- Jan 25, 2010
Synopsis: The Noble Audio Kaiser 10 is at the summit of custom in-ear-monitors representing the flagship of new designs from Dr. John Moulton. The Kaiser 10’s 10 drivers have been brought together seamlessly for superior coherency and a very realistic, natural sound. These drivers give great depth and extension to the Kaiser 10’s balanced tuning. The bass is present and very capable but not boosted or forward, the midrange is clear and very smooth with slight warmth, the vocal range has a gentle lift to bring it to the forefront, and the excellent treble is smoothly bright and non-fatiguing. With no sonic weaknesses, the Kaiser 10 does very well with a wide array of music genres, making it a very good choice for audiophiles looking for the most versatile choice at the top-tier of portable audio.
Dr. John Moulton and the team at Noble Audio:
Dr. John Moulton, known as The Wizard, needs no introduction but perhaps a little history and background: John is a doctor of audiology and has a long history of working with high-end portable audio. His first company was Full Circle and the seed of his later ciem designs first came to fruition there. Next was Heir Audio, which was quite successful as John continued refining his designs and the artistry for which he quickly became known for. He brought together a team of highly experienced technicians and engineers with finely tuned skills. It is this team which John has brought over to 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. You’re reading a review of it right now!
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.
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. The 4C’s new tuning eliminates any dips in the frequency response. It’s a clear, clean sound which is flat with a bit of brightness in the treble. I have it and will write a review later. This is the one you want if you want an analytic sound. It is available in both acrylic and silicone shells. Did I mention the silicone shells are innovative in that they allow for a custom faceplate? I’m going to repeat it for the 3-driver custom, too!
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). John 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.
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 Kaiser 10:
The Kaiser 10 retails for $1599. An important point is that wood or carbon fiber faceplates, custom colors are INCLUDED in that price. Yes, wood or carbon fiber faceplates are free, that’s huge. To get a faceplate personally designed by the Wizard himself costs a bit extra.
Also, shipping is INCLUDED in that price.
The key point is that you can get a Kaiser 10 which looks just like the one I've reviewed (minus the Wizard signature) for $1599 flat.
Here are some professional pictures of my Kaiser 10 by Darin Fong. He did a lot better job than I could have! This is a beautiful design by the Wizard.
The Kaiser 10 is set up with two giant CI drivers for bass, a dual armature for mids, a dual armature for upper mids, and a dual armature for treble paired with another dual armature for upper treble in a 4-way design. This design uses the same two huge CI drivers as the 8 driver design but several of the other drivers from the 8 have been replaced with different models for the Kaiser and the overall sound is far different than older version of the 8-driver which I am familiar with.
Isolation and Fit:
This is an acrylic shell custom and has the same isolation as every other acrylic shell ciem (assuming you have a good fit).
One thing to note is that multi-armature ciems that have 8 and more drivers are going to be larger than ones that have 2 or 3 drivers. The drivers and other components take up more room. Now, this is all relative as ciems run pretty small as it is, but for those with small ears, your ciem may stick out a few millimeters more with an 8 or 10 driver ciem. It shouldn’t be an issue for most, but it is something to be aware of.
Cable: Although the cable on mine is a usual generic custom cable, all Noble Audio orders will go out with the new improved Magnus cable at no extra charge. I'll be receiving a review sample of that cable to try on the Kaiser 10. It should be a great cable.
The Kaiser 10 I'll be reviewing is a review sample from Noble Audio. I've taken several weeks to listen to it and get over any "honeymoon" period. I'll be describing it just as I hear it.
I tend to run the Kaiser out of my 5.5th gen ipod paired with an Apex Glacier portable amplifier. Another thing to note is that I did extensive listening both at home, but also on commute in the noisy subways of New York City. This is important as you should consider where you will be doing your listening. If you listen on commute, be it plane or train, keep in mind that you may need an earphone that has more bass capability to balance the outside noise. Of course, isolation is important as well.
The Tuning: The Kaiser has a balanced, natural sounding signature with a very cohesive overall sound. This is a very skillfully tuned earphone! I don’t want to overstate anything as the whole tuning is about gentle lifts here and there to give this natural, balanced effect. Watch me use the word “slight” to describe everything! Usually earphones have some extreme somewhere in their sound, a boosted bass or a piercingly bright treble, the Kaiser just doesn’t. The vocal range is slightly lifted and takes a gracious center stage, as it should being the heart of the music. The bass has great presence. However, to the ear, it’s only very slightly lifted and comes in level with the treble, which is smoothly bright and extended. There’s a nice amount of realistic thickness to the note decay and warmth to the midrange. It avoids a dry sound and gives life to the music. Clarity is very good without distracting your attention from the holistic sound the Kaiser faithfully presents. People who are looking for one part of the sound or sound quality to be emphasized (always at a cost somewhere else) will want to look elsewhere as the Kaiser really gives a complete package.
