Zephyros was the Greek god of the west wind. The west wind was the gentlest of winds, and the harbinger spring in times of plenty. In that spirit, the Noble Zephyr is very much like a warm spring breeze: an IEM with a gentle touch. But is a gentle spring breeze maybe a little boring when you could have earth-shaking visceral bass? Let’s find out!
The Build and Design
Zephyr is a three driver hybrid design with two balanced armature drivers and a dynamic driver for the bass. Originally available as a custom design in a number of finishes, the universal version has a grey aluminum shell with a ceramic faceplate featuring carbon fiber-like design. The IEM itself is moderate weight, and generally about the same size as other Noble IEMs, though with a slightly more ergonomic shape than its nearest neighbor, the Tux 5.
The package includes the typical Noble Audio pack-ins: a sturdy Pelican case, a broad selection of silicone and foam IEMs, some other assorted case candy, and the Noble 8-core cable. Noble’s 8-core cable always has a good feel to it, being tangle resistant with no memory. Aesthetically, the whole thing feels a bit dark – with a grey shell, black faceplate, and black cable – for an IEM named after a gentle breeze, but the design is all quite nice, and the materials and package premium.
I’ve heard of bass-heads and I’ve even heard of treble-heads, but is there such a thing as “neutral-heads?” If so, this is a great IEM for those guys. The Zephyr’s defining characteristic is an impeccably balanced, neutral, natural sound. The bass and treble are both well extended and largely linear. The mids are detailed and coherent. The instrument and vocal timbre is lifelike. There’s not one major thing that pops out at you, other than how nice everything plays together.
The bass is fast and tight, with great linear extension into the sub-bass. There’s a good sense of texture and detail with a wide range of instruments that live in the low end, from dirty, fuzzed up industrial synthesizers to a clean, smooth acoustic upright bass. The mids provide good vocal presence and near flagship level performance in terms of coherence, layering, and the presentation of detail. The treble feels, much like the bass, quite linear, with no major rolloffs or peaks. There’s a good sense of air without any harsh or sharp overtones.
In terms of soundstage and imaging, the soundstage is a good size – not huge, but not “intimate.” It presents as a bit deeper than wider as well. The imaging is excellent with a great sense of accurate positioning. If I had to pick one very strong characteristic of the Zephyr to call out – other than it being a great IEM for neutral-heads – the imaging is definitely a highlight.
Listening to “You Are a Tourist” by Death Cab for Cutie, I was struck by the ebb and flow of glitched out synthesizers in the background shifting from the left to right throughout the song – a detail I’d never caught before. As layers of stereo guitars and panned synths build – guided by the drum bass and vocals coming straight down the middle – there’s a real sense of the physical space all these instruments and voices are residing in, and a sense that you can just close your eyes and follow any one of them with perfect clarity from one end of the song to the other.
“Berceuse (Lullaby)” into the “Finale” from Stravinksy’s Firebird Suite is one of my favorite pieces of modern classical music. In the same way that Zephyr manages layers of electronic instruments and guitars for Death Cab for Cutie, it deftly manages and presents orchestration orders of magnitude more complicated. Zephyr’s neutrality, imaging, and detail prove to be phenomenal for classical listening, and it also demonstrates excellent transient and response and dynamics through the slow build up from the quiet lullaby through the climax of the entire musical suite. The horns also help demonstrate Zephyr’s well-balanced treble as they’re lively and punch through the mix without sounding harsh or fatiguing.
On Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” there’s a great sense of space from the various ambient tones that surround the listener. The vocals are clear and up front, and the harmonies blend nicely. The core band feels well-placed on a stage in front of you, with the rest of the instrumentation coming from above and all around. The tone and timbre of the various instruments are well captured, from the bright acoustic strumming to the horns, vibraphone, and other instruments surrounding you. And of course, the most important part of any Pink Floyd song, the guitar solo is presented strongly, with fire and emotion behind it.
For listening I used the iFi iDSD Diablo, Astell&Kern KANN Alpha, Astell&Kern SE200, and a handful of low power sources like my phone and laptop. My first listen was with the Diablo – a quite neutral source – and I found the combo to possibly be a little bit too neutral. The Astell&Kern DAPs have just a touch more color and musicality which really brought the Zephyr to life. Interestingly enough, the strong mids in the Zephyr really highlighted some differences in the midrange on the KANN Alpha and SE200 AKM Channel, which I hadn’t noticed before. So it that way, the Zephyr’s balance and neutrality helped me audition the DAPs as much as the DAPs helped my audition the Zephyr.
The Bottom Line
The Zephyr doesn’t have exciting, powerful, in-your-face-bass, nor does it have tons of bright sparkly treble with the feeling of a massive soundstage. Instead, it’s controlled, balanced, and neutral. But controlled, balanced, and neutral doesn’t mean boring, Zephyr has a natural, transparent sound, and excellent spatial positioning, making it a strong pick for listeners looking for an honest IEM that retains a great sense of musicality.