DanaCable Lazuli SH HP Cable versus Moon Audio Black Dragon HD800 HP Cable
I tend to hear subtle differences in cables. Most differences are very small, and I don’t hear differences worth giving much thought to in many cases. When someone says they can’t / don’t hear any differences in cables (or electronics for that matter) I take them at their word and believe they can’t. No need for me to burden anyone any further on the matter, I won’t proselytize. I don’t own and haven’t heard 99% of all the cables out there on offer and don’t plan to. The price to play can be steep and I have my limits regardless of what I hear or read. I’m not a dealer or pro reviewer with my own website so I have to buy them (and that’s one reason I love 15 to 30 day no hassle return policies). I rely on a “lot” of reading to help me narrow down the stuff that interests me to investigate further. I don’t believe there is any magic, black or otherwise, or special sauce needed to produce a good cable. The differences I hear I chalk up to small differences in resistance, capacitance, and impedance combinations of the cable and how it may be interacting with the source signal and load at the other end resulting in small differences in frequency response and phase shift that may or may not be audible, and that may or may not affect the sound.
I've got over 100 hours on the Lazuli SH and Jodie (and several hundreds on all other equipment / cabling in this comparison as well). I cooked them in using the same process I always do (except with Yggy): 16 hours on, 8 hours off, 6 to 7 days straight. I listen for 2 to 4 hours each morning during the week, the remainder of the 16 hour day I run a loop of either PAD (64 minutes) or Sheffield’s burn in CD’s (12 minutes). They both use various test tones, pink noise, etc. in a variety of ways to condition (break in, form up, whatever) anything in the signal path. The arguments on whether this is necessary or not wage on. I look at it this way, with 16 hours on running hot and then 8 hours of complete cool down, hopefully, if something is gonna’ snap (infant mortality wise) this will force the issue over 6 to 7 days (3 times in 40 years). If this whole process is unnecessary it’s only cost me a few bucks in electric, so what? And if it is a good thing then sooner or later everyone will get their gear burned in anyway whether they do it sooner rather than later over time, I don’t see much of a difference between the two methods, so…
With all that out of the way
I compared the Lazuli SH in 3 meter with 4 Pin XLR to my Black Dragon HP 10 foot with 4 Pin XLR (not the special edition/signature cable or V3 which uses silver cable) for use with my HD800. I also threw the stock cable at 3 meter with SE connector into the mix. I used a 1 meter pair of Dana Sapphire IC with XLR’s from Yggy to Raggy, Mj2, and Jodie (all Schiit products), alternately. I use ½ meter of DHLabs AES/EBU from my ERC-3 to Yggy. I also carefully match (as best I could with a sound level meter) the volume levels of the 800 with each of the 3 HP amps (I saw no difference in the ability of the Dragon or Lazuli to deliver the same db level with identical input from the 3 different amps. Once set I never touch the volume knobs until the session is over. With the XLR’s all I have to do is “Pause” the CD Transport, disconnect the headphone from the amp, and move the male XLR connectors to the next amp, then reconnect the headphones to that amp, and “Un-Pause” the Cd Transport. Never a click, pop, or buzz during any part of my procedure with or without HP’s plugged in or out. I swap the HP cables ad lib.
The Lazuli and Dragon are both copper wire designs, both are very flexible and comfortable in use and nicely finished, and light in weight. The Dragon outer jacket is very smooth and looks like a high quality mike cable. The Lazuli has a snake-skin kind of texture thing going on with its outer jacket but it is extremely soft and flexible. I use balanced connectors whenever I can. I noticed no cable microphonics with either model.
A note about one other physical aspect: Both the Dragon and Lazuli connectors inserted and removed much more easily than the stock cable’s connectors and both stay better seated than the stock ones (less play rotationally). I can think of absolutely no reason why this should be but mention it in passing. Maybe just a quirk of my stock cables connectors.
Up until I purchased the HD800/Black Dragon combo I had been using the stock cables for my HD600 and Oppo PM-1’s with DHLabs Revelation IC’s and AES between ERC-3, Yggy and my amps (MJ2 and Raggy at the time) and stock or Black Dragon HP cables. Eventually I acquired complete sets of Digital and IC's from DH and Blue Jeans, and Moon Audio. The sound of the various DHLabs cabling in general was crisp, transparent and detailed with some brightness generally and variable dependent on the recording. Blue Jeans were fine as well and not as bright. But I really liked the Black Dragon complement of cablings until the Dana's arrived.
Keep in mind I use the HD800 I purchased back in late July of this year as my primary transducer so comments regarding highs and lows could / should vary if I were comparing these cables in use with my PM-1’s or HD600’s. But the 800 is my HP of choice at this point, still a few more candidates I want to hear / add.
