New York’s weather forecast may be calling for rain today, but it’s sunny in my heart as I sit down at my review desk to demo the Noble Katana. I’ve been on the lookout (the listen-out?) for these earphones for a while now, so I naturally pounced at the chance to review them. But for a not-too-shabby price of $1850, are they worth the dough? And how does the sound compare to other high-end earphones in this price range?
Noble Audio Katana Review
Packaged in a stately box, the Katana carries some accessories in tow. In addition to the earphones, you will also find a circular, plastic carrying case, and a heavier-duty Pelican Case with rubber gasket seals. The circular case definitely wins out where stylish appearance is concerned, but the Pelican Case could withstand anything short of a nuclear apocalypse.
Twelve pairs of foam and silicon eartips can be found inside the cases, along with a cleaning tool. There’s also some literature, but no one buys the Katanas to read anything; this gem is all about sound.
Design-wise, the Katana boasts a whopping nine drivers. All Balanced Armature, Noble has placed every egg in one glorious basket this time around, forgoing dynamic drivers in their quest for a pristine, neutral sound. The nozzles feature a four-bore layout, allowing the sound to naturally attenuate as it travels to your ear.
All of this technology rests inside a two-toned machined-aluminum housing that feels rock-solid and feather-light. Two-pin connections on the earpieces connect to the included 4 ft (1.2 m) cable that terminates in a 3.5 mm single-ended plug.
Frequency Range: NA
Nominal Impedance: NA
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): NA
As you can see from these specs, Noble keeps the Katana shrouded in mystery. Frequency range seems fairly standard, and may not deviate all that much from a standard 20-20,000 Hz. However, there is still some miraculous detail at play in the high and low end, even if there isn’t a ton of emphasis on bass or treble.
Nominal impedance probably lands close to the 32 ohm mark, with mild amplification definitely benefiting the Katana. While I could probably test these earphones straight from my iPhone, I opted to use them with my FiiO Q5 instead. If you want the absolute best sound, though, a Chord Mojo or IFI iDSD Micro Black Label would work wonders.
Sound Pressure Level easily lands somewhere north of 105 dB, as listenable volume can be found pretty easily.
Natural and lifelike, the lows on the Katana are a thing of beauty. This well-tempered low end offers overflowing detail, but still manages to exhibit a telltale smoothness. Minimal bass with a slight impact compliments bassy tracks without too much coloration. While I wasn’t cranking any tracks to feel my molars rattle, I did find myself backtracking through my music catalog to get more detail from particularly tricky tunes.
The Katana sports a midrange that doesn’t sound forward-leaning per se, but this part of the frequency range still manages to deliver a very present, intimate sound. And, with fidelity in spades, the Katana’s mids aren’t just transparent; they also exhibit near-complete tonal accuracy. You can listen to these mids all day and never find a whisper of compression or distortion, while hearing every note in pitch-perfect glory. So, if you’re a critical listener who prefers a neutral or mid-heavy sound, you’re going to lose your marbles over this whopper.
Rich yet slightly subdued, the highs never wax too harsh or uncomfortable. The resultant character remains clean and precise despite what I throw at it. Even on tracks that normally test the uppermost limits of a headphone’s frequency response, the Katana remains well-defined and even-keeled. This may not be the most emotive high end, but it’s nearly perfect from an objective point of view.
Sporting decent depth and amazing placement, this sense of soundstage intoxicates as it illuminates, drawing you into a sonic landscape. With every instrument occupying a finite chunk of space, and a deep gulf of space between each note, the Katana will strike you as very immersive.
Where neutrality is concerned, the Katana cleaves through the competition and leaves your ears feeling spoiled. Now that I’ve listened to this earphone, it’s hard to go back to anything else. No other earphone on the market offers this level of precision and detail with such a flat, uncolored sound.
If I have one gripe, it’s that I don’t readily have access to an Ares high-purity copper or silver cable with a 4.4 mm connection. Instead, I am left to ponder just how amazing the Katana would sound with a decent balanced cable (as my current benchmark setup uses MMCX connections). If there is one accessory this earphone deserves, besides a good DAC, it would be a decent balanced cable.
This sound is so exacting that it almost sounds too exacting. While I’ve come to love the FiiO Q5 for much of what it does, the Katana definitely makes me ache for a higher-res DAC. Pairing this earphone with a better DAC allows the Katana greater access to all that detail the FiiO misses or glosses over, leading to an infinitely more rewarding listening experience.
Is this the right earphone for you? If you need a rich, dynamic sound with bassy lows and treble-dripping highs, skip the Katana and check out the Kaiser Encore. At the same price, the Kaiser Encore offers a more emotive (though less accurate) listening experience.
For a warmer sound, folks could definitely consider the 64 Audio U12t at $1999. While this particular earphone might offer a modicum of emphasized bass in the low end, it will lack the exacting mids and highs you find on the Katana.
Perhaps the biggest comparison, though, may come from people comparing the Noble Katana to the 64 Audio U18t. For those in search of a truly neutral sound, with transcendental detail, and a mesmerizing soundstage, which earphone wins out?
At $1850, you can buy the Katana, a decent DAC, and a wealth of FLAC or WAV files (or MQA tracks or DSD files) – and still have money left over. But even without these extra purchases, the Katana mercilessly outclasses the U18t on every level except soundstage. For those needing the utmost headroom, the U18t does deliver a slightly more luxurious listening experience.
The Noble Audio Katana offers a revealing listening experience with tons of detail and a textured sense of soundstage. At $1850, this headphone might seem expensive to some. However, for incorrigible audiophiles or dedicated critical listeners, that price is more than fair for such a purely neutral earphone.
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