Noble Audio K10 – The Spaces Between

The Sound

The K10doesn’t play genre favorite. It boasts a sculpted sound, full of wide, über-resolved mids, powerful sub-bass, and cooperative highs. Powering it are ten drivers: dual lows, dual mids, dual upper mids, dual tweeters, and dual super tweeters, none of which abides imprecision. 

Its low end is munchy, meaty, and impactful. Below 80Hz, it resolves organic details and acoustic spaces that I’ve not heard before in a custom.

Like everyone’s, my ears listen first for impact. Superficially, lows attract the most attention- and most of that concentrated in the mid and upper bass registers. Plenty of earphones go ‘boom! boom! boom!’. Boomers go really well with flabby American hip-hop, but can ruin good underground stuff- not to mention other bass-heavy genres, such as IDM and trance. 

The K10 ploughs through sub bass with steady, paced resolve. That sub bass is a massive, throbbing foundation upon which is hinged the most remarkably resolved midrange I have heard to date. The perceived volume of this sub-band is both lifted, and highly cooperative to everything around it. 

Providing you have the right, low-Ω, high-current output device, the it is more than able to render the almost inaudible opening seconds of Marcus Schulz’s Mainstage. You want to know an earphone that can’t? Try most of the audiophile world. Audiophiles that squirt out high-pressure mid-bass? Throw a rock and you’re sure to hit one. Truly resolved, truly natural, truly awe-inspiring sub-bass, like that heard from the K10, is as unique as it is unforgettable.

The real miracle, however, occurs further up. 

Even at their most temperamental, the K10’s inter-frequency transitions are temperate. At their best, they simply disappear. Bloomy, boomy elements, audible smudges, mouldering effluence and so on simply do not exist. Overhead is extremely flexible. Powerful ejaculations of bass do not bottom out the drivers. Ditto a sudden rush of cymbal, snare, and kick-drums. Ditto cascading electronic chimes over a symphony of didgeridoos.

Then mids descend. Every music lover has loaded up Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix and wigged out. Did you hear that? Holy shit! Yeah, but you didn’t. Not until you have the K10 in your ears. Despite owning and deeply respecting the Etymotic ER4s, I now hate its etchy-sketchy, ratchety sound. Fans gloom onto the idea that a more detailed or neutral earphone does not exist. 

I get that. 

But the ER4s amplifies the forward edge of highs and upper mids at a macro level without paying the slightest attention to the beautiful resonances within the music. The K10 is the opposite. Mid and upper frequency energy is high. It isn’t fatiguing. And it zooms into what the musician is doing. Whoa, was that what I think it was? Yep, that was the sound of the back of Eric Clapton’s hand echoing against the guitar. Yep, that was the sound of Tom Jone’s microphone screen. Not that those details get in the way of the music, or that they really stand out. But like a sixth sense, you get the feeling that they exist. But, not without the K10. 

It’s thanks to a lot of things: high intra-frequency contrast and low overhead certainly at the crux of it all. It’s why mids and upper frequencies are so crystal-like. Detailed, yes, but holistically so, with care payed to every other part. 

Here’s the message K10 wants to get across: 

Know your music. And enjoy the hell out of it.

It’s why the K10 brings you into the scene. Its sound stage is neither endless nor super duper broad. It’s focused, zeroed in on the parts that matter. It paints intra-band contrast on all the most prominent, best-looking planes. The air between the strings and the soundboard. The tension between the vibrating tama and the drumstick. The breath warm on your favorite singer’s teeth. The cool overhead microphones in a concert. These details and more jump to the front. Your imagination, and your love of your music do the rest.

The interaction of all elements goes kind of like this: 

Mids rock out in a u-shaped arena, crashing sometimes at the side of the head, sometimes in the middle of the skull. The transition to highs, takes place largely just outside of the ears. Interestingly bass presence is best felt in two places: the medulla, and just behind your jaw. 

The Meh

As you can guess, the list of mehs is quite short. 

The only thing that trips up the K10 is a poor source. Oh, and speaking of, most sources aren’t really up to snuff. What I mean is, that barring your Mezzo HiFi your AK100, you will hear hiss. The K10 is that sensitive. While it won’t amplify the vacuum quite like the Ultrasone IQ does, it hisses audibly with every source I own that isn’t a Sharp MD-DR7 or the aforementioned Mezzo HiFi.

The other part is that in order to experience the best intra-instrument detail around (not to mention that glorious sub-bass) you absolutely need a phenomenal amp or source. If it wasn’t for its awful hiss, the iPod shuffle 1G comes to mind. Really. Amps that rock the K10 for instance, are the newly-minted Cypher Labs Picollo, and my favourite, the Vorzüge PURE II.  

