Noble Audio Kaiser 10

General Information

The Kaiser 10 (K10) custom in-ear monitor is a design that was first conceptualized several years ago. Wizard and Kaiser Soze recently reverted back to the original design and used the knowledge they gained over the years to build upon it. Out of honor and recognition for Kaiser Soze’s dedication, support, and leadership, Noble’s flagship IEM bears the name, Kaiser 10.

Described as “Wizard's greatest hits,” the K10 custom in-ear monitors are seemingly unchallenged at every frequency and capacity. 10-drivers working in unison as one results in what is likely the most coherent sound ever produced by a portable audio product.

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Pros: Class-leading sound, comfortable, durable
Cons: Bass could do with a touch more "impact"
A review of the Noble Audio Kaiser K10

Purchased from Addicted to Audio’s Melbourne store in January 2018.

It feels a touch strange reviewing a product that has now been succeeded by Noble Audio Encore, however with a few units still kicking about and my inbuilt desire to write about things, ultimately I figured I would love to share the experience.

Before I launch into the review I would like to introduce myself. I am if nothing else a walking cliché, for you see I am legally blind (though with some usable vision and an ability to see the full spectrum of colour) and I love to indulge my other fully functioning senses. I write about craft beer for something of a living, having recently completed the Certified Cicerone exam (awaiting results), indulging my sense of taste along the way.

I also enjoy high end audio. It is often said that blind and vision impaired people have a heightened sense of hearing. While I don’t wish to disprove this entirely, I would like to state it is certainly true a blind person’s sense of hearing is more adept than most people’s. You might be thinking I would have no trouble discerning or deciphering your voice - shouting or not - in a loud nightclub. The opposite is in fact the case. I abjectly struggle with it. Meanwhile, sat outside the family home, I my ears are tuned into every sound: the birds in the folks’ various aviaries and beyond in the surrounding gum trees; the dogs barking in surrounding kennel properties, plus our own as well; light aircraft incessantly flying overhead… Yup, it can be as overwhelming as it sounds. Yet I will still pluck out any detail where it needs to be heard or not, no matter how minor.

More importantly, as you’ll find out later on in this comprehensive review, I am also quite sensitive to a specific end of the spectrum, while being quite fond of its polar opposite.

In terms of assessing high-audio equipment, I’ll be the first to admit that such sensitivities and perhaps even sensibilities may be as much a blessing as a curse. On one hand I can pick out nuances, micro-details, faults and defining features in sound perhaps better than most. On the other, there are many headphones I would like to sample besides those I already own, however my ears being quite sensitive to treble, they mightn’t suit me quite as well as others. This is not to say I would not review them objectively.

Okay, now you’ve indulged me, it’s time to get on with the business of reviewing Noble Audio’s Kaiser K10 universal IEM.



A short introduction about Noble Audio and the Kaiser K10.
Noble Audio, as you might already be aware, is a boutique, “artisanal” (their words not mine) manufacturer founded in 2013 and based out of Northern California. The company was co-founded by one Dr. John Moulton AU.D, formerly of Heir Audio. The sharp-eyed among you will notice the AU.D. suffix, which alludes to Dr. Moulton’s specialisation in the field of audiology. Clearly he has quite the pedigree, for not only does he know intimately the inner-workings of the human ear, he is also an audio enthusiast with an unparalleled reputation for producing unpeered precision engineered IEMs from the ground up. But to you and me, us audiophiles, he goes by the unassuming pseudonym “The Wizard.”

Working alongside The Wizard is Noble’s other co-founder Brannan Mason, also known as “The Glove” or as “FullCircle” on Head.fi’s forums. He is the voice of Noble Audio if you will.

The two have appeared from seemingly nowhere, bringing with them a stellar line-up of headphones that cover all tastes and budgets. Those with elaborate and expensive taste can opt for acrylic customised enclosures to exotic wood. I presume this is common knowledge by now, and more information can be found on Noble’s website.

As I have already pointed out, the Noble Audio Kaiser K10 was the former sole flagship model offered by Noble Audio. At the helm today is a co-flagship pairing: the Encore, and the Katana.

Reading between the lines it is easy for one to deduce that the Encore is the elaboration on the Kaiser, an evolution rather than a stand-alone new entity. The Katana, meanwhile, was designed with the clear intent to forge their own frontier.

Though I would have happily purchased the Encore, the Kaiser ended up choosing me. Sort of. Fate had a hand in it. Addicted To Audio’s Melbourne store wished to part with its remaining Kaiser stock before introducing the Encore for demoing. I read somewhere the Kaiser’s bass was a little more pronounced, hence i opted for those ahead of the Encore. There was also the small matter of the timing of an advance payment available to blind DSP recipients (such as myself) twice-yearly which allows me to purchase such things as high end headphones. But we won’t get into too much detail about that.

