Well folks I have had my Audeze LCD-3 for some time now and have never been truly happy with the sound, too dark I thought at first so they went back to Audeze for a check up and came back with new drivers and a new sound graph, a vast improvement giving more air to the sound and greater definition at the top which had sounded veiled before, a great sound all round but still not quite the sparkle that I wanted especially for classical music. I had been using them with Qaudio copper cable and having read so much positivity about Franks silver cables at Toxic decided to mail him with my thoughts and ask for his opinion, his response was to recommend his Silver Widow cable which duly arrived early January. So here are my thoughts on that cable with the Audeze LCD-3 compared to the stock cable and Qaudio cable.
A little context before I begin which will help explain my expectations, I have spent the last few years listening to a room system comprising, Meridian 800, Krell FPB amplification and B&W 801 speakers, a big, open and detailed sound of the highest quality. I have broad musical taste but in the main female vocals, jazz blues, and classical including opera. I get to go to 20 odd live concerts a year, mainly classical but also rock, blues and jazz, I believe my ear for music to be quite good so my expectations are pretty high. I don't listen to metal, electronica or similar but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the odd track. Circumstances have pushed me towards headphones as my room system is now in storage and I have put together my rig over the past couple of years. Currently I'm listening to AIIF files created from my CD collection streamed from a NAS drive via a Sonos Connect linked to a Bel Canto V3 DAC by a DH Labs D75 coax, this in turn is connected to a Fosgate Signature headphone amp using Chord Indigo interconnects. The Fosgate is single ended (RCA) and has been tube rolled with a pair of 1950's Mullard 12AX7 long plates.
I didn't buy Franks standard SW as he had the option of the cable fitted with a carbon fibre, Rhodium plated, Furutech jack and Furutech connectors at the headphones which I preferred although this did add an additional £95uk to the cost which I thought was quite a premium but I went for it because I like the quality of Furutech products, they are well made and in this case great to look at, consequently what I can't do is comment on any difference they make to the sound, if any, over the standard connectors as I have not heard those. The Qaudio has a gold plated Neutrik jack and standard Rean mini xlr at the phones, it has the cloth sheathing which has been out of production for 12 months now and has been replaced with the much classier silk sheathing, the stock cable connections are unbranded. The Toxic and Qaudio cables are similarly priced in their standard form, both are as light as a feather and comfortable to wear. The Toxic SW is beautifully put together with an eye for detail and durability. So there you have it lets get started.
Having given the SW cable around 80 hours burn in I set myself a rigid routine for listening based around known recordings and a set number of tracks as listed below, my choice was based on my own musical tastes but hopefully broad enough to give a full range to include depth, punch and subtlety, I ran through each cable in the same order track by track, stock, Q, SW.
Uranus from The Planets by Holst which is a DG recording, Karajan, Berlin Phil.
Hunter from Bjorks album Homogenic.
Angel Eyes from the movie soundtrack to Leaving Las Vegas, sung by Sting.
When I Fall from Liz Wrights album Orchard.
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Brush With The Blues from Performing This Week Live At Ronnie Scott's by Jeff Beck.
Songbird by Eva Cassidy from the album Songbird.
Bolivia'95 from Scott Walkers album Tilt.
I'm not going to give a track by track review as it would be too long and probably repetitive so I'm going to give my general comments with some detail. I ran the listening tests in the following order, stock, Qaudio, Toxic SW.
I have to say that the stock cable isn't all that bad it made a decent fist of most of the tracks especially Bjork with reasonable weight/slam and detail but what it ultimately lacked was refinement, it lost it on occasion at the top which became aggressive and sometimes edgy and it had a lack of mid range which made it sound thin and occasionally hollow, it became blurred and confused with loud busy passages of music and ultimately it lacked musicality which failed to immerse me in the music, this sound signature could well become fatiguing depending on your flavour of sounds. None of this was a great surprise as the recabling of my other headphones, Beyer T1 and Grado GS1000, had also proven to be an improvement on the stock cables so it's fairly par for the course.
