Cons: Not for someone into the highest of resolution
Disclaimer: This unit was sent to me without cost for the purposes of a review. I am neither affiliated with Noble Audio, nor was I pressured at any point into giving a positive review on the product.
It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on a review. The last one I did was on the Noble Audio Khan, and anyone that knows me will know that the Noble Audio Khan remains to me among the best of earphones. While it may not be suited to everyone’s liking, it is technically incredibly impressive, and remains my technical reference.
A couple of weeks back, I was catching up with the Wizard himself. He asked me if I had a little time on my hands to work on something. Back then, he remained a little secretive about it, not quite wanting to share specific details, but he promised me that it was something he had been working on for a long time, something he was incredibly proud of, something he was certain I would like. He wasn’t keen on sharing details regarding the price, nor the configuration as he wanted me to form a proper impression prior to that.
The Zephyr came in a large, impressive looking box, with a tank-withstanding weatherproof hard case. It also came along with a simple yet elegant leather case which would allow for more practical day to day use as compared to the hard case.
Those of you noble fans out there would probably be all too familiar with the prestige lineup of IEMs from Noble Audio. In the past years, there have been one or two companies out there who have come on board the idea of exotic materials not just for the faceplate, but for the whole IEM, but none, if you ask me, quite as successful as Noble has been.
Fit and Finish
Now, while the sound definitely remains the main dish, let’s not kid ourselves. If I’m going to be paying good money for an earphone, I want it to look the part. I don’t want it to look like some DIY product. While it may sound silly, one of my major gripes with the custom IEM industry is that all too often, people pay good money for products that look a little to DIY-ed. I definitely appreciate the spirit of DIY, but having said that, I want a product to look finished, and well-engineered. The prestige definitely does that. For those of you not so familiar with the prestige series of earphones, They are made from all sorts of materials from aluminium honeycomb structures, carbon glass, to bonded wood resins. The materials are cast in an acrylic block of sorts, which is then put through a CNC machine and finished off to perfection.
The Prestige Zephyr that I was sent is made from layered, dyed wood. Frankly, I think it looks stunning. A quick look at these pictures will let you know exactly what I mean.
The build quality of these things are absolutely top notch. The lacquer is smooth, without a bubble or a scratch. The shells are solid, and give off an absolutely satisfying clunk when knocked together lightly, almost as if they were little marbles.
Now on to the sound, how do they sound like? When I spoke to the wiz about the zephyr and his design philosophy for it, one thing came out more than any other: for the zephyr to sound natural. The Khan was designed for extreme precision, and the zephyr to sound natural. The zephyr doesn’t grab you right off the bat the way some of his older designs do, but it simply does nothing wrong. The transition between the drivers in the hybrid design is seamless and flawless, with the different drivers sounding as one.
From the top, the zephyr sound smooth, extended and clean. I’ve often heard designs that go one way or the other. The Khan is supremely precise, but it can get times border on being slightly gritty or intense on the highs. The K10 is smooth, but borders on the softer side of things. It is organic and lush, but certainly not the most precise. The Zephyr on the other hand, straddles this balance quite nicely. It certainly does not extend the way the Khan does in terms of absolute airiness and such, but it has a satisfying, clean top end, which gives good definition to sounds across the board. It remains, however, smooth sounding enough such that it never sounds sibilant. The result? Poor recordings sound very listenable, but good recordings are absolutely stunning.
The midrange of the zephyr reminds me of my favourite speakers, the Monitor Audio flagship PL100II. It is warm, weighty and meaty, with a good deal of muscle, yet due to its highs, remains a very clean edge to the sound. Often times, warm sounding earphones lose their clean edge, and can easily sound diffuse. While they may sound emotive, they lack the realism due to that lack of an edge. The zephyr on the other hand manages that weight and meat without becoming overly warm or thick or diffuse sounding. The result? Not only do vocals have a sense of richness, instruments become fuller and bigger sounding as well. That would be a pretty nice way to describe it, big, meaty midrange.
