My adventure with Noble begun at the end of 2013. At the time, I was looking over on head fi and Tellement nomade (French reference for audiophile stuff) for an upgrade to my trustful er4pt when I stumbled upon the noble audio thread on head fi. After some research on the web and chat over Facebook with Brannan mason, one of the founders of Noble, I decided to go for the 4 drivers model, well suited for my taste (aka neutral, balanced sound). At that time, Noble were launching their universal line up, and with the nice black Friday discounts I jumped into the multi BA wagon with a pair of universal noble 4.
I enjoyed them a lot, but the more I was wearing them (too much), the more my ears were begging me to go the custom way, and that’s what I did after selling the universals in June 2014. It’s almost April 2016 by the time I’m writing this, so this could well be considered as a (very) long term review
The ordering process
One of the main thing that brought me to Noble is their design, and their Facebook page could be considered as an exhibition of their most savory and extravagant CIEM designs, mixing with taste lot of color and textures to create unique pieces, and I think it’s a point that clearly separates them of the other manufacturers. Most of those one off design are the work of the other noble founder, Wizard, a nickname he earned while showing his first creations on head fi.
In this design driven approach, Noble.com is proudly exhibiting the fine craftsmanship which defines the brand, and we can appreciate the huge range of design possibilities with a gallery displaying of all noble’s ever made
Ordering is quite straightforward, as there is only one page per categories, with a quick description of the product, some technical specifications and an ordering button taking you to a design page to choose the color of the shell and the faceplate, with premium material available (at extra charge), and even a Wizard design option, giving him carte blanche. Then you’re brought directly to paypal, and after payment, in the extension of this philosophy you’re just redirected to the ear impressions instructions with no order confirmation mail, no order number or anything else.
Then It’s time with the provided instructions to visit your favorite audiologist to take the ear impressions, and send them in a crush proof package to Noble HQ. Their turnaround time is 35 to 40 days, mine arrived on July 22
ndand got a mail with a picture of my finished customs on October 8
th. You’re left alone between those two dates, and I’d love to see noble improve on this point with a more detailed following. There is a one-month period for refit, but thanks god mine was right the first time
I think the logical continuation is going through unboxing. You’re welcome by a simple cardboard box, hiding between some foam a (huge) pelican-like case holding the CIEM themselves and some accessories (a wax removal tool and a standard braided two pins cable with memory wire and a 45° angled plug). You’re not really overwhelmed by accessories, but the packaging is nice without being too complicated, and when I’m purchasing a product I prefer my cash to go into the product itself and not to an overly complex packaging (that will inevitably end in the trash)
Let’s now focus on the build itself. For my set I chose a smoke shell (to be able to see the drivers) and a solid black with golden logo faceplate, a combination which I find to be at the same time delicate and discreet. They served for almost two years, but they’re still looking pretty nice, having well aged considering what they’ve been through. The shell itself is perfectly formed, with no bubbles nor cracks, and the join with the plate is visible only if you’re looking closely for it, and unnoticeable by hands only, surpassing on this point a lot of models I’ve seen from UE, 1964 ears or JH audio. I found the fit to be quite nice, tight enough to prevent breaking the seal with mouth movements and comfy enough to let me wear them for several hours with little to no discomfort (but I do think that the main factor in this is the ear impression quality). I’d just love that they protrude a little less from my ears to let me sleep with them lying on my side
The cable itself is quite unexceptional, with no specific problems, but I’m not a fan of the 45° plug and the memory wire and I’ve quickly replaced it with a linum BaX, with not much changes in the sound but a huge ergonomic leap (you’ll see through future articles that I’m not a cable believer and I’m mostly judging them from an ergonomical standpoint only)
After all those material considerations let’s jump to the heart of this paper, the sound
As It’s my first article, I’d like to introduce you to my testing methodology, that I’ll try to keep the same for future reviews. I’m testing with 2 setups, playing the same flac / mp3 320 files, on one end my desktop setup with foobar2000, an ODAC (diy) and a Schiit Asgard, and on the other my portable setup, an ak 100 ii alone. My two main comparison points will be what I’m considering as reference sounding through my desktop setup, a Sennheiser HD 700 and a pair of KEF X300AW. My musical tastes include mostly indie rock, acoustic, folk and pop rock, but I’m pretty open minded on this point.
