Noble 4 (universal) Review
For the longest time, I have been longing for my very own "Reference" IEM mainly for the reason of having a standard point of reference in writing up reviews and comparisons of IEMs. In addition to that, each and every respectable reviewer and enthusiast at head-fi that I know has at least one or two "Reference" sounding monitor. I truly believe that having one will help me improve my work as an enthusiast because it'll increase the consistency in my descriptions or impressions especially when comparing different sounding IEMs.
At a certain point, I almost convinced myself to get the Etymotic ER4s but was held back because of my dislike for triple-flange tips plus deep insertion requirement to attain the best possible performance out of it. Then I stumbled upon the Noble thread and noticed a number people who've listened to the Noble 4/4C/4S describing them to be a great "neutral" sounding IEM. So I lurked around, read as many reviews/impressions as I can, asked a few people around, and finally thought that the Noble 4 could be the one that I've been looking for! So, is the Noble 4 truly a "Reference" sounding IEM? Well there's only one way to find out! I bought myself a pair and for the very first time ventured into the > $250 realm of sound gear. I've never spent this much on an IEM before so here's me hoping that I made the right decision in choosing the Noble 4...
SETUP: Colorfly C3 > JDS Labs C5
iMac 2011 > Stoner Acoustics UD110v2 > JDS Labs C5
16/44 FLAC, ALAC, and 256kbps AAC
TEST TRACKS: Avicii - Heart Upon My Sleeve / Addicted To You Daft Punk - The Game of Love / Doin' It Right
Planetshakers - The Anthem (live) Michel Jonasz - Le Temps Passe (live)
Jewel - Somewhere Over The Rainbow Celine Dion - Tell Him (Feat. Barbara Streisand)
The Police - If I Ever Lose My Faith In You Phil Collins - Easy Lover
Train - 50 Ways To Say Goodbye Roxette - Look
Bruno Mars - Locked Out Of Heaven Led Zepellin - Fool In The Rain
Metallica - Orion (Through The Never - Soundtrack) Pantera - Art of Shredding
BASS: Having only owned IEMs with boosted low end, I was prepared to feel underwhelmed. To my delight, the Noble 4 bass is well extended, punchy, and tight! Sub-bass is well heard and felt even at 20hz; although not at the same quantity as the T-PEOS H-200, the N4 is still very satisfying to my preference. Sub-bass rumble never fails to come out when called for even for non-EDM tracks. Listening to electronic tracks from Avicii and Daft Punk, seldom did I feel the need for some bass boost but I'd be lying if I didn't say that a bit more rumble is more than welcome for electronic music. However, I do find it bit lacking in quantity for heavy metal despite having the speed to keep up with double-bass kicks. It just needs a bit more oomph to project that "Authority" from an aggressive genre. Other than that, I find the sub-bass to be sufficient for most common genres that we listen to. As for the mid-bass, I don't hear any significant bump and to my ears the Noble 4 is really close to flat. I do hear a bit of warmth which I really like and if my hearing is accurate, I think the Noble 4 bass is in between flat and the GoldenEars Target which slightly elevates from 100hz all the way down to 20hz. What I really love about the bass is how fast, clear, and well controlled it sounds when playing bass guitar and drum passages. Timbre is nearly perfect considering this is coming from balanced armature drivers and what's surprising is they almost sound like a dynamic driver! Listening to live performances from Michel Jonasz and the Planetshakers, I can't stop marvelling upon how great the bass sounds and that it easily rivals the best I've heard. The Noble 4 may not have the WOW factor that bass enhanced IEMs have, but listening to how clean, clear, punchy, tight, fast, and well controlled the bass sounds... I often forget about "quantity"!
MIDS: All I can say is WOW! This is what got me hooked to the Noble 4... timbre, clarity, and detail is its main forte. Vocals sound so natural that listening to Jewel - Somewhere Over The Rainbow is like having her sing right in front of you! Duets such as Tell Him by Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand are presented very well that you'd appreciate the contrasting tonal differences between the two vocals. Instruments sound excellent, full and rich... I've never heard the piano, cello, and violin rendered this natural ever! The KEF M200 is pretty close but the clarity and clean tone from the balance armature driver in the Noble 4 keeps it ahead. For the most part, I find the mids really neutral and it only starts to deviate after 3Khz where it's supposed to slope down to render a more smoother sound. To my ears, I hear the upper mids staying forward 'til about 7Khz before it starts sloping down; making the Noble 4 sound MID-centric and presents the extra clarity and resolution that most of us look for in an IEM. As a result, distorted guitars sound just a little bit edgy and vocal sibilance becomes quite apparent if it exists in the recording. The balance armature dedicated for the midrange is quite transparent and I instantly notice nuances, even the shortcomings in the mixing and mastering of the tracks. Those who desire to enjoy each and every track in their library should be aware of this because no matter what you do, this IEM will reveal everything!
HIGHS: The upper register extends really well... it's smooth but not too smooth like the Sony MH1. Detail/resolution is impressive to a point that it reminds me of the Tralucent 1Plus2! Seldom did I hear sibilance and when i did, it was only because it already existed in the mix. Again, timbre and decay are magnificent... cymbals are presented really well and they ring like how I used to hear them live. Listening to Led Zepellin - Fool In The Rain exhibits how natural the cymbals sound on the Noble 4... and even with a very difficult track like Phil Collins - Easy Lover, the cymbals in the intro are done right which is rarely achieved by any other IEM in my experience. The right amount of reverberation is required to make the instruments sound right in the upper frequencies and the Noble 4 has what it takes to sound just right. Despite being transparent and all that, I still find the sound signature to be borderline analytical which I really appreciate because it stays being musical and enjoyable. Sparkly but not too bright... clear but not thin... detailed but not harsh... in short, the Noble 4 sounds just right.
IMAGING AND SOUNDSTAGE: The soundstage is quite wide for a neutral sounding IEM; wider than the Sony MH1 although not as wide as the Dunu DN-1000. The presentation has the right amount of intimacy at the centre of the stage but keeps a good distance between instruments. I noticed that this varies from one track to another depending on how the track was mixed. In so many ways, I can almost conclude that the Noble 4 is a good representation of how the track was recorded. Headstage is also a good characteristic of this IEM with a presentation spanning to the back of the head and over the head... a nice decent out-of-head experience. Again, this will also depend on the track and how it was recorded in the first place. Such a capable IEM this is... it doesn't exaggerate much nor underplay the presentation of music.
CONCLUSION: So is the Noble 4 a true "Reference" monitor? I honestly can't say... What I can say however, is that I can't find any significant flaw in its sound and presentation. There is a slight forwardness in the upper midrange/lower treble but I personally find it an advantage as it brings more clarity and detail without sounding too analytical. In other words, in spite its superb transparency and resolution, the Noble 4 still retains musicality and makes you enjoy listening to music provided that your source file is of high quality not just in terms of compression but mix/mastering as well. Is it for everyone? I don't think so... bass heads will find it lacking in bass, metal heads will find the bass bit too tame, but those looking for accuracy will find contentment. I for one adores the Noble 4 and will be using this as my reference for future reviews/comparison. This will bring more confidence in my impressions and conclusions with the hope that they can be of better service to everyone.
Special thanks to @joker @H20Fidelity @Jupiterknight @kova4a without whom I may not have been courageous enough to invest this much on an IEM.
To Noble Audio: Good on you! Please continue to bring forth quality audio products.
Edited by d marc0 - 4/23/14 at 1:50pm