Noble Audio 6C
The 6-driver Wizard crafted custom IEM by Dubstep Girl
My love for music and high fidelity sound reproduction started years ago with an iPod and a pair of the iconic stock Apple ear buds. I quickly became addicted to the iPod’s massive storage capacity and which helped my music library grow from a few albums and songs to a library of thousands of recordings spanning the entire genre spectrum. The ear buds, though mediocre at best, had acceptable sound quality that was at least as good as my cheap desktop speakers or my car’s stock speaker system. Needless to say, I would take them everywhere I went and the iPod became my primarily listening device. However, as many of you may already know, Apple cables and accessories tend to wear quickly and thus I would end up buying different pairs of earphones and headphones to replace them. My hours of researching different products online led me to gather interest in the hobby and well, here I am now.
Being primarily a headphone audiophile, most of my serious listening is now done at home on my own system, where 300B tubes and DSD files help bring endgame headphones like my Sennheiser HD 800 to life and allow me to fully hear every little nuance and detail in a recording. As for portable listening, I still use my iPod when I’m on the go and I have a pair of Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors for when I need them at the gym, but the sound quality is no longer acceptable to me. Even when driven off a decent portable rig, universal in-ear monitors regardless of price still don’t come anywhere close to offering the transparency, soundstage, and resolution that a bona-fide full-size headphone can provide. Custom in-ear monitors however, have several advantages over your typical universal monitor as they contain multiple drivers enclosed in a shell that is molded specifically to fit your ears. The benefits include better isolation, comfort, and frequency response, but would the improvements really make that much of a difference? Were customs really the way to go? For years I pondered over that question, but never pulled the trigger on a pair of $1000 custom in-ear monitors as I feared that I would still not be satisfied and well, there was always another flagship headphone out there to buy…
Enter Noble Audio:
Noble Audio is a California based company that was founded just a few years ago by IEM veteran, Wizard, and Audiologist — Dr. John Moulton. Noble Audio competes with other top-level IEM makers such as Ultimate Ears, JH Audio, Westone, and offers a full line of custom as well as universal in-ear monitors.
Similar to BMW or Audi’s naming scheme, Noble’s IEM nomenclature is based on the number of balanced-armature drivers in each channel. Like Audi A3 or BMW 3 Series, Noble’s entry-level universal IEM is called the Noble 3, which starts at $350 and contains 3 balanced-armature drivers per channel. The custom version of the Noble 3 is called the 3C and starts at $450. The product line goes all the way up to 10 in this fashion and most models are available in both universal and custom versions. Yes, even the flagship Kaiser 10 ($1599) is available in both trims! The focus for this review however, is the Noble 6C, which retails for $1099 and sits right below the 8C and Kaiser 10 in the Noble lineup.
Wizard Design / IEM art:
The Noble 6C is the custom version of the Noble 6 and contains six precision tuned balanced-armature drivers stuffed inside each shell. Based on Noble’s four-driver design which has a neutral sound signature, the 6C adds two drivers for added bass and an expanded soundstage; the Noble 6C is meant to be a smooth, warm, and open sounding CIEM, that maintains speed and treble extension.
The Noble 6C is one of the select custom models that is available in 2 different types of shells. You can pick either acrylic or silicone, and the 6C becomes the 6S if you choose the latter. . The advantages of using silicone are increase isolation and comfort however, the material can be somewhat harder to keep clean and there are less customization options available for them as well. Also, because silicone is a more difficult material to work with, the starting price of the 6S is $1499 compared to $1099 for the 6C.
Unlike the universal Noble 6 which is only available in a generic black finish, customization options for the 6C are practically endless. You can either pick the colors and materials for the shell and faceplate yourself based on the options available on Noble’s order page or for $400 more, you can let the Wizard himself do it for you. Oh, and if you were browsing through the Noble art gallery and found an older Wizard design you really liked, a $200 Wizard Reprint is also an option, yay!
