Pop In: Noble Audio Trident IEM ReviewNovember 12, 2016
As I sit here in the cubicle of my nine-to-five anxiously awaiting payday, I’m happily rockin’ a review unit of Noble Audio’s Trident—the $399 “entry-level” in-ear monitor (IEM) in the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company’s new Classic universal line—and wondering how much of that paycheck I’ll actually end up holding onto.
For a few weeks now, I’ve been enjoying what Noble Audio describes as one of its “Generic fit in-ear monitors for immediate gratification with little commitment.” You see, the Trident and its siblings in the new Classic universal line forgo costly all-out custom designs and molds in order to lower the price point. But at $399, I’ll argue that the Trident still requires buying “commitment.” Heck, it should even be safe from what The Spirited Uncle M would call “Cheap, cheap, cheap.”
But is its poppy performance worth the premium?
Drop a Bundle, Get a Box
But not just any box. A $399 IEM should arrive in style, right? Noble Audio doesn’t disappoint—appearances are a big part of the brand. The Trident arrives in a fitted cardboard outer carton embellished with Noble Audio’s crown; flipping the top open reveals an elegantly stylized matte display black box with “Noble” and “Wizard” branding in contrasting gloss black fonts. Slide the top off and you come face to face with a genuine, made in the USA, Pelican 1010 water-resistant, dustproof and crushproof micro case that holds the goods you’ve been waiting for.
All That You Need, or Almost
There’s no skimping on accessories. Packed in the Pelican 1010 micro case is a branded black velvet storage pouch, two branded rubber gear bands, two large stickers, an earwax removal tool and cleaning brush, one carabiner, 11 sets of ear tips (including foam and hybrid and bi-flange silicone options) secured on an aluminum card that rests perfectly inside the Pelican case, and a matching aluminum owner’s card. In other words, everything that you need to enjoy the Trident is included—with the exception of a shirt clip.
No shirt clip, no deal? Nah, but shirt clips do help with cable security and minimizing cable thumping when on the go (just something to consider Noble Audio).
Speaking of the cable, the Trident’s is a detachable no-nonsense four-wire braid in gloss black that terminates into standard two-pin connectors at the IEM and a slim 3.5mm plug at the business end. It’s super light and super pliable, has absolute minimal microphonics, memory tubing guides the cable over the ear and a clear sliding tube acts as a chin lock, and its only embellishment is a small metallic Y-splitter. It gets the job done and that’s about all that has to be said about it. And before you ask, no, there’s no inline mic or remote.
A Fitting Finish
Noble Audio makes good looking IEMs (check out this #audioporn). End of story. Seriously though, there’s a lot to like about the two-tone Trident. Its two-piece housing has a machined aluminum faceplate that’s dimpled like a golf ball, or maybe a honey comb, and is emblazoned with a recessed Noble Audio crown logo. Despite being unseen when in use, the deep gray composite shell is infused with silver flecks. The new housing isn’t just supposed to look good though, it’s also supposed have a better fit and feel compared to past generic-fit models.
As a Noble Audio newbie I can’t confirm that, but I can confirm that the Trident is incredibly light, allowing for long listening sessions without the slightest hint of ear fatigue. The Trident really disappears in the ear—only figuratively, of course, because the Trident’s egg-shaped profile and bulbous housing positions it prominently in the ear.
In other words, don’t expect a fully flush or discrete fit. How the Trident’s housing and funnel-shaped nozzle mate with your ear determines how far in it will sit and how secure the fit will be.
Ear tip selection is important here. Take the time to test the different sizes and styles to determine which tip fits and performs best. I personally only liked the large foam tips. They gave me the most secure fit and isolation, but I still didn’t feel confident enough to don the $399 Trident in the gym or on my bike. For what it’s worth, my ears tend to be picky with IEMs; there are plenty of Noble Audio aficionados that find the fit to be very, very good indeed.
The Sound of U
Looks and fits don’t matter much if the sound isn’t stellar. Thankfully, the Trident’s “pop” rendition can be downright riveting—with the right music. Fire up The Sound Apprentice Electric Vibes Spotify playlist and see how long you can resist the urge to dance right out of your listening chair. Head bobbing and toe tapping, at the very least, become mandatory when the Trident’s three independently-tuned balanced armature drivers start firing.
