If you’ve read any of my reviews around here, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t really do fancy cables. I generally refrain from commenting on the whole issue. But when asked, I tell the story about how I used to go along with the usual “audiophile” tradition. I didn’t spend a ton of money to outfit my entire system with top level cables, but I did have various aftermarket cables here and there, and I assumed they made an audible difference. As I continued to upgrade my system over the years, I occasionally made corresponding upgrades to my cables, thinking that I should probably keep them in line with the rest of the system. I honestly never really put a lot of thought into the matter.
That all changed when I found myself buying a fairly expensive (for me anyway) Shunyata interconnect. That was the tipping point that caused me to start thinking about the matter a little more. Until then, my aftermarket cables had cost a small percentage of the price of each component they connected to. But the Shunyata cables were more like buying a new pre-amp or something, and that no longer seemed like such a good idea.
So I started looking into the history of the cable industry, reading the different viewpoints, and looking for evidence as to why cables should matter or not. I also spent a lot of time listening and comparing cables, usually in blind tests with the help of friends. After much time and effort I came to the conclusion that I could not really hear the differences that I originally assumed I was hearing. This was difficult to admit at first because it really had seemed like a minor improvement was occurring with each upgrade. I now attribute it to placebo.
My research into cable theory left me with the impression that there are several different types of people out there trying to sell you cables. One group, the worst kind, is clearly aware that they are scamming people out of large amounts of money. They count on the fact that audiophiles are often willing to try anything to get some tiny improvement. They also have a great understanding of marketing, and know how to build up their reputation to the point that people won’t dare question the effectiveness of their products. Having accomplished that they are free to charge practically whatever they want. I’ll call these folks “Type A”. On the opposing end of the scale, there seems to be another group who are genuinely convinced that their cables are effective upgrades. These folks tend to downplay the role that their cables play, and offer them as sort of a “last 5%” type of upgrade. They also tend to keep their costs on the lower end of the scale as far as aftermarket cables go. Let’s call them “Type B”. It is my opinion that everyone in the cable business seems to fall somewhere between these two extremes.
Similarly, there are corresponding types of people who use aftermarket cables. On one extreme, you have what I refer to as cable snobs. These people are highly interested in aftermarket cables, to the point where they will list their cables as some of the key highlights of their system. They are quick to judge someone else’s system as inferior due to a perceived cable deficiency. They can often be seen on forums recommending expensive cable upgrades to people, even when it is clear that the person would be better served by upgrading their speakers or another component instead. These are the folks who will spend a fortune to recable a mid-level headphone and then proclaim its superiority over flagship headphones from the same brand. On the opposite end are the minor cable fans. These people think cables probably make a difference, but only a minor one. They use them as a small upgrade and don’t spend large amounts of money to do so. They never try to push cables or cable theory on people, and are perfectly fine with using stock cables when they need to. Aside from people who absolutely do not believe in cables at all, everyone else falls somewhere between these two extremes, which I’ll again call “Type A” and “Type B” respectively.
Now you know my history and my opinion about the state of the cable industry and their customers. That brings me to the topic of this review, the Beat Audio cables for in ear monitors. I first noticed Beat Audio when they turned up at the website www.Custom-IEM.com. I’ve mentioned this website before because it is run by Stephen Guo who is the North American distributer for Unique Melody. He is the person who arranged for me to borrow demo units of the Unique Melody Aero and Miracle customs in order to review them, and is a great guy to deal with. He advised me that he is the exclusive dealer for Beat Audio outside of China. He decided to pick up the line because his customers were often interested in aftermarket cable options, and he felt that the Beat Audio products offered a very good product at a low price. If we go back to the different types of cable sellers and consumers, Stephen is definitely a Type B. He told me that he feels cables do make a small difference, but it might all be psychological. He does value build quality, durability, and aesthetics, which is why he uses the Beat Audio Trophy cable for his own personal use (with UM custom IEMs of course).
I’m going to separate this into two sections for the two different cables.
Beat Audio Supreme Rose:
Despite possible confusion caused by the name, the Supreme series is actually the entry level cable from Beat Audio. They sell for $99. Supreme is the name of the series, because there are different variations – Supreme Elegance, Supreme Rhyme, Supreme Sanity, and Supreme Rose. All sell for the same price and all have the same construction, with the only difference being the colors of the cable jacket. The Supreme Rose uses red and black strands with a clear covering. The red and black start out intertwined and then split into separate red and black strands at the Y junction. It’s a little hard to explain but the pics should make it clear.
