Within the growing market of high-end IEMs, the Sultan have the ability to stand out among the crowd.
The Noble Sultan are the latest flagship of Noble Audio. They have a “tribrid” setup, seven drivers per side. The standard version of the Sultan is sold at $2900.
The Sultan I received is the Damascus Edition. At the time of writing, they are exclusively sold in the Hong Kong market, with the price of HKD27980, which translates to roughly USD $3500. The differences between this version and the standard version will be discussed later.
- »Ultimate clarity and definition
- »Excellent extension at both ends
- »Excellent transparency
- »Good soundstaging abilities with class-leading layering and depth
- »Exquisite design and solid build quality
- »Good stock cable
- »Fair noise isolation
- »Earpieces are heavy and large
Noble Audio is one of the giants in the IEM industry, and I believe every audiophile has likely heard of them in their audio journey. The Noble Kaiser K10 are often regarded as a game-changer in the high-end portable audio world, and they are the product which helped Noble Audio gain recognition. Since then, the company has brought us many exciting products such as the Katana, the Kaiser Encore and the Sage.
The Moulton brothers founded Noble Audio, and John Moulton, often known as the Wizard, is known for creating custom IEMs with fabulous designs. His designs are not limited to just acrylic IEMs, but he often releases products utilizing other ingredients such as exotic woods, metal alloys, and carbon fiber. These products are known as the “Prestige,” and you can see the amazing photos here.
The driver setup is the same between the standard and the Damascus Edition. The only difference, beyond exterior design, is the internal wiring. The Damascus has silver wiring, whereas the standard uses copper.
- Drivers: 7 drivers (1x10mm dynamic driver, 4 balanced armatures, 2 electrostatic drivers per IEM)
- Wiring: Pure silver internal wiring
- Impedance: less than 35Ohms
Design and Comfort
I only received the earphones and the cable for this review. As a result, I am unable to comment on the package and the accessories that come with the retail package. I am using the JVC Spiral Dot ear tips with them as I did not receive the stock ear tips.
One thing I can comment on is the cable. This is another difference between the standard Sultan and the Damascus Edition. While the standard version comes with a quality 8-core OCC copper cable (the same one that comes with the Zephyr), the Damascus Edition comes with a 12-core cable. As quoted from the website:
Now I know a lot of people have different opinions on whether or not cables make audible differences, and I do not intend to trigger that debate here. Regardless of whether the new stock cable provides better sound, it is a great cable, and a nice accessory, given the high price of the Sultan Damascus Edition.
As you can see from the photo above, the 12-core cable is noticeably thicker than the 8-core cable, and because of this size difference, the 12-core cable is also quite a bit heavier and stiffer. However, you can still use it on the go (if you really want to use it outside, that is), and it does not transmit too much microphonic noise in everyday use.
Another nice touch (at least for me) is that the Sultan Damascus Edition cable is terminated with a 4.4 mm TRRRS balanced Pentaconn plug. As a big fan of the Lotoo PAW 6000, this is joyous news as it means that I can extract the best from them. The Pentaconn plug is one of the most robust plugs on the market.
Besides the cable, the faceplates are the other external difference between the standard Sultan and the Sultan Damascus Edition, and they are gorgeous.
It may not be clearly shown in the photos I take, but the texture of the faceplates is fantastic and definitely the highlight of these IEMs. The material used to make the faceplate is called Damascus steel, and it is often used in making knives or swords.[quote] “In the ancient, Damascus steel can only be equipped by monarchs and nobles. Sultan Damascus Limited Edition is deluxe, and it is selected based on Noble’s design philosophy. Damascus is cast into 112 layers after folding and hammering with excellent craftsmanship.” – Noble Audio [/quote]
I did not count whether there are actually exactly 112 layers (of course), but you can definitely feel the texture of the layers. To me, this looks exactly what a flagship should look like, and it is a step up from the design of the Khan, the predecessor of the Sultan.
The CNC aluminum body follows the design of the standard Sultan, and has a two-tone design. They feel solid and very well-built, and I cannot find any gaps between the aluminum shells. However, due to the aluminum and steel construction, each earpiece is not exactly what you can call light weight.
The Sultan are also bigger than many of the IEMs I have tried. As a result of the size and weight, although they do have a fairly ergonomic shape, it does require a bit of trial-and-error to find the best ear tips selection and fitment. With the JVC Spiral Dot ++ ML sized tips, I can get a good fit and fairly decent noise isolation.
I completed all sound analysis with the Lotoo PAW 6000. As I do not have access to the stock ear tips, I can only analyze the Noble Sultan’s sound with the JVC tips.
