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Noble Audio Katana Custom

Rating:
5/5,
  • 9 balanced armature driver custom fit in ear monitor.

Recent Reviews

  1. cvbcbcmv
    Noble Katana: Sharp, Cutting Edge Precision
    Written by cvbcbcmv
    Published Dec 14, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Unmatched shimmering highs, crisp and clear midrange, precise and refined low end, versatility, clarity
    Cons - May not be the best choice for a bass head or someone looking for a warmer sound signature
    Note: I have previously reviewed the K10 from Noble, where I covered much of Noble’s history and order process. For this reason, I will use some of the portions of that review that pertain to Noble as a company, not the Katana specifically, in this review.

    Note 2: This is a repost of my original review, which was placed in the category for the universal Katana, not the custom one. This is the same content reposted in the correct place. Thank you to who pointed it out!

    Intro:

    For years, Noble Audio has been considered one of the top producers of in ear monitors, both custom and universal, for the audiophile in all of us. Noble’s breakout success came in October of 2013 when they released the K10. The K10 quickly reached icon status, becoming one of the most successful and well-loved monitors the market has ever seen. The K10 is truly an incredible product, and my review on it can be found here. Noble has only grown since then, and I was very excited this past summer when I heard about their new complementary flagship, the Katana. I thought the K10 was very close to perfection, so I was very excited to get my hands on a Katana and see how they compare. Today, the Katana sits alongside the Kaiser Encore (The K10’s successor) as one of two complementary flagships.


    Some Info on Noble:

    In the world of custom in ear monitors, the majority of companies are tailored to performers who are using IEM’s as their stage monitoring solution. These products need to sound good and perform reliably under heavy stress, making them a favorite for audiophiles as well as performers. Noble is one of the few companies that is making products primarily tailored toward audiophiles, and I would argue they are the most established company with this business model and so far have the most refined experience tailored to that market. They set themselves apart from the competition with their exquisite Wizard and Prestige designs, and the process is personal from start to finish.

    Some Info on Katana:

    The Katana features 9 proprietary Noble drivers. Noble compares the sound of this IEM to the sword it’s named after, known for being “the perfect combination of balance, artistic beauty, and sharpness in its cutting edge.” Noble further describes the Katana as being quick and versatile. Additionally, Noble says the Katana bears an extended and airy top-end, lush midrange, and impactful low-end. This is very high praise for Noble’s new flagship, so it will be very interesting to see how it sounds in practice.

    The Katana costs $1850 in its base, custom variety, and that price can quickly round $2,000 with the inclusion of any Wizard or Prestige design. This puts it in a nice position in the flagship market where it is around the middle of all the price points.

    Order Process:

    As far as impressions go, the customer is responsible for seeing a local audiologist, having ear impressions made, and sending them off to Noble’s offices in California. Noble does have an online monitor designer where the customer can pick from the standard options: faceplate colors, designs, specialty materials, etc. However, Noble has 2 special design options: A Wizard design, and a Prestige design. Personally, my monitor represents a Wizard design.

    As far as Wizard designs go, the customer can choose either a reprint of a Wizard design they already like for a lower cost, or they can have an original design created for them. If a Wizard design is selected, the customer is asked some basic questions about what they might be looking for, but for the most part, creative control is handed over to “The Wizard,” and there is endless anticipation until the email from Noble providing professional pictures of the final product comes. A Prestige model is similar to a Wizard design, but the monitor is crafted out of some specialty material instead of the standard acrylic. Personally, my monitors took just over 8 weeks to build from the time my impressions were received.

    Box/Accessories:

    My monitors came packaged very securely in a very luxurious presentation box. Unboxing further, I found a Pelican 1010 case, inside of which were my monitors safely contained in a Noble pouch made out of a very nice, soft material. Also inside the case were the cleaning tool and my ownership information card. In the box, Noble also includes bands for stacking devices and some Noble stickers. It was a very nice touch to have Noble send a Pelican 1010 case, since I find it the perfect size for IEMs, and it is tough, water resistant, and secure.



