Pros: Excellent lows
Nice ear tips selection
Update 15 Feb 2023: I paired the KK with a new M6U from shop.Musicteck.com and it completely changed how the KK operated, so I’ve updated portions of my review below – it’s propelled the KK from my #2 spot in my rankings to my #1, just ahead of the Aroma Thunder (which nows sounds a tad muddier.)
Overview / Tech:
Welcome to the new review template. Yep, that’s right – round 3 of reworking my scoring and review breakdown. I got tired of the sound of IEMs mattering so little in the scoring – I mean the Moondrop Chu had a 6/10 and is still one of the worst overall IEMs I’ve encountered – it should be a 3 maybe. So, with the reworked breakdown, the sound is a total of 70/100 points, and quality, comfort, cable, accessories, etc. are 30/100. It doesn’t help my scoring that I mostly review products that I already know are going to be good for the most part, no point in spending my own money on trash (no one has felt like sending me free stuff that sounds terrible yet.) Comparisons have no points, but get their own separate section since I was kind of neglecting the comparisons – ‘cause tired (I put out a lot of reviews in a very small period of time – kinda burnt out and I still have…7 sets on my desk to review.) Also, the price has been removed from the points entirely – I couldn’t find a good place to fit it in and it’s pretty subjective anyway – it will however be mentioned in the comparisons section if something has a really good performance for the price (HEXA) or a terrible performance for the price (SA6.) If you don’t like the new format…I couldn’t really care less since I don’t work for you or anyone else – I’ll change it if I feel like it. Feel free to send me hate PMs so I know who to block.
OK, enough about that. Today for review I have The Dragon (man, that would be a cool IEM name, someone name their IEM that and send me a pair to review.) I call Noble’s Kublai Khan (KK) The Dragon because it has more dragons on it than any other IEM I’ve ever seen (3 to be exact.) They even managed to put tiny dragons on their Bone Conduction Drivers (BCD.) So, that’s cool – tribal dragons are cool. The Kublai Khan is of course an upgrade to the original Khan and it is a quad-brid (4 different types of drivers.) You’ve got a 10mm Dynamic Driver for the bass, a BCD subwoofer, 4x BA drivers for mids, and a 10mm piezo super tweeter for the highs. The Kublai Khan retails for $2600 and you can buy it here: Audio46.
Accessories / Earpads / Eartips (10/10):
The Khan comes with a really nice box, which is cool, but unnecessary. The NANUK Pelican-style case the IEMs come in though is really nice though – easily the nicest carrying case I’ve ever seen IEMs come with, though not pocketable like most. I’m pretty sure if I walked into work with this, security would tackle me. At least it’s easy to open, unlike the Aroma Thunder’s box. Also, it comes with a smaller leather travel case inside and a soft baggy to protect…whatever you put in there. The ear tips are really nice with some foam tips and some silicone tips, but I’m using my Small Spinfit W1s (available here if you want some: https://amzn.to/3xiWS8A) since I know they give me a good seal and don’t fall out (I have some new AZLA tips on the way to play with soon, but they’re not here yet.) 10 points because I really have nothing to mark this off for.
Well, since I bought mine used (I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $2,600 laying around) mine didn’t come with the stock cable. I have no idea how the stock cable is, though it looks like a decently nice, if a little tangly/kinky, cable in the photos. That sort of skews the score on this one since mine came with a Liquid Links Martini ($350) upgrade cable (not a fan, but my Leyding won’t fit because the KK is recessed.) The Martini sounds good, if a bit heavy and a bit tangly. It’s decent quality with a 4.4mm connection, but I can’t score this section based off of an aftermarket cable. So, I’m going to give the stock cable the benefit of the doubt a rank it at an 8/10 for the tangliness/kinkiness.
Build Quality/ Design / Comfort (8/10):
Nice. Really solid build quality. Vented and with a built-in nozzle instead of the Thunder’s molded resin tip. It’s a nice touch. The dragons are of course cool and the Noble symbol looks good as well. I love the smokey/metallic look to the faceplate, though the all-black body is boring, a massive fingerprint and dust magnet, and has got nothing on the FAudio Mezzo LE. The silver BCD discs with the dragons on them I mentioned previously are awesome looking and a nice additional touch. Carrying the faceplate’s smokey look throughout the shell would have been cool. Still, the build quality and design is good.
These are not as thick as the chonky Thunder, or even the Mezzo, but they are bigger than both and compete with the monarch for overall size. That said, they’re pretty comfy in my large-sized ears. They also stick out mostly and are held in by the cable and the ear tips mostly. Overall, the comfort is good – I wore them for a long time without any discomfort. The overall score in this category is an 8/10 due to the size and the design quibbles.
Looking at the Squig.link below from HBB, you can see how closely the KK tracks to the Thieaudio Monarch Mk2’s (MMk2) sound signature. You get a tiny bit more bass from the MMk2, but just barely, and you get more highs in the upper-mids/low-highs – again, just barely. Both IEMs are boosted bass, and forward mids IEMs with solid treble presence. I am powering the KK from my Shanling M3 Ultra (M3U) from the 4.4mm balanced connection (my M6U hasn’t gotten here yet.) I am using volume level 29/100 on low gain, which is pretty good (not Mezzo good though) and less power than the Monarch takes for the same volume level. While I have included the MMk2 on the frequency response graph, I no longer have it, so I will be comparing the KK to the Thunder, which I can’t find a frequency response graph with the KK to compare. I do have the Thunder (same retail price) on my desk though, so I’ll be doing back-to-backs in the comparison section with those.