The stock HD800 cable comes in 3rd - no surprise there - pushes images right up to my ears and in front of my nose - no depth. Tonally it never sounds quite right, a bit shouty. At times both the Dragon and Lazuli reproduce the sound so well it’s like certain instruments are really in the room with me, especially on smaller scale works with the HD800. Piano seems to be the toughest instrument to get right, usually I’m disappointed, don’t know why that is. Still looking for an ultimate piano disc for demoing / comparing equipment.
Both the Dragon and Lazuli are nicely balanced, detailed and sound clean compared to the other cables in my inventory. Both cables go low with good impact but I think the Lazuli has a bit more weight through the midbass / upper bass that seems to give a beefier presentation with a touch more sense of air being moved. Hair splitting differences here but I like the weight Lazuli gives to the sound.
I find the midrange on both to very close to ideal in terms of tonal reproduction. Width and depth are comparable with the Lazuli a hair ahead, not too forward, not too recessed, and very stable. A touch more detail retrieval with Lazuli also. Again, not night and day, small differences but meaningful enough to me.
The highs are where I hear the biggest differences. The Dragon is quick, crisp, and maybe a touch aggressive or over etched (very slight and certainly less than the DHLabs) by comparison with Lazuli. From day 1 with the Lazuli I kept saying to myself, where did the highs go? As the days went by it didn’t really change a lot in character to my ears. But I came to my own conclusion over seven days that nothing was missing so much as something was not being added. The Dragons are dryer and tighter, and sound slightly brighter to my ears. The Lazuli by contrast however are not wet or loose or dull. The best words I can come up with for the Lazuli is sweet and relaxed on top, and it handles dynamics with a great sense of ease providing better inner detailing and clarity for my ears. The Dragons are a bit tart, dry, brighter, exciting. The Revelations are even brighter than the Dragon to my ears. Again I note, these are not order of magnitude differences, just my perceptions and how I hear things. Again, these differences are very small but noticeable to me, and in comparison with any other cables I’ve heard/used over the past year.
The Chesky Ultimate Headphone Demo CD is my favorite binaural CD I have found for doing equipment comparisons. And the recorded dynamic range of Chesky’s stuff is unmatched in my opinion. This is always my go to first for any headphone comparison listening.
Track 1. Depth: This is a small New Orleans jazz ensemble, from left to right: trombone and trumpet, tuba (sousaphone), drum kit, saxophone, and banjo. I find it easier to process the sound and location of all 6 players simultaneously with the Lazuli than with the Dragons. Things are just a tiny bit clearer all the way around with the Lazuli. This track has some good depth perspective which both cables reproduce well enough, but it also points out how headphones are so poor at doing depth compared to speakers and is why I put depth at the bottom of my list of priorities I look for in a headphone.
On a side note, and speaking of keeping track of individual instruments, early on in my comparisons, when I listened to larger scale Late Romantic orchestral music, so much inner detail was coming through so fast and simultaneously, and with such clarity at times with the Lazuli, that the part of my brain that processes my eardrum vibrations into electrical pulses that are then interpreted by my brain as sound, would trip over itself, LOL. My brain quickly adjusted thank goodness.
Track 2. Midrange: Intelligibility of Amber Rubarth’s unique vocal style is but one aspect of this track to focus on, but her high notes as well as her guitar sound, and the sound of the bows on the strings of the cello and violin display a real intensity of the textures when I listen. The Dragon is a little edgier sounding and the Lazuli a little smoother, which is right? Maybe long term the Lazuli will be a more comfortable choice for me and my listening preferences.
Track 6. Treble: With the Dragons the ambient air sound of the recording venue stands out more boldly than with the Lazuli, and certain of the wind instruments sounds cause resonances or glare a touch more readily and stronger through the HD800 than with the Lazuli. Which one is right? Not sure but I still prefer the Lazuli.
Track 11. Transient Response: This is one where the Lazuli really shines. I always find Latin rhythms infectious and dance inducing in the extreme. The different conga drums appear far left and right and drum head attack and decay gave the impression of hands hitting the drum heads. They also came through on the Lazuli with a sense of warmth and air that the chamber inside the drum imparts. The guitar solo is another aural highlight.
Track 12. Bass: This track is an assault on the ears. The first couple times I listened to this it was just a cacophony of percussive instruments. But upon repeated hearings it somehow started coming together for me as an interesting listen. Again the Lazuli really shines. The most amazing effect on this track is around the 3 minute mark. Some sort of twangy instrument is struck or plucked continuously as the player walks from extreme right to extreme left “behind” (illusion but seemed more behind than through or in front of) my head. I’ve other discs with a walk around on them but nothing like this.
