Tonality & Presentation
The Noble X is a warm, full sounding tonal presentation with a gently elevated bass response, a forward vocal presence around 2k-3k and a laid-back treble performance that is smooth, musical and fun to listen to. It won’t give you the extension and bite of the cleaner quad BA Savanna, especially beyond 3-4k but it will give you a thicker note and better low-end body more suited to hard rock and some dance genres. It’s an easy-going tonal flavor that pairs well with neutral sources and amps but it also has a few different tonal variations based on your tip usage.
In comparison to the Savanna and the Savant, I find the X to be warmer than both with a richer low end offering better texture and body. However, the Savanna has a more resolving midrange and superb top end extension and articulation sounding airier than the X. The Savant is more musical with a slight u-shape but is thinner sounding than the X throughout. It does though have a bit more air and treble sparkle as well as sounding the slightly more detailed of the two.
With the foam tips, the Noble X is a thicker sounding and weighted presentation with a bias to bass and lower midrange performance. It also gets a touch darker and less airy with a more shelved down treble response. Staging gets a little more closed in due to the lack of top end extension though depth and power are enhanced over the silicones which might go some way to satisfy bass heads, though, to be honest, it’s not a bassy IEM to begin with.
With the silicone tips, there is a drop in the bass thickness and body to produce a tonal presentation with a bit more midrange bias as well as superior treble extension and air. Leading edges are a bit cleaner also with the silicone tips. I also prefer the staging on the silicone tips as a result sounding more spacious and open than the foam tips. Details tend to be easier to pick up on also when listening with the silicones which tend to allow the natural speed of this dual BA to show a bit more.
My personal preference is with the silicone single bore tips. I dig my low-end thickness but overall I felt the foams softened the attack and muted the top a bit too much for my tastes. I do like a bit of air and a good set of mids.
Bass on the Noble X is elevated but on a gentle downwards curve rather from its high point around 30-80Hz where is fairly plateaued and smooth sounding. It doesn’t come across as uneven with any mid-bass hump or an isolated sub-bass rumble and the rest of it linear or thin sounding.
You will get an excellent weight for a BA bass performance, particularly with the foams though I give a slight edge to the silicones which produce a slightly more linear and cleaner response but that’s just personal preference. From 100Hz to around 1k (mids) it continues its downwards and steady slope keeping the response from getting bloated or overly warm.
The midrange on the Noble X is a touch dipped from 500Hz to 2k in comparison to the more noticeable 3-4dB upper midrange bump from 2-3k. Vocals on the X, depending on their pitch, may come across as a little muted or excellent, especially if they stay steady around the 2-3k marker. Generally speaking, lower range male vocals will more than likely have a neutral to slightly muted presence compared to the likes of Ellie Goulding, Enya, and Sia which can sound more forward. Those sensitive to sibilance and upper mid splashy percussion will be pleased to note the X’s natural to warm midrange signature is free of both.
Using silicone tips give me the best level of clarity and a more spacious presentation on the Noble X midrange and most importantly a slightly cleaner attack to pick up on the good detail the X is able to produce. Thinning out the lower midrange just a little also offers a perceptibly better instrumental separation and layering.
The foams will give you a bit more PRaT and more solid bass fundamentals on lower string guitar work. If you enjoy a richer sounding set of mids then the foams will do the business but at the cost of a little bit of space and bite.
The Noble X treble presentation is relaxed and somewhat muted around the presence range though this is more to do with the accentuated midrange boost than any recessed part of the curve. As such, percussion, such as cymbal attacks are natural sounding but a little behind in the mix giving way a bit more to some vocal pitches that center more in the upper mids.
What you can’t accuse them of being is peaky, thin sounding or brittle. There is decent body and detail with a balanced decay so nothing splashy sounding meaning the X is one heck of a forgiving sounding IEM. You will get zero fatigue with the X.
Upper treble performance does not have a huge amount of presence and extension so it lacks a bit of air and articulation with only a minor peak at 10k to prevent it sounding overly attenuated.
Again, with tips, you can get a better treble performance with the silicone tips over the foam tips. The foams will shelve down the top end a little more in favor of low to midrange so if you want a bit more extension and clarity I would opt with the silicone tips which offer a little bit more air.
It is not usual that Noble does not give us precise frequency range numbers and impedance values with their core product line up. With the Savanna, the closest inkling of efficiency you got was a single line stating “Sensitive enough for use with smartphones as well as portable amps and DAPs”.
Mind you, the traditional marker has been around 30 ohms for Noble IEM’s, and in the case of the X Massdrop have helpfully given us a proper spec rundown and yes, the X is rated at 30 ohms with a frequency response of 15 Hz – 20 kHz. Still no sensitivity ratings so one must deduce that the same caveat applies regarding smartphones, particularly with an optional lightning cable that can be bought with the X.