The bass of the zephyr is another thing coming. Now the K10 was known back in the day with its dual CI drivers to provide bass body, extension and slam unlike anything anyone had ever heard of from an all BA IEM. Having said that, the character of the bass in the K10 still, in my opinion, falls short of the best dynamic drivers. It doesn’t move the same air, and as a result, doesn’t have the physicality or the slam and attack of the best dynamic drivers in the market. Since the K10, though, Noble has yet to put out another earphone with that character. The Kaiser Encore was a very different animal from the K10. While its bass was quicker and snappier, more dynamic, it did not have the visceral nature of the K10. The Zephyr though appears to change that. On the stock cable (which is a very pretty upgrade cable from noble), is thunders and slams like nobody’s business. The dynamic driver in there knows what it’s doing. It’s got all the body and the weight of the K10’s bass, but with the power you get from a proper dynamic driver, the kind of bass you get with good subwoofer integration. It’s north of neutral for sure but I certainly would not classify it as a basshead earphone.
In terms of staging, the Zephyr definitely sounds to be more on the intimate, forward side. Mind you, it does not sound congested, and the soundstage itself isn’t small per se. The space is present, and extends out to a satisfying degree, but the presentation of the vocals and the isnstruments is much more forward. This, coupled with the rich, smooth presentation of the sounds, really creates for a cosy, fireplace feel.
The zephyr doesn’t come cheap, but for what it does, in the current world of IEMs, it certainly is a very decent value proposition. For those of you looking to squeeze the final ounce of detail from your music, those of you that want to be wowed by an immense soundstage, it may be a better idea to look elsewhere. If you are, however, looking for something that you can kick back and relax with, something that makes your whole collection sound good, the Zephyr remains a top competitor, and I would strongly recommend it.
Pros: Incredibly natural sound, pitch-perfect timbre, impactful and dynamic bass, easy-to-love tuning while staying very neutral, stunning Prestige designs available.
Cons: No frequencies are greatly enhanced, so it may be too neutral for some listenings.
Intro & About Me
I will keep this short and sweet, because we have much more important things to discuss today. I became an “audiophile” a few years ago and started climbing the ladder to insanity pretty quickly. I started with some decent IEMs, a few earbuds, dabbled in headphones and eventually ended up on track to own almost every single flagship ever released. I do not believe I am a “reviewer,” per se, but instead just love trying gear and then writing about it when something really strikes a chord with me. You’ll notice a lot of my reviews I have posted are pretty positive and if I’m being honest, I don’t bother writing reviews on a mediocre product. Maybe that’s a polarizing, or lazy view, but I buy all my own gear and am not constrained to write about something I don’t want to. Liberating, really. That said, I’m also not as good as the real reviewers, so this will probably be more about the feels and the enjoyment factor than a true technical analysis. But hey, I promise to do my best either way. This IEM deserves it.
At the helm of Noble’s successful audio brand is John Moulton, known as “The Wizard” in these parts of town. I had the good fortune of speaking to John after receiving this pair of IEMs because he either got sick of my endless private messages loaded with questions, or he enjoys talking shop with other audiophiles. We had a great conversation, so I will assume it was the latter with a little bit of the former. I admit that I was a little nervous to talk to the man behind the gorgeous bespoke offerings and blockbuster successes like the K10, but quickly realized that this is what John loves to do and his passion for the industry was immediately apparent. But life is short and thankfully his sense of humor is not lost; my stomach turned when he suggested that the IEMs really open up after 5,000 hours of burn-in. I knew we would get along just fine.
