Those who do not hear differences in cables and conclude there are no differences need read no further. Seriously, save yourself the time and go do something else.
My listening experiences over 50 years tell me that interaction of different characteristics of transducers, amplifiers, and cabling can make for subtle (or maybe not so subtle) alterations in what I hear.
We all hear differently and value what we hear differently. Those who hear no differences worth mentioning are right, and I take them at their word. And there is nothing wrong with them not wanting to focus intensely on the minutiae of details in the sound; their enjoyment comes not from dissecting the sound but from just embracing the whole, not a sum of small parts. And that’s okay.
We all have different life priorities, different life styles, different interests, and different circumstances.
(1/11 to 1/16 2018)
To hear what changes to the sound, if any, occur during the first 100+ hours of “Ultra” use sampled at intervals of 25 hours.
2. After 125 hours in do listening comparisons of the Lazuli “Ultra” HP cable for the Abyss Phi with my stock Phi “JPS Labs” cable that presently has around 300 hours total use time on it. (It makes no sense not to compare them.)
The Equipment (all purchased by me)
For consistency throughout the process I used the same equipment from start to finish; CD spinner as a transport is my Emotiva ERC-3’s AES/EBU digital output connected to my Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC with ½ meter of DH Labs Silver Sonic D-110 Digital cable and ½ meter of DH Labs Silver Sonic D-750 Coax , then on to Schiit Audio’s Ragnarok HP/amp using a 1 meter pair of Dana Cable Sapphire Reference XLR IC’s. The equipment was on all the time, 6 days total including 12 hours before Fed X arrived with the Ultra. So all components were fully warmed up and I’ll have a few extra bucks due on my electric bill next month. I also own the following headphone amps not used in this evaluation to keep things simple: Schiit Audio Mjolnir 2 and Jotunheim, and the Rogue Audio RH-5. To the extent to which different amps sound different from one another and give different results, it would have introduced too many variables for me to keep track of jumping from 1 amp to another.
The Burn-in /Break-in / Settle-In / Cook–in / (Your Term Here)
The Ultra came to me with about 25 hours of use from Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio who contacted me and asked if I would be interested in giving him some feedback on a new product they were going to introduce. Me? Interested? Are you kidding, LOL!
I used the Purist Audio Design “Luminist” System Enhancer CD for over 100 hours of burn-in in addition to listening to my usual evaluation CD’s at the 25 (arrival), 50, 75, and 100 hour marks for 3 to 4 hour sessions daily and for 6 straight days total. By the end of the fifth day total play hours will be around 125 and at that point I will do a comparison of the sound of the Ultra Demo to my stock Abyss Phi JPS Labs cable that has around 300 hours total on it, followed by one more day listening to the Ultra with whatever I feel like.
I have been using the Dana Cable’s Lazuli on my HD800 and Lazuli Reference on my Utopia since early fall 2016 and early spring 2017 respectively. Both are pure copper designs and I found the sound signatures a very good sounding compliment with my Utopia (a solid performer up and down the frequency range) and an excellent sounding one with my HD800 as it gave a bit more weight to the bottom end and some smoothing on the highs making a better match for my listening tastes and music preferences. Vinh indicated the Lazuli Ultra is a hybrid that uses some silver in the mix with the copper.
Again to keep this as simple as possible I used only 5 CD’s, 2 of which I am very familiar with since the 70’s when they originally released on vinyl and were always my primary go to source material for demo’s back in the days of (the many) brick and mortar, high end / boutique audio stores (and before the video boom began).
A. The Missing Linc Vol. 2: Sheffield Lab CD S-10, 1972, (Particularly tracks 1, 2 and 12)
B. Wagner & Prokofiev Excerpts: Sheffield CD 7/8, 1978, (In bleeding chunks and entirety at times)
C. The Sheffield/XLO Test & Burn-in CD: 10041-2 (1994) for the “Walk Around” and “Clap” test tracks, (imaging and sound staging characteristics)
D. Chesky’s Ultimate (Binaural) HP Demo Disc: Chesky JD361, (Particularly Tracks 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 12, 13)
E. Chesky’s The Ultimate Demo Disc (Vol. 1 I believe), Chesky UD95, (Various tracks randomly)
I used the same volume level set by sound level meter (60db) for all CD’s during burn-in and the listening sessions. The music is mostly Classical and Jazz based.
I took notes during each session and thinned them out daily for this write-up. I reference some specific music examples by using the CD’s letters I assigned above and the track numbers to cut down on the number of characters I would have to type repetitively.
