Pros: Great mid range clarity, nice big sound stage, nice prat, nice quick detailed bass
Cons: would have liked to see more extension in the lows, can be sibilant with badly mastered music,
Pros: Great mid range clarity, nice big sound stage, nice prat, nice quick detailed bass
Cons: would have liked to see more extension in the lows, can be sibilant with badly mastered music,
Pros: Neutral. Beautifully smooth, delicately articulate. Control. Separation.
Cons: Not 'fun' to listen to. Initial listening extremely underwhelming.
Here are my very brief impressions after listening to this earphone for approximately 12 hours without burn in. Very early stages, I know.
Sampling artists I used include John Mayer, Katharine McPhee, Brooke Fraser, Kina Grannis.
Currently owned in-ears: Shure SE215 (3 years), Sennheiser IE8 (2 years), Logitech UE600 (2 years)
I purchased these in-ears as I had an increasing need for a neutral sounding set of ears which I can pair with a monitoring pack while positioning microphones for live gigs.
This in-earphone will definitely not wow at first listen.
But they will provide endless insight into the music.
My ears are extremely picky with silicone tips and I couldn't get anything other than the foam tips to sit comfortably.
The strength of this earphone in this area is definitely contributed by the lack of any emphasis in area. You'll notice that this is generally what I'm going to say in every frequency region.
There's nothing in the sound that adds to the dynamics of a song and brings those instruments in and makes them more audibly present. This helps with both separation and space.
Layers of instruments aren't blended together even with similar frequency signatures. Orchestral sections are so well separated and placed that it makes conducting seem like an easy task to do blindfolded.
Lows: (Sub-bass to 200Hz)
Deep and extensive. Not immersive.
John Mayer's 'Belief' and 'Slow Dancing In A Burning Room'
There is no 60-80Hz punch like the Shures, or mid bass hump that veils the mids (IE8).
Kick drums and bass guitars have space and distance, something I find the Sennheiser IE8s didn't do very well and the 215's place right inside your skull.
Orchestras are not warm and lush as with the IE8s which seem to place classical genres in a medium sized, musty, ornate concert hall with lots of velvet and wood.
Nowhere near as warm or upfront as the Shures.
The snare in John Mayer's 'Belief' doesn't crack explosively with a 4KHz peak. Which is a good thing for me.
The snare is just sits about 8 meters away on a carpet in a bright room. It doesn't lack thickness, resonance or clarity but is relaxed and controlled.
The articulation of highs is incredible.
Sibilance is there when it is present in recordings. It's easily noticeable, but rarely ever harsh.
There is no shimmery high 12KHz peak.
Blues (The trumpet-playing cigar room type)
Genres not recommended with the Noble 4:
Full Band Rock
These are my impressions after my first extended listen.
Dug up and dusted off my PA2v2 portable amp which is well known for it's dynamic-adding definitely-not-flat properties.
It might be just batteries running low but the amount of noise from the amp is quite horrendous.
It gives driving, heavy genres more 'life' and punch, but loses the wonderful neutral composure.
If I had to rate the pairing, I'd give the pair a 70% match score.
Pros: Flat, transparent signature
Cons: Not enough bass for severe bassheads
Pros: Great mids, good soundstage (for an IEM), good detail retrieval, natural timbre
Cons: Harsh treble, somewhat dry female vocals, slightly rolled-off sub-bass
What's In The Box?
The cardboard box itself is a cute little deal, with the Noble logo and the Wizard's signature. On the top left, the model and serial number are handwritten (apparently I'm the 395th person to bother with these), and the box is sealed with a sticker that tells you not to accept them if it's broken. When I got mine, it was already open, but since I got it straight from Moon Audio, I didn't worry about it. Inside, the carrying case, with everything else inside, is wrapped in a paper sleeve, which also has the logo on it. It's definitely a heavy duty case; there's foam lining on the inside that'll protect the IEMs from drops, the latch is very secure, and it has a hole for a small lock. There are also bits on the side, so you can attach the case to a cord or belt. While it might be good for an actual musician on the road, it's a bit much for your average consumer. The case is way too big for all except the biggest pockets, and the latch is a bit too difficult to open to be comfortable. While it's nice to have, it generally stays in my backpack, and my IEMs in my coat pocket.