What’s in the box?
Well, for start-offs there’s another smaller black box within the larger black box, that which is replete with Noble Audio’s astute livery. The smaller black box is a petite Pelican case to be exact, which is the perfect canvas for any one of the many stickers that have doubtless accumulated in your backpack. (Sadly the pictured Melbourne Hot Sauce sticker was the last of them). Otherwise purists will dig its shiny jet black and plush rubber lined interior.

Indeed a Pelican case can withstand just about anything you care to throw at it. Perhaps even surviving an aeroplane crash. Don’t quote me on that. Nor would I wish this upon anyone. Anyhoo, it is no small thing to receive high end accessories with a high end product.

Somewhere in there (I should have taken notes while unboxing) is the Noble Kaiser K10 IEM unit, itself made of aircraft-grade aluminium (more on the build quality later). It is worth noting the cable came literally bundled together, which damn near overwhelmed. But with the oldskool breaks tune that goes “if it don’t fit don’t force it” ringing in my ears I proceeded with caution, patience and perseverance. It wasn’t long before I had my breakthrough. I could then admire the glorious bit of kit before me.

Noble Audio has thrown in a range of tips to suit a broad spectrum of ear shapes and sizes here. There are foams, silicones and bi-flanges amongst them, but I personally have found best results using third party XL silicone tips from JVC’s Spiral Dots. These maintain their seal better than the similarly proportioned silicones as supplied by Noble. I would suggest bundling all your spares into the drawstring pouch provided.

And talk of stickers, you’ll also find a couple of Noble Audio stickers in there too - but good luck getting them off their backing!

In amongst it all is a shiny warranty card, which is of course well worth holding on to.







Design and build quality
Though there are limited release models (a black and rose gold option is still available at Addicted to Audio) I was lucky enough to purchase the last remaining pair of alluring red Kaisers on sale at A2A’s Melbourne (Australia) store.

In spite of me occasionally wondering if the Kaiser draws attention from fellow commuters who are confused as to whether or not Beats By Dre have released an IEM, I absolutely love the anodised maraschino cherry red and metallic white colours. The textural detailing is something you have probably read about before, but when you have the headphone in your hand it has a nice feel to the touch. The two part shell has a real weight to it too. Most importantly it strongly suggests that it will stand up to the rigours of day to day use.

If like me you use an iPhone 7 Plus and you have to take a call it may come as a shock when your earphone strikes the back of your phone. Both being made of aluminium neither device should sustain any damage (which is perhaps more than can be said for Apple’s earlier and latest glass bodied devices), but the resonant clunk as they connect is quite something.

True to form Noble Audio has included a stock cable that is no slouch in delivering the juice these bad boys need. You won’t find MMCX connectors here either. Instead you’ll find a two-pin connector is the order of the day. Indeed the cable is replaceable. If you are looking at your first ever pair of IEMs it is worth noting third party cables are a (few million) dimes a dozen. Copper litz tends to add more weight to the bottom end, while silver adds more to the top. Many are copper plated silver. Have a look around and see what takes your fancy, but I suggest allowing your newly purchased unit to burn in first. For now, the supplied cable does the job nicely. It is relatively thin as well (worth noting if you are coming from something like a HeadphoneLounge cable - the thinness can take a bit of getting used to). Like many high-end cables it is braided, which reduces (but doesn’t quite eliminate entirely) tangling. The male headphone jack is straight. Admittedly I’d much prefer an elbow but it’s no big thing.

Some people also like to cut off the memory wire. May I suggest that you don’t. I’ve not attempted to do so (or rather have my brother do it) on the grounds I feel it provides a bit of necessary resistance to each earphone’s heft.

Comfort is a big plus with the Kaiser K10 Universal. They do not cause any irritation or aching while inserted for any length of time, and their ergonomic design means the sensation of having something protruding in my ears is minimal. The Spiral Dot tips keep the comfort level and seal optimised even while on a brisk walk.

Much like the Shure SE846 the seal, for me at least, is not bad but it’s not great either. Then again I do have rather large ear canals.

Look beyond the tips and you’ll notice three porting holes. Inside the enclosures you will uncover (rhetorically speaking) a jaw dropping 10 drivers (also known as balanced armatures) per earphone, hence the Kaiser “K10” name. Two large drivers put out the bass, two mid-woofers roll in with midrange, the next two take charge of mid-highs, the next two tweeters blaze the highs, and the final tweeters fire it up with the top end of the frequency spectrum.

Perhaps the best part in all of this is how easy the K10s are to drive. They sound absolutely fine, great even, when powered with my iPhone or un-amped MacBook Pro. Though I am yet to acquire a superior source there is one thing that can be said of the iPhone and MacBook: they’re crystal clear, neutral, free of hiss (and that’s gotta be worth something!) in their output. If only Apple would bolster the power of its devices to support more headphones with greater impedance. For now I happily use the Onkyo HF Player app whose EQ settings work a treat (more on that later).

