- Jan 25, 2010
Synopsis: The Noble Audio 4C is a custom-fit in-ear monitor (ciem) characterized by a flat tuning with no peaks or dips from the lower bass to the lower treble range. This upgraded tuning eliminates the dip in frequency response found in the older model. The bass, while not boosted at all, has excellent extension , the mids are clear and the treble is flat until a gentle lift in the upper range which adds a sense of clarity and air to the sound. The tuning is excellent for acoustic, classical, folk, jazz, and rock genres and generally for audiophiles looking for a flat, accurate sound. Those who prefer bass-heavy earphones and music genres as well as those who listen primarily while travelling may wish for a tuning with more bass quantity for their dubstep or to balance train/plane engine roar.
I’ll be reviewing a sample provided by Noble.
Dr. John Moulton and the team at Noble Audio
Dr. John Moulton, known as The Wizard, needs no introduction but I will say that Dr. Moulton has assembled a highly experienced team of experienced engineers to form Noble Audio. Noble is set up very wisely: By giving each of his team a share in the company, they can really put their hearts into what they do and everyone will reap the benefits of their hard work and talent. John has assured that Noble is built to last for years to come, just like his earphones.
The Noble Audio Line at NobleAudio.com :
Noble Audio will carry a full line of custom fit in-ear monitors (ciems) and universal fit in-ear monitors (iems). The high-end iems will be rolling out soon, but for now let’s look at the ciems available:
Kaiser 10, this is the all-new 10-driver flagship. Here is my review of the Kaiser. Here’s a review by the scholar and gentleman, Sorensiim.
8C, this is the re-tuned and updated version of Dr. Moulton’s earlier 8-driver. He says it adds clarity and treble presence to his older tuning. Here’s a review of the Noble 8C by the professional reviewer and full-time nice guy, project86.
5C, this is John’s 5-driver custom. It’s the same as his earlier 5-driver universal, now in custom form. He describes it as having a bassy signature similar to his older 8-driver. This model will be available in both acrylic and silicone shells. The silicone shells are innovative in that they allow for a custom faceplate!
4C, this is the re-tuned and updated version of his earlier 4-driver. You’re reading a review of it right now! You can look at project86’s 8C review for his thoughts on the 4C as well. A review of the 4S—the silicone shelled version—by |joker| will be coming soon as well.
3C, this is all-new, totally re-designed 3-driver with some special, new drivers from Knowles (the foremost designer and manufacturer of balanced armature drivers). Dr. Moulton says it’s tuned for a v-shaped, fun signature. It’s available in both acrylic and silicone shells. Yes, the silicone shells can have a custom faceplate.
One thing I always like to mention is that with any ciem from anywhere, ever, is that this is a product designed to fit your unique ears. Fit is absolutely vital to the sound quality and isolation and comfort. You get that all-important fit by having an audiologist make an impression and this is what the audio company has to work with. Don’t try to go cheap with this! Work with audiologists who have experience making impressions for musicians and audiophiles and not only with hearing aids which require a much less precise fit. Even with the best audiologist, you may not get a perfect fit the first time, that’s the nature of ciems. Again, this is true with any company, anywhere, ever. So, it’s important to consider not only the product, but the customer service when it comes to ciems.
I’m repeating this from my Kaiser review verbatim, but I’d like to add that having a great fit is even more important with the Noble 4C and ciems like it that have a flat sound. The reason is that the bass isn’t boosted and a perfect fit is vital to get the bass that is there in its proper amount. A more bassy-earphone might be able to get away with some poor fit-induced loss of low-end, but a flatter tuned ciem won’t.
Noble Audio may be a new company, but everyone in it has a long experience in high-end portable audio and ciems. They really know how to give excellent customer service. I’ve worked with John for several years now with a few of his earlier ciems and I can say that I’ve had great experiences and I’ve talked to others who have as well. You’ll be in good hands.
Noble will have representatives in the U.S. for American customers and a representative in the U.K. for customers in the E.U. Of course, for folks in S.E. Asia, shipping can come direct from China. Noble Audio is on top of things from the start.
The Noble 4C:
This is a 4 driver design, with 2 drivers for the low-end, one for midrange and one for treble.
I’ll be reviewing a review sample set.
These are some professional pictures by Darrin Fong. My set has mother-of-pearl faceplates. These pictures are much better than I could take, but I will say that this set looks even better in real life!
