Review: Noble Audio Sage (Simply Superb)

Firstly I would like to thank Brannan at Noble for sending me this sample for review, these have had well over 100hrs of burn-in and no differences were noted.

*disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings.

Gear Used:
Audio Opus #2 > Sage (red core tips)
HP Laptop > JDS Labs OL DAC > HeadnHifi O2 > Sage (red core tips)


Tech specs:
·        2 proprietary balanced armature drivers manufactured by Knowles© per side
·        Updated Noble universal form factor and geometry featuring precision machined aluminum faceplates
·        Sensitive enough for use with smartphones as well as portable amps and DAPs
·        Hand-assembled and matched
·        Detachable cable with industry standard 2-pin configuration (0.78 mm diameter)
·        MSRP: $599

Packaging, Build quality and Accessories:
The Noble Sage come in Nobles new retail packaging, which looks superb. You get a picture of the IEM’s on the outside, with info on the back, slide off this outer sleeve and you are presented with a textured and substantial card box. On the top the brand name Noble is embossed, open the top and you are presented with a round plastic case, and next to it a Pelican case. The IEM’s are in an anti-static bag within the pelican case, the whole package feels very premium and looks great, I am a big fan of the new retail packaging.


Build quality is excellent, the finish of the IEM’s themselves is flawless with expertly machined faceplates and smooth plastic inner housings. They fit together nice and flush with no anomalies, and in person look fantastic. The bright green colour denotes the model, they may not be discreet in their colouring but they look excellent in person. The 2-pin sockets are nice and tight and the included cable has excellent strain relief and feels sturdy.

Accessory wise you get quite a lot, which is excellent. First off you get 2 cases and a pouch, one case is a round plastic one with a screw on lid, the other a pelican 1010 case both will protect your IEM’s on the go easily. Along with the cases you get some stickers, a pair of Noble branded amp straps, a karabiner for the pelican case, a wax cleaning tool and a variety of tips. You get 2 types of single flange silicone tips, some with a stiffer red bore, others with a more flexible blue core, 2 sizes of foam tips and 3 sizes of bi-flange tips. Plenty of accessories included and all you need to get started.


Comfort, Isolation and Cable noise:
The Sage are not a slim and discreet but the housing shape fits nicely in the ear, they do not sit flush and stick out a bit but once you find the right tips you get a comfy and secure fit with no issues. I found them to be very comfy for long listening once you settle on the right tips. The cable is really comfortable and soft, with moulded ear guides instead of stiff memory wire.

Isolation is good, more than good enough for daily use and they would be fine when used in noisy places.

Cable noise is not an issue with these as the cable is soft and routes up and over your ear.


Sound:
Split into the usual categories with a conclusion at the end.

Lows: Noble market these as well balanced with a slight boost down low, and that is exactly how I hear them. They have a tiny bit of added impact and body without becoming muddy or thick sounding. These have excellently controlled lows that have excellent punch when required, during rock tracks you can feel and hear the kick of kick drums, and the separation and layering down low is truly impressive. Bass guitars sound articulate and effortless, then if you put on some EDM low pulsating bass beats still shine through. The bass doesn’t encroach on the midrange, staying well controlled but having excellent body; they have the speed and agility to handle metal, as well as the extension and punch to really make EDM music come alive.

Mids: The midrange I was expecting to be slightly recessed but it isn’t, it is instead perfectly well balanced in the mix with detail shining through. The one thing I have found is that these handle both male and female vocals without any emphasis on either. They both come across with effortless tone and clarity, the bass really does not interfere with the midrange at all. Layering in the midrange is very good too, with each individual track in the recording being easily separated. As I stated earlier I was expecting a mild V shaped signature, and was pleasantly surprised at how good the midrange is on the Sage. The midrange never sounds thin and clinical, instead it has a slight smoothness to it, and there is also no upper midrange peak that induces sibilance. I am impressed by the smooth transition from mids to highs without losing out on the initial treble impact.

Highs: The highs sit just right on these, they are not too hot but they are also not dulled or diluted by the rest of the sound. The placement of the highs is good within the soundstage too, making it easy to pinpoint the positioning of the sounds. If I had one little gripe it would be that the highs are a little on the smoother side. The highs are quite transparent in the way that they change a bit depending on the recording for example on well recorded tracks them definitely become more detailed and effortless. The highs never become irritating or bright; they have just the right mix of presence, detail and smoothness to avoid fatigue without becoming dark.


