I find myself in the enviable position of having way too much gear to review at the moment thanks to a couple of purchases (Mr Speakers Mad Dogs and Shure SE846s) in addition to being included on some product tours for IEMs such as the Audiofly AF180s and these Noble PRs. I also have an upcoming review of the very interesting FIDUE A83s. For that reason I’m going to keep this review brief in words, but hopefully heavy on meaningful content. So here we go…
The Noble PR is one of 2 IEM models from Noble that include a switch on the IEM body that allows you to change the signature of the IEM on the fly. In the case of the PR, the options are a “Pure” sound (P) or a “Reference” sound (R). This is a first (as far as I know) because it is essentially two IEMs in one. For more detail, please take a look at the Noble website and while you’re there, do your eyes a favour and take a look at the “Wizard” range of universals – they are strikingly beautiful one-off, unique IEM designs that are incredibly affordable as a great sounding piece of artwork!
The only other specs I want to provide here are that these IEMs have two distinct impedances – approximately 240 ohm or 30 ohm depending on the mode.
By the way, before I continue I’d like to say thank you to Noble and Head-Fi’er, d marc0, for arranging this tour!! It’s a great initiative in the community to get people experiencing and talking about gear they might not otherwise try. Playing with the PRs has certainly got me very interested in Noble’s other products thanks to the great build quality and execution of the PR.
Design and Comfort
The PRs are really nicely put together with a simple, black shell and nice gold accents by way of the assembly screws. They come with a great stock cable that’s reminiscent of the well-known Epic cable from Westone, but it’s better in that it’s a thick, but flexible braid and feels more sturdy for the long haul, but is equally as soft and comfortable.
The shells of the PR are quite compact for a “2-in-1” IEM and fit snugly in the ear, but protrude slightly more than some other universals like the Shure SE series or Westones for example. They feel secure and don’t get in the way at all so nothing to worry about and, to me, their design is preferable to some of the bullet style earphones that stick straight out of the ear.
The nozzles on the PRs are quite thick and may be challenging for people like me with smaller-than-average ear canals. I was able to find a good seal with the smallest of the Noble silicone tips, but I was always aware of the pressure in the canal. It was relatively comfortable, but my ear felt “full”. For those with moderate to large canals you should have no trouble at all, but smaller-ear-canal-ed folk might want to check before buying.
Tips and Accessories
The PRs come in the becoming-ubiquitous pelican style case which I think is a great touch for any IEM manufacturer. It makes for nice packaging, a nice sense of a value-adding accessory and it’s a useful, well-sized carry case that can fit IEMs, cleaning cloth / tool, and some spare tips.
Noble also provide a range of really nice silicone and foam tips and a couple of Noble branded elastics for your audio stack or however else you like to use them.
As the name might suggest, the Pure / Reference design is all about crazy detail. You could say it’s about smooth detail (Pure) and fast detail (Reference). I’m personally not a detail freak (at least not in lieu of other parts of the whole musical experience), but I can definitely appreciate the execution of the mission for these IEMs. Let’s discuss the 2 signatures separately because they are essentially 2 different IEMs with detail being the common thread.
In Pure mode, the PR is a 240 ohm, multi-BA IEM that’s sensitive enough to work with portables, but can also present a suitable load to a desktop amplifier for full enjoyment (I’m using my Mainline with it right now!)
I really like the overall tonality of the Pure mode. It’s very neutral and very detailed, but has a smoothness that’s surprising for a detail-oriented IEM. It can get a tiny bit treble happy if the recording dictates it, but it’s not a treble monster and will only show what’s there in the recording. I think it could have been called “Transparent” instead of Pure because it just shows you what’s there for better or worse.
My only criticism of the Pure mode would be a slight lack of natural bass. There is bass present in the reproduction from the Pure mode, but it’s just a little shy of neutral compared to what you would hear from a live, acoustic performance (i.e. just considering the natural bass resonance of say a guitar or cello). I tried listening to some tracks from 2Cellos album, In2ition and it just didn’t sound natural which is a shame because in all other regards, the sound is as the name suggest – pure. Still, for guitars, vocals, and other mids-up instruments, the Pure mode reproduces the frequencies as authentically as anything else I’ve heard.
As I said earlier, if Pure mode is smooth detail, Reference mode is fast detail. After flicking the little switch on each IEM, the PR becomes a single-BA IEM, details become turbocharged and the sound takes a hit of some kind of illicit drug! Suddenly, Pure mode sounds like muffled mode. Of course it’s not muffled at all, but the Reference mode is just so darn open and fast.
Those of you who’ve read my other reviews will know that I’m no treble-head and in fact can be quite sensitive to treble. Even in this ultra-revealing mode, the PRs still manage to stay on the comfortable side of the treble line and deliver a sparkling, detailed, and airy presentation without falling into the trap of getting strident and edgy. A couple of times I noticed that cymbals sounded a little bit splashy, but on the whole, once I adjusted to the sound, the Reference mode was enjoyable for what it was. I also think it presents slightly more punch in the bass so even though extension is about the same in both modes, the Reference mode seems a bit more full-range. A quick test with 2Cellos says it’s a slightly more realistic representation of the cello’s range of resonance, but still falls just short of total realism (in frequency response).
Quick Comparison: HiFiMan RE-272
Although no longer available, the RE-272s are a reference point for me for a neutral, transparent, but enjoyable earphone. They might have a touch of warmth in the mid-range, but stay highly transparent and detailed. I haven’t yet heard the RE-400 or RE-600 to compare, but personally find the RE-272s to offer 90% of the Noble PR’s detail rendering, but with a tiny bit more bass and therefore a slightly more natural and enjoyable overall tonality. As I’ll discuss more in a second, this doesn’t make the PRs a bad IEM, but rather an IEM with a specific purpose. The question is whether you want all detail like the PRs or detail with a tiny touch of warmth and more natural bass like the RE-272s.
For $699 (USD), the PR isn’t a cheap IEM, but it’s very well priced for the levels of performance on offer. That said, it’s not going to be for everyone. This isn’t a full-range IEM in my opinion and that will limit its abilities to create an enjoyable and immersive listening experience on some genres. There’s no doubt that it completely nails its brief to be a detail monster while still maintaining a sense of musicality and enjoyment (i.e. it doesn’t fall into the “super-bright treble = detail” trap), but I believe it is more of an analytical listening tool than a musical enjoyment device. Of course, that might just be a matter of taste so others might love all the detail and find that to be their doorway to musical enjoyment. If so, this IEM is a cracker and I’d highly recommend it! For those who want a more balanced (i.e. with natural levels of bass) presentation, don’t discount the Noble products, but look at some of their other beautiful options rather than the PR.