These are my impressions in conjunction with my personal likes, dislikes, and tastes. They are 100% mine only and I make no claim that my impressions will be the same as others impressions. I’m not an accuracy above all listener, I decide on what I like based on how I think the recorded music sounds compared to my recollections of the sound of live music and my experiences with both. I’ve always believe strongly that the sound I hear out of the transducer is the sum of all parts in the chain ahead of it starting with the source material. I believe the source material and the transducer provide the lion’s share of characteristics contributing to what I will ultimately hear. My definitions of accurate, realistic, and pleasing sound are all different.
First Listening Session (25 hours)
Knowing that Fed X was delivering the Ultra Thursday afternoon (1/11/18) I turned on the equipment that morning as I wanted to hear the cable as delivered at 25 hours and I ran the Phi with the Ultra HP cable and “Luminist” disc for an hour before I started this first listening session.
I have been listening at every opportunity; including some overnight burn-in sessions early on, to my Abyss Phi with its stock cable since 12/05/17 when I took delivery of it. The first four listening sessions with the Phi will be with the Ultra exclusively.
Bass: to my ears that hallmark “Lazuli” richness in the bass and midbass was immediately evident and it gives a great sense of power and of air being moved when the music calls for it. The Ultra allows the ambience and air of notes from the lowest bass up through the midbass to blossom while still sounding taut (no excess bloat) and this extends to all sorts of percussion instruments as well as strings, horns, and woodwinds. Bass through midbass quality is a great strength of the whole Lazuli line. (Disc A track 2 / Disc B track 3, many of the Prokofiev tracks & / Disc D tracks 6, 11, 12, 13).
Mids: plenty of detail, I have one recording I use over and over for evaluations that sounds like there is a washboard (left/center), or something like it, being played in the background that is easily buried in the total Jazz ensemble (Disc A track 2). The Ultra allows it to come through about as well as I’ve heard it since I had to give up my 2 channel rig back in 2004. I also note good delineation of grouped voices. (Disc D tracks 3 and 11).
Highs: I think I’m hearing a little more frequency information, but not by much, than with the stock cable, a plus with my 71 year old ears. I use tracks with bells being struck at various points up and down the scale and I seem to hear the last few high strikes a little more easily with the Ultra. That does not mean that I’m now hearing high frequencies lost to my ears years ago, once there gone, there gone. The high notes on massed violins in particular, as well as with other instruments, are smooth and never strident with the Ultra. Bells are clear and airy. Cymbals and tam-tams and the like come off very nicely without any tendency to sound splashy. I'd like a little more edge to the guttural low growl of horns (Disc B track 3 and 7). Transient attack and decay sounds just a little soft at this point (Disc A track 2 –drum, bells and tam-tam, Disc B track 3 – tympani, and at numerous points in the Prokofiev as well on that same disc (from track 5 on), and also on Disc D tracks 6, 11, 12).
Depth and imaging; the soundstage is not as well portrayed as with the stock Phi cable (or, from memory, the other Lazuli’s with their respective phones) at this point. It’s too forward sounding at different positions in the sound field.
Overall transparency is another thing to be determined. Again, from memory, the stock Phi cables are very transparent and allow instruments individually and in groups to deliver a vivid sound. A visual analogy would be as if one were looking at them through a very clean pane of glass with the JPS Labs cable. The Ultra presents a more homogenized group of individual musicians but the glass is not as clean. While subtle it makes for an interesting difference so far between the two cables.
I’m only at the 25 hours point, in my experience, some aspects of the sound will continue to change with more hours of use and I’ll get a better handle on how I’m perceiving what I hear (brain burn-in?). My past experience with the Reference IC’s and Lazuli/Lazuli Reference HP cables indicates around 50 hours is about all that’s needed for those cable to adjust sound wise, and that’s what the manufacturer recommends. With my HD800 (especially) and the Utopia, going from stock cables to Lazuli’s created a different listening experience that took me a little time to assimilate but that turned out to be a better listening experience for me in the long run over the respective HP’s stock cables after returning to them for a double check.
One thing for sure, I’ve read many comments over the past 2 years with regard to the sound of silver or silver/copper hybrids sounding a bit bright and thin compared to copper only. The highs on this Ultra with the Phi are way too smooth to fit that description and the bass end has great heft. It would be interesting to compare the 3 different Lazuli’s on the Phi. Also, on the HD800 and Utopia, but given that headphone manufacturers have never been able to settle on a standard high quality connector for their phones it becomes a prohibitively expensive exercise for my wallet. Also, the different connectors in use with all 3 may not be capable of accepting the increasing cross-sectional size of the wire as one goes from Lazuli to Lazuli Reference to Lazuli Ultra.
