Noble Audio is the new brain child of John Molton, who is known around these parts as the Wizard. Formerly of Heir Audio, his CIEM designs are usually his calling card. However, his initial universal-fit 4.Ai and 3.Ai, and 5 designs saw a good deal of success. With his new company, he has revamped expanded the universal line to include the 6-driver iem that is the focus of this review.
The Noble 6 is a rather understated looking iem. It's a classy shade of black, with a logo that is maybe even more understated. The other iems in the universal line also follow this aesthetic design, with the exemption of the screw colors. The Noble 6 is distinguished by gold-plated screws.
Fit is straightforward, the same as his previous efforts with Heir Audio...comfortable. But the nozzles are larger than average, which may prove iffy for smaller ear canals. For instance, the Comply 500 series has to stretch a bit to fit.
As for accessories, the Noble 6 gives up nothing. Along with several different styles and sizes of tips, the package comes with two bands for holding daps/amps together, a wax cleaner, and car stickers (I think that's what they are), all packaged in a nice little otterbox-style case. A small carrying case would have been nice though.
A couple extra things:
1) The cable is simply the most supple and luxurious feeling I've seen on an iem. It has sufficient weight without being remotely heavy, and it's incredible supple and flexible. The only downside to this cable is that the plug doesn't fit into my freakin' phone case. Come on, people. It's 2014. WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY!
2) The non-recessed connectors worry me somewhat. I just don't see myself laying on my side with the Noble 6. I think recessed connectors would have shielded the pins from potential damage.
I tested the Noble 6 with a 6th gen iPod Classic , a Sansa Clip+, my desktop sabre DAC, and my iPhone 4, all out to a Tralucent T1. I ended up just using the headphone out of my iPhone 4, as it seemed to be the most linear.
Rivers and Roads - The Head and the Heart
Roots Rock Reggae - Bob Marley
Bronte - Gotye
Give Life Back to Music - Daft Punk
Dirty Paws - Of Monsters and Men
Stand By Me - Ben E. King
Blind Faith - Chase and Status
The general sound signature of the Noble 6 isn't what I'd describe as neutral. The thing that struck me when I first listened to the Noble 6 was the sheer bass quantity. It's definitely the most emphasized part of the signature to my ears, and contributes to the overall sound of the iem.
I ran some tone sweeps, and if I were to draw a FR graph of the N6, it would start with boosted mid-bass, with sub-bass rolling off below 25 hz, leading up to an even lower midrange, followed by downsloping upper mids that are clearly quieter than surrounding frequencies. The highs pick up and extend past 16 kHz without issue.
In other words, the N6 is a warm sounding iem with boosted midbass/and upper bass, even lower mids, a relaxed upper midrange, and smooth, extended treble.
I'll start by saying the Noble 6 is a great iem, but I have to point out the negatives first...well, the negative (singular): the bass, the N6's achilles heel.
I'm not really a lover of bass-light iems, as I believe bass is as important as mid and higher frequencies. It gives rhythm to music and life. That said, the N6's bass presentation is a bit of a let down compared to the awe-inspiring mids and treble. I mentioned earlier that the mid-bass is the most present frequency. To put it in perspective, it has almost as much mid-bass as the Sennheiser IE800 has sub-bass. This can be somewhat exacerbated by the slightly intimate sound stage. For the quantity, it's reasonably tight. Still, it lacks the top tier control and texture that an iem in its range should have. Thanks to the bass quantity and relatively laid back midrange, I also don't find the N6 ideal for low volume listening (around 2-3 volume steps on the iphone). At those levels, The sound is a bit too warm and seemingly congested. I thought it was a power issue at first, but it persisted with the Tralucent T1 attached.
With that out of the way, we can discuss what makes the Noble 6 excellent.
I think my favorite part of the sound signature is the treble. It's not so much the amount of treble, but the sheer refinement that went into it. There's a lack of any sibilant peaks, cymbal crashes are never harsh, nor do any metal instruments have unnecessary bite.
Vocals are also truly wonderful. Voices are tactile, refined, and display the dynamic capabilities of the N6. I've owned and heard a number of iems that I'd consider great with vocals, and the Noble 6 places itself in that group. The IE800 is still king, but this isn't very far behind, and well in the company of the TG334, ASG-2, and Flat-4 when it comes to making voices sound ethereal. The downside is the laid back upper mids that can take away the extra oomph from some female vocalists. For instance, the N6 doesn't quite transmit the gravitas of Whitney Houston's higher notes. They've very much there and do not lack detail, but they're not as "sweet" as they could be (to steal tinyman's terminology).
As for sound staging and imaging, the Noble 6 is quite precise with where it places cues. There's no confusion as to what instrument is here. I did mention earlier that the soundstage is more intimate than I'm accustomed to, but it's not enough to call it overly small.