One common feature to most Beat Audio cables is your choice of termination. As seen on the www.custom-iem.com website, customers are given the choice of straight Yarbo, Pailiccs, or Sennheiser 1/8th inch plugs, or a 90 degree angled Neutrik 1/8th inch termination. On the other end, customers can choose the proper socket for their particular application: UM/UE/Westone customs, UE TF10/SF5/SF3 style, Sennheiser IE8, or “other”. With “other” you would contact Stephen first to make sure they can accommodate your request. Possible candidates with “other” type connections would be the newer Shure models, LiveWires, and Sleek Audio among others. I’m not saying that Beat Audio will do those, just that they are possibilities. You’d have to ask to be sure. Another option is whether you want standard or recessed sockets. Mine are recessed to match my UM Merlin customs, but it also works fine on my other non-recessed customs. See pictures for that. Standard length is 1.2 meters, although they can make them longer by special request, possibly with extra charges depending on the length desired.
A word about construction: Stephen advises me that Beat Audio did not want him to list the details about construction materials on his website. They want to promote the idea that one can't know the sound signature of the cable from just knowing the material composition. They see that some people believe generalities like pure silver equals good and so on, which they feel is a huge blind spot in cable consumers, allowing cable companies to take advantage of them. But when I asked him specifically, Stephen felt it was appropriate to tell me the information and allow me to share it here: The Supreme series, no matter what color, is made using a tin plated silver/copper alloy.
Beat Audio Cronus:
The Cronus cable is the top of the line offering from Beat Audio. It sells for $289. It has a more heavy duty look and feel than the Supreme cable, although it does not seem too bulky in my opinion. It is all black and fairly understated. As you can see from the pictures, the main section looks like a heavy gauge braided strand with an external coating so it can never unravel. After the Y split it breaks off into somewhat thinner non-braided sections.
The Cronus is unique from the rest of the Beat Cables when it comes to plugs. Instead of having your choice of the 4 different options, it comes with a very nice 1/8th inch plug from German manufacturer ViaBlue. Stephen’s website does not reflect this or show it in the picture, but I have confirmed that this is the standard configuration. Aside from that the choices remain the same: pick the right socket for your IEM in either flat or recessed style. Once again I got mine recessed, but this time I added a little length to make it 1.5 meters total. I was not charged any extra for that minor upgrade. I don’t know if that would be the case for everyone or if I was given special treatment here.
Stephen advised that he had a bit of a hard time translating the info from Beat Audio regarding construction. The literal translation from Chinese is “light-speed conducting technology”. It is comprised of what they call 4 “threads”, which I assume means a starquad type configuration. Each strand uses compressed pure silver onto the surface of 8N OFC (that’s 99.999999% pure oxygen free copper for those unfamiliar). What that means is that this is a very high quality conductor. You’ll have to make up your own mind how much you think that matters.
One of the main reasons I decided to invest in these cables is to get increased build quality and appearance. I’m happy to announce that they completely meet my high expectations. The stock Westone/UM style cables are not bad by any means, but they do tend to tangle at times and I have some of them that have begun to unravel. They also appear a bit plain. That may sound petty, but consider the fact that custom IEMs have extensive personalization options. When you go through the trouble of designing your customs to look exactly how you want them, pairing them with a plain black cable is a little anti-climactic. Lastly I sometimes have issues with the memory wire used by stock cables. The main issue is when I wear sunglasses; the memory wire section tends to rub against the sides of the glasses creating a mildly annoying sound that can be distracting. The Beat Audio cables do not have a memory wire. Instead they use a pre-shaped section of very flexible silicone to hold them in place. It reminds me of the ear guides that Phonak sells, but these are actually integrated into the cable rather than being a separate add-on. For me, this is a very elegant and effective solution. It is flexible enough to bend as needed yet it keeps its general shape no matter how much I mess with it. Initially I wondered how well it would last, but I’ve really pulled and bent it around to purposefully test it and so far it remains like new.