A little more about the Wizard, because I think this paints the picture of how the Noble journey has transformed into what it is today. John has a degree in Audiology, but had been passionate about HiFi long before that, citing a fascination with the emotional response humans get from music and quality sound. John also mentioned that he has a deep appreciation for the big brands like Onkyo, Kenwood, Toshiba and enjoys learning about their storied history. John draws inspiration from one individual in particular, Amar Bose, not only due to the huge success of Bose, but the fact that it was accomplished essentially coming from nothing and building a name for himself based on his accomplishments. John eventually ended up in the Audiology program at college in Texas where shortly after, the IEM work began. Years later, the K10 (which went on to be one of the most successful flagship IEMs in Head-Fi history) was finalized at a dinner table in China, complete with impedance calculations done during the main course. This solidified Noble’s position as a top-tier offering in the high-end IEM market.
Technology has changed quite a bit since the K10, though, so I was curious to know some details on Noble's philosophy when building an IEM. Does Noble create an IEM around the latest and greatest technology? Or does Noble start with an intended sound and match components to reach that target? Well, it turns out that the answer is both. You will not find Noble competing in driver wars (although John did build a 20 driver IEM just to see if it could be done) or racing to implement something first unless the sound is fully vetted, though. I see Noble as a very innovative company who is also very much in touch with what their customers want. In fact, some IEMs Noble have created were at the very request of their customers or distributors, which shows an appreciation for the folks shelling out their hard-earned cash on Noble’s offerings.
It is widely accepted that Noble creates some of the most visually stunning and unique IEMs, so I also was curious to understand how that fit into John’s passion for good sound. To my surprise, these “one-off” designs were actually born out of John’s lack of owning a machine to do proper laser etching, like JH Audio used to do for example. Instead, John would source unique and exotic wood and craft a face plate out of that, adding his own final touches to create a truly unique set of earphones. This eventually became the Wizard offerings from Noble, but the artistic design didn’t stop there. Further down the road, John’s wife expressed interest in partnering on some of the artwork, given her past profession of manicures and pedicures. Noble began to offer one-of-a-kind bespoke IEMs which were a collaboration between the Wizard and Joy (I own one of these in the form of a Katana), and this raised the bar yet again for uniquely stunning artwork. Fast forward to modern day and we now have the “Prestige” program where the entire shell, faceplate and driver assemblies are done by hand by the Wizard himself, again with no two offerings being alike. From exotic maple, to obscure flower designs, to eye-catching patterns, you will be blown away once you venture over to the Prestige gallery on the Noble website. The first time I saw a Prestige offering from Noble, I knew I wanted to own one. Today, I am very fortunate to be able to write about a Prestige version of the Zephyr.
The Noble Zephyr – Design, Fit and Accessories
Noble’s new IEM, the Zephyr, was designed from the ground up with carefully chosen components and the final product is strictly to the Wizard’s specifications – and liking! Inside, we have “just” three drivers in an age where it seems like everyone is competing to implement the most variety of technologies, with “tri-brids” and even “quad-brids.” I agree, the naming is getting confusing. Here we have a good ole hybrid approach with a dynamic driver serving up the sub-bass, a balanced armature serving up the bass and mids and then a second balanced armature serving up the mids and highs. One of the balanced armatures is apparently a custom design which John had some influence over with Knowles, purpose-built for this application. The result is an incredibly coherent, natural sound, but I will touch more on that later. For exterior shell options, we obviously have a prestige version, but joining this will also be the standard version and the standard pro CIEM version.
Included with the Zephyr is the newer eight-wire OCC copper cable, which I find to be one of the best stock cables on the market. Despite being an eight-wire format, the individual wires are extremely soft and supple, super flexible and provide zero microphonics. Sound quality wise, I find no fault whatsoever in this cable and I will touch on this more in the cable comparisons later. The fit and finish of the cable is quite premium, as are the terminations at both ends; a true “upgrade” cable by all considerations. Also included is the usual Pelican 1010 case, the Noble straps for stacking source equipment, a soft pouch and an assortment of ear tips. For me, I was very happy to find that my go-to JVC Spiral Dot++ tips first perfectly and provide the desired sound. Given the fairly standard nozzle shape and size, I do not anticipate that most folks will have issues with “tip rolling,” or rather you will not have to drive yourself insane getting a seal like some other IEMs. This is a relief, because you’ll be neck deep into audio bliss before you know it.