    Design:

    Of course, design is an area where Noble sets themselves apart from everyone. I am perfectly comfortable making that statement. Of all of the IEM’s I have handled, I have yet to hold one where the beauty, craftsmanship, quality, and overall feel could either match, or even begin to surpass Noble.

    Let’s start with the cosmetic side of things. Noble’s “Wizard” and “Prestige” designs are arguably their most recognizable and well-known feature, and that is for good reason. Getting a CIEM is a very personal process, and the way these designs are done with Noble is amazing. Simply give some details on what you’re looking for, and let the magic happen. Around 8 weeks later, the email with the final pictures come, and everything you hoped for becomes reality.

    With these monitors, I really wasn’t picky. I said I wanted something with some color, and something where the left and right sides differed. That was about it. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific; by all means, make it known. However, there is a certain magic behind not really having any idea what the result would look like. As expected, I was stunned. The right monitor features a slightly opaque orange, with white swirl in the faceplate. The left features the same but with a sky blue, which especially reminds me of a cloudy sky. Silver/gold nugget is found in the faceplates, and it really completes a bright, fun looking monitor. In pictures they may look a bit simple, but in person, the way the colors shimmer is just perfect. Plus, the way Noble created symmetry while also accomplishing my request of different colors is very impressive.

    Enough talk, let’s see them!

    First, Noble's studio pictures:






    And some of my own:





    I can’t stress enough how much value these designs add to the monitor. I know, people assume that sound is really all that matters. However, the almost hyperbolic degree that Noble takes gorgeous designs truly does make a difference. Sound means a lot, but when people go out to spend this much money on audio, design matters. Sennheiser makes their headphones look like something from a spaceship. Audeze makes headphones that appear to be carved straight from a tree. These things matter, and Noble proves that a product being a small IEM is no excuse to lack beauty. I get more enjoyment out of my Katana than I do out of something that for my tastes sounds better, but isn’t as aesthetically pleasing. Why? Looking at them makes me smile. I suspect many will read this and think that design couldn’t possibly mean as much as I am suggesting, but I sternly argue otherwise. Most can agree that in the TOTL market, the differences that make one product better than another are rather small. For that reason, a product being a work of art along with a powerful audio source can add that level of value.

    Comfort:

    I will split this up into 2 sub-sections. Comfort based on Noble’s actual crafting from the ear impressions, and comfort because of the monitor in general.

    Regarding Noble’s construction, their CIEM lab does a superb job. I used the same set of impressions for both my K10 and Katana, and I feel like I got a precise, comparable fit on both. Everything fits into place perfectly. Since I’ve found Noble’s IEM’s take up more ear space than others I have tried, this is very important. When executed properly, I find it leads to a better fit overall. However, the more ear the monitor covers, the more precise the fit must be. Noble’s precision is top notch. I strongly urge people to make sure their audiologist is familiar with CIEM fittings, and make sure it is done correctly. I have forced mine to redo impressions for me several times–it’s worth it. A good audiologist should understand.

    I was very pleased with the comfort of the monitor in general. While my K10 fits very well, I definitely noticed how much heft it had to it. It’s a big monitor, and it takes up a lot of real estate. For this reason, it was inevitable that it could become a bit fatiguing. In my experience, the Katana feels a bit smaller and lighter than the K10. This means that I can wear it a little bit longer, and physical fatigue has never crossed my mind in my auditioning so far. With a good fit, I don’t forsee any problems with someone who plans to keep these in for hours on end.

    Just a quick note on the cable: Noble does a very good job with their cables. It’s aesthetic, unobtrusive, and the memory wire stays well without being uncomfortable or obtrusive. Microphonics are very low, and Noble now includes a nice metal ring over the cable at the Y-split. It’s a little thing, but it feels very high quality and is a nice add.

