Though perhaps no longer popular opinion, Noble’s original K10 redefined the flagship for the vast majority of audio enthusiasts. Noble’s flagship wasn’t the first to sport a two-digit driver count, but its 10-driver setup and $1599 asking price were still very much oddities at the time of release, and it was the first to achieve mass recognition. Since then, Noble have released the Kaiser Encore, a retuned successor with a reworked design. However, though a pioneer of the current market trend with concurrent price and performance inflation, Noble reason that choosing an earphone is an exercise in subjectivity; there is no endgame, the flagship doesn’t exist and best is opinion at best in the ever-churning machine that is the audio hobby. This is everything that stands behind Noble’s new Katana.
The Katana represents more than just flashy marketing or some supreme achievement in sonic performance. Rather, it stands for choice; the ability for buyers to select the best signature for them over what is the most objectively proficient or preferred by the majority. That’s not to say that the Katana isn’t capable, with a whopping 9 custom manufactured armature drivers per side, it’s quite the over-achiever. As such, the Katana does not occupy a different tier of performance to the Encore, it is simply a more analytical flavour of flagship. And yet, the Katana is not nearly as discussed as its more sculpted sibling when I would argue that many disappointed Encore buyers would’ve been far happier with Noble’s remixed flagship. Let’s see why!
Product Page: here
I would like to thank Brannan from Noble Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Katana for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The Katana employs a similarly lavish unboxing to Noble’s other premium in-ears. Punchy renders adorn the outer faces alongside basic specifications.
Underneath is a textured hard box that well protects its innards during transit. Upon opening the box, buyers are greeted by a compact threaded case in addition to a larger pelican 1010 case. The case contains the Katana’s, an etched user card, 2 stacking bands and a cleaning tool.
In addition, Noble include a very comprehensive array of ear tips comprising of 3 pairs of soft silicones, 3 pairs of firmer silicones, 3 pairs of dual flange tips and 3 pairs of foams.
From their rippled exterior with bold inset logo, to their knurled perimeter that mimics the wrap on a traditional Japanese sword, Noble’s new flagship is a gorgeously designed in-ear that makes an instant statement. In line with the Kaiser Encore, the Katana employs an all-aluminium build that feels unrelenting and perfectly machined. Noble’s choice of a gold/black colour scheme crafts a premium aesthetic while remaining understated for portable use; and the Katana draws the eye using contrast achieved through flawless machining rather than flashy colours.
With smooth, sweeping lines and rounded inner faces, the Katana slots ergonomically into the ear. Their shorter nozzles don’t quite lock-in like deeper fitting rivals, but the Katana is more comfortable and produces less wearing pressure as a result. Moreover, save for their new EDC, the Katana is actually Noble’s most compact in-ear. At just over half the size of the Django, despite having a significantly higher driver count, the Katana’s were not affected by the same fit stability issues that I experienced with Noble’s other in-ears; this is easily Noble’s most streamlined and ergonomic model yet.
Additionally, their fully-sealed design and dense metal housings provide high levels of passive noise isolation that will even suffice for air travel, especially with Comply foams. They still don’t isolate quite as much as deeper fitting models from Campfire for instance, but they will attenuate adequately for almost any use case scenario.
Up top, the Katana employs a typical 0.78mm 2-pin removable cable enabling users to swap in a variety of aftermarket units should they want to slightly alter the sound or simply replace a broken stock unit. The stock cable is fairly standard; it has a nice braid and a soft, supple feel. The cable well-resists tangles and isn’t microphonic, it also routes easily through jumpers due to its smooth texture. Of note, Noble employ really well-shaped pre-moulded ear guides that I found considering more ergonomic than memory wire. They also offer a 2.5mm balanced cable at an additional cost of $50 USD.
I don’t like to throw around neutral or reference in my reviews. Often, these concepts are more subjective than most would be inclined to believe. However, without a doubt, the Katana does represent Noble’s most neutral proposition yet; even if it is an earphone that isn’t perfectly balanced. Because the Katana retains deliberate tuning choices that craft a more engaging experience; with relative peaks occupying 7KHz and 12KHz. As a result, though still very transparent and balanced in the grand scheme of things, the Katana never sounds flat including all the positive and negative connotations that come along with that descriptor.
In many regards, the Katana is pretty darn neutral, with the only notable emphasis lying around lower and middle treble. Of course, this does colour other aspects of the sound, but the individual qualities of each frequency range combined with great technicality throughout do produce a very coherent and refined presentation. As such, the Katana can be characterized as a slightly brighter earphone creating a more analytical presentation. They may sound a little anaemic coming from a dynamic driver in-ear but, in the grand scheme of things, they provide an exceptionally revealing listen while retaining a relatively realistic timbre.
