disclaimer: I was sent the Noble Savant II by Ngoshawk for purposes of this review. Once finished, they were returned to him and I have received no remuneration of any kind for this review. Ngoshawk has a blog with a lot of good reviews so if looking for some 2nd opinions or additional reading, I highly recommend it. For more information on Noble Audio products or to purchase them, visit Noble’s website.
Unboxing / Packaging:
One has a right to expect better than average packaging when looking at a bespoke version of a $500 in ear and the Savant II doesn’t disappoint. The box is understated with the Noble name on front and logo and wizard signatures on the edges. Once you lift the top, you are greeted with a tidy foam surround with a round metal case at top and a pelican hard case in the lower section. All other items are tucked neatly inside the two cases. The overall package consists of a velvet carry bag, the two previously mentioned cases, a carabiner for the pelican case, a pair of noble stacking straps, a cleaning tool, and 12 sets of tips of various types in addition to the cable and earpieces themselves. The kit from Lynn also included a 2.5mm balanced Effect Audio Ares II that originally shipped with a different iem but he preferred on the Savant. I like the pelican cases as they don’t cramp the earpieces when stored with cable attached and allow for carrying a spare set of tips. I admit the tins are cosmetically more appealing, but for protecting your gear its hard to go wrong with the larger if less stylish case.
If you have become accustomed to the anodized aluminum face plate with the Noble crown and an acrylic body beneath being the typical offering from Noble, then the Savant II will come as a bit of a surprise. If you are familiar with the Wizard sub-branding, then the Savant II will seem much more familiar. All of the Wizard models have a very similar shell design that is smaller than the standard models and is entirely either acrylic or wood depending on model and price point. All of the wizard designs can be thought of as one-off or bespoke models as while each lot will have similar designs, no two are exactly alike and each is handmade . This particular model came from lot #22 if I am reading the paperwork right. Unfortunately, the Noble site was devoid of any content the day I went to look these up as they were in the middle of a site update. The face plate on this set has a red/gray swirl design with a metal flake appearance to the red that gives them a very unique appearance without being loud or obnoxious in the process. Inner shells are Jet black and have Wizard and S II etched on the bottom surface. Nozzles are cast as part of the shell with two sound bores and accept standard T400 size tips. The Savant II falls on the small side of the spectrum (another departure from the standard models) and should fit easily in all but the smallest ears. The small size and lack of weight make the Savant II a very comfortable in-ear for all day wear, but at the same time limits isolation unless foams are used.
The Savant II internals are an upgrade from the original Savant based on feedback from the community and it does have a different tuning when put side by side with the original. They are both dual driver models but not much other information is readily available as Noble tends to be pretty tight lipped about which companies drivers are used (Sonion or Knowles) and any other internal elements that are used for tuning the sound. Noble has done a lot of development in the dual driver space including the Sage, Savant, and their collaboration with Massdrop the X. One would expect that all would share a similar house sound, but I found the Savant II was more of a reimagining than a tune-up. Numbers are hard to come by as all I found was that impedance was listed as less than 30Ω and the Savant II was designed to be driven from a smart phone without need of an external amplifier. My best estimate is that senstivity is somewhere in the 103 dB/mW range based on my own comparisons to known sets. I did find the Savant II easy to drive but it scales qualitatively quite well so a good source is recommended. I also found the Savant II to be more than a little source dependent. More on that in a bit.
The stock cable shipped with the Savant II is the 4 wire SPC tinsel style shipped with the less expensive models and is a distinct step down from the silver-plated litz that ships with the Katana or Khan but at the price point, some sacrifices are to be expected. Connectors, as with all Noble products I am aware of are .78mm bi-pin in black plastic housings at the north end. Pre-formed earhooks exit the connectors and then two wire twists exit below those. A clear tube chin-slider is provided and sits neatly atop the polished metal barrel shaped splitter. The splitter itself has a small noble crown on it which is the only identifier I could find to suggest who made it (typical noble understatement perhaps). Below the splitter the wire is a 4 wire braid down to the straight 3.5mm jack. The jack housing is gloss black and matches neither the polished silver slider or the flat black housings of the connectors at the north end. That is the only oddity to my eye in a design that otherwise seems to have spent a great amount of time working on the details.
