11. June 2021 · Comments Off on Noble & Noble Nobilis Sonum 98 Loudspeaker System · Categories: Hifi News, Hifi Reviews, Loudspeakers. · Tags: , , , , , ,

NOBLE AND NOBLE NOBILIS SONUM REVIEW

Noble & Noble based in the Netherlands has brought to market what they are calling the World’s first seven-sided loudspeaker system in the shape of their Nobilis Sonum 98 Loudspeaker System. It’s an interesting concept that includes onboard amps and digital processing with a cost of a few euros short of twenty grand. Stuart Smith plugs them in and takes a listen.

Noble & Noble Nobilis Sonum 98

The Nobilis Sonum 98 is an elegant and well-proportioned loudspeaker system that is visually unobtrusive.

Noble and Noble are a Dutch brand based in Groningen in the North of the Netherlands. The team is made up of Rob Meijst who is the Chief Engineering Officer, Roderick Vos the Chief Design Officer, and Jacob Gunter who is the company’s Chief Executive. I particularly like Rob’s outlook and his life motto “Be unique, be different, and be excellent” as it is something that pretty much reflects the approach that we have had from the outset of Hifi Pig – though that uniqueness is often imitated in time. I also like Roderick’s statement that “design is all about craftsmanship; we have always loved a minimalist approach towards simple design matters.” This latter statement promises great things from this speaker system and suggests that there is nothing frivolous in the design and that form will very much follow function – a philosophy for design that both Linette and I are very much attuned to. And then there is Jacob who has a long history in the importing and distribution of high-end audio and whose stated goal is “ to have each and every music lover listen to the Noble & Noble speaker system so he or she can be submerged in all the emotions music can give us.” I like this latter point very much and go on about the equipment we use being the bridge between the music and our emotions all the time. So, the right people with the right ideas seem to be in place – let’s hope that the product that they have been working on since 2017 delivers on all these levels.

The Nobilis Sonum claims to be the first loudspeaker system with a 7th side and when they got in touch with us it was this unique and intriguing point that caught my attention. But what is it? Surely pretty much all speakers (bar the obvious like open baffles) have six sides given that the majority of speakers are made up of boxes that inherently have six sides – four at the sides and then a top and bottom. Essentially this seventh side is a separate baffle (for want of a better word) that incorporates the tweeter and an “inert ring” designed to cancel “cone surround distortion”. Have a look at the pictures as they will explain what is going on better than I ever could. The idea of all this is to create what is essentially and outwardly a six sided box that is resonance-free. Let’s have a closer look!

DESIGN AND BUILD

At first glance, the speakers look pretty conventional. They are a modestly proportioned floorstanding speaker that has a slight back slope above the tweeter. They look very elegant on their integrated plinth, stand a couple of centimetres shy of a metre, and are 18cm wide and 29cm deep with their matt-black finish looking very elegant and unassuming. On the face of it they don’t look anything special design-wise, with only the waveguide around the tweeter giving any distinction from many other floorstanders. However, it is on closer inspection that things start to get interesting.

Noble & Noble Back Panel

Around the back of the speakers showing the various connection options,.

Around the back of the speakers and towards the bottom is a panel that allows the connection of three digital sources via S/PDIF, AES and optical – there is no connection to allow USB connection which I think would have been useful as this is my usual go-to connection type from streamer to DAC. There’s also a couple of analogue inputs via XLR or unbalanced RCA.  Each speaker has a power inlet and the speakers are connected to one another via a supplied S/PDIF cable. Now, if you have a number of digital sources and a couple of analogue sources I can see cabling becoming messy as it just cannot be hidden away behind a rack as is the case with conventional speakers (bar the speaker cables, of course). As it is, in the pretty conventional set-up I’m using to test the speakers, the connections (and so cables) are: a power cable to each speaker, an AES cable to the left-hand speaker, a pair of RCA cables to the left-hand speaker and the S/PDIF cable that connects the two. That’s six cables in all that cannot be hidden from sight. I’d love to say that this potentially mess of cables bothers me  – it doesn’t, but I can see it irking some people who are a little more fastidious tidiness-wise than I. When I approached Noble & Noble about this they conceded that I was the second reviewer to mention this and they are now in discussions with the manufacturer of the amplifier modules.

Noble & Noble Loudspeakers

A diagram to show how the seventh side and driver array works.

Inside the speakers things get really interesting. Mounted behind the mid-bass driver that you see on the front of the speaker (actually it’s mounted on the rear front baffle (see pics)) is another mid-woofer. This back woofer is ‘connected’ to the front driver by a series of tubes and an aluminium rod and then to an internal panel. This internal panel sort of floats but is connected to the back panel – again, see pics. The rear driver’s back exits through a hole in the back panel of the loudspeakers. In turn, the front woofer is dampened by an inner ring on that “7th side”. It’s a complex design but the long and short of it is that it is designed to stop vibration and resonances. To demonstrate this lack of resonances the Noble and Noble website has a video in which a coin is placed on the top of the cabinet and which I will try and recreate during the review or more likely I’ll use some kind of app to measure vibrations. The whole point of all this attention to reducing mechanical resonances and having a resonance-free cabinet is to avoid their effects on the final sound we hear.