Tip Choice –
The Katana is also a reasonably tip sensitive earphone. I usually default to JVC Spiral Dots on larger bore earphones but found the most agreeable experience with Final Audio E tips. The larger bore Spiral Dots provided a very clear sound but also one that was slightly bright and thin. On the flipside, the Final tips added a little body and realism in addition to a slightly deeper fit. In particular, they were notably more natural sounding due to increased bass depth and slight attenuation of the upper midrange and treble, crafting a more balanced listen overall. All comments below will be using the Final tips.
The Katana delivers a bass presentation that is clearly not enhanced but one that lies on the musical side of neutral. This is mainly due to their light sub-bass emphasis and natural decay; bass notes don’t lumber but they do sustain for just the right amount of time, injecting body and fullness into the Katana’s sound without resorting to mid-bass emphasis. As a result, the Katana remains tight, agile and neutral in tone, maintaining unrelenting pace during fast and complex tracks. In addition, sub-bass itself is very well extended with solid impact to bass drums and electronic beats while remaining considerably less coloured than the vast majority of dynamic/hybrid in-ears. Resultantly, the Katana produces a notably physical quality to string instruments, something that I’ve only heard from a minute handful of BA earphones.
This combination of extension, control and a more neutral tone create accurate texturing and excellent separation between bass notes. This also heightens definition; each note is defined and easily delineated while maintaining sharp focus and impact. Though not bass heavy in any way, the Katana’s dynamics, balance and technical proficiency create a very enjoyable experience with almost all genres. Their excellent extension and control also make them very eQ responsive and, though I personally enjoy listening to my IEMs unflavoured, the Katana does successfully deliver the more reference signature Noble have promised. Moreover, they do so with a considerably more realistic timbre than most in-ears pursuing a similar style of sound; this is a well-integrated, extended and especially well-controlled performer.
The Katana’s midrange is incredibly revealing through a combination of exceptional resolution and a slightly brighter signature that enhances clarity. And unlike some earphones that gun for reference, the Katana has plenty of bass depth and balance so it never comes off as mid-forward or overly thin. In fact, this is one of the most refined earphones I’ve heard despite its revealing tuning.
Lower-mids hold pleasing presence in the sound. They are slightly thinner than neutral due to treble colouration and their slightly more reserved mid-bass but the Katana’s midrange itself is quite linear. As such, male vocals are delivered with outstanding clarity while avoiding peakiness. Lower mids aren’t perfectly realistic due to their thinner, clearer voicing, but they do have notably enhanced separation as a result. Accordingly, instruments such as guitar and piano, though slightly thin in body, sound defined and layered yet each note remains focused. The Katana is also very transparent; with non-existent bass spill and excellent resolution granting lower-mids with great malleability between genres and mastering styles.
Upper mids are similarly defined but sit slightly more forward in the mix. Female vocals are smooth and extended with pleasing body and timbre. The Katana also impresses with its detail retrieval; due to its high-resolution, defined layering and spacious stage, background detail retrieval is fantastic and minute nuances are easily discerned. In addition, through slight brightness progressing to a small peak within the lower treble, the Katana has a more aggressive foreground detail presentation that is just slightly crisper than neutral rather than thin or tizzy. The progressive nature of emphasis in the Katana’s sound avoids excessive midrange colouration, leaving vocals natural and instruments detailed and bodied. Sibilance never creeps into the mix unless overly present within the song itself and female vocals are smooth and layered.
Open, airy and extended; the Katana’s treble response is such a delightful combination of outstanding technicality and tasteful tuning. Slight lower-treble emphasis imbues their sound with more aggressive detailing and greater attack. As a result, instruments such as cymbals and guitars are delivered with great clarity and nuance without sounding thin or splashy. Middle treble has larger emphasis though it remains a modest deviation in the grand scheme of things. This is topped with a more neutral upper treble response that perfectly extends into the highest frequencies. Resultantly, treble is incredibly separated and remains composed even during complex passages. Cymbals and strings possess great texture and nuance while avoiding stridence, and background details are very well resolved. Air is standout, contributing to the Katana’s immense stage and separation.
