Pros: Homage to the legendary K10 sound
Fun but not fatiguing
4.4mm 12 core hybrid cable that has excellent synergy with the K10 L
Boutique Prestige shell
Cons: With premium and boutique materials comes a 2021 price tag
Along with paying for excellent sound, you need to also desire to pay for unique premium materials and packaging.
It is not an IEM for bass-heads
Noble Audio Kaiser 10 Legacy (K10 L)
Meet the new boss!
Same as the old boss?
“I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again, no, no
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss” The Who
Noble Audio has some Cajones! There are some questions that have to be answered with this review. Yes, K10 was considered by most as an amazing TOTL IEM in its day. But does it compete with what is out there today and how does it compete on its own and in comparison, to other current crème of the crop IEMs? What about this Quorum cable? What is it and how does it sound? Also, how does the K10 L sound compare directly to the sound of the K10 OG.
John Moulton the artist behind Noble Audio and I were in contact, and he asked if I was interested in purchasing his next IEM coming out. Well, of course I said yes and then I asked him what it is? He went on to explain about the K10 L. I then had a lot of questions for John. Starting with “What in the world are you thinking?” I said I was interested in writing an honest review if and only if it competes with what is out there today. I only have interest in writing a review about something that is outstanding for what it does. Also, I write reviews first for the selfish cognitive pleasure of it and secondly, for the altruistic pleasure of helping others understand an IEM or Headphone that I am passionate about. I have owned over 70 IEMs in the past 3 ½ years. All in a quest to understand sound and understand my preferences. In my opinion it takes a lot of experience and intense time to understand sound and understand the different sounds of each IEM and then convey that information on paper in as unbiased way as possible. I am still learning a ton and have a lot to learn.
A good audio friend (Damz87) and I recently wrote a review for the VE Elysium. In that review we introduced “Bob”, a fictitious but sexy interviewer. In this review I would like to introduce the reader to “Leroy”. Leroy is a fictitious but grumpy and rough around the edges interviewer. He has never won a PR contest. He has won several drinking contests at numerous Laundromats and on the Right Bank of Paris. He currently is on sabbatical from The Sorbonne in Paris.
SLC: Leroy is there anything you would like to say before we get started?
Leroy: Well SLC before you get your tighty-whities in a knot, I just want to say that my time is limited so can we please get on with this.
SLC: Ok, but one more question for you Sponge Leroy Grumpie pants. I find it humorous that your name stands for “The King” and you are asking me questions about “The Kaiser 10 Legacy”. Do you also find that humorous?
Leroy: Shirley I do, and I will with pleasure call you Shirley. I grew up in the Great Plains of North Dakota where we are all Le Roy in our mothers' eyes. So, spare me Mr. Crumpled Pants. And for your information Kaiser means Emperor and not King. Can we please start. I need to go fold some clothes and make some mille-feuille.
Leroy: I see up above that you quoted parts of the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who. So, SLC, I know that the K10 OG was considered one of the very best TOTL IEMS in 2014 but are we getting fooled here into spending money?
SLC: Thank you Leroy for such an appropriate question. Dr. John Moulton, as mentioned above is the creative person behind Noble Audio. He feels that the K10 still competes with what is out there today. He feels that there is a nostalgia part involved with others still wanting that K10 sound. Also, there is a market for his Prestige versions of IEMs. Each shell is made by hand and is unique. I also have the Zephyr Prestige IEM and each one is a work of art and extremely beautiful.
The K10 L offers a great sound, a boutique level build (Prestige shell), a proven pedigree, higher quality silver internal wiring, excellent cable, outstanding packaging and in 2014 Noble Audio did not have access to a lot of markets they currently have access to.
Leroy: So, is he putting lipstick on a 66 Corvette or is he trying to create something that sounds different or better than the K10 OG?
SLC: Nice lipstick reference Leroy. I see you do have lipstick stains on some of your laundry. John is not making any claim to better or enhanced sound qualities over the K10 OG. The wiring is different in that it is silver, the housing is different and each one is very time consuming to make and is one of a kind, and the cable is a new cable that retails for a little over $2000 on its own. You are getting the classic sound with one of a kind housing, TOTL cable and the Nanuk case. The K10 L is available as UIEM or CIEM. The price is $3000 which is a chunk of change but is in line with the current prices of TOTL IEMs.
As I mentioned above, Noble has a stronger distribution network throughout the world that was not in place 8 years ago. There is a demand for the K10 sound and there is a demand for the Prestige one-of-a-kind shells. The K10 L is the definition of a boutique product.
