Expensive Headphone Cables - A personal investigation

Discussion in 'Modifications and Tweaks' started by Rthomas, Feb 13, 2017.

  1. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    Introduction:

    Hi Guys,

    A few days ago I started a thread that was named 'Should SBAF do a cable expose?'
    My intention was not to start a giant garbage fire but to explore an area of the hobby that has been bugging me for a while. I'm totally biased against expensive cables but I can easily be shot down by true believers who say that I should shut my mouth unless I've tried them for myself.

    Well, I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and begin a personal investigation into this cable business.

    I will start buying and trying expensive headphone cables to share my experience with everyone. Any suggestions or feedback is welcome and I hope this will be helpful to others.

    A note on my hearing: I'm far from the most experienced person here but I'm 31 and I believe my hearing is in pretty good shape. I'm the kind of guy who uses 3M Peltor ear defenders when vacuuming and ear plugs when I attend concerts a few times a year. :D

    I've gained a lot of useful information from this forum over the past year, hopefully this year I can contribute a bit more.

    DAY 1: 13/02/2017

    Test No:1 - HD650 Stock Cable with 3.5mm adapter (RRP 12 GBP for 3m) VS Cardas Cross Cable (RRP 225 GBP for 3m)

    Listening Chain: Dell Laptop with Tidal HIFI > HD650

    The HD650 is surprisingly satisfying directly out of my cheap Dell laptop. My listening levels are usually around 75dB and I need need to use only half the digital volume control.

    My usual chain is Laptop>Mimby>Mojo 2 (with stock tubes) and this is not the massive downgrade I imagined it would be.

    I play a few familiar songs in succession, sometimes listening to the same 20 second snippet 3 or 4 times before switching cables. The switch takes me less than 30 seconds so I don't think I'm losing much in terms of audio memory.

    Early conclusion:

    I simply cannot detect a difference between the cables. I listen to a particular detail in a song with the Cardas and then switch to the Stock cable and the detail is still there. I imagine that the bass has suddenly become more pronounced with the Cardas and then switch to stock and notice that it's still the same.

    To be continued:

    Next up:

    1. I will continue to evaluate the Cardas cable by using it exclusively for a few days and then switching back.

    2. I have already ordered a Cardas Cross cable with 6.3mm jack so I can compare it to the stock cable using my Schiit rig.

    3. Eventually I plan to try a few other brands as well like Kimber Kable etc.

    Cheers

    Thomas |{

    Day 2 - 14/02/2017

    Test setup same as Day 1


    I did some early morning listening for a 90 mins. This time I played complete songs twice. Once with each cable. There was no set order for using the cables. The volume controls were not touched when switching cables.

    I heard what could be a slight treble energy decrease with the Cardas. This was so small that it could easily be imagined or due to the time between switches. I just want to be as honest as possible with myself and everybody. I’m firmly on the expensive cables are snake oil side but I will report any findings to the contrary.

    This treble decrease even if present cannot be interpreted as being ’better’. I’m sure most people would agree that ‘brightness’ is the least of the HD650s problems.

    So far I can easily say that the Cardas seems to be a giant waste of money. The build quality is decent. I would pay maybe £15 to £20 extra for this vs the stock cable.

    Thanks for all the comments. For the next few days I will use the Cardas for an extended time before switching back.

    PS

    I have no problem with cable makers selling their wares based on build quality. Please see Cardas marketing claim below for my specific cable:

    Proprietary molded mini headphone connections eliminate unnecessary soldered connections found in other replacement cables, thus improving signal transfer. Inside you’ll find double shielded, four-conductor, pure copper litz Golden Ratio constant Q conductors. That’s a real mouthful, but what it means to you is that the Cardas Headphone Cable will significantly improve the sound of your Sennheiser headphones.-

    The last line clearly seems to be a lie in my experience unless you want to change the meaning of the word ‘significantly’.

    DAY 3: 20/02/2017

    Test No:1 - HD650 Stock Cable with 3.5mm adapter (RRP 12 GBP for 3m) VS Cardas Cross Cable (RRP 225 GBP for 3m)

    Listening Chain: Dell Laptop with Tidal HIFI >Schiit Modi MB>Schiit Mjolnir 2 SE out(stock tubes)> HD650

    Some concerns were raised as I used the cable straight from my laptop. The only reason I did this was I ordered a 3.5mm jack by mistake.

