Artic Cables - A Chilling Experience with the Meze Empyrean
I have never been much of a believer in cables making a sonic difference in a headphone or IEM. I understand that this a very debatable topic but I thought I would dip my foot into the waters.
I own a plentiful amount of various cables for headphones and IEM. I purchase them for aesthetics, build, design, length, connections, terminations and if they improve sonics then it is a bonus. The sonic differences that I have noticed are minimal and subtle at best and usually not even noticed. The largest difference that I may have heard is the difference between copper and silver; copper being a little smoother and silver more on the energetic side. Also, I believe that there are other factors that should be considered when swapping cables; music files, source gear, headphones, IEM, pads, tips, connectors, room acoustics, mood, etc.
I was contacted by a friend of the channel, Cameron, who offered to loan two of his cables to me to test out and review. With skepticism but intrigued I agreed to give them a listen.
Here are my thoughts on whether or not cables can and/or do make a difference.
I only have one headphone that will fit the mini XLR connectors of the loaned Artic Cables, the Meze Empyrean. Well, that is great because I love the Empyrean and it is my favorite headphone. Here is a link to my Meze Empyrean review:
Honestly, I have no idea how to go about reviewing cables. I have no way of testing the cables to verify the specs. I have no way of listening to more then one cable at a time. I only have one Empyrean so there is a time gap between listening sessions while swapping out the cables. I currently don't have an amplifier that has both single-ended and balanced headphone outputs.
I am currently waiting on a new amp, Mytek THX AAA HPA, so I can have a balanced amp that pairs with my Liberty DAC. Until then I have been using the Geshelli Labs Erish balanced amp paired with the Mytek Liberty. This causes a discrepancy in the testing as the Erish only has XLR output, no single-ended output, and all other cables are single-ended and are being tested on the Mytek Liberty. So the DAC, Mytek Liberty, stays the same but the amp is different, does this add a difference in sound?
But there is more then that, I think. Honestly, it is so hard to determine if you are actually hearing differences based on the cable, the gear or both.
I think the best way to do a review is just talk about each cable experience and give a conclusion at the end.
Gear: Mytek Liberty; Geshelli Labs Erish
If there is one thing that I would complain about on the Empyrean is the stock cable. The overall build is great but the stiffness drives me crazy at times. The sound of the stock cable is very pleasing. Bass is amazingly detailed and tonally accurate. Mids are natural and detailed impeccably. Treble is extended, airy and controlled. Details and resolution are incredible. The soundstage, depth and layering are crazy good. Everything about the Empyrean and the stock cable just sound realistic and natural. If the stock cable was the only cable I used with the Empyrean, I would be content.
Corpse Audio Grave Digger:
I purchased the Corpse Audio Grave Digger cable as an upgrade with an XLR termination.
Keep in mind, this is the only cable that was tested with the Geshelli Labs Erish. The Gravedigger is built with a rubber outside that is soft and light. The sound of the Corpse Audio GraveDigger is different then the stock cable, maybe. Comparing to the stock cable, if I do hear a difference, and I think I do, it is very subtle. Bass may have a bit more authority. Mids might be a touch more clear. Treble seems to have a smidge more sparkle and energy. But then and again, it could be the different amplifier playing tricks with the sound.
Artic Cable ION+ :
The Artic Cable ION+ is a fabric build that is nice to hold and is hand braided. I love this cable for its amazing build quality and it is well behaved. The ION+ is one of the best cables I have ever held in my hands. Moving on to the sonics of the Artic Cable ION+; is there a noticeable difference or are my ears playing games with my brain? I like the sound of the ION+ but it does something different in the soundstage, it sounds darker and somewhat compressed. Treble doesn't have as much energy . This is interesting for sure. I really do enjoy the sound of the ION+ but it makes the background dark and the Empyrean loses that natural aura. This is a mystery that I quite enjoy.
