Having assumed additional family responsibilities this year, I had little time for being active in my audio world as compared to before. So, I would listen here and there whenever I could get time. Between work and running a household, surprisingly little time is left to such audio endeavours.
When I finally got my hands on a pair of HD-800's I didn't want to purchase ANY aftermarket cables. Not because I don't believe in cables, but because I wanted to get a solid listening mindset and impression of this awesome headphone STOCK. Nothing tampered with...
Finally, when I had myself sorted on the sound of the HD-800's, I started looking for aftermarket cables. Went through auditioning many over a period of 2 to 3 months. That's when I got a chance to listen to Bellatone Audio's Reference HD-800 cables.
Some of the cables I went through were the Cardas, Stefan Audio Arts, Moon Audio (Silver, Black and Blue), ALO Reference 16, ALO SXC 18. Every cable WILL sound different in every setup. Some setups need more bass, more treble, stronger mids, stronger vocals etc., some less. It is ALL system dependant. What works well in one setup might not work so well in another. We, as audio people, live this reality every time we listen through our setups. Hence, I used the stock cable as the base line for sound comparisons.
This review is NOT about those cables. Every cable has it's own attributes and sound. After my cable rounds, I settled on the Bellatone Reference on pure sound quality alone. Brand name, resale value, cosmetics, metallurgy were things I ignored this time around. I had just one goal....sound.
Bellatone Audio isn't well known enough as it's a new venture. However, I hope after this review, more people get a chance listen to their cables.
I basically emailed Bellatone Audio and ordered a 7 ft Reference Wire. Order to Deliver took about a week after I paid upfront. Phil was extremely courteous through the whole process and really kept me informed.
Cable cable packed like a princess. It came in a Priority Mail box, completely bubble wrapped inside. Opening the layer of bubble wrap you come across a white, sealed vinyl envelope. Inside that is a Bellatone Audio draw string bag that looks very classy. Inside, the cable is again protected with bubble wrap and and the connectors are all covered with foam keeping it all cushy.
In fact, I have never gotten any hand made cables that come packaged like this. It was just properly cradled and would survive any shipping mishap with nary a scratch.
This is clearly the first thing that strikes you once you open up the package. The silver colored techflex just emanates class throughout. In fact, I have a set of Soundstring Gen II power cables that use the exact same colored techflex. It's a cloth based silver techflex. It just works.
Both left and right channels are their own separate cables all the way through from HD 800 Connector to the 3 pin XLR on the other end. Phil explained that this keeps the signal of each side completely separate without any cross talk, optimizing sound quality.
The 3 Pin XLR connector are Neutrik connectors that Bellatone chose specifically for the build quality and even more important, for their sonic transparency. The most luxurious XLR connectors I know of are the Furutech XLR connectors, and Bellatone also experimented with those. Turns out they add nothing more than just cost for THIS particular headphone cable. I'll trust Bellatone's sonic judgement on this as I did not get a chance to AB the connectors personally.
The cables are well secured via heatshrink at the ends and physically / cosmetically leave nothing to be desired. I own some very high quality cables and the Bellatone Reference Headphone cable fits right in.
For two separate cables, they are surprisingly lightweight. It is obvious that Phil knows how to combine all essential elements into a tight package, eliminating all unnecessary bulk. This is why, he explained to me, that these cables take 15 hours to build.
In the end, the build quality and detail are impeccable. You really have to see one up close to notice all the fine details and craftsmanship that went into building this cable.
All aside, this is the reason I went with Bellatone Reference HD800 cable.
The stock cable allowed the HD800 for a very peaky treble notch that I truly dislike. That funkiness in the treble just annoyed me no matter what tubes I rolled or cables I change upstream. I could tame it, but then take a hit on other things such as vocal heft, bass response and midband presence. I was EQing the signal and trading one issue for another.
The Bellatone Reference cable changed all that. It allowed me to retain all my upstream cabling (chosen for their ability to just let the signal through without adding weird sonic artifacts) and further locked in all instruments well within the vast soundstage of the HD-800. It did so while retaining perfect tonality of instruments and voices. The presence of each sonic event preserved perfectly letting one enjoy the sonic tapestry as intended by the artist.
Most important, the treble was clear, extended, linear and that peakiness gone. A breath of fresh air. The sound is very natural and live, closer to how I've heard live music sounding. The bass is very present, has deep extension and very punchy. Much better than all the other cables I listened to.
The HD-800 needs little if any help with texture, staging and tone, even with the stock cable. However, it is with the Bellatone Reference cable that these qualities were enhanced for my listening tastes. The tone was more present, just more there allowing one to really appreciate the instrument sonic colors. The texture that were painted seemed to have more substance, more thereness...more like reality.
When listening to a performance, you realize that you are just listening to MORE of it with MORE transparency and none of the upper octave shortcomings of the stock cable. In fact, all the other cables I tried seemed to trade one set of issues for another bringing in more of their OWN color. Not the Bellatone Reference cable...I feel it is bringing in LESS of itself and more of what's upstream. Hence more transparency with apparently no sonic hinderance of any kind. The cable is utterly transparent.
It is difficult to attribute a sound quality to the Bellatone Reference wire it seems. What is the color or water? what does it taste like? Difficult to answer, yet when we drink it, we are at peace and feel content. Our bodies need it. This Bellatone cable is something like that. Difficult to describe, but once experienced, feels to be harmonious and at peace with the HD800 headphone pairing.
I strongly recommend you find a way to listen to these cables. For good or bad, it will let you hear your upstream components, your system for what it is.
I see that these Reference Series headphone cables start at $730 for the set. I purchased them at a promotional discount price of $475 which as I understand is for Head-Fi members at this time. Phil mentioned that if I was a non Head-Fi member, the promotional price is $575. The cables are available for the HD800, LCD2, LCD3, HE-5, HE-6, HD600, and HD650. There may be others too, I'm just not sure.
His website is still undergoing development at the moment so you cannot purchase from it just yet, however he does accept PayPal and credit cards. There are two ways I know of you can contact him for now. One is at the e-mail address: email@example.com
, and the other is by sending a PM to iPodPJ. If you'd like his phone number I suggest sending him an e-mail and I'm sure he will give it to you.
Thanks for reading!
Wanted to add a few pictures of the connectors. The quality of work on this cable comes through more clearly. Thanks!
Edited by shaizada - 9/23/12 at 1:49pm