    Isolation:

    Because of how large Noble’s monitors are, and how much of the physical ear they take up, their isolation is the best I have ever heard. When any of Noble’s custom fit monitors go in, the entire world goes away, and no matter how noisy the environment, it’s just music.

    Sources:

    I used a variety of sources with the Katana. My primary sources were the AK100ii, Chord Mojo, and Questyle QP1R. I also did some testing out of my phone and Fiio X3ii to see how it pairs with some more affordable sources. I found the Katana to be pretty source-versatile, and while it certainly sounded best out of my better equipment, listening out of my phone was not a problem at all. One thing I did notice was that because of the clarity in the high end, they are not the most forgiving to a poorly recorded track.

    Introduction to Sound:

    Similar to other Noble monitors I’ve heard, the characteristics of the Katana include fun, versatile, pleasurable, and smooth. They have a sound signature very different from what I’ve become accustomed to. Many companies seem to follow the V, or have a stronger emphasis in the low and mid range. To me, the Katana has more emphasis on the highs. In a way, it almost sounds like the inverse of the K10. I feel the K10’s strength falls in the low and mid range. I find the Katana’s strength falls in the high and mid range. However, I want to stress that the Katana isn’t an extremely bright monitor; it’s actually not far from neutral. I said the K10 was pretty neutral leaning a bit toward the warm side of things, and the Katana follows this description in an inverse pattern. It’s not all that far from neutral, but it does lean a bit on the bright side.

    Despite having such different characteristics than the K10, the Katana maintains one of its best features of being musical and versatile. Rap songs with a lot of bass still sound fun with booming bass just like how they should. Balanced songs sound just right. Songs with a lot in the high end… well, they’re like nothing I’ve ever heard. Regardless of which Noble flagship you look at, you’ll get a monitor that’s versatile and sounds fantastic. However, one monitor specializes in its highs, and the other in its lows. It’s all personal preference.

    Lows:

    Just because the Katana falls on the brighter side of things, that doesn’t mean that the lows are neglected. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, and I’m quite baffled at how Noble balanced them in. The lows are a bit more distant than a bass-heavy monitor, as is to be expected, but they still carry a weight with them. They’re not as apparent, but they’re just as powerful.

    Because the lows are toned back, they don’t unnecessarily come out of nowhere and overpower the music, but when that bass is appropriate and called for, it is there with the utmost presence. I have been very pleased with Noble’s bass-heavy monitors and how much the bass felt like a true subwoofer moving air. Katana feels the same way. It’s still an unbelievably strong bass machine that delivers precise, accurate sound–it’s just turned down a bit.

    The refined lows of the Katana are something I haven’t heard quite like this in an IEM, and it’s a really nice change. I like my bass, so I would never complain about a bass-heavy monitor, but hearing a different signature really lets me appreciate music in a different way than I have been.

    For a few specifics, I always love listening to some of my favorite rap songs to determine how a monitor reacts to bass when it's appropriate. Drake’s music is some one of my favorite to test this since he certainly incorporates a lot of bass. His song “Know Yourself” had all of the bass hits that I expected. They were present and hit hard enough, just not at the level a true basshead might be looking for. The Life of Pablo by Kanye followed in a similar fashion, and songs like “Waves” and “Famous” didn’t leave me asking for more.

    Mids:

    Though the Katana’s signature pulls back on the low end a bit, I don’t find that it really pulls back on the midrange. The midrange is my favorite part of music, so I’m very sensitive when it leaves me with less than what I like. The K10 was one of my favorite monitors I have ever heard in the midrange due to its presence and clarity, and the Katana maintains this characteristic. Vocals are as crisp as can be, and they are detailed to the extent that if a vocalist's throat vibrated a bit more than normal on one note, you’ll be the first to know.

