Noble Audio Kublai Khan is a name that demands your attention – whether you were familiar with Noble Audio, and have heard the Sultan, Khan, or Kaiser Encore, or you just have an appreciation for great names. Kublai Khan carries the legacy of Noble’s previous IEMs with DNA derived from the Katana, Kaiser, and Khan, and adds some fresh new technology to the mix. So is Kublai Khan ready to conquer the IEM landscape?
Build and Design
Kublai Khan comes in what’s become the standard package for the top of Noble Audio’s IEM lineup: a premium case, a selection of eartips – with foam, double-flange, and two varieties of silicone – the Noble 8-core cable, and of course, the IEMs. Kublai Khan has an understated design, with a resin finish featuring a marble look to the faceplate, a gold dragon on your left ear, and the Noble logo on the right.
The IEMs themselves are on the large side, which makes sense considering that there are seven drivers inside with four different driver types: bone conduction, dynamic, balanced armature, and a Piezo super-tweeter. The bulky shell combined with the deep insertion make this an IEM that’s clearly for very experienced IEM users. While the name demands attention – the package and design are more understated, but excellent notwithstanding. So will Kublai Khan’s sound be understated like its design or will it stand out?
Kublai Khan is fast, spacious, and brilliantly tuned. As someone who doesn’t like too much treble – and was on the edge with the original Khan’s treble – Kublai Khan dials it in just right in the upper registers. Putting it all together, you get an absolute flagship caliber performance from Kublai Khan.
The bass is thick and deep, but comes up short of a more heavily emphasized “basshead” low end. There’s strong impact from the dynamic driver and seemingly bottomless extension from the bone conduction driver, but no bloat or bleed up into the mids from the bass.
The mids are rich and detailed, with strong presence for piano, guitar, and vocals, along with a natural timbre. There’s a good body to everything that lends to a strong sense of weight and realism in the imaging.
One of the defining characteristics of the original Khan was its strong, yet non-fatiguing treble. Kublai Khan follows suit with strong definition and a great sense of air, along with a certain sense of smoothness that still manages to iron out some of the sibilance and harshness associated with strong treble.
Kublai Khan creates a gorgeous three dimensional space, with good depth and width. The placement and positioning of instruments within the space is strong as well. Put it all together and Kubai Khan gives you a vivid, holographic listening experience.
How could I review Kublai Khan, without listening to a song that references its Mongolian Emperor namesake, like “Xanadu” by Rush? As the ambient elements at the start of the song coalesce into something more coherent, each is expertly presented with good snap and pop to the percussion and incredible resolution in the chimes and bells. The intro guitar tone practically shimmers, while the guitar gains more bite in the verse. Kublai Khan’s soundstage provides plenty of space to experience the size and volume of Neil Peart’s drum kit, and its speed and resolution ensure that you don’t miss a beat.
On “Kon Karne,” MF Doom drops his smooth flow over an array of somewhat disparate elements: an old school hip-hop beat, a delicate jazzy piano, and a bassline that doesn’t quite mesh with either – but somehow it works. Kublai Khan’s imaging aids in adding some cohesion by really putting the samples in a room together. MF Doom’s vocals are at the center of it all, and Kublai Khan gives you a crisp, personal feeling. The instruments are perhaps too well balanced for hip-hop. While the bass drum has decent presence, it doesn’t quite hit with the sense of exaggeration that the genre demands.
Kublai Khan gives the drums at the start of Medeski Martin & Wood’s “The Dropper” a great sense of resonance and presence. The bassline has a perfect mix of texture and depth, and the synth and keys have this dirty, grimy edge that adds a ton of character to the performance. Kublai Khan provides those tiny details that make the performance come alive. Again, with weird noises and ambient sounds popping in and out, Kublai Khan’s imaging gives the feeling that everything is part of the physical space around the listener.
The rich delivery of vocals is notable on The Gathering’s “In Colour” with the airy female lead having the right blend of a realistic weight and an ethereal feeling that has her almost floating above the band. The blend of orchestral strings and big synths, along with the guitar and drums are handled nicely, with that same sense of strong cohesion Kublai Khan has demonstrated throughout. The treble is notable not just for the air in the female vocal, but also for the general definition and overall performance.
Comparison: Empire Ears Odin, Noble Sultan
In the top-end of Noble Audio’s IEMs, there’s a clear line of succession between the Khan and Kublai Khan – and even the Kaiser before that – with the Sultan being a different direction for the brand’s flagship. So how do Noble Audio’s two top IEMs compare? The Empire Ears Odin has a similar profile to Kublai, and offers some strong points of comparison as well.
The designs of each provide quite a contrast, with Odin’s glamorous Bifrost faceplate on the one end, and Sultan’s pearly finish on the other. Kublai Khan has a similar shape to Odin, but with a design that more closely resembles the understated Sultan than the show-stopping Odin. All three also have a similar size and fit. The one you find most comfortable will depend on your personal preference, but Kublai Khan is probably the deepest nozzle and also the largest of the three.
In terms of the general tuning, Sultan hits the hardest in the bass, with kick drums having impact accompanied by a realism that’s hard to match. Kublai Khan has extreme depth, and hip-hop and EDM can bring out some depth and thickness to the bass that seems more elusive in other genres. Odin has a fast, tight, well-extended bass, but without the quantity of Sultan or the depth of Kublai Khan.
Midrange is where Kublai Khan leads the pack, with a strong, cohesive, weighty feeling to instruments and voices, that’s expertly balanced across the spectrum. Sultan’s low mids are excellent, but it can’t match Odin or Kublai Khan’s presence in the upper mids, while Odin’s lower mids aren’t as well filled out as Sultan or Kublai Khan. Treble is where there will be some room for disagreement. Sultan has the smoothest, least fatiguing treble, while Kublai Khan has some stronger treble features, but remains somewhat smooth. Odin has incredible treble performance and great extension, but can also have a touch of fatigue with some songs.
Imaging is one of the key parts of Odin’s performance that sets it apart from the pack, and the quad electrostatic driven treble definitely has something to do with that. Kublai Khan goes a different route with the Piezo super tweeter and comes very close to Odin’s imaging without quite matching the same level of holographic presentation that Odin provides.
Going back and forth between the three, Sultan remains my favorite tuning, while Odin has the edge technically. Kublai Khan is no slouch though, rivaling Odin in speed and resolution, and beating it in low bass performance, while having a tuning that’s less likely to induce fatigue. While there might not be a clear winner in this matchup, the real winner is the person shopping for top of the line IEMs who now have another world class model to choose from.
$2599 is no small amount of money, and the growing number of IEMs in the $2k to $3k price range makes it more challenging to rise above the competition, but Kublai Khan is up to the challenge. By utilizing unique technology like Bone Conduction and a Piezo Super Tweeter, along with a magical tuning done by Noble Audio’s Wizard, Kublai Khan is poised to conquer the competition.