    My Cardas Cross cable with 6.3mm jack arrived a few days ago.I know that the SE out of the Mojo 2 is not ideal but I think this rig will suffice to test the cable.

    Again I could hear no difference between Stock and Cardas Cross.Nothing else to report at this time.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2017
  2. Rockin_Zombie

    Rockin_Zombie Almost "Made"

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    Kudos to you for taking this bold step. A suggestion for making the test a little more objective, since you are spending money on it anyway, why not get a second pair of HD650, a splitter, and plug both of them in at the same time with different cables? That way you can continuously switch back n forth. Hell, if the headphones feel the same on your head you can ask a friend to help out and do a double-blind test. I have seen cable manufacturers setting up such rigs in shows (only photos never attended shows).
     
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  3. bazelio

    bazelio Friend

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    I have no idea if there should be a detectable difference between the cables in play here, but I will make a general suggestion: Don't do it that way - switching back and forth and back, repeating 20 second snippets, and trying to key in on specific details. Instead, go through your library of favorite familiar songs for a couple hours, then re-listen to it all again with the one change (in this case a headphone cable) introduced. Straining to hear certain details is not only unfun, but also tiring. Let the differences come to you instead of strenuously trying to find them. Think bigger picture at first. How has the presentation changed overall? Based on that, after a while, you can start to pick out deltas from the overall presentation to zero in on. But trying to do so right off the bat can make your brain sore and be very dissatisfying.

    Also.... Something something cable burn in something something.... God I feel icky.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
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  4. iaval

    iaval Rando

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    Hi Rthomas and thanks for the effort,
    few recommendations for your tests if you don't mind. Try doing it with a switchbox, with each signal path (switch position) going through each cable.
    That way you'll elimitate most external effects, such as different transducer positioning towards ear canal, which is inevitable when putting on/taking off headphones.
    As there's only very little gap in changing sources (official sources say that after 0.2 seconds, human auditory system starts to deteriorate), you should theoretically come to a more accurate conclusion.

    Such switchbox is fairly cheap DIY project, one 3-rank or 4-rank switch (one needs to switch all signal paths at once, not just common negative), cables equally long and good plugs (I'd recommend either Neutrik NYS range or Sennheiser).
    If you're based in EU, I could help you in getting that switchbox assembled :)

    Other way, using one's imagination, is feeding each transducer through different cable.

    As for my observations, I found only one cable causing audible effects, stock AKG cable on K240M.
    Upon verification, it was immediately replaced by Van Damme Mini Starquad (around $2.5/metre)

    Best wishes and good luck with your tests
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
  5. landroni

    landroni Friend

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    Oh really, how official is that?

    So what you seem to be suggesting is that if I listen to a pair of Apple ear buds, then wait over 0.2 seconds before switching to a Focal Utopia (same source, same amp, etc.), then I wouldn't recall just how shitty the ear buds sounded compared to the Utopias?
    Hell, let's make it even more interesting: If I play some Diana Krall on an Yggy, then after 0.2 seconds let myself hear a bigass truck honking thrice, will my auditory system have deteriorated sufficiently that after 1 second lapsed I could no longer reliably tell the difference between the Yggy and the honking truck? Or a flushing toilet? So I could never ever again tell the difference, not after 2 days, 5 months or 10 years, because of auditory system deterioration?

    Never really could understand what the "no long-term auditory memory" argument was supposed to mean...
     
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  6. iaval

    iaval Rando

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    Thanks for your remark, I should have better explained.
    The correct term to use is Echoic memory
    J. Johnston mentions this on his blog

     
  7. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    @Rthomas: imho upgrade cables with most headphones will at the most yield slight differences or hopefully improvements, when the stock cable and the stock connector plugs and soldering all are of good quality. I doubt there is much to differentiate from your laptop out... You will need a more reavealing system. I upgraded cables because of optics and going balanced... I would recommend any of my friends to first spend money on better amp and dac (and well recorded music!). I am listening right now through some of my music collection and differences in recording quality are much more of my concern. If I could upgrade anything I would choose better recording engineers first... Anyway, good luck with your undertaking!
     
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  8. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    Thanks to everyone for comments and suggestions. Day 2 notes added to original post.

    I will get the Cardas cable with 1/4 inch jack in a day or two and then bring the Schiit rig into the picture.

