Matchability

Efficiency

Noble are usually reluctant to divulge their technical ratings so in terms of efficiency it can usually lead to a bit of contextual referencing with other Noble and competitor IEMs to get a feel of how easy the Katana will be to drive. Of late the best you can hope for is the statement that their IEMs are now sensitive enough for use with smartphones as well as portable amps and DAPs. In the case of the Katana, this is probably the most efficient IEM I have tested yet from Noble and easier to drive than their lower-end IEMs

Katana LowSavanna LowKatana HighSavanna High
AK24055607580
X7 (AM3)35405055
Cayin i515182527
Sony ZX230%35%40%45%
Opus#160657580

Note this is nothing scientific and our comfortable listening levels may differ from person to person but not by a big amount to render these figures irrelevant.

New Drivers

In comparison to the quad-BA Savanna universal IEM, you can clearly see my listening habits produced a lower volume setting with the Katana right throughout the 5 DAPs tested in low gain mode. The low gain volume drop was around 10% between a suitable comfortable low listening level and the highest I wanted to go before it became uncomfortable.

Higher Sensitivity

Typically older Noble designs sat at around 30 ohms so I have a feeling the Katana either has a much higher sensitivity rating or the ohms have dropped or both. My guess is you talking about 110-115dB max sensitivity rating for the Katana and anywhere from 20-30 ohms as the noise level from all sources was quite low with no background noise.

For portable amps, however, this means the Katana is a little bit fussier than previous Noble IEMs further down the range such as the Savanna. You will not need the same level of voltage to drive them and in the case of known noisy amps for sensitive IEMs such as the V5, it will exhibit a higher level of background hiss than the Savanna (which is not dead silent either). It does, however, sound sublime with portable amps such as the Cypher Labs Picollo, iBasso PB3 and ALO Audio RX in low gain mode and at low voltage levels.

Tonal Pairings

Tip Performance

Tip choice is incredibly important with the Katana. Do not underestimate the difference the silicone and foam tips make to the overall presentation. For me, it has to be foams. The silicone tips suck out the bass weight, thinned out the note and produced an overly bright top end. It wasn’t jarring ‘per se’, just simply not the kind of reference sound I couldn’t listen to for long periods without some fatigue.

The Foams on the other hands changed the presentation to exactly how I like it. Sub-Bass power was more noticeable, mid-to-treble notes had a more natural tonal quality with the better body and the treble softened just a tiny amount without any loss of detail. The additional sealing quality of Noble foams does help in producing that more substantial and enjoyable presentation.

Source/Amp Matching

The Katana does not require huge amounts of power but if you want the very best out of I would suggest matching it with something highly resolving, with good detail but at the same time a source or amp that is not too thin or cold sounding. Using the foam tips you will get a bit more leeway in what you can pair it with also over the silicone tips as it retains more body in the presentation when paired with amps and sources.

Sources

Out of the five DAPs tested the best for detail with the Katana included the ZX2 and the AK240 with the AK240 edging it terms of micro detail and imaging. The ZX2 hit a little harder than the AK240 but for pure impact and slam the i5 offered the most, followed by the X7 and the Opus#1. Of the mid-range, DAPs tested the X7 brought out the most treble energy and articulation with a bit more sparkle than either the i5 or the Opus#1. The Opus#1 was the smoothest sounding of the mid-fi pairings with a more relaxed sound and a slightly fuller mid-range than either the X7 or the i5.

Portable Amps

Out of the four portable amps tested the Picollo offered the most low-end weight and the darkest tonal presentation when paired with the Katana in low gain mode. This was one of my favorite pairings just ahead of the sweeter sounding but noisier ALO Audio V5.

The ALO Audio RX maximized the staging and spaciousness of the Katana beautifully but its gain is a touch too high with less control over the volume pot than I would like. If you want to open up the mids a bit more without the noise of the V5 and a slightly smoother more subtle delivery than the RX then the PB3 from iBasso is an excellent choice also.

Select Comparisons

Campfire Audio Andromeda

$1099

Efficiency

The Andromeda is a super efficient 5 driver IEM that sells for about half the price of the Katana. Ordinarily, I would not be comparing this but for the fact, its hugely popular and just about anyone who has it swears it punches well above its fiscal weight. I have to admit also its one of my favorite multi-BA universal IEMs out there and proves multi-driver counts are pointless, it is what you do with it that counts.

The Andromeda is rated at 16 ohms and 120dB and its the most sensitive IEM I have ever tested and definitely easier to drive than the Katana with a full 10-15 steps lower in terms of volume on the AK380. It really requires little in the way of voltage, just a quality signal.

Tonality

Bass

Tonally I actually prefer the low end of the Katana over the Andromeda but this is down to pure preference. The Katana bass response is more linear than the Andromeda. Generally speaking, the Andromeda is going deliver the superior weight and fullness but so also a little additional warmth. The Katana leaves a bit more room for the sub-bass to shine and overall sounds a little tighter and better defined. As such the Andromeda comes across as musical but a little softer for me and not as realistic.

Mids

That prevailing contrast between musicality and warmth and clarity plus neutrality pretty much continues between both IEMs through the mids. Both have a boosted vocal presence but the Katana has a little bit more space between the instrumental positioning and vocals than the Andromeda which is a bit smoother in tonality and just a hair’s breath further back but not by much. Instrumental work on the Andromeda has a fuller richer timbre than the clean sound of the Katana’s instrumental presentation

Treble

CA’s tubeless chamber tech does it proud with excellent treble extension and a detailed but natural sounding top-end on the Andromeda. The Katana, however, is even cleaner, more forward and articulate sounding with outstanding extension and air. It is like moving from an A to an A star in grading terms.