The Ares II that Lynn sent along is a step up in build, but also in price so one should expect it to be as the Ares II retails for almost half as much as the Savant II by itself as in the configuration received the list price is $169 USD. I’ve included pictures here, but since most wont necessarily want or purchase the Eros cable, all sound notes are done with the stock cable.
The Savant II comes with an embarrassingly large variety of tips with foams in 3 sizes, and 3 different styles of silicone tips. I hate using other peoples tips on a loaner due to sanitary concerns so promptly ignored all the tips in the package and installed a set of spin-fits instead. The spin-fit most closely approximates the red-stem tips provided with the Savant II. These worked well for me, but do understand that FR below may be slightly different with the provided tips and almost certainly will vary with the foams installed.
Sub-bass is not emphasized but is present when needed and has good weight for a BA arrangement. Quite frankly I have gotten used to what to expect from balanced armature bass and in some respects the Savant II does exactly that, its clean, well textured, but lacks that visceral thud of a dynamic and rolls off a bit higher up than the best dynamics as well. Where the Savant II departs from that common description, is that it comes closer to feeling like a dynamic than most. While certainly not a basshead in-ear, it does have rumble when called upon and has more weight in the low end than most pure BA models (particularly those with a single driver providing that low end). Roll-off only becomes evident below about 50Hz. Speed is good which lends to a well textured mid-bass but I actually finding myself wishing for slightly less speed in decay as I think it might make it a bit more natural sounding. Mid-bass fades just a touch as you head into the lower mids and doesn’t have any evident bleed. I think what surprises me here is the mid-bass remains clean and well textured but has more weight than typical of Balanced armatures in this role. Noble has definitely gone farther than most to tune the typical ba characteristics out of the Savant II and one could be fooled into thinking this was a dynamic driver iem at times.
Lower mids follow effortlessly from the mid-bass with a hint of warmth present, but no bleed and begin to step back slightly from the mid-bass peak. It is hard to call this a recess as it doesn’t sound at all so, more that the mid-bass at around 100Hz is slightly forward rather than the mids being slightly behind. Guitar growl is good and male vocals are well voiced and natural sounding but don’t always cut through the mix as well as their female counterparts do. As you move up the mids, voices do move a bit more forward and strings and female vocals are the biggest beneficiary of this. The Savant II is a great listen for string quartet pieces or violin concerto. I did find that even with the upper-mid push, the Savant II rarely has any sibilance and even on tracks that present it, the Savant II tends to smooth out the rough edge just a touch and keep it from being overly aggressive.
Lower treble starts off on the same plateau as the upper-mids before dropping back as it moves up. Details in the lower treble are good and textures well rendered. I was particularly pleased with the snare rattle as it is as natural as I’ve heard in this price bracket and while cymbals are not quite realistic, they come closer than most at this price point as well. As we move up, the treble takes a step back and can best be defined as polite and slightly laid back. Here is where the note earlier about source dependence comes in. With a warmer source, the treble sometimes loses a bit of its edge and becomes less detailed than with cooler sources. I found the WM1A to be particularly good with the Savant II while the Opus 1s was too much of a good thing and made the treble a bit too smoothed over for my liking. Extension is good with roll-off only becoming evident above about 12kHz.
Soundstage / Imaging:
The Savant II has a bit more stage width than depth and limited sense of height as well. In my normal game of seating the orchestra in my head, I found most positions to be easily identified and correct in placement with little overlap. Instrument separation is quite good which helps with the seating test. Movement is also accurately reproduced so becomes easily tracked and isolated within the sound field. Layering is good, but some compression does become evident on particularly busy tracks, especially when most of that complexity is in the lower ranges. Overall, the Savant II does well, but this is one category where it doesn’t break out of the class and challenge items in higher brackets.
