Rank #12: Noble Katana

5

Comparisons

Warbler Prelude ($1100)
Two iems that have little in common when it comes to tuning philosophy and general presentation. The Warbler being warmer and midcentric, an audiophile tuning focusing on naturalness and tone. It contrasts Katana with a full-bodied and dense midrange, resulting in a deeper and more powerful vocal presentation. Katana on the other hand sounds more open, airier, and closer to neutral. The Prelude is truer in tone, although Katana is a bit more versatile over genres.

The Prelude constructs a cube-sized stage, with almost even proportions in width, depth, and height. Katana creates a significantly wider stage, with roughly similar depth. In addition, its stage is airier, and generally conveys a more spacious feel. While the Prelude’s stage isn’t as large as Katana, it makes better use of its depth – the Prelude bests Katana in its layering ability and precision of imaging. As a result, the two offer very different presentations, with each having their own advantage.

The Katana’s bass has slightly better low-end extension, and a punchier sub-bass. The Warbler’s bass in turn has a richer upper-bass, resulting in an overall warmer and more natural sound. In addition, its mid-bass notes are higher resolved. Taken together the Prelude’s bass is truer in tone and more accurate, while the Katana’s bass can be considered more engaging due to its low-end impact.

The Prelude’s lower midrange is more prominent, providing greater body and depth to vocals. It’s a warmer and thicker midrange, while its greater density results in a more solidified vocal presentation. In addition, due to the overall warmer tone, the timbre of instruments is more accurate. The priority of Katana’s midrange lies in clarity. That being said, its vocals are quite pleasing due to their forwardness and size. And as a result of the lifted treble, Katana’s upper midrange sounds more energetic.

The Prelude’s treble is one of the most accurate, with a beautifully warm and exceedingly natural tone. It’s also quicker, resulting in greater definition with faster notes. Katana’s treble extends a bit further and is brighter in tone, resulting in more sparkle and a more upfront detail presentation, although it isn’t as smooth.


Advanced AcousticWerkes W900 ($1999)
Sporting an equal amount of 9 drivers, one might say the W900 comes close in its design; save a dynamic driver for its bass. Similarly, both could be considered variations of the concept ‘neutral’, although they’re ultimately quite different. Katana sounds clear, while the warmer W900 boasts a full-bodied midrange and impressive top-end extension. And overall, the W900’s signature is a bit more linear, save for a mid-treble dip. So while Katana’s resolution and transparency doesn’t warrant complains, it’s outperformed by the W900.

While Katana’s stage can be considered above average in its overall dimensions, there aren’t many that can face off with the W900. The W900 creates an exceptionally wide stage, with a nice bit of height. Even so, it isn’t overly deep. As a result, the W900 relies primarily on its width for its separation, rather than its layering. In addition, it’s imaging is more precise than Katana. Accordingly, the image is widespread, but more focused. Katana’s stage structure comes closer to a classic shape, but struggles with the precision of its layering. Accordingly, the W900 bests the Katana when it comes to separation, although the difference isn’t overly large.

The W900’s dynamic bass is north of neutral, with a nice bit of mid-bass impact. It has a good amount of body, while remaining airy and controlled. While the W900’s emphasis is on mid-bass, Katana has a bit more sub-bass quantity, and equally good control. As a result, both bass presentations are punchy, fun, and airy – each their own variation of engaging bass.

The W900’s midrange has a fairly neutral tone. It’s slightly warm, with a nice bit of forwardness and density. Accordingly, vocals are full-bodied and generally impressive when it comes to solidity. While Katana’s midrange isn’t as dense, it’s more upfront with its detail retrieval due to the clarity of the signature. There’s a bit more liveliness in its upper midrange, where the W900 is more laid-back and smooth. Both share a similar note size, and roughly similar tonal accuracy.

In both cases, the treble can be considered relatively neutral in overall quantity. They’re not necessarily bright, although they could be a bit warmer to be accurate in tone. However, Katana’s treble offers a bit more sparkle and clarity throughout the presentation – the result of its 12 KHz boost. The W900’s treble on the other hand is thicker in its definition, while also a bit quicker. And as mentioned, its extension is significantly greater.


Verdict

For the last years, the critically acclaimed K10 was considered one of the top monitors, and a must-have for aspiring audiophiles. Its signature with enhanced bass and lifted upper mids proved a formula for success, although there was also critique to be found on its technical performance. Its bass added warmth and power, but could slow the pace from the music. And while its midrange received praise for its balance and coherency, its imaging wasn’t the most precise, nor was its top-end extension impressive. Recognising the critique, Noble cooked up the first of its two new co-flagships with a more reference-oriented signature.

With Katana, Noble offers its own version of a neutral tuning. Katana sounds clear, and delivers a detailed presentation befitting its name. Its relatively spacious stage is appealing, and the lifted treble results in a clean presentation. But it isn’t a sterile, analytical tuning. Noble made its name focusing on ‘musicality’, and Katana follows in this tradition. The priority remains on offering a musical sound, rather than being the most precise. As a result, it seems as if Katana can’t quite decide where its priorities lie. It consistently scores average to good in all the individual aspects, resulting in a versatile, all-round monitor. But therein also lies its weakness, as it doesn’t necessarily excel anywhere either. Its tone isn’t the most natural, and the higher ranking iems are generally just a bit more precise when it comes to separation and resolution. But as a whole, the tuning works well together. It’s a clear and detailed presentation that feels alive – ‘musical reference’ if you will.

 

Noble Katana
+Neutral tuning
+Versatility
-Layering and imaging could be more precise
-Price-to-performance ratio

The scoring can be viewed in the introduction post.

Manufacturer website:
nobleaudio.com

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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.

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