The word “savant” has a couple of meanings, but one of them rings particularly true for Noble’s so-named earphones and that definition refers to a person who has unique and particular skills in a specific area – skills beyond those of other people. Want to know what those skills are? Read on…
The Savants are the most recent addition to Noble’s line-up of IEMs and CIEMs. Unlike other Noble options, the Savants are available in limited configurations, but the options include a universal ($599 USD), a stereolithograph (SLA) aluminium custom model ($1199) or a fully fledged Prestige option (starting at $1599). I won’t go into depth here about the differences between normal customs and Prestige customs, but you should definitely do yourself a favour and check out the insane range of materials that you can have your customs literally carved out of in the Prestige range.
Unlike most companies, Noble choose to not overwhelm buyers with piles of specifications, preferring instead to accurately describe the sound and allow the decision to be about subjective choices which are far more relevant to the purely personal experience of enjoying music. While specifications can help make decisions sometimes they can also influence our decisions in ways that might not result in the greatest enjoyment of the music.
Because of Noble’s marketing philosophy, there’s not much to tell you about the Savant’s specs other than that they are rated as <30 ohms and use a detachable cable with the industry-standard 2-pin connection. Other than that, Noble’s description of the Savant is this:
Perhaps the most subjectively balanced in-ear monitor Dr. John has designed thus far, Savant is a detail-oriented IEM with a solid low-end and clean highs. Savant is an expert at playing a large variety of genres well, making it a versatile addition to any collection or standalone piece.
Notice that Noble have chosen to use the words “subjectively balanced” meaning that it’s still a personal interpretation of what balanced means. Having owned and loved the Kaiser 10s for some time now, I was excited to hear the Savants – sometimes touted in the community as “baby K10s” – to see what piece of black magic the Wizard (Dr John Moulton) had created this time. There’s no doubt they are magical in many ways, but whether or not they’re for you might be a whole other question.
Design, Build & Accessories
The demo pair of Savants provided for this tour are a Wizard design so they have received some extra attention by way of a coloured, patterned faceplate. The Wizard’s work on these designs is always beautiful and expertly finished and my experience with other Noble universals suggests that the non-Wizard designs are equally as well made.
The general size and shape of the universal models are the same as the Wizard version pictured here and that is to say that they’re very compact. As a result, overall comfort with the Nobles is excellent and they come with a very wide range of tips to help create the perfect fit.
I’ve already mentioned the range of tips supplied with the Savants. They also come with two Noble-branded bands to wrap around your portable players and it’s all packaged in a compact hard case reminiscent of the Pelican brand cases.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the cable provided with Noble products. Noble’s cable is up there with the very best IEM cables around and consists of a tightly braided 4-core cable that’s terminated in a compact, metal 3.5mm jack at one end and industry standard 2-pin IEM connectors for the ear pieces.
I often keep a bit of suspense about the sound quality aspect of gear in my reviews, but let’s put this straight out there – the Savants are one of the most detailed and accurate IEMs I have ever heard. What makes them sound so detailed and accurate is the sense of focus the Savants create in the image / soundstage. Now, when I use the term accurate to describe the Savants, I’m not necessarily saying they are accurate to source so much as that their sound is laser sharp in its focus. I’ll address the naturalness of their sound in the following sections…
Dr Moulton has proven himself a master of IEM tuning multiple times now. The Savants are no exception to his reputation. In fact they serve as a mighty addition to his resume of outstanding IEM design.
The treble from the Savants is clear, bright, extended and detailed. I would go so far as suggesting that it’s a bit higher than what is natural in a live, acoustic setting, but there’s no doubt that it is amazingly clean and resolving and the added emphasis doesn’t lead the Savants into sibilance or harshness. No, the treble from the Savants, whilst prominent and slightly lifted, is smooth and grain free. Cymbals splash and crash and textures beg to be noticed, but not in a distracting way. What makes the tuning so masterful is that despite the emphasis created by the Savant’s tuning, the music is still completely coherent and the treble quality doesn’t take away from any other frequencies.
Similar to the treble presentation, the mids on the Savants are slightly lifted compared to the bass, particularly the upper ends of the mids where the line between mid-range and treble starts to blur. It is this lift that creates the laser-sharp imaging of the Savants and will provide a listening experience that you’ll rarely enjoy from any other IEM. Put the Savants in your ears and prepare to hear all kinds of details in instrumentals and vocals that you never knew existed. You’ll hear breath and texture that was previously hidden. You’ll hear distortion that was missed even by the studio engineers. You’ll here texture and clarity that will honestly make you feel like you’re there with the musicians.