    After that more fancy cable brands will be added.
     
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  9. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    In repeated listening tests, people tend to forget the most important thing: our brains. What they do, and how they do it has a much bigger effect on what we hear than almost anything in the chain leading to our ears.

    In a sample-rate comparison, I regularly decided that some detail was now audible, but checking the other file, found it there also.

    In general equipment listening tests where we play the same song over and over (oh no! Please not Hotel California or I'm outa here ;) ) of course our brains find new and different things to listen too. Why wouldn't they? They are, after all, highly perceptive things, and they hate getting bored. So, it is almost unreasonable to expect to hear the same thing every time even if we don't change anything.

    I am not saying that this rules out differences. However controversial certain components may be, nobody argues that transducers, at least, sound different.

    Well, short audio memory, however it should be technically described is a thing, and more of a thing than audiophiles often like to admit. But could I describe the major tonal differences of the two serious headphones I have owned , even if I haven't heard either for a week? Of course I can.

    Accurate comparison, though is another thing. I used to get this when I worked with pictures and printing. Some guy would look at the printed sheet and say, that is not right: should be colder, have been seeing that picture in the gallery for years. OK fine, but sorry, unless he was the Mozart of painting, colour memory is not that accurate either ... which is why we had colour-temperature controlled light-boxes and viewing, for side-by-side comparison. On the other hand, any fool should be able to tell if the printer had upped the red to the point that a summer scene starts to look like autumn.
     
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  10. Boops

    Boops Friend

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    Printing is a very cool comparison. If only we had the equivalent of Pantone chips for the various points on the FR curve.
     
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  11. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    I found this on reddit; a comment by the CEO of HeadRoom. I'm kind of shocked that he says this directly and that they sell many audiophile cables. This from a man who can listen to anything he wants any time he wants.

    JameyWarrenHeadphone.com 4 points 2 years ago

    Expensive headphone cables make a HUGE difference in bottom line profits for retailers. As for sound quality difference, virtually none. Unless they're worn out, defective or wired incorrectly, most cables sound the same. Don't believe me? Order some here:http://www.headphone.com/collections/cables/Headphone-Replacement-Cable



    I guess I have no problem if they make money because some people choose to believe but I do wonder what he tells them when they ask for cable buying advice. Hopefully he's not like the guy at Moon Audio who ''matches'' cables to headphones.
     
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  12. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    In a way, we do: whilst admitting their possible inadequacies, we bring measurements on the scene.

    I once heard it said that engineers hear the same stuff as audiophiles do, it's just that they know how to express it in numbers. I think there are actually more than a few around here who have taken that on board, with measurements being very much part of the appraisal, and trying to improve on the quality of the measurements being part of the quest.
    Yes, I find that hard to take on board. I do not know a single audiophile who does not believe in what they say, even when it, for some reason, cannot possibly be true. They (err... we: I'm a recovering audiophile ;)) are at least sincere. But that's the buyers. Maybe its too much to expect the same from [all] the sellers.

    But hell, I wonder what I'd do if I had an audio shop? Sell my soul to Audioquest? Shit... I'd choose Satan any day. And go bankrupt.

    I do admit that I [still] have a desire to buy some really, really expensive audio equipment and, having done so, at the best negotiated price, laugh at the guy's cables*.
    Oh... I can be so unkind! :pirate07:



    *An audiophile I visited once had purchased some really quite expensive MBL speakers (like, what I pay for a car). He and the dealer agreed that they sounded best connected with heavy-duty mains cable. Was there a difference anyway? Who knows! (I was not there for any comparison). But hats off to the dealer who was not out to just up his bottom line with the wire.
     
  13. Poleepkwa

    Poleepkwa Friend

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    Pantone is too expensive, CMYK is too dull, AdobeRGB is too wide gamut and sRGB is too limited. Obviously.;)
     
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  14. Grahad2

    Grahad2 Red eyes from too much anime

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    Or you could just sell it like this: http://schiit.com/products/pyst-cables

    I've heard minute differences over XLR balanced cables, but the difference is so small that it's (to me) the stuff you get after you spend most of your budget on the speaker/iem/headphone, then amp, then DAC (and alternative links besides USB), then think about cables. It's the stuff you get when you really really really like the sound the stuff you have is making, and want to make the spice flow even faster.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
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  15. DigMe

    DigMe Geekus Imperator

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    Personally I'm not too concerned with cables. I only bought a nice cable from Impact Audio (very cheap compared to Cardas) so I could have a good-looking 8-footer with 1/4" termination compared to the measly short 1/8" cable that came with my 6XX.
     