Attached to the IEMs is a black stock cable, 4' in length, terminated in a 1/4" gold-plated TRS plug. The cable itself consists of four braided wires, each sheathed in black plastic. The left and ground and right and ground wires are twisted together separately, and then the resulting two cables are twisted together. These two cables separate at the Y, which is taken care of by a short piece of clear tubing heatshrinked over it. Another short piece of clear tubing is left unshrunk for use as an adjustment, but since the Y is only about a foot below the IEMs, I leave it at the Y. At the ends, the cables are heat shrunk with clear tubing along with a stiff memory wire. In theory, it stiffens up the end so that you can put the cable over your ears, reducing microphonics and putting little to no force on your IEMs. That's great and all, but when I wear glasses, the two will squeak as they rub against each other until they settle down and stay in one place. Aside from this, the cable is more microphonic than I'd like, but acceptable. The cable is really flexible, and is overall one of the better cables I've ever used.
Four different sets of tips are included:
SML silicone tips, blue colored center tube - these are pretty good; it fit my left ear perfectly, but not my right
SML silicone tips, thinner flange, red tube - useless unless you mod them by putting some foam beneath the flange
SML bi-flange tips, black - alright; they're what I'm using now
SML foam tips, black, no tube - garbage
Overall, I expected better. Presumably, this is the exact same set that comes with the Kaiser 10U. A $1000 IEM, and it comes with mediocre tips in only three sizes?
Three large Noble logo stickers came in mine. Not the name or sig, just the crown logo in white, ready to be attached to your laptop, notebook, cat, etc. Great if you want to simultaneously confuse non-audiophiles and make audiophiles in your proximity aware of the fact that you currently have several hundred dollars-worth of audio equipment on your person.
A small earwax brush/scraper is included, great for the occasional cleaning that they need.
Lastly, a small card where you can put down your personal info that you can keep in your case in case it gets lost. A thoughtful touch.
The build quality is great. The back cover, complete with crown logo, is held on by three small screws, and I really just don't see it coming off. It may be too early to say, but they definitely seem built to last.
My one complaint is that they're HUGE. They fill up the entire concha of the ear. Just going by pictures, the Westone W40 seems tiny by comparison, with the same number of drivers. This isn't a huge deal now, but for the first week or so, I was struggling to figure out how to insert these, and I had a callus or scar on the ridge above th helix from all the rubbing for a while afterwards. They've definitely caused me the most pain of any headphones I've used.
Before I get into the sound too much, I wanna talk about tips. I'm sure this isn't unique to the Noble 4, but your tip selection is going to make a huge difference on the sound. I started with the stock blue silicone tips, but found that the bass was severely lacking. Pretty soon, I figured out that I wasn't getting a seal in the right ear. For someone else for whom the tips work, these blue tips might be the only tips they ever need, since my left ear sounded pretty good, but I needed to experiment. After trying a few different things, my next notable attempt was using the red tips and a Sugru mod: http://sugru.com/guides/how-to-make-a-neat-and-easy-custom-fit-earbud-in-ear-monitors. These fit great, but came with a couple of side effects. First, the bass was now overbearing, to the point of bleeding into low mids, and wasn't as precise as it was before. Second, even after trying a few different times, they were just too uncomfortable for regular use. After all this, I tried the 500 series Comply tips, which sounded great. Personally, I used the TX-500, since isolation is a bigger concern for me, and the wax guard gives me a little piece of mind. Using a large tip on the right side and a medium on the left does the trick for me. Also, I cut off the part of the foam that extends past the end of the tube, to prevent the tip from folding over the hole when I insert. I wasn't satisfied with this, though, since I prefer silicone over foam. Next, I used UE 900 tips; they're a little more elastic that the stock tips and have intermediate sizes, so they worked pretty well. Still had some minor fit problems, though. Currently, I'm using the large stock double-flange tips. While they initially felt like they didn't fit right, the sound assured me that they seal just fine.