Second Listening Session (50 hours in)
Significant improvements to the sound stage and imaging are settling in. I’m now hearing a more uniform spread of sound and at proper positions left to right and front to back. Tendency towards forwardness is gone. Transparency improved also.
Bass: about the same but maybe a bit tighter in control; example; drum head skin sounds of hands slapping what sound like conga and bongos sound pretty realistic. Being able to hear the resonant characteristics of the air chambers so clearly with those congas and bongos also caught my ears (Disc D track 11). Bass drums and tympani shudder and generate air appropriately based on how tuned/played and recorded (Disc B tracks 3, 7, 8 and Disc D tracks 6, 12).
Midrange: with the sometimes forwardness gone the fabric of the sound picture is all of one piece, detailed, cohesive and correct to my ears.
Highs: no big changes but maybe transients are managed a bit better. The highs are nicely extended but that’s not achieved at the expense of any uncalled for glare or sparkle. I think this may have to do with improving control of transient attack and decay. This combined with the Phi’s unflappable way of presenting stressful musical passages made for fatigue free extended listening sessions for me.
Third Listening Session (75 hours in)
Very minor refinements as opposed to noticeable improvements at the 50 hour mark.
Tonally, the bass, midrange and highs about the same.
Transient attacks may be a bit quicker and cleaner sounding allowing for better definition, clear inner detailing with no loss of air or any excessive edge or aggressiveness. (This point was really driven home just last week, 1/24, when I attended an open rehearsal of the Phila. Orchestra and the final work performed was the Prelude (and Liebestod) from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde which is one of the tracks I listened to over and over during these listening trials. Closing my eyes from row H, center, I was struck by just how close the sound I was hearing had been portrayed at times by the superb Abyss 1266 Phi headphone combined with the Ultra and in conjunction with my associated gear. Especially at capturing the natural ambience and air of the sound particularly when the string sections were going full out in their upper registers. I was duly impressed. And no, the JPS Labs is not an also ran, its right there with a slightly different take.
The group of male singers on the right side on Disc D track 11 (“Wa,Wa,Wa”), I can actually hear subtle timing differences on entries of some of the singers at times, and a nice wall of sound comes from the horns across the back of the stage. The horns now also have a natural sounding vibrato in the low registers at low volumes with nice “bite” to the notes (Disc B track 3 - Siegfried’s Funeral March). The ambient air of recording venues is revealed well when captured correctly by the recording, (Disc B, all tracks and Disc D track 6).
Transparency is very good, sound stage and imaging continue to impress. It’s easy to track one instrument through dense passages on large scale classical works or something like the lead guitar all the way through the “Wa, Wa, Wa” piece. On Disc D track 1 it’s easy to comprehend all six instruments of this Dixie Land style Jazz band simultaneously or individually when playing together.
Getting harder to listen for those benchmark sound points as I get lost in the sound itself, LOL!
Fourth Listen Session (100 hours in)
Nothing to report on, to my ears the various sound characteristics of the Ultra seem stabilized at this point, or my ears are just not capable of distinguishing anything more. 50 hours gets most of the break-in done, anything yet to change occurred by the 75 hour mark. At least that’s how I hear it. Others may hear it differently.
Fifth Listening Session (125 hours – “Lazuli Ultra” versus stock Phi “JPS Labs” HP cables for Abyss Phi)
I’ve spent the previous 4 sessions listening exclusively to the “Lazuli Ultra” headphone cable with my Abyss Phi. The Phi and its stock cable had around 300 hours playing time on them in total when the Ultra arrived last Thursday.
For this comparison I first used a 1Khz test signal and sound meter to make sure that both cables were generating the same volume level with the same setting of the volume control. They were identical set at 60.0 db +/- 0.1 (tenth) db (by my measurement technique). I didn’t really expect any difference but my OCD attention to detail got the better of me, LOL. And, I used that same volume setting on all 20 primary tracks from the 5 discs I used in my comparison as well as all the previous sessions. (That’s one of the reasons I like these 5 discs, the sound is fully opened up with the same volume setting on these discs, no need to adjust volume on each disc due to different recording levels).