Along with the speakers comes an installation guide with an Allen key to uncouple the bolt that holds in the 7th side – there is a bolt at the bottom but this must not be touched but this is not mentioned in the set up guide and I had to ask for clarification before I set about installing the speakers. In fairness to Noble and Noble they immediately acknowledged this and said they would make this clear in future manuals. Updates of the firmware used in the speakers is made by connecting the speakers to the internet and Noble & Noble will do the rest – this will be automatic and free for all time say the company. To be clear, there is a USB input but this is not for audio and is used only for the manufacturer to configure the system.

Inside the speakers you have a pair of digital amplifiers and a digital processing system – so this is essentially a standalone system with you only needing to add a suitable source. The processor can handle files of up to 24/192 via the AES and S/PDIF inputs and 24/96 via the optical input. Again, it is worth mentioning the lack of USB input for audio. The sample rates should be sufficient for most but some may say that having provision for DSD would have been useful – personally, I rarely use DSD files and so this is of no issue whatsoever.

Along with the speakers comes a little remote that is small and plasticky but perfectly adequate. This remote will select the function (source), adjust volume, and also has a mute button. I do think that a better and more weighty remote would perhaps add a little to the overall feel of using the system as it is pretty much your only connection with the speakers. I spoke to Noble & Noble and they are working on a better remote.

That’s it. Unboxing and set up instructions are for the main part clear and simple to follow with only that second lower bolt causing any point of confusion during the process. I chose to set the speakers up using our Raspberry Pi streamer running Roipee and using a USB to S/PDIF converter for the main part plus a Leema CD player via S/PDIF and also via analogue outputs. This simple set-up covers pretty much all bases I see that the Noble & Noble system will be used in other than for use in a simple two-channel Audio Visual configuration where you can connect the speakers to a television or media player. The speakers were set up well out into the room and with a metre or so either side of them in a well-damped and acoustically treated space.

SOUND

The review wouldn’t be complete without me cranking the system up and checking the amount of vibration generated by the cabinets when played at volume. The results of the vibrometer test are impressive but the cabinets are not absolutely inert at volume. I used a simple android app on the phone and got a measurement of 0.3. To put this into context tapping gently on the arm of the chair when the phone was on it had the app jump to above one. A hefty thump with my fist had it jump to six. Playing the same tune at similar volumes on the fabulous Raidho TD 2.2 that are in for review (read it here) had them show a maximum of 0.6. So the system works as intended at reducing vibration but it doesn’t completely cut out vibrations.

From the off, it was clear that these were sonically a very good loudspeaker, but I let them play a good few days without really listening to them with a critical ear. Noble & Noble don’t actually suggest a run in period but it is something that all speakers get when they come here unless the manufacturer specifically says they have x number of hours on them – it’s time-consuming and slows down the process but I believe it is essential – YMMV.

Noble & Noble Loudspeaker Rear View

A look around the back of the loudspeaker showing the port and where the rear mid-bass driver “fires”.

Bad Brains was first off the shelf in the form of I Against I and the classic track Sacred Love. I don’t know why but I was expecting these to be polite and lacking excitement. However, what I’m hearing is tight and dynamic, clean and relatively uncoloured. Indeed, there’s not that level of excitement and edge-of-your-seat experience as with the Avantgarde Duos, but the Noble & Noble do manage to convey enough of the albums vim and vigour to have me listening to it all the way through. The feeling is a small-scale but correct portrayal of the mix. There isn’t the same “pluck the instruments from the mix” separation that I experienced with the Raidhos, and nor do these have the same three-dimensionality in their presentation, but there is separation and there is dimensionality to the soundscape, only it’s a little more between the speakers and up and down rather than all-enveloping and out into the room.

Noble and Noble remote

A basic but functional remote is included.

Keeping with the rock theme I pop on AC/DCs Back In Black and the excellent You Shook Me All Night Long (and at volume) things really did pick up, and I think this is down to the better production on this album than the former record. Bass guitar was really good and easy to follow. That same bass guitar didn’t have the same depth that I’m used to with the Avantgardes but it was very easy to follow amongst everything else that is going on in the track. The kick drum is also easy to pick out of the mix and there is an overall tightness to the way the track sounds. Vocals are delivered really well and Brian Johnson’s inflections are clear to hear. I want to say that these speakers have a dry sound and in many ways, I’m sure that this is what the folk behind them were looking for when they designed them  – dry and without colourations. Often when I listen to speakers I think if I’d be happy to have them in front of me in a studio and I reckon these speakers fall into that category – they do have that monitor-type sound that I refer to a fair old bit. Some may say that monitors don’t belong in the home – I disagree but realise that they won’t suit some folk.

Noble & Noble Seventh side

Showing how the seventh side is fitted to the main cabinet.