But I digress, the low impedance of the Kaiser (approximately 30 ohms) makes it a good fit for those whose setup consists of the most rudimentary of sources.



Sound
First, a little background: I came to the Noble Audio Kaiser K10 from the Shure SE846, an IEM I have owned and adored for nigh on four years. I loved their massive bass impact, particularly where electronic music (think progressive trance, techno and UK bass) is concerned. I am unashamedly a basshead. Once a basshead, always a basshead.

But I yearned for something more from my music. I recently found myself pining for what the Shure SE846 couldn’t deliver.

With no small amount of research and auditioning I arrived at the Noble Audio Kaiser K10.

I knew right from the off the Kaiser is a “neutral” IEM that leans slightly towards the warmer side of things. They are not considered a basshead’s IEM per se, but they certainly have more than enough to satisfy.

Most reviews start from the ground (sometimes going down as low as Hampstead tube depths where the Shure SE846 and Campfire Audio Vega are concerned). But I’m going to turn that on its head, just because.

Treble
Indeed, as much as my ears and mind favour strong bass response, equally they are incredibly treble sensitive. Treble is therefore perhaps the most difficult aspect of an IEM’s sound for me to assess. Nevertheless, I yearned for greater treble (amongst other things) and overall the Kaisers do not disappoint.

The Noble Audio Kaiser delivers what I would term silky smooth high end which really starts at the lower-treble region (bordering on upper mids). Listening to the haunting flute of “Mumbai Theme Tune” by A.R. Rahman, followed by the track’s cinematic strings (particularly the violins) and I can hear clarity, a palpable sense of realism, nuance. The Kaiser left me in doubt I was hearing air passing through the flute as well.

This same phenomenal piece of music reveals a lot about the Kaisers’ prowess at the top end of the spectrum. As the piece moves into its final passages and the notes get higher, the Kaiser handles them with aplomb. There is no sibilance, even at higher volumes from this inferior source, and the instruments are reproduced as note perfect as the recording and source will allow.

In terms of treble in music’s percussion department, snares snap with authority; their attack, sustain, decay and release add a real sense of depth to the musicality within the listening experience. Where reverberation is called for it’s there. Cymbals ring out with the same quickness and maintenance. Some say they want more sparkle but when you’re listening to high octane garage rock a la Dead City Ruins it’s the way it clatters that matters. Meanwhile the carefully mastered “It’s What We Do” by Pink Floyd yields much the same impression: cymbals are full of texture and fullness.

Even when the full spectrum is engaged in a track the Kaisers don’t fall apart at the seams like many before them do. No, so long as the mastering is equal to the music, these mighty IEMs chomp the veil into little pieces and gore the matador (hurrah!) instead of cowering beneath it. Just have a listen to Kieran Apter & Leon Power’s haunting “Drifting Spring” or Amorphis’ “The Skull” and you’ll see (or hear) exactly what I’m talking about.

Midrange
The Kaiser does exceedingly well in the midrange department. As Stereophile magazine founder and pioneer of audio equipment evaluation J. Gordon Holt once said: “If the midrange isn’t right, nothing else matters.”

Perhaps such a statement is a little surplus to requirement when before us is among the best of the best in IEM technology, but perhaps not. It can’t sell itself by default. A beer critic certainly wouldn’t overlook the malt character of a stout with a hefty grist and simply evaluate it as “good, malty and roasty toasty”, even if it is known to be particularly special.

If there is one aspect that really stands out with the Kaiser’s performance - over and above all else - it would have to be its prowess in delivering vocals. Female vocals in particular at times sound astonishingly and palpably “real.” When listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” (24 bitdepth FLAC vinyl rip) I found myself having to pick my jaw up from off the floor. Clare Torry’s non-lexical singing takes you deep into the emotional power and holds you there, its grip relentless until the very last tonally perfect note. And did I hear gargling in her throat!?

Similarly powerful, male vocals in heavy metal are reproduced with enough gravel to equal that of every accident sustained while riding a bicycle when I was little. A real sense of the singer’s hot breath exchanging from mouth to microphone only serves to enhance the conveyed sense of rage.

Cue Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head” (remember when they wrote music that didn’t make you suspect they’ve become an industry band?) and once again the Kaiser delivers in conveying Chris Martin’s every note and every last bit of emotion. There are piano notes that ring out truer than I’ve ever heard before, the piano being reproduced exceedingly well by the Kaiser on the whole too. Interestingly the mastering of the album is caught with the bathroom door open (more on that later), but this is no bad thing. It only adds to the richness of the experience.