To summarize, I can recommend the stock blue single-flange tips, UE 900 tips, stock double-flange tips, and 500-series Comply tips, depending on your ears and your preferences.
These impressions will be given using the stock double-flange tips, and using the Fiio X5 as the source.
Bass: The bass response is fairly neutral, maybe leaning towards bass-light. As far as quality, it's very good with texture and detail, and surprisingly, impact. Despite being an IEM, something about the quickness and the texture of the bass makes the bass very realistic, especially bass guitar and drum. That said, the Noble 4 wouldn't be my first recommendation for a basshead. The bass does begin to roll off slightly around 50 Hz, and decreases linearly. This is fine for traditional rock, classical, et cetera, but might make electronica suffer. Personally, I don't equalize the bass, but some might prefer a 2 dB bass boost, along with a more dramatic boost in the sub-bass region.
Mids: Mids are the Noble 4's strong point. I don't think the mids are accentuated as far as frequency response is concerned. Instead, the clarity and subsequent instrument separation make classical, jazz, rock, and vocals very realistic. Further, the accentuated treble (more on that in a bit) brings out a lot of the little details in live instruments and vocals, though you might call this an "artificial clarity". Personally, I'm most impressed with the timbre of male vocals, brass, and guitar. When I listen to Tom Harell, my eyes (and a slightly compressed soundstage) are the only things telling me that he's not giving me a private performance. Electric guitars just seem to sing to me, and every detail jumps out. And, for better or worse, I feel like I'm intimately familiar with every square centimeter of the inside of William Shatner's throat. That's not to say that female vocals or upper mids are bad, though. I'm actually very happy with instrumental upper mids, but I do take some issue with female vocals. I'm not sure why, but female vocals just sound a little dry in comparison to male vocals. Same goes for flute, but to a lesser extent. Take this with a grain of salt, since I don't listen to a huge variety of female vocals or flute, so maybe my source material sucks, or I'm just not used to the sound of female vocals. Plus, the level of nitpicking I'm doing could easily be accounted for by the placebo effect.
Treble: At first, I thought I just wasn't used to the treble, since I was coming from warmer headphones, but now I'm convinced that the treble on the Noble 4 is definitely accentuated. Cymbals and hard percussion jump out in any recording, and guitars and similar instruments have a little extra sparkle. I have no problems with the quality of the treble, though I can't say I'm sure what good or bad treble sounds like. A big issue with this, which I believe is related, is sibilance. There's tons of it. I think it has to do with the mastering of the recording; on Calle 13's 'Multi_Viral' (a free song they released), nearly every 's' is sibilant, but on nicer recordings (like Dr. Chesky stuff) it's not an issue. In the end, most of my vocal music winds up being at least slightly sibilant, but I'm not sure if I should blame the Noble 4 or my recordings. Besides the sibilance, I think that this treble does add some clarity to the mids, but may also be involved with the dryness of the female vocals. Unfortunately, I'm not enough of an EQ whiz to know how to equalize down the treble without losing the sparkle and clarity they give, so I leave it alone.
Miscellaneous: The soundstage is good, but not great. Basically, if there were an imaginary line going through both of my ears, every instrument would be on that line. Instruments that should be forward just wind up being in my head. That said, instruments to the sides can wind up being very far, and the location is nice and detailed. Further, what the Noble 4 lacks in soundstage it makes up with oodles of instrument separation and clarity. It's very easy to pick apart the instruments, making large jazz groups like Snarky Puppy a joy.
