The Merriam-Webster explains portable as "easy to carry or move around." In the past, my decision-making mechanism about buying portable gear was actually based on non-portable apps. I sought a sound with studio-recording fidelity: lots of details, clarity and wide dynamic range. I had good reason for that. Whenever I had listened to fun-sounding headphones or warm portable digital sources, I got muddy bass and very narrow soundstaging coupled to lush midrange or treble. My natural conclusion from that was basic. Go analytical. However, that ended up not really fitting my walking, reading or traveling moods. I simply could not focus on what I was reading during muted trumpet crescendos. I struggled with getting involved in the music whilst drinking coffee in my favourite coffee shop listening to my favourite vocal Jazz recordings. I felt between the devil and deep blue sea. And, the Prestige was really no bridge across that double-edged sword. It was not a fully balanced headphone, not even the best in any specific field. I'd heard bigger soundstages, deeper bass, more accurate holographic imaging, better extension etc. But, it had its own magic – the magic which creates soundtracks for your life. It made my walking sessions more romantic and vigorous. When I read again the Memed, My Hawk tetralogy, the Noble recreated Ince Memed’s fight in a more polite way. When I smiled at that girl, it showered more sparks on that moment. With its involving musical character, it made my life more musical. Let’s find out what made it so.


My daily listening sessions usually begin at 6am on the main stereo whilst I brew coffee with my Hario or Aeropress. After stretching, a light breakfast, meditation and planning out my day, I pick up my Lotoo Paw Gold and Prestige, leave the apartment and walk to the hospital. Meanwhile I listen to vocals, chamber music, some acoustic jazz or classical. I might pick John Coltrane or Miles Davis for my down time at the hospital, Bill Evans for the return home. If I feel lively, I go to the coffee shop and read some books whilst I double-task with some vocal albums for atmosphere. When I get back home, I fire up the main hifi for my evening rituals. When I wrote this review, I mostly ran classical albums from Daniel Hope, Nicola Benedetti, George Szell and Vadim Gluzman, some instrumental albums from Ry Cooder, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Antonio Forcione, some soundtracks from Alexandre Desplat, Gustavo Santaolalla and Thomas Newman, some electronica from Amon Tobin to Carbon Based Lifeforms, some fusion from Arve Henriksen and Miles Davis and some Jazz with Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane and Dave Holland on my Paw Gold.


My first take on the musical presentation of the Prestige was its tonal balance. The frequency response did not coincide with a flat line. Whilst the midrange was neutral and very well textured, the bass was a little more weighty, the treble a touch rolled off. This combination of attributes pushed the presentation a bit forward compared to the analytical Hidition NT6. In addition, the soundstage was smaller. It felt that I was sitting closer to stage. Despite its vivid and palpably forward projection, the Noble felt relaxed, easygoing and immediate. I never became fatigued with the Prestige in my ears. The musicians were right before me without seeming aggressive.


As my relationship with the Prestige evolved, I realized that its softer treble was actually spot on for portability. I prefer to hear the hard metallic upper harmonics of Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers’ reeds on Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds on my big rig, not portable system. The Prestige’s soft gentle treble made it richer and warmer, me less stressed when I was getting chores done. Yet that never made it feel slow or lacking in detail. True, it was no monitor CIEM like the Hidition NT6. Still, it had air, life, and openness. Top-octave air and extension in fact were excellent. As is the rule in hifi land, if you get just one thing right, it ought to be the midrange. Here the Prestige’s textures gave life to instruments to make it one of the most cohesive and involving CIEM I'd heard. The midrange was pure and open. In The Silver Violin by Nicola Benedetti, she sounded natural and free of colorations. The Prestige read the violin with a sense of palpable presence. In Gustavo Santaolalla’s video game soundtrack The Last of Us which I played with pleasure on my PlayStation 4, his guitar was smooth and velvety and had clarity, detail and transparency. Particularly on stringed instruments like violin or guitar, the midrange textures were sweet, liquid and devoid of glassy edge or hardness.
 

 
As stated, the bass was a little weighty. Still, the Prestige reproduced entirely enjoyable music, not adolescent earthquakes or poor one-note pounding. It had PRaT and very specific pitch. Without said pitch definition down low, the bass could seem dull and empty which definitely was not the case for the Kaiser 10. On Keith Jarrett’s live album Inside Out, Gary Peacock’s bass was most precise. On Carbon Based Lifeforms’ Interloper, it was deep, taut, agile and clean. The amount of bass was more than I'm used to but not bloated or overwhelming. In fact, it made my listening times during the daily walks to and from work more pleasant. On Coltrane’s Soultrane, Paul Chambers’ double bass exhibited the full range of purring sounds with warmth and body. Extension was great, transient response impeccable. I was impressed by the way the Prestige handled bass for the very first time in my personal CIEM journey. Excellent job!
 

 
I could not really tell whether the soundstage was better than over the Lear LCM BD4.2, Hidition NT6 or Custom Art Harmony 8 Pro. I couldn't really say that width was narrower or constricted, depth foreshortened or flat. Just so, the Prestige had me listen to more chamber music than big orchestral, jazz quartets and quintets over big bands. On the other hand, its imaging was focused and razor sharp. In Daniel Hope’s Spheres, the artists' representations on the stage were never blurred or homogenized. The dynamic range too was decompressed. In George Szell’s Schumann Symphonies with the Cleveland Orchestra, the musical expressions conveyed wide dynamic contrasts from pianissimo to triple forte. In addition, the strings, winds, timpani or brasses weren't ponderous. With Arve Henriksen’s Cartography, no matter how loudly I played the album, the sound never became congested. Its effortless dynamics in fact made the Prestige seem more prestigious.

One more thing was the Prestige’s powerful musicality. Boy did it have that. I could not easily disengage from my tunes. One of the hardest things writing this review was that every time I tried to sit and write down my impressions, I found myself day-dreaming, reading or lying down. I was enjoying most excellent company with my inner self. To write for our Turkish magazine Andante about the Lear, Custom Art or Hidition had been a lot easier than now attempting to criticize the Prestige in these pages.


The Lear BD 4.2 had been strangely uninvolving, the Custom Art Harmony 8 Pro sluggish with overwhelming bass, the Hidition NT6 too analytical for portable pleasure though still my reference against which to judge others. The Prestige was different. It educated me on what a top CIEM should really be and have. The only thing I would still like to change is its soundstage. A little bigger and deeper would make Noble’s Prestige a personal lifetime keeper. Still, I would not dream of wearing another custom or universal IEM when I go out. Every other CIEM company should listen to these and reconsider what music lovers on the move are seeking. In Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, Cutter advises: "Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it because of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled."


Are you listening closely?


Nobel Audio website