The Conclusion

From the first listen the K10 wowed me. At first it was its smooth, wide rendition of mids. Later, it was the flawless transition from mids to highs. Eventually I understood that intra-frequency stuff I went on and on about above. 

The net effect is that I listened more to jazz than I had in months. Ditto piano solos. Trance, IDM, and hip-hop offer less to really go gaga over. But that’s their fault. From a power standpoint, K10 bass can throb. And yet it does nothing to unbalance the phenomenal midrange. 

Nothing.

I’m glad my unit has a smudge. The curmudgeon in me wants to really pick at something. It is happy that the K10 comes so plainly adorned in cardboard. It is happy that the storage case might just be a knock-off. 

But it shuts up when the K10 goes under the micro lens: from its precise paint job to its immaculate wiring and shell, this Kaiser is a beaut. And, by God, finding an earphone that sounds better across a broad range of music, may well be impossible. It may be impossible to find a better earphone.

That, at the very least, is something Mr. Vonnegut could have got behind.

Noble Audio K10 – The Spaces Between
4.6 (92.26%) 31 votes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

53 Comments

  • Reply August 27, 2014

    George Lai

    Wow, Nathan, you’re on a roll – Lear, this Noble, and the MH335DW to come. You should do a shoot-out when all 3 are together.

    • Reply August 27, 2014

      ohm image

      Tee hee. Maybe. The MH335DW is delayed on my side (gathering the funds still).

      • Reply October 15, 2014

        George Lai

        And you have now also reviewed the Earsonics and Vision Ears since. How about a “short” comment on this titanic battle of the top end CIEMs? Thanks.

  • Reply August 27, 2014

    Jonny Lung

    How would the K10 compare to the Roxanne in your opinion? Thanks.

    • Reply August 27, 2014

      ohm image

      They are quite different in a number of areas. Firstly, I should point out that I only heard the universal version of the Roxanne. Both have absolutely lovely headroom. Nothing every goes whack (assuming you have good source/amp).

      But the differences are:

      1. the nature of the midrange. The Roxanne paints a more figurative, wide image; the K10 paints a picture that you want to come close into to enjoy all the details. Both are excellent.

      2. the nature of Bass: the Roxanne has less sub-bass presence, and less low detail.

      3. the nature of highs: overall, I would say that the balance in both is excellent, but the K10 is every so slightly more natural in its transition from frequency band to frequency band.

      Again, I heard only the universal version of the Roxanne.

      • Reply August 27, 2014

        Jeff

        I’m down to either this or the Roxanne with my to-be-purchased AK240 and it seems to me like the K10 is more superior in some ways(even though the Roxanne is only universal.). Would you say the K10 will have issues if I pair it with a AK240?

        • Reply August 27, 2014

          ohm image

          Hello Jeff,

          I think you will find that the AK240 is a good player. It isn’t quite able to supply all the needs (current, low Ω) that the K10 needs, but its abilities aren’t far from what the K10 absolutely demands.

          I think you will enjoy the set.

  • Reply August 27, 2014

    wlz12

    Great review Nathan, its good to see that there are reviewers out there who listen to Trance, and IDM/EDM music. This makes a good reference point since there are people like me and you who enjoy this kind of music with a Hi-Fi system. I feel that this genre of music is one of the hardest to reproduce since many of the notes sound vastly different if you scale up. Could you mention you favourite Trance and IDM/EDM artists and what albums/tracks do you love the most.
    I own the Heir IEM 8.0 and despite their dispute with Noble believe these two IEMS are cut from the same cloth

    • Reply August 27, 2014

      ohm image

      Recently I’ve been following radio shows most often, then discovering new/upcoming artists. But Aly & Fila’s Future Sound of Egypt has been my favourite show since about 2009. I download a LOT of trance podcasts. Some are horribly recorded, which is a loss when using such wonderful earphones.

      Modern classics like Vibrasphere, early In Search of Sunrise albums, Seven Ways, Man with No Name, Darude, and more are favourites. I’m beginning to dig some of the new vocal trance too, starting with Armin Van Buuren’s Imagine album from a few years ago.

      In the IDM and space world, I’m in love with Bexametric, Brian Eno, Autechre, The Orb, Arovane, some of Harold Budd’s stuff, The Boards of Canada, and a lot more.

      • Reply August 27, 2014

        wlz12

        Oh, I have read that you like Armin, my all time favourite is Dash Berlin. I suggest you hear Andrew Rayel’s Find Your Harmony album. It is very impressive. He is Armin’s prodigy. Cosmic Gate has also been on a roll lately.