Final Verdict - 7.5/10
It's hard to say how these stack up to competitors without having listened to them, so I'll judge the Noble 4 in a vacuum. I would say that if you're a treble-head, listen only to live recordings, or recordings that feature male vocals and instrumentals, these are a very strong contender. Further, if they were priced at $350, I would recommend these to everyone. However, given the problems of tips, sub-bass, female vocals, and treble at a $450 price tag, I have a problem believing that they blast the Etymotic ER4P and Westone W30/W40 out of the water. They're by no means bad headphones, though, and I plan on keeping mine for a long, long time.
Pros: Uncolored, natural presentation, soundstage realism, dynamic integrity, clarity, no real weaknesses at all.
Cons: Might not be well-suited for use with headwear, sticks out slightly from your ear, no included shirt clip.
IEMs I own and have used extensively before: Vsonic GR07 (single dynamic), Vsonic VC1000 (dual BA), Etymotic HF5 (single BA) (all around or slightly above $100).
Fit and Comfort
The housings were smaller than I was expecting, very light-weight. The cable closest to the housing has a metal wire that you can bend to your desired shape around your ear. The IEMs are not ventilated, so can create a vaccuum feel in your ears with some tips. I am sensitive to this though and it did not bother me with these IEMs. Depth of insertion can be quite shallow if desired, no need to shove them in deep to get a good sound.
Wearing a hat over them might put uncomfortable pressure on the housing into your ear. I tend to use mine only at home, and my GR07 are my on-the-move IEM, with smaller housing, and an angled plug for mobile use.
Very good feeling cable. Feels very strong (supposedly is very strong), virtually no memory at all, won't tangle easily, terminates in straight metal-covered 3.5mm jack. No shirt clip included, I was able to get the wire over an old Soundmagic shirt clip (wire is 4 smaller wires braided, with some careful manouvering you can get 2 or more wires over even smaller shirt clips). Shirt cinch exists, a transparent plastic tube that can be slid up and down.
Overall Frequency Response
Very very neutral. You can make some slightly adjustments depending on tip choice. Lowest bass is represented, but slightly rolled off in terms of volume. From mid-bass up they are very neutral sounding across the range. Nothing pokes out, nothing dips down. Very well balanced, I would not hesitate to do critical listening with these.
Quality is great, very textured and fast decay as per usual with BA drivers. Midbass is capable of rough "hard" texture and rumble with good attack when called for. Bass rarely takes centre stage in terms of volume, is mostly fills in underneath the mids and treble in a quite airy, layered way, surprisingly spacious and "stereo" at times. For most acoustic and orchestral stuff I feel the bass amount of pretty much spot on for creating a realistic presentation without overly emphasising the bass. For most orchestral stuff again, bass perfectly fills out the lower midrange and can provide a great sense of body and depth to sounds, but it's always in moderation and with a sense of slight shyness.
Very very good. The decay and clarity in the midrange is one of the highlights of the Noble 4 Universal. Quite present midrange, with superb dynamic integrity and transparency. Moments in soundtracks in films where the orchestra calls for sudden stabs of brass or strings really do jump out with body and weight.
Very detailed and transparent aswell, very natural extension from the mids. They can provide a slight textured bite in lower and high treble when called for, however are also capable of very realistic, natural, presentation. Despite the neutral frequency response, they render distorted guitars with very good crisp texture when called for. Can be aggressive or smooth on the surface depending on material. Very versatile.
Excellent dynamics with a very clear, fast feel across the range. Compared to the Vsonic GR07 the Noble 4U has much superior texturing, speed and layering in the mids and lower mids and bass, and the precision and capability both in soft, distant sounds and snappy, loud close-proximity sounds is very lifelike and impressive and adds to the effortless depth. I did notice when first using the Noble 4U that the treble texture and overall slightly dry and scratchy "feel" on metal music really reminded me of the GR07, but without the uneven frequency emphasis of the GR07.
