The 4 Classic tonally is something I am missing a bit in my mid-tier IEM review arsenal – a largely neutral or flat presentation with no distinct coloration in the range but for a slightly forward mid-section. I have heard the term boring being thrown at the Noble 4 Classic which is utter piffle for me personally but I can understand why some might say that. If you want slam, thick and rich midranges, lush vocals or a rolled off consumer type treble range you are not going to get it. The 4 Classic as best as possible tries to focus on a transparent, accurate and balanced reference sound and as such I can really dig using this for source reviewing, a certain level of monitoring or critical listening as well as simply “listening” to music which sometimes can be a forgotten art.
It is not a consumer sound and it will not appeal to the bass heads looking for some heavy handed bass lines. What you do get though is high quality, tight and fast paced bass with great definition. It also doesn’t deliver class leading low end extension but more than makes up for it with a stack of detail that often bassier IEMs fail to deliver in their quest to blow your head off. That relatively neutral presentation, mild roll off and only the mildest of mid bass elevations makes this far superior reference IEM for me for band orientated rock and live performances. The leaner speedier bass though is not the best match for EDM or bass rich tracks. It is not the leanest I have heard but the flatter response means EDM can sound a bit flat and technical and less involving.
A refined and controlled bass that doesn’t bleed into the mids is always going to be a good start but Noble really put the shine anyway into a very impressive mid-section that sound spacious, very clean and detailed and tonally sounds very accurate to my ears. Guitar work on my old 80’s rock work is supremely well controlled, pacey with excellent decay and separation. Check out Extreme’s “Get the Funk Out”‘ ending sequence of wah wah and rhythm guitar work which usually sort of just merges into one chaotic congested finish on softer IEM’s but on the 4 Classic that wah wah accent is heard loud and clear alongside the pacey rhythmic finish of the main guitar work right to the end. Remember what I said about listening? I wasn’t even monitoring it was that easy to pick out and enjoy.
I was sort of expecting the 4 Classic to be a bit ruthless with vocals and showing up a higher level of sibilance but in truth vocal presence remained true to the rest of the mid-range with an emphasis on accuracy and clarity. What you put in you get out so good recordings will sound good and sibilant free. A relatively smooth transition to a well behaved treble range really does help. Nothing worse than a decent set of pipes being drowned out by a searingly hot cymbal crash or peaky synth line and thankfully the 4 Classic nails that tricky percussion work accurately and with a high degree of articulation.
The 4 Classic is neither strident, peaky nor hot yet remains faithfully accurate, controlled and with great sparkle. It really is hard to get good treble these days with many opting to just roll it off or soften it up to mask over discrepancies and focus instead on “da bass”. Fidue came close with the A83 but I found the rest of the signature to be a bit off in comparison making it rather a difficult match more times than most. The UE900 played it a bit safe also but with some matches it just sounds a bit harsh. The IE800 can also sound a tad harsh and brittle without the right match up. The 4 Classic on the other hand has a slightly drier shorter decay in the top end with smoother lower treble that keeps the whole presentation focused and clear without ever sounding sharp or peaky. It won’t beat out the IE800 on micro detail but it feels more balanced and natural with a wider range of sources.
I normally do not expect huge soundstages with BA setups but increasingly these days BA IEMs are quite capable of moving beyond the stereotypical intimate soundstage descriptions of yore and the Noble 4 is no exception. The dynamics of the Noble 4 are above par and whilst it won’t give you huge depth it will yield excellent imaging and above average width and height in its staging. You are definitely a few rows back but just not too far that there is a lack of engagement especially with that mid-section keeping you glued to your detail seat. The 4 Classic really is excellent in that sense presenting a coherent soundstage with good separation and space with most sources and that top end articulation makes it ideal for orchestral, percussion, acoustics and live music. The lack of low end dynamics means it won’t be the number one choice for EDM, it really doesn’t really give off a dance hall ambiance to suit.
The Noble 4 flatter neutral reference like tonality makes it a fairly flexible universal IEM with most sources. It is also a relatively unforgiving IEM so your matching challenges will not necessarily be a hardware conundrum but one of inputting quality source tracks. A few of my lossy recordings that I know have a tendency to produce sibilance went right ahead and threw the equivalent of a couple of wounded snakes into my ear with the 4 Classic. You won’t get forgiveness with the 4 Classic and a dose of better recorded hi-res will yield a far more rewarding listening experience.
That being said the level of transparency also in the Noble 4 Classic meant I could really stick to my favored hardware without compromise and find a sound that gelled quite easily with my personal preferences. The 30 ohm rating also meant I was finding low to zero background hiss or noise with the majority of DAPs such as the DX90, X5, Ak120, Cayin N5 as well as some of the more IEM friendly amps such as the RX from ALO, Vorzamp Duo, FiiO’s E12a and the Glove A1 from CEntrance. Things only really got hissy on known amps for higher noise levels like the Theorem 720 and the Creative E5 and the tonally great but hissy Shozy Alien DAP so no surprises there.