    The midrange is clear, precise, loud, and present. It doesn’t overpower anything else, but the vocals are front and center, and I have always thought that’s how it should be. Naturally, an emphasis on highs will be a bit less aggressive than an emphasis on lows, leaving more room for the midrange. Because of this, the mids really have an opportunity to open up and show what those proprietary balanced armature drivers can do.

    I’m happy to report that they are capable of reproducing vocals as if the artist is right there. I love listening to SACD’s of Bob Dylan and Alison Krauss to really test the mids on monitors. It really is incredible how realistic their voices sounded. In fact, it was so realistic that when I listened to a song that has an emotional connection to me personally, the Katana served as a perfect device to elicit that emotion in me. This is a very important quality to me when listening to music, and I’m very pleased the Katana accomplished it. There is absolutely no level of mud detracting from the clarity of the mids, something I hear on many monitors and get frustrated with. I type this as I listen to an acoustic song on the Katana, and I must say–they are just perfect.

    Highs:

    Well, we’ve arrived at the star of the show–the highs! They really are a marvel to behold here. The last time I heard a monitor that I felt truly emphasized the high end was with my Shure SE846 with white filters. I was very excited to listen to another monitor that had high-end emphasis.

    In my initial listening, I realized that I had forgotten how much I loved good highs. Usually I do my testing for treble with audiophile test tracks since it’s easier for me to isolate those instruments. However, well before specifically analyzing the highs was on my mind, I was blown away. They were too good for me not to notice. The first song I listened to out of the Katana was “Ophelia” by The Lumineers. That song isn’t too instrumentally crowded, with mainly just vocals, a piano, and some percussion. I was struck when I heard what I think is a tambourine or some sort of cymbal, because it was absolutely unbelievable. The clarity was beyond belief, and the extension lasted all the way until the last vibration. It was very easy for me to focus on that sound, and hear every detail. Frequently, highs tend to just roll off and blend into the sound. That’s not always a bad thing, since extended highs can become harsh, but Noble did something magical with the Katana’s highs.

    The highs are in no way shrill, harsh, or off putting. They’re as soft and luscious as if they were carefully rolled off, but based on the clarity and extension of them, I wouldn’t call them rolled off at all. They’re extensive, shimmery, beautiful, and clear. The Katana has the best treble of any monitor I have ever heard. Noble really accomplished treble like nothing I have ever heard, and it was executed flawlessly.

    Sound Signature:

    To conclude everything I said above, the Katana is a relatively balanced monitor that leans toward being bright. It doesn’t lean extensively, and for that reason, I don’t think many people would be left disappointed with the toned down bass. Simply put, everything is done very well, but the treble is done best. That said, Noble has been very careful to not let the outstanding treble lead to suffering mids or lows. All too often I hear a monitor with one incredible feature, and the rest of the sound just seems like it was neglected. That is not the case with the Katana. The entire sound signature is a perfectly sharpened Katana sword, but the treble is the perfect, sharp point at the tip.

    Clarity:

    Clarity is probably the Katana’s strongest feature, and I would say it has better clarity than the K10. This is probably because of the crisp, detailed highs, but it really is a result of the entire sound signature. What impressed me most about the lows was how clear and defined they were despite being toned down a bit. As I said earlier, I live for the mids, so I’m very sensitive to a lack of clarity there. The Katana didn’t disappoint me at all. Generally, I cannot criticize the Katana in any sense for its clarity.

    Soundstage:

    My personal judge of when an IEM has a good soundstage is when it transcends its category in openness and airiness to sound more like a full size open back headphone. A lower quality IEM sounds like an IEM, and the sound stays narrow and just in the ear canal. An exceptional IEM fills your entire head with music, immersing you in the sound, and if you close your eyes you feel like you’re right there. The Katana fully accomplishes this. It seems even a bit more open and airy to me than the K10, and the extended treble really helps with that. If I put on a good track, close my eyes, and just listen–I get fully lost. The soundstage is wide open and full, and it is lovely.

