Pros: improved sound quality, excellent build quality, Modular cable is amazing!!!
Cons: needs at least 100 hrs of burn in (don't judge out of the box), a bit pricey
This is a combined Review of Whiplash Audio headphone cables, TWag v3 Litz and Modular Cable System. http://www.whiplashaudio.com/ . I would like to Thank Craig of Whiplash Audio for providing me with review samples of his cables in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally featured in a separate post: http://www.head-fi.org/t/757815/review-of-whiplash-audio-twag-v3-litz-and-modular-cable-system-a-true-forward-thinking-in-custom-cable-design-with-a-lot-of-close-up-pics so if anybody has additional questions, we can continue a discussion in that thread.
Discussion about removable headphone cables is often a hot topic with polarized opinion across different audio communities. As I mentioned in a number of my previous reviews, a headphone cable is a wire that bridges a gap between your source and a driver and also a bottleneck that will affect a sound based on the properties of the wire material. It’s not a voodoo magic and definitely not a “snake oil” as some refer to it – it’s a basic property of electrical signal traveling through a conductive material. Copper is a very common and the most cost effective material, and everybody is familiar with OFC (oxygen free copper) headphone wires. Nothing is wrong with OFC wires, except they don’t yield the best audio results. You can argue that “the best” is a relative comparison where a lot of people won’t even notice a difference. Sure, it all depends on a quality of your hardware source and a quality of audio files, architecture of headphone design, and also our hearing sensitivity which changes as we age. But I’ve also noticed another factor related to people’s expectations thinking that $300-$400 cable should make your headphone sound by that much better. The truth is that a cable, especially when you start looking into a pricey Pure Copper, Pure Silver, or mix of Silver/Gold, will fall into a category of diminishing returns. But if you already invested into $500-$1k IEMs and want to squeeze every bit of performance out these headphones – tip rolling will not give you the same level of refinement as you will get from a quality cable.
In the past I have looked into budget silver-plated replacement cables for convenience of marginal sound improvement, better fitment (eliminating memory wire), and more appealing look. Relative to stock cables those did introduce sound changes, but the margin of this “improvement” went down as I start looking into higher quality multi-driver IEMs. Now with more opportunities to test replacement headphone cables with different wire material, my eyes and ears really opened up to what I have been missing. I quickly realized that it’s not just a cable by itself that makes a sound improvement, but also a synergy of how well it pairs up with headphones and the source after a proper burn in. And believe me, these cables do require A LOT of burn in where it starts to pay off after 50-60hrs, though at least 100hrs is what recommended. Unfortunately, it could be a matter of trial’n’error to find a perfect combination if you need a Pure Copper, Pure Silver, or perhaps a mix of Ag/Au. That is a reason why sometimes it makes sense to update your stash with different types of cables so you have a choice to try which one works better with different headphones in your collection. Another choice you have to think about is where to buy your cables. Unlike your typical headphones, cables are custom made, and it all comes down to the experience of cable maker, his/her knowledge of different headphones and sources, and quality of workmanship.
Before I dive into details of Whiplash Audio cables, let me first mention why I decided to review these. Obviously, I'm in no way associated with Whiplash Audio and have no gain or any hidden interest if you decide to use their service or to go with someone else. I did talk to a number of different cable makers, some of which were honest with me, while others were pushing a sales pitch or badmouthing the competition. Craig, who is behind Whiplash Audio, was very honest in his communication, showed a lot of knowledge about the subject, and I was impressed with his experience of being in business for almost a dozen of years including ownership of Whiplash Audio for the last 8 years. But what impressed me the most was his forward thinking with innovative Modular Cable system, something I’ve never seen or heard of before. It wasn’t even a part of my original review intention, but I’m so glad I got an opportunity to test it. I think these cables deserve more attention, so I would like to share with you what I've found.
First, let me start with their TWag v3 Litz, Pure Silver cable. In their 3rd iteration, this OCC silver cable has been beefed up with 55% more Litz wire strands to 24awg gauge. From the first glance you can't help but notice how impressive this cable looks with its meaty 4-wire braided design perfectly matched with a high quality Oyaide Rhodium straight 3.5mm connector. The cable has a transparent shielding so you can clearly see silver Litz strands of the wires. Actually this transparent theme is common across different parts of the cable. Starting with a connector itself, there is clear transparent tubing covering part of the housing to provide an enhanced grip and to extend into a strain relief. The same type of the transparent tubing with Whiplash logo is used as y-splitter, separating braided part of the common wire side going up from 3.5mm connector and twisted pair side with L/R going to corresponding earpieces of IEM. This y-splitter tubing is actually very effective to form a natural strain relief and to show a continuity of 4 individual wires from MMCX connectors all the way down to headphone connector.
