The Noble Viking was a limited edition IEM that represented the pinnacle of Noble Audio’s tuning and design, but being made of pure Damascus Steel meant that it could only be produced in very limited quantities and with a $7,900 price tag. Viking was so well received that Noble Audio created the Viking Ragnar with a little bit less Damascus Steel, for about half the price, but the same technology, to let the rest of the world in on Viking’s sound.
Build and Design
Not being made with Damascus Steel doesn’t mean that Viking Ragnar aren’t great looking IEMs. They have aluminum outer shells with a Damascus Steel face plate. The overall design is reminiscent of the Noble Sultan, but with a more monochromatic look, and a higher level of craftsmanship and build quality. Internally, Viking Ragnar is a 10 driver tribrid, with 4 ESTs in the treble, 4 balanced armature drivers (2 for the mids and 2 for the highs), and 2 dynamic drivers for the bass. The driver frequency separation is managed with a 4-way crossover.
The package is quite generous, befitting flagship IEMs. It contains a large Nanuk travel case with space for accessories, along with a smaller leather case with just enough room for the IEMs, cable, and some eartips. Speaking of the cable, Viking Ragnar comes with the Magnus, a gorgeous 8-core cable constructed with graphene, monocrystalline silver, and copper-silver alloy. Noble also includes a selection of eartips along with some basic case candy, like the sticker and carabiner. Regrettably, Noble opted to not include an axe, viking helmet, or other thematically appropriate accessory in the package.
Viking Ragnar is the epitome of a flagship sound with natural, neutral character, and mind-blowing technical performance. Ragnar is fast and dynamic with incredible resolution, and provides intricate detail and separation while also remaining surprisingly cohesive for a tribrid IEM.
The dual dynamic drivers deliver bass with a deep linear extension and a powerful impact. The overall bass level is neutral, delivering intense rumble and impact when it’s called for, but remaining understated if the track doesn’t emphasize the bass.
Mids have good thickness and weight, with strong performance for acoustic instruments. Vocals are rich and full, and instruments have a natural timbre and strong layering. As you go from the upper mids into the treble, there’s some heightened presence that adds a great sense of clarity and enhances the vocal imaging without becoming sibilant. There’s a slight rolloff into the upper ranges, but still a good sense of air.
Viking Ragnar’s soundstage is exceptionally wide for an IEM, and it couples the width and depth with strong imaging that presents a vivid stereo image in a holographic fashion. Some IEMs with strong imaging also have a somewhat exaggerated sense of separation, almost as if each voice or instrument is locked in its own little recording booth. Viking Ragnar avoids this and gives you a very strong sense of separation, but also maintains a more realistic sense of blending and cohesion.
On Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” Viking Ragnar presents a wide open space, with the piano a little bit back in the distance playing softly, while the horns hit your ears from either side of a wide soundstage. The drums consist mostly of cymbal work and some light toms, and the cymbals sound incredibly realistic, with a highly natural attack and decay – just the right amount of ring and sizzle. The overall sense is airy and spacious, and both the timbre of the instruments and the positioning of the players are highly lifelike.
Two Steps from Hell’s brand of epic orchestral music is perfect for testing the technical limits of IEMs, and Viking Ragnar shines on “Archangel” demonstrating incredible layering as a massive orchestra, choirs, and solo vocals build a massive wall of sound. With repeated listens, Viking Ragnar gives you both the wall, and every single brick inside of it. By listening carefully, you can slowly decode the layers of strings, brass, percussion, and voices, as Viking Ragnar unfurls them for you.
Sometimes you want an immense orchestral crescendo, other times, you only need Paul McCartney and his acoustic guitar. As much as it can help you build and deconstruct a wall of sound, Viking Ragnar doesn’t unnecessarily exaggerate the soundstage and can put you in a small room with a song for a more personal performance. The timbre of the acoustic guitar is spot on, with a warm tone and just the right amount of brightness in the attack of the string pluck. Paul’s voice comes off like he’s just across the room, singing to a few friends.
The fuzzed out guitar and angsty vocals of 90s alt/grunge band Garbage are likewise well presented by Viking Ragnar. The various synthesizers push the soundstage out wide, while the band largely resides in the center of the image. The guitars have thick layers of effects adding loads of texture that Ragnar presents well, while the bass is smooth and deep. Lead singer Shirley Manson’s vocals stand out from the band, with her position in the image giving a good sense of Viking Ragnar’s front to back imaging precision.
Comparison: Vision Ears Phonix, Empire Ears Odin
If you’re looking for world class IEMs at the highest end of the market, the Vision Ears Phönix and Empire Ears Odin are likely on your shortlist. And if you look at Viking Ragnar’s driver setup, you may notice some similarities with Odin. Phönix and Odin present a good contrast themselves, so we’ll see how Ragnar fits into the mix.
In terms of looks, Odin has always been quite the stunner, but the feel is the same as any number of resin IEMs. Likewise Phönix has a unique style, but the specific materials and design don’t scream at you that they cost $3900. Viking Ragnar has a simpler style, but upon up-close examination and handling the IEMs, it has a stronger sense of quality about the construction and craftsmanship. Ragnar’s Magnus cable is also incredible, and while Vision Ears and Empire Ears cables are well-built and high performing, Magnus’s material composition and heft really help it stand out.
In the sound, Phönix has the strongest midrange of the three, with a warm, lush, emotional delivery, but at times the lush feeling can result in a timbre that’s too warm, or some textures that are lost. By comparison, Odin delivers stronger separation and stronger detail in individual instruments, but can’t match the emotional delivery of Phönix. Viking Ragnar gets some of the best from each, with a fuller, richer midrange than Odin, but better texture and timbre than Phönix.
In the bass, Phönix presents some of the best balanced armature bass you’ve ever heard, with power, impact, and speed, but it doesn’t have the same sort of low end rumble that Odin and Viking Ragnar produce, or the same sort of tightness in the bass. Odin and Ragnar have similar bass, with my opinion of which one has better depth or impact largely changing based on the track selection. In the treble, Odin has a bright, crisp, revealing high end that can at times be too incisive and unforgiving. Phönix has more of a liquidy smooth treble. Ragnar splits the difference with stronger clarity than Phönix and a crisp top end, but with a less fatiguing delivery than Odin.
In the end, Viking Ragnar presents the strongest balance of detail, performance, and musicality, while Odin sacrifices some musicality for performance and Phönix focuses more on musicality. At the $3900-$4000 mark, the question is more of whether you prefer the warm, lush Phönix or the more technical Viking Ragnar. In comparison with the $3400 Odin, Viking Ragnar is a bit more expensive, and offers a degree of improvement in musicality while maintaining all of its technical capabilities.
The Bottom Line
As you watch the evolution of Noble Audio’s recent flagship IEMs – from Khan to Sultan to Viking Ragnar – you see not just an improvement in the technical capabilities of the IEMs, but also in the refinement of the sound. Viking Ragnar is at the peak of that refinement with an IEM that carefully balances each aspect of design – visual, technical, and musical – to create Noble’s best IEM yet, and one of the best IEMs on the market today.