Rank #12: Noble Katana

5

Bass
A crucial part of the original K10’s success formula was its forward bass, creating a full and powerful sound, that spoke to the hearts of many. Aiming for more precision and a reference tuning, Katana’s bass is less prominent, although they didn’t steer away from this particular ingredient altogether. Who says a little power doesn’t have to be precise?

Katana’s bass combines speed with a nice bit of low-end impact. There’s a slight boost in its sub-bass, resulting in a punchy bass with a fair bit of deep impact. As the lifted treble colours the mid-bass, it’s not the most natural in tone, nor is it particularly highly resolved. And its bottom-end extension hovers around average. But the priority of its tuning lies with its engaging qualities, and it does that more than fine. It’s a tight and well-controlled bass response, and its combination with a laid-back upper-bass contributes to a rather airy stage structure. But it’s the extra power in its sub-bass that makes it an enjoyable bass, providing a steady bit of rhythm in the background. Taken together, it’s a tight but impactful bass; a nice variation of satisfying BA-driven bass.

Midrange
Katana combines a clear midrange with nicely sized and slightly forward notes. This results in an upfront, detailed and engaging presentation. In accordance with the treble lift, Katana creates a clean-sounding midrange. It’s less warm than average, and could be a bit warmer to classify as natural or completely accurate in tone. It’s fairly neutral, with a touch of brightness in its upper mids. Naturally, this comes with its own advantages: besides being upfront in its detail retrieval, Katana’s midrange is versatile over genres, performing well for both classical and band-based music, as well as synthetic melodies.

Katana’s vocals are slightly forward in terms of stage positioning. Even though they aren’t particularly warm, there’s a good sense of balance in the vocal range; the vocal presentation is fairly linear throughout the midrange, up until the lower treble peak. As a result, vocals sound clear, with a very nice overall size. As the centre midrange frequencies are laid-back in the tuning, it isn’t an overly dense vocal presentation. In addition, the lower treble peak can put a little bit of stress on their articulation. So they aren’t completely smooth, and in general, I tend to favor female vocals with Katana. While male vocals might miss a bit of warmth and power when giving it their all, there’s certainly a sweetness to a beautifully sung soprano.


In accordance with the general clarity of the presentation, Katana’s upper midrange sounds remarkably clear. While there’s a bit of added brightness as a result of the lower treble tuning, it’s tastefully done. It results in a detailed picture with an exciting touch – it’s an upper midrange that sparkles and feels alive. Its tone works well for string instruments as violins or acoustic guitars, although an occasional trumpet might sound too high in pitch. And an instrument like a cello can miss a touch of its melancholy due to the laid-back upper-bass. But despite its brighter tone, its an upper midrange that remains smooth and enjoyable to listen, accomplished by keeping the 5-6 KHz range in check.

Treble
The Katana’s treble presentation is determined by two peaks. The first is in the lower treble region around 7 KHz; a commonality among many iems, which can at least partially be attributed to the inherent properties of the popular TWFK drivers. The lifted lower treble boosts the clarity of the image, and provides Katana with its clear sound and articulated notes. It adds air to the stage, and opens its dimensions. The lower treble peak tends to result in a more ‘hi-fi’ sound, with a focus on precision rather than tone; a tuning oriented on naturalness and timbre generally benefits from a slight dip in this region. But the 7 KHz peak is more common practice than exception, even in this shootout. Nevertheless, there’s beauty to be found in the clarity. And while there are occasional traces of sibilance, it remains well within an acceptable margin.

The second peak occurs in the mid treble region around 11-12 KHz, a last burst of energy before the treble starts to roll off. The lift results in a nice bit of sparkle, which brings liveliness to the music. It aids in uncovering finer detail, even at lower volume levels. Shifting the focus towards the treble does somewhat cut off the lower harmonics, the subtle traces following a note. In terms of quantity the treble is fairly neutral, with a slightly brighter tone. While I would label Katana’s signature overall as smooth, there can be traces of harshness when playing treble-heavy music like hip-hop, especially with lower quality recordings. In addition, the treble notes can tend to stick with faster music. Taken together, Katana’s treble has its own strengths and weaknesses, resulting in a roughly average treble performance.

1 2 3
Share.

About Author

Nic is currently in pursuit of a PhD degree in social neuropsychology, while trying not to get too distracted by this hobby. In pursuit of theoretical knowledge by day, and audiophile excellence at night. Luckily for him, both activities are not mutually exclusive which helps to lighten the workload. Always on the go, Nic's enthusiasm for hi-fi is focused on all chains of the portable system: iems, cables and daps.

5 Comments

  1. Yawn.
    More pseudo-intelligent rambling from a deluded “, audiophile” – cables all sound the same apart from volume variance. If your educational system involved teaching you any physics you *know* this, but blindly plunge on in uninformed disregard. And studying for a PhD? The mind boggles.
    A $200 pair of Trinity sound better than these overpriced things.

    • Have you ever tried a quality cable yourself? I know professors in physics that enjoy cables. You know why? Because they use their ears.

    • I used to think cables all sounded the same. I then tried 2 top of the line demo units over the course of nearly a month. I even had my buddy switch them randomly and I was able to call it precisely. It helped that they produced totally different sounds with my A18’s. Cables do alter sound, no longer a doubter.

  2. Been looking forward to this your take on this one Nic, thanks for the comprehensive review! As an Andro owner, i was wondering if the Katana offers a meaningfully superior listening experience compared to it, your thoughts on the matter would be most appreciated.

    As a personal aside, of all the iems i own, the fit/seal of my Noble Massdrop X has been rather frustrating, am i correct in assuming that all universal Nobles share the same nozzle design?

    • Thanks buddy appreciate that. Andro and Katana are both iems that shine in their versatility; allround iems that work for a large range of music. But there are crucial differences throughout the signature. Katana for instance sounds cleaner and has a larger stage. It’s bass is punchier with more sub-bass emphasis. Andro on the other hand has a warmer midrange, that adds a bit more emotion and works well for male vocals.

      I’m afraid I haven’t tested other Noble models extensively. I think they have different size housings for each model, but I couldn’t say if the nozzle is different.

Reply To CL Chan Cancel Reply