For those deliberating between the two, the Andromeda warmer fuller sound lends itself better to rock and certain modern genres of pop and EDM whereas the Katana’s cleaner more detailed presentation is best with orchestral works, acoustics and swirling synth wave work or trance.

Visions Ears VE6XC

VE6 Xcontrol: 1899 EUR (-19% VAT if outside EU)

CIEM or Universal?

You can only get the VE6XC in a custom format so there is less to worry about in terms of tips, comfort, and seal. If the custom work is correct then any custom should beat out any universal in terms of passive noise isolation.

Foam tips work wonders on the Katana universal but the VE6XC will beat it out for the very reason it is a universal. My recommendation is to get the Katana custom version if you want the very best in terms of seal and comfort.

Efficiency

The VE6 is rated at 112db and 20 ohms and is significantly more efficient and easier to drive than the Katana with a 10 step drop on the AK380’s volume to get an approximately similar loudness level.

My earlier testing in terms of volume compared to the Savanna and then against the VE6 would definitely mean the Katana is below 115dB in sensitivity and probably higher in resistance than the VE6. That being said the VE6 will pick up noise quicker than the Katana though both will be more than happy on most sources and the aforementioned portable amps tested with the Katana.

Tonality

Both have a very spacious and open sounding tonal presentation with the VE6XC having a hint more warmth in the mids and treble compared to the more energetic top end of the Katana. You really do need the X control switched to the heavier bass profile though for the VE6 to be competitive. With the switch off it sounds flat and lacking in dynamics and a very anemic bass which the Katana stomps on.

Bass

Bass response on both are good but the Katana has the better sub-bass extension and presence. The VE6XC is a more traditional BA bass signature. It is tight, full sounding but does not have the spaciousness and reach of the Katana’s more natural sounding, almost dynamic like low-end delivery.

Mids

Mids on the VE6 are a touch more intimate with a more forward vocal presence than the more neutral sounding Katana. I have always remarked on the excellent width of the VE6 staging and true enough it still has some stellar width but the Katana adds good width also and sounds a bit more 3 dimensional than the VE6.

Treble

Treble on the Katana is cleaner, perhaps a touch brighter but certainly more extended and airy sounding than the VE6. The VE6 doesn’t have the same energy levels and might not come across as quite as articulate but it sounds very natural to my ears with very good detail.

Obravo EAMT-2c

£2,899

Efficiency

Technically this is a hybrid dual driver dynamic universal IEM with AMT technology at the treble crossover. It is also the best sounding universal IEM I tested for 2016 with its semi-open design it sounds beautifully open if a little bass light. It is also significantly less efficient than the Katana and a little harder to drive on DAPs with low gain around 10-15 steps higher on the AK240 volume for example.

Tonality

Bass

For additional bass, the 1C is the way to go but that doesn’t mean the bass is lacking on the 2C. The EAMT-2SC bass response has fantastic definition and body. It’s fast, it is tight but it is very well defined. The Katana though hits a little bit harder with more sub-bass presence. Whilst both will not dominate the weight and body of the Katana edge it for me making the Noble creation the ‘go-to’ for low-end power and bass fundamentals.

Mids

Like the Katana, the 2C has an open airy sound and in both cases this really helps with the mid-range performance. Instrumental separation and imaging on both are absolutely on the money though spatial cues are a little more dynamic sounding on the Katana than the 2C which has a slightly softer presentation. In terms of staging, the Katana is not as forward as the 2C for vocal presence, though not far behind.

Treble

Both have the treble as their major selling point but the presentation is different. With the Katana, I feel the energy, the sparkle, and the excellent extension. With the 2C I get a natural airy flow right up to the very final octave with bags of detail and zero roll off. You can really hear the different technologies at work in both IEM’s treble tonal balance and delivery. I still edge the 2C but then it very well should do for $1k more. The Katana, however, is the best BA IEM thus far for delivering an airy, well extended, and detailed treble.

Our Verdict

As a cleaner more neutral and balanced flagship sound the Katana Wizard Edition is going to be very hard to beat in our universal IEM reviews this year. It ticks plenty of boxes with a sound that’s close to neutral with a little boost at the low-end, vocals and treble to give it a very engaging but detailed sound. It is airy and spacious sounding, probably one of the most spacious sounding IEMs I have heard to date. It runs the EAMT-2C pretty close in terms of treble extension and detail but just differing in terms of sparkle versus natural delivery.

It is also the easiest to drive Noble IEM’s I have heard to date by some distance. It roughly 10-15% more efficient than the quad BA Savanna so those worried that a regular DAP won’t cut it I would say you are pretty safe with the Katana. The only caveats I can find really are the need to switch to foams for a fuller sound and the resolution and timbre of the source/amp to get the best out of the Katana in terms of dynamics and clarity. I was not a fan of the silicone sound with the Katana’s which made it too thin and brittle sounding.

You can opt to go custom or universal with the Katana much like the rest of the range. The Wizard Edition is beautiful but not yet for sale on the website. I am expecting that at some point with some fabulous faceplate designs.

Sadly, I do not have a K10 or Encore side by side to compare but judging by the comments out there the Katana will provide the perfect reference compliment to the fuller richer sound of the Kaiser and I can fully understand why it is being marketed as a co-flagship.

Technical Specifications

  • 9 proprietary balanced armature drivers per side
  • Sensitive enough for use with smartphones as well as portable amps and DAPs
  • Hand-assembled and matched
  • Detachable cable with industry standard 2-pin configuration (0.78 mm diameter)
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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • Dill

    Comparison to campfire andromeda? which do you prefer?

    • headfonics

      Katana, and thats no surprise. However, the Andromeda is excellent for the price.

      • Dill

        Thanks any reasons why?

        • headfonics

          More resolving and better control and more headroom. The Andromeda is a more rounded musical affair.