The soundstage is not huge on these but it is good in width, the height is what stands out more though. Then again they are designed to be engaging and really fun to listen to so a super wide soundstage is not needed. imaging is excellent with a superbly well focused centre image and everything coming in from around it.

The separation is where these impress, although the soundstage isn’t excellent the air and separation within it is brilliant, with each instrument being easy to distinguish and pick out in the mix.
Coherency is not something I tend to mention as most IEM’s are now quite coherent, but coherency and the blend between lows, mids and highs is superb.

Comparisons:
 Hifiman RE800:
The Hifiman have a more dynamic sound (dynamic driver) and also more treble presence but do suffer from a bit of an upper midrange/lower treble peak which can become fatiguing. The Noble are better built but not as comfortable, and the Noble are a little less engaging but are much better balanced across the frequency range without as many dips and peaks. The Sage is fuller, the RE800 is leaner but both have excellent separation and are both quite engaging IEM’s. With the ability to roll cables easily and the amount of accessories the Noble come with I would be more inclined to recommend them over the RE800.

64 Audio U6 (M20 module):
Now this isn’t a totally fair comparison as there is a bit of a price difference, but I thought I would included it anyway. So to start off with both have a fuller bodied sound but the Sage are more exciting and in your face whereas the U6 are more laid back and smoother. Upon first listen the Sage impresses a little more due to the exciting sound and more pronounced treble, but after some time with the U6 you realise that they are superbly refined and well textured. The U6 has a very wide soundstage in comparison, and their bass punch is more dynamic with a little extra sub-bass presence. The Sage is a little less refined overall and doesn’t quite match the layering and micro detail retrieval of the U6, however it does have a much more engaging sound signature. On this one the U6 has the upper hand in technicalities and can be tuned with modules and cables, however the Sage is more exciting and fun to listen to, some might find the U6 a little too boring and both are excellent IEM’s.


Cable pairing:
Now I know cables are a tricky subject but I am a believer in small changes between cables, and that finding the right cable to suit your needs is key (synergy). To be honest the stock cable is really good on these anyway and there is no real need to change it.

Effect Audio Ares II:
The Ares II gives the lows a little more bloom and body and the soundstage widens a little, treble response has a little more initial impact but extension feels a little cut-off. The sound tonally becomes a bit richer but still retains excellent separation, toms sound excellent with the Ares II. I found the lows to be a little too full for my liking with the Ares II but some will like this pairing.

Effect Audio Eros II:
The Eros II is one of my favourite current cables, what I like about it is that it doesn’t add too much flavour to the sound of the IEM’s. The bass still retains the body and articulation of the stock configuration but increases treble detail and also separation and soundstage are improved. The Eros II and Sage are an excellent pairing if you want to keep the stock fullness down low but want a little extra depth and detail.

Lavricables Reference Pure Silver:
Not the most ergonomic cable due to it being made out of solid core silver, but sound wise an excellent match for the Sage if you want a more neutral sound. This cable really tightens up the bass but without taking away extension. The midrange is largely unaffected but the highs now have extra impact and are a little better defined. Overall this cable takes away some of the fun that the Sage are built to deliver, but brings out a little extra sparkle up top and tightens up the bass response, I personally like this pairing but some might find the extra sparkle a little too much.

Toxic Cables Viper SPC (home-made):
The Viper adds some extra presence in the treble region without affecting the bass as much as the Lavricables Reference. The bass still has excellent punch and articulation, with the full body that the stock configuration has. The Viper just adds some more sparkle up top along with only slightly enhanced separation. This pairing is excellent if you want a little added sparkle without affecting the rest of the sound much.


Conclusion: The Sage is an easy recommendation at its price point, purely due to versatility. It does all genres quite well and is excellent as an everyday IEM. It has a more engaging sound signature that is well balanced from lows to highs with a little added body down low. They really don’t do anything wrong and are very easy to like, they will appeal to a lot of people. The performance they have squeezed out of 2 BA drivers is even more impressive, extension is good on both ends and the midrange is just really clean and enjoyable. This is definitely a case of implementation over quantity of drivers. My first Noble and I hope not my last as they clearly know what they are doing.


Sound Perfection Rating: 9/10 (Excellent musical IEM's that will appeal to many people)

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