To summarize, the Sultan are one of the best all-rounders I have ever heard. The fairly neutral sound signature allows them to be very versatile and suitable for many different genres. They have very good bass extension, a midrange that is ever so slightly forward, and a treble that shows excellent extension and clarity. But the best aspects (that the Sultan absolutely dominate) are layering ability and the depth of the soundstage.
To summarize the Sultan’s performance with one word, it is multi-layered.
The Sultan do not have a large amount of quantity in the bass regions. If you are a bass head looking for top-of-the-line bass IEMs, the Sultan may not satisfy your needs. However, what the Sultan do provide is superb bass extension. Together with the FIR Audio M5 and the Empire Ears Odin, they have some of the best bass extension in the current market, but more on that later.
There isn’t a lot of bass presence throughout the whole bass spectrum, but because of this, the bass always sounds clean and detailed. The Sultan, again, have excellent layering ability, so you are able to hear the layers of bass in a song.
The midrange of the Sultan follow a high-fidelity tonality rather than a thick and emotional approach. Because the bass remains very calm, the midrange always sounds clean without bass bleed-in. The lower midrange is ever so slightly recessed and a step behind the upper midrange. Despite being slightly laid-back, the lower midrange is crystal clear and not overpowered by other frequencies or overly distant in the background.
The mid and upper midrange are placed more forward compared to the lower midrange. This gives the vocals a powerful presentation with a lot of details to back them up. Repeating myself here, the strength of the Sultan is the layering ability, and that absolutely shines here. Even in orchestral or choral music which has a lot going on at once, the Sultan can differentiate every single detail without sounding exaggerated or unnatural.
As expected from electrostatic drivers, the treble of the Sultan is well-extended and very detailed. However, I have mixed feelings about the lower treble. It is forward, and that creates an airy feeling and adds sparkle to the sound. However, at times it can be unforgiving or even aggressive for anyone who is treble sensitive. That being said, they are far from being sibilant.
The mid and upper treble, on the other hand, are almost perfect for my taste. The treble extension is amazing (smooth and refined) even against other competitors at their price range. Instruments like crash cymbals or piccolos sound agile and quick with a sense of smoothness to prevent any unnaturalness or harshness.
Technicalities and sensitivity
Unlike most other brands, Noble does not release specifications, such as the sensitivities or the impedances of their products. Instead, what they do provide is that the impedance is lower than 35ohms and “sensitive enough for use with most smartphones as well as portable amps and daps.” As a result, the only way of finding out is through testing.
The volume sits comfortably at 47/100 in low gain when paired with the Lotoo PAW 6000, or about 30/100 in high gain. I do admit that I am a low volume listener, and so that is in the region which I regard as “just right”. There isn’t any hissing even in high gain, and the Sultan do not require any external amplification for them to shine.
I don’t like to repeat myself over and over again, but the layering ability of the Sultan is oh-so-great
The Sultan have a fairly big soundstage, but are just about average for top-of-the-line IEMs. They are not the widest or the tallest sounding IEMs in their price range, but the depth is surely one of the (if not the absolute) best for any IEMs currently on the market.
Listening to the Telarc recorded 1812 Overture, the Sultan are one of the few IEMs that can precisely locate the cannon’s firings. (Yes, this version of the 1812 Overture uses actual cannons in the recording).The Sultan keeps the scene clean without the bass from the cannons (literally bass cannons) bleeding into the other frequencies.
In this part, I will compare the Sultan with a few other flagship IEMs from other big boys in the market right now, and also the Sultan’s predecessor, the Khan. I will also include a short comparison with the Sultan’s little brother, the Zephyr.
Noble Sultan vs FIR M5
To give a brief summary, the M5 are powerful, punchy and engaging. They have a slightly V-shaped sound signature. The Sultan, on the other hand, are balanced and textured, and are more neutral than the M5. When paired with my Lotoo PAW 6000, both sit comfortably at 47~49/100 at low gain, and neither of them has hissing issues.
The M5 are also “tribrids”. They have 1 dynamic driver, 3 balanced armatures and an electrostatic driver.
Both of them show similarly impressive low-end extension, with the Sultan going a little bit deeper, but just barely. However, the M5 are punchier and have faster response and decay. They are also more dynamic and precise in the bass. The Sultan cannot match the M5 in bass power and agility, but due to less bass quantity, the Sultan create cleaner staging.
The M5 are slightly laid-back in the midrange. While the Sultan go for ultimate transparency and fidelity, the M5 always stay emotional and rich. The instruments and vocals sound more natural and liquid on the M5, but they sound cleaner and more airy on the Sultan.