John tests every prestige K10 L against an aluminum K10 OG to make sure the curves are essentially the same. This ensures that those that are wanting the K10 sound are getting the K10 sound.
Leroy: This seems like a risk but on the other hand not really. I am not sure what I mean by that, but can you extrapolate on my inability to be clear with my question?
SLC: I sure can Leroy. One thing I do know is that Noble Audio takes risks. Those risks bring about products that can be polarizing. Khan and Sultan for example. They are loved or not loved. No in-between. K10 L on the other hand is an IEM that is not polarizing at all. The K10 started the company. Since then, Noble Audio has put out other TOTL IEMs such as to name a few: Katana, Encore, Khan, Sultan and Zephyr. I have owned or currently own all of these IEMS. Each one provides a unique flavor IMHO. Noble has not played it safe and I respect that. They are willing to take risks and be innovative and creative. With the K10 L they are playing it safe in one respect. They are using the same drivers used in a classic, legendary IEM from 8 years ago. Now that is also a huge risk and ballsy (cajonesly)! I refer to the K10 as a Golden Nugget. It was a classic for a reason. But will dressing it up in a boutique shell, with TOTL current day inner wiring and an amazing current day cable keep the K10 L a Golden Nugget?
Past reviews talk about the pure enjoyment of the sound of the K10. A legend was created. But now it has been reborn and dressed up differently and IMHO the change is not revolutionary but legendary. The K10 has turned into a Legacy IEM worthy of my time and effort and worthy of being part of my collection of IEMs.
Leroy: Well, that was winded SLC but thank you. What is this Prestige shell thing?
SLC: The Prestige shell can be purchased as pre-made when available or can be custom ordered based on desire and what Mr. Moulton can source. My K10 L is made out of Amboyna wood. I also have a Prestige version of the Noble Zephyr. The shell for my the Zephyr Prestige is made out of pinecones and resin. Sounds odd but the beauty and craftmanship is stunning.
Leroy: What is the process involved in making this Prestige shell and the final product?
SLC: Here is the process in a nutshell or in this case an IEM shell: First there is the CAD work to shape a housing (my Zephyr and K10 L Prestige have a different shape due to the drivers etc. that need to be installed). Then cut the wood billet to size and stabilize it. Then sand or cut off the excess stabilizing material. The billet then goes in the CNC machine and approximately 8 hours later the CNC has completed the job. The housing is essentially in a rough format. The housing is then sanded to a more organic shape, sockets are applied, and vent holes are cut if the design requires them.
The wood is then sealed, and the internal parts are put into the shell and tested. The faceplate is applied and carved to shape. The IEM is tested again, finish is applied, and the IEM is tested again.
It takes three days of work to complete the IEM, and this does not include the CNC time.
Leroy: Wow, color me pink. That is actually interesting. SLC, you now have me interested in the history of the K10. I know about its 30 consecutive 5-star Head-Fi review ratings. I have also looked into the reviews from years ago in preparation for this chat with you and I am aware of how loved the sound of this IEM was. Can you give me more historical information?
SLC: Yes, Leroy I can. I am impressed with your background research. Despite what your bowling and Sorbonne buddies say about you, you do come prepared.
The CIEM version of the K10 was launched in 2014 followed by a few months later with the universal injection molded IEM which was then followed by the well-known aluminum version.
The injection molded version had 2 versions: blue glitter which was built for Japan and Grey Glitter which was built for the world market. There are some injection molded versions in use in Japan that are considered collector IEMs.
The aluminum had several variations:
Black/silver. (Only 4 built)
Gold/silver. (Only 3 built)
Red/silver with “Wizard” signature (most rare, only 1 produced, last owned in Singapore)
Prices ranged from $1899 for the CIEM to $1699 for the Universal version. At the end of the lifespan of the K10, it was offered by Massdrop (now called DROP) for $1000 and many were sold. At the end of the Drop life the price went down to $700 for the last few IEMs. I think a few were even sold for $500. This was the time when EE put their Flagship Zeuss on Massdrop and Noble Audio did the same with K10. I for one avoid Drop purchases due to possible post purchase customer support issues.
The K10 has never been offered as a Prestige universal version until now.
According to Mr. Moulton “The K10 L design goal is to offer a piece of history built with premium and boutique materials. The K10 L is basically an homage to the original K10 except this time being built with premium materials that we simply did not have in 2014”
For what it is worth an interesting side note is that many K10 IEMs were sold, and they very rarely show up for sale on Head-Fi.