The bass on the KK is really good – the bass drums in the intro of David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue)” have excellent impact, though they have a little extra reverb – similar to the Thunder. It’s not as tight as the Mezzo’s bass if that’s your preference. The sub-bass is strong, though not quite Thunder strong, with good reverberation and a bit of that breath-stopping quality I want to see from sub-bass on this song.
Demon Hunter’s “I Am a Stone” is an excellent bass test song, not to see how strong the bass is, but to see if the bass overwhelms the rest of the song. Luckily, I can report that the KK manages to have a good level of bass-strings without overwhelming the vocals or the mid-strings. It’s not the best bass I’ve ever heard, but it’s close enough that I’m only pulling one point for the slightly bloated low-end.
Weaving The Fate’s “The Fall” is a great guitar test song for mids and vocals. The guitar in the intro comes in cleanly and the vocals are nice and forward enough that I can find no qualms with the mids on this song despite the large soundstage (more on that later.) Both distorted and clean guitars sound really good on this song – more detailed than on the Thunder using the M6U.
Staind’s “Something to Remind You” has beautifully clean guitars and wonderful vocals on the KK. Each note can be clearly heard.
The only problem I have with the mids on the KK is that it feels like they’re missing something special that the Thunder has, the KK feels more clinical and passionless here – a little more cold than warm. It’s still technically excellent, but it feels like it has less emotion than the Thunder. Update with the M6U: this sounds really fantastic on the KK with the M6U – changing the source added the passion back into this song for the KK. Oddly, I have to run these at a higher volume on the more powerful M6U with the KK at 37/100 on low gain (Thunder runs at 32/100 here.)
To test classical mids, I’m using The Piano Guys’ “Code Name Vivaldi” which has very clean strings throughout the intro. The piano also sounds good. Each instrument can be heard clearly and accurately.
Once again, these don’t have that emotional feeling with classical that the Mezzo can provide, and some instruments feel a little clangy on the KK, but the overall is very good. M6U Update: the M6U managed to add the emotion back into this song and the presentation is fantastic now – these IEMs really benefit from a high-quality source (not that the M3U is bad, but the M6U is just better.) It really feels like I’m in the room they’re playing this song in – pretty epic.
To test sibilance on headphones I use Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes.” Typically, the better the highs on my later test songs, the worse a headphone does on the sibilance test. That is the case for sure here with quite a bit of sharpness/sibilance on the vocals on this song – completely expected. That means the highs on the next songs should be great.
The first highs test song I’ll be using is Dream Theater’s “The Alien,” which I use to test and see if the cymbals/high-hats/snare can be clearly heard and distinguished from the rest of the music. On the KK, they most certainly can be heard clearly and this is now one of the best headphones I’ve heard for highs (if you want to avoid hearing cymbals, this is not the IEM for you.) This beats the Mezzo’s excellent performance and the much cheaper, but still impressive, DUNU SA6’s highs performance. It just slightly trumps the Thunder’s performance by about a point.
Michelle McLaughlin’s “Across The Burren” is another of my favorite highs/sharpness test songs as it can easily sound painful on some headphones. The KK does not fair as well on this song for the same reason that it doesn’t fair as well on “High Hopes.” The more pronounced the highs on “The Alien,” the worse the performance on this song. I had to turn the song down a bit because the sharpness on some notes was pretty painful. That said, with a lower volume, this song sounds quite nice. If you’re looking to hear every cymbal note in your music, the KK is the IEM to get, but I do need to pull points for sharpness and sibilance.
Soundstage / Instrument Separation (9/10):
The soundstage on the KK is the best I’ve ever heard on an IEM – it’s large without making the mids feel distant – very impressive. The instrument separation is good, but not the best I’ve ever heard – the Thunder is better. Still, overall, this is a good presentation.
OK, I don’t know anyone who has had the Thunder and the KK to review back-to-back, so this should be kind of interesting since they’re both $2,600 IEMs.
Admittedly, I have already listened to both, and I prefer the Thunder. Here’s why, and you may like the KK more for the reasons I like the Thunder more. M6U Update: both IEMs are fantastic, with the KK being more detailed and the Thunder being a tad muddier – the M6U added back in the sound that was missing from the M3U to the KK. Both IEMs have good bass, but I prefer the KK’s mid-bass because it’s cleaner and tighter – just barely. I prefer the Thunder’s sub-bass because it has more of that breath-stopping, chills-inducing feel to it. The KK has a bigger soundstage, and both sound really fantastic. The Thunder has slightly better instrument separation (11 freaking drivers), but it’s so close that you could hardly tell. Both IEMs have some sharpness and sibilance in the 3k+ freq range and really good highs representation for cymbals and high-hats – almost identical in fact. So, it comes down to a narrow win for the Thunder for me based on the warmer-sounding mids. After switching to the m6U, the KK actually takes the win (barely) because the Thunder now sounds a tad blurrier than the KK in the mids and the M6U adds the emotion back to the KK that was missing previously. Bravo Noble, bravo Aroma.
The Noble Kublai Khan is a really good IEM that competes quite nicely in this price bracket. It has slightly better mids and highs than the Thunder, with more clinical-sounding mids. I’ll likely be going back and forth between the two for quite some time. The Mezzo will also probably continue to surprise me since every time I listen to that I like it more. You can’t go wrong with any of these three or even the VE8, though I’d say the KK and Thunder trump the VE8 slightly with newer tech. So, if you want good bass, a massive soundstage, solid instrument separation, precise mids, and really clear highs, the KK is a great option. Now, what’s next?
|Headphone Scoring (v2):|
|Accessories / Earpads / Eartips ( /10):||10|
|Cable ( /10):||8|
|Build Quality/ Design / Comfort ( /10):||8|
|Lows ( /20):||19|
|Mids ( /20):||19|
|Highs ( /20)||18|
|Soundstage / Instrument Separation ( /10):||9|