Shortly after my acquisition of the Noble Kaiser 10 (K10), the California-based marque announced the Katana, a new design featuring 9 custom drivers per side and promises a different tuning signature. In this review, I hope to depict Katana in its own light, and not so much compare it too heavily to its royal sibling, which now sits alongside it as co-flagships of the house of Noble.
Owing to its novel assembly structure using proprietary drivers and the lesser driver count than the K10, the shells of the Katana are resultantly more demure and fits my ears more snugly and comfortably than my K10 CIEMs. It feels substantially more compact, with the much reduced form factor making for a more pleasurable usage experience over time. The lighter weight also means it is less susceptible to movement or being dislodged, with the two pin connectors sitting more flush to the undersides of the shells due to the improved stability, showing the gold of the pins in the gaps much less. That of course means it gives you more peace of mind since the threat of one side coming loose and falling straight into the arms of drainage openings is drastically alleviated.
If I had to describe Katana in one word, it would be ‘pristine’. Katana sounds like Noble’s closest attempt to making a neutral monitor, whilst maintaining the classic house sound the company is known for. What immediately jumped out at me was just how sharp and incisive the upper mids and treble are. Vocals are boosted to have a transparent, ethereal quality with plenty of air (but not soaring high like the Campfire Audio Andromeda), with sibilance being more pronounced than the K10 but controlled well enough to not go overboard, just shy of the borderline. The upper-mids and highs make themselves known, producing razor sharp detail retrieval and clarity. Resolution aside, the natural gains in layer separation and soundstage accompanies the more concise and taut bass. Compared to its flagship stablemate, the Katana is cleaner, clearer, without any obvious bass boom, but is still able to sound musical and versatile. What you do lose in thunderous rumble and bombastic fun is gained back in the gracefully elevated upper range, and after awhile, you get the impression that the Katana is more about being a mellifluous blade that navigates through your music with subtle deft rather than making a big, bold statement.
One area that is glaringly prevalent is the precision at which Katana cuts into every layer of a track. A good amount of merciful warmth that the K10 utilized to mask imperfections is exiled here. Katana shows less clemency to mediocre recordings as a whole, and leans much more towards the analytical side of things. The refreshing, lighter-bodied signature brought welcome relief to me after weeks of K10 and Vega usage, although some jazz numbers with infectious double bass warmth is now less cozy and drenched in honey.
It would be understandable if all this would lead one to think that Katana is now in icy-cold Elsa territory, but this could not be further from the truth. All this detail and transparency did not come at the price of the coherency and musicality that Noble is renowned for, nor does the bass show any sign of having been axed despite the disposition of the sound signature. It merely takes on a leaner form, with all the politeness and cleanness balanced armatures tend to exhibit. It is among this dogmatic orderliness that some might find the bass too rigid and lacking soul, but alas, the detail rendering is stupendous, and the bright character does not turn me off nearly as much as I thought it would. It is clear that bass was not a primary design emphasis, but although the quantity is not a highlight, the articulation and textures at the low end are not neglected, and deep bass impacts still hit hard. This uncolored linearity and balance goes a long way in ensuring that the Katana is a much less fatiguing listen for prolonged sessions.
Technically, it is easy to see the three years of progression that Noble has made since they took the audiophile world by storm with the original K10. Three years later, they ventured into another part of the audio spectrum whilst preserving all the signature core competencies the company is known for – to resounding success. Physical upgrades meant that the Katana is more portable and usable than ever with increased comfort and a size advantage, and the sound is a brilliant mix of crystal clarity, neutrality and linear musicality. Being a basshead and a lover of warmer sound signatures, I must confess that as a matter of personal taste, something along the lines of the K10 does satisfy me more, but this is not to take anything away from what Noble has achieved with the Katana. More importantly, it means that folks who have always found the K10’s bass too strong and the sound too colored, now have a home in the Katana.
Measurements, taken with the Vibro Veritas show a decent amount of bass, but one with a obvious roll-off towards the subbass. A dip in the mids, followed by a boost to the midhigh presence frequencies around 1-2kHz followed by peaks in the high frequencies gives the Katana is characteristic incisive mid and high frequency detail and clarity.
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