The rental stock Phi Demo cable and the stock Phi cable that came with the Abyss 1266 Phi I purchased are identical in appearance, length and feel, but there was one difference. The Demo cable was a dual 3 pin configuration in two separate cable runs of 8 feet (2.44 meters) and I could only use it with my Rogue RH-5.The provided Abyss dual 3 pin to SE adapter allowed me to use it with all 4 of my HP amps and listening in SE is what sold me on buying the Phi. But, I’m a fan of 4 pin and it is what I use with my HD800, Utopia, (and even with my Oppo PM-1’s and Senn 600). I plan to purchase my own Ultra for my Abyss and will go with the 4 pin configuration and 3 meters and maybe add an SE adapter for it at a later date for use with my home theater and those late evening movie viewings. In discussing dual 3-pin versus 4-pin configurations with my headphone dealer, who also owns the Phi’s, he feels there is no advantage sonically or otherwise with dual 3 pin over 4 pin, and he anticipates the dual 3 pin option to become a lesser available feature in future headphone amp designs (not that it’s a prominent option on most HP amps I’m familiar with at this point in time).
This comparison was a tedious process for sure, listening to a track with the stock JPS Labs cable and making notes, substituting the Ultra and re-listening and making notes, moving on to the next track with the Ultra making notes, then substituting back the stock cable and re-listening and making notes and on and on.
I kept a score card comparing Bass, Midrange, Highs, Transient Attack and Decay, Dynamic Response, Image Stability and Positioning, Sound Stage, and Transparency on each track with each cable. The only thing that would be more boring than my typing out the individual results would be reading them. So I will summarize. And, keep in mind I only spent about around 6 hours’ time on this comparison during one afternoon.
First, both of these cables sound excellent but with some very slight differences.
Now that the Ultra is settled in (to my satisfaction) the differences have become exceeding small but noticeable to my ears versus the JPS Labs stock Phi cable.
Bass: The Ultra contributes or allows for a bit more air and richness and roundness throughout the bottom frequencies of instruments than the than the stock cables, but both cables reproduce all the notes there are to hear down there.
Midrange: The Ultra plays no favorites with instruments, sometimes the JPS Labs seems to highlight a solo instrument from a group but it’s “extremely” minor in nature and not easy to detect. Inner detailing on both is very good.
Highs: I’d give the Ultra a slight edge but it’s very close and easy to accept that others could prefer the JPS Labs.
Transient Attack and Decay: Both sound correct with no overshoot on the front or overhang on the back but the bit of extra air from the Ultra gives the impression of greater clarity to the JPS Labs.
Dynamic Response: The Ultra comes across a bit more explosive, may be that extra air again contributing to the sound and adding oomph!
Image Stability: Both maintain a stable image on instrument’s with no wandering and a smooth spread from far left to far right.
Sound Stage: I prefer the Ultra as it puts, subjectively, more difference into the distance between the front of the stage and the rear of the stage and placement of instruments in the front to back parameter sounds right. The JPS Labs is just a little compressed front to back and also bring the musicians closer in towards me and the sound is more vivid (in a good way).
Transparency: The JPS Labs still seems to have an edge over the Ultra perhaps having to do with the difference in how they reproduce ambience.
Summary: Both the Dana Cable Lazuli Ultra and the stock JPS Labs HP cables are excellent with the Abyss Phi (an extraordinary headphone that does it all in my opinion). I think the differences one might hear and whether one likes them or not will come down to personal preference and maybe even the type of music one tends to listen to most often.
The Ultra is warm, sweet, and “maybe” a bit more prominent sounding on top, but never harsh or aggressive (to my ears and as high as I can hear at 71). The JPS Labs is dryer, more analytical, crystal clear and clean. The difference is much more subtle than my words indicate, but for the sake of clarity…
With my HD800 I consider the Lazuli a must for my listening enjoyment over the stock cable and some others I've tried. While my Utopia doesn’t have the same issues to my ears nor need the same degree of help in some areas as the HD800 the Lazuli Reference is still a more satisfying listen on my Utopia than its stock cable.
There are other brands of substitute cabling from other manufacturers I have not, and very likely will not, have an opportunity to audition (I can’t afford to buy them all!). I did experiment with other brands early on with my Oppo, Senn 600, and HD800. After combining the Lazuli with my HD800, and trying some of the Dana IC’s, I decided that was the “voicing” I wanted with my various headphones.
Though not wildly different I’m fairly certain I will be running both Lazuli Ultra for Abyss Phi (when available)and the stock JPS Labs side by side for some time as much for the differences as the similarities so I can have my cake and eat it too!