This same song reveals so much about the Kaiser’s strengths in the midrange department. Small wonder the guys at Addicted To Audio use this powerhouse IEM as a reference monitor. Midrange is presented so cohesively, with such brilliant harmony. Imagine the cycle of water as it goes from land or sea to the clouds, only to fall again as rainfall. The air between, that which resides in the middle this cycle, is to music’s midrange. At a moment’s notice the Kaiser is happy to provide a refreshing drizzle, let it rain or show off a thunderstorm. It really depends on what the music calls for.

Above all else, musicality is maintained. Never before have I heard an IEM that compares to the musicality of the Kaiser. I found myself locked in a rhythm induced trance while listening to Cass & Slide’s “Glad I Ate Her.” It’s worth noting the soaring vocals sound particularly epic as well.

Bass
There is a lot to love about the Noble Kaiser K10’s bass. There is a tiny little bit to lament too.

I’ll start by stating that the Kaiser K10s’ bass is overall a thing of beauty. There is a richness in its texture the much lauded (by fellow bassheads) Shure SE846 simply cannot match. If I ever wanted to play the bass guitar learning by ear these are the headphones I’d be looking for. Just throw on BB King’s “Why I Sing the Blues” to get a sense of what i mean.

The bass guitar is an instrument with which these IEMs seem to have a saucy love affair. You get a real sense of the strings of David Gilmour’s bass thrumming beneath his fingers and up the fretboard throughout The Endless River, with each palpable note delivered with punchy accuracy. Moreover the sound of the bass (both Gilmour’s instrument and the reproduction of the low end as a whole) is so organic you could start a permaculture farm on top of it.

As one might expect from IEMs of this calibre there is absolutely no bass bleed whatsoever. Admittedly the Shure SE846s bass didn’t so much bleed either, however at times it did overwhelm. Other IEMs such as the IE800s deliver bass that has a certain degree of wow factor, however ultimately they are left behind at the station by the Kaiser when it comes to organic texture and dynamics.

But somehow bass falls short of perfection when electronic music is thrown into the mix, as least in terms of what I’m expecting. Without a doubt sub-bass is there, and kick drums pound with authority and resonance. The drums are of course surrounded by a luscious organic low-end texture, but the only thing the Kaiser is short on is a bit of visceral sustained impact where the bassline meets the beat. Yet it’s nothing a little bit of EQing can’t solve.

Bass (with EQ)
In the Kaiser’s case EQing to boost the bass works a treat in my humble opinion. Nevertheless there is a small amount of lament here. I really wish I didn’t have to EQ the Kaiser K10 when playing bass heavy tracks (particularly when sub-bass is concerned), even if the trade-off across the rest of the spectrum is minimal.

Indeed many of the tracks I listen to on a daily basis require a degree of rotund punch (kick drums), slam, impact and sub-bass presence. Where progressive trance is concerned the texture of the low end simply isn’t enough, the beat behind any track being as central to the listening experience as the melodies soaring above it. Where tracks have a restrained melody or there is a passage in any given mix where there is no melody at all (think any number of extended mixes / sets from the likes of John 00 Fleming), the beat is everything.

Furthermore, there are genres of electronic music such as techno, proper dubstep (a la DMZ, Mala, Coki, etc.) and drum & bass that require still even greater bass extension. Thankfully, and I reiterate, nudging up the lower frequencies does enhance the bass experience; sometimes even catapulting it to awe inspiring heights. Amazingly nothing at all is compromised (no bass bleed!), with the wonderfully organic texture remaining in tact with nary a suggestion of colouration. Moreover one simply cannot enhance sub-bass if it were never there in the first place.

If you are going to audition the Kaisers with a bit of EQ enhancement I would recommend throwing on Dubstep Allstars vol. 08: Mixed by Distance, though any FWD>> pre-Skrillex era dubstep will do. The tracks throughout this mix provide some serious bottom-end heavy action. In addition to the wonderfully textured low-end response, a serious degree of heft is added with EQing. The two dedicated, larger bass drivers in each earphone are clearly being made to work overtime - hopefully while not breaking a sweat.

What impresses me the most here is that at no point does the bass sound bloated. I had originally purchased the Shure SE846 as successor to my Sennheiser IE8s, which at that time boasted good bass but no sub-bass presence. The Shures certainly do go down limbo-low but often sound uncontrolled, bordering on boomy. Moreover, when matched to the recently auditioned Campfire Audio Vega, the Kaiser’s bass when EQed is more than equal.

Moving on to Calibre’s piano-tinged drum & bass and the EQ needs to be dropped a tad. After all, this is jazz-inflected liquid drum & bass that is more than your typical dark, moody atmospheres associated with most of today’s D&B).

