Disclosure: This particular set of Kaiser 10 is a review sample from Noble Audio.
It made some serious waves here at Head-Fi when Dr. Moulton, perhaps better known as “The Wizard”, as well as his entire staff parted ways with MDSP, the parent company of Heir Audio. MDSP announced that they would continue building Heir Audio products and selling them under the Heir name. Dr. Moulton and his staff remained quiet about their plans for the future… But nobody really expected them to just stop making (C)IEMs, did they? It turns out that The Wizard had more tricks up his sleeve. Along with his staff from Heir, he has formed Noble Audio. Noble is an American company, with production facilities (full blown lab) in China. Not to cut costs, mind you, but because his impressively skilled artists are there. I call them artists because “workers” doesn’t do them justice.
I own the phenomenal Heir Audio 8.A and I love them. When I want something a little (well, a lot) more analytical, I pull the Tzar 350 from my bag. The 8.A is an 8-driver monster and it was the Heir Audio top model. With thunderous bass, sweet mids and a treble that just keeps going, without getting sibilant, I couldn’t imagine anything better. That’s why I was honestly a bit sceptical when Dr. Moulton approached me and asked if I would like to review his latest creation, a 10-driver custom. Yes, ten BA drivers for each side.
With the 8.A being so good, and the hyper-detailed dual-driver Tzar 350, surely stuffing ten drivers into a CIEM could only be a marketing stunt, an attempt to cater to those that assume more = better. At first I dismissed the idea, thinking that The Wizard had finally lost it. But then my curiosity got the better of me - If he could make 8 drivers sound so good in the 8.A, what wonders would he be able to cook up with 10 drivers? I scheduled an appointment with my audiologist and shipped my impressions off to Dr. Moulton as soon as they were done.
When the package arrived, I was not prepared for the sight that met my eyes. It turned out that The Wizard had dictated the design to his padawan Kaiser Soze (Who this model is named after): “Amber shells, clear canals and make sure they’re dripping in gold”. Mr. Soze did not disappoint. Most people here on Head-Fi, at least those of us keeping an eye on the CIEM threads have seen some crazy Wizard designs, so while I was expecting something out of the ordinary, I was simply not ready for these. The amber shells seem to shift their color depending on how the light hits them, while showing off the drivers. The clear canals let you see the 3 sound tubes (mids, highs, lows) and the gold. Yeah, that’s 24K gold. Lots and lots of it. I think the gold alone could pay for a second set of IEMs! They really pulled all the stops with this set, I almost expected that I would find them a bit gaudy and over the top. Yet here I am, two months after first unpacking them and I still find myself just turning them around, letting the light hit the gold and acryllic, admiring the honestly insane level of craftsmanship that went into making these works of art. Dr. Moulton, if you read this then make sure Kaiser Soze gets a raise. Alas, the world is a cruel place! These deserve to be on display in a museum, but I’m afraid my ears will have to do. Why? Because honestly, they sound even better than they look.
Noble Kaiser 10 (left) with my Heir 8.A (right)
It turns out all those drivers aren’t just for show. These sound like nothing I have ever heard - although they do somehow remind me of my brief encounter with the mighty Stax SR009 - so let’s look at how the hardware is put to use. Starting from the bottom, I immediately spotted the two HUGE drivers responsible for the bass. I recognized them from my 8.A (my first 8.A build had a transparent shell) and Dr. Moulton has confirmed that they are indeed the same units as those in the 8.A, but tuned differently. Going by ear, I’d say he’s shifted the dial from “Crazy, but well controlled” to “Pure magic”. While not boosted like the 8.A, bass on the Kaiser 10 is amazing. Put on a track like James Blake’s version of “Limit To Your Love” and the mids and highs will carry you away through a dreamy soundscape, luring you into the illusion… then SLAM, the bass hits you out of nothing. Like running through a meadow, chasing butterflies in the afternoon sun, only to have one of those butterflies suddenly turn into Mike Tyson and punch you in the face. Oh these babies pack a punch, alright! With the 8.A, the bass is the star of the show. It never interferes with the mids, but it’s got a commanding presence and with rock and electro, the 8.A will have you grinning from ear to ear. The Kaiser 10 is tuned to be more neutral, but still capable of throwing those crazy punches - but only when called for. This means that they go as low as the 8.A and can hit you almost as hard as the 8.A, but with the Kaiser 10 you’ll never see it coming. If you consider yourself a basshead and you live and breathe dubstep, the 8.A might be a better choice, but the Kaiser 10 is right up there when it comes to bass.
