Mini-Review: Noble Audio X Universal from Massdrop


Noble Audio knows upside and down how to make an in-ear monitor look good and sound even better. And with the help of the audiophile retailing entrepreneurs at Massdrop, their new little marvel is available at the lowest price I’ve ever seen a Noble product that wasn’t heavily chewed on by Brian Hunter’s cat. Say hello to the $249 the Noble X Universal.

$249? For a Noble? That is a flipping steal, my friends. Get in line and get in fast because I’m pretty sure Brannan and Dr John are gonna wake up in 3 days and say “These, and no more. Never again will we let the market rob us so! Oh woe, what have we done?!?”

I feign hyperventilation, but as of this writing, over 1,000 enthusiasts have signed onto the ‘drop. You’ll pardon while I laugh, but holy crap, that’s a lot of in-ear monitors.

Oh, by the way, did I tell you that I have a pair right here? Ha!

Unfortunately — for all of us — I don’t have the entire Noble Audio lineup in front of me, because if I did, I’d be able to tell you exactly where and how the Noble X falls into the line. I find this lack a terrible fault and horrifically bad planning on many fronts, and trust that this incredible injustice and wild oversight will one day be corrected. Ahem. In the meantime, it’s rather obvious to note that the Sage ($599) is the closest in design (they’re both dual driver), if not in price (the least expensive universal in-ear in the current Noble line up is the Trident, a 3-balanced armature IEM that retails for $399). My absolutely brilliant skill with inductive reasoning leads me to infer that the Noble X is more than passingly similar to the Sage, though my understanding is that it is its own man in the lineup, a specific and unique product in its own right.

The Nobel X looks exactly like the rest of the current crop of in-ear monitors from Noble. Same etched-metal case-back piece. Same shaped plastic in-ear piece. New cable (especially over the ear), but same feel. I actually had to look carefully to notice that the plastic wire-guide that slips over the ear on the Django is actually not there on the Noble X — that part of the cable is just thicker and a touch bendy, and yes, ‘bendy’ is a word because autocorrect didn’t underline it.

The sound quality of this new IEM is, in a word, brilliant. It’s open-sounding, engaging, lively and extended. The voicing is warm and easy, and your electronics will sound mah-ve-lous (yes, that’s a good thing). Trading in your upgraded $70 Apple In-Ear Headphones will get you pretty much more of everything — more air, more bass, more intimacy in the mid-range, more life. The difference is revolutionary. Reach into the bag for quality tunes and a quality playback, however, and things get exciting.

The CD-rip of Chris Jones’ “Roadhouses & Automobiles”, played over the portable-audio king-of-the-hill from Astell&Kern, the AK380, clearly shows off the all the mixed-in flora and fauna (note, the CD version, from German audiophile label Stockfisch, is a completely different mix than what you’ll find streaming from Tidal). Lorde’s “Royals” comes roaring through the Noble X with authority and presence. Strings, especially big creepy ones like “Escape Artist” on Zoë Keating’s Into the Trees are full of longing and menace, and you can just feeeeel the scrape of the bow across the strings of that cello. Mmm mmm, good.

The major obvious difference from the multi-driver extravaganzas that litter the top-of-the-line from Noble will come in the bass — the $999 Django, for example, will have a deeper and more textured approach to bass. That’s what that extra 4x of that ill-gotten pirate booty you stole out of the Museum of Naval History will do for you. But while I’d heartily recommend the Django and, even better, the Kaiser for those of you with a taste for “music” that is perhaps approximated by the death-rattle of a household appliance electronic dance music, those IEMs start at 4x the price of the Noble X.

The now-discontinued Savant, which I happen to have as a Prestige Custom (think: super fancy) and not a universal, shares similar features with the Noble X — they’re both 2-driver models. But they don’t quite sound the same — to my ear, the Savant sounds more linear and more robustly extended, while the Noble X sounds more tuned for broad-appeal and long-term engagement (again, note the huge disparity in price — the Savant was substantially more costly than the Noble X). I’ll go further, and note that this relationship is mirrored in the way that the flagship Katana sounds more linear and the flagship Kaiser sounds more engaging. Not better. Different. That’s important.

Wait. My Spider-Sense is tingling! I sense … a trend! Which version you’ll prefer, I think, says more about you than about the IEM. Clearly, Dr John Moulton, the Wizard of Noble Audio, is catering to more than one type of consumer, so the upshot is that I fully expect YMMV.

juliarulesmallAt $250, the Noble X falls into that rare and wonderful category of “Great Buys” we call The Julia Rule. Given their diminutive size (they are IEMs, after all), the more loving and generously minded of you will undoubtedly be purchasing several sets for use as stocking stuffers. I would totally do that, if I were loving or generous. This is a no-brainer recommendation at this price, and given the nature of the offer — a limited partnership with Massdrop — it’s a reasonable bet that this price/performance ration will be very hard to match again. Go forth, and conquer.

Check out the Noble X Universal on Massdrop now. More photos can be found on the announcement, here.