        I see that you use an after market cable, any recommendations on what kind of cable suits Noble’s sound? Currently I am looking into Norne Audio’s cables

        • Reply August 27, 2014

          ohm image

          Yes, Dash has really churned things up lately. Thanks for the other suggestions.

          I just cables like this: if the stock cable is highly resistive, an aftermarket cable that has similar resistance should be used. Why? The earphones likely were tuned with that sort of cabe in mind. The converse is also true.

          That said, when I’m not 100% worried, I use the most comfortable cable possible. I’ve found no cable as comfortable as Linum’s cables. I wear glasses- that is the biggest deciding factor.

          • Reply August 27, 2014

            wlz12

            You are welcome, the Andrew Rayel’s whole album is just splendid. Although I have many favourites you should give Goodbye a listen with the K10, when I listened to the track with Heir’s IEM 8.0 the track just went to a whole new level of audio bliss.

            I was quite taken by surprise that the Noble K10’s are not shipped with a cable equivalent to Heir’s Magnus 1. The cable shipped with IEM 8.0 are very comfortable to use and their memory wire has small paper clip kind of metal which makes bending it easy. The sound itself is miles better than the Westone cable.

            • Reply August 27, 2014

              John Thomas Moulton

              Hi there, I am Dr.John, AKA “Wizard” chief founder of Noble, and designer of Noble products.

              (Also the chief founder of Heir Audio, and formerly the designer of Heir Audio products as well)

              Regarding your statement about the Magnus Cable. The standard cable used with all Noble products is essentially the same as the Magnus 1.

              The difference is that the Noble cable is machined terminated, rather than terminated by hand. The extrusion material (jacket) is the same, the braid is the same, the wire is the same, the Kevlar is the same, the supplier is the same. I have had a long relationship with the supplier which pre-dates the formation of Heir Audio.

              There is also another difference….. The retail price of the Noble cable and the Magnus One differ by around $100.

              • Reply August 28, 2014

                wlz12

                Hi Dr John,

                Thanks for the explanation, it really clear things up. May I ask another question?

                One of the main reasons I purchased Heir Audio was that they are based in Chengdu, China. Sometime in the future I may decide to turn my IEM 8.0 to customs or I might just purchase another CIEM. The biggest pro for me is that Heir Audio are based in China and I live here, therefore it is easy for me to send my ear impressions and would not have to face customs and all the trouble that most Head-fiers face when purchasing a CIEM. My main question is, are you also based in China? Cause I know from Noble’s website that they send their impressions to USA.

                I think for people who lives in China, this can be a deciding factor when purchasing a new CIEM (wink)

                • Reply August 28, 2014

                  John Thomas Moulton

                  That is interesting, as Heir Audio is regestered as a “made for export only” company in China. What this means is, if they sell and ship a CIEM/IEM within China a tax should be applied. If they do not apply the tax, then Heir Audio may be paying the tax themselves (around 17%).

                  As far as where we are located, we are regestered in the USA, we work with suppliers and manufactures around the world, from Denmark, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Hong Kong etc etc.

                  • Reply August 28, 2014

                    wlz12

                    I think there are few retailers who sells the products in taobao (China’s Amazon) so, I don’t think there should be a problem.

                    I understand that you are registered in the USA but, like I mentioned earlier if you could provide where you are located. I have read a few discussions on several forum boards that you, yourself are in China. Is that true? My curiosity lies in where the Noble products are made, since if Noble makes their products in China it would be easier for people who live here to order from Noble

                    • August 28, 2014

                      John Thomas Moulton

                      We have dealers in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam & Thailand. The business model that Noble uses, one can not contact the manufactureing facilities directly and purchase products etc etc, no matter where the products are built/assembled/designed.

                      Much like if you wanted an I-phone you wouldn’t contact Foxconn International Holdings.
                      If there is an idividual in China that would like to purchase a Noble product, they are welcome to do so through a dealer within their area.

                    • August 28, 2014

                      wlz12

                      Could you point out the dealer in China. Who knows I might contact them sometime in the future.

                      Thank you for entertaining my inquiries “Wizard”. Your insights provided me more knowledge about the Audio industry. Your work of “art” is been inspiring

                    • August 29, 2014

                      John Thomas Moulton

                    • August 29, 2014

                      wlz12

                      Oh I thought when you said China you meant Mainland China. Thanks for your effort anyway.

    • Reply August 27, 2014

      John Thomas Moulton

      Cut from the same cloth…..