Artic Cable Cuprum:
Oh I thought the build of the ION+ was nice but the Artic Cable Cuprum is amazing. The soft, supple rubber outer lining is fantastic feeling and incredibly controlled, no twisting or tangling. The hand braided cable is beautiful to behold, yeah this is the nicest cable I have ever held in my hand. The Artic Cable Cuprum changes things up a bit more and again I have to ask myself, is this real or are my ears playing games with my brain? Immediately noticeable is an airiness and openness to the sound versus the ION+; reminiscent of the stock cable. But there is an authority to the sound, similar to the Grave Digger but this is a single-ended not balanced cable. Details are presented clear and distinct but are not unnatural. Resolution is spectacular. There is a smoothness but an edginess at the same time, this is the most realistic I have heard the Empyrean. There isn't a note or a detail missing and it is all in its rightful place, this is craziness. This can't be really happening, can it!? The mystery continues.
I take the Meze Empyrean off my head, verify that I am not listening to speakers. Then I check my surroundings and confirm that I am sitting at my desk and not in a venue.
I don't know what to say; did I really hear what I heard? Did I experience sonic differences between cables or was I tricked by my ears and brain? Was the source gear, music and my mood influencing the perceived sonic differences? Is it worth the price to experience these sonic mystery moments? Is there a clear, distinct standout reason why you should replace the stock cable with one of these cables? I can't say yes or no with 100% certainty, so I guess the answer is, maybe. I wish that I could say that you should shell out the extra money for these cables and your Meze Empyrean experience will be transformed to another dimension of sonic bliss but, I just can't. Did I hear differences in the cables? Yeah, I believe I did! But, is it worth the difference in cost? I don't believe so for me but it could be for you.
At the end of this review, I still believe what I believed going in, cables can make a difference in small and subtle ways and it all depends on what you value and are willing to pay. Also, throw another kink into the mix, gear that is used in the chain. I am a true believer in sonic synergy and that involves everything in the mix; music, source gear, headphones, cables, pads, listening chair, room acoustics, mood, etc. and you may or may not end up with the same experience. Do you want the opportunity to experience something possibly different? I recommend that you try some Artic Cables.
YouTube reviews: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgMj7xJ1SDxGqqxZ5l3g_jg
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkDbs @TalkDbs
DBS Tech Talk research and review process: https://youtu.be/UkSnoZZNyYc
Audio Terms and Definitions: https://www.stereophile.com/reference/50/index.html
Meze Empyrean: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean
Hifiman Ananda: https://hifiman.com/products/detail/290
Sennheiser HD660s: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/hd-660-s
MrSpeakers Ether C (non flow version) https://danclarkaudio.com/
Meze Rai Penta: https://mezeaudio.com/collections/all/products/rai-penta
Meze Rai Solo: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-solo
Moondrop SSR: https://www.moondroplab.com/ssr
Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 788: https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=24459
Mytek Liberty: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/liberty-dac/
Soekris DAC1421: https://soekris.modhouseaudio.com/soekris-audiophile-line/dac-1421
Tor Audio Roger: https://toraudio.com/main.html#
Massdrop THX AAA 789:
Grace Design SDAC-B: https://drop.com/buy/drop-grace-design-standard-dac-balanced?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S
Geshelli Labs Enog 2 Pro: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/enog2-pro-dac-metal-case
Geshelli Labs J2: https://geshelli.com/jnog
Geshelli Labs Erish: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/erish-balanced
https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/5bbf80ce-33f3-4222-a1fc-6539a95415d6 (in order of playlist)
Tingvall Trio “Beat” - piano tonality
Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - multiple layer soundstage
Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - female vocal tone
Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - male vocal tone
Eric Clapton “Change the World” - soundstage, layering and placement
Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” - acoustic instrument timbre
Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - acoustic instrument timbre
Pain of Salvation “Stress” - percussion balance
Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - orchestral dynamics
Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - sibilance check
Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - shouty upper mids
Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - imaging
Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - sub bass extension
Marcus Miller “No Limit” - bass control
Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- bass check
Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”- orchestra and bass dynamics
Hans Zimmer :2049” - sub bass extension
Cher: Believe - sibilance
Stanley Clarke - Passenger 57 main title - percussion, bass, seperation and placement
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - The Pine of the Appian Way - soundstage, imaging and seperation
Houston Person - You are my Sunshine - tone and timbre
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