A local friend has the Noble Sage and enjoys it, so I borrowed it to compare the two since both are Noble and both are dual balanced armature designs. The Sage is in the standard line so has a green aluminum face with acrylic shell behind it and is considerably larger and in my case less comfortable when compared to the Savant II. Sound wise the two are equally diverse which I didn’t expect. The Savant II is a nearly complete departure from the Sage so to call this a re-tuned Sage would be a mistake. Both have similar sub-bass energy, but the Savant is fuller by comparison and the Sage is quicker on attack and decay so is a bit cleaner, but thinner at the same time. That trend pretty much continues all the way through the sound spectrum as the Savant II tends to have more weight and thickness while the Sage is a bit thinner and more analytical in its delivery. The Sage also has more boost in the mids and pushes male vocals a bit forward and female vocals even more forward when compared to the Savant II. For me the take away here is, don’t think because you have tried one you know what the other is going to be, it is entirely possible you will find one considerably more to your liking than the other. for me, the Savant II wins the fight.
I cant help but compare the Savant II to the Fiio FH7 due to price equivalence, but here again the two have little other than that in common. The FH7 is an all metal shell on the larger side while the Savant II is all acrylic and considerably smaller. For those where fit issues are common, the Savant will win on that alone. For me, the FH7 fits acceptably and neither isolate enough better than the other to score a lot of points there. Sound wise, the biggest fault in the FH7 happens to fall in the same area as the biggest strength for the Savant II, mids. The FH7 comes across as distant, unattached and somewhat grainy compared to the Savant that is more fluid and emotional. The FH7 does have more bass punch and is better extended at the low end when compared to the Savant II. At the top end, the Savant is again more fluid while the FH7 is a bit more aggressive and can be prone to sibilance at times. As a lover of mids, the Savant gets the nod, but for those who’s listening habits are more popular genre’s I can see the tuning of the FH7 being more to their liking.
My go to for this price bracket is the 2nd generation Toneking T88k. The original T88k had a metal nozzle and a larger shell than the current generation which uses an acrylic nozzle made as part of the shell. This later version is the one I am referencing as the two do not sound identical. The biggest reason the T88k is my go to is mids. Put simply everything about the T88k centers around the mids. So when the Savant II was a similar tuning, I had to put them side by side. At the low end the T88k has a bit more grunt and extension vs the Savant, while the Savant’s bass boost is a bit further up the spectrum (60Hz or so for the t88k vs 120Hz for the Savant II). Mids on both are good but the edge goes to the T88k as it simply has a bit more detail and also the male vocals stand out a bit better. Treble, is a mixed bag with the Savant being a bit less prone to stridency, but a bit more laidback and lacking a little bit of the detail brought out by the T88k. This battle will come down to tuning and personal preference and I’ll admit to being torn.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
There was a time when I would have told you that there was no such thing as a dual balanced armature iem that could produce a really listenable signature. Boy how times change. First the Campfire Comet proved that a single BA could be made into a pretty darned good in ear, and now the Savant II is going up against my go-to, an 8 driver per side model, and giving it a fight that leads to a split decision with the Savant winning if you consider size and comfort in the equation. These small shops continue to stay one step ahead of the big boys because of this attention to detail. From the quality of the shell, to the effort given to selecting drivers and tuning them, the Savant shows that throughout. I understand why Lynn likes them as much as he does and I do agree that these may be the best of the dual driver Noble models to date. Having said that, they command a hefty price, not flagship money, but certainly not skip lunch a couple of days pocket change either, so one needs to be certain this is what they want to drop that much cash on. Those looking for great mids, a warm signature with good weight, and a polite treble in a comfortable package will certainly want to audition the Savant II. Its better than I thought a dual balanced armature could be. (Insert idiot joke here, yeah, by now one is overdue right?)
- Bass - 7.5/107.5/10
- Mids - 8/108/10
- Treble - 7/107/10
- Soundstage - 7/107/10
- Imaging - 7.5/107.5/10
Pros – fantastic build quality, small size, better warmth and weight to signature than anticipated
Cons – limited extension on both ends, price