Cable upgrades - still a point of contention in audiophile circles. Some people swear by them, and some find them to be a complete waste. There are zealots on each side but many of us fall somewhere in the middle. I've written about this topic several times: once here where I was more on the skeptical side, and then later here where I was more willing to embrace the potential for improvement. Tyll Hertsens recently addressed the topic in a two part series - part 1 and part 2 which generated some interesting comments. My views on cables tend to line up fairly similarly to Tyll's - I don't think I can really prove that I'm hearing anything, and I'm willing to accept the idea that it's all in my head, but I still find it a worthwhile upgrade depending on the situation.
Once again, it's important to remember the perspectives of other people. The skeptic will read my statement above and picture me heading down a slippery slope that inevitably leads to a room full of Machina Dynamica "tweaks". If the only criteria is that "it sounds better to me and that's all I care about" then we aren't too far removed from Tice Clocks and Shakti Stones. I can certainly understand that line of reasoning and it's important for one to know where to draw the line with regards to what they are willing to put up with in the name of audio improvements.
On the flip side, the reasonable cable enthusiast likely sees in their detractor an equally slippery slope. If I'm only allowed to enjoy gear that has a definitively clear, measurably obvious benefit, unequivocally proven to surpass the audible threshold for humans, then before long I'll be forced to abandon my high-end home rig in favor of an O2/ODAC combo playing 320k mp3 files. This may sound unreasonable but it's not hard to find people arguing for just this type of thing. Apparently my Sansa Clip was all I ever really needed for most headphones, and I've been wasting my time with most of this other stuff. Who knew?
There has to be some middle ground where these two paths converge into something more sensible. As with most things in life, moderation seems to be the key. Examples of this moderation - dismiss any potential cable upgrades costing more than the headphones they are supposed to enhance. Be willing to accept the idea that your cable might sound better purely due to placebo and confirmation bias. Realize that no amount of objective proof will likely ever come forth showing cables to be worthwhile. Be willing to allow others some extravagance even if you may find it silly (this goes for many things, from cables to watches to fountain pens). And possibly most important of all - don't upgrade a cable to fix a headphone that you don't really like in the first place! If we all adopted these types of attitudes, there would be far less contention on forums like this.
Where am I going with all this? Nowhere in particular. It's just a setup for the introduction of the 93PC IEM cable
($189) from 93East, which is the in-house cable division of custom IEM maker Stage93
. I linked earlier to my review of their excellent 93SPEC cable which is made from UP-OCC silver and sells for $230. I don't quite know what the 93SPEC is named for, but the "PC" in 93PC stands for Premium Copper. Apparently Stage93 began developing this cable at the same time as its silver counterpart. This copper cable is more complex and ended up taking longer to complete. It uses 105 strands of OCC cryo treated copper arranged in a 4-way braid, with a proprietary treatment that should help avoid oxidation. The treatment involves enamel coating and is unique to this cable - it supposedly has zero drawbacks in terms of sound quality but should keep the cable looking new for a long time.
The 93PC comes in a standard 50" length with and Oyaide Gold plug and the ubiquitous wooden choker for a cinch. The initial run uses their "overfreeze" plugs which are compatible with what I call the "standard" custom IEM socket - Westone, Heir, JH, older UE, 1964 Ears, Unique Melody, Cosmic Ears, Aurisonics, and most other brands of customs should work, regardless of whether they have flush or recessed sockets. Those customers with a relatively non-standard connection such as LiveWires should email 93East and they should be able to accommodate the request.
The general "feel" of the cable is that of very high quality. It seems mostly identical in build to the pricier 93SPEC model, with the obvious exception of color. There are minor differences though - the braid is done slightly differently, and the copper model seems very slightly thicker than the silver version. They don't list the gauge of the wire so it very well could be thicker, or it could just have to do with the clear jacket being thicker. My 93SPEC has an angled Oyaide Gold plug while my 93PC uses the straight version - you choose when you order, and both are very nice.
So..... how does it sound? Well, that's kind of a loaded question. Since you don't listen to an actual cable itself, but rather the IEM attached to it as well as the source and amplifier, I don't think it's fair to say a cable has a strict sound. But I did notice the difference as compared to stock cables - a very small difference in some cases, and a more noticeable difference in others. As I always say: do not add this $189 cable to a $399 CIEM and expect it to perform like a $999 product. It just won't happen. In many cases the money is better spent moving up to the next higher model of headphone. But once you have settled on a headphone or IEM that you love, a cable can sometimes help you get the most out of it.
