The previous flagship Sultan was launched around mid-2020 and still scores highly in our Reader Voted Top 30 Earphones as of today. You can read our full review of the Sultan here.
Both monitors are hybrid with a mix of dynamic, BA, and electrostatic. However, the Viking Ragnar is by far the more expansive of the two with two 10mm dynamic drivers for the lows instead of 1, and 4 electrostatic drivers for the highs instead of two. The midrange BA mix remains the same at 4 a piece.
I believe both use a 4-way crossover but it’s never been officially confirmed on the Noble website for the Sultan as opposed to the Viking Ragnar which has it as a key selling point.
Given the launch dates, I would also hazard a guess that the Sultan uses the older Generation 1 Sonion transformer for the EST drivers as opposed to generation 2 now which would be the norm for new EST builds such as the Viking Ragnar.
It is a similar story with the efficiency ratings with the Viking Ragnar quoted at a reasonable 17Ω and 112dB and the Sultan with only the impedance rating at <35Ω.
We do know that EST hybrids tend to drink up the ‘Powerade’ a bit more than regular BA and some dynamic alternatives so neither are what I would class as upper sensitive.
That being said, I find these two to be relatively similar in power requirements when used with a Questyle M15 dongle. If I had to make a call I would say the Sultan has a slightly higher SPL rating but not by much.
The Viking Ragnar takes everything great about the Sultan’s design and doubles down on the uniqueness with a higher grade of materials and what I think is a better finish all around.
The Sultan is a little more reflective and polished in its design with that hand-finished Galaxy swirl-type amber face plate. Whereas the unique matte and noire look of the Damascus steel plates and rune markings of the Viking Ragnar is possibly more masculine or aggressive in their aesthetics. Certainly feels more robust also.
Both are very Noble in their design language so the shell size is not that small in all fairness but with the long nozzle technique, you can insert them both quite deep and use the tips to get some excellent passive isolation.
There isn’t a huge amount of difference in the seal either given the similar form factor and curves. Both will stick out of the ear slightly but note, the venting on the Viking Ragnar has moved away from the Sultan’s front plate positioning to a more discreet point just in front of the 2-pin connector sockets.
The Viking Ragnar cable has been upgraded also from the Sultan’s stock. Both are 1.2m but the grade of metals inside the Magnus and the finishing is a step up with that mix of graphene, monocrystalline silver, and a copper-silver alloy as opposed to simpler OCC copper.
Both handle well but Magnus is a bit softer, has less microphonics, and with reduced memory wire also which gives it an additional comfort advantage.
The Sultan is the more emotive and intimate performer with a bassier delivery and warmer timbre. It is a more forgiving presentation with plenty of even-harmonic overtones and is generally unflappable with percussion-heavy mixes.
This is also a top-tapping type of tuning and is excellent for modern rock and pop. Plenty of even-harmonic overtones in instrumental notes underpinned by a strong fundamental.
The Viking Ragnar is the precision tool, the technical master, and the soundstage king. Its timbre is cooler and cleaner but the background is blacker, with pinpoint accuracy in its imaging.
It’s almost like switching from the HD650 to the HD800 with the staging pushed out really wide and tall with plenty of sparkle and intricate articulation to go along with it. You will miss nothing from the Viking Ragnar’s excellent attention to micro-detail.
The FR of both has some obvious changes to help deliver these contrasting sounds with the Viking Ragnar much more neutral through the mid and upper bass and on a rise through the lower mids compared to the stronger sub-to-mid elevation of the Sultan whose lowest point is right around 1k.
The mids FR of the Viking Ragnar is also more relaxed, not recessed just not as bumped as the Sultan from 1-3k. The Sultan does have some 4-8k energy but it’s not as prominent as the extension and presence of the 5-10k peak, (and beyond), of the Ragnar. The Ragnar is by far the airier and taller soundstage of the two.
I am not 100% sure I would define this as musical versus reference though. There is some obvious coloration in both but just at times, it feels like the polar opposite of what each one is doing.
Vision Ears Phönix
The Vision Ears Phönix is the company’s current flagship universal in-ear monitor and one which we highly rated in our review earlier this year. The price point of relatively fairly close also.
Unlike the Viking Ragnar, the Phönix is an all-BA creation boasting 13 drivers in total; 4 for the lows, 4 for the mids, 4 for the highs, and then an entirely new super tweeter for the ultra-highs.
The drivers are stacked and vented dual-driver modules for the lows, non-vented for the mids that are split between the low-mids and mid/highs with that additional spout-free super tweeter likely positioned right in the nozzle itself. The dual-driver stacks have a tube for each plus one additional slot for the super tweeter all in an internal inlay design.
The Viking Ragnar has 3 fewer drivers at 10 but with the mix of a dual dynamic for the lows and 4 EST drivers for the highs, the texture and tonal quality will be quite different between these two monitors.
The Phönix is rated 13Ω @ 1KHz and 125dB SPL compared to the Viking Ragnar’s slightly higher load and lower sensitivity of 17Ω and 112dB SPL. In our real-world tests, those ratings ring fairly true with the Phönix the louder of the two, even on moderately powered devices such as the balanced output of the Questyle M15.
I think this one is going to come down to preference because I honestly cannot fault either but they do have a very different approach.
The Phönix is more discreet in terms of size. It is also a bit lighter with its machining of dark carbon fiber mono-blocs for the main shell which is a much lighter material than the aluminum shells of the Viking Ragnar.
The visual is also very different with the Phönix offering more of an expensive boutique jewelry-type aesthetic than the more aggressive, noir tone of the unique Damascus stainless steel rings and rune markings on the Viking Ragnar.
If there is genderization in audio then the Phönix leans feminine and the Ragnar steers masculine and if I have to give an edge in terms of robustness it would be the Ragnar.
The Phönix does feel a bit more comfortable in the ear compared to the steadier fit of the Viking Ragnar. It is a shallower body allowing it to sit closer to the canal and requiring less nozzle length to get a very good seal.
Because it is all BA it does not require any venting either but I have to say the Viking Ragnar’s deep insertion combined with foams passive isolates a bit more, particularly on high-frequency background noise.
Both have great stock cables. The materials in both are good quality though with a silver-gold alloy and an OCC copper Litz geometry for the Phönix cable and graphene, monocrystalline silver, and a copper-silver alloy mix inside the Magnus.
The Phönix is all about euphony with effortless coherence and a pleasing high-fidelity listening experience.
It does wonderfully well on the lows with those dual BA woofers but the bias is, as you might expect, slightly more to the mid-bass around 80-200Hz giving it a decent punch and some increasing warmth which transfers up into the mids to give it that silky smooth performance.
By contrast, the Viking Ragnar is all about clarity and transparency, where accuracy is to the fore though with a hint of treble sparkle giving each note some additional contrast in its tuning. It also sounds the ‘bigger’ of the two for staging with more width, improved headroom, and with those dual dynamic drivers, definitely more depth.
I must note though the punch for the Ragnar is not hugely aggressive and does not carry the same warmth and bloom into the lower mids despite its FR rise from 500Hz to 2k. The ‘bass scoop’, as I like to call it, is much lower than the Phönix at around 200Hz which is almost exactly where the Phönix bass peaks.
Mids are generally more forward on the Phönix with a richer timbre but also a softer attack giving notes a bit more of that rounded tone. Some of that liquid leading edge is also drawn from a relaxed treble tuning that faithfully follows the Harman drop compared to the Viking Ragnar which goes in the opposite direction.
As a result, the Phönix isn’t as airy in general whereas the Viking Ragnar is much the roomier of the two throughout. Imaging is excellent though from the Phönix with its all-BA consistency. I think the Ragnar does a very fine job of delivering a consistent sound but you can pick out the contrasting driver textures a bit more easily.
Empire Ears Odin
The Odin is Empire Ears’ current flagship universal IEM and was released back in late 2020. It was also our Top Gear Award winner from that same year.
Like the Viking Ragnar, the Odin is a high-end hybrid universal IEM with a configuration with a mix of 11 drivers as opposed to 10 inside the Noble. The difference maker is the additional BA for the mids inside the Odin but in other areas, these two have similar groupings.
Both offer dual dynamic drivers for the lows with EE’s 9mm Weapon IX+ going up against a dual 10mm inside the Viking Ragnar. Up top, they also both use quad-EST drivers with 2nd gen Sonion energizers. The 8-way synX crossover of the Odin is also a fair bit more complex than the Ragnars 4-way.
It is really the BA split that shows a different path in a way with the Odin using 2 dual-driver units for the lower mids and the mids and a single BA driver for the mid-highs whereas the Viking Ragnar uses 2 for the mids and 2 for the mid-highs.
In other technical areas, you could argue EE is more transparent or more marketing-heavy with its pitch on using A.R.C Anti-Resonance Compound for damping the internals and the EIVEC transformer technology for the EST energizer fine-tuning.
The Odin is rated at a vanishing low 3Ω impedance and a moderate 108dB SPL efficiency rating compared to the 17Ω and 111dB SPL of the Viking Ragnar. However, using an LP P6 Pro 4.4mm balanced out in low gain, it was the Viking Ragnar that required a few dB more juice to volume matchmaking the Odin the more efficient of the two.
The Odin is all about color pop and a lightweight resin shell closely contoured to slip into your ear with maximum comfort. The Viking Ragnar is heavier and bigger but, it is also more robust with its aluminum shells and very unique Damascus stainless steel plates.
Overall, I find the Odin more comfortable in my ear, however, I have a degree more confidence that I won’t damage the Viking Ragnar when out of the ear.
Both are vented shell designs for their dual dynamic driver internals to breathe so neither is going to match an all-BA custom job but overall, they actually do quite well.
Tips can play a role here with the Final E tip’s on the Odin doing really well with passive low-frequency noise cancellation and the foams of the Viking Ragnar doing better on passive high-frequency noise. The Final E tips will fit on the Noble though so switching them over produces much the same isolation performance as the Odin.
Both IEMs place a lot of emphasis on their stock cables being somewhat above the norm. The Odin Stormbreaker cable is a custom version of PW Audio’s famous 1960s 2-wire 4-conductor (2 positives, 2 negatives), OCC copper Litz geometry. It has a variable wire gauge, 26AWG for the positive side, and a larger 24AWG for the negative side.
2-wire does not sound huge compared to the 4-core graphene, monocrystalline silver, and a copper-silver alloy mix of the Viking Ragnar Magnus geometry but its performance is way above what you expect from 2-wires.
It is also lighter than the Magnus as a result which some might prefer though the finish is a little more on the DIY side with slightly higher microphonics levels compared to the pristine barrels of the Magnus cable.
I suspect this is where there will be a lot of pondering on which to get and to be honest there is no easy or clear answer to that outside of yes, the Odin does slightly more sub-bass amplitude and a stronger mid-bass kick also.
What they do share is a resolute penchant for articulating micro-detail but where they differ for me is in how that is presented.
The Odin veers more to the explosive touchpoints of bass and vocal or more specifically that 1-3k bumped midrange. There it wears its heart on its sleeve in a more unabashed fashion.
EE has always been about capturing your ear with one or two key trump cards so it’s no surprise they would want to show off the texture and prowess of the Weapon IX+ drivers alongside that excellent BA/EST level of detail.
The Viking Ragnar keeps things steadier with similar levels of bass extension but slightly less amplitude preferring instead to give the lower mids a bit more presence and keeping the vocals more in check to create a stronger sense of space.
Perceived height also goes in a slightly different direction with the Viking Ragnar much more forceful on the highs and upper treble extension in particular. EE has toned down the Odin presence a bit more which, in turn, amplifies the upper-mids focus point.
The staging shape thus changes. The Viking is all about fantastic width, staging space, and treble sparkle giving you a very broad but heavily detailed soundscape whereas the Odin sucks you more into a stretched and deep staging quality with bass and upper mids to the fore and instruments neatly tucked in behind.
The Noble Audio Viking Ragnar is probably the company’s most high-fidelity in-ear monitor to date. It is also unique from the competition in its spatial grandeur but no less of a technical performer with impressive levels of precise imaging and detail.
This is a purist’s choice, it is not a riotous or aggressive tuning but it has a lot of flexibility with both intimate and expansive audio recordings. Nothing is missed, every minute detail is there. The only minor critique is the studied matching process with both tip and source. I have nailed on preferences and not every option was ideal but some were spectacular.
It is an impeccable-looking and very unique in-ear monitor design also yet still has that unmistakable Noble Audio vibe. All that would be for nothing if it didn’t have the ‘audible chops’ that it most certainly has.