If you’ve read my review of the Nighthawk headphones from Audioquest you might already know what’s coming next… The kind of treble / mid-range emphasis that makes these IEMs so sublime on one hand also handicaps them on another. The bass performance of the Savants, while good, is not on the same level as the rest of the spectrum. Bass quality is excellent – detailed, layered and nuanced – but the quantity of bass is a few decibels behind the rest of the frequency range and the result is a lack of soul and emotion on some tracks. The bass on these is not anemic or absent, it’s just noticeably behind the mids and treble.
Of course, you can always EQ for some extra bass if you’re so inclined, but the magic of the Savants is in their stock tuning so if you prefer a more balanced sound with bass on par with other frequencies you might want to look elsewhere or have these as an option in your collection rather than your only IEM.
I’ve already alluded to the magic of the Savant’s presentation. The focus on the upper frequencies creates a truly stunning image with a sense of focus that’s hypnotic. If you close your eyes while listening to the Savants you can easily imagine the exact placement of every sound in the sonic tapestry and each sound seems to have a sense of 3-dimensionality about it that’s quite amazing.
The stage from the Savants is excellent, but not huge. It’s strength is more in the focus than the size and that’s more important in my opinion. An extended stage can result in music sounding incoherent – like different tracks being put together by a producer rather than a single live performance from a band – and the Savants definitely avoid this problem by creating a perfect sense of coherency while still displaying plenty of space between each impeccably focussed sound.
Noble Savant vs Noble Kaiser 10
I had a few people ask about the comparison between these two front-runners of the Noble line-up and it’s a comparison worth making.
Despite the Savants being sometimes referred to by the community as “baby K10s”, they are actually very, very different beasts. In fact, the only similarity in their sound is the obvious touch of Dr Moulton’s masterful tuning. Both of these IEMs are excellent, but they are not really comparable.
The Savant creates a brighter and more focussed sound than the K10s. In fact, if you switch between them you could be forgiven for thinking that the K10s seem a bit sloppy on the imaging at first, but it’s not quite that simple. When I lifted the frequencies around 4-6kHz while using the K10s I noticed that they took on the exact same laser focus that the Savants display. This is because the upper frequencies contain much of the information we rely on for spatial and directional cues. Lift these frequencies and you sharpen the image, but doing so has its drawbacks so it’s all a question of what you value.
Changing back to the K10s, for me, is like sitting in a comfy chair after a long day on your feet – everything about it feels just right. The additional bass takes a little bit of edge off the image, but also makes the sound more relaxing and soulful overall. To me, the K10s still sound the way music is meant to sound (i.e. like it sounds in a live performance) and that’s what I look for in headphones and earphones.
The bass from the K10s is miles ahead of the Savants in quantity and that allows you to better enjoy the quality. The K10’s bass seems a little slower and perhaps a touch less detailed / layered than the Savant’s bass, but that’s most likely a result of the Savant’s reduced bass quantity creating a faster decay of bass notes and emphasising the details once again.
Mids on the K10s are creamier and smoother than the Savant and while I love the mids on both these IEMs, I find that I can enjoy the K10s for much longer stretches because of their more natural, less-enhanced sound.
I have to say that both of these are outstanding IEMs and owners of both should find many years of enjoyment in whichever model they choose, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re similar. The Savant is most definitely a “focus on the details” type of IEM while the Kaiser 10 is an “immerse yourself in the musical experience” IEM. Both have their place.
Starting at $599, the Savants are an amazing IEM and perform at a level of many IEMs worth even more, but like any headphone or earphone they are not necessarily for everyone. The Savants remind me very much of the Sennheiser HD800s (although perhaps with a touch less bass). Like the HD800s, the Savants can provide a window into the music and recording quality that is exciting to hear, but sometimes they can also become a bit fatiguing and leave me wishing for something a bit warmer and forgiving.
If you love detail-oriented IEMs, the Savants should be right at the top of your list and if you’re looking to add to your collection and want something that will bring out the imaging and focus on your music like few other IEMs you should consider adding the Savants to your list. If, however, you are looking for a true all-rounder that you’ll love in all situations, over long listening sessions and with all music and all sources, the Savants might not be ideal and you might be better saving some extra pennies for the K10s or perhaps considering some of the other, warmer models from Noble like the N6 (which I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing, but Noble’s descriptions of their products are pretty spot on in my experience).