      Yes, both ciems share Drivers made by Knowles, and both were designed by me. but that is about were the similarities end. There are a total of 5 drivers in the 8.A design. (Two Ci bass drivers, and three TWFK drivers) in the 8.a design, the twfk model numbers are all the same, in other words the three twfk are identical.

      In the k10, there are 4 twfk, two of which are do not share the same model numbers. So there is a cluster of two twfk with on particular model number, and a second cluster with a different model number. What this means is, the drivers are not the same, thus the sound is not the same. Further more the x over design is different from the k10 and the 8.a

      Long story short, the 8.a and the K10 may have some similarities (both designed by me, both are ciems) but ultimately they are very different monitors.

      • Reply August 28, 2014

        wlz12

        Thanks for the explanation again,

        I know that Heir Audio has been a taboo topic in head-fi and information about the differences of both company are insufficient.

        Well the only thing I can say is that, you Sir are a great engineer. The universal version of the 8.0a are amazing, and from what I can see about the reviews regarding the K10 you have created another masterpiece. I will keep in mind the explanation you just provided, when purchasing my first CIEM.

        If you could just provide some clarity regarding your location (asked bellow) that would be splendid

  • Reply August 27, 2014

    fiasco1

    Thanks for the great review, Nathan! I just received my K10’s, and have just a couple of hours on them (they are the one’s in your first twitter picture). Little pieces of art. I agree thus far with all your assessments; lows and mids are excellent and highs so natural. I’m actually using the original CLASS and Pure II with it, and haven’t noticed any hiss (although my old ears just might not be hearing it any more!). Pure II is a great match with them. And yes, the case leaves much to be desired. In fact, I’ve been fearful that the K10’s almost don’t fit in it. Got a 1020 Pelican on order.

    • Reply August 28, 2014

      ohm image

      You won’t notice hiss with the PURE II unless your ears are VERY sensitive. PURE II has an amazingly low noise floor, but all devices make noise. You just need stupid sensitive ears and earphones to hear it.

      That’s to say that I love the PURE II and K10.

      But a Pelican: yes, that needs to happen. Honestly, 1599$ and a fake Otter box.

      • Reply August 28, 2014

        Noble Audio

        The case may not be an original Otterbox, but it performs like one so it does serve its purpose. You can literally run over the case with a 6,000 pound truck.

        Video coming soon.

        • Reply August 28, 2014

          ohm image

          It seems strong. I’d happily toss it around. It’s just that you’re a better brand. I would expect you NOT to use knock-off boxes.

          Does that change any other opinion? No way. Honestly, the K10 blew me away and likely will blow me away till kingdom come.

          • Reply August 28, 2014

            John Thomas Moulton

            It isn’t a “knock off” it is a “storm box” which means it belongs in a category of tough/strong boxes, Pelican, Otter Box are some popular brands within the category of storm boxes. But that doesn’t mean another company can’t come along and build their own version of what they believe a storm box is.
            The bottom line is I can driver my truck over the top of the box used by Noble, and it doesn’t break. We wanted a box that offered protection, durability and can be used in a practical manner.
            It may not be a popular branded box, but it definitley is tough, and I even question if boxes provided by other CIEM companies are as durable as the one we provide.

            • Reply August 28, 2014

              ohm image

              I VERY much like the K10. Too much, perhaps. Thank you for the explanation and for chiming in here. It is very helpful.

  • Reply August 28, 2014

    Chase Emory

    HAH! I knew there was a reason I told you to go listen to this bad boy at the festival! Id love one of my own. I would also say not to bother with the MH335DW if you have the K10 though…Great review overall though man

    • Reply August 28, 2014

      ohm image

      And yet again, Chase is right… Damn. Yeah, so I bit.

  • Reply August 30, 2014

    Ab 7

    shure se846 vs k10 ?

    also did you find any ciem sound like lcd 3 ?

    • Reply August 31, 2014

      ohm image

      I’ve not spent enough time with the LCD 3 to give a good answer here. I’m sorry.

  • Reply September 13, 2014

    Benjamin Neo

    Have a pair of my own K10s on my way, can’t wait to stuff them in my ears. What I’d like to know is how well they would pair with an Apex Glacier, planning to stack one with my iPhone for a super portable do-it-all setup. Anyone? (:

    • Reply September 15, 2014

      Nguyễn Công Bằng

      I have the combo and I would say that it cold like your ex-gf on her days. I suggest you try something warmer for the K10

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      ohm image

      I’ve not tried the combo, but the Glacier is a colder sounding DAC. The K10 is mildly warm, however, so the combo couldn’t be awful, but it depends on your needs.