    Comparisons:

    Noble K10: This is probably the big comparison everyone is interested in. Overall, both of these monitors are fantastic, and they are quite similar in their performance, with differences in their sound signature. As I’ve said earlier, the idea that they are inverses of each other is a very good description for me. However, I’ll go into a bit more detail with this comparison.

    Highs: It was quite obvious to me after switching to the K10 from the Katana that the highs were much more heavily blended into the background and smoothed out. They still sounded clear and wonderful, but it isn’t the intense shimmering presence the Katana had.

    Mids: The midsection was sort of an interesting comparison. In overall presence in the soundstage, I actually found the Katana had more presence in the mid range than the K10. However, I find the mids were a bit more deep and luscious in the K10. This is likely due to the fact that there is more in the low end overall, which allows those deep rumbles of male voice especially to come through. The midrange is very strong on both, but I think the Katana would be better for lighter, female voices, and the K10 would do best for deeper, male voices.

    Lows: The lows are certainly more present and boomy in the K10. I am quite fond of the bass on both models, but it is presented very differently. Listening to “6 Foot 7 Foot” which has very strong bass, the K10 really lets the bass riffs control the song and be the star of the show. The Katana takes things much more carefully, and while the bass is powerful, it sounds tied with the midrange.

    Overall, I really like both monitors. In overall performance and clarity, I think they are on very similar levels. However, they do have some key differences, and which one is the better choice is very subjective. Personally, it really depends on the genre of music. For me, rap will be best out of K10, but acoustic really shines with Katana.

    Noble Kaiser Encore: I have yet to hear the Kaiser Encore, though I should have one in the near future, and I will update this thread with comparisons when I do.

    JH Layla: The Layla is an absolutely incredible monitor, and to this day I consider the best I have ever heard due to the fact that it is truly incredible throughout the entire soundstage, and the signature is adjustable. For my comparison I tried the bass at several different levels to really just test performance.

    The bass on the Layla is incredible and strong, and it can be made very loud or very faint depending on what the user wants, so the factor of how strong it is doesn't really apply. Toning the bass down to around where it is on the Katana lead me to hear quite similar bass performance. The Layla seems to carry a bit more weight and rumble with its bass even while turned down, while the Katana really keeps it controlled.

    In the mids, I sense pretty similar characteristics overall, but to my ears, the Layla has midrange characteristics similar to the K10 where they are very full and luscious due to all the low-end potential, and they are not quite as strong with female voices. My preference really floats between the two depending on the artist and how high or low their voice is, so this is a toss up. I tend to think the Layla can generally pull away by the width of a hair in clarity and performance, but that really comes down to the tiniest details.

    For the high end, both Layla and Katana have crystal clear, extended detail, and I think their performance is just about equal. However, Layla lacks that intense presence of the high end on the Katana that is impossible to miss. This presence on the Katana really helps it stand out as something special. On the Layla, they are a bit more hidden in the background, while maintaining that same clarity. Overall, this really comes down to personal preference. If you’re looking for fun coming from the low end, the Layla is going to win that battle, but if your fun comes from the highs, the Katana wins with its overall presentation.

    CustomArt Harmony 8.2: When I reviewed it, my favorite feature of the Harmony 8.2 was its midrange. The mids seem a bit more distant on the 8.2 than they are on Katana, and I find another scenario where the Katana outperforms 8.2 in the upper midrange, and the 8.2 has a slightly more favorable presentation for me in the lower mids. However, I would generally give this to the Katana for overall presentation and clarity. In the lows, I actually find they have pretty similar signatures, though I sense more power and precision from Katana. For the highs, both perform quite well with deep extension, but Katana just sounds clearer and fuller to me. In price, the Katana is a somewhat small step above the 8.2, and I think this is reflected in their sound. They both perform exceptionally, but the Katana just sounds more musical and well-rounded for my tastes. In strict objective performance and clarity, I think Katana has an edge as well.

