Brannan Mason, the public facing half of Noble Audio, brought a set of Chord Electronics' Hugo DACs to the party at CanMania for use with his company's outstanding in-ear monitors. The Hugo, a battery-driven, USB-connected device, straddles the line between mobile and portable. That is, I wouldn't really expect anyone to strap a mobile phone or DAP to the relatively plain casework, but I suppose you could. No, I figure most folks are going to tether it to a laptop and run it that way -- that is, the way it was set up here at CAF.
Played back on various sets of Noble Audio IEMs, you get the unmistakable sense that something special is going on with this DAC, and at nearly $2,500, I suppose that's a good thing. A note -- I managed to borrow a couple of Hugos from different vendors and compare them. While the guts are all the same, apparently, the casework has changed lately to allow for "oversized" RCA connectors. Check out the pics, below.
Turning to the IEMs, Noble audio offers both universal-fit and custom-fit options for their line-up. The cost relates to and pretty much tracks with the number of drivers embedded in their tiny little ear-canal-hugging shells, starting from the Noble 3 at $350 and working up to the top of the line Kaiser 10, which is just shy of $1,600. The number on the model names seem to track with the number of balanced armatures driving the sound into your eardrums -- the Noble 3 uses three, the Kaiser 10 uses ten (yes, ten drivers ... holy s***!).
So, aside from the shockingly gorgeous textures that their custom-custom “Wizard” series IEMs offer (see pics below), the newest, and I think probably now the most interesting, addition to their lineup are their “Switch” models, which allows a user to manual change the output of their IEM from one set of drivers to another — that is, both sets are discrete and present, the switch shunts the signal path from one set to the other. This nifty trick allows a user to “switch up” their experience, to move from a more lush to a more linear signature, pretty much at whim. That’s cool.
Full disclosure: I have a pair of custom K10 in for review and they’re unbelievable. I think that qualifies as a tease, no?
Bowei Zhao, aka, Panda, sits enjoying some Noble Audio + Chord Hugo goodness