  • […] k10 universal kym? Noble Audio K10 Review canjam/rmaf now at US got ppl poon LOL __________________ […]

  • Reply November 12, 2014

    David Mayhew (musicdiddy)

    Could I please ask how the K10’s compare to full sized headphones like the Fostex TH600 or Oppo PM2? I like my TH600’s but find them to be a bit awkward when listening in bed. I know the K10’s are a lot of money but if the sound quality is comparable to some of the higher end headphones I would prefer the smaller form factor.

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      ohm image

      Be careful of comparing full-size open headphones to earphones. It’s like comparing headphones to speakers. The experience, not to mention the places on your body where sound waves impact, is vastly different.

      As for SQ as it pertains to just the signal, the K10 is absolutely tip top. It is heavily weighted toward an expansive mid section with semi-powerful bass and well-resolved, and non sibilant highs.

  • Reply November 16, 2014

    Ste

    Hi guys,can i ask how is the k10 with the ibasso dx90? decent pairing? Also is the k10 more on the forgiving side or analytical? as i listen to hard rock albums which are usually not best mastered,so dont want it to sound horrible ha

    Thanks

    • Reply December 8, 2014

      ohm image

      The DX90 does a perfect job with the K10. Perfect. The DX90 is quite analytical and the K10 mid-heavy. It isn’t overly analytical, so the pairing is, at least from a subjective perspective, very good.

  • Reply November 23, 2014

    Calvin Xin Ci

    Hi Nathan, very nice review as always. You seemed to recommend Linum cable quite a few times in your reviews. I’ve take some time to read a little bit more about them, Oh lord, they are as thin as it can get. Just one thing that I’m asking, does it sound great? Like pretty great? If compared to those custom cables, they are priced sky rocket high and this is a steal for the price. If it’s durable and great sounding, I’m getting it for sure, don’t want to end up like some fiio cables.

    • Reply December 8, 2014

      ohm image

      Calvin, I’m sorry as ever for being late. Got to fix my mailbox.

      Linum: as good as it gets. The only gotchas fall into place when using Linum calbes with crazy heavy earphones. Linum cables are so light, that earphones not in the ear will fall all over the place.

      Apart from that, I’ve never used better cables.

  • Reply December 18, 2014

    Andrisa Prihartana

    Very great review here, I want to ask about Noble Audio 3, I’m in the market for sub $400 IEMs, I’m thinking about Shure 425, UE 900s, and Noble 3, I can’t find any review about Noble 3 Classics, so maybe you guys over here can give me a description of Noble 3 sound signature, compared to those IEM that I mentioned earlier. I’ve previously owned UE700 before it’s right channel went bust, and need an upgrade from UE700.

    • Reply January 6, 2015

      ohm image

      Hello Andrisa, I’m sorry, but I’ve not heard the Noble Audio 3 Classics. I hope someone can help you.

  • Reply March 15, 2015

    Văn Nguyễn

    Hi guys, can anyone compare the k10 with the heir 10A for me please? I am interested in both of them. And what happened on headfi anyway? Why was heir banned from the forum? :/

  • Reply August 20, 2015

    Clarence

    Do you think Chord Hugo would be a good match too?

    • Reply November 3, 2015

      ohm image

      I’ve not used the Chord Hugo long enough to know much at all about it.

  • Reply September 7, 2015

    Joshua Chew

    Nathan. Your last sentence you said that there might not be a better earphone and I know you love your 335. Is the K10 to your ears, better than the 335?

    • Reply November 3, 2015

      ohm image

      I’m sorry this is late. You know what, I prefer the K10 to the 335 for a number of things. The 335 has a bit more contrast between lows and highs, which can be more fun. But the K10 has me discovering things in my music I don’t when hooked up to the 335.

  • Reply February 1, 2016

    hello

    How would you compare it to Shure SE846?

    • Reply February 4, 2016

      ohm image

      The two aren’t really compatible. As you know, the K10C is a custom and the SE845 is a universal. I no longer have the SE846. That was a three-week loan. But the Shure is drier with more emphasis on bass while the K10C is more mid-centric with more focus on intra-instrument space.

  • Reply August 28, 2016

    sparco

    Nathan, great review as always. Will the K10 sound much better on an AK380 vs the 240? I definitely want a set of K10 customs but much prefer the smaller footprint of the 240. Thanks

    • Reply August 29, 2016

      ohm image

      Hey Sparco,

      I’m glad I didn’t miss your comment. I think you’ll find very little difference in the AK380 and AK240 with the K10. Both are very good. I hope you find what you’re looking for and that you’ll be happy with what you find.

Leave a Reply