The Noble Audio Kaiser 10U is the most beautiful in-ear headphone I've ever seen. The two-tone red and silver earpiece is a precision machined aluminum housing that's designed and manufactured in California. Each headphone is hand-crafted and takes a technician about six hours to build. It's a stunning piece of industrial design.
Of course, that wouldn't mean much if the sound wasn't spectacular, and it is. The Kaiser 10U is uber-transparent: From the deepest bass to the highest treble, the sound remains true. Even compared with my very best in-ear headphones, the Kaiser 10U sounds more accurate and pristine. Bass notes never cloud over or blur together, no matter how deep. For instance, the pounding bass on Thom York's "Eraser" album had more visceral punch than I've heard before.
The Kaiser 10U clearly has a knack for revealing the subtlest, quietest details in the sound. I could hear deep into the mix's reverberation and the studio's acoustics, sometimes even the room the musicians were playing in! The brassy metallic shimmer and sparkle of percussion and cymbals were remarkably life-like.
Listening to Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" album from 1970, the Kaiser 10U gave me new respect for the recording. Every instrument was so sharp and clear, few contemporary recordings sound as vivid as that record.
Brian Eno's 1997 album, "The Drop" is populated with sharply percussive bass lines, funky drumming and percolating electronics. Again, the Kaiser 10U delved deep into the dense, multi-layered mix. The textures and shading of the soundscape were extraordinarily detailed. Moving over to my Sennheiser IE800 headphones, the soundstage shrank, bass was more prominent, but looser, the treble is grittier, less clear. The IE800 is still a great headphone, but the Kaiser 10U reveals more.
The downside to extreme resolution headphones like the Kaiser 10U is they let you hear more of the harshness and crud in many of today's highly compressed recordings. The IE800 was much better in that regard, I could listen to more music without cringing than I could with the Kaiser 10U. The best recordings sound better than ever, but the crappy ones sound worse with the Kaiser 10U! That might be a deal breaker for potential buyers who mostly listen to mainstream pop or rock, but most jazz, classical, electronica and acoustic music benefited from the Kaiser 10U extraordinary sound quality.
The Kaiser 10U is lightweight and fairly comfortable. The user-replaceable cables seem durable, and each ear piece contains 10 balanced armature drivers, impedance is rated at 35 ohms. The Kaiser 10U is $1,599 in the US, £999 in the UK, and AU$2,699 in Australia. Noble's other headphones start at $350, £225 or AU$450 for the Noble 3.
A custom molded to your ear canals version of the Kaiser 10 is also available, for the same price as the universal fit Kaiser 10U. Noble also offers a Bluetooth adaptor for $99, £99 and AU$169 for all of its headphones, and the adaptor has an omnidirectional microphone with push-button phone controls.