Review: Noble Sage In-Ear Headphones | iLounge

Review

Review: Noble Sage In-Ear Headphones

B-
Limited Recommendation

Company: Noble

Model: Sage

Price: $599

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Guido Gabriele

Today we're making another stop in our exploration of high-end in-ear monitors with an audiophile favorite — Noble. The company's founder, known as "The Wizard", is known within the community for producing beautiful custom IEMs (check their lookbook and be amazed) that can cost upwards of $3,000 per pair. Although their customs are drool-worthy, Noble has also gained notoriety for their line of universal-fit in-ears. We had the opportunity to test Noble's Sage, which has a relatively entry-level price for Noble's product range. Though we were not completely wowed by the Sage's sound signature, we think it could be a great all-rounder for many users.

The Sage comes with a large complement of accessories, which we appreciate for a headphone in this price range. Included are three storage options, which make the Sage especially portable: a soft velvet bag, a compact circular case, and a super durable, water-resistant Pelican 1010 case (worth about $20 on its own).  Even more impressive is the wide range of ear tips included with the Sage — mounted on an aluminum card, users can experiment with four styles of tips (and three sizes each), including foam, double-flange silicone, and traditional bullet-style tips of two different thicknesses. If that weren’t enough, Noble also includes some logo stickers, a cleaning brush, and a small carabiner for attaching the Pelican case to a backpack. The Sage comes prepared to adjust to nearly anyone’s ears and use case, making it probably the most customizable headphone experience we’ve yet tested.

As with all of Noble’s IEMs, the Sage’s cable is detachable, enabling the user to experiment with third party cables or Noble’s own offering of optional cables, including a balanced option and a new iOS cable with DAC and amplifier built in to a Lightning connector. The Sage’s included cable is simple and light, with an unsleeved wire braid terminated in a 3.5mm jack and integrated over-ear cable guides made of flexible heat-shrink tubing. The cable is certainly not of the ultra-durable type, but we expect that those who spend $600 on a universal IEM will treat them with care.

The Sage’s driver housings are very attractive, with a clean two-part construction of contrasting colors and materials. The outer halves are made of machined aluminum, anodized in a striking green color, intricately carved with the Noble crown logo and a three-dimensional scalloped pattern. The inner portion of the driver housings are made of ABS plastic, gray in color with sparkly metallic flecks. Each bud has two small ports on the business end, one for each of the Sage’s dual balanced armature drivers — one of which handles mid and high-range frequencies, and the other dedicated to low end. The Sage looks great, and the fine detail of the CNC’d aluminum is very impressive. If you agree, be sure to check out Noble’s higher-end IEMs — they’re made entirely of machined aluminum and look even better.

We had no problem achieving a comfortable and secure fit with the Sage. With its minimalist cable, this IEM feels impossibly light and all but disappears when worn. With the wide array of tips to choose from, it was easy to find a combination that could be worn for hours without feeling like our ears were being stretched or fatigued. However, unlike many other IEMs we have tried, the silicone ear tips provided with the Sage don’t have notches to hold them in a specific position on the driver housing — over time, ear wax and oil from the skin can cause the tips to slide back and forth on the sound channel of the Sage’s housings. This can result in an inconsistent depth and fit or difficulty maintaining a good seal, but it’s fixed easily enough with regular cleaning. Also worth noting is that the Sage is a very sensitive headphone, easily driven by our iPhone’s Lightning Adapter — no amplifier is necessary here.

Noble advertises the Sage as having a “refined and capable sound” and a “slight lift in overall bass response.” We mostly agree. Though bass extension (and isolation) will depend on seal, we found the Sage to have a warm but clean sound, with no part of the frequency range overemphasized. The one feature about the Sage’s sound signature that stood out to us was that vocals — particularly male vocals — sounded a little rolled off and, in some cases, distant, making the Sage sound less detailed and textured with some tracks than we would have liked. This presentation is a bit soft or relaxed for our preferences, but we can’t deny that it is a very easy listening experience. Users who like a very analytical or very bassy sound might look elsewhere in Noble’s product range, but we think the Sage will be pleasing for many out there with eclectic musical tastes.

In our reviews, we try to strike a balance between considering a product on its own merits and in comparison to its competition. Headphone reviews aren’t a zero-sum game — there’s nothing wrong with owning multiple headphones to accommodate different sound signatures and use cases. After examining the Sage, we were inclined to say that it simply doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the competition to justify its $599 price tag. However, the Sage’s warm, relaxed sound signature combined with its excellent build quality, attractive design, comfort, and accessories makes it a potentially very strong choice as a high-end, general purpose IEM. People often ask us what would be our “desert island” headphone; the Sage may not be the right choice for everyone, but it very well might be yours.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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