    Ultimate Ears UE18 Pro: The UE18 has much more presence in the low end than the Katana, and they have very different sound signatures. Generally speaking, the emphasis on the UE18 falls in the bass, and it has pretty gentle highs. The low end is very strong on the UE18, and more present than the Katana, but it lacks that precise sharpness that the Katana has. The midrange of both is quite similar, but I find Katana a bit more detailed and clear. The high end isn’t much of a comparison, and Katana takes an easy win in presence, clarity, extension, and detail.

    Wrapping Things Up:

    Obviously, I’ve had a lot of praise for the Katana. It is versatile, beautiful, and sounds amazing. It is marked by the most shimmery highs I have ever heard, luscious mids full of detail, and precise, refined bass that doesn’t overpower anything. Its name suits it perfectly. It is a sharp, powerful weapon in anyone’s audio arsenal, and it is so precisely designed, that it cuts as smooth as butter. The Katana is one of the best monitors I have ever heard, and for anyone searching for a monitor with an emphasis on the high end while maintaining versatility and clarity throughout the entire soundstage, I can’t think of any monitor to recommend more. It is a top-notch competitor in the TOTL market, and a perfect complement to the Kaiser series.

    I really cannot think of a place where I can strictly fault the Katana. It has no apologies or secrets about what it is trying to be, and it does exactly what it claims to. The Katana isn’t right for everyone, and that’s okay. However, for its sound signature, it nears perfection. On paper, I wouldn’t think Katana’s characteristics are too representative of my tastes, but it does what it does in such a way that anyone can appreciate it no matter their taste. In fact, the Katana is so good that it convinced me to change my own.

    Noble has craftsmanship, presentation, and accessories nailed–it is their identity. Combine that with such an incredible, unique, versatile sound, and the result is a 5 star, flagship product.
      auricgoldfinger and FraterOiram like this.
    1. germay0653
      Regarding bass (lows) you say: 'they were present and hit hard enough, just not at the level a true basshead might be looking for. The Life of Pablo by Kanye followed in a similar fashion, and songs like “Waves” and “Famous” didn’t leave me asking for more' but do they accurately portray what you hear live?  With headphones (open, closed and IEM's), I find that acoustic bass notes are portrayed accurately, relatively speaking, but electronically amplified bass never seems to accurately compare to what your hear live at a concert.  I know part of that is, at a live concert you feel, viscerally, the bass in addition to hearing it but with cans it just doesn't seem to sound the same in intensity.  Just puzzled why acoustic and amplified bass have such disparity when listening through cans.  I can't be the only one who experiences this.
      germay0653, Dec 14, 2016
    2. cvbcbcmv
      @germay0653 To be completely honest, I couldn't tell you. Despite how much I love listening to music and how important it is to me, I have never been the biggest concert goer. So unfortunately, I can't really make any real life comparisons between the music I listen to and its reproduction, especially music with a lot of bass, to how it sounds in concert. However, based on your description and my basic concept of how they sound, I think the Katana might be the closest to what you're looking for in an IEM. The bass's presence is less focused on it dominating the soundstage, and more focused on the shear intensity and power of an individual beat. It's more of a hit or pounding of a subwoofer/drum than it is an actual sound. More of a feeling, less of a sound. I'm not sure if that makes too much sense, but I think it might be what you're looking for.
      cvbcbcmv, Dec 14, 2016
    3. germay0653
      Thanks for the response @cvbcbcmv!  I would love to listen to the Dulce Bass model but finding a brick and mortar establishment where I could try to listen to a universal close to where I live is near impossible.  I know I could order a universal to listen to and return they if they didn't fit my need but I just find that not the most honest thing to do.  Also, I can never get a proper seal with universal IEM's so I'd have to go custom.  Unfortunately, the Katana is out of my price range at the moment.
      germay0653, Dec 14, 2016

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