The last point I want to touch on is the Noble 6's sheer resolving power. It's very impressive. If it's there in the recording, the Noble 6 will show it. No, I didn't have any cliche moments where I heard things I've never heard before (the UERM took care of that for me), but I never once looked for a familiar detail in a song.
This is more or less my introduction to the Noble 6. I will be updating the post below with some comparisons to the Aurisonics ASG-2, the Earsonics S-EM6, and possibly the AKG K3003 in the next week or so, as I like to have a baseline when evaluating gear.
Thanks for reading!
What really struck me, and I mean struck me like a bolt of lightning, is how dark the S-EM6 is. I haven't heard an IEM this dark since the InEar SD3. I mean dark until almost the point of cloudiness. I've typed and deleted that previous sentence a few times, tried different tips and sources, and it's all been the same. The S-EM6 is almost cloudy in its presentation. I think most of this comes from the sheer thickness of the bass and lower mids, combined with upper mids that seem to drop off by quite a few db. Vocals and instruments don't have their usual "extension". For instance, the body of a snare drum hit is located around 150-250 hz, but the sharp attack of the drum is between 2000hz and 4000hz, and that shimmer/light aftershock is around 8 khz. The S-EM6 only faithfully transmits the initial thud. The other fundamentals are missing to my ears, or are not loud enough to make a difference.
I was shocked by what I was hearing, so I took to google to try to find a frequency response chart for the S-EM6. I had no luck, but I found this set of impressions in the appreciation thread:
took me days to say that the mids is fuller, and sweeter than my TG334 !
I will give a notch to TG334 for clarity, airyness, accuracy (though both for me is not that accurate TBH), sound-image, details/transparency and layering, BUT pls note, SEM6 is no slouch either - is better than average for sure...it's just that personally i found that my TG334 is better in this regards.
The MIDS, both has a very special MIDS. The SEM6 is a bit different. The sound is unique i would say. It's more mid centric. more dominant than TG334 and more fuller bodied too, a bit more forward in presenting. At first, seems like muffled, but soon when i already got use to it, i realized behind its dark-ish, lush, mellow, and creamy MIDS, it lies the detail and transparency blended in a romantic color, ready to be poisoned to our ears.
I highlighted the parts I wanted to take away from the paragraph. And note that the 334 is already a pretty full/thick sounding iem.
The Noble 6 is, to me, so much cleaner, clearer, and detailed. The leading edge of notes come off with more detail and attack. The midrange is not only more refined, but clearer. The bass, as much as I complained about it earlier, is harder-edged, more defined, and capable of giving a much better sense of rhythm to music.
The first song I A/B'ed these two with was Rivers and Roads by The Head and the Heart. I've had this song stuck in my head for the past week, and I've been listening to it non-stop so I'm pretty familiar with almost every little nuance. The S-EM6, in comparison to the Noble 6, sounds like listening to the band from the next room. Details lose their immediacy, vocals lose their magic, and the song just sounds less real. In comparison, the Noble 6 is like the first time your girlfriend lets you in without a condom. Sorry for the lewd image, but that's just the difference for me.
If it came down to choosing one, the Noble 6 not only sounds better, but is smaller and easier to fit. Maybe someone could want the S-EM6's muted presentation for a lack of fatigue, but given the Noble 6's lack of peaks anywhere in the signature, I don't see it happening.
Rivers and Roads - The Head and the Heart
Slow and Steady - Of Monsters and Men
Ho Hey - The Lumineers
Blood on the Leaves - Kanye West
A/B'in these two, I think the biggest tonal differences come from the respective presentations of the ASG-2 and Noble 6. G2 has more distant presentation, with a soundstage that has greater height and width than the N6. It also has a drier presentation, plus an upper treble peak that lends a touch more sparkle than that of the N6. In comparison, the N6 has more intimate stage that puts you closer to the music. It also has a more lush sound that can make the ASG-2 sound slightly sterile at times. For instance, Slow and Steady is a song that is abundant with tiny details here and there, especially in the first minute. It's bustling with activity in a way that gives me the imagery of a busy rainforest. The ASG-2 presents that song very well, and all the details are there, but the taller presentation feels a bit like one is floating above the forest floor. Vocals are taller as well and meet you as you levitate, but the tiny details are left flat on the floor. The N6 brings you back to the hard earth. The sound is a good deal less spacious, but now the scene is teeming with life. The smaller details are fuller, and more fleshed out.
As you can imagine though, the opposite can be true for other songs that thrive on the ASG-2's spaciousness. Ho Hey is one of them. The treble peak, which can be be sometimes bothersome, wakes up cymbals and adds a bit more life to vocals. Rivers and Roads is another track that showcases the differences between the two.
Aside from those differences, I find most else to be a wash more or less. The bass on the G2 reaches deeper, is tighter, and can present a bit more texture. In response, the N6's treble is more refined and lacks the G2's potentially sibilant 9khz/10khz peak.
I honestly could be happy with either one.
Edited by eke2k6 - 1/12/14 at 12:19pm