I first encountered Noble Audio a number of years ago when the firm’s reigning flagship was the Kaiser 10 custom-fit in-ear monitor, which I reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 119. As it turns out, the Kaiser 10’s name contains two embedded references, the first a nod to Noble Audio’s master technician Kaiser Soze (no relation to the similarly named fictional crime lord from the movie The Usual Suspects) and the second an allusion to the fact that the CIEM featured an elaborate array of ten balanced armature-type drivers per earpiece. Early on, the Kaiser 10 won a reputation as one of the finest in-ear listening devices available and it cultivated an almost cult-like following (especially in online headphone communities) among discriminating listeners. In short, Noble’s Kaiser 10 became an in-ear icon in its own time—a CIEM well loved by those fortunate enough to own a set and coveted by those who did not.
In my view, the Kaiser 10’s strong suits were its warm, comfortable, and unfailingly musical sound, plus a distinctive and disarming quality of ‘cut from whole cloth’ sonic cohesiveness and integrity—qualities I attribute to Noble Audio’s demonstrated talent for getting multiple drive units to ‘sing’ with one coherent voice. But with that said, I would add that the K10 was perhaps not the last word in tonal neutrality, because it exhibited slightly soft and somewhat subdued-sounding highs, plus a powerful—some might say overly powerful—low-frequency presentation. At the time, the K10 and other Noble designs were based on standard, off-the-shelf balanced armature drivers.
Moving forward, Noble Audio president and co-founder Dr John Moulton decided that, in order for his firm’s future designs to unlock higher levels of performance, it would be necessary to forego off-the-shelf drivers and instead to create new proprietary drive units built to Noble specifications. To this end, Noble teamed with the famous balanced armature driver manufacturer Knowles to create purpose-built, Noble‑specification drive units, which first appeared in Noble’s nine-driver Katana model, released in mid-2016.
Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom and I reviewed the Katana (in both CIEM and universal-fit earphone forms) in Hi-Fi+ issue 143, and came away impressed. Relative to the K10 (which both Alan and I own and enjoy), the Katana showed significant improvements in terms of dynamics, transient speed, resolution, focus, and—here’s that word again—cohesiveness. What is more, the Katana’s voicing offered a somewhat more neutral presentation than the K10, leading me to write that, “if you compared the response curves of the K10 and the Katana, the Katana would have fractionally less low bass, noticeably less enriched mid-bass, and somewhat more elevated upper mids and highs—changes that I think make the Katana the more accurate transducer of the two...”
Around the time of the Katana’s release, Noble announced it had plans to discontinue the venerable Kaiser 10 and replace it with an updated model called the Kaiser Encore—a model that would feature its own set of proprietary Noble/Knowles drivers. The Kaiser Encore went in to full production this past February and has become the subject of this review. Since my past Noble reviews have mostly focused on CIEM models, I decided to request samples of the universal-fit version of the Kaiser Encore for this review and Noble graciously obliged.