The Trident nails audiophile-grade snap, crackle and pop. With a U-shaped sonic signature defined by quick, punchy bass, crisp, cool mids, and slightly elevated highs, the Trident effortlessly energizes the music it’s injecting into your ears. Poppy electronic beats? Yes, please. Queue up some Odesza and Purity Ring, Bonobo and Tycho, Phantogram and Glass Animals and hear what the Trident can do.
Bass is a particular strong suit of the Trident, or maybe I should say clean bass. The Trident doesn’t rumble your eardrums with boomy beats, it delivers a refined low-end with effortless extension. It’s markedly clean and controlled; it hits just hard enough and then gets out of the way. Sure, a touch more sub-bass would sound more club-like, but the Trident’s balanced tone and timbre and fast pace are more along the lines of what reaching Audio Nirvana is all about.
Shifting into the mid-range, clean and controlled remains the name of the game. Crisp and clear, and maybe a touch cool, the Trident tames chesty vocalists and leans out acoustic guitars and brass instruments—standard fare for a “pop” sound signature that demands that bass and treble reign supreme. Don’t mistake this as meaning that the mids are so recessed that they’re blown out by the bass and trampled over by the treble; I’m just saying that the Trident wouldn’t be my first choice for playing back Damien Rice’s delicate tracks or something visceral from Deftones. Dirty Heads and Mac Miller I can get down with, though, because the Trident still knows how to move this kind of music with liveliness and a good amount of detail and texture—from finger snaps and hand claps, to tom-toms and synths, all are rendered cleanly with excellent clarity and crispness that’s further emphasized by the Trident’s treble.
Tinged with a touch of extra sparkle, the Trident’s treble effortlessly springs into action. It’s articulate and alive, but not quite aggressive. It toes the line of being sizzly, then surprises by retreating to deliver solid snare snaps and cutting cymbal taps. It’s not grainy, but it’s got zing. It zips through thick bass lines, but refrains from getting too glassy or harsh despite being quite revealing. Hot, treble-heavy recordings certainly come off as brittle, but you can’t really blame the Trident for that. The Trident wasn’t made to tame toppy recordings, it was made to energize your music, and it does just that.
All said and done, the Trident pretty much nails the “pop” sound. Plus, it sounds big. The Trident exhibits an expansive headstage, at times sounding closer to what you’d get out of a full-size, closed-back headphone—the music hits right between your eyes and stretches well beyond your ears. It has ambiance. It stirs up phantom images. Play Yosi Horikawa’s “Bubbles” and you’ll really hear what I mean.
The Trident is also hypersensitive. Even without an amp the Trident gets loud quick, but I won’t steer you away from using one—$399 IEMs deserve to be fed the best signal you can give them. Just beware that too much gain can cause some current hiss, but that’s typical of sensitive IEMs.
With its articulate and airy three-dimensional sound stage, there’s little to dislike about the Trident. I’ll just point out a few of things to think about. The Trident’s pop sound signature limits its versatility. If you primarily listen to electronic, pop, reggae and hip-hop music, the Trident may send you straight to Audio Nirvana. If you generally listen to a wider variety of music that favors a warmer and more full-bodied sound, you might find Audio Nirvana to be a bit more elusive considering that the Trident can be a bit lean, particularly with acoustic, jazz, rock and folk. If you’re a basshead, the Dulce Bass is Noble Audio’s offering for you. While the Trident has excellent bass quality, it can lack quantity in the sub-bass department that EDM and rap often taps into.
Tapping the Trident for your next IEM takes commitment. At $399 it’s not a small purchase to make, but performance always comes at a premium. If pop is your prerogative, part with your money now. The premium paid for Noble Audio’s wares grants access to the Wizard, Dr. John Moulton, a trained audiologist, an audio enthusiast like you and me, and the main man behind Noble Audio’s signature sounds. In this case, the Wizard’s take on pop is spot-on, refined and rewarding. Defined by punchy bass, crisp mids and engaging highs, the Trident has audiophile-grade snap, crackle and pop. No pun intended.