I am so happy to have had the opportunity to spend this much time with Noble's new flagship, even though it was admittedly shorter than my usual time (simply because there's so many things on my desk right now). My initial listen to these headphones was not purely representative of my whole experience, but how impressed I was has persisted.
Fit and Form
I'll start with what's included. Once I got past the slide-on box cover, I was met with a larger version of the same textured box in which the Dulce Bass came. Upon pulling that apart, included in the box is a large number of accessories. First, containers: included is a Pelican 1010 Micro Case, which is water-, pressure-, and dust-proof. It seals consistently and very faithfully protects the headphones. Also included is a small, cylindrical, plastic case with a screw-top. I never used this, admittedly, as I felt much safer carrying an $1850 pair of headphones in a Pelican case, and the latter was not any less convenient. Finally, there is a felt, Noble-branded, string-tied bag, that I feel would best be used in conjunction with the Pelican case, if at all. Again, it is, to me, an issue of protecting your investment, essentially.
Tightly packed in the Pelican case are the headphones (inside an ESD-resistant bag), an ownership card, a pair of Noble-branded rubber bands, and a black carabiner, which can be used to hold the Pelican case on to a backpack or what-have-you. They also throw in a couple of Noble stickers, which are just a nice touch.
Aside from the accessories, it becomes immediately evident that Noble puts mountains of effort into everything that they do, and I really appreciate it. The headphones themselves are milled aluminum. The two halves are snapped together once the drivers, crossovers, and wiring are properly arranged. You'll notice in the pictures that the tiny, intensely detailed ridges of each half line up, perfectly. Sure, that's to be expected on a flagship device, but I appreciate that they really put the effort into their product to make every single element, from the design to the sound (to which I'll get soon) pretty much perfect.
Additionally, I like that, compared to the prior Kaiser 10, they went with a slightly less ostentatious colorway. The old "candy red" popped a little bit too much for my taste, although the almost-electric blue of the Dulce Bass straddled the line between ostentatious and just slightly visually loud. The new dark blue is almost subtle in the ear, and certainly pretty. Melded with the bare aluminum, it really does make for an attractive headphone.
The headphones use 0.78 mm diameter, industry-standard 2-pin connectors, and included is the same cable as the Dulce Bass. The cable is braided nicely, with a cable retainer above the Noble-branded Y-splitter. It terminates in a TRS 1/8" auxiliary connector. I think it would, theoretically, be nice if Noble included a balanced cable in addition to this single-ended option, but I'll admit that the sound benefits are dubiously evidenced, and a sensitive IEM like this would not benefit from the power increase that balanced amplifiers often bring. The cable is not particularly microphonic thankfully, and only when music is not playing. Even then, it's very quiet, and is totally unnoticeable when music does start playing.
The headphones are worn over-ear, and they stay in quite well as a result. The thin heat-shrink tubing around the cable keeps it nicely in the shape of the outside of the pinna, again helping with their ability to stay in the ear. The shells of the IEMs sit comfortably in the external auditory meatus, where they reside in use.
To take a lot of words and turn them into fewer words, they make a very comfortable option for taking truly flagship sound and making it portable. But we'll get to the sound next...
These are very close to neutral, with a slight bass emphasis. It's one of the more musical sound signatures that I've yet heard, without much exception. Additionally, while simultaneously being an intensely enjoyable listen, the headphones are deeply technically appreciable. Although increased driver count oftentimes (particularly in the lower-end price ranges) doesn't guarantee better sound, it certainly helps here. The bass is fulfilling and rich, without being overpowering in the slightest. It has incredible texture and detail, with great control over transients, attacks, and decays. The mids are engaging and natural, without leaning towards lush or thin. They are forward and allow vocals and instrumentals to fall exactly where they should in the soundstage. The treble extends extremely high with no effort at all, adding a wonderful sense of space and sparkle to the music.
Speaking of soundstage, it's shockingly large. It rivals good closed-back over-ears, but not open-backed headphones, admittedly. The iSine 10 and 20 both have it beat, but that's to be expected. They've really done a tremendous job here, and it impresses me every time that I put them in my ears. The imaging and separation are more impressive than the soundstage, though. These have extremely precise control over where every element of a track goes, even in exorbitantly instrument-dense music, like Snarky Puppy or mr. carmack. The most noticeable improvement over cheaper headphones that I have found is their control over the ability to move elements of a given track. Sounds like wind-chimes, and electronic variations, and phaser effects all move absurdly realistically. Although I've heard great imaging before, I have never heard anything this good in an in-ear form-factor, and it's really quite an experience, in-and-of-itself.