As a result of the Katana’s excellent extension, resolution is fantastic, some of the highest I’ve ever heard. Detail retrieval is also enormous which extends to the rendering of finer micro-details. Furthermore, the slightly more aggressive manner in which they are presented accentuates the Katana’s revealing nature. And though not especially linear, the Katana’s gradual emphasis translates to a treble response that isn’t just crisp; each note is wholly resolved with realistic decay and texture. This technical foundation contributes greatly to the earphone’s control, enabling them to deliver large amounts of nuance without losing coherence. These qualities culminate to produce a very articulate, spacious presentation that grants live recordings with great atmosphere, and faster genres such as rock and metal with clearly defined layers and separation.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –
The Katana’s trump card is its soundstage; they are expansive and separated yet incredibly coherent. Due to their excellent treble extension and brighter tuning, space is enormous. Of course, they are certainly no open-back over-ears, but the Katana has no difficulty stretching beyond the periphery of the head in either width or depth. The Katana’s agile and revealing sound also creates superb imaging, with pinpoint precise instrument placement and razor-sharp directional cues. That said, they aren’t quite multi-dimensional due to their questionable high-frequency linearity altering background detail placement, but their style of presentation works hand in hand with their excellent separation. As such, each foreground element is defined with its own air and space. However, what is most impressive is the Katana’s coherence; they never sound diffuse and instrument placement never suffers from their space. The Katana is an immersive and vivid earphone.
Noble doesn’t provide specifications on their website, but the Katana isn’t overly difficult to drive considering its driver count. That said, it definitely benefits from a dedicated source. The X7 II provided one of my favourite pairings with the Chord Mojo delivering a slightly more bodied presentation. They still sounded great from my HTC U11 but their signature did noticeably change. Of note, the Katana had a warmer sound with less clarity and air. Running the Katana from my laptop delivered similar results; the Katana becomes bassier with sources of higher output impedance. However, compared to the X7 II, compression was very evident, they lost a lot of bass depth and treble wasn’t as linear into the highest frequencies. As such, though amplification isn’t required to reach high listening volumes, the Katana thrives from a transparent, resolving source of low output impedance.
The Katana is quite a sensitive earphone and I would postulate that it has a relatively low impedance too though I can’t exactly confirm either specification. As a result, it does respond nicely to cable rolling and benefits can be found over the stock unit. The Effect Audio EROS II provided a more engaging sound, for instance, bringing increased bass extension and impact, slightly greater midrange clarity and a more aggressive high-end. Experimenting with synergy can definitely yield some great results to further tailor the experience to the listener.
Campfire Audio Jupiter ($800): The Campfire IEMs are some of the best in the biz regarding build quality. The Jupiter is no exception, matching the Katana on finish and aesthetic design. The Campfire is sharper but also locks more firmly into the ear, it isolates more as a result. The Jupiter is more u-shaped with a warmer, more laid-back midrange. The Jupiter delivers slightly more sub-bass extension with greater slam and rumble. However, it lacks the tightness of the Katana, delivering less concise impact. Mid-bass is slightly fuller on the Jupiter but not nearly to the extent of the Django, Hyla or ie800. As a result, lower-mids are just slightly warmer with fuller body. However, this is counteracted by the Jupiter’s excellent resolution and they do sound very resolving as a result. Still, the Katana has greater clarity and better separation if lacking some body by comparison. Upper mids tell a similar story, the Jupiter is liquid smooth and clear with strong resolution and layering.
However, the Katana is once again clearer if slightly less natural. The Jupiter has an incredibly detailed lower-treble response, perhaps even a hair more so than the Katana. That said, the Katana has greater air and a little more resolution up top, where the Jupiter sounds slightly thinner. It does sound more forward, where the Jupiter sounds a little cleaner, but the Katana remains composed on account of its excellent control. Both have flawless extension and craft large stages. The Katana is slightly larger while the Jupiter has more multi-dimensional imaging due to its liquidity. The Katana separates slightly better, most notably with regards to bass. The Katana does flaunt its technical advantages and its technical upgrades, but there’s no denying the charm of the smooth and immersive presentation of the Jupiter.
Hyla CE-5 ($940): The Hyla is entirely acrylic but employs titanium internals and a deeper fitting design. Its vivid V-shaped sound contrasts heavily to the very balanced Katana; and though this sculpted tuning does have its caveats, they are far more engaging as a result. Being a hybrid, the Hyla has greater bass extension with a slightly looser but also considerably more impactful sub-bass response. It also has a much warmer, fuller mid-bass presentation that offers greater engagement and physicality but also colours its bass and lower-midrange; lower mids, though still clear, are slightly behind in the mix and more full-bodied than the Katana. As a result of their colouration, the Hyla doesn’t sound quite as natural and linear as the Katana within its lower-midrange nor is it as defined. Upper mids also differ, the Hyla is much smoother and a little more laid-back while the Katana is brighter and more revealing. That said, the Hyla maintains excellent resolution and vocals are more natural than the thinner, more clarity enhanced Katana if missing the same level of background detail and layering.