Having set this up with all those qualifiers and stipulations, I do think that the 93PC cable does some good things for the sound. Where the pure silver 93SPEC cable is more focused on clarity and refinement - a sort of "Hi-Fi" experience - the copper 93PC is what I'd call more of a "musical" experience. It seems to firm up the bass to a noticeable degree, offering greater texture and refinement but also more slam compared to the stock cable. It's a subtle thing though - I'm not talking about a huge change, which would be considered a coloration and could actually be a negative thing. It's more the case of the 93PC letting the IEM perform to its fullest potential. Depending on the model being used, this potential might already be tapped using the stock cable. But with something like a UM Merlin that has exceptional bass capabilities, the improvement with this cable is surprisingly noticeable to my ears. Could I pick it out in a blind test? Maybe. I'd like to think so. But such a test is highly impractical with custom IEMs, so there's no point in speculating.
Aside from the low frequency improvement, the 93PC just sounds more rich and full to my ears. It's got a bit of smoothness to it - not omitting detail, but just presenting it in a more fluid way. This part was more obvious with higher end IEMs, generally the flagship models. My dual and even triple driver models didn't really benefit as much in this area as they tend to be less revealing than their higher driver-count siblings. Again, this supports my theory that it's best to spring for the best IEM you can afford right from the start, and add a cable later if you feel the desire.
I used the 93PC with a variety of custom IEMs and found it to consistently offer the same sonic fingerprint - it was more obvious in some situations than others, but never went in a completely different direction. I got the most pleasing benefit with my JH13 FreqPhase, Lear LCM-5, Heir Audio 6.A LE, Westone ES5, and Unique Melody Merlin. Those are all very high resolution CIEMs and they responded happily to the added clarity as well as the extra kick. My Merlin is a prototype unit with less bass than the production model, and I suspect that's why it works so well.
My Heir Audio 8.A and 1964 Ears V3 did not fare as well. Not that they sounded bad with the 93PC, because they didn't. It's just that neither of those CIEMs really needs any added body. They already have a thickness of note that is just perfect on its own, so the 93PC actually makes them seem slightly unbalanced in comparison. Perhaps if I had acquired the cable and either of those CIEMs at the same time, and never heard them with the stock cable, I might find the 93PC more appealing. As it stands, I have an expectation of how I "know" the 8.A and V3 should sound, so the upgraded cable throws me off a little.
Others that do work very well: Frogbeats C4, Heir Audio 4.A, and LiveWires Trips (reshelled by Heir Audio) all sound marginally better with the 93PC. It's a welcome improvement but not quite as significant as it is with the higher end models. Still, if I was a happy owner of one of these and wanted to eke the last bit of performance out of them, I'd definitely consider the 93PC. And here's where my earlier comment about buying the best IEM you can afford sort of falls apart a little: In the case of the Heir 4.A and Frogbeats C4, going higher in the line changes the sound to a more bass heavy signature. Yes, the Heir 8.A and Frogbeats C5 are considered "flagship" models, but each has a more fun, bass heavy presentation. If that's not really your thing, and you want to stick with a neutral IEM, the C4 or the 4.A are the highest models in that genre. So buying one of those plus an upgraded cable actually does make some sense if that sound signature is more to your liking. The 93PC will warm things up just a tad, without creating a major difference in terms of balance. Both models remain very neutral and transparent, yet seem to reach slightly deeper and have more fleshed out bass response. It's a welcome addition in my opinion.
Compared to its pure silver 93SPEC counterpart, the copper 93PC seems focused on warmth and smoothness as opposed to absolute clarity and transparency. In some cases I actually prefer the 93PC over the more expensive 93SPEC - the aforementioned Heir 4.A and Frogbeats C4 are prime examples. There were times when I preferred the Lear LCM-5 with the 93PC as well, though not always. It depends on mood and the choice of music being played. Overall they are both very nice cables and the choices comes down to character preference.
Keep in mind that all this listening was done on what I consider nice to very nice gear. I wouldn't bother with cables at all if I was using my Sansa Clip+ or some other simple configuration. But using the $860 HiFi ET MA9
in a portable situation, or some high end unit at home like the $4k Resonessence Labs Invicta - that's where the difference is more likely to be noticed.
With the 93PC, 93 East becomes a more established cable maker who offers something of a "lineup" as opposed to just a single cable. I doubt they will ever compete with dedicated companies such as Toxic Cables in terms of variety, but 2 cables is a good start. Everything about this model is impressive: from the ultra-high strand count to the unique enamel coating for supreme durability, nothing on this design was left to chance. Yet at less than $200 it remains sensibly priced considering the attention to detail. Highly recommended. My next step is to investigate the Stage93 custom IEMs - if they build cables this well, I'd love to hear what they can accomplish in their original market.