When we first got the Noble FoKus Pro it was quite simply the best sounding TWS IEM we’d heard at Bloom Audio, but it had some shortcomings when it came to features, call quality, and connectivity. FoKus Mystique is an upgrade to the FoKus Pro which aims to improve the features you use on a daily basis while maintaining Noble’s commitment to world class sound quality. Can FoKus Mystique bring it all together to deliver a next level experience in audiophile TWS IEMs?
Build and Design
There are two main aspects to consider in the build and design of a modern TWS IEM. One is the general build, ergonomics, fit, and everything else that goes into the physical IEM itself. The other is the device firmware, apps, and the rest of the ecosystem around the device. In terms of the earphones, FoKus Mystique has a molded, custom-style acrylic shell that’s closer in feel and style to Noble’s wired IEMs than it is to AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds. The IEMs charge in a small, nondescript aluminum box, with charge level indicators on the front and the Noble logo on the top.
In addition to the IEMs and charge case, the package includes a selection of eartips, a charge cable, a carrying bag, the manual, and various product information. There’s a generally high quality feel to the package and contents that matches up with the higher end of the TWS market. It’s the small touches – like the plastic case for eartips – that make the difference in elevating the perceived quality here.
In some general testing, there was a clear improvement in the call quality over the FoKus Pro that puts them on par with other, more feature focused IEMs. By comparison FoKus Mystique had much better clarity while FoKus Pro sounded more muffled. To test the Bluetooth connectivity, we connected several different Bluetooth/TWS headphones to different phones, in an office filled with computers connected to the WiFi, and then attempted connection, disconnecting, and moving around to see if we ran into any issues. FoKus Mystique had no issues connecting and performed quite well at a distance of 20+ feet, even with a door or wall in between the phone and the IEMs.
Noble’s app performance was very good. The EQ functioned well on my iPhone and worked smoothly through multiple adjustments while listening to music in a few different apps. The Personal EQ setup also gave me really good results. It runs you through a test that evaluates your hearing at various frequencies and creates an EQ profile based on the frequencies you hear well and those you hear more poorly.
FoKus Mystique also has Noble’s new Ambient mode on by default, which is similar to the transparency mode offered on a number of devices: it attempts to filter out “noise” like an air circulator or plane engine, while letting through conversation and louder sounds. Due to my preferred volume levels being, perhaps, a little below average, I found ambient mode to allow only slightly more outside noise than I could already hear, but at higher volumes its utility was improved.
I find FoKus Mystique’s sonic beauty to be mostly found in its simplicity. While most of the compliments I would pay to Mystique would be capped with “...for a TWS IEM,” it’s simply a very solid pick for a sub $500 IEM in general. FoKus is well tuned – somewhere in the vicinity of a bass boosted harman sound – with great detail and resolution for a $350 IEM and especially in comparison to other TWS IEMs.
The bass is elevated with a deep extension that provides plenty of rumble, and there’s a great impact in the midbass, but that low end emphasis doesn’t come at the cost of texture and detail in the lower registers. There’s very minimal bleed from the bass into the lower mids, and the timbre largely remains neutral in spite of the bass emphasis. The treble is balanced, providing surprising extension and resolution for a TWS, without being harsh or fatiguing.
While I found the general tuning to hold up well with any Bluetooth codec, there was a noticeable loss of width in the soundstage and clarity of imaging with AAC compared to aptX. The soundstage is moderately sized even in the best case, but aptX maintains a generally three dimensional stage, while it felt more flattened with AAC.
On Taylor Swift’s “Midnight Rain” FoKus Mystique gets the three most important parts of the song just right: the deep rumbly synths, the impact of the bass drum, and Taylor’s voice. The low synths provide the foundation of the song, while higher pitched stabs and accents hit it in the upper registers. The upper ranges add a bigger sense of height to the sound stage, while the low end elements fill up the majority of the space. The vocals cut through it all, right down the middle, with a very personal feeling presentation.
There’s an incredible sense of detail and a natural timbre in Andy McKee’s acoustic guitar on “The Reason.” Along with a natural, detailed presentation, there’s tactile sense to elements like the deep resonance of a bass notes plucked with the thumb vs the snappier attack of higher strings. The tonality acoustic guitar is nearly perfect, but comes just short of the “I’m in the room with the guitar level imaging” you might get in the next tier up of wired IEMs.
While the soundstage isn’t huge, FoKus Mystique does surprisingly well at delivering a sense of scale and dynamics. “At the Speed of Force” from the Justice League soundtrack sounds absolutely immense. It’s clear early on that FoKus Mystique can deliver “big” but then as the song continues to get even bigger, Mystique continues to impress. The separation between instruments and layering is also excellent, allowing you to cleanly separate out different instruments and focus on smaller aspects of the performance if you want to.
Comparison: Sennheiser Momentum 3 TWS
Sennheiser continues to deliver some of the best in products that bridge the gap between the mainstream and audiophile worlds. And what better way to connect the two than high quality wireless headphones? Sennheiser’s Momentum series has done just that, but how do they match up with the latest from Noble?
In terms of the physical design, FoKus Mystique has a much more striking design, while Sennheiser is a fairly plain plastic shell (albeit one that’s available in white, black, or gray.) Momentum 3’s form factor is more rooted in the wireless earphone world while FoKus Mystique is more rooted in HiFi IEMs. Momentum 3 does get point for comfort, as the smaller nozzles and lighter weight make them generally more comfortable, but both are very comfortable and stay in your ear quite well.
For features, Sennheiser gets the easy win, with a more comprehensive app, full ANC, transparency, and multi-point connection. FoKus Mystique’s Ambient mode is well done, but not as good as Sennheiser’s transparency mode. Likewise, Noble has made big improvements in their app design, but Sennheiser is a step above.
While Sennheiser edges out FoKus Mystique in some of the practical aspects, Fokus Mystique wins the sound comparison hands down with its exceptional tuning and sonic delivery. Now my initial impressions of Momentum 3 were with the stock eartips, and I found it to be flat, veiled, and disappointing – in spite of good tech behind it. When I removed the stock ear tips, I discovered that there’s a foam filter in there which is really killing Momentum 3’s treble. Swapping eartips really improved the level of detail, and the overall performance. But Momentum 3’s more reference sound comes off somewhat dry and clinical while Mystique wows with an organic, natural tuning.
Noble Audio listened to the old saying that goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” when they created FoKus Mystique, leaving the general physical design and tuning of the FoKus Pro untouched while they focused on improving the rest. FoKus Mystique is still catching up in terms of features, but it’s a big step up from the previous generation and it remains the best sounding TWS IEM that we’ve ever heard.