Comfortable Listening Levels
To determine if the sensitivity ratings were indeed similar to the Savanna I decided to simply run our comfortable listening tests again with the same DAPs as the Savanna was tested on and the results were indeed reasonably close in terms of efficiency. Note this is nothing scientific and our comfortable listening levels may differ from person to person but not by a big amount to render these figures irrelevant.
|X Low||X High||Savanna Low||Savanna High|
Whilst it does not specifically state this time that the X is sensitive enough to be used with smartphones the general ranges of comfortable listening levels across the DAPs in comparison with the Savanna are almost identical at the low point. There was, however, an interesting pattern of being able to listen at a higher level of volume with the X than the Savanna.
I was able to get about 5 steps more volume from the X than the Savanna pointing to perhaps minute levels of lower sensitivity on the X compared with the quad BA Savanna but not by a huge amount (all tested in low gain). Those 5 steps may also have more to do with the top end FR of the Savanna being a touch more forward than the X (see sound impressions) and my ability to comfortably deal with that on a personal level.
Across all 5 DAPs tested, noise levels were well within acceptable limits to the point of being non-existent and none required a high gain mode to properly drive the X. It will also play out just fine on efficient amps such as the ALO Audio RX (mk2) and Chord’s Mojo without giving rise to unacceptable high noise or background hiss.
Unlike the more neutral sounding and cleaner Savanna the thicker warmer sounding Noble X tends to gravitate more to neutral source more than a warm amp or DAP as an ideal pairing. That being said, like the Savannah the AK240 provided an excellent combination. The silicone tips combined with the AK240 gave the most linear performance of the DAPs tested so if you want something slightly more neutral and thinner sounding then this pairing will get the job done. I was especially pleased with the AK240 pairing for midrange detail and vocal clarity.
On a mid-fi level, the X7/AM3 offered a laid back neutral yet smooth presentation that didn’t quite have the same level of clarity and precision as the AK240 but nevertheless was a good choice if you wanted something a little more balanced sounding.
The Opus#1 lacked a little air and spaciousness compared to the X7 when paired with the Noble X. For some reason, that midrange hump of the X did not gel very well with the Opus#1 which tended to sound congested in the mids compared to the X7 even with the silicone tips.
The Cayin i5 was a great mid-fi match with the Noble X, particularly with the silicone tips. The Cayin i5 brought back a little of that foam tip low-end weight and musicality yet still managed to keep an impressive level of spaciousness and clarity in the upper mids and treble performance. This was perhaps the most flexible mid-fi pairing for musicality across most modern genres such as rock and R’n’B, from Def Leppard’s 80’s midrange rocker Animal to more sparse performances such as Sorry from Beyonce and its ever-present sub-bass rumble.
First things first, turn off the ClearAudio+ setting on the ZX2 because it produces an overloaded bass response that bleeds too much into the mids and drowns out the otherwise decent vocal performance of the ZX2.
The ZX2 lies somewhere in between the Cayin i5 and AK240 with a tonally clean and relatively neutral presentation using the Nobel X. It has an edge over the Cayin i5 in terms of resolution and detail, particularly instrumental separation and layering in its mids and vocals have a bit more space around them, particularly male vocals. I would tend to gravitate more to the ZX2 for rock using the silicone tips on the Noble X just for that superior midrange performance over the i5.
I like the way Noble approached this Massdrop with the Noble X. It was smart thinking both in terms of the physical units and the tonal presentation. It’s a thicker sound, improves a little on the tonal balance of the Savant and more consumer friendly than the analytical/neutral Savanna. If you are into musicality you will enjoy the X sound.
Best of all it’s just $249 and with that, you get a taste of the Noble sound in a form factor that looks like a regular member of the Noble product line up for $150 less than its cheapest regular IEM, the Sage. Sure a few things have been taken out like the range of tips is smaller, the case is a bit more on the plastic side but otherwise, you are getting pretty much what you expect to get from a Noble IEM purchase. That is great value to be honest.
Will they run the drop again? I certainly hope so. Nothing like bringing the name to casual consumer and get them hooked on a good “entry level” IEM and showing them what is possible. It would be interesting a year down the line to see if first time X buyers are sporting a Katana.
- Faceplates: Anodized aluminum in midnight blue
- Drivers: 2 proprietary balanced armature drivers per side
- Impedance: 30 ohms
- Frequency response: 15 Hz – 20 kHz
- Cable: 50 in (127 cm), detachable, with 2-pin configuration
- Plug: ⅛ in (3.5 mm), gold-plated
- Weight: 0.69 oz (19.5 g)
- Drivers sourced from a US company
- Socket, ABS housing, and aluminum CNC housing manufactured in the US
- Cable, tubing, solder, and wiring manufactured in Taiwan
- Partial assembly overseas; final assembly and QA in the US
- 50 in (127 cm), detachable, with 2-pin configuration and Lightning connector