Songs used: Smoke Again by Chance the Rapper, The Way It Was by Coast Modern, and Three Ralphs by DJ Shadow
I knew when I started this review that it'd be tough to adequately convey my experience with these headphones, but I'll do my absolute best, here. The bass is very well-controlled, and that's the first thing that struck me. It is the polar opposite of sloppy, or soupy. Every note, every transient, is explicitly correctly portrayed. From kick drums to 808s, nothing is lost in translation by the drivers. This allows a tremendous sense of fidelity that is only added to by and reinforced by the other frequency ranges, as we'll get to in a bit. While well-controlled, it is also slightly emphasized, giving a slightly warm (although I'd term it "musical") tilt to the sound signature. Low synths and electric basses are utterly satisfying and satiating. This certainly isn't head-shaking, mind-numbing slam, but it presents the track (on the whole, but within this frequency range, specifically) with utter and complete faith and fidelity. Additionally, the headphones have a great sense of texture and touch, meaning that every nuance of the low-end is communicated nigh-perfectly. Sub-bass extension is great, seeming near flat down to 20 Hz, with impressive rumble for the form factor and size of the drivers. I'd call this range a highlight, but as we'll get to soon, all others seem to be as well.
Key descriptors: precise, textured, and fulfilling
Songs used: Scarlet Town by Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, I Can't Hear You by The Dead Weather, and Morning Run by The Flashbulb
The mids were tough for me to quantify beyond, "good," at first, but I think I've gotten past that. They certainly are unique. The closest term I can find is almost exactly natural. Leaning neither towards lush nor towards lean, they simply seek to exactly convey the music, as though it were live, and they succeed. Vocals come through as absolutely front and center (or where they were during recording, in binaural recordings). Instruments and other electronic lines absolutely fill the soundstage, with just the right amount of space between them. This is a range where the wonderful imaging and separation truly come through. Detail retrieval is among the best that I've heard, with everything from the lapses of breath in a vocal line to the plucking of a guitar string coming through with absolute fidelity. One thing that particularly struck me was the presentation of pianos, as the action of a hammer striking, then damping, a string can be very tough to properly convey, and these nail it.
I think my single nitpick, for this entire review, in terms of sound, is that there seems to be a very slight, but noticeable, peak around 5 kHz or 6 kHz. This only became noticeable to me when I was listening at, admittedly, above-recommendable listening levels, and was immediately tamed when I lowered the level. Perhaps that's on me, but it was something that I noticed, and in my desperate search for a downside to these headphones, was all that I found. The interesting part, to me, is that those frequencies lie in the range where sibilance usually occurs, and that was never an issue - I encountered no hissing vocally, which seemed a little peculiar to me. But alas, if there's a flaw to be found, I think it would be that. I really would like to emphasize, though, that with a little bit of conscious volume control, this issue disappeared, and it may not even appear to others depending on their common listening levels.
Key descriptors: controlled, natural, and detailed
Songs used: Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, Novocaine by Amber Rubarth, and Spain by Jake Shimabukuro
This is where the headphones get their sense of balance, in my opinion. The ease of extension and lack of considerable peakiness allows for a sense of large space, with a good sense for air, as well. Harmonics of instruments and of voices come through completely realistically, with exactly the same emphasis as if you were to sit in the room with them. In electronic music, high-pitched, fast sections are presented with great fidelity, and this is another place where the speed of these headphones helps, as nothing is lost from file to sound wave. Never sibilant or grating, there was nothing offensive about this range either, which was very appreciable, as I rarely find a headphone that never demonstrates sibilance. Big props to Noble here, as these are the first in-ears I've heard with a completely clean record for treble wonkiness.
Key descriptors: airy, precise, and extended
Minutia and Miscellaneous
I really don't have much here. One thing I did notice with both the Dulce Bass and this Kaiser Encore was that the cable can slightly untwist at the connector end, but it has never done so to the point of tangling. I don't know if, over a period of years, that might become a problem, but if so, I'm sure some heat-shrink tubing at that end, just like at the IEM-end, would fix the problem. Again, Noble has really pushed me to nitpick harder than usual with these, and that's the only design issue that I could theoretically foresee.
Well, for an $1850 pair of headphones, I came in expecting a lot. And Noble hit pretty much every mark. Clean, well-textured, extremely-controlled bass. Slightly emphasized, it adds a great sense of warmth and weight to the music. Natural, detailed, and forward mids, without any blur or sloppiness. A slight peak issue here, but nothing that caused any real discomfort, and nothing that was unavoidable. Airy, seemingly topless treble that perfectly recreates harmonics of anything I could think to throw at, from hang drum to harmonica. A beautiful, precise, and impressive design that sneaks slightly under the radar, compared to the previous generation and a few of their other offerings. On Noble's website they claim that they've attempted "superseding a legend," and I'd like to say that they certainly have. For their design, both acoustic and apparent, they made waves with the original Kaiser 10, and I fully believe that they will continue to with this offering and what they have slotted of the future.
These headphones were provided to me for review by Noble Audio. I am not being paid by anyone to write this review, to endorse the product reviewed, or for the content that I put in the review.
These headphones were powered by an Astell&Kern AK Junior, a Google Pixel, a Neurochrome HP-1, an iFi Pro iCan, and by whatever soundcard is in the motherboard of my computer.
I have had these headphones for almost two weeks, and I have put about 30 hours of analytical listening through them during that period.