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  16. Boops

    Boops Friend

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    True, measurements are serving a bit of that role. I don't suppose we'll ever have something like the Pantone system, which is based on numerical data (i.e. measurements) but provides a standard for apples to apples comparisons -- printed color to printed color. Contrast this with audio measurements where you are comparing something you see to something you hear.

    The closest approximation seems to me to be a personal set of test tracks you know well from a personal reference system. The fact that every person has their own set of tracks and their own reference system means that anything approaching a Pantone-level of ubiquity is not realistic. "Hotel California" on HD650s doesn't count ;-)
     
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  17. Kattefjaes

    Kattefjaes Mostly Harmless

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    Even if you are a cable believer, you don't try to "test" it with a chain that is basically your laptop. TIny incremental changes are only clearly audible through decent resolving chains, once you're a reasonably acute listener. If you're in the "can't hear the difference when running Sonarworks" camp, then you're probably better off not declaring that you're going to subjectively "test" something that would only ever make the tiniest of audible difference (if indeed it does).

    There are other good reasons to get aftermarket cables, too. In the case of headphones, this includes comfort, lack of handling noise and yes, because they look cooler.
     
  18. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    Just to clarify:

    I can easily hear the difference when using the Hd800 + Sonarworks.

    When using the HD650 with Sonarworks the difference is much more subtle but I can detect a small change in the sound signature.

    I can easily hear the difference between a 320 Kbps file and the same song played in Tidal.

    The laptop only chain will be discarded once I get the Cardas 1/4 inch cable. Then I will use the Laptop>Mimby>Mojo 2 chain.

    I can conclusively state that my laptop only chain has more detail in the treble region than my Schiit Chain. Maybe the Mimby has treble roll off or maybe it is because of the Mojo 2's warmth or stock tubes but this is the first time I'm using Tidal straight from the laptop and I'm hearing things in songs that I could not hear when using the Laptop + Schiit chain. :eek: I did not expect this!

    Of course you give plenty of good reasons to buy after market cables other than sound quality.

    However most 'name brand' after market cables are sold with claims that they ''significantly'' improve sound quality accompanied by shilltastic reviews.

    These are the brands I'm interested in. Eg: Cardas, Danacable, Kimber, Double Helix Cables etc.

    All these brands sell cables that for a reasonable length will most likely match or exceed the cost of your headphones.

    Somebody needs to test these claims. If my tests are not good enough I hope others try as well, but I'm doing what I can with my limited gear and abilities mostly for myself but also on behalf of people who cannot try this stuff and always wonder whether the reviews claiming sonic nirvana are true.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  19. Torq

    Torq Not dead yet

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    It's not uncommon for "more detail" to simply be the way being "brighter" is interpreted. I'd expect an HD-650 driven straight off the typical laptop headphone output to sound a bit thin and bright. Worth thinking about and paying specific attention to. If you can't specifically identify the extra detail, it's probably just brightness. If you can, it's probably actual detail.

    Also, you might want to refrain from designating one result "better" or "worse" than another. In the event you do find reliably discernible shifts in tonality or performance between cables it'll be more useful to describe the differences you hear in more specific terms as what is "better" or "worse" is going to be highly subjective (a bass-head might love a rolled-off treble so they can jack the volume higher without getting their ear-drums pierced, where a treble-head might react with horror to that same presentation).
     
  20. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    Audio: sine waves, whote noise, etc are not music.

    Printing: Pantone flat colours are not pictures.

    And I would have to agree with the latter. Pantones are for flat colours. I used to have a pantone swatch for specifying colours for borders, etc, but we would never have used it in assessing a printed reproduction of a photographic transparency of an oil painting. I suppose if the thing is supposed to be facsimile (or something like bank notes) some sort of spectrograph measurement might be used. Not by us. Not even for a "fine-art" print, let alone a birthday card. We went with eyesight --- but in controlled, side-by-side conditions.

    And yeah, some people are better at it than others. The guy in the fabric shop, picking out material to match colours for sari blouses, was doing a better job of it than I could have done.
     

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