Here's a silicone shell 4S for head-fi reviewer |joker|:
Here’s another set of Noble 4C with a feather in the faceplate! That’s a first. Look at Noble Audio’s facebook page for examples of what Noble can do in terms of colors and special faceplate designs.
One of the first things to know about the sound is that the Noble 4C is a re-tuning of Dr. Moulton’s earlier 4-driver design. Dr. Moulton’s earlier generation of a flat-tuned 4-driver generated a lot of attention, some of it very positive, some not quite as positive, and then there were a few very negative reviews. The negative feelings, for those who had them, centered around a dip in the frequency response around 4khz. Obviously, it’s something that some didn’t notice and others noticed a lot.
You should be aware that the new Noble 4C has been re-tuned to explicitly address some of the critiques of these older designs.
The new Noble 4C’s tuning removes entirely the dip in the frequency response.
I’ve been listening mostly out of an Apex Glacier amp paired with my trusty 5.5th gen ipod.
Sensitivity: The Noble 4C runs nicely straight out of my 5.5th gen ipod. I think people running from an anemic source might lose that last full measure of extension and detail the 4C has to offer, so amping would be a good idea then.
Tuning: The Noble 4C has a flat tuning that extends very well into the sub-bass range all the way through the bass and all the way through the midrange up into the treble, where there’s the first gentle rise at around 5k. Proponents of a flat tuning often say that it’s the most true to the recording as it’s not giving or taking anything from what the recording has to offer. The Noble 4C sounds balanced through the majority of its range and the rise at 5k serves to give a slightly heightened sense of clarity and brightness. It’s a clean sound with no excess warmth or richness added in, but rather a sense of accuracy. Those of you who want this sort of sound will have found your slice of heaven here and those who are looking for a bassier, warmer or darker sound will need to look elsewhere. I find this tuning does very well with classical, jazz and acoustic music genres as well as rock, for example. Not so much for dubstep!
One thing I’d like to add is that the Noble 4C has a nice timbre—the realistic reproduction of vocal and instrumental sounds. Cymbals do nicely with the 4C.
Imaging and Soundstage: The Noble 4C does well with imaging, but I would say it doesn’t match the Kaiser 10 in this regard. The soundstage feels quite spacious but the instruments themselves are placed a bit more intimately overall than top-tier ciems.
Bass: The bass extension of the Noble 4C is really quite excellent. There’s no roll-off, but rather a flat extension down to the lowest of lows. However, there’s no boost, either. It’s a clean, clear, tight, controlled bass that can punch when called on by the recording. It’s really quite enjoyable and it fits the overall tuning perfectly. In a quiet room, those who like flat tunings will find there’s plenty of thump for them. I could use a bit more down below for added naturalness, but people who are familiar with my reviews know my preferences are for bassier tunings—and I often listen on the go where added bass helps to counter plane/train engine roar.
Midrange: It’s very clean and this adds to the sense of clarity the 4C gives. The absolute detail retrieval stands up to much more expensive, top-tier ciems. The 4C really nails giving you a “window-on-the-music” sort of accurate sound. It sounds as if nothing has been added to your music and nothing taken away. You may want something added in terms of warmth if you want that sort of sound, but people looking for clean and clear will find it here.
Treble: The 4C’s treble is interesting. The lower treble is part of the broad flat tuning that covers the bass and midrange. That lift at 5k adds to perceived clarity and gives some added excitement to cymbals and violins. The flipside of this is that, while it passed my sibilance prone test tracks without a problem, I do feel that the Noble 4C isn’t going to take any harshness away from tracks that already have it. So, you may find that listening to poorly mastered, harsh tracks is more easy with darkly tuned earphones than the brighter 4C. The flat tuning below 5k doesn’t continue above it, although the “air” (which audio engineers define around 10k) is good. Absolute treble extension isn’t as good as the Kaiser 10, which simply has more drivers to devote to the high-end.
Conclusion: The Noble 4C is a very well done middle-tier custom in-ear monitor with a sound that will appeal to everyone who wants a flat, accurate sound with an extra dose of clarity and brightness in the treble. To those who want and enjoy best hearing the music just as it is in the recording, the 4C is a good match. People looking for extra bass and warmth, those who like a darkly tuned earphone and those who listen to bassy music on their urban commute may wish to look at a different earphone.