- Oct 16, 2012
As many may or may not know, I collect headphones, IEMs, and even CIEMs. I usually put them down in a nice private space (as my friend calls it, "The Batcave") and get together with a couple of friends to listen and comment on them. We then decided to start a thread on head-fi dealing with our reviews/findings of anything and everything that we deem "interesting".
I've done a few reviews and have commented on many head-fi related things in the past few years since I became a head-fier and its been a really fun (and quite expensive) journey. I have my friend soullinker20 to thank for that. As always as I do also have a full time job and family I will only be posting reviews and impressions here along with my friends (if they DO post):
(If I forgot any of you, sorry and go up to me and tell me who you are on head-fi and I might add you to the list )
And others who don't even have head-fi profiles.
Hopefully we will be able to do some justice to our reviews, impressions, and random jibber-jabber to prove slightly more entertainment than most, and even provide some feedback if any of you are on the fence about getting anything we've listened to.
Me and audio:
I've had quite the enjoyable journey in audio, starting with purchasing my own pair of beats (pro I think) when I was finishing high school and my first sennheisers (IE8) when I was in College. It was then that my good friend soullinker20 introduced me to head-fi and the beauty of proper full-sized cans and IEMs. Since then my FLAC and DSD library has grown to around 1.2 TB and I've been following all the news about headphones and IEMs. The next year of head-fi was my start with Custom IEMs thanks to the incredible chance that I got to purchase a FitEar MH335DW from FitEar Japan. Ever since I've collected so many CIEMs, IEMs, and headphones I've lost count of them all.
Rock, Pop, Metal, Jazz, etc etc. Throw it at me unless its Justin Bieber.
I don't listen to much Dubstep and Dance/Trance though.
My current go-tos:
Noble Audio Kaiser 10
Tralucent Reference 1
Astell and Kern AK240
Noble Audio Kaiser 10
JH Audio JH13Pro FreqPhase
Hidition NT-6 PRO
FitEar MH335DW (to be revised)
Some of my CIEMs in a pretty row. I forgot my 1964-v8, my Rooth LS12, and my Spiral Ears SE5 wasn't there yet.
Rhines Audio Stage 4
Spiral Ear 5-way
JH Audio Roxanne and Kaiser 10
I will be posting these on this thread, so I'll keep you guys posted!
Thanks for giving a visit and do drop a PM or a post for more stuff or questions or somesuch.
NOBLE AUDIO KAISER 10
+ Amazing mids
+ Perfect highs extension
+ Just-right-when-you-need-it bass
+ Works with any genre
+ Scales well with any cable and source
+ Wizard designs
- Not for those seeking crystal-clear clarity
- It’s gonna be damn hard to find something to replace it once you have it
Its no secret that my favorite CIEM in my collection as I write this review is my Noble Audio Kaiser 10. From the moment I saw them to that first time I put them on and played Rage Against The Machine’s Remastered “Take The Power Back” I was hooked. I’ve had my Kaiser 10s for almost a year now and they still remain my favorite. I’ve had plenty of different CIEMs in the past year but the Kaiser 10 is what I always come back to.
Honestly in the beginning I didn’t really think that Noble’s new 10-driver would be anything as I don’t really care much for the “driver war”, but as my friend soullinker20 continuously badgered me to try it, I went ahead and contacted The Wizard over at Noble through head-fi.
The ordering process for the Kaiser 10s was pretty straightforward, with me messaging Wizard on head-fi and getting referred quickly to Brannan to smooth out the process. I ordered a Rush-order Wizard Design, with the only requests being my logo on the right IEM and to “make it Noble”. I received photos (mildly stifled a squeal at how amazing they looked) and the CIEMs themselves soon after and immediately listened to them with my then go-to DAP, the AK120.
The Build Quality and Accessories:
I’d proudly say that Wizard’s designs are the most beautiful in any CIEM ever. I have two Noble CIEMs (as of the writing of this article), the Kaiser 10 and a Wizard Design Noble 4S and they are both still the most stunning CIEMs in my collection. Build quality is very high, not FitEar-quality but high enough. The case that they come in are a long Noble hardcase containing the IEM, some Noble bands, an earwax cleaning tool and a Noble ownership card. There was also a sticker that came with it with Noble’s logo and webpage (which is now on my car).