The Supreme Rose cable is actually the less flexible of the two models. It is a bit stiffer than the stock Westone style cables. In this respect it reminds me of the cable on the Monster Turbine Pro models. It does not seem to have much “memory” like the cable on my UE TF10 or Shure SE310, so even if you bend it for a while it will not want to stay that way. If anything it seems that it wants to remain straight, which was great for general use but made it a little tough to store. I’ll show some pictures of me coiling it up so you can see how it likes to straighten itself out.
I had intended to use the Supreme cable mostly for portable use. The extra stiffness can be a little annoying at times but it is a worthy tradeoff for the added durability that it brings. I feel like I could really give this cable a beating and it would be fine. I’ve already snagged it a few times while exercising and it took the abuse quite well. I chose the Sennheiser plug which looks very classy.
The Cronus, despite being thicker overall, actually feels very flexible. Perhaps not quite on the level of the stock cable, but still very easy to deal with. I found it nice to use as a portable cable even with the added foot of length. But I primarily use it at home where the extra length allows me more freedom to sit in my chair comfortably while listening.
Looking at the pictures, you can get a pretty good idea of how well built the Cronus is. There’s an extra layer of the external coating near the ViaBlue plug, the Y splitter, and the silicone guides. I haven’t snagged it or abused it yet but I’m confident it would hold up well. It may not look as fancy as the flagship cables from other brands, but I like the stealthy appearance and I’m very satisfied with it overall.
The Supreme cable ships in a simple cardboard box. It has “Beat Audio” logos on it and a fancy looking liner. It includes the cable itself and a shirt clip.
The Cronus ships in a nice storage case. It is made from a mix of metal and plastic and has Beat Audio logos as well as a handle. It has a suitcase style latch and can be locked with a key. Inside we find the cable itself and a shirt clip, as well as 2 keys for the lock. The interior is lined with soft foam making it suitable for storing your IEMs along with the cable itself. I find it a little bulky for daily use, having a decent amount more mass than the usual Pelican style cases. But for storage at home or occasionally transporting around it is very nice. This is the type of accessory that goes a long way in making a good overall impression considering the price paid. One minor complaint though: The unit came sealed with a shiny silver Beat Audio sticker. After peeling it off to open the case, there was a bunch of sticky residue left over. I had to use one of those special cleaning products to remove it. In the future Beat Audio might consider another method or at least a less “sticky” sticker.
This is the gear I used during my evaluation of the Beat Audio cables:
For home listening I used the Resonessence Labs Invicta or the Anedio D1 as both DAC and amp, or else as DAC only out to the Violectric V200 amp. Standard and hi-res lossless files were played from the Invicta or else streamed through a Squeezebox Touch.
For portable listening I used the Sansa Fuze and Clip+, or the QLS QA350. I used them unamped, and then I also tried them with the Vivid Technologies V1 and TCG T-Box portable amps.
I mainly used the Unique Melody Merlin but also tried the Westone AC2, JH Audio JH13, and 1964-T from 1964 Ears.
These are just the impressions of one guy. I do these reviews for fun, not profit, and I don't claim to be any special authority. Many people have agreed with my assessments of other gear but some have also disagreed, and I totally respect that. We all hear differently on a physical level and we all have different preferences as well, so I think it is almost impossible for one person’s impressions to apply to every other person. As with all my reviews, I hope you enjoy reading them and I hope they help our hobby to some extent, but I don't pretend that they are anything more than my opinion.
The above is my standard disclaimer but in this case I feel more is required. I know aftermarket cables can cause arguments. Some people adamantly believe in them, others passionately disagree. I’ve already outlined my stance on the matter and I intend to keep this thread civil. If you find yourself reading this and thinking I’m totally wrong or some other poster is totally wrong, please keep it to yourself. This is not the place to settle the cable discussion but rather to focus on these specific cables. I will not hesitate to ask a moderator for intervention if needed.
I intend to give my impressions of the overall user experience offered by the Beat cables, and I’m also going to loan them to some other HeadFi members so they can chronicle their experiences. I believe that there will be a healthy mix of cable skeptics and cable believers so all points of view will eventually be represented. After I spent enough time with them the cables were sent to user Average Joe, who currently has them and will be adding his impressions at some point. After that they will be going to user Rawrster and then some other folks who I haven’t yet discussed it with. Please don’t PM me and ask to borrow them. I wish I could become a lending library but I can’t afford that, so I’ll be picking a few specific members who I trust. But to reiterate: please keep this thread civil!