There are literally hundreds of combinations of colors and materials available to pick from the Noble order menu. The acrylic shells are available in 10 different colors and there are even more colors to pick for the faceplate, over 20! More luxurious materials are available for the faceplates as well such as carbon fiber in 13 different colors; yes, pink is one of them and gold as well! Exotic woods are also available and include rosewood, cocobolo, purple heart, bamboo, and others. If that wasn’t enough, Noble can add swirls, aluminum, wire filaments, 24k gold, woven grass, custom laser engraved labels, or even watch components to your faceplate; you can even make them glow in the dark!
All in all, there are a plethora of options to choose from and because I’m really bad at deciding what I want (I want everything, haha!), I simply let the Wizard work his magic but requested that pink, black, and abstract patterns would be sweet!
30-40 business days after submitting my impressions (rush orders are available as an option for those who do not wish to wait), I received a beautiful pair of Noble 6C’s in the mail.
Noble includes several accessories with each CIEM order. Accessories included come in a small phablet-sized hard plastic case, similar to an Otter Box or a Pelican case. The case is rather simple and plain except for a Noble label and my name engraved on the side, which is a nice touch. Included inside is an aluminum ownership card, a small cleaning brush, two pocket-sized velvet bags for storing the IEMs, and two Noble elastic bands for your portable rig. For a company that is called Noble, you would generally expect fancy packaging and extra goodies like adapters and cable accessories. However, Noble knows that your money is best spent on the actual sound and design of your IEMs and focuses their attention on these instead.
The Noble 6C’s included stock cable is of excellent quality and is one of the better stock IEM cables that I have seen. The 4-braided cable has a glossy black finish, standard 2-pin IEM connectors and a standard 3.5mm plug. The small details matter here as the 2 pin connectors each feature a colored dot to indicate the correct channel and have plastic sleeves to prevent the cable from bending too sharply at the connection. The 3.5mm connector is also done right as the plug is all metal, straight, and small enough to properly fit into the headphone jack of portable devices, which often have cases that can get in the way of larger connectors. The cable is also soft, flexible, and free of any microphonic sound.
The custom Noble 6C shells are very well designed and quite beautiful in person, pictures simply do not do them justice. The medical grade acrylic used for the shells is of very high quality and gives the 6C a lightweight feel and a glossy smooth finish. Like a fancy hand-blown glass ornament or pipe, the color work just pops right out you and looks even more impressive under the light. The psychedelic nebula-like blend of red, yellow, blue, and violet hues is tastefully done with a metallic texture that adds to the overall effect. The faceplates are seamlessly connected to the shells to form one smooth coherent piece of art. Like a Rothko or Cubist painting, the faceplates contrast the smooth flowing nature of the shells with abstract bands of pink, black, lavender, and white, adding to the energy and emotion of the design. The Wizard certainly lives up to his reputation as an artist and designer as the artwork is simply phenomenal.
Of course, even the most beautiful IEM would be seldom used if it didn’t fit properly. Luckily for me, the fit of my custom Noble 6C’s was perfect right out of the box, creating a solid airtight seal and incredible comfort. Unlike universal IEMs, the Noble’s simply disappear into your ears and they are easy to kept worn all day, as they don’t create any pressure points and will fit your ears perfectly. Fit is very important for sub-bass performance as it goes away fast if you do not have a perfect fit. Even when running or doing intense physical activity, which I did quite a bit while wearing these, the Nobles remained on my ears and didn’t slip or lose their seal or fall out, excellent!
The Noble BTS:
The Noble BTS deserves some mention here as well. The BTS (Bluetooth Solution) is Noble’s way of adding wireless capabilities to their products. Included with the 6C as part of the review, the $99 device is able to turn almost any IEM into a wireless Bluetooth headset. The BTS is easy to use and pairs seamlessly with Apple iDevices and other portable Bluetooth tablets and phones. The BTS charges in 2 hours and battery life is good for up to 7 hours of playback. Effective range is about 10 meters, which is average for most wireless devices. The BTS comes with a small 1ft version of their 2-pin stock IEM cable, which allows you to hang the BTS around your neck while you use it. A small USB charging cable is also included.