Sixth Listening Session (150 hours – Free Listening)
I spent about 4 hours listening to the Ultra on a variety of recordings from Diana Krall and Grover Washington, Steely Dan, Vivaldi, Holst, Beethoven, and Stravinsky (and another favorite demo disc I didn’t use in the previous listening sessions, Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite” on DG). I also listened to some acoustic and electronic movie sound tracks thrown in for good measure. I stand by my earlier comments on the Ultra and the JPS Labs.
Opinions vary more often than they align with all things audio. The proof for each individual is always in the listening.
I shipped the Ultra Demo back on day 7.
This is the first time I have ever been offered to evaluate an audio related product before it’s been officially released or available. But given my past listening experiences with Dana Cable products I would have eventually gotten around to a purchase of it anyway as their cable lines come with a 30 day refund policy, and I do like the Dana Cable “house sound”.
Side Bar on Physical Characteristics
I made the following weight measurements with a digital kitchen scale comparing the Ultra with my other 2 HP Dana Cables and the Abyss’s stock cable.
3 meter Lazuli (for HD800) 7.95 ounces.
3 meter Lazuli Ref (for Utopia) 10.55 ounces.*
2 meter Ultra (for Phi) 7.70 ounces. (Demo’s length)
3 meter Ultra (should be) 11.55 ounces.*
(The 2.44 meter JPS Labs Phi cable weighs only 4.5 ounces)
If one has no problem with the weight of the Lazuli Reference the Ultra shouldn’t be any different in use. If you put on a pair of headphones when you get out of bed in the morning, wear them all day, and then forget to take them off before going to bed at night, the Ultra’s weight could be an issue and so may not be a good portability solution.
Microphonics are practically non-existent with the type of cloth wrap material used in the Lazuli line. The stock cables for my different HP’s (except the Oppo I believe) have smooth, shiny, plasticized / rubberized outer coatings that seems to make more mechanically transmitted noise and definitely exhibit greater friction, (or stick-tion - Is that even a word? ), when dragged across different materials of my clothing, leather recliner, carpeting, etc. They make more microphonic noise that gets transmitted to the headphones structure than the Lazuli’s cloth type outer wrap material combined with the flexibility of the whole Lazuli line.
With regard to flexibility; the Ultra cabling fits inside its cloth sheath a bit more snugly filling it out a bit more than the Lazuli Reference fits in its cloth sheath, but it's just as flexible to me. The stock Abyss JPS Labs cable uses a different metal configuration / combination (I think), and while much thinner in overall cross-section, is actually stiffer and tends to want to coil like a “slinky”, or suspend itself in the air at times, while the Lazuli’s are much more relaxed and easier to dress. I find the Ultra easier to manipulate while listening and shifting position in my chair whether reaching for a volume knob or changing discs.
My listening set up consists of equipment in an upright stand with shelves. My 4 headphone amps sit at different heights above the floor from 12 inches to 44 inches. I need extra length to manage these different HP amp positions. I sit alongside the stand in a leather recliner.
I use 3 meter lengths with both of my HP cables for HD800 and Utopia and have no issues with weight (but others might). Typically the cable(s) rest on one spot on the floor and another around my lap area providing strain relief. So the actual amount of weight / drag I experience may only be of less than 1 meters worth of cable. Only if the cable is completely suspended in the air would one experience the full weight.
It’s also my understanding that the Lazuli line is going to be offered at shorter lengths to better accommodate varying user situations. Like while seated at a desk listening to a PC feed with all components on the desk top 3 meters is not needed. This will reduce the base cost a bit, but labor cost is the same whether for 2 meters, (the new standard length as I understand it), or 3 meter lengths. I also understand there will be options to purchase 2, 2.5, or 3 meter lengths if desired.
As always, when it comes to the sound and user interaction with the physical aspects of different components, you be the judge, because YMMV
A poster has questioned the clarity of certain of my remarks regarding the physical aspects of the stock JPS Labs Phi cable, so;
1.There is "NO" difference between the demo Phi / JPS Labs cable (wire) and the Phi / JPS Labs cable (wire) that came with my Abyss.
2.The demo's headphone cable was a dual run of two individual 3 pin connectors at the source end, I ordered my personal Abyss Phi with a dual run but a single 4 pin connector at the source end.
3.The cross-section comparison was with the Ultra's outer wrap diameter to the Phi / JPS Labs outer wrap diameter.
4.Yes, I believe the metal mixes of the conducting wires in both cables (ULTRA & JPS Labs) to be different. I believe the conductors in both the Phi demo cable (with demo headphone) and the one that came with my Phi are identical.