In the world of high performance personal audio there can be no more ‘personal’ a product than a fine set of custom-fit in-ear monitors (often abbreviated as ‘CIEMs’). I say this because CIEMs are the only transducers I can think of that are purpose built to address the listening requirements of just one person: you.
As most of you already know, CIEMs are different to universal-fit earphones in that their earpieces are custom-shaped to fit the exact contours of a specific user’s ear canals and outer ears (or pinnae, to use the proper technical term). When executed well, CIEMs provide an extraordinarily precise and comfortable fit, plus an extremely high degree of isolation from external noise. What is more, CIEM earpieces have sufficient internal volume to accommodate surprisingly sophisticated driver arrays that can provide sublime sound quality.
All of this raises a key question: who are today’s best makers of top-tier CIEMs? There are a number of reputable manufacturers in the field, but one that has attracted considerable attention from Hi-Fi+ is the Santa Barbara, California-based firm Noble Audio. We have looked at several Noble CIEMs in the past (the flagship Kaiser 10 reviewed in issue 119, and the neutrally-voiced 4S as reviewed in issue 127). Here, however, we will audition Noble’s newest model, the Savant, which the firm says is arguably the most, “…balanced in-ear monitor (that Noble co-founder and chief designer Dr John Moulton) has designed thus far…”
To explain the comment about balance in context, let me point out that the Kaiser 10 is a very revealing CIEM possessed of deliberately euphonic voicing that adds both a touch of bass lift and a subtle degree of treble roll-off; it offers a luxuriant and downright enchanting sound, but not necessarily neutral voicing. By comparison, Noble’s 4S (which has since been lightly revised to become Noble’s present-day Savanna S model) does strive to provide dead-neutral, what-you-hear-is-what-you-get, monitoring-orientated voicing. The concept behind the new Savant is to seek out a delightful, Goldilocks-like, just-right voicing curve that combines much of the accuracy, detail, and revealing character of the Savanna S with a good measure of the engaging warmth and sheer bass authority of the Kaiser 10. In short, Savant aims to be a best-of-two-worlds design.
Noble Audio has elected to provide very little information on the driver array used in the Savant, although I am told the array is a relatively simple one—at least as compared to the firm’s Kaiser 10 model, which employs no less than ten (!) balanced armature-type drivers per earpiece. But even so the Savant’s sound is, says company co-founder Brannan Mason, every bit as nuanced and sophisticated as that of the flagship model. In fact, many listeners might prefer the sound of the Savant to that of any other Noble model. Noble isn’t being coy in withholding technical information on the driver arrays used in its present models; rather, it hopes to re-direct our attention away from arguably fruitless exercises in ‘driver counting’ and to focus on what really matters: namely, sound quality. As always, the proof comes in the listening.