I will be using mostly the Noble Kaiser 10’s stock cable and throw in some thoughts with it on the Linum Estron and the Null Audio Silver. Listening is mostly done on an AK240 and a Tera Player, though I have used other sources and DACs, like my 15” MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 3 with the Chord Hugo and others. I use different types of files, from PCM to DSD.
As someone whose only Wizard experience before the Kaiser 10 was listening to the Heir 5.ai, I didn’t know what to expect when I received my Kaiser 10. I certainly did not expect it to consider it the best IEM I had ever heard (Especially as I had also just received the then-brand new JH Audio Roxanne, and owned some of the considered best CIEMs [MH335DW and Hidition NT6-Pro]) but I was dumbstruck at how great they sounded. Not wanting to pass judgment too quickly I kept listening...
...for a year. And I’m still constantly surprised by how much I love the Kaiser 10s. Here’s why:
Vocals are one of the most amazing things to listen to with the Kaiser 10s. Going through tracks like Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s “The Girl Is Mine” and even with Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb’s “Guilty” you can clearly distinguish the vocals from the instruments, and even feel the natural highs of the vocals being presented, without becoming piercing. Even particularly sibilant tracks like The Cab’s “Endlessly” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Take The Power Back” are listenable because the tuning of the high drivers are just right.
Instruments are also very well presented and well distanced from the vocals, nothing sounds “muddy” to my ears even when I listen to very fast metal like “Bullet Dance II” on the Blazblue Chronophantasma soundtrack. Each instrument is rendered in a different layer that is very lush and just a joy to listen to. Even with classical pieces the instruments are rendered in a very satisfying manner.
One thing to note with the K10s is how effortless it seems to take any genre. One recent discussion about the Kaiser 10 is its bass-reproduction capability and I can heartily say if you want bass you’ll get bass. I tried the K10 with a few bassy tracks and even some where the bass is not very apparent. On Daft Punk’s “Around the World” you can definitely feel the bass and sub-bass, but it is very controlled and not as thumpy as something like the Rhines Stage 5 or the MH335DW. I don’t really look for bass in my IEMs so I don’t have much to compare to. Switching to a track like “Treasure” by Bruno Mars, the bass guitar is very prominent and delivers the bass in a very satisfying way, in a way that does not cover up the vocals but successfully portrays each part of the music. Listening to the live Jazz recording of Jazz at the Pawnshop’s “Over The Rainbow” is another incredibly excellent example of how the Kaiser 10 shines as the smooth sax is rendered with much emotion, while the people talking in the background can still be heard and it really makes you feel like you’re in the Pawnshop as Arne Domnerus’ group plays.
I’d say that the Kaiser 10 is the most “balanced” in terms of how it can manage any genre of music and will greatly be enjoyed by anyone who just wants to relax and listen to their music. I would not recommend it for anyone who’s after clarity, for monitoring, as they are essentially crafted for the simple joy of listening to music. I don’t believe its the most honest out there as the king of clarity for me will always remain the Hidition NT6-Pro. If you’re aiming for clarity go for the NT6.
I’d pick the Kaiser 10 as my favorite CIEM any day. I own very many CIEMs of varying tastes and styles but the K10 is my clear favorite when I just want to listen to something on the road, or in the office, or anywhere really. I’ll heartily recommend it to anyone willing to have one of the best all-arounder CIEMs out there. The only difficulty with this is actually trying to listen to something else after you’ve heard the K10s. At least that’s how I see it. I still switch amongst my other IEMs but my K10 is always with me and I don’t see myself getting tired of them anytime soon.
May Noble continue to create more amazing IEMs and with those crazy wizard designs I really do think the Wizard is an actual Wizard (that came from the moon).