This section is not going to be very detailed, because I honestly don’t think cables change the sound at all. Sure, there were times when I thought I perceived some changes or improvements. But based on my prior experiences I believe that to be caused by placebo. I’ll discuss them anyway though.
At times I thought the Supreme cable sounded slightly more vivid than the stock cable. Specifically I thought it added an extra bit of clarity and energy to the upper mids and highs. Not so much that it was ever unbalanced though, even using brighter sounding gear like the Vivid V1 amp. And the sound remained smooth, possibly a little smoother than the stock cable. There was certainly no added harshness, even when using potentially harsh sounding customs like the Westone AC2.
I listened a lot with the Cronus cable at home. These were great listening sessions at night when the house was quiet, using the amazing UM Merlin and a very nice playback chain. There were moments when I felt that the Cronus seemed smoother than the stock cable and even the Supreme. I also thought it added some extra resolution, or body, at the top and bottom of the frequency extremes. It wasn’t boosted, just extended, with a very pleasing fullness. Soundstage also had a minor increase overall, like an extra bit of spaciousness.
I don’t doubt that I thought I heard the things I described above. At times they seemed very slight and at other times they seemed more prominent. Take the added soundstage with the Cronus for example: I was using the UM Merlin which has an amazingly holographic presentation. Perhaps I had never truly noticed how capable it was until now. Comparisons become extra difficult because it takes a minute to remove the IEMs, swap out the cable, and reinsert them into your ears. So a literal A/B back to back comparison is impossible to achieve. And for obvious reasons there is no way to do a blind test.
What I find interesting is that my interpretations of the sound tended to correspond to the appearance of the cables themselves. The Supreme Rose has a more energetic colorful look, and I generally heard the music that way through it. The Cronus appears smooth and sophisticated yet robust and thick, which also matches fairly well the sound that it produced. This reminds me of how people tend to hear titanium tweeters as metallic or bright sounding while silk dome tweeters are more smooth and organic, or hear woody headphones as having very natural timbre, or hear metal Grados as being metallic and “hard”… there are many examples of this, and to some degree it seems that we are just taking our emotions about the item itself and translating them to the realm of sound. I’m not implying that some of these descriptions can’t be true, but certainly not all of them at all times, and especially when the listener comes to the conclusion before even hearing the thing (I’ve seen this happen many times).
Do I think I could identify the Beat cables in a blind test if such a test were even possible? No. Do they change my mind about aftermarket cables? No. Rather they help confirm my opinion that a cable can still be a satisfying upgrade due to a number of factors like functionality, build quality, and plain old good looks. If I perceive a slight increase in sound quality, despite knowing it to be placebo, that’s an extra bonus. I admit that I generally prefer good looking headphones, amps, and other equipment over models with a plain or boring appearance. So it makes sense that the same logic would apply to cables.
Despite all I’ve said about not believing a measurable change is taking place I certainly wouldn’t hold it against someone if they have a different opinion. As I mentioned, I’ve sent these cables to Average Joe for him to check out. If he reports that they give him an increase in sound quality, then I’ll take him at his word that he is truly experiencing a benefit. I would never belittle someone or argue with them over an issue like that. I arrived at my conclusions about cables through careful research and listening. It was a very personal experience and I didn’t need anyone chiming in with their opinions while I made up my mind, so I won’t do the same to anyone else.
Like many other things in this hobby, cables are a very subjective experience. Clearly that applies to the question of sound, but just as importantly it applies to other aspects like functionality. I’ve heard people talk about this or that stock cable being great when I personally hated the design or materials used and found them practically unusable. So aside from the question of sound quality I wanted to get feedback from other HeadFi users about the overall experience offered by Beat Audio. Personally I think they look great, they feel great, they are durable, and they are very comfortable to wear. For me that’s already enough to justify my purchase and to recommend them to others who might be in the market for a cable upgrade.
I lent these cables to Average_Joe so he could check them out. Here is a link to his evaltuation thread:
I'll be sending them out to another user soon.
Edited by project86 - 7/31/11 at 1:45pm