Bringing twisted pairs of L/R sides together is a beautifully crafted Wenge wooden chocker that compliments a finish of silver cable with a nice contrast. The L/R sides of the twisted cable gets terminated by a black plastic housing of mmcx connector with a decent strain relief. The housing itself is small enough, but still has a comfortable grip and corresponding L/R marking. The metal part of the connector is made out of Rhodium, a premium durable metal which is part of Platinum Group. Here is something interesting, the cable does look hefty, but it’s not heavy and actually very flexible with a comfortable wire up fitment over the ear. There is no need for earhooks, and a choker was of a great assistance in bringing wires together which also helps in reduction of microphonics down to a minimum. I wouldn’t say this cable becomes invisible like Linum BAX, but it was very comfortable and hardly noticeable during extended listening sessions.
Of course as great as it looks, this is not a piece of jewelry but rather a high quality audio cable intended to be used with headphones. Before diving into audio analysis, I would like to mention that you have a lot of different options before ordering this cable, and have flexibility to configure everything from a cable length and wire material to a specific type of headphone connector and source connector. My primary target of testing with provided TWag v3 Litz cable were Westone UM Pro 50 and W40 IEMs, and with that in mind the cable I received was outfitted with a Westone low-profile mmcx connector. FYI, you can use any universal mmcx connector with Westone IEMs, but a cable specific to their models with a low profile connector will not fit every other mmcx based IEM. That’s where a beauty of Modular Cable system comes in to play, but more about it later.
Using UM Pro 50 and Cayin N6 DAP as my main test vehicle to compare Westone OEM Epic cable vs TWag v3 Litz, the difference was quite apparent and easily distinguishable even in a blind test. First of all you hear a very noticeable improvement in retrieval of details, down to micro-detail level, and the sound itself became more transparent. Furthermore, the soundstage improved with more width and depth, something I already found in UM Pro 50 vs Pro 30 as an improvement while TWag v3 took it to the next level. Without sounding like a cliché, there were some new details I heard for the first time that wasn't as clear with Pure Copper or Linum BAX replacement cables in my previous testing. It really took some time of going back’n’forth between Epic and TWag to figure out what I was missing, until I realized those were some panned echoes and other stereo positioned elements of the delay, chorus, and reverb effects. Imaging and positioning was improved, and also sound was a bit louder. I like how bass became more articulate and better textured, but not as boosted as with Linum BAX. Mids gain a bit more depth, becoming more revealing and less veiled. Also, treble was brighter in comparison to Epic cable, but still perceived to be very organic.
UM Pro 50 was the biggest mystery to me because it’s such a capable IEM, but I felt that included Epic cable was holding it back from revealing its true potentials. TWag v3 Pure Silver cable opened up these hidden potentials, bringing it up to a spotlight. But I still would consider one of the biggest differences is how Epic cable focuses more on details of the sound positioned closer to the center, while everything else to the extreme left/right gets attenuated. With TWag v3 you hear vivid details of every sound in the mix with a precise positioning in space even at extreme stereo spread, something that was missing with Epic cable, Pure Copper cable, and Silver Plated cables.
When it comes to W40, I found TWag v3 to provide the same level of improvement as with Pro 50. I was very pleased to hear more mid-bass punch, though accentuations of upper mids and treble were a bit harsh and peaky for my taste – it wasn’t as organic as Pro 50, I guess just a matter of my personal opinion. Since W40 has a wider soundstage to begin with, the depth/width improvement wasn’t as drastic as with Pro 50, but I still enjoyed benefits of more accurate surround details. Lows were still well controlled, and I definitely enjoyed improved sub-bass and mid-bass punch, though I do have to mention that for my taste Pure Copper cable is more appropriate match with W40, making upper mids/treble smoother and less splashy.
Though I was very excited to get my hands on TWag v3 and to test it with my favorite IEMs, the undeniable star of this review is Whiplash Audio Modular Cable System. In this day and age, is it even possible to re-invent the wheel when it comes to headphone cables? There are some new design ideas when it comes to full size headphones with planar magnetic drivers or variety of IEMs with multi-BA or multi-dynamic or hybrid dynamic/BA drivers. But to come up with something new when we are talking about a wire connecting point A to point B? I would expect a variation in the material of the wire or types of the connectors, but modular design never crossed my mind until I saw what Craig at Whiplash Audio cooked up in his lab.
The biggest limiting factor of expensive removable cables is their custom nature. Let's say you invest $400 into a custom cable for your favorite pair of CIEM or TOTL universal IEMs. But what happens when you go from a standard wired 3.5mm connector to a balanced wired 2.5mm A&K DAP? Or if you invested into Westone low profile mmcx connector cable and can’t use it with other IEMs that have a standard mmcx connector? Or if you expanded your collection with JH Audio IEMs utilizing 2pin connector or want to use this cable with your full size headphones? Do you have to spend another $400-$500 to buy a different cable? The answer is NO, if you invest into Whiplash Audio new Modular Cable System that has a flexibility to interchange cable pieces without replacing the whole entire cable!