On the fit of the IEM, again I have zero complaints and find them to be extremely comfortable. Shell size is average for a hybrid monitor, where I would say they are roughly similar to the Khan but a bit more ergonomic for me with softer edges. They fit me very well and the highly ergonomic stock cable adds to that physical enjoyment factor. There is nothing worse than buying a top of the line IEM, unboxing it, and then struggling for fit constantly which detracts from the enjoyment. I’m looking at you, Sony IER-Z1R. Also surprising was zero detectable driver flex, which sometimes can be an issue when utilizing dynamic drivers.
As for the Prestige designs, each offering is entirely unique and it is a bit futile to tell you all about mine since your eventual Prestige will be different. But, alas, it is so damn cool that I want to mention it. Mine is made with a banksia seed pod, which is native to Australia and shares some similarities with a pinecone. When was the last time you said that about an IEM? Anyway, this is just one example of how Noble are redefining bespoke designs and really thinking outside the box to create a truly unique piece of art that you can cherish for years to come. The sky is the limit with these designs, so I urge you to keep an eye of the unique offerings and when one suits your fancy, get out your checkbook!
Let me start off by saying that I was not quite sure what to expect upon first listen of the Zephyr. I have purchased and own a lot of IEMs, but I am rarely comfortable “blind buying” an IEM that I have not read extensively about or that I have not personally heard. Noble, however, is a company I trust not to make a product that sounds anything less than stellar. Thankfully, as soon as I put these into my ears I knew that there was going to be a long road of success ahead and I was immediately fond of what I was hearing.
Starting with sound signature, this is a fairly neutral, studio-like monitor that lacks any kind of extreme enhancements across the frequency range. That’s not to say it’s a boring monitor, far from it, but it’s not a monitor that produces thunderous bass or treble into extreme registers. Instead, the Zephyr reproduces music with a neutral tone, extremely natural timbre, and it portrays an effortless soundscape that is quite easy to get lost in. I feel like this is a very sought after tuning, yet few acomplish it like the Zephyr. Everything just sounds “correct” for lack of a better word. Will some folks want more bass? Sure. Will some treble-heads want more sparkle and energy? Maybe. But the Zephyr is an IEM that stays true to its purpose. It’s lack of inherent enhancements is what allows it to excel in accuracy and quite frankly honesty. Zephyr lays it all out on the line, for better or worse.
Bass: Let’s start with the bass, specifically the sub-bass. Zephyr has a very clean, punchy, sub-bass response that leans toward the fast, tidy, neutral kind. Bass digs deep, has adequate layering ability, but it’s not boosted to skew the signature. I find this quite rare in the “neutral” category as most IEMs within that scope are purely balanced armatures, but the use of a dynamic driver provides the air and impact with satisfying sensation. Mid-bass isn’t emphasized, but provides abundant cleanliness and restraint. Kick drums have a nice punch, while nothing bleeds into mids or muddies the waters. Overall bass is tight, clean, low-reaching and quick. Certainly not something for bass-heads, but much more satisfying than purely balanced armature IEMs to my ears.
Mids: This is a frequency range that has always been sort of in between the others for me, but with Zepjhyr I really hear things come alive. Electric guitars, male vocals, all of that “I’m at the concert” feeling. Starting with electric guitar, strings don’t have an ear-ringing bite, but they have a warmth and roundness that sounds like a Fender tube amp of yester-year. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb” provides attention-grabbing rifs that sound true to form. Instruments just sound lush, natural and defined in the space of the IEMs presentation. I would say that the mids are where Zephyr really shines, but the upper and lower registers being under such control are what allow this to happen.
