searching for a mostly-neutral IEM with brilliant clarity and striking imaging qualities along with a focus on highs on lows without the dreaded mid-recession. As far as balanced armatures are concerned, I can’t imagine a better entry for myself.
This unit seems pretty sensitive to me. On the fiio X1 I am never over 50/100. This headphone, as member ih8tickets let me know before my, is remarkably easy to drive, but benefits from proper sources. My droid Razr M is awful for driving the ie80s for some reason, but does a decent job when paired with the Nobles. However, moving to my laptop I very much notice a difference in quality, from good to notably better. Going from the lappy to the X1, everything is clearer, brighter, and with tighter bass quality. Bass texture improves greatly with better sourcing. It makes me think what a better source might do for me. I think these headphones are a worthy competitor in the pricerange, but shouldn't be considered a bass-heavy option; just a quality, bass-focused option. I still think the units are fairly priced though might benefit from a temporary sale of some sort to gain in popularity. Another reviewer noted they mimicked a "tf10 sort of sound" with better soundstage, clarity, separation, and imaging. So, sorry for yall's wallets. ;)