‘Noble Audio Kaiser 10’ Review: We put Noble Audio’s ten-driver flagship through the paces
Sat Jul. 4, 2015
Disclaimer: My scores are awarded after extensive comparisons with different IEMs. The scores below reflect the results of this exercise, and do not indicate my personal preference for one IEM over another. Depending on your sonic tastes, category scores may also be more relevant than the overall score. For example, a basshead should look primarily to the “Bass” sub-section; a soundstage nut should look at “Spatial”, and so on. Finally, the overall scores are an average of all the sub-section scores combined. Read more about how I did these comparisons, and about my overall scoring methodology.
The Noble K10’s bass is pretty good overall, although the sub-bass is really not up to par. Extension and slam in the lowest registers doesn’t measure up even to the other Balanced Armature bass driver IEMs. This is a real weakness on the Kaiser 10, and I docked it major points for this. On the other hand, I like what Noble Audio referred to as the ‘hidden’ bass- it’s clean and controlled, comes with great detail, and has wonderful timbre. Best of all, when the bass does make its appearance, it hits with great authority! Your music will sound structured and sturdy, yet come infused with measured quantities of bass. Wonderful combination. Bass speed is also pretty good, although I wouldn’t quite call it a standout traits. Bass decay on the other hand is rather typical of a BA IEM- less natural than that of Dynamic bass drivers.
Bass Score: 8.0 (Very Good)
The mids are world-class. Me like. Coming in top of this shootout, they excel in practically every area. They have the best detail of any of the mids in Fit for a Bat, and you’ll be able to hear every. single. breath. in your music. Timbre is also beautiful- the tone of these mids are extremely natural. On top of sounding detailed and natural, they also possess great evenness, energy and clarity, coming across as pure, clear and pristine. The one possible area of improvement is the airiness. The mids were still quite airy overall, but in this respect they fall short of the top.
All in all, I think if you’ve set out to make an all-rounder (as Noble said they set out to do, in the interview on the previous page), then the key aspect to get right would probably be the mids. After all, our hearing is most sensitive in this frequency range, and if you get this right, you’re well on the way to a pleasing sound that will suit almost any genre.
This is definitely where the Kaiser 10 earns its money.
Midrange Score: 9.2 (Elite)
Ask around, and you’ll find some people who find the Kaiser 10 to have treble that’s a bit too sparkly. On the other hand others find it a bit too muted and smooth. For what it’s worth, I think both groups are right, and at least in the Kaiser 10 that’s a good thing. The treble here is ever-present, has nice sparkle, but yet manages to be smooth and silky. This is a wonderful duality, not often achieved, but when it is reached (as with the Kaiser 10), you’ll find yourself in for a treat. Great job here by the folks from Noble Audio. In fact, not only does the Kaiser 10 present harmonious treble that’s sparkling yet smooth, it also does so with very nice clarity- only just shy of the best.
But while the tuning of the treble is delightful- level and well-balanced- I thought the technical aspects could be improved. Treble extension doesn’t quite measure up to the other TOTLs; I’ve definitely heard faster treble; and the overall tone of the treble- while overall still okay- is not yet the most natural.
Treble Score: 8.3 (Very Good)
The Kaiser 10 has some real limitations in the spatial arena. The soundstage is consistently smaller than the best- in all three dimensions; width, depth and height. Here’s where it’s important to put some context, though- it’s actually still pretty good all things considered. It just couldn’t measure up against the other TOTLs in this shootout. Similarly for soundstage consistency and airiness. These traits all hit a solid single, so to speak (or rather, so to speak baseball). The sound has acceptable diffusion; the air and spatial cues overall are still alright; soundstage size is okay but clearly smaller… You get the drift.
Where it clearly doesn’t do that well though is the imaging. Whether in its ability to create good depth or breadth in the music; or even to form a coherent center image, the Kaiser 10 rated at the bottom of this shootout. Those who enjoy surgical, pinpoint imaging will not find what they’re looking for here. Instead the Kaiser 10 just seems to focus on playing music- musical recreation and harmony in particular seems prioritised above precise spatial cues that can help locate your music. That’s probably not going to be a problem for everyone, though. When listening to ballads or pop music, for example, this wasn’t much of a problem for me. But if you’re the type who likes to analyse your music- or even the type who likes a surrounding, immersive effect- then maybe look elsewhere. Listening to the Kaiser 10 reminded me a bit of the traditional ‘technician’ vs ‘musical prodigy’ debate. No prizes for guessing- this IEM is very much in the latter camp.
Spatial Score: 7.2 (Above Average)
Finally. What would you expect a general all-rounder (again, Noble Audio’s goal) to excel in? “General” qualities! I’m happy to award the prize for “Best Balanced IEM” to the Kaiser 10 right now. The mix of frequency responses is simply sublime to my ears. Everything is in perfect sync and perfect harmony. Perfect amount of bass. Perfect amount of mids. Perfect amount of treble. Well, okay, not “perfect” in the sense that I’ve never heard better, but rather everything blends and mixes in brilliant harmony. Listening to the Kaiser 10, I kept thinking that this was the closest I’d ever get to a musical conductor setting up camp in my ears, carefully directing and controlling the overall presentation of the music.
PRaT is also very good- I know I mentioned that the Kaiser 10 worked well for ballads and pop in the section above, but really, don’t restrict yourself to that. The Kaiser 10 is well capable of keeping pace with fast, rhythmic music. It also does so with relatively thick notes, which is very good in conveying lushness. On the other hand note articulation- the ability to clearly distinguish each note from each other- is not the best, and neither is the musical resonance- the sound doesn’t ‘carry’ as well, so to speak, unlike a beautifully reverberating instrument.
General Qualities Score: 8.5 (Very Good)