The idea behind this cable sounds simple enough, but implementation and workload associated with building of such cable is not that easy. If you think about it, any headphone cable could be partitioned into 3 main segments: source connector part, common body part, and headphone connector part after y-splitter. If you want to use your smartphone or DAP with a standard 3.5mm TRS audio jack – choose that connector, or if you need 2.5mm A&K balanced wired TRRS connector – select another one. Do you have JH Audio or Westone or UE IEMs or a full size with 3.5mm earcup connector? Not a problem, just select a correct source to y-split portion to accommodate any pair of headphones. It’s like mix'n'match toys my kids have at home, except this is a toy for daddy!!! All this is made possible by using quality 4pin small connector pairs. You are still maintaining continuity of 4 wires (L/R and separate grounds), but now it’s interrupted by a male/female keyed connector with a relatively small cross section area and a shrink tubing strain relief. At first I was a bit concerned thinking these connectors will get in the way of the cable or will stick out like a sore thumb. But I found them to actually blend in very nicely!
You have a selection of a wide variety of wires you can request to build these cables with, but I was fortunate to receive a review sample of Modular Cable with Pure Silver Litz wires to compare against TWag v3 Litz. Everything about this cable shows a high level of workmanship with attention to every little detail. I even learned that Craig uses a custom silver solder for all the connections which is even more expensive than Mundorf silver solder. The cable itself has the same hefty feel as TWag v3 cable, and the same consistent braiding of 4 wires all the way up to y-splitter, also made out of clear tubing with Whiplash logo. Upon a closer examination of top connector part, I think it was a great idea to have a short piece of braided wire from the connector to y-splitter, and then continue with twisted L/R sides of the wires. I’m also very pleased that Whiplash used a darker shielding for their cable so it blends in better with black connectors. Similarly to TWag v3, wire is lightweight and very flexible with a comfortable fitment of wire up behind the ear. Inter-connectors do contribute a bit to microphonics when rubbing against your cloth, but surprisingly I found it on the same level as "fixed" TWag v3 cable.
The biggest question in my mind was the effect of those connectors on sound performance of the cable. I already knew what to expect from Pure Silver cable and had a reference of TWag v3 for sound comparison while using with UM Pro 50 and W40. I spent quite some time going back’n’forth between TWag v3 and Modular Cable, and at first noticed a little bit of difference considering I started a burn in of these cables at the same time and had about 50hrs on both. What I didn't realize that Modular Cable needs more burn in time due to extra connections and solder joints. This is a real deal, and with additional 20hrs of burn in, the performance of both TWag v3 and Modular Cables came to be very close! Also, when I switched from a shorter profile Westone mmcx cable to a standard universal mmcx cable, I had to run more burn in with a new cable patch.
I still found some difference with Modular Cable sounding a little bit warmer, but I have a feeling with more burn in time this gap will close and disappear where both cables going to sound on the same level. Other than that, all of my sound improvement comments (over Epic cable) mentioned in TWag v3 section of the review are still applicable to Modular Cable performance with UM Pro 50 and W40. As a matter of fact, due to a slightly warmer/smoother characteristics with a same level of improvement in detail retrieval and soundstage expansion - I actually found W40 to have a better synergy with Modular Cable vs TWag v3, though I expect this gap to close with more burn in time.
Now since I also had access to a regular MMCX connector patch, I was able to expand my testing to include UE900s and A83 IEMs. With UE900s the comparison between stock braided audio cable and Modular Cable showed some improvement but it wasn't as significant as I found with Westone IEMs. Bass texture was definitely improved, mids had more clarity, though upper mids/treble were a bit as harsh as before. But to my surprise, soundstage improvement wasn't as significant. Another UE900s improvement with Modular Cable was having an option to wear them wire up behind the ear or wire down for those who have glasses.
With A83 3-way hybrid the improvements were more noticeable, even considering a high quality silver-plated stock cable provided by Fidue. With Modular Cable I found the bass to go deeper and to become more textured, and I even heard some additional rumble details. I also felt a benefit of Pure Silver Modular cable where upper mids/treble of A83 became a bit smoother and more organic. Retrieval of micro-details went up a notch as well. Soundstage opened up even more (and A83 is wide to begin with) with improved width and depth. I always consider A83 to be among my top favorite IEMs, but a stock cable with its stiff memory wire prevented me from achieving a perfect in-ear fitment - no longer a problem with a soft over-ear fitment of Modular cable.
Overall, I did approach my review with expectations for sound improvement but wasn't 100% sure if these will be justifiable by a rather steep price of the cable that can reach a level of IEM price tag itself. After 60-70hrs of combined burn in and listening I had no doubt in my mind these cables were worth every penny of their price tag, and I don't think they even reached their full level of potential! Pure Silver cable is like a fine wine that gets better with aging, and I'm looking forward to continue monitoring their improvement. Although it's a high price to pay for a wire, we are actually talking about a precious metal material, a Pure Silver Litz wire that is very expensive to begin with. Is this something I would recommend as a definitive upgrade for your headphones? Maybe not if we are talking about single or double driver Westone or Shure "entry" level models that cost half of the cable price. But as you start going up in a category of quad and higher driver configuration or multi-driver hybrid design, if you already invested money into your IEM and happy with its sound signature - Pure Silver cable will definitely improve their sound quality, taking it to a whole new level, and keep in mind the key word in here is "refinement" and "improvement" rather than changing a sound signature. Personally, I was VERY impressed with a sound improvement, a build quality, and innovative design of Whiplash Audio Modular Cable System and would definitely recommend you to check them out!