EQ enhancement really does take the Kaiser’s bass to the next level. Suffice it to say it’s rarely needed when playing other genres of music. But for those of you out there who, like me, listen to electronic music regularly, this is need to know stuff.





Soundstage, imaging, space.
The agility and flexibility of the Kaisers continues in the area of soundstage, space and imaging. Never before have I heard an IEM that can so easily and readily contract and expand - almost like a pair of lungs - to suit the music it is reproducing.

The Kaiser takes live recordings and makes them its thing. They leave little doubt in the mind as to the size of the venue in which the song or performance was recorded, while also placing you right up front - up close and personal.

Moreover, you know you may well have reached IEM endgame when you can feel a palpable sense of what the temperature was like at the time of recording. Take a listen to Iron Maiden’s En Vivo! live album, recorded at Santiago, Chile’s gigantic outdoor stadium. Not only can you hear Bruce Dickinson’s vocals soaring and echoing away over the heads of the audience and into the thin cold air, you can even hear how the cold air affects the music. And when Dickinson’s voice isn’t loud enough to echo into the distance it becomes abundantly clear you’re standing very close to the front. The sound has that great a dynamic about it.

Equally impressive is the live recording of Paul Oakenfold’s set at the NEC, Birmingham in 2001. Turn it up and suddenly you are again somewhere not too far from the front (within the first third of the NEC arena at least). Close your eyes and you’re suddenly a part of the experience. It sounds cliché but I really do mean it!

Smaller clubs, like Godskitchen in Birmingham, are equally well represented by the Kaiser’s soundstage. I’m reminded of big room trance nights held at Perth’s 2,000 capacity Metro City nightclub so perhaps the layout of the venue and its scale could be similar. No other IEM I have encountered has ever had me evaluating soundstage on this level.

Trance and techno are of course stratified in their nature, with each layer stacked upon one another, existing generally within a fairly narrow periphery. The Kaiser doesn’t just mash the lot up, it ensures there is structural integrity from the bassline to the percussion to the synths, maintaining fluidity and enough space between each. Even in this infamously congested genre of music the Kaisers provide enough room to breathe.

Breath as well as periphery are essential elements of reproducing orchestral music - something most IEMs fall short of accomplishing at any level, leave alone soundstage and imaging. The Kaiser has risen to the challenge yet again. While listening to the orchestral version of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, the music’s periphery contracts and expands according to the music, with violins and other strings projected out to an impressive point well beyond the ears. When the Ciello makes its presence known it too is off out to the periphery, and wow is the bass on it something else… Like most recordings the Kaisers place you directly in front of the stage, and you have the entire concert hall to yourself.

It is impossible discussing space and imaging without making another example out of The Orchestral Tubular Bells. I could quite easily illustrate where each musician is positioned if only I could draw. (There are violin players directly in front of me too). Unfortunately my limited musical education doesn’t stretch as far as to the layout of a typical orchestra, however I would like to think the Kaiser has placed every single musician with deadly accuracy. Moreover, Mike Oldfield being the perfectionist he is would have overseen the recording of this rendition of Tubular Bells. You can therefore assume he has gone the extra mile in ensuring an optimal recording. One thing I do know about classical music is it is incredibly difficult transposing it to digital means.

The space afforded by the Kaiser can be further exemplified by either album within theTubular Bells trilogy. Take your pick. And if you have never heard them, forgive my bluntness but you go now! And don’t come back until you do. Even if non-lexical music that defies all genres isn’t your bag. It is music that needs to be heard to be believed.

Once upon a time I believed I knew Tubular Bells II. In Oldfield’s eyes I might be going a step too far in saying that this is how he would imagine his music to be heard. At the very least it’s surely not far off. Each instrument is captured with vivid energy, and the Kaiser gives each one its own designated space to scintillate. The soundstage goes wide when called for and towers to the heavens above too with the thunder of an orchestral bass drum.

And then like the aforementioned air between the water cycle, it’s all tied together once more to become the greater sum of its parts again.

The details
From every pluck of a string to every mistake and from every tinkle of a xylophone (no other headphone has managed to reproduce that found in Dire Straits’ “Love Over Gold” with such coherence!) to the micro-details of an orchestra, nothing is left behind to the ether. The hallowed air beneath the guitar strings and the release of a piano note are all there to be discovered.

Let it be known that, as per the reference to the mastering of A Rush of Blood to the Head, the Kaiser takes no prisoners when it comes to lousy mastering. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, although you may find yourself reaching for your favourite albums a little less if the recording is sub-par. You cannot expect them to add much to pop music whose spectral dynamics are constrained either.