Track 13. Visceral Impact: A return to some mainstream rock. Classic Zeppelin, Electric Guitars and Drum Set, sweet! Seems to be an acoustically dry recording venue with just a touch of reverb to the space so everything including the vocalist is in bold relief. Not much depth of positioning on the metal guitars.
For day 7’s session I stuck with Jodie only and ran through my perceptions of the previous 6 days to see if I was still in agreement with myself. I was.
Different source and equipment upfront could lead to different conclusions but I only have what I own to use in this comparison.
I like both HP cables but I prefer the Lazuli. It has a tonal balance I really like and I think the extreme inner detailing I hear is a result of the control of both transient attack and decay. I like the Lazuli’s more fleshed out bottom end (a plus with HD800), its midrange warmth, detail, and clarity, and its sweet (just right to my ears) highs.
I may, when I finally get around to just listening for pleasure rather than for comparisons, find that different labels (within my classical genres) or possible equipment changes may match up with the Dragons better than the Lazuli. No rush on that for me.
In Closing: The harder I listen, the less I hear.
While I have a preference for Lazuli, when I finally settle on another TOTL HP or two (somewhere down the road, hopefully by year end) and can listen completely relaxed and off-guard, that’s when every now and then, I sometimes pick up on sonic cues as I listen that I never noticed before. Sometimes for the better and sometimes not. I suspect with Lazuli that they will be for the better in most cases and as much a result of the recording quality as much as anything in my chain of equipment.
Now let me put this into perspective:
Black Dragons V2 10 foot $265.00
DanaCable Lazuli 3 meter $749.00
I give the nod to Lazuli because what I hear is a meaningful enough difference to me and it delivers for my ears. Others could easily see it the other way and I wouldn’t argue against the Dragons not to mention the dozens upon dozens of other high end, high priced, or budget priced, or priced just right, cable offerings I haven’t and will most likely never hear. And, in fact I’ve never spent this much before for any cable type. And given the cost of the rest of my equipment the cost of the Lazuli is way out of band. But that’s the nature of the quest sometimes. Does make me wonder though, can the Sapphire Reference IC and Lazuli Reference be that much better than my non-Reference versions? I'll have to find out if I end up also acquiring the Focal Utopia (after I come up on the demo list and if I decide to buy).
My friends (non-audiophiles all) are completely satisfied with $10.00 a pair from anywhere (or stock) when they need to replace or add a cable. I take no issue with their approach. Different ears, different hears, different life priorities and focus.
Some other CD’s I use for the evaluations:
Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances on Mercury Living Presence 434 304-2
Wagner / Prokofiev Excerpts from works: on Sheffield Labs CD7/8
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances on Analogue Productions APCD006
Liszt: Les Preludes on BIS CD-1117
Beethoven: Sym #9 on London 430 438-2
Shostakovich / Shchedrin: Piano Concertos on Hyperion CDA 67425
Swedish Orchestral Favorites Vol 2 on Naxos 8.553715
Rock / Jazz Selections by Stanley Clarke, Diana Krall, Grover Washington, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Traffic, Steely Dan
Postscript: Why 3 Schiit Headphone amps?
1. I like Schiit, its approach to the business, its business model, and fun and dramatic marketing. (I mean come on, Jason owns/operates a marketing company, what’d ya expect?) I spent 37 years in commercial banking specializing in small business lending to establish businesses, startups, mom and pop operations, generational handoffs, acquisitions, and in just about every business type from gas stations to manufacturing, construction, medical and legal professional, even a successful inventor. I laughed all the way through Jason’s book, been there, seen it, and experienced it from the other side of the desk and on location.
2. Within my budget for this project I was able to buy a lot of Schiit.
3. I really like Multibit compared to the several non-multibit DACs I have and others I’ve used over the years. Multibit to my ears has less grit, grain and strain. Multibit sounds richer tonally, kind of like comparing skim milk to whole milk. I’m red book only and multibit does it better for me, (and enhances my enjoyment of the HD800).
4. From my readings on the amps and the 15 day in-home trials I got what I was hoping for sound wise and as an interesting mix. My MJ2 is good design that gives me some good ole’ tube sound, and with “rolling” it becomes a chameleon, and with LISST complete flexibility. The new Jodie (sans DAC or phono) is a good example of the some of the best a pure SS circuit has to offer (and at a ridiculously low price) and I like it as well. And for me, the Ragnarok, somehow, seems to straddle both the tube and solid state aesthetics in a good way. At least to my ears.
5. Could other manufactures boxes and wires in the chain sound better? Maybe. For less or more money? Maybe. But I have what I have. And I feel I got good value for my money, with good build quality, and good sound, a great warranty, and a good in home auditions before final acceptance of the components.
6. I like Schiit's house sound
A complete list of other brands of gear in my headphone station are in my signature.
Thanks for reading,