Sensitivity: I like to quote the person who said that running a high-end earphone from a lower quality source is like putting cheap tires and gas in your expensive sportscar. Having said that, my ipod 5.5th gen runs the Kaiser well, taking it up to pretty loud levels. It still sounds great. Perfectionists will want that extra measure of performance from a high end source, others won’t bother. I'm not having any hiss problems from the Kaiser, either, but that's not generally a hot-button issue for me.
Imagining and soundstage: I used the Ultrasone test CD, which has a large variety of very well recorded tracks ranging from large choruses to small jazz ensembles, to a shimmering gong improvisations to fireworks to field recordings in nature, etc., to test the soundstage and imaging. The Kaiser, as you might expect, does very well. The soundstage sounds natural, not artificially forced out, and it avoids any “head in a fishbowl” sort of effects. You get a well-imaged soundstage that projects in front and around to the sides, with excellent height. The Ultrasone cd has a track where a brook is bubbling behind the microphone and the Kaiser faithfully gives a very convincing effect of water travelling behind you. For imaging, again, I’m not getting the artificially hyper-separated sound where each instrument sounds as though it was pasted in, but a more true to the recording sound where each instrument has its own place on the soundstage. The Kaiser doesn't quite have the perfect coherence of a single dynamic-driver design, but its 10-drivers are very well brought together. I’d call it a medium size for an earphone, changing with the recording. Keep in mind that these soundstage cues come from the recording. To me, a good earphone faithfully reproduces these cues for your ears rather than imposing its own effect. Your preferences may differ.
Treble: The Kaiser’s treble is extraordinary. It really gives a very nice brightness and air without harshness—a balance that is very hard to find. Violins and cymbals sound great and the timbre of voices and instruments are very good, surpassing the older, darker 8.A in this regard. The treble extension is superior and there’s no fatigue. It’s the best treble I’ve heard from an multi-armature design. People looking for a dark sound or people looking for extra edge and sibilance won’t find that here.
Midrange: The beautiful midrange has nice warmth, but far less than Dr. Moulton’s older, thickly warm 8.A. The Kaiser’s mids are clear and the vocal range has a slight lift to bring it just a bit to the forefront. Music comes alive with this tuning and the Kaiser has a way of making drawing you into your music.
Bass: This is a very high quality bass. The bass is very well controlled and not boosted beyond what sounds natural. It’s a much less bassy signature than the 8.A. Yet the Kaiser’s bass is powered by those same huge drivers, so there’s exceptional presence in that refined bass signature which remains in align with the treble and just a touch behind the vocal range. The Kaiser has excellent bass extension and can really thump and thunder when the music asks, even as string quartets and jazz also sound excellent. I would say that it's a very nice amount of bass for listening in a quiet room, however, bassheads may like a little extra via EQ. This is particularly true when traveling on the road to balance road/track/plane noise.
The Kaiser’s balanced tuning means that it works very well with just about every genre of music. All kinds of classical and jazz sound phenomenal with the Kaiser. Pop and rock are great and ballads are beautiful. The bass comes alive with rap and hip-hop and there’s bass depth for dubstep (although the bassier Noble 8C and Noble 5C may fit dedicated fans of this genre better).
Is the Kaiser right for you:
Have you noticed that the Kaiser really doesn’t have any flaws to talk about? It’s a very well done earphone, no question. However, whether it’s right for you depends on what you want to hear and only you can decide that. The first thing is that you have to know what you really like and not just for 5 minutes or 50 minutes, but what you want to hear for the long term. I have a story to illustrate this:
Storytime! This actually happened:
I received a message a while back from a guy who had been reading about another ciem that had reviewed very well. The ciem was said to have a mostly flat signature and this person liked more bass in his music. People were really excited about this ciem and said it was so great that the person got caught up this excitement. He knew that the ciem didn’t have the sound signature he like but he thought it’d be so great that he’d just love it anyway. You can see where this is going, right?
Guess what? He didn’t like it! The expensive ciem which didn’t have the sound he wanted wasn’t good for him, even if it was good for other people. The moral is you have to know what you want and get something which matches that. Noble Audio has a bunch of ciems and they will all sound different and be right for different people. The Kaiser will be right for a lot of people, but only you know if you are one of them.
The Kaiser 10 really defines what a flagship should be as an all-around excellent custom fit earphone with a versatile tuning that sounds great with a very wide range of music. A great deal of care went into every aspect of this earphone and it really shows. When it comes to having the total package, not only sound but customer service and appearance that’s a work of art, look no further than new Noble Audio Kaiser 10.