Comparisons
Shure SE846

Throughout this review I have drawn many a comparison to the Shure SE846, a headphone I knew and loved for nigh on four years. I have been forced to defend the Shure SE846s on numerous occasions and here I will defend them again, in spite of the concession that the Kaiser is a cut above. The Shure SE846 are a headphone that does exceedingly well at what it set out to do: Deliver a bass experience that is unlike any other. Truly it is unlike any other with its subwoofer like heft! And sometimes I miss it.

The Shures excel at all live recordings in their own special way. Those who are lucky enough to possess both the Shures and Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes [limited edition version], cue up the live recording of “Davidian” and let your ears and mind melt. The distortion is so vividly hot (in a good way), and the intimate soundstage (remember I said “defend?”) of these IEMs reproduces a palpably real experience of being front row centre in what seemed to be a very small room indeed. It sounds great even if it’s not an entirely accurate representation of the environment in which the song was recorded. The Kaiser still keeps you front row centre, but the size of the venue is revealed to be much larger while crowd noises are slightly more present.

That being said, the Kaiser’s treble leaves the SE846s for dead. Even when introducing the white filters or no filters at all, which greatly increase treble, the Shures become too hot to handle - especially for my treble sensitive ears. Moreover, the midrange I once considered as being plush now seems stultified by comparison.

If you are on a similar trajectory to me and you are looking for a step up from the Shure SE846, look no further.

Noble Audio: Katana
When auditioning the Kaisers K10 I also spent some limited time with the Noble Audio Katana, the company’s co-flagship.

It is worth noting that the Katana came after the Kaiser, arriving more or less alongside the Encore. It also came with the same custom-built drivers. Noble built and tuned each of the Katana’s drivers (nine in each earphone) themselves, and they did so with the intent of appealing to a crowd with a taste for the high life.

This is not to say the Katana lacks bass. Far from it. They do go down low when called for. However, the overall presentation errs on the scintillating, almost analytical side where the presentation of the Kaiser is one of warmth. From what I remember of the testing I found UK bass from the likes of Pinch to have an altogether different complexion, while “Sultans of Swing” shone as I’ve never heard it shine before. Ultimately though I was blinded by the light. I yearned for that pillowy warmth offered by the Kaiser.

Noble admits that perfection is a moving target. Your taste will ultimately decide which is the superior IEM between the Kaiser and the Katana. A very nifty thing indeed it is to have two flagships: equal, yet equally opposed.

Noble Audio: Encore
I am hopeful I can do a truly in-depth comparison between the Kaisers and their illustrious successor before too long. My understanding is the Encores feature an evolved midrange and added upper end sparkle, which one might expect from drivers custom made and tuned by Noble themselves. Watch this space. I am also curious as all get out as to how I would enjoy and interpret the Encore’s bass, which is said to be somewht more “controlled.”

Conclusion.
With their breathable sense of space; palpably real, organic, textured bass; visceral mids; superbly well rounded treble; and a neutral-to-slightly warm presentation; the damn near faultless Kaiser K10 stands tall among an ever growing forest of TOTL IEMs. Once more it bears mentioning there are still a few units up for grabs about the place both brand new and second hand. I can’t recommend giving them a try highly enough. You won’t just be hearing music, you’ll be experiencing it as it should be experienced.

Most tracks tested are in mp3 320 kbps mp3/aac - unfortunately most electronic music is not available at anything higher - or ALAC unless otherwise stated. Finally, it goes without saying your mileage may vary when using other sources, amplifiers and materials.
Koolpep
Koolpep
@noper I agree for the most part, hybrids are the way to go for really moving air. However, there are a few exceptions that perform quite well that are fully BA. In the end the bass with BAs is different, nothing beats the visceral bass from a dynamic driver in my mind - so am totally with you there.
Stranger Than Fiction
Stranger Than Fiction
The CA Vega nearly blew my head clean off my shoulders. They’re absolutely insane, with truly visceral bass. But with a bit of tweaking I’m getting all the bass quantity and impact I need from the K10.

(I will fix the above mentioned error now too now I’m done with an article for which I was near deadline).
ehjie
ehjie
i Read Basshead, I ilke... (Kidding aside) i've been contemplating for a pair for ages. Why? for clarity, image scale, soundstage. should the Bass be light (coming from a W50), a cable upgrade & Tip tweaking should Do the job...
Pros: Superb cohesion between 10 drivers, works with every genre, beautiful CIEM craftsmanship, detailed separation between instruments in all frequencies
Cons: Sometimes I would like a slightly more aggressive bass,


Noble Audio’s K10 is the IEM to get. A legendary classic in audiophile circles, this 10-driver IEM has a musical sound that works for all genres and if you want, can be made to custom fit your ears with your own choice of colours and materials.

