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Headphone Cables item created by Windsor, Jul 11, 2012
Pros - Increases treble clarity and overall definition.
Cons - Some LCD-2/3 users may prefer the warmer sound of a copper cable.
I recently received a loaner Audez’e LCD-3 headphone, which is most probably the best-sounding headphone I’ve ever heard (you can see how it fared in a recent comparison I did here). However, with the stock cable elements of recordings sounded a bit unclear to me at times e.g. listening to a jazz recording which included the drummer playing brush patterns on the snare drum, the sound I was hearing was lacking treble detail and pointiness and instead sounded a bit muffled to me, which I thought was unacceptable coming from a headphone costing £1600.
Hearing more potential for the LCD-3 I wanted to try it with an aftermarket cable, as, in my experience, using an aftermarket headphone cable can make a clear difference (often subtle) to the sound of a headphone. It then occurred to me to post a request for a loaner cable in head-fi’s Audez’e LCD-3 thread so I did, and I was soon contacted by a man named Frank, the owner of the UK-based cable company Toxic Cables. When I emailed Frank asking about his cables, he offered to send me one for evaluation, which I thought was very kind of him. The Pure Silver OCC cable I received from Frank is making a wonderful contribution to what I’m hearing from the LCD-3 in such a way that I wouldn’t go back to the stock cable.
The equipment for this review is as follows: 320 kbps MP3s / Apple Lossless Audio Files -> iTunes / Amarra Hifi -> JPS Labs Ultraconductor Optical Digital Cable -> Lavry DA10 DAC/Amp -> Audez'e LCD-3
I know that the wire-with-gain-esque amp of the Lavry DA10 isn’t considered optimal for driving orthodynamic headphones such as the LCD-3 which can benefit from more amping power, but I currently don’t have a more powerful amp. However, I really enjoy the Lavry DA10 and think it certainly creates a clear enough sound (one of the clearest and most neutral sound signatures I’ve ever heard from a DAC/Amp) for me to discern what’s happening on a recording or with other components in the signal chain.
Frank’s Pure Silver OCC cable is made of hand braided nylon-coated silver/gold wire and the overall design is simple and refined. A brief read of the Toxic Cables website reveals just how much care and attention to detail has gone into the construction of this cable. Frank offers customizable options to his customers such as – in addition to different termination options i.e. single-ended or balanced connections – having a cable Cardas-soldered rather than the cable’s standard Mundorf soldering; he clearly aims to please his customers.
The Pure Silver cable is very fine and very light, noticeably more so than the LCD-3 stock cable, but despite the lightness of the cable it feels reassuringly robust. The cable gets out of the way when I am using it, except for the occasions where it rubs against the zip of my jumper and creates an audible vibration, but that happens with other cables too and when I don’t wear a jumper with a zip on it, it’s just me and the music.
As I said previously, my main concern with the stock-cabled LCD-3 on my rig was that the pointedness of what would be natural-sounding treble i.e. what my ears would hear if I was present listening to a live performance, was rounded off. Whilst this created a sound that was warm and never fatiguing, having been used to listening with the Sennheiser HD 800 for a few months, there were just so many treble details that, relatively, I wasn't hearing with the LCD-3. Franks’s cable resolved that right away, noticeably increasing the overall definition, and whilst with the LCD-3 I still wasn’t hearing the same amount of treble detail on recordings as I heard with the HD 800 (by a long way), the air and pointedness that sounded missing to me before had returned and to me my experience with the LCD-3 was much more enjoyable.
Here are some of the differences I heard between the stock LCD-3 cable and Franks Pure Silver cable when listening to some albums I enjoy:
With the Pure Silver cable, the tuned percussion on Steve Reich’s 1987 album Drumming with was revealed with more audible subtleties and delicacy. It was as it the percussionists had changed to a harder mallets, and that seemed to draw me in to the music more than with the stock cable.
On the track Wooly Mammoth from L.A. guitarist Michael Landau’s recent release Organic Instrumentals, the recording heard via the stock cable sounded great and presented the music with a slightly warm sound overall. With the Pure Silver cable, the warmth was reduced and the sound was less boomy with more definition. It was like a veil had been lifted and that the stock copper cable had created the effect of covering a speaker with a thin piece of silk fabric.
With the opening track from Meshell Ndegeocello’s Comfort Woman album, the stock cable’s warmth was a very welcome compliment to the warmth of the bassline and Meshell’s lushly smooth vocal track. Switching to the silver cable, the reggae guitar on the left channel immediately stood out more making that element of the groove sound more engaging. The subtle nuances of Meshell’s vocal were more defined and I could hear more airiness in her vocal tonality; her ‘sss’ syllables had much more sparkle. Master drummer Chris Dave’s already high-pitched snare drum had more of a crackle and also stood out more than before.
The Pure Silver OCC cable costs £160 for the 8ft length Frank sent me, which (not considering shipping) is over £60 cheaper than the cost of the Moon Audio Black Dragon cable I have for the Sennheiser HD 800. Since both of those cables created a similar level of ‘improvement’ with the respective headphones I tried them with, I’d say that the Pure Silver OCC cable is excellent value for money. Also, if you don't need a cable to be as long as 8ft, you can save some money as Frank also sells a 6ft version of the Pure Silver OCC starting from £142.
In general, with the LCD-3 I found that the Pure Silver OCC cable made the music come alive more than with the LCD-3's stock cable. Though some LCD-3 owners may be happy with the sound they’re hearing with the stock cable, I found myself wanting for more sparkle due to the treble clarity I was used to with the HD 800, so the ‘improvements’ I’ve pointed to are subjective and just my opinion, and though I’ve done my best to describe what I heard in honest, neutral language, there's no substitute for you hearing audio equipment - such as cables - with your own ears and knowing what sounds preferable to you.
If you’re looking for a clearer, more well-defined sound from your LCD-2 or 3 and want to try a silver cable then I highly recommend trying Toxic Cables' Pure Silver OCC cable. It really helped transform my experience with the LCD-3 in a very enjoyable way.