Details: 4-driver silicone-shelled CIEM from Noble Audio, a CA-based CIEM company run by The Wizard and team, previously of Heir Audio fame
Starting Price: $999 from nobleaudio.com
Specs: Driver: 4 BA / 3-way crossover | Imp: >30Ω | Cable: 4′ 45-degree plug
Wear Style: Over-the-ear
Accessories (4/5) – Cleaning tool, Noble Audio stickers and wristbands, and padded hard-shell storage case
Build Quality (5/5) – It’s safe to say that Heir Audio’s legendary aesthetic flair has carried over to Noble, because the 4S unit I have on hand here is simply stunning. To escape the artwork limitations of silicone shells, Noble has fitted their silicone customs with acrylic faceplates, which allow full customization. Attention to detail is excellent, down to the neat Noble logos printed on the sides of the housings. The internal setup of the quad-driver 4S is dual low, single mid, and single high with a dual bore configuration. The earphones use a conventional two-pin socket and come with a Westone ES-style cable, but orders placed with Noble’s US office will instead ship with an upgraded cable that has a longer memory wire section, a 45-degree plug, and is braided below the y-split akin to the Heir Magnus-1 cable. This new cable also works with smartphone cases a little better as a result of its plug being narrower
Isolation (5/5) – The isolation of the silicone shells is excellent, falling just behind my most-isolating custom, the Spiral Ear 3-way Reference
Microphonics (5/5) – Nonexistent
Comfort (5/5) – The silicone shells of the Noble earphones take slightly longer to insert and remove compared to more rigid and slippery acrylic shells but are extremely comfortable once fitted and maintain seal a bit better with changes to the ear canal shape, such as while chewing or talking. Being a custom monitor, the comfort is highly dependent on the quality of the initial impressions and final mold, and if the earphones remain uncomfortable after an initial break-in period a re-fit is probably a good idea. Noble performs refits at no charge within 30 days
Sound (9.9/10) – I freely admit to being a sucker for a pretty face(plate), one of my few character flaws. As expected, I was immediately enamored with the appearance of my Noble 4S, so it’s safe to say I would have been doubly disappointed had it turned out to sound–well–disappointing. Happily, the 4S sounds rather good, with a neutral and natural sound that is, on the whole, more balanced compared to my other high-end customs.
The bass of the Noble 4S works for me in both quality and quantity – it is not the most plentiful in the subbass region, giving up a bit of depth to sets such as the UM Miracle and Westone ES5, but it has a nice, healthy, balanced punch akin to the Miracle and HiFiMan RE-400. The Noble 4S is definitely not an enhanced-bass earphone but there’s a lot to like about the clean, natural low end. The 4S is less bassy than the VSonic GR07, for example, but its low end is tighter and cleaner.
The midrange of the Noble 4S is very flat and neutral in tone. It makes both the Miracle and GR07 sound a little mid-recessed and appears a touch clearer as a result. Next to the smooth and liquid-sounding Miracle, the midrange of the 4S is more transparent and has a “raw” quality to it. The midrange is also where the Noble differs most from entry-level and mid-tier customs – even neutral-sounding ones like the Alclair Reference and Lime Ears LE3 can’t match the clarity of the 4S. Note thickness and clarity always make for a precarious balancing act and the 4S performs as well as any other earphone I’ve heard on this front, making the Etymotic ER4S sound a touch thin without yielding to it in clarity.
Moving through the upper midrange, the 4S remains very smooth and pleasant. It has a little less upper midrange presence than, for example, the Ety ER4S but overall the sound is very close. In fact, out of all the universal monitors I used in my comparisons, the ER4S was closest to the Noble in tone and balance. The Noble 4S has very smooth treble, too – it definitely isn’t lacking in treble energy but also isn’t as revealing of harshness or as critical of recording quality as, for example, the UE Reference Monitor and JH Audio JH13. The GR07 sounds quite splashy in comparison while the Etymotic ER4S is more similar, but still a touch brighter than the Noble. The presentation of the 4S is open and airy. Soundstage size is good – about on-par with the Heir 8.A and Hidition NT 6 customs and more spacious and open compared to the less expensive Lime Ears LE3 – and overall imaging is just short of the JH Audio JH13.
The RE-400 is one of my favorite earphones in the sub-$200 range, pursuing a balanced, slightly mid-focused sound signature with very smooth treble. While the RE-400 is a touch on the warm side of neutral, the Noble 4S is balanced out by its brighter, more energetic treble. The bass of the two earphones is similar in impact but the Noble is tighter and resolves detail better in the bass region. The midrange, where the RE-400’s focus lies, sounds veiled with the HiFiMan set compared to the 4S.
The treble of the RE-400, too, is dull and lacks crispness in comparison, causing it to sound muffled next to the crystal-clear Noble. The brighter Noble is nonetheless very smooth-sounding when it comes to treble and has a wider presentation as well, making the RE-400 sound a bit small and in-the-head. There is, of course, a tenfold price difference between these two earphones and much less than a tenfold difference in performance, but, great as the RE-400 is, it can’t keep up here.