Vocals: Like I said several hundred times, the Zephyr is a natural monitor that gives true life to anything being played. Let’s start with female vocals, even if a bit generalized. Eva Cassidy’s voice has a roundness, a texture, a halo if you will, portraying her in her own space relevant to the music. Again, nothing is enhanced, but a soft glow illuminates her sound. Really, really special, with a soft analogue feel to most female vocals I tried. Moving on to male vocals, things are pretty similar with an added dose of authority given to male vocals. Take “The Sound of Silence” for example (yes, I know it’s Simon and Garfunkel!), the power, strength and focus is quite impressive. Summarizing what I hear, vocals are relayed with emphasis and power, while still falling into the natural and neutral category even if a bit colored. Life is good here in the vocals.
Treble: Let’s just get this out of the way, I am a treble-head that loves me some sparkle! If I had to pick any are I wanted to see a bit more “oomph,” it would be the treble. But, that’s probably good news for you! Many friends on Head-Fi have told me that the IEMs I love to death (Khan...) have too much treble presence, so I truly feel like the treble on the Zephyr will please most folks. Treble is rather neutral, well-defined, adequately sparkly and in certain instances, estat-like. In fact, I asked John if these had estats because I found the treble so smooth and pleasing. But alas, good-ole balanced armatures. Putting on my critical-listening cap, I hear the treble to have excellent extension, but not striding into extreme registers. I am confident this treble will not offend those who are sensitive to the higher frequencies, but it still extends into sparkle territory. It does not veer into U18T territory or Khan territory, bit instead it is a warmer, wetter, thicker treble that I really feel gives a dose of liveliness to the music. Well-done, Noble, a treble that extends healthily but doesn’t offend. That is what I like to see! Well, I love treble, I could stand just a tad more, but really feel that this is where mainstream treble tuning should lie.
Separation, Soundstage and Resolution: I freely admit that this is not the easiest area for me to review, but alas I will provide my thoughts. Separation, which I define as the clarity and space between instruments and notes, is quite high on the Zephyr. I can clearly hear different instruments giving me notes in different parts of my ear with the Zephyr. It doesn’t provide an out of head experience like, say, the Tia Fourte, but instead I can clearly depict resulting sounds through their instrument. While these monitors provide a sense of natural warmth, there is still easily detectable layering between instruments. As for soundstage, things are wide, deep and tall while listening to a binaural recording. Again, things don’t expand out of your head, but I hear a very accurate stage representation. Zephyr gives a natural and realistic soundscape that really puts you in the front row of an intimate acoustic concert. In the resolution category, I would give the Zephyr an above-average grade, close to the top. You won’t miss subtle queues of your favorite song, in fact you may hear passages where you notice artifacts you haven’t before. I love this abou the Zephyr – it sounds so natural and reserved upon first listen, but play an up-tempo pop track and you will hear it ALL. Again, for better or worse.
