Pros: A very neutral transparent and smooth presentation
Cons: Possibly expensive
A big thank you to Brise Audio for loaning me this hot-off-the-press cable for 2 weeks for this review. Brise Audio didn't even have the opportunity to perform any product shoots of the cable before loaning it to me.
Brise Audio is a relatively new company from Japan but with over 20 years worth of cable experience. They focus on primarily home audio cabling although their roots originated from internal PC cabling in the 90's to internal crossover speaker wiring, speaker cabling, interconnects, and most recently personal audio headphone and earphone cables, analogue and digital interconnects. Their cable products range from approx USD$300 portable audio cables to high end ~ USD$15,000 speaker cables.
Brise Audio are based in Gunma, Japan and their products are hand made locally. They're not a high volume maker and often they cater for customised requests which take a few weeks for delivery. As they have been busy touring around Japan at miscellaneous audio shows, they have quickly gained recognition and won some local awards. Their recognition internationally have primarily been through the internet forums and they sell directly to most other countries except China, and Hong Kong where they have distributors.
More can be read about Brise Audio in my separate report here.
Brise Audio's Philosophy
Rather than jumping into the construction of this cable, it may be worthy to explore a little more into their beliefs. Despite Brise Audio offering a range of products that is convoluted and at times confusing to understand, their concept is rather simple. They use silver-based cores for digital cables such as AES, coax, etc.and high grade copper for their analogue cables such as earphone and headphone cables, and interconnects. I suspect due to their background in internal PC and internal speaker crossover cabling their products have a strong emphasis on shielding. The platter of offerings are primarily due to the different levels of shielding provided.
The shielding levels are Murakumo with 13 layers of different materials, Masamune with 11 layers, Shinkai with 8 layers, and Osafune with 6 layers. The shielding sheets are hand wound around the entire length of the cables around a 37 strand 4 core high grade copper core in a spiral twist.
Brise Audio also offers the UPG001 and STD001 range and for this particular cable review, it is a newer version of the UPG001HP Headphone cable. The UPG001HP is an 8 core spiral twist configuration but of a different AWG than the Murakumo/Masamune/Shinkai/Osafune range. The shielding is also in specific sections of the cable such as the termination points and headphone jack and I believe near the Y-split to left and right channels but not along the entire length of the cable offered aforementioned range.
Brise Audio has been a little tight lipped about the "N" rating however have just left it as a high grade quality copper cable. Judging by how much attention and meticulous their focus on the materials and construction of their products, I do suspect that the grade of copper used is very high indeed. Even the electromagnetic shielding that's used is proprietary only to them and not available to other makers.
With their shielding though I speculate Brise Audio has chosen a simple twist configuration of the different cables instead of any kind of fancy braiding.
Quality and Ergonomics
Overall the quality of products and materials used were high quality. I informed them before my visit I was keen on a Lemo connector-terminated for my Utopia and a 4.4mm 5-pole based plug for my NW-WM1Z player. I don't know if they made this cable specifically for my specification or if the had one readily/freshly made but they accommodated my request without any fuss. The Pentaconn 4.4mm plug used was the USD$90 OFC Pentaconn as opposed to the USD$45 standard Pentaconn (not to mention the availability of even cheaper options). Similarly the Lemo connectors were original ones that's labelled rather than China copies. I was very happy with the presentation of the cable as a whole that appears sophisticated yet understated.
Ergonomics-wise the cable is a little more stiff but still comfortable. As I had the cable for only 2 weeks, I didn't really get to see how the cable is like longer term. Their UPG001 cables for earphones on the other hand could get tangly but with this UPG001HP, I didn't feel it would get to that state. Possibly their silver sleeving may help the cable ergonomics too.
My setup was listening to the cables with my Focal Utopia headphones balanced off my Sony NW-WM1Z DAP. Depending on the album, the DAP has just enough oomph to drive the Utopias with my volume hovering just over 100 mark out of the NW-WM1Z's max of 120. As a comparison I had my newly self-customed Oyaide Augline that comprises of 4x Augline +pt (silver/gold/platinum alloy based wire) and 4x Augline +α (silver/gold based wire) using the same Pentaconn OFC 4.4mm plug and Lemo connectors.
As I had only 2 weeks with the Brise Audio UPG001HP cable, I spent most of the time burning that in (which came up to about 333 hrs worth of burn in) whereas my new Augline had about 24-36 hrs worth of burn-in. Although personally I do believe burn in may some part into the settling of the sound signature, I don't think it's a big drastic difference therefore 24-36 hrs vs 333 hrs to me shouldn't be such a big difference comparison. And for the non-believers of burn-in, well it's just having this review 2 weeks later rather than 2 weeks earlier.
Comparatively to the Oyaide, I've found the Brise Audio UPG001HP has a very balanced and even tonal response. My Oyaide Augline felt somewhat more midrange centric. On the high end, the UPG001HP was fluid and smooth with a nice airy extension. The detail and transparency of the Augline extends to the layering of the lower bass end too. Whilst listening to "Looking For A Home" by Keith Greeninger & Danyan Kai, the subtleties of the lower bass tones kept making me turn my head around as I was wondering if my kids were banging on some thing a room a few doors away from me.
The Augline, possibly with it's shorter burn in, sounded a little gritty and grainy whilst the UPG001HP was like smooth silk exemplifying the analogue characteristics of the NW-WM1Z player.
Whilst the UPG001HP had a larger soundstage presentation (I believe thanks to it's even/neutral tonal signature) than the Augline, the Augline had a slight edge in the holographic depth imaging. The UPG001HP wasn't flat and wide, however the depth layering on the Augline was a little more apparent and obvious.
There's little to fault in the UPG001HP cable. To my ears it's an obvious improvement over the stock Focal Utopia cable, and discernible difference from the Oyaide Augline (which mind you despite being a DIY-ish self custom still cost a pretty ~USD$550). The final price has not been decided however I'm told to expect it to be less than ¥100,000 (approx < USD$910). However if price is of no concern, I feel it compliments well with the Utopia and with the NW-WM1Z combination.
Aside from the cable itself, the Brise Audio folks have been a pleasure to talk to and to deal with. I feel the company itself has potential to grow in the future. I look forward to whatever newer products they may be coming up with.