While functionality and Bluetooth performance is pretty much flawless, there are a couple places where the BTS falls short. Every increase or decrease in volume is confirmed by a beep and there is a small response delay as well which can both become annoying over time. While this is not a deal-breaker, and certainly not unusual for a sub $100 electronic, I do wish the beeps could at least be turned off. The biggest downside however, is the loss in audio quality when using the BTS for music playback. The BTS works great for hands-free calling as voices come through clean and crisp, with great clarity and plenty of volume range for calls made in loud environments. When playing music however, the shortcomings of the BTS are immediately noticeable. The small amp/DAC inside the BTS kills the sub-bass and lowers transparency, despite the decent amount of clarity and detail. The treble can become too crystalline and the noise-floor can become an issue as well. The BTS’ sound signature is more catered towards voices and calling rather music listening, which makes sense as most audiophiles prefer their audio chain to be free of wireless components and would probably not use the BTS for any serious listening.
Overall though, the BTS is a great hands-free solution for those who absolutely require Bluetooth wireless freedom when moving around and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for that purpose.
Because the Noble 6C are small and easy to drive, I was able to listen to them pretty much anywhere and out of anything. Most of my listening was done straight out of an iPod as the sound quality was great and there was nothing else needed besides the IEMs themselves. For serious listening, I used the recently released ALO Continental Dual Mono (CDM) portable amplifier/DAC combo. The amplifier kept its stock 6111 vacuum tubes and I used its DAC exclusively. I also used my Woo Audio WA5 and Headamp GSX MK2 to drive the Nobles, but found the lower-noise floor of the CDM to be a better choice than either full-size system. My source was primarily lossless files fed from my computer to the DAC via USB. I also streamed lossless files from my iPad Air 2 to the Continental’s DAC by using either JRiver Media Center’s network streaming app when I was at home or Tidal’s lossless streaming service when moving around. As usual, my music choices varied and included just about everything.
The Noble 6C has fast, responsive drivers that are well-tuned and properly voiced. The frequency response is natural, free of any odd peaks or dips, and tonality is spot-on, with no honky unnaturalness or other sound anomalies that are often present in poorly designed IEMs. Clarity and detail are impressive, easily surpassing that of every universal in-ear monitor that I have previously auditioned. The Noble 6Cs are able to extract a great amount of detail from a recording, allowing you to go deep into the music as every note and nuance is fully present in the sound, devoid of grain and harshness, even on less-than-stellar recordings. The 6C has an easy-to-enjoy, forgiving, non-fatiguing sound signature as well as transparency and detail-retrieval that rivals that of similarly priced full-size headphones.
Coming from a lifetime of listening to regular IEMs, going custom is a massive improvement, there simply is no going back. CIEMs like the 6C address the majority of issues that universal IEMs have and thus, allow for a truly immersive listening experience. The soundstage and imaging improvements are probably the most significant, as the point-source in-your-head wall of sound I would hear in the past was now a lifelike 3D headspace with depth, coherency, and air. Voices were more fleshed out and organic, resonating much more naturally, instruments clear and distinct, and pretty much zero congestion as the 6 drivers in each ear are able to resolve complex passages in an almost electrostatic-like fashion. Though still not as enveloping as a pair of open headphones, the intimacy and synesthetic music head-trip effect created by the Nobles allowed me to experience live music, bands, and orchestras like never before and the feeling of “being there” was just that much more intense.
The treble of the 6C is mostly neutral and has incredible top-end extension, as well as a smooth lower treble. There are no odd peaks to be found and treble details are crisp and clean, free of any grain. The inherent warmth of the 6C is present in the highs, but there is no veiling of treble detail or any loss in resolution, you hear it all. Albums like tyDi’s Redefined showcase the treble performance of the Nobles as its full of little electronic micro-details in the treble as well as awesome vocals from singers like Kerli in “Perfect Crush” or Melanie Fontana in the title track “Redefined”. The treble never became fatiguing and worked well with all sorts of EDM tracks. Mako’s “I Won’t Let You Walk Away” and Speed Limits & Jaco’s “Palm of Your Hand” were equally amazing and I just kept on listening… cause you held me on the palm of your hand, don’t you let this go…!!! <3 LOL, OK, I’m having too much fun again here singing along to the music.