The Hyla also provides an energetic treble response with greater attack. It lacks the air of the Katana, instead focussing on a cleaner background and with a larger lower-treble focus. As such, foreground detailing is considerably more aggressive and actual detail retrieval is similarly strong on both within lower-treble. Both extend impeccably though the Katana is more resolving within the very highest registers. As the Katana extends more linearly, it is more detailed overall and has the larger, airier stage. And, its more neutral tone grants it with greater bass and midrange separation. That said, the Hyla remains similarly composed during complex passages due to its darker background. Considering its asking price, the Hyla keeps up very well and though its more sculpted signature isn’t as realistic, it is considerably more vibrant with great bass body without compromising nuance.
Noble Django ($1000): The Django only employs a metal faceplate with a plastic inner housing. As a result, though still visually captivating, it does lack the premium feel of Noble’s higher offering. Furthermore, it is a considerably larger earphone at around 30% thicker, though fit feels the same in the ear due to identical shaping. The Django is a considerably warmer, more laid-back earphone. It has a warm, mid-bass focussed low-end that lacks the concise sub-bass impact of the Katana but offers up significantly more body in return. As a result, the Django is markedly less defined and separated, but it does fair better in noisier environments. Through this, lower-mids are thicker and fuller. The Django has considerably less definition and clarity to its lower midrange, it is quite a natural over revealing presentation. Upper mids do have greater transparency and clarity through slight midrange brightness.
The Katana maintains a sizeable lead in resolution and clarity but the Django is smoother and just as linear into the lower-treble frequencies. The Django has a considerably more laid-back treble response. Lower-treble sits in line with the upper-midrange with nice attack and detailing while the Katana is more detailed yet and more aggressive in its presentation. The Django smooths off into the middle and upper-treble where the Katana progressively increases in emphasis. As a result, we have two greatly contrasting sounds; the Katana is more revealing, airy and resolving while the Django is smoother and more musical. This does affect their staging properties, the Django doesn’t image or separate nearly as well as the Katana but both are very spacious earphones, the Katana especially so. The Django’s mellow sound isn’t for everyone, but they do offer nice contrast to the other offerings out there and especially Noble’s more analytical Katana.
Sennheiser ie800 ($1000): Though no longer quite as price prohibitive, the ie800 is still a very resolving earphone. The Sennheiser’s ceramic construction is unique and compact, crafting greater long-term comfort. That said, its design is considerably less isolating and less ergonomic; prone to instability and microphonics. The ie800 is more v-shaped, more engaging and less realistic as a result. The Senn has notably enhanced sub-bass, it quite isn’t as tight as the Katana but delivers greater slam and rumble. The ie800 also has a relatively neutral mid-bass tone and is well-defined as a result. It is warmer than the Katana and less linear, but also appreciably less coloured than most V-shaped earphones like the Hyla. The ie800 has a brighter midrange that delivers immense clarity throughout. Lower mids have a fuller fundamental due to the ie800’s enhanced bass but lower mids are thinner and brighter above; the Katana is almost as clear but more natural and considerably realistic in timbre. That said, upper mids are exquisite on the ie800, incredibly clear with excellent resolution all the while remaining smooth and refined.
The Katana is slightly more aggressive and slightly less natural but is more layered in return. Highs are more aggressive on the ie800 both lower and middle-treble. As a result, it is crisper and brings more detail to the fore but it is also thinner and less realistic, masking some finer nuances. The Katana actually retrieves more detail and it is far more linear within the higher frequencies despite not being an especially linear earphone. Both extend into the highest registers but the Katana resolves the highest details slightly better. As a result, the Katana has a little more air and separation. So, though both are incredibly resolving, the Katana does so in a more realistic fashion and with a slight technical advantage. The Senn also possesses quite an infamous stage that is just as large as the Katana’s. It’s also just as separated within the mids and highs though imaging isn’t as precise due to its more sculpted signature. Without a doubt, some may prefer the more engaging Sennheiser, but its ergonomics and thin treble are less universally adored.
The Katana offers supreme luxury, tonal finesse and exquisite technicality, as it should. At $1850 USD, value has no place; this isn’t a product for the average listener, this is a statement. In line with this mentality, Noble pamper the buyer with a comprehensive unboxing and a meticulous build that catches jealous glances like few others. The Katana’s neutral to bright signature won’t suit every buyer, but that’s the ingenuity of Noble’s flagship offerings that cover both sides of the analytical/engaging spectrum. These aren’t realistic in-ears, but engaging ones.
Because, the Katana represents a nice step forward for flagships, not just in performance, but also mindset. I’m a huge advocate of personal preference. Not everyone is looking for the most realistic or balanced earphone on the market, often, we’re looking for a little more engagement and sometimes something completely unique. The Katana occupies a space very close to outright neutrality but with heightened clarity and lifelike resolution that dissolve the membrane between the listener and music. It isn’t that perfectly neutral nor balanced earphone, but that’s the beauty of the Katana. It’s more than neutral.
The Noble Audio Katana is available from Amazon (International) for $1865 USD at the time of writing, please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.