The soundstage (or the integrity of low-level details that help create a sense of room, size and space) of the Noble 4U are capable of is impressively natural, layered and very, very convincing. It has none of the slightly cramped or diffuse depth of the GR07, VC1000 or the Etymotic HF5. It can sound very wide, very deep and very convincing if the material calls for it. Compared to the 3 IEMs I just listed, the Noble 4U is the only one where it will genuinely sound like you are in the space the music presents. The cohesion of the stereo field from left to right is superb, and the excellent clarity and speed makes it very, very transparent. By that I mean, when listening to the Noble 4U, if a song is presenting you a big orchestral room, you can clearly "see" all the way to the back of the room, nothing obscuring subtle reflections or nuances in sounds. The GR07, VC1000 or Etymotic HF5 all feel like there's a slightly layer of smoke in the room, and while you can make out what the room looks like when you listen to them, you generally only see clearly the sound that is closer to you.
In short, the presentation of the smallest of nuances in ambience, even when the musical passage is blasting brass or other richly textured sound, is very clear, and you feel and hear so many layers into the distance.
Couple this with the dynamics across their range, and they really are great at presenting at immersing you in orchestral and acoustic recordings where the room sounds are featured more prominently. You can close your eyes and just completely be in that space, the neutral FR further helping a very convincing presentation with no unnatural frequency spikes or dips or an overly prominent bass or treble.
There seems to be no noticable phase issues creating an articial sense of space either. For metal material the sense of cohesion in attack and centre stage is superb, no diffusion really noticeable.
The Noble 4U is a very neutral IEM, impressively so, no area feels emphasised, they don't sound bassy, bright, or overly midrange-focused.
The entire frequency range has immense clarity and ability to create an open, spacious feeling to the sides, in front and even above you. Dynamics are very natural and orchestral material can sound very lifelike and 3-dimensional, both in how the room extends out, and how the instruments will jump out at you when called for. Surface texture can be aggressive when called for thanks to good attack and decay, making metal and other music satisfyingly aggressive sounding.
Perceived cohesion in sound from bass through treble is very good.
The way they very faithfully reproduce the material played without any real coloring is their absolutely strongest attribute. you can be playing songs where you are enjoying the sound, but you might not be impressed. Then you switch to a song where the recording is focused on reproducing the room it was recorded in, and suddenly you realize/remember the capability of the Noble 4U. This is one IEM where once you play something that shows what they can do, you will start aiming to find material and music that has those aspects for the Noble 4U to reproduce. I find myself playing specific songs over and over just because of how well they are recorded and how utterly convincingly it feels like I have a guy 3 feet to my right playing a steel-stringed guitar in a small-ish room.
Overall, I personally consider the Noble 4U to be an extremely satisfying, refined, mature upgrade from the Vsonic GR07, Vsonic VC1000 or the Etymotic HF5. Compared to all these, the Noble 4U is impressively more capable in all areas of their sound, where the others in comparison have very noticeable "deficiencies" in either perceived soundstage, frequency response linearity, or areas of their FR where their drivers are not able to reach nearly the level of clarity or dynamic integrity of the Noble 4U.
I fail to find any weaknesses in their sound whatsoever, subjective or objective. These are spectacularly transparent, neutral, natural, impressive-sounding IEMs.
Pros: Clean sounding, fast, relatively large soundstage for IEM
Cons: Mids too aggressive, no bass
Use with AK240, iPhone 6 plus, Macbook
Very minimalistic and functional packaging. Gives off a premium vibe instantly.
Extremely good cable. Body plastic material feels a little bit cheap.
Very light, with the right tip you feel nothing when wearing for extended amount of time.
Sparkling treble, sometimes with somewhat emphasized sibilance.
Very clear, however very thin sounding. Sometimes too dominant.
Very lean bass, not punchy. Some genres unlistenable.
Soundstage and imaging 6/10
Good soundstage for an IEM because of it's treble presentation. Imaging however is confused.
This is a nice earphone for daily use when you are out and about. I think it's slightly overpriced.