I’ll go through the following sections:
- Sound itself
- Sources and pairing
I think that flat is the right word to define the presentation of the noble 4. There’s nothing they bring upfront to the detriment of other parts of the frequency spectrum, and with this sound bias they’re not “wowing” headphones (what could be quite underwhelming at first sight). But nonetheless, digging a little deeper into the listening let us see that those are pretty capable
The highs are crisp and very detailed with a good but not excessive extension, preventing from the fatiguing listening of the most analytical headphones (yes, I’m looking at you ER4)
The trebles could be considered as one of the strong point, really clear but warm at the same time, making effortlessly a lifelike rendering of voices, mostly in acoustic tracks, and except in real life, I’ve never heard such a beautiful representation of Robert Francis voice.
Finally, bass is tight and well defined, connecting perfectly to the lower end of the mids, and is really precise without sounding to thin, a common problem for neutral sounding headphones. The bass extension to the sub bass is one of the weak point, as they’re stopping a bit early for my taste, but I think it’s the tradeoff for the balanced reached across the rest of the spectrum. Cause I’ve trying bot universal and custom revisions; I can tell you that the area is the most improved by the custom fit
Let’s continue with the other weak point of those CIEM, and that’s the soundstage. Even if I wasn’t expecting an open back-like sound stage, I was quite disappointed with the narrowness of this one as there’s little to no air between sound sources. This is fine when listening to an acoustic track with a singer and 2 instrument, but when It’s getting more complicated than that you’re getting quite lost in the localization
So to wrap up the sound “alone” section, the 4C manage to stay at the same time really balanced and musical, avoiding the 2 common mistake associated with flat sound response, which are 1° being completely boring and lose all sense of musicality and 2° to be aggressive sounding and by the way really fatiguing when listening to them for an extended period of time
Sources and pairing
The 4c are some of the most hiss sensitive earphones I’ve had the occasion to try. I do think too that I’m really hiss sensitive too, so mileage with this may vary (some friends weren’t bothered at all with this issue at the time I got them to try the universal model).
To talk in terms of equipment, the hiss scale should be: Huawei nexus 6p (too much to be enjoyable in a noiseless environment) > Ibasso DX50 > nexus 5 (2013 edition) > iPad mini 4 > AK 100 ii = AK jr = desktop setup (dead silent)
So, you can deduct from what I’ve just wrote that I’m mostly using them with the AK 100 ii on the go. The addition of an external amp definitely ramps up the dynamics, and I’ll try to get an IEM specific amp (like the ALO rx or something from RSA) to tell you guys about the sound
I’ll try for all my future review to compare the audio stuff to stick to a reference pair, as the goal is to have a guideline between all of future reviews (and I hope there’ll be many) : the HD700. Yes that does imply to compare an IEM to open back headphones, but I’d like everyone reading this review to be able to have an idea of what I’m hearing by knowing how one the most popular pair of “audiophile grade” headphones on earth sounds like, so let’s go:
The 4Cs’ high are more defined, crispier and much more separated from the other parts of the frequency spectrum, but the HD700s’ are smoother and are transitioning way better with the mids while staying well defined (but not as much) at the same time
The mids are known as a strong point of the HD700, and I’d like to make a strong statement by saying that the 4Cs’ are neck to neck with those, with at the same time nice definition and real smoothness, with a beautiful rendering of voices (especially male ones). But they’re presented quite differently, cause the HD700 are really pushing the midrange forward by a noticeable margin, whereas in the 4C it’s at the same level as the other parts of the spectrum.
For the bass section, the 4Cs’ are really punchy, tight and precise, while HD700’s got a way more enveloping bass, without being blurry or undefined, and is extending way more in the sub-bass territory
Finally, soundstage isn’t even a match, cause it’s in the open back’s own nature to have a wide one, and if this category HD700s are some of the best.
I was expecting the 4C to sound way harsher and fatiguing in order to stay neutral as a lot of other products I’ve tried, but at the end they achieved to be really neutral and at the same time musical, and at the end I think they could be a wonderful add the collection of any audiophile looking to enjoy his library in a neutral nonetheless enjoyable way. But if you’ve got the chance to listen to some, let yourself pass over the “not wowing” first experience and I really think you’ll enjoy those a lot over time if you’re a clarity lover.
PS : this is the first (english) paper i’ve ever wrote, so all comments and criticisms are welcome !