Having been the owner of several excellent universal in-ear monitors, it was inevitable that the lust to own custom in-ear monitors (CIEMs) eventually got to me. Those with more than a passing interest in CIEMs will know that Noble Audio is synonymous with the best in this area. One of the reasons why I went with Noble was that their designs were simply peerless among other CIEM companies. I constantly saw highly original and striking Wizard (founder John Moulton) designs on Noble’s lookbook and on social media. Pairing the fascinating looks with the fact that the flagship model at the time – the Kaiser 10 (K10) was also the top-rated CIEM on Head-Fi at the time with well over 20 five-star reviews, and it seemed unlikely I would choose anything else.

But I wanted something more. At this summit level of CIEMs I also craved for a customized and personal experience, where I could be involved in the process. Some discerning audiophiles care about such things and are willing to pay a premium on owning products that embody both art and function on the highest level. Noble understands this better than anyone and hence offers the Prestige line, where the aesthetics aspect is taken to very lofty standards by CNC milling a solid block of exotic wood (or other glamorous materials) to the exact contours of the owner’s ear instead of using traditional acrylic materials. It went without saying that I initially opted for a pair of Prestige K10s.

Old Trees, Dripping in Gold

However, it turned out that the Prestige option was not possible for me, due to the shape of my ear canals, so I stuck with the conventional acrylic shell and exotic faceplates. ‘Conventional’ in Noble speak means having your faceplates be crafted out of Amboyna Burl and Cocobolo wood, and the acrylic shells dripping with gold and silver nuggets.

After finalising on the design, the excruciatingly long wait beckoned, but the good folks at Noble (Brannan and Sunny) were professionals through and through and took care of my many burning queries, and I was finally rewarded with these:



Receiving the K10 was an incredibly stimulating experience, complete with a stormproof Pelican case, a cleaning tool, a ‘license card’ with the owner’s name on it, and a pouch containing the impeccably made CIEM. Just a brief look at them indubitably imparts a luxurious, endearing quality that is akin to fine jewelry or watchmaking.






Working Together

The legendary K10s have the following configuration:

10 balanced-armature drivers per side


2 precision-tuned bass drivers

2 precision-tuned mid-frequency drivers

2 precision-tuned mid-/high-frequency drivers

2 precision-tuned high-frequency drivers

2 precision-tuned super-high-frequency drivers

4-way design
Impedance <35 ohms
I would not blame you for dreading that a design as complex as this would result in disastrous synchronization and cross-over issues, but this is wizardry we are talking about here. The K10 was conceived by Noble founder John Moulton (a.k.a. Wizard) before the company came into being, but only launched 5 years later to spearhead Noble’s first foray into the industry. It was designed ‘by ear first and graph second’ with the goal of creating a balanced-sounding flagship-calibre CIEM that people of diverse musical tastes and backgrounds would equally enjoy listening to. It was important to the Wizard for the K10 to not be a polarising flagship that would end up being only favored by fans of a specific music genre. Thus the emperor of Noble’s lineup was born with the noble purpose of satisfying the eardrums of all types of audiophiles.



Living Breathing Disco

As I was new to CIEMs, my shiny new K10s felt awkward, rigid, and intrusive for the first month or so. The situation improved dramatically over the months and now the twisting motion of getting them in feels second nature and the earphones also sit snugly in my ears. The build quality is faultless and they isolate well enough, you’re practically deaf in the subway or when crossing roads.

Firing up the K10s, I felt that there was a holographic imaging that just wasn’t there on the Shure SE846s, the textures were richer and the ‘3D-ness’ was more apparent. Coherency was divine, everything blended together and no frequency range stood out in particular. In short, everything was in perfect balance and solidarity. Among this cohesiveness were impressive details that did not jump out at you or begged to be heard. They lied subtly in the presentation, but when you decided to seek them out, they were always there.



The control is rather splendid, bass is north of neutral but at the same time clean and defined. 1980s dance grooves are especially enjoyable, with the classic Billie Jean particularly shining, and Sasha’s What Are You To Me? seriously thumping. From the sub-bass rumble dropping down real low in Jamie xx’s Gosh to the crooning of Joseph Arthur on Devil’s Bloom to the quirky Gronlandic Edit from Of Montreal, the K10 fills each track’s shoes perfectly, sounding perfectly at home from all the eclectic materials I put it through. The K10 goes from a live disco to a tranquil chamber with a single instrument without a stutter or hint of musical xenophobia, no sides are picked, there really is justthe music.

Mesmerized

The longer you let the K10 do its thing, the more it caters to your total immersion, and the more it evokes a ‘bathed in music’ sensation in you. It is tuned with dynamic musical enjoyment in mind, and not draconian, textbook neutrality. If “Hi-Fi” strictly refers to absolute tonal balance and the pure reconstruction of a recording, then this is proudly not “Hi-Fi”. After all, we as humans are not frequency response graph-reading machines, and I would take basking in luscious sound over the platitude of ruler-flat accuracy any day.