Noble Khan: Khan is a flagship “tri-brid” IEM from Noble which employs a dynamic driver for bass, four balanced armatures for the mids and a piezo-electric tweeter for the highs. The Khan was a departure from the familiar CNC aluminum shells of Noble’s prior flagships and employed a really cool silver pattern within a black shell. The Prestige shell of the Zephyr one-ups this of course, being a one of a kind design by nature, but then again Khans are one of a kind as well with no two being alike in their appearance. Well anyway, on to the sound. Bear with me while I say something unintelligent (as if that’s a huge departure from the rest of this review, please...): the tuning is quite similar and quite different at the same time. Starting with the bass, I hear a clean, impactful sub-bass impact that strikes a nice balance between emphasis and speed. This isn’t a bass that makes you immediately know that it’s a dynamic driver either, but as you listen you start to know it’s there. Mid-bass is similarly clean, impactful on both, but never bloated and always speedy in its decay. Bass, to my ears, is quite similar with the Zephyr being a tad warmer, a touch softer and slightly more natural with Khan’s sub-bass being a little deeper. This is bass done very well on both. Moving into the mids, I hear more warmth and emotion in the Zephyrs, while Khan prioritizes clarity and air. Vocals have a roundness to them in the Zephyr that makes Khan sound a little colder in comparison. Again the tunings aren’t far off here, but listening back to back, you start to hear the natural timbre of the Zephyr shining through. As with many high-end earphones, I wouldn’t declare a winner here, but instead I appreciate the difference in sound. I see band-based music absolutely shining in the Zephyr, with satisfying crunch in things like electric guitars and a natural touch to other stringed instruments, but the air and space in Khan’s mids really lends well to some types of modern pop and synthetic tracks like Enya, Yanni, etc. The treble, however, is where the tunings diverge rather quickly. Treble on the Khan is energetic, sparkly, splashy at times and extended into a dog’s range of hearing. Treble on the Zephyr is warm, natural and thicker. I can confidently say there are very few people who would take any issue with the treble in the Zephyr, but Khan is on the other end of the spectrum where it’s not what I would recommend for an eight hour listening session. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the treble on the Khan, but these are quite different trebles. I find the treble in the Zephyr closer to the Katana, which I mentioned had a softer touch in my Khan review. Overall, I find the Zephyr more musical, natural and neutral, where Khan provides more perceived clarity, but takes to a slight U-shape in the signature with the treble and bass. It’s hard to say which has a higher resolution because I’m certainly not missing any details in the Zephyr, but Khan is one of the highest resolution IEMs I’ve ever heard. I love both these IEMs dearly.
Noble Sultan: Sultan is the new flagship “tri-brid” IEM from Noble, and I realize I just said the same thing about the Khan. When I started listening to Zephyr and writing this review, Sultan did not exist for purchase and now it does. Special thanks to Mark for loaning me his Sultan for the purposes of comparison. Upon first listen, switching to the Zephyr from Sultan offers a more neutral, less V (or W) shape allowing vocals to shine through with greater emphasis, while Sultan has larger enhancements to the bass and treble. Sultan has an energetic and exciting fun sound with thumping sub-bass, punchy mid-bass and warm, crunchy mids. Treble sounds like it extends ever slightly further in the Sultan, where Zephyr is smoother and a little less sparkly. Stage seems wider and grander on Sultan, though both have pinpoint accuracy. Sultan also manages to eek out the most detail to my ears, but neither are slouches. Other differences include the fact that Sultan is a tad easier to drive, where Zephyr required a few more notches of volume. Fit is equal for me on both, very comfortable and I could wear either for hours. It’s hard to declare a winner here, but Sultan just has more of everything: more bass, more sparkle, more enhancements to the frequencies top to bottom. But Zephyr provides that all-day listening comfort with natural tonality, true timbre and an incredibly well-executed neutral response that lets the music shine through. Honestly, I want them both. Noble has often done this in the past, released two flagships and allowed the users to choose which sound is for them. This is almost like a Katana/Encore redeux, where we have a fantastic neutral offering and an enhanced, bold, fun sounding IEM that provides details galore and an ear to ear grin.
Dita Dream XLS: I have always been a fan of Dita’s single dynamic driver approach, so today I will compare with the latest flagship in the form of the Dream XLS. Dream XLS has a rather natural sound, but with engaging bass and a warm tone overall. The tuning philosophies are somewhat similar in that they both strive for a natural, neutral listen that isn’t cold or sterile. The two share a similar dynamic driver bass impact, but not enhanced to the degree of flooding you with bass. Sub-bass digs equally deep on both, though the XLS has a slight emphasis on mid-bass where the Zephyr provides a more neutral bass response, preserving the cleanliness of the sub-bass. Mids are a tad more forward on the XLS, but blended nicely into the mix with the Zephyr. I would say that vocals have a softer touch on the Zeyphyr, making the XLS sound slightly more energetic. Treble sounds more rounded, thicker and more natural on the Zephyr, giving the XLS a more sparkly presentation. I started this comparison thinking the XLS was the king of being natural and neutral, but the Zephyr actually makes the XLS sound enhanced and less reference in certain frequencies. I would probably declare the Zephyr the king of being neutral and natural, while the Dream XLS provides a bit more lively response in certain frequencies, such as mid-range and treble. Stage dimensions are quite wide, deep and tall on both, but imaging is extremely precise on Zephyr and gives the feeling of being able to reach out and touch the instruments. Fit is way better on Zephyr for me, but that’s getting way into personal preference so please take that with a grain of salt. I would also put the resolution and separation fairly equal on both, which means reaching impressive levels.
Campfire Solaris SE: These are both gorgeous IEMs, both visually and audibly, but they are also quite different with the Zephyr being a wooden shell and Solaris being metal with a cool abalone face plate. While both employ a hybrid design housing a dynamic driver for bass and balanced armatures for mids and treble, their tuning philosophies and sound hit a fork in the road right from the get go. Solaris SE is a great all-rounder that works well for many genres, while its tuning is enhanced in all the right places to my ears. Slight bass bump, open and clear mids, sparkly treble that doesn’t extend into sibilant territory. It's a very likeable tuning. Zephyr’s focus, however, is to stay truer to the music and provide a neutral sound as the artist intended. Before I get into the sound further, I want to say that the Solaris SE is ridiculously easy to drive and has an audible hiss on both my DAPs (Cayin N6ii and Kann Cube), so I prefer to drive it from a phone. It’s eerily easy to drive and the impedance provides issues if you’re sensitive to hiss, where the Zephyr has a fully black background on all of my sources and while it’s more difficult to drive, I feel it is way less sensitive to impedance issues or high noise floor devices. Just throwing that out there because it’s my biggest complaint with Solaris SE. Okay, now back to the sound and tuning, starting with bass. Solaris SE provides a greater bass quantity, while Zephyr gives a cleaner bass response. I would say both dig equally deep, but Solaris SE has a higher quantity and greater punch with kick drums. Moving into mids, the Solaris SE had improved over the normal Solaris (apparently, I don’t own the original), but Zephyr is the IEM that gives a more organic, rounded presentation with vocals and guitars. Solaris SE gives a little more air and clarity to mids, but Zephyr presents this frequency range with euphoric-like timbre, so you have to decide which you prefer. Into the treble, Solaris SE seems to offer more sparkle, further extension, but Zephyr again offers the more natural and delectable treble. Hard to declare a winner, just different of course. Resolution and clarity are quite similar, but stage seems expanded on Solaris SE. On the flipside, Zephyr offers the more natural, pleasing timbre.
Oops, I forgot to take a photo
A Few Words on Cables: always my favorite part...not! Don’t get me wrong, I love aftermarket cables, some of which have changed the sound of an IEM very audibly, but this is a tough section. If you like an IEM’s sound signature, no cable is going to change that. Alternatively, if you dislike an IEM’s sound signature, you’re probably not going to find a cable that fixes that. All that said, I had a few preferred pairings with the Zephyr.
Effect Audio Cleopatra: the Cleopatra is a wonderfully comfortable, smooth and detailed cable. I would say its primary strength is sub-bass and it does a great job of enhancing what the Zephyr has to offer as far as bass on tap. Sub-bass hits low and deep, while staying clean and controlled. Into the mid-range, everything is clear and transparent and I don’t hear any major changes here versus the stock cable. Perhaps a tad less thick, but I’m splitting hairs. Into the treble, I also find this to be pretty comparable to the stock cable, with a little more smoothness whereas the stock cable sounds more like a traditional silver despite it being copper. Cleo is a great pairing if you want to hear the bass at its best.