Lotoo Paw Gold
Perhaps my favorite DAP match with the Noble 4 Classic was the Paw Gold from Lotoo. The Paw Gold is a $2k tiny nugget of warm and soothing gold plated DAP goodness and though performing better out of its line out it does a pretty darn good headphone out also that is pure liquid for pleasurable listening. The Classic 4’s neutral, quick fire pace and spacey detail blended with the Gold’s more mellow presentation and smooth vocal staging is really the bee knees. If you want something musical but detailed with standout vocal presence and not a hint of sibilance in sight then this is a great match. Mind you this is a $2k DAP so the marketing head in me thinks if you can reach for a $2k DAP then you might be wanting to pair it to a Prestige custom at a similar price range. It does go to show the 4 Classic can really hang in there and produce some wonderful sounds given the right source.
Matched with a more neutral DAP such as the Cayin N6 brought about a slightly more analytical presentation. However, though clean, both the N6 and 4 Classic stayed on right side of neutral thankfully without any unnecessary sizzle or harsh unnatural tones. What I did get with this pairing was really above average sound staging and excellent imaging. The 4 Classic’s prowess in instrument separation combined with the N6’s above average 3D imaging produced some really great results with classical, orchestral and just about any track that required plenty of room to maneuver. Max Richter’s reworking of the Four Seasons is a prime example of what this match can achieve in terms of accuracy, detail retrieval and a very natural timbre.
ALO Audio Rx
If you want to further widen out the presentation and put a little more emphasis on the vocal staging just connect that N6 to the ALO Audio RX amp. Right there you have perhaps one of the most neutral stacks and earphones in the mid-tier market today. Everything apart from the upper mids is up there at almost Swiss levels of neutrality. The RX though does put a little more texture and dynamics in the mid-range and with that slightly forward mid-section of the 4 Classic you do get an added level of emotion in the vocal presence than straight out of the N6.
The Duo is a great little amp if you want to inject a bit of warmth and lushness into your setup and it is a great match in that respect with the 4 Classic. It doesn’t have the sound stage of the RX or quite the same level of dynamics but it thickens up the body a little, adds a slightly more lush tone to the vocals and makes everything sound a little more musical and fun. It doesn’t dull down the detail of the 4 Classic either so your synthy 80’s rock or New Romantic plink plonk is not going to sound sterile or anemic especially with the flick of the bass gain switch on the Duo.
Battle of the Mid-Tier DAPs
I also preferred the DX90 matchup with the 4 Classic over the X5 from FiiO. The revealing and unforgiving nature of the 4 Classic did little to mask that harsher almost metallic upper range of the X5. The DX90’s superior dynamics, the more natural upper range and superior detail retrieval was a more convincing and pleasing match to my ears using this match up. The DX90 also sounded just a bit more weighted and smoother in the treble performance over the musical but leaner Shanling M3. The M3 linear low end combined with the 4 Classic slight roll off in bass makes everything sound a bit too top heavy, tizzy and lean to be convincing. The detail is there, the imaging is great and it does indeed have a nice musical and speedy nature in the mid-range but the bass is just too lean and the top end sparkle is too peaky and distracting making it all a bit sharp at times with the Classic 4. My suggestion is to stick with a warmer IEM if you have the M3.
The 4 Classic is the type of IEM reviewers really love to get their hands on for testing. It’s neutral, relatively flat, pretty transparent and uncolored and responds well to a ton of matches without being too hissy or sensitive. It’s an IEM for those who need a reference, a benchmark and want to pick out detail and listen to something requiring a nuanced and detailed reproduction. It’s not exciting, it’s not bassy or impactful and you won’t find this the love of an Apple Store fan boy but give it time, give it scope and you do get a very involving and satisfying listen. I have to pay particular homage to the smooth transitions, the well behaved lower treble and the fantastic, albeit ever so slightly forward, midrange and the well above average detail and imaging. These are aspects that make the 4 Classic far more amenable to classics, opera, acoustics and live music than modern hip hop, metal or EDM.
It’s right in the thick of the mid-tier pricing range being cheaper than the Cypher Labs C6IEM, and a few bucks more than the Westone W40/4 as well as the UE900s so it has its work cut out to steal a march on these more colorful competitors. Do not forget also Noble has a very healthy lineup in customs also so if you found the website, heard the name then you know just how highly rated their customs are. A single black universal at $450 might give you pause for thought as to why you should grab one especially since the packaging doesn’t say anything more than well, Noble. Well I do wish the package also had a bit more pop and bling as well as a 2000 series box with a bit more in the way of accessories since right now it’s an “in the know” sale and it is a fair bet budding audiophiles are in front of the queue rather than the mass market or casual listener.
From my point of view though the 4 Classic will take its place at the reviewers comparison table, pushing out the Westone 4, the UE900s and even the Dita down a bit to the “colored but fun” kiddy table. The reference qualities of this understated Noble universal IEM are simply too good to ignore.