Pros - Comfort
Cons - Poor price point for the entire package
Sound Signature - Boosted mid-bass, some recession in the midrange, balanced treble
Sources - iBasso DX80, Pixel XL, Matrix HPA-3U
Cost - Not known at this time, more than the $120 Velvet though
There’s little need to introduce the Noble Audio brand, they have been making well-respected custom and universal IEMs for a few years, headed by Dr. John Moulton, AKA “Wizard.” Wizard is known for creating some highly unique and sought after custom molding designs that are surely to catch the eye of any audio enthusiast.
Previously focusing on high-end IEMs, Noble is now catering to the more budget oriented crowd with their EDC line. The first release was the Velvet with a warm leaning consumer oriented sound, and now the upcoming Bell which shares the same 5.8mm driver as the Velvet, though tuned with a more balanced audiophile oriented sound.
The Bell has been sent to me from Noble Audio as a review unit.
Fit & Design
The Bell can be worn over-ear or straight down. I have grown a preference for over-ear so my review will be written from that perspective.
The Bell sit shallow though securely with the provided single-flanged tips. Positioning is slightly finicky, though users shouldn’t find it difficult to quickly and consistently orient them for optimal sound after a few insertions. Comfort is quite decent, I’ve had no discomfort wearing the Bell for an hour or more and find them fine to use for light exercise. Microphonics are barely noted when worn over-ear, obviously lessened compared to straight-down. The braided cable is flexible and despite the lack of ear guide, it sits comfortably around my ear without any irritation or positioning issues.
The braided cable is quite lightweight feeling, flexible without signs of weakness at any of the connecting ends. Speaking of the ends, unfortunately the cable is permanently attached to each housing, no removable cables. In 2018 there are $20 or cheaper IEMs with removable cables, we need to push forward with it being a standard. The cable is prone to tangling as well, and I’ve experienced a few frustrating moments due to it. The housing of the Bell is of brass with a polished sheen that often causes trouble spotting the left or right indicators. I often find myself struggling to see the markings and it’s a bit frustrating. The housings are tiny though the shallow fit causes the back-end of the housing to stick out slightly, making them less than ideal for side sleepers to wear in bed.
As a whole there isn’t much to separate the Bell from the plethora of budget minded IEMs. In-fact, I find it disappointing that they chose to forego the use of MMCX cables in the design of the Bell. They’re comfortable, easy to position, sit securely, and are seemingly built well, but the same can be said about many sub-$100 IEMs.
As a whole the Bell have a bass heavy sound that offers solid clarity and level of detail through the midrange and treble while having decent instrument separation. Unfortunately the bass quality is lacking punchiness, clarity, and control which in conjunction with a narrow front focused sound stage sounds quite overbearing at times.
The sub-bass digs down deep with an attempt to imitate sub-bass rumble, but the sub-bass lacks a visceral impact while the extreme lows have a tendency to sound fuzzy when pushed hard. When listening to James Blake’s Limit to Your Love I feel that the pacing of the quickly moving sub-bass is off, as if the previous bass note is still lingering as the next one springs to action. Even when listening to less demanding sub-bass tracks I find that the sound is fuzzier than clear and softer than punchy.
The mid-bass is cleaner and punchier than the sub-bass, though it has a tendency to bloom into the midrange often becoming the forefront of the sound over vocals or guitars. Boomy and loose are two adjectives that keep coming to my mind when I’m listening to stuff like Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain , or Rage Against the Machine’s Take the Power Back. The negatives with the low-end are compounded with warmer sounding songs like “West Coast” by Lana Del Rey or “Glory Box” by Portishead. Both tracks feel like the low-end is far too forward, making it an unenjoyable listen.
To my ears the midrange is largely faithful to the recording in tonality with an acceptable level of detail and clarity. You’re largely going to hear something close enough to the recording to be satisfied in most cases. My biggest issue with the midrange is that there are some dips in the sound in the upper end of the midrange which causes midrange focused songs to sound dull. As an example, I never found myself getting lost in songs like “The Chain” or “Take the Power Back.” There’s a lack of presence and energy in the midrange that pull me away from the experience and it’s further compounded by the bloom of the low-end.
The treble quality is on par with the midrage in terms of clarity, level of detail, and tonality. I haven’t experienced hotness or sibilance and brass instruments sound clean and largely faithful to how I hear them in real life. There’s a slight dull veil over the lower-end of the treble, but brass instruments sound decently controlled and distinguished.
I never quite get the feeling that music is coming from more than a front-focused direction with some left and right extension. Certainly no sense of notes coming from behind me, and vertical soundstage is just as narrow. Instrument separation is decent, though the narrow presentation of the music pushes the instruments closer together than I’d like. When compounded with a bassy leaning sound signature music has a tendency to feel congested like seeing a show in a small venue where the bass guitar is far too high in the mix.
I have always wanted to hear a Noble IEM and I finally got my wish, it’s just unfortunate that I do not care for what I hear nor do I feel it to be a good value offering. The budget IEM market is saturated with companies such as MeeAudio, KZ, and RHA creating cheaper IEMs with a better set of features and list of accessories, the Bell feels lost in the mix. I can’t think of a reason that I would recommend them over other popular budget minded IEMs, they lack in so many ways at a price point where there is stiff competition. The Bell is one IEM I’d pass on.