The mids, oh the mids! This is where the Kaiser 10 really pulls away from the rest of the pack. There are 4 drivers assigned to this task - 2 of them are the ones responsible for the mids of the 8.A and then there are two more (different) drivers for handling “high mids”. The mids on the 8.A are good, but the Kaiser 10 is on another level completely. These 4 drivers in unison produces mids so beautiful that it actually hurts me that I can’t share the experience with anyone. The mids are forward without ever sounding artificially boosted and rest assured that you will hear every little single detail in the recording, but without the Kaiser 10 becoming as merciless as the Tzar 350. Yes, you can tell when it’s a bad recording, but sibilance doesn’t feel like daggers in your ear as the Tzar 350 sometimes do. Somehow Dr. Moulton struck a balance that sounds like the perfect mix of the 8.A, the Tzar 350 and the 4.Ai. Well-made vocal recordings will be giving you goosebumps. Close your eyes while listening to the acoustic version of “Tracy’s Flaw” and Deborah Skin will be sitting on your lap, singing only for you. Put on Rebecca Pidgeon and you’ll be instantly hooked. Male vocals are equally impressive and the sheer level of detail presented to you will have you enjoying not only the lyrics, but also the texture of the voice, the reverb of the stings and the sound of the room. This results in hands-down the best soundstage I have heard in any IEM, beating the 8.A. My favorite live album of all time, “Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet” by Fink, is an utter joy on the Kaiser 10 as it accurately communicates the size and type of the venue. If you don’t already own that album, go get it. It’s not perfect and that’s what makes it so good and so real - Some venues have better acoustics than others, some days the tech didn’t get the levels perfectly right. You can hear that on the album and that’s what makes it so great. The 8.A is very detailed as well, but it makes you work for it, makes you actively listen for those details. The Kaiser 10 just serves it all on a silver platter for you.
Treble is slightly brighter on the Kaiser 10 than on the 8.A, but like the 8.A it never gets harsh. Like the mids, the highs on the Kaiser 10 are handled by the same drivers as on the 8.A - plus two more “mystery” drivers for “higher highs”. This might sound like the Kaiser 10 is a shrill treble monster, but what is does is nothing like that at all. They go high, very high, but never shrill. Having two drivers for “lower highs” and another set for the “higher highs” ensures a very detailed performance all over the spectrum. I would have never thought that I would find myself enjoying the sound of a triangle fading away, not to mention being able to pick out that sound… You get that Tzar 350 level of clarity, but without the harshness.
Here you can see the drivers. In the right monitor you can clearly see the 4x2 regularly sized BA drivers responsible for those sweet mids and highs. On the left, however, you can see those enormous drivers (shared with the 8.A) responsible for that tight, deep impactful bass. No wonder these puppies can kick like a mule! Coming from dynamic driver bass (FS Atrio and UM Merlins) I was worried about if I would feel the bass from BA drivers like that from dynamic drivers… Those concerns were put to shame the first time I heard the 8.A play Take The Power Back and the Kaiser 10 is right up there as well, delivering that same visceral impact, although ever so slightly less of it than the 8.A.
“So, what’s the most impressive thing about the sound of the Kaiser 10? Bass, mids or highs?” Actually, it’s the way they come together. Yes, stuffing 10 drivers into a ciem is quite a feat but making them sound like one is far more impressive to me. I never think about having 10 BA drivers firing away in each of my ears, I just get lost in the music. Everything I throw at them just flows effortlessly into my brain. Rammstein? No problem. I get every single screeching detail from the guitars, every kick from the drum and Till’s vocals let me hear every single drop of spit flying from his lips as he barks the (surprisingly deep!) German lyrics at the poor defenseless microphone. Metallica? You’ll feel the drum hits and you can almost hear how smug Lars Ulrich looks. Andreya Triana? You’ll be drawn into the delicate soundscape while her soulful voice wraps around you, making you lean back in your chair and I’m pretty sure your blood pressure will drop a bit. Trentemøller? Better make sure the fillings in your teeth are properly seated or the bass will knock them loose - while the soundscape unfolds before you. Classical? Oh boy, you’re in for a treat!
These are immensely versatile headphones - The shortest description I can give would be “Dr. Moulton’s Greatest Hits”. It’s like he took the best parts of all his other designs and somehow poured them into one headphone. Sadly, this brings us to the only downside to these things: They’ll cost you almost as much as all those other headphones combined, clocking in at a cool $1600. If you want ONE headphone to rule them all, this is the kind of money you’ll end up spending. Buy The Best And Only Cry Once, as they say. Oh and remember to factor in the cost of ear impressions and shipping (not to mention the agonizing wait). And you’ll need a proper setup to feed these - Not that they demand absolute purity like the Tzar 350 or the HD800, but they definitely deserve it.
Update 10/10/13: Be sure to check out Kunlun's great review of the Kaiser 10 as well: http://www.head-fi.org/t/685225/review-noble-audio-kaiser-10-10-driver-custom-fit-in-ear-monitor
Albums I found particularly enjoyable with the Kaiser 10:
Fink - Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet + KCRW Presents: Fink In Session
Puscifer - Conditions of My Parole
Chesky Records - Open Your Ears
Porcupine Tree - Atlanta
Skunk Anansie - Wonderlustre (Tour Edition)
Soyeusement - Live In Noirlac
Rammstein - Liebe Ist Für Alle Da + Reise, Reise
Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine
Ane Brun - It All Starts With One
Agnes Obel - Aventine
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Daft Punk - Tron:Legacy R3C0NF1GUR3D
Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert
Hans Zimmer - The Dark Knight Rises O.S.T.
Les Paul And Friends - A Tribute To A Legend
Carina Round - Tigermending
Gear used with the Kaiser 10:
Heir Rendition 1
ODAC + O2
All files are flac, 16/44.1 to 24/192.
Edited by Sorensiim - 10/21/13 at 8:24am