PW 1960 2w: this cable has built a reputation on enjoyment factor, with pleasing bass, holographic mids and stage, and a sparkly yet refined treble. It performs at a very high level on Zephyr, while also being extremely comfortable. Sound signature is very similar to the stock cable, with a little more rumble in the bass and a little more precision in the mids. Treble is yet again pretty similar, with the 1960 eeking out a tad more detail. Another fantastic pairing, but it should be for nearly four digits in price (USD).
Eletech Plato: I tried this cable at a later date than the rest, and I am glad because it is outstanding. This is another pure silver cable which prioritizes smoothness and detail, similar to the Cleopatra. It takes the midrange clarity to new heights, while still offering very clean, impactful sub-bass and smooth, extended treble. It’s more natural and neutral than Cleo, and maybe more tame than the 1960, but to my ears it matches and synergizes with the Zephy’s qualities best. Again, it performs on a very high technical level and is very comfortable to wear.
Eletech Iliad: this is the super car of cables, and it probably costs nearly the same as the IEM. That said, it gives a roundless and punch to the bass that is addicting. Mid-range is largely unchanged, but with the addition of a holographic stage and a detail focus. Treble is fairly similar to the 1960, with texture and sparkle that really make the IEMs sing. I think it does bring out more bass and treble, but given the neutral, natural and relaxed focus of the Zephyr, Plato is still my favorite.
A Few Words on Sources: I will admit that I don’t spend a ton of time A/B testing different sources because each of my sources are for different purposes. That said, some IEMs are very source-dependent to sound their best and I am happy to report that Zephyr is very flexible. They are not super sensitive to where they have hiss on any of my sources (Cayin N6ii, Hugo 2 or LG V60) and there aren’t any weird impedance issues where frequencies are skewed. They also sound just fine out of my iPhone with dongle, which I mention because there seemed to be a concern with that on the Khan. Personally, I do not expect amazing results when pairing a $2,300 IEM with a $9 dongle, but I digress and suppose it should work properly.
Given the natural, slightly relaxed nature of the Zephyr, I found it to sound its best with neutral sources like the Hugo 2. Shocking, I know. Hugo 2 brings a lot of dynamics out of the IEMs and gives them an energetic sprinkling throughout the frequencies. Not far behind, I really loved the N6ii with the E01 module in AB mode. Class A was a little too warm and relaxed given that the Zephyr already veers in that direction, but AB mode was pure bliss. Similar to Hugo 2, details were eeked out of every nook and cranny and there was enough sparkle to give a perception of clarity that was very much to my liking. Honestly, The Zephyr sounded great out of my phone as well, which is an LG V60 with the “quad DAC” setup. To get the best out of Zephyr, I had to trick the phone into a higher gain mode, but LG users will be very used to that by now with the goofy implementation of a powerful amp that is pretty much hidden until you much with settings. I guess what I am trying to say is that Zephyr’s enjoyment factor was there for me on all of my devices, but my first choice would be something on the neutral side and not overly warm.
Summary and Conclusion: this journey has been a lot of things for me. Given that I have had the Zephyr for months now, it allowed me to take my time and really get to know them. I also got to experience the Prestige craftsmanship up close and personal and for that I am thankful. Zephyr is an IEM that doesn’t shout at you upon first listen. It doesn’t jump out with any enhanced frequencies, any gimmicks or any clever tricks up its sleeve. Zephyr is an IEM that once you really take the time to get to know them, they impress with their nuanced subtleties and mature tuning. I hope my description does not give a boring impression, but rather articulating that they’re special in their own right and their own methodology. From an incredible timber in the midrange, to a clean, precise sub-bass and then smoothness up into the higher registers, I cannot help but feel that I am hearing music exactly as it was meant to be heard. For that, I know that Zephyr will stay with me for a long time. While the IEM market races from milestone to milestone with different technologies and marketing strategies (which, don’t get me wrong, I love), Zephyr is the IEM you relax and recharge with while remembering (and hearing) the finer things in life.