The transition from upper midrange to lower treble is smoother on the M5 and the transition shows no peaks or spikes. The Sultan, on the other hand, can sound aggressive and unforgiving in that region at times. Both of them show very impressive treble extension, but the M5 again are thicker and smoother while the Sultan have better agility.
For soundstage abilities, the M5 and the Sultan continue to trade punches. They show similar width, with the M5 a hair wider than the Sultan. The best strengths of the Sultan include layering ability and the soundstage depth. They are better than the M5 in these areas (as expected) by quite a margin. The M5 however punch back in the area of height. The M5 sound grand and they are more holographic than the Sultan.
Noble Sultan vs Empire Ears Odin
The Odin are regarded as the best IEMs by many audiophiles around the world. When listening to them, the first thing I noticed is that the Odin are marginally more sensitive and require 2 steps lower in volume than the Sultan. So while the Sultan sit comfortably at 47/100, the Odin match the volume at 45/100 in low gain with my Lotoo. Neither are particularly sensitive to hissing, at least when paired with the Lotoo.
Amazingly, the low-end extension of the Odin digs even deeper than the Sultan. Hybrids from Empire Ears have been known for their outstanding bass. The Odin are ahead of the Sultan in bass quantity, with more kick and physicality. The Odin also have slightly better bass texture, whereas the Sultan sound cleaner down low.
The Odin have a slightly recessed midrange, and they also sound warmer and thicker than the Sultan. The Sultan place the vocals and midrange more forward and are brighter than the Odin. As a result, the Sultan show better vocal clarity, while the Odin sound more natural and organic.
The same can be said for the treble. The Sultan have a brighter treble response than the Odin, which sound smoother and warmer up top. Depending on your preferences, the Sultan sound more airy, but possibly not as easy-going as the Odin, especially if you’re sensitive to treble. However, both have impressive treble extension, agility, and details.
When it comes to the soundstage, once again the Sultan take the win in depth and layering. They are just about the best that I have tried in terms of layering ability. However, the Odin are wider and taller (but not to the extent of the M5) and have slightly better imaging abilities.
Noble Sultan vs Noble Khan
The Khan were the flagship of Noble audio before the Sultan. The Khan are also a “tribrid”, but unlike the “tribrid” we normally expect, the Khan do not have electrostatic drivers. Instead, they have piezoelectric drivers for the top end. So, the Khan and the Sultan have different sound signatures. Despite that, they require the exact same volume settings on my Lotoo, both sitting at 47/100 in low gain, and neither are sensitive to hissing.
Both of the Noble IEMs are bass heavy, with similar bass quantity. The Sultan, however, have better low-end extension, a more solid foundation, and are more precise than the Khan.
The midrange in the Khan is sharper-edged and more aggressive. The Sultan are smoother and warmer in the midrange, and are easier to listen to. But because the Khan have sharper-edges, their clarity and the definition are slightly better. In the upper midrange to lower treble, the Khan can be very sharp and are closer to being sibilant than the Sultan.
Both show good treble extension, but the Sultan are slightly ahead here. Similar to the midrange, the Khan again are considerably sharper and harsher in the treble region. This gives the sound an airy feel, however this also means that the Khan are a no-go for those who are treble sensitive.
They have similar height in the soundstage. The Khan are slightly wider, but the Sultan are much deeper and have better layering ability.
Noble Sultan vs Noble Zephyr
I did a detailed comparison between these two in my review of the Zephyr. So if you are interested in finding out their differences make sure to check it out. As I have already made a detailed comparison there, I will keep it simple here.
The Zephyr do not have any electrostatic or piezoelectric drivers like the flagships. The Zephyr are no match for the Sultan in extension, resolution, and layering ability. However, one thing that the Zephyr do better than the Sultan is when conveying emotion in the midrange. In terms of soundstage ability, the Sultan are bigger than the Zephyr in all directions.
Where to Buy
Top-of-the-line products are mostly excellent, and almost always very expensive. This is exactly the case with the Sultan. When we consider the concept of diminishing returns, the Sultan are not what many of us consider to be a good value, not even close.
Yet, if you ask me if the Sultan are worth their price, I think it depends.
Having the best requires paying the price. So, if you are looking for the best-bang-for-your-buck IEMs, the Sultan are not recommended. However, maybe you want the absolute best IEMs, that can handle all genres with ease, regardless of price. In that case, the Sultan have my recommendation without a second thought.
They are simply superb.