The K10’s engrossing coherence is at its finest when playing complex passages. On John Mayer’s live rendition of Ray Charles’s I Don’t Need No Doctor, the guitar solos swerve around, perfect-layered as one singular body. This is again heard on Sphongle’s Dorset Perception, a track littered with indian bells along with tremendous amounts of layers and minute details. On this particular track the K10 stays musical while keeping all the bombastic bass impacts and maintaining more or less a balanced profile. It’s not unusual to find your brain smack down middle of a complex track with a maelstrom going off around but still hear the distinctive shimmers of guitar lines sparkling in the background. These phones never lose their cool no matter how chaotic it gets.

Coming of Age (Yes, I know this is the Katana’s marketing tagline)

However, too much goodness can be a less-than-perfect thing, and the K10 is voiced so pleasantly balanced that at times I feel a certain hardness and edginess that the SE846 is capable of bringing is smoothed over just ever so slightly. For example, the impact of each drum hit on The Whitest Boy Alive’s Timebomb lacks the razor sharpness of the SE846. Make no mistake about it, the dual bass drivers of the K10 will and can send your brain into a rattling mess if necessary, but a certain aggression is lost amidst the coherency, and I find myself reaching for the SE846 when I want to brandish anger and bang my head until it falls off. In Marilyn Manson’s Third Day of a Seven Day Binge, screams at the climax have drums so stately hammering in the background and everything in perfect balance that it never spills into the haywire, raw and frenzy territory like the SE846 can. To be fair, this speaks volumes about an IEM’s capabilities when you have to forcibly interpret its strengths into a shortcoming and feebly justify it with the bias of taste. The K10 is like the angsty teenage emo kid all grown up, with the rough edges of his personality blunted for the survival in society. However, it must be stated that this observation stems only from a certain idiosyncratic disposition (for aggressive rock), your mileage may wildly vary. In the end it is more than acceptable that strong character is traded for maximum versatility.



But then as I was contemplating all these needless worries, I discovered that 3 hours have passed, and the K10s were still in my ears. This is a testament of how utterly non-fatiguing the sound is, and how well it works for any genre of music. The longer you listen, the more it shows you that it is a maestro of anything you throw at it. Another amazing feat that the K10 pulls off is that you can crank up the volume endlessly, and it will never distort. In fact, the K10 is a real threat to your hearing because they sound so good at any volume and never loses its quality, that you continue to increase the volume after you got used to the previous increase, and it plays well with almost all types of music so it’s not like you have a reason to stop. I regularly find myself listening louder and louder, all the while marvelling at the absolutely chameleonic abilities of the K10. There is no better way to lose your hearing – this is the most heavenly way for your senses to go. The K10 might sound mundane during the warm-up stages but soon all the sweet music it effortlessly renders grows on you and becomes an addiction, to the point where you can’t take the IEMs off. The struggle is real.

However, I should mention that the upper midrange of the K10 does sound a bit hot in comparison after the Vega entered the picture, and the soundstage is also less expansive. It is still a very listenable IEM due to its complete lack of sibilance and jack-of-all-trade adaptability, it’s just not as ‘purpose-built’ as the Vega is in this aspect.



Conclusion

I ordered my K10 near the end of its product life, right before its Katana sibling and successor – the Kaiser Encore, stole much of the spotlight from it. Given its years of illustrious history, naturally I have already heard and read so much on the K10 and knew what to expect. What I eventually got exceeded all my high expectations.

The K10 was first launched in October 2013, and the top-of-the-line IEM space has gotten much more saturated with the competition a lot more fierce than before. Although there have since been many characterful and specialised IEMs, to be honest it is hard to imagine an IEM that sounds more balanced and versatile than this even after all these years. The K10 isa perfection unto itself, seamlessly coherent and easy-going; and no future releases, including the Kaiser Encore, are going to tarnish that reputation. Despite its discontinuation, the K10 will always have its place on a special throne in the IEM hall of fame, in its own niche, shining.

Originally posted on Accessible Audio
Posted to give back to the amazing HeadFi Community
Pros: sound quality, build quality, fit, soundstage, separation, asthetics
Cons: size (a bit bulgy), cost
After spending over a week of daily listening to these ciems I can confidently say that I have made an excellent choice with these ciems. There is nothing that i can say that hasn't been already covered by the numerous reviews. The plentiful reviews that praise the k10s for its amazing lows, mids, highs, sound-stage, separation, and not forgetting about the gorgeous art....they're all true. Noble's TOTL offerings are truly end-game gear for those who are in the hobby.
 
Cons? They're a bit bulgy - but i can live with that. Not much you can do with so many drivers in each ear. Oh and they are a bit expensive. If you can look past those two "cons" then the kaisers will become the best earphones you own.

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