RHINES CUSTOM MONITORS STAGE 5
+ Bass is tight and punchy
+ Highs are nicely pronounced, but a bit more laid back
+ Great seperation and imaging
+ Very fast
- Not for the mid-lover or the highs-lover
- Slightly small-ish soundstage
I’ve listened and owned many Universal and Custom IEMs made in the US (JH Audio, Westone, Aurisonics), Asia (Tralucent, FitEar), but I realized I don’t have many European IEMs (EarSonics) or even a CIEM, at least until the name Vision Ears came up in a PM thread with Mimouille (I slightly blame you for this bro) and I saw the Vision Ears/Rhines/Compact Monitors thread. But then my local CIEM (read: drug) dealer Polaris Audio (I fully blame you for this ) got the Rhines Audio line I knew I had to try it for myself. We originally heard the Stage 4 demo unit and I was very very impressed at how they could get that beautiful sound in a 4-driver. I ordered a Stage 5 for myself and since I mentioned that I’d try to review it as well, Polaris and Rhines gave me a nice discount on the Stage 4.
I ordered the Stage 5 (and 4) sometime early 2014 through my dealer Polaris Audio on a rush basis but the construction and delivery was delayed due to some very understandable circumstances around the Rhines office. My order arrived one week before my friends’ own Stage 5s arrived, sometime in August, so it wasn’t exactly a rush. I got mine later as well because I was out of the country, but managed to get it burned in thanks to soullinker20.
Build Quality and Accessories:
One thing to note with the Stage 5, it is very well made. One interesting design point that was pointed out to me by Polaris is the fact that the Stages’ stems are built in a way that would let the sound mix before hitting your ear. As can be seen in the photo, there’s a bit of a space in between where the sound tubes end and where the stem ends, thus making sure that the sounds produced by the drivers mixes well before hitting your eardrum. An interesting idea, by my humble opinion.
My Stage 5 came with a large Rhines Metal Case with a 3.5 to 1/4” adapter and earwax cleaner. The Stage 4 came with a small Rhines wooden case and an adapter and an earwax cleaner.
Listening is mostly done with a Tera Player, an AK240, and foobar2000 with a Chord Hugo, iFi iDSD, and even a Venturecraft Typhoon DSD.
Bass. Wow. That thumpy bass was something I did expect with the Stage 5 but I didn’t really know how much to expect. It managed to have that powerfully punchy bass without sacrificing the highs. One thing I did notice with some tracks though was the fact that the mids were slightly more recessed than I would have wanted, coming from the Noble Audio Kaiser 10, but I looked past it and kept on.
Instrument Separation and Imaging:
One of the best things about the Stage 5 is the way it portrays the instruments and how it just sets them apart. Though the soundstage can be a little small compared to some other IEMs, the separation more than makes up for it. Listening to “chaotic” tracks like Dragonforce’s “The Game” and even Dream Theater’s “Honor Thy Father” the complex instrumentality is something to be marveled at. It manages to cleanly separate the drums, the bass, the guitars, the keyboards, and even the (many) vocals (at the expense of the vocals being slightly recessed, once again). I do have to admit, I don’t really judge the soundstage as much as I did before, instead focusing more on the separation and how everything comes together.
As I listen more to the Stage 5 I realize the speed of the monitors as well can be quite addicting. Quicker drums are rendered flawlessly, and I can honestly say the speed can even beat that of the Kaiser 10. Listening to instrumental tracks like Depapepe’s “Life Is A Journey” and The Piano Guys’ “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets” is one place where the Stage 5 really shines as well. Emotional Jazzy tracks like Jazz at the Pawnshop’s “Over The Rainbow” sax intro really deliver the emotion as well. Long story short, instruments are a joy with the Stage 5.
One thing I wish that could have been better executed (you really can’t have everything) is the quality of vocals. Though I also realize this may be what others are looking for with their monitors, listening to something that’s more vocals-focused like Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” you can’t help but feel like the vocals should have been more at the forefront with greater emotion than making the acoustic guitars what seem to be the forefront of the song. Listening then otherwise to something that’s all vocals, take, for example, Pentatonix’ rendition of “Problem”, the entire spectrum really opens up and the play of the a cappella group’s vocal play really showcase a lot of the power of the Stage 5.
Fan of great bass with great highs? Go for the Stage 5. Fan of modern pop, bands, really great drums, speedy music, classical pieces? Go for the Stage 5. Fan of mids, vocal tracks, and a generally more balanced sound? Go for something else (maybe you’re looking for the Noble Kaiser 10?). In the end it all depends on your preference.
Hope this helps!
Any more questions, feel free to PM me, or talk to me and my buddies (They have Stage 5s too!)