Overall though, the treble balance is great for EDM, Pop, and Rock, as there is enough energy for these genres and the forgiving treble never bites even on loud brick-walled passages; which is just what I am looking for in an IEM as I don’t always have the best sources with me and often, an iPod alone must suffice.
The midrange is similar to the treble in that is mostly neutral, free of congestion, with excellent resolution of detail. The midrange is truly warm, smooth, and sweet, with a focus on musicality rather than analytics. The midrange is neither forward nor relaxed, but dynamic and present, well connected with the highs and lows, and works well with all genres of music. I quickly found the midrange of the 6C to be great for rock music though, and I ended up listening to all my favorite bands such as Tool, Linkin Park, Green Day, Crossfade, Blink-182, and even System of a Down! Guitars were crunchy and crisp, drums and vocals lifelike and full of energy, and the bass worked well with the midrange, never bleeding over. The midrange never became muddy or aggressive and like the treble, is totally free of grain. The 6Cs mid range also allowed classic rock, jazz, and blues albums in DSD to be fully appreciated as well and sounded best when the Noble 6Cs were driven off a tube amplifier. High-res favorites from the Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Eagles, Dire Straits, and Rush all came to life and it was like listening to them again for the first time.
The bass is punchy, tight, with excellent decay, and a slight bloom. The bass is well-textured, fast, resolving, and like the treble and midrange, avoids being clinical. Though the bass is still not quite on par with the best full-size headphones, it’s the best I’ve heard out of any IEM. The mid-bass is punchy and strong, hitting harder than the sub-bass and works well with most genres of music. EDM as you might have guessed, sounds amazing on the Nobles and tracks like Cosmic Gate and Emma Hewitt’s “Going Home” really help bring that point home. The 6C also has good sub-bass extension, and the drivers are able to handle just about any bass torture test track successfully without any roll-off or distortion. However, sub-bass performance is highly dependent on seal and amplification. The Noble 6C must be correctly inserted and fitted or you lose pretty much all sub-bass response and proper amplification improves bass performance significantly, as the bass hits with much more authority and weight than without. Bass quantity is enough to satisfy most bass heads and I had no problem listening to bass-heavy rap music from artists like Fetty Wap, YG, E-40, and Jeezy on the 6C.
Though I was able to enjoy the Noble 6C out of most sources and amps, I believe that a portable amplifier will provide the best sound. The Continental Dual Mono (CDM) by ALO Audio, a serious endgame hybrid portable amplifier and DAC combo, took my Noble 6C to the next level. The already impressive separation and 3D imaging went from great to unreal, transparency improved, and the CDM created a pitch black background from which every sound effortlessly emerged. The bass went deeper, the midrange more liquid, velvety, and dynamic. The treble revealed more micro-details and spatial cues really stood out. The combination of CDM and 6C is nothing short of world class and rivals full-size setups in musicality and engagement; I can only imagine how good the sound would be if I used the flagship Noble Kaiser 10!
With the Noble Audio 6C, music is personal and immersive, and unlike other in-ear monitors I have tried, I no longer feel like I am sacrificing sound quality by going portable. The full high-end experience is available anywhere I go, and at $1099 is well worth the money as the sound quality rivals that of many similarly priced headphones. The sound signature works well for most genres of music and the frequency response is balanced and accurate enough for more serious reference listening sessions. The Wizard artwork and personalization options make each custom Noble 6C beautiful and unique, and help Noble Audio stand out amongst more mundane offerings from competitors. I highly recommend the Noble 6C for anyone who is considering a custom in-ear monitor for everyday use.