So lets move onto the Qaudio v Toxic SW. The Qaudio was a positive step up from the stock cable filling out the mid range, smoothing the top and rebuilding the soundstage with better instrument placement and refinement with greater subtlety and control. The orchestra especially the strings on the classical track by Holst sounded smoother with greater layering and greater realism, it was easier to position instruments in the soundstage. The Bjork track which the stock cable had handled reasonably well now had a deeper more resonant appeal, greater snap, bass, clarification of detail and sound staging, her voice moved away a degree and lost some of it's edge, but there was still a degree of blurring of instruments in loud busy passages. Sting improved in a similar manner, you gained a greater sense of the room this track was recorded in, the small ensemble and the mellowness of his voice, I have read that this was recorded at the producers home and that you can hear the crackling of the log fire in the background with a revealing system, I'm still waiting for this revelation. Liz Wright has a husky breathy vocal and this became much more apparent with the Q cable, there was layering to the bass and the soundstage moved away from me with greater instrument separation and refinement. The Jeff Beck instrumental had a greater sense of reverb but sometimes at the cost of woolliness in the bass but the edginess of the stock cable had disappeared. The Eva Cassidy track is really difficult to reproduce well, it can be bright and up front but has very detailed instrumental and vocal definition, the Q cable refined this over the stock cable with an improved soundstage and greater control of the vocals but it remained slightly harsh at times and a little confused at others and on occasions suffered from boom. The Q performed very well with the Scott Walker track which is a superb recording, bringing out the mid range, improving the soundstage and detail and presenting his voice with a deeper resonance, this probably more than any other of the tracks typifies the characteristics of this cable which is a positive improvement over the stock cable and a perfectly acceptable replacement.
So the Toxic SW, I had a degree of trepidation when I shelled out around £350uk for this cable with the carbon fibre Furutech plugs as the Qaudio cable sounded pretty good just lacking a little sparkle which might in fact be the headphones sound signature and something that I'd never be able to resolve to my satisfaction by recabling. If it was just about looks it would have been my winner straight up but this is about sound reproduction first and looks second so it needed to perform, I wasn't to be disappointed, looking back through my notes I have written "wow" under the Liz Wright and Eva Cassidy tracks and "best sound by far" under others. You can remove almost all of the negatives previously mentioned, this cable is not harsh or edgy, it copes well with complex and loud passages controlling them well and although sometimes the change is subtle it improves in every way on the copper Qaudio cable and totally buries the stock cable. The SW is a silver cable with a gold additive, previous experience of silver cables had left me unconvinced as they had been harsh and bright, cable has obviously moved on from then as this cable exhibits little or non of those traits, the sound is smooth at the top but does not lack detail, it offers a full range and has good deep base when it is present plus a great soundstage with refined detail and lots of it, a great combination with the LCD-3 for a non fatiguing listen with musicality. The only disappointment is that this combination still doesn't give me the air and sparkle that I'd like when listening to classical music but I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that this is more to do with the sound signature of the LCD-3's, my Beyer T1 recabled with Apuresound copper/Burson combo just sound more natural with this type of music, needless to say the LCD-3 Toxic Silver Widow pairing sounded excellent with everything else I played and is now my preferred combination and that's by quite a margin. The greatest compliment I can pay it is to say it has added greater enjoyment and musicality to my listening and I now find myself listening for extended periods forgetting that I am wearing the headphones which is no mean feat considering the weight of the LCD-3's, so it looks as if Frank was right, Silver Widow has done the job.
All images show the Toxic Silver Widow cable.
Caveat emptor: The views expressed above are my personal opinions based on this headphone/cable combination played through my rig and your own experience will differ, we all have differing hearing, different expectations, different rigs and even different sounding LCD-3's, there's no substitute for auditioning kit before committing to a purchase.
Edited by sam1e - 1/24/14 at 9:10am