The Noble Kaiser Encore is a creature of clarity and detail. Every note on this massive soundstage is defined with frightful precision. There is vitality in the presentation which outruns my other IEMs. It is energetic and angry. I’ve never heard this kind of attack or crunch from an electric guitar. This is not a laid-back earphone. Encore is neutral with just a touch of warmth. There is too much liveliness and musicality to call these analytical, yet the resolution is such that you could certainly use these to analyze a recording with serious accuracy.
There is a special mix of smoothness and detail which allows all music to sound its best. The smoothness is enough to forgive disastrous mastering techniques, and the detail reveals everything, good or bad. Together is a marriage that flat-out works. Imperfections are heard, but you’re so in love with the tonality you gladly overlook them. Encore is a thing of masterful balance. It does it all, but never takes its pursuits so far as to alienate your average audiophile. It’s a philosophy most will appreciate.
Treble on Encore is bright and shimmering. It’s just shy of harsh to my ears. Since I favor warmer equipment you can assume my tolerance for bleeding highs is pretty low. I think most people will find it safe for their tastes. It is a natural treble, clean and free of sibilance. It’s just very, very present. Cymbals clash realistically and you can hear their reverberations articulated. It’s quite impressive.
The vocals are vivid, sharp, and splendidly detailed. They come off transparent and natural. Note weight is good and thick, but the mids are absolutely NOT lush. Nor or they thin. They have tremendous gravitas, uncolored, and honest. Whether male or female, the vocals render true and visceral. A singer’s texture and quirks are highlighted, making their unique style all the more evident.
Encore’s bass is sort of an enigma. It has the ability to hide when it’s not called for, but somehow manages to always maintain that balance of warmth and musicality. Without that, these IEMs would be prone to sounding cold and bright, due to that extreme treble. Instead, the low end keeps things cozy and organic. When a track brings in the bass, Encore fills out superbly well. Its sub frequencies are fast and textured with decent extension. You don’t get deep rumbles felt in the marrow of your bones, and you are never in doubt these are Balanced Armatures, as opposed to the more natural-sounding Dynamic Driver. I am accustomed to a heftier sound down below, and at first I feared Encore lacked the charms I desire. Yet after weeks of using these as my main set, I can say the new Kaiser delivers rather satisfying bass, however different it may be to my preconception.
Having an intimate familiarity with the U12, I am not easy to impress when it comes to soundstage. That said, Encore is a spacious sonofabitch. I’m not ready to say it’s as big as the U12, particularly when using the right module, but it gives you a grand soundscape to immerse yourself in. Add to that top-tier imaging and separation, and you have one of the finest executers on the market. There is so much air and space between the instruments, you feel like you can walk between them and study each player’s technique… aided, of course, by the best resolution I’ve heard in an IEM. It just feels real.
64Audio’s U12 is a very different IEM. This has been my favorite for a while now. It’s the warmest transducer I own, and I’m including full-size cans in that. Only the Sennheiser HD650 comes close. Somehow, the U12 combines great warmth, and enormous soundstage. It sounds a bit bigger than Encore. The bass is fuller, rumbling in deeper regions, and blooming in a more natural way. The U12’s low end quality is the closest thing you can get to a Dynamic Driver in the BA arena. Encore is tighter and more controlled, but the U12 is more organic and smooth. There is no question the U12 has more bass, and not by a small amount. It packs a monster low end. It’s too much for many folk. For Pinky, it’s perfect, using the ADEL B1 or APEX M15 modules. And quite frankly, I must give the U12 the win in this match. I’m just shy of a basshead, and what the U12 does down there fulfills me with abnormal finality.
Vocals are another matter. The U12 gives you the quintessential “lush” effect, due to its strong mid-bass and otherworldly smoothness. Lush is super enjoyable. But Encore renders those mids with extreme clarity, and a greater sense of detail. I experience a more transparent audio, with sharper definition. The U12 has a thicker sound, and while I do not call Encore thin, it comes off cleaner and more airy. Noble’s IEM creates a stark contrast between elements, making that space more evident. Whereas U12 likes to fill the whole stage with a flood of sounds. I love what the U12 does, but I think I prefer the transparency, clarity, and resolution of Encore.
It’s the treble that spoils the U12 for many enthusiasts. It extends well, but is recessed in the tuning. When you have loads of bass, thick, warm mids, and slightly hushed treble, it can make you feel there’s a veil over the music. My brain required a couple of days to adjust before that “veil” disappeared. Even then, the U12 does not dazzle you with its mastery of those high frequencies. It’s subdued and relaxed. They do their job, but nothing more. Encore KILLS THE U12 WITH TREBLE. Good treble, at that. Proper glitter. An excellent sense of light. Nothing cruel or grueling. Just a bright upper region that reveals all the wonders below.
Both IEMs have class-leading soundstage and imaging. They are grandiose, with depth and layering beyond reason. The U12 might be bigger, but only barely. Everything on their two stages is precise and identifiable. Encore has finer contrast and separation, which deepens the holographic effect of its rendering. Really, though, you can’t go wrong with either. They make other IEMs sound tiny.
Such as the Rhapsodio Solar. Sorry Solar. Ya know I love ya, but your soundstage is not very wide.
Solar’s frequency profile is decidedly U-Shaped. Not V-Shaped, but a gentle dip in the mids does exist. The vocals stand back a step or two on the stage, allowing a lovely swell of music to cushion them on either side. In this way, it’s very reminiscent of a live rock show, only you can actually hear the vocals. Ho ho. Solar builds the mids nice and thick, with real weight. They’re strong and clear. More so than the U12, yet still a far cry from Encore. Warmth and richness imbue the mids, and a surprising level of detail. Encore does all this as well, while also being even more meticulous and revealing, and without the vocals being recessed. Encore simply conveys a more vivid image.
Treble on Solar is oddly thick. There is sparkle, but not much air or brightness. It extends nicely and does so without ever approaching harsh. Next to something like Encore, however, Solar’s highs sound held back and frustrated. Encore is bold as brass, and gleams as if that brass has just been professionally polished.
Once again, bass wins out on my hand-picked IEMs. Solar uses two large Balanced Armatures for its subs, and it pays off. Compared to Encore, Solar’s lows have power, depth, and superior tonality. Solar also gives us great speed and texture. The lows just bloom so spectacularly, filling out the arrangement with delicious warmth. The only BA IEMs that beat Solar’s bass is, oddly enough, the U12. What can I say? I favor gear that takes the sub frequencies serious. Encore could learn a thing or two from these masters.
Something Solar does better than the others is stage depth. Perhaps a virtue of its U-Shape? The vocals pull me forward. I find I can almost wade through the music, feeling it swirl around me. It’s wholly engrossing. Imaging is just as good as Encore and U12, except on a smaller scope. These three are indeed top performers anyone can feel proud to own.