Noble and Noble speakers module

A close up of the module that houses the electronics for the loudspeakers.

As I’m writing up my notes I’ve got Bush’s Sixteen Playing in the background and realise I’ve played a whole lot of rock music on these. Glycerine’s distorted but simple guitar sounds like it’s coming through a small amp that’s been close mic’d (I have no idea if it has or not) and really overdriven. Bass comes in at a minute eighteen and it’s deep and low and manages to stand apart in the mix. Everything is there with this tune and there’s really nothing to moan about and I think that these will suit a person who is simply looking for an accurate portrayal of the music – I suppose that there is the argument that that is exactly the essence of what HiFi should be about. Personally, I found myself not getting as engrossed in the music as I do with our Avantgardes, but there is no denying that what these speakers strong points are is more to do with what they don’t do rather than what they do do – that’s a backhanded way of saying that they are actually very accomplished and accurate. Certainly, the 7th side and the company’s striving to reduce distortion and colouration has worked well and we have a very clean sounding pair of speakers. That cleanliness is apparent across the frequencies but is most apparent on bass where it starts and stops on a penny. No, you don’t have the level of bass from bigger speakers but I’m not sure I’m missing that and I feel that what is there is sufficiently strong to keep me happy. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the tight, fast and precise bass these speakers do is one of their strong points. Take for example Rebolledo’s Momento Drive album and you have the pared-down and sparse production presented beautifully and accurately and with poise and balance. Do I want to get up and dance? Not really. There’s not that level of excitement and pizazz here. Do I want to sit and listen? Yes, I find I fall into the mix and the music without really noticing that that is what is happening. This is a good thing and something I found throughout my time with these speakers  – I just listened and listened to full albums without really wanting to over-analyse the music I was listening to. However, if that is what you want to do these speakers do allow for that.

I always write my notes up in one go and as I’m reading this review back it may come across that I didn’t gel with the Noble & Noble offering, but the truth of the matter is these are certainly a speaker I could live with and enjoy very much.

CONCLUSION

These are a well balanced and very accurate sounding loudspeaker that I can’t help but highly recommend. They excel in the bass department, which for such a small speaker is pretty incredible – it goes just about low enough to satisfy but it’s tightness and dryness that are the bass’ key characteristics.

It would be very easy to dismiss this kind of speaker system as a “lifestyle product” given its built-in amps, and digital processing but I think that is selling them short a bit. Yes, they look good, but they also sound pretty damned good too.

On the looks front I find the number of wires hanging out them a bit of a pain when everything is connected and others will find this more annoying than I – perhaps incorporating a wireless streamer into the box and making the connection between the speakers wireless would be a good thing – I have no idea if this is feasible or even desirable to the many, but it would certainly make them less cable heavy.

Personally, I found the speakers a little too lacking in excitement for my own liking but then I fully admit to enjoying a degree of embellishment to a speaker’s sound signature. That is not to say that they are not very good – they are. They don’t throw a huge soundstage and don’t disappear but they do layer elements of the mix very well.

Overall these are a very accomplished loudspeaker that deliver on their promise of an uncoloured and low distortion sound. They will appeal to many and particularly if you enjoy a dry and accurate presentation.

Inputs are adequate for the many but I would have liked to have had the provision for USB input.

To my mind, these are a speaker for the music lover as opposed to the HiFi nerd! They are easy to get on with and to listen to. You find yourself just listening to the music and not the speakers and that is surely a good thing

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality:

Clever packaging and well put together. They work straight out of the box with only minimal effort to set them up. The manual is perfectly good and explains things very well. The all in one box design will split opinion depending on what folk want from their HiFi. These are a plug, play and forget solution if only they had less wireage.

Sound Quality:

Dry and uncoloured presentation that some will love, whilst others will find them lacking in excitement. Balanced throughout the frequency spectrum they are a great all-round speaker that play everything well. Bass is a standout but doesn’t dominate. High frequencies are smooth and without tizz. Mids, where the business happens, are in keeping with the rest of the speaker’s output and are, like everything here, dry and unembellished.

Value For Money:

Amps, DAC and a complex speaker design for less than twenty grand is a reasonable deal in my book. They are, in my opinion, a speaker that people will buy and not look to upgrade for a very long time

We Loved:

A balanced and beguiling sound presentation

Good looking

Well connected

Decent enough price

Tight and uncoloured presentation, particularly in the bass

We Didn’t Love So Much:

A bit dry for my taste

Too many cables when fully connected

I want a better remote for the best part of 20K

Elevator Pitch Review:  Noble & Noble’s all in one speaker (just add source) offer an upmarket and high-class sound that will appeal to those who just want to enjoy the music they love without needing to fanny about with loads of boxes, though there’s a good few cables on the go. The clever design and 7th side concept sounds gimmicky, but it works in achieving what it sets out to do, and this is reflected in the clean and uncoloured presentation across the sound spectrum. Not stupidly priced given where they are pitched in the market.

Price: € 19,889

 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Smith

Supplied by Noble & Noble

 

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