I've been out camping, away from civilization (ie, HeadFi) for a while. I come back and find all this drama played out about the review samples and how that process works. I posted this in my review thread, but I'll add it here since my name came up at one point:
Yes, I was provided the review units for free.
I hate to sound like some know-it-all "pro reviewer" here, but I have to explain a little about where I'm coming from. With the possible exception of Average Joe, I've probably purchased more custom IEMs than anyone on this forum. I've bought from almost every company out there except for the latest batch like Custom Art, Spiral Ear, etc. But all the rest of the big names (and some small names too) I've purchased from, sometimes more than once. Later on down the line, after doing tons of reviews and making a name for myself, I've received free review units from most of those brands as well. So does that make me biased towards any single company? You tell me.
Review units are common in the industry. You think Stereophile or TAS pays for the gear they review? Of course not. Once the review is complete, it's up to the company what they want done with the unit - many times it is shipped back, but there are other options - letting the reviewer buy at a discount, or keep the item outright, are a few of those options. I've only encountered one CIEM company among many who wanted their CIEM product back after the review. Which makes sense when you think about it.... the drivers are now considered "used", and there isn't much else that can be salvaged besides the cable (which is relatively cheap) and the accessories (often the case is engraved, so that can't be reused). Most companies hope you'll like the product and use it as a reference or somehow mention it in other reviews. I can tell you that pretty much every "pro" review of a CIEM you've ever seen has been the type where the reviewer kept the product, except for the one company I mentioned (which is not an amazingly common company so it doesn't really factor in greatly).
As a pro reviewer who gets paid to write for multiple publications, I can pretty much call or email any company I want (or their PR people) and get any gear I want for extended in-home use. Even if it doesn't involve a direct review, most of these companies want to get their stuff out there into the hands of reviewers. I'm not saying this to brag - on the contrary, I want people to know how this stuff works for me. It's the sort of thing where you look at gear in a different light. If you've ever had a job where you handled large sums of cash, you can maybe find a parallel there. It just doesn't have the same feeling as it once did. So a free review unit from Noble, rather than being the major influence that some people think, becomes just another task to complete; just another assignment so to speak.
As I write these reviews, I'm very aware that others will soon own the same product and will pop up in my review threads commenting about their experiences. My reputation stands (or falls) based on the accuracy of these reviews. I could wing it and just bang something out to make people buy the gear, but that wouldn't last long.... and I'd be out of a job soon enough. There's already enough honest disagreement with respect to sound - I certainly don't need to invite controversy by playing up gear that isn't really worthy of recommending.
Speaking of which - I probably decline 2 or 3 products for every 1 review that I do end up publishing. A lot of gear comes through here lately, and a lot of it either sucks or just isn't exceptional enough to bother writing about. This ratio is different for CIEMs but you should know that I've definitely declined to review some in the past.
And just in case anyone thinks I've let this stuff go to my head, and can no longer identify with the common man spending their own hard earned cash on gear - in the past year or so, out of my own pocket, I've purchased a Stax SR-007, Stax SRM-12S, beyerdynamic T1, Ultrasone Signature Pro, Auraliti PK90 music server with NuForce PSU and multiple G-Technology external hard drives, Sjofn HiFi (the clue) monitor speakers, an APC S15 power conditioner, Thunderpants planars.... and a ton of other stuff that escapes me right this moment. I'll probably buy the Alpha Dogs soon, and probably the Audeze LCD-XC as well. And I've got a KGSSHV being built so I'll be paying for that too. Oh, and tons of music, can't forget that. So despite the free gear that I sometimes end up with during the review process, I do spend a lot of my own cash on this stuff.
I hope that clears the air somewhat about my relationship to Noble and the way things work for me. I'm on friendly terms with Wizard but wouldn't hesitate to lay into his design if it was called for - or just refuse to review it all together. I don't know if people can accept it or not, but at this point I truly do feel "above" any influence by review samples, no matter which company we might be talking about.
I'm rather disappointed that you needed to post this after some of us have already stated your case and what's common with review samples but perhaps this will stop the rather odd onslaught. Doesn't make you right for a given individual's personal preferences but we should certainly consider you sincere in your observations. There's a reason that even professional reviewers don't agree on everything (seems almost anything anything sometimes) and it has to do with personal preference, associated kit etc. This could also be considered bias but nothing influenced by outside sources. The rest if up to the individual.
For instance, Joker tends to like a more analytical sig so his conclusion of the 8c may vary. Maybe not as it just a theoretical supposition but either way I'm rather confident he'd consider it a top choice as I'm sure you still do your previous choice in the range. Things that were ever genuinely good remain so regardless of what else may come along. It's not the competition some make it out to be. Just smart, dedicated people making the best things they can and it's great to have these choices.
That anyone would think they could get exactly what and everything they need to know from any one particular reviewer is probably asking too much. They need to chill, let more info come to bear if not yet satisfied and just let it go for now.