Leroy: I am into sources; I need sources to help me with my interviewing and laundry and navigating through the 4tharrondissement AKA Le Marais. My trucker hat does not fit in well in that artsy section of Paris. Anyway SLC, what sources did you use for this review?
SLC: I used John Moulton for some of the historical information for this review and for the process for making Prestige shells. I used the World Wide Web also for historical information. I used the iBasso DX300 DAP for most of my listening. On Medium gain with D3 and D5 (NOS) filters. I also used the Hiby R5 DAP and the Luxury & Precision W2 DAC/AMP. I did of course use my favorite source, my Schiit Jotunheim Amp with their Multibit DAC. I am not allowed to bring up the Jotunheim around my audio friends. I have exhausted that option.
I have a hunch that the sources nowadays are much better than what was out there in 2014. Also balanced sources are rather ubiquitous now and thank goodness 4.4mm seems to be becoming the standard for balanced sources.
Leroy: Please enlighten me and tell me more about this cable. Is this the Utah Quorum of 12 cable or is it something else?
SLC: The picture below was taken from the Sound Square Company website which is a Noble distributor based out of Korea. I will get into cable sound impressions later in the review. For a 16-wire cable the ergonomics are excellent. The hardware is of extremely high quality. The braiding of the cable is very beautiful, and the shimmer is stunning.
Leroy: What else comes with this bad boy? What accoutrements?
SLC: You must have studied President Macron to pull a word like “accoutrement” out of your trucker hat. Here are pictures that show what the IEM comes with and by the way the Nanuk case and leather smaller case are extremely impressive:
Leroy: Hey SLC I hear you are into the mid-section of things. Please tell me about the mids of the K10 L?
SLC: Good observation Leroy, you must have checked out the list of my current IEMs. On the first day there were mids. The only scooped out I like is ice cream.
Simply stated the mids are the star of the show. Nothing is recessed at all and there is probably a very slight upper mid bump. Very slight. The Zephyr and Odin for example have more of an upper mid bump. The mids are lush which tells me the upper mid bump is minimal if at all. The timbre is extremely correct. The texture is top notch. If the mids are overdone I do get fatigued after a while. This IEM would take hours of listening to sound fatiguing (with a warm cable that is).
The mids have the right amount of detail and warmth. Nothing is fatiguing about the K10 L. The sound is warm but not dark at all.
Vocals are right there in front of you. I need the mids and the instruments in the mid-range to be the star. This is my preference. This type of presence of mids does create the intimacy I like. This also does reduce the overall staging of the IEM. That is why in my opinion the Trailii vocals/mids are not the star. That would be hard to do with the massive staging of the Traillii.
Leroy: I know you are weak kneed when it comes to treble but is there anything you can say about the K10 L treble.
SLC: I have no treble complaints. As I like to say (along with saying “Jot” while looking in a mirror), I have not met a treble I did not like. The K10 L treble has excellent texture and timbre. Each person reacts differently to treble. Treble is very individual due to their sensitivities to treble. The K10 L does represent cymbals correctly for example. Unlike the Noir or Khan for example, I doubt the treble will be too much for some.
Leroy: Those that are neophytes to the audio world are really into what the bass sounds like. I as an observer of the audio world and the skills of the early morning Paris street cleaners with their cool machines, do find that as an audio listener matures the focus of enjoyment moves away from big bass and more into the mid-section texture and richness. But anyway, SLC please humor me and talk about the bass.
SLC: Another nice observation about the bass and mids focus over time Leroy. You must have stayed away from smoking the wheat during your time in the ND Plains. Remember Leroy there are highly technical competent IEMs that still have a lot of bass. The LX comes to mind immediately.
The K10 L bass is mature. It is a mid-bass focus with a smaller sub bass. I think in 2014 the bass of the K10 was considered fun. With all the developments in IEMs the bass of the K10 is not the star of the K10 L show. The bass and the treble for that matter play supporting roles for the K10 L. The bass does what it should. It is not absent and is not overwhelming. It is proper.
Leroy: A little bird (no I am not referencing another IEM) told me about your love of timbre. You even named another review “Timbrelicious.” How is the K10 L timbre?
SLC: The timbre is spot on. I can still tell it is a BA timbre. That is a good thing to me. I love DD timbre, but I do not like BA timbre that is trying to act like DD timbre. The timbre of the K10 L is complimented by the quick detailed notes of the BA drivers. They are lush for BA drivers but not as lush as a DD driver. The overall sound package of the K10 L is better than any individual part.
