Pros: Aesthetics, lightweight, flexibility, and low microphonics
Q-audio French Silk Aftermarket Cable for MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
I have spent a little over two months with the Alpha Dogs and its stock cable. About one month into the journey I acquired a Q-audio 8-foot cable for the Dogs. The gamut of effects I heard from previous aftermarket cables with other headphones has spanned from inaudible to subtle to dramatic. At the start I did not want to believe that cables could make an audible difference, but making such a statement without trying one is no fun. My engineering buddies who work in the field of materials sciences do not believe in differences among cables. That was my bias going into the world of cables. And to be truthful, for many cables I have not heard a difference in stock vs. aftermarket. Bigger effects will be heard from a change in DAC or amp than a cable. With that said, I am up for trying cables at times when it is within my budget. For these icing-on-the-cake type of purchases I have gone as high as $180 for interconnects and $300 for headphone cables. Nowadays I use affordable Blue Jeans Cables interconnects, but I am willing to splurge for headphone cables even if for the reasons of a lighter and longer cable with better aesthetics. In the past I have noticed acoustic and comfort benefits using copper Litz cables with the LCD-2 and HE-500. To my ears, the biggest benefits were in clarity. That clarity helped with revealing more low-level detail. These benefits were most noticeable when I used aftermarket cables on the Audeze LCD-2 rev1/rev2 and still to some degree on the HE-500. Those finding suggested to me that the stock cable that comes with the Hifiman HE-500 is more than acceptable and the early Audeze cables were not so great. Since those days I have been open to trying an aftermarket cable with planar magnetic headphones. This brings us back to the Alpha Dog.
The stock cable that comes with the Alpha Dog is very, very good in regards to acoustics and durability. My main complaint might be the length and it is heavier than other aftermarket cables that come with cotton or silk sheaths. These minor complaints in themselves would not require the additional purchase of cables. Some may even think the current length and weight of the stock cable are ideal for their listening room. I move around a bit in my room so a cable that is lighter, longer, and has low microphonics are important to me. When the relatively heavy and rubber-sheathed stock cable is moved around you will hear it through in the cups. Nothing to lose sleep over but there may be individuals that use their Alpha Dog in a more portable manner than I do. In such a situation a shorter, lighter cable would be ideal.
Q-AUDIO CABLE: FIRST RULE, DO NO HARM
I spent one month prior to receiving the Q-audio cable just listening to the stock cable. The Q-Audio cable is a Type 2 litz (20.74 gauge equivalent) cable sheathed in sexy red silk. When the Q cable arrived I spent weeks getting used to any potential sound signatures. This was done with normal listening to a wide range of music several evenings a week. Then over the span of two weeks I set my up main listening tracks and went back forth between the cables. I paid attention to a number of different aspects of sound: clarity, detail, harshness/edge, speed, excessive smoothing, soundstage, and tonality. Initially, I thought I’d be writing a long-winded, wordy review comparing the technicalities of each cable. This will not be the case. I could not hear differences between the stock cable and the Q-audio cable using the equipment and tracks listed at the end of this review. This finding points to the Alpha Dog stock cable as being excellent. This also means the Q-audio cable is excellent in as much as it does not result in a loss of performance over the stock cable. Naturally, this is what we would expect in an aftermarket cable. I have experienced undesirable changes in sound quality with some aftermarket IEM cables. In the end, this experience was a departure from prior trials with copper Litz cables. However, this clearly is an indication that MrSpeakers has included a top-notch cable with the Alpha Dog. Kudos.
I did my best to be fair when judging both cables. Nobody likes a tie score. I volume-matched and took notes. The Decware amp is a highly regarded amp that has sufficient power and with sufficient transparency that makes tube rolling a significant part of its performance. I used familiar audio tracks that have certain acoustic qualities that I would be able to judge with each cable. With that said, there are reasons why my system could rightly be scrutinized. My stock cable is balanced and my Q-audio cable is single-ended. Unfair advantage to the stock cable? I know people say that a balanced configuration actually does sound better than a single-ended configuration. The Decware Taboo tube amp that I use has both single-ended and balanced headphone jacks. The Taboo is not a true balanced headphone amplifier as there are no balanced inputs. The topology of the circuits is beyond my knowledge so I am more than happy to let others chime in. The balanced output of my Taboo is louder than the single-ended output. Others have indicated that the balanced output from the Taboo is better than its single-ended output. If true, the fact that the single-ended Q-audio cable can keep up with the stock balanced cable is quite amazing. When I get a chance I will buy a 4-pin-to-TRS adapter so that the two cables get a chance to go through the same amplification circuit. If I notice any differences I will make an amendment to this review. Additionally, there are >100 hours on the Q-Audio cable and >200 hours on stock cable. I listened to each cable during this period. Some might say these are not sufficiently burned in. I didn’t notice any change to the sound signature during this period for any of the cable. If changes occur I will keep this review updated. I hope to add a solid-state amplifier in the near future as well to serve as another method for comparison of the two cables. I could have waited to publish the review, but knowing myself, the longer I wait for everything to be right the more likely it is that “life” will interject and nothing gets written up. How many of us are sitting on a handful of reviews?
How does one justify the cost of a $300 cable and $600 headphone?
For me it boils down to…
Quality of Materials
The Q-audio cable is of the highest quality and craftsmanship. Steve has described the cable-making process to me via emails and I am amazed by the intricacy needed to braid these cables. Steve is a straight shooter with outstanding customer service. A true gentleman and scholar. He makes no audiophile claims about his cables; he only speaks to the build materials and workmanship of his cable. While I have heard the benefits of his cables in reference to other headphones, I think the Alpha Dog cable holds its own. I prefer the Q-audio cable over stock in regards to length, weight, microphonics, and aesthetics. I recommend the Q-audio cable to anyone with similar justifications as myself. I am willing to loan out the Q-audio cable to anyone who wants to hear it for pleasure. Anyone who can do a proper side-by-side comparison in a single-ended system is also welcome to use my cable alongside his or her single-ended stock cable.
Main tracks used:
John Coltrane, “A Love Supreme Part I”
Ben Howard, “Oats in the Water”
Steely Dan, “Hey Nineteen”
The Super Audio Collection Volume #5, “Sonata No. 1 in G Minor – Adagio”
Andre 300 featuring Norah Jones, “Take Off Your Cool”
Pierre Bensusan, “Altiplanos”
Metallica, “The Unforgiven”
Joni Mitchell, “Blue”
Keith Jarrett et al, “Autumn Leaves”
Eva Cassidy, “Leaves of Gold”
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, “Arabia”
Head-fi and HD Tracks, “Open Your Ears” album
Macbook Pro > Amarra > Ciunas DAC > Decware CSP3+ preamp > Decware Taboo MKIII amp > Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog (balanced stock cable, single-ended Q-audio cable)
Previously owned aftermarket headphone cables:
Q-audio SE cable for HE-500
Norse Norn SE cable for HE-500 and LCD-2 rev1/rev2
Contact Steve Eddy about ordering cables for Alpha Dogs. firstname.lastname@example.org
For hard wire of Q-audio cable into your Alpha Dog contact BTG-Audio. http://www.btg-audio.com/