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 focussed. The Katana is also very transparent; with non-existant 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 translate 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.
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