Leroy: I made my money through my understanding of micro and macroeconomics and trying to understand President Macron the current leader of France. How would you define the micro and macro sounds emitted from the K10 L?
SLC: For simplification purposes I will refer to micro as detail and macro as space and staging. I know that really simplifies it but let’s go with that. Probably even more important of a star than the mids for the K10 L is that micro and macro are both present and enjoyable with the K10 L. That is hard to come by and is why I refer to the K10 L as a Golden Nugget. All the details of the music come alive. Close to the detail specialists, the Odin and Katana. There is just enough of a halo around each note (not to the extent of the Sultan) to give off warmth and intimacy. On the macro side of things spacing is excellent with the K10 L. I have no issue with the notes being separated and individually heard when I want to hear them. Staging is smaller and intimate most likely due to the mids being one of the stars of the K10 L.
Leroy: Zoom out a little further SLCpants and give me a broader picture of the K10 L sound?
SLC: The K10 L is the only IEM I have that does not have something that it does as a specialty. What makes it special is it does most everything right and very little wrong. The K10 L gives me the feeling of being in a secure relationship. As I stated earlier the whole is greater than any individual parts. The K10 L is not fatiguing but also not boring. How often does that happen in a relationship. The sound is intimate and detailed without being clinical.
It is not for those that want massive sub bass. It is not for those that want massive staging.
The 10 Knowles BA drivers are something special together and worth bringing back to life in this better overall package.
Leroy: Time to enter the Voodoo Lounge Mr. SLC. Let me twist up your pants a little more. How does the K10 L respond to cables and what is the sound signature of the Quorum cable?
SLC: I will address that in the comparisons section below, specifically in the K10 OG and the K10 L comparison which is the very first comparison.
Leroy: K10 L has to compete with what is out there today. I have had about enough of you and would like to conclude this interview. I need you to pour some sugar on this review and compare the K10 L with what is out there in today’s market.
SLC: Thank you Leroy for allowing me to make such comparisons. These are the IEMs I currently own and have been able to compare directly to the K10 L. As stated earlier I am obsessed with purchasing IEMs, listening to them intensely for a few months and then letting them go. I recently released the Mason V3+ and very recently the Traillii. The ones below are my favorite IEMs currently and it is getting harder and harder to release IEMs as I know my preferences and biases extremely well.
Noble Audio K 10 OG:
The goal of comparing the two is to confirm or deny that the sound is the same. I started the comparison with the stock Sultan/Zephyr cable on the K10 and the Quorum on the K10 L. Wow what a difference. The K10 was a lot brighter. The notes were quicker and thinner. The stock Sultan and Zephyr cable must be a detail-oriented cable (which works well with Sultan and Zephyr). I then wanted to compare each using the Quorum cable. Turns out I had to go to plan B. I could not get the Quorum cable off the K10 L and forcing anything out or in anything is never good. So, plan B it was. I started comparing K10 L with the Quorum cable to the K10 with different brighter and warmer cables that I have.
I was able to get the K10 to sound extremely similar to the K10 L. I was able to do that by using my warm cables. The first was with my PWA Loki+ cable which is a warm spacious cable. Very similar sound but Quorum was more spacious. The PWA 1950 cable was also close, but the Quorum is a warmer cable. Both add excellent space to the sound. PWA 1960 2-wire cable is also a warm cable and the sound was extremely close. So close that it was hard to tell the difference from K10 and K10 L except that there was more detail with Quorum cable vs. 1960 2 wire. Then finally I tried my favorite cable the PWA 1960 4-wire which is not a warm cable. And wow did the K10 sound not good at all with the 60 4-wire. It was too bright with less warmth and thickness.
I feel I can somewhat conclude from this that the Quorum cable is a warm spacious cable. I also conclude that the sound of the K10 and K10 L are the same when using a quality warm cable. And finally, I conclude that there is no need to attempt to force the Quorum cable off the K10 L. It is IMHO the right cable for the K10 L.
Very first thing I notice is that the LXSE is about 4 rows further back. K10 L and LXSE are both balanced though. The thickness of the notes of the two are very similar. Timbre is also similar. It is just that the K10 L is sitting closer to the stage. Both have intimate staging. LXSE mid and sub bass rumble is a unique textured slow rumble vs. the BA quicker mid bass of the K10 L.
Obviously the LXSE thump is more prominent. They have a similar amount of treble.