Another relatively inexpensive universal monitor, the VC1000 uses dual balanced armature drivers and actually makes for a better matchup against the Noble than the RE-400. For the most part, the VC1000 can compete with the Noble in clarity but has a leaner sound and its bass lacks the tactile impact of the Noble. The Noble sounds more natural when it comes to bass impact and body. The Noble also has a thicker note presentation and fuller sound. While the earphones are similarly balanced overall, the Noble is smoother and more natural. The VC1000 sounds splashy in comparison and has a narrower, more in-the-head presentation. Overall, the signatures of these two earphones are a pretty good match and the Noble can be considered a VC1000 upgrade quite easily.
The V6-Stage is one of 1964EARS’ flagship earphones and provides a nicely balanced sound. The Noble 4S pursues a different type of reference signature. For one, it has less bass – the bass extension is similar between the two earphones but the V6-Stage has more impact and its sound signature is on the whole warmer and more colored than that of the Noble. The Noble, on the other hand is flatter and more neutral, and is much more forgiving of sibilance than the V6-Stage. The 4S also has a broader soundstage and provides a slightly airier, more spacious presentation than the 1964EARS set.
The quad-driver, silicone-shelled Noble is different from my other “reference” custom IEMs mostly in that its sound is more mid-centric. Sets like the JH13, UERM, V6-Stage, and even the Miracle tend to have more bass and stronger, more energetic treble than the Noble. The 4S, on the other hand, reminds me of HiFiMan earphones in the way it presents a neutral signature in a more mid-centric way without masking detail. It sounds very flat, with less bass compared to the UERM and a more neutral tone. The Noble is an amazingly smooth earphone that makes the UERM seem a little peaky in the treble region. Tonally, the 4S makes the UERM sound a little colored – no small feat by any means. In comparison to the more level Noble, the UE Reference Monitor has a bassier sound and added treble energy.
JH Audio’s 6-driver model is rather neutral and balanced save for a small bass bump. The 4S differs from it in sound signature more so than performance. On the whole, the 4S sounds more neutral to me. The JH13 is a little warmer and has more bass impact and depth. It is also a bit more full-sounding as a result, which makes its outstanding clarity all the more impressive. The 4S sounds more mid-centric – unlike the JH13 and most of my other custom IEMs, the 4S is not even a little v-shaped in signature. Moving on up, the JH13 has more treble sparkle while the 4S is smoother and more forgiving. Personally, I don’t find either the bass or treble of the JH13 excessive, but the neutrality of the 4S appeals to me a great deal. Lastly, due in part to its deeper and more powerful bass, the JH13 sounds a touch more dynamic overall and provides a more layered presentation but the Noble is quite close here as well.
While the JH13 is a neutral-sounding monitor with a bit of added bass, the Hidition NT 6 leans the opposite way – towards a brighter sound with a cooler tonal character. The triple bass drivers of the NT 6 grant it better bass extension with more emphasis on subbass compared to the Noble 4S but mid-bass impact is similar – neither earphone suffers from elevated mid-bass. The 4S does have a bit more presence in the lower midrange, giving it a fuller, slightly warmer sound, very similar to the “neutral” tone of the HiFiMan RE-400. Overall, the 4S sounds a little mid-focused but also very natural and neutral. The NT 6, in comparison, has less prominent mids and can at times appear a touch clearer thanks to its brighter tone. Lastly, the treble of the 4S is more forgiving but remains just as clean and resolving as that of the NT 6.
Heir Audio 8.A ($1299)
Heir Audio’s 8-driver flagship is a warm and smooth affair, with endlessly extended bass and very non-fatiguing treble. Compared to the Noble 4S, the 8.A is significantly warmer and more bottom-heavy. It has quite a bit more bass, especially deep bass, providing a more visceral and tactile experience. However, even next to the bassy Heir, the 4S doesn’t sound anemic or thin and the bottom end. The 4S is more neutral in the midrange and brighter at the top. The treble of the darker-sounding 8.A is even smoother and more forgiving than that of the Noble, which is great news for those whose greatest audio-related fear is the potential for listening fatigue. Overall, aside from the huge difference in bass quantity, there are quite a lot of commonalities between these two earphones but the more neutral and accurate Noble appeals to me quite a bit more.
Value (9/10) – The Noble 4S is a neutral-sounding monitor that is, on the whole, more balanced than the other “reference” customs I have here. Its ultra-smooth, slightly mid-focused sound invokes impressions of a cross between Etymotic Research and HiFiMan universals and makes it a direct upgrade to certain other custom-fit sets, such as the Clear Tune Monitors CT-200 and Lime Ears LE3.
The aesthetics of the Noble 4S are reminiscent of Heir Audio – that is to say, fantastic – with the Wizard continuing to experiment with new looks and materials, and the comfort and isolation of the silicone shells are second to none. All in all, the 4S is one of the very few earphones I can’t find much to complain about with, and that alone makes it worth recommending.
Pros: Very clear, neutral, and natural sound; excellent fit, finish, and design; superb comfort and noise isolation of silicone
Additional images, courtesy of Noble Audio: