Bass and Imaging
This ciem is not for you if you were looking for a neutral sound signature, or perhaps if you wanted a more linear appeal to your experience. These are elevated on the low end something fierce; I love the hell out of it. I am a bass head as well as a sound stage nutcase, so the K10 hit the spot for me unlike any other ciem to date that I’ve yet owned. The low end experience extends to Audeze level, but it puts out more of a Hifiman texture. It is more broad than sonically pure like an Audeze tends to be, more guttural and even snarling with density and quantity. There is absolutely a difference between bass that is what I consider pure (electrostatic, Audeze bass) and that type of bass from Hifiman that is something with more of a focal point of solidity in the center that expands softly to the edges. Seasoned listeners can tell the difference instantly between these two types of bass textures. I feel the K10’s to offer something more like the Hifiman HE-6 in that regard, something noticeably different than my LCD3 in texture and setup. I’ve only ever witnessed one inner ear that offered a pure type of bass that feels like Audeze Planar bass: The Flare Audio R2A/Pro.
Quality is sublime, it reaches so deep as well and retains excellent control with EQ. This is a bass head iem, no doubt. Purists shouldn’t enter this home; you won’t enjoy it unless you are willing to drop your EQ low end to a more linear setup. If that is your bag, then go for it, the K10 can handle loss of low end and boosting equally well without sounding like trash. If I had to compare it to one headphone’s bass quality, it would be the MrSpeakers Ether or the Hifiman HE-6 on a great rig setup. Impact levels are extremely tasty and of a type that I’ve lusted years for. None of my other customs outside of the Merlin really did it for me, their physical slam quantity is just right. You don’t want quantity like this as found in the K10 that hits hard that causes wincing, eye twitching or convulsion, so thankfully the K10 hits home with the proper balance between said quantity and levels of physicality and impact. This ciem is easily the best sounding ciems on the low end that I’ve ever heard, exceeding some of the Summit level full size headphones in quality.
I don’t consider this ciem grand for vocalist lovers and I’d seek something else entirely for that type of a sound with a midrange bloom. The K10’s feel a bit relaxed in placement as a whole, yet also offer a linear treble to mid response presentation. That means that the K10 sounds flat from the midrange on upward into the treble, but with a larger and much more prominent bass response that looms over everything. Intimacy is lacking severely on this model, so choose carefully. If you like forward mids and a very up close and personal sound signature, this isn’t for you. It is for you if you want a more relaxing experience that isn’t so vibrant with vocals, something that isn’t so in your face.
The mid quality is very similar to my Flare Audio R2A iem, soothing and supple are my favorite terms to use when speaking about the vocal experiences physicality. Some headphones sound lush and thick, others thin and stretched. In this case, the K10 is certainly on the lush side of the spectrum and offers a very smooth approach to the entire midrange. You’ll be swooning at the ciems fantastic edge work when it comes to female vocals in particular: they are tonally balanced, concise and with a strong, dense focal point. Unlike the HD800, which gets this wrong most of the time, the K10 never sounds lacking in the slightest when it comes to strong physicality and a very solid sound and something realistically formed and weighted compare to real voices nearby. There isn’t a hint of nasalness or sibilance, I’ve had difficulty finding a track that sounded bad enough for me to warrant discontinued usage. I am an avid fan of Audible, but not their quality. With my R2PRO and Ether, I cannot use a 64kbps audiobook and hope to enjoy it. It will sound muffled and hazy, hissy even. However, much like my UM Merlin, these very low quality tracks still sound passable. This is something almost no other Summit level headphone has achieved. The K10 is not sensitive to background hiss, this ciem was clearly made for enjoyability and not extreme accuracy.
The upper regions of the K10 bug me on a personal level and I certainly think the JH16 is more than a match for it. Much like the HE500 from Hifiman, the tone of the treble is solid and dense, a bit bright and varies from rig to rig. I’ve found I enjoy certain tracks more with my Rockboxed iBasso DX90 and with Foobar2000, than I do with my Calyx M portable Dap. I prefer to EQ up about 4-5dB and in doing so, I achieve more of a fluffy feel to the sound stage, as well as a nicer, more engaged upper end all around. I am actually sensitive to treble and I find myself demanding more quantity than what the K10 usually offers on a flat EQ, so I would recommend you do so as well if you are a treble head. The K10 can be boosted on the top end a few dB without losing any control.
Physical impact mirrors the upper midrange, thankfully and sounds similar to the way JH achieved their separation of mids to treble with their Phase tech. All other ciems that I’ve heard kind of blur the lines between the upper most mids and the lower areas of the treble, however the K10 and the JH16FP seem to do a marvelous job at separating these two hubs and spacing them out a bit. The result is a coherent, well separated sound that I find addictive. With Crossfeed active, the center image of the K10 is so damned great, that I’ve discontinued usage of all full size headphones and have chosen the K10 as my new primary headphone. Without Crossfeed, I feel the experience to lack a proper image out front that satisfies me. Staging qualities are not supremely grand, but they are pretty good. The K10 doesn’t sound as deep as my Flare R2Pro, nor does it respond nearly as well with Naturespaces and holographic audio recordings. For some reason, this is the only real fault of the K10…that lack of a realistic imaging process is absolutely on par with my JH16 and even bested by the Merlin. However, the Flare iems reign supreme in this area and I suspect nobody will be exceeding them for some time to come.
The K10 is mildly efficient and does not require amplification, however there in lay the problem. There are no portable amplifiers that currently exist that due this ciem justice. I claim the RSA SR71B to be the best sounding and most clean portable amplifier ever made, yet it still isn’t good enough for the K10. Hell, my Pathos Aurium isn’t good enough for the K10’s max’ed potential. I literally could not afford to seek better gear just for this review to see where the K10’s limit in clarity ends. My Calyx M by itself sounds great with the K10, however when connected to the Pathos Aurium and various other $1500 or so amplifiers, the K10 sounds noticeably better. On the other hand, the K10 still sounds very good with the cheap Fiio X1 and nothing else. The AK240 from Astell and Kern? Nope, not clean enough to justify the potential of the K10. If you want the best experience you can get and are like me, someone who wants to use a custom in my home as a primary headphone, then you need some elite Dacs and Amplifiers. My Oppo HA-1 is bested by my Calyx M, and it isn’t sufficiently clean enough for usage with the K10. At the moment, the best setup I’ve come across is actually the Rockboxed iBasso DX90 for tonality, due to its various EQ functions and the Pathos Aurium as the final link in the chain.
I mention this because a lot of us will slap a portable amp on our portable rigs and call it a day, not realizing the amp is the weak leak in the chain even with the likes of the Calyx M and the AK240, both of which I’ve found not clean and dynamic enough to warrant usage with the K10 if you are seeking the best clarity it can put out. Now, don’t let that scare you. My primary portable is the Calyx M and despite not having an EQ in it, I still love the K10+Calyx M pair. As mentioned, it is hard not to like it even with the lower end Daps. It works either way: if you are interested in End Game sound for home listening, seek an excellent dac/amp, Marcus seems to like the Nuprime Dac, maybe give that a try? If you want to pair the K10 with a lower end rig, you can do so. I hear tales that it sounds great with the Liquid Carbon and newer AKJr Dap. You can’t lose.
The K10 is stunningly beautiful and turns heads everywhere I go and each time I post an image of them, yet also sound damned fantastic everywhere. My only gripe is the lack of stage depth that seems on par with some customs that might cost a lot less, but I admit I went into this thinking they would be the most spacious sounding ciem out there. Turns out that isn’t the case, but they aren’t lacking in the slightest. After all the grand things I can say about them and how well they performed, their price to performance is virtually a 1:1 ratio. Meaning, they aren’t a great deal. This is Art combined with peak summit level fidelity, so you are going to pay upwards of $2000us and even more in some cases for them. These customs did not best my 007 in clarity of the mids and treble, but they did best them in bass quality. If I were to consider these a great deal, they should have smashed the other $1600-2000 headphones out there. Sadly, they only just compared to some of them and were still bested by the likes of the LCD3’s bass quality, the HD800’s sound stage and so on. I am not sure if I can consider them a deal due to these factoids, but none of the competition is portable. The K10 is the very definition of portability, so in that respect it is a good deal. But, is it fair to consider it a great deal just because it is portable and compares to full size headphones of the same price tag?
Noble created a marvelous thing that I adore. This is without a doubt the pinnacle of portability and I’ve yet to experience anything superior in the iem world as a whole. Yes, a few models out there might best it in one area or another, but the final tallied score considered at the end of the game…the K10 is literally the best portability experience available. Great job, Noble.
- Type: Four-way, triple-bore, ten-driver custom-fit in-ear monitor
- Driver complement: Ten balanced armature-type drivers per earpiece (two, bass drivers, two mid drivers, two mid/high drivers, two high frequency drivers, and two super high frequency drivers)
- Impedance: <35 Ohms
- Noise isolation: ~26 dB
- Accessories: Detachable ~1m signal cable with industry-standard 2-pin connector, cleaning tool, rubber amp bands, owners card, soft carry pouch, hard storm box carrying case
- Warranty: Two (2) years, parts and labor
- Price: Starting at $1599. Starting at $250, Noble will reshell an existing set of Noble CIEMs for a third party owner who has purchased a set of Noble CIEMs second hand.
19 W. Carrillo St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Tel: +1 (805) 886-5255