Wow do they share some things. Balanced sound for both with an upper mids bump more pronounced with Odin. They have a similar sound stage. Odin is a few rows forward versus K10 L. Odin has a lot more “hello look at me” going on. Treble of both are oddly very similar. Sub bass of Odin is more pronounced. Odin sub bass is the best I have ever heard. Mid bass of K10 L is more prominent. Timbre and slightly forward vocals of both are similar. Timbre and emotions of K10 L are a little better though. Micro detail goes to Odin. The dynamics/3D sound goes to Odin. Again, they are more similar than different oddly enough.
If you like Elysium you will like the K10 L. Similar soundstage. Same middle row seating. K10 L has more of a mid-bass thump vs Elysium. Treble impact is the same. Treble dynamics go to Elysium. Mids are shockingly similar. The mids on both are the star of the show. Elysium more so since I prefer DD mids but the K10 L mids remind me of the Erlkonig BA mids and that is a compliment
VE Erlkonig LE
On setting 2 which is the slight bass bump and slight treble bump setting.
Amazingly similar musicality and timbre. Similar warmth around the notes. Similar mid bass and amount of treble. With more A/Bing the Erlkonig notes are a little thicker. K10 L notes are a little bit more forward. Slightly though. To me it is amazing that the K10 L is in the same ballpark as the Erlkonig LE.
64 Audio Fourte Noir
The Noir is like going on an acid trip while watching the movie "Fight Club." Everything comes at you hard. You end the session with bruised ribs and a black eye. K10 L is so much smoother. No desire to get in a fight while listening to K10 L. The DD mid-bass stands out more on the Noir. Noir is not bright oddly enough. Vocals are more pronounced with K10 L. Noir has that sound coming from all around you like the Sultan does. That may be why the Noir and Sultan can be polarizing. Throw the Fourte OG in there and the three could head out to the South Pole and feel polarizing together.
Noble Audio Sultan
Sultan comes across as the little brother of the K10 L. They are both adults, but the Sultan is 6 years younger and more alive and less mature than the K 10 L. K 10 L really is more mature sounding. The sub bass of the Sultan stands out. Along with Odin, the Sultan sub bass cannot be touched. K10 L mid bass is stronger. Sultan takes the fun up a few notches. Also, the notes of the Sultan are a little thicker and hang around longer. The K10 L notes are tighter and more analytical sounding than Sultan. The mids of the K10 L stand out as more mature. More engaging. Maybe because the bass of the Sultan is a force to reckon with.
Noble Audio Zephyr Prestige
Zephyr should be getting more love. I just think not a lot of people have heard it. The Zephyr is an excellent, well balanced, mildly forward and super smooth IEM. K10 L is more forward right off the bat. Timbre of the two are similar. K10 L is more lively and treble hits harder. Vocals hit harder on K10 L also. Mid bass on K10 L is also a little stronger. K10 L turns into more of a W sound when comparing to Zephyr. Zephyr comes across so smooth in comparison. The DD of the Zephyr is more laid back but more textured, layered, and slower compared to the BA bass of the Zephyr. Both are into mid bass more than sub bass.
Noble Audio Katana Wizard
Very easy to compare. Bright and analytical Katana with more of a treble punch, more sub bass and very mildly more forward vocals. K10 L turns dark in comparison. The mids of the K10 L are more engaging due to being thicker than the Katana. You could have just these two IEMs as foils to each other and be perfectly content. I of course would throw in the Sultan or Noir for when feeling psychedelic.
Is The New Boss as Good as the Old Boss?
Leroy: So SLC please conclude this thing, I need to get back on my combine and the Left Bank. Is the K10 L relevant and does it still compete in today's market? Or as you would say, is the new boss as good as the old boss?
SLC: Well Leroy, I hope you are able to infer that yes, the K10 L is relevant and yes, it competes with the big boys of today. The K10 L is for someone that wants a balanced IEM, that is engaging and fun. The whole is greater than each one of the 10 Knowles BAs used in this IEM. This IEM has no faults and has no one strength. It really does everything well. The strength of the K10 L is that while listening to it you are enjoying the music rather than focusing on any specific strengths or specific weakness.
You can add the K10 L to your collection as a reality check IEM. The music sounds like it should. Nothing is overdone. Or you can have it as your only IEM. Since the music is presented well and non-fatiguing it can be your one and done IEM. That would be nice if any of us could settle for just one.
The new boss is as good as the old boss with added benefits. The K10 L has the added benefit of an amazing, customized boutique shell that is extremely gorgeous and each one is bespoke. Another benefit is the inclusion of an outstanding extremely high-quality cable that compliments the K10 L extremely well and looks wonderful.