Many of my non-audiophile friends and neighbours who have interest in high-performance universal earphones are astonished to learn just how expensive top-tier models can really be. After all, top-of-the-range offerings from firms such as 64 Audio, JH Audio, Noble Audio, Ultimate Ears, and Westone all carry hefty, four-figure price tags, which is simply more than many would-be enthusiasts are prepared to spend. What, then, can individuals with proverbial ‘champagne tastes and beer budgets’ do to satisfy their cravings for earphones offering excellence at down-low prices? One possible answer is for them to explore options made available through Massdrop.
For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Massdrop is an e-commerce company and website that was established in 2012 and which offers what amounts to a mass buying service for several classes of niche products that appeal to Massdrop’s various enthusiast ‘communities’. The most relevant products for our readers are probably those associated with Massdrop’s ‘Audiophile’ community, though there are at present 20 well-established communities for members to choose from. Membership to Massdrop is free.
Here’s how the Massdrop mass buying service works. Massdrop’s actively polls its community members to learn what products would be of particular interest. Then, Massdrop approaches manufacturers of the products in question to see if a bargain can be struck for a one-time, high-volume purchase of the desired products. If so, Massdrop arranges a ‘Drop’ where the product is offered to members at a significantly discounted price vis-à-vis its normal suggested retail price, but typically for a limited time only and with only a limited number of units available. The one and only catch is that there usually will be a waiting period of weeks or even months between ‘Drop’ purchases and actual product deliveries, but—for those willing to be patient—there are legitimate bargains to be had.
(In case you’re wondering, Massdrop makes its money by arranging ‘Drop’ pricing so that Massdrop will realise a small amount of profit on each ‘Drop’ sale made, which seems only fair since it’s Massdrop’s infrastructure and negotiating expertise that have made the special ‘Drop’ offer possible in the first place.)
An even more interesting twist in the process is that Massdrop does not always negotiate special ‘Drop’ deals for existing product models; instead, Massdrop sometimes collaborates with manufacturers to create special, Massdrop-only products that will be of particular interest to community members. One such made-for-Massdrop product that has caught our attention is the ‘Massdrop by Noble X’ universal-fit earphone (normally written as ‘Massdrop x Noble X’), which typically carries a ‘Drop’ price of $249.99. The Noble X (as I’ll call it for the remainder of this review) is a high-quality, two-way, dual-bore, universal-fit earphone fitted with two USA-made balanced armature-type drivers. The earphone is designed by Noble Audio co-founder Dr John Moulton (known throughout the high-end headphone community as the ‘Wizard’) and takes as its design inspiration the well-loved but now discontinued Noble Savant earphone (reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 137) as well as the present day Noble Savanna and Django earphones. Significantly, though, the Noble X is less than half the price of even the least expensive of those three reference models.