Pros: A unique, specialist cable that increase low end frequencies whilst taming the upper frequencies, lending IEMs a more, musical, analogue-style sound without sacrificing detail.
An excellent pairing with hybrid IEMs that have brighter attributes, specifically those that suffer from a harsh upper mid-range or treble sibilance.
Cons: Perhaps not as good a pairing with IEMs that have a much warmer, richer signature – but that is very much down to the listener’s preference of sound signature.
Cost. It’s not cheap at $1,199. (Personally, I think it’s totally worth the price, but I know many don’t believe in spending this much on cables).
As is probably clear from my Head-Fi signature, I’m a bit of a cable freak and a huge fan of many of @Penon's recent products, including their excellent Totem and OSG cables. So, when they announced their new TOTL flagship cable, the Storm, I was particularly excited and reached out to @Penon to see if I could buy one before they were even officially on sale. I'm happy to say that they obliged.
The Storm is a 4-wire cable with a gold, silver, copper and palladium mix in a Type 6 Litz configuration. My particular cable has a gold-plated copper, 4.4mm balanced plug (also available in 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended versions) with 2-pin termination (also available in MMCX). All accessories, including the Y-split and cable cinch are a combination of gold-plated copper and carbon fibre which, matched with the deep, muted brown of the individual cable coatings, makes for a very elegant, understated overall appearance. It’s a fairly thick cable, similar in thickness to the 6-wire EA Onyx, but is very pliable and comfortable with zero microphonics. When I say thick, I don’t mean Dunu Hulk-style thick though (a cable I also love, by the way), and I really can’t see anyone having any issue with its size or comfort.
I know the perceived changes attributed to cables can be very subjective so, as always with cable reviews, please read the following as my personal take on its properties. I also know that many cannot hear the changes that a cable makes to a setup, and to them I say a huge congratulations as that’s one audio rabbit hole/money pit that they can avoid. (Un)fortunately for me, I am not one of those people and the changes I attribute to various cables have played, and continue to play, a very important part in my Head-Fi journey, finding the specific synergies that bring the very best out of my IEMs.
In many cases these changes/enhancements created by a specific cable can be very small and nuanced, allowing one to fine-tune a sound signature ever so slightly. The @Penon Storm is not one of those cables. In fact, I defy even cable non-believers to not hear the change in signature once the Storm comes into play. It’s an unusually bold swing for the fences on @Penon’s part and I really admire that they’ve gone out of their way to create something that has a really different character than most cables I’ve encountered. As such, this is not a cable that will work for every use case. In fact, I suspect that @Penon had a very specific idea of the types of IEMs that would match well with it, and, for that, I thank them.
You see, I have a couple of IEMs in my collection that I absolutely love, for one reason or another, but have never been able to find the perfect cable combo to sort out their very apparent limitations – namely the Empire Ears Hero and the AME Radioso. The Hero has stunning bass, a very slightly recessed, thin lower mid range (which I actually don’t mind) and a somewhat elevated upper mid-range and treble, that whilst impressive in creating a sense of air and scale, can be fatiguing, feel a little ‘digital’ and even, at times, be uncomfortably sibilant. The Radioso, on the other hand, has a nicely subdued, very detailed signature but it too is maybe a little thin, ‘digital’ and even boring for those that long for a more musical kind of sound.
Enter the Storm…
When paired with the Hero - a single DD, 3 BA hybrid - the Storm elevates all its best features, giving the mid bass a fuller, more analogue texture and the sub-bass a slightly deeper rumble, whilst ‘correcting’ pretty much all its shortcomings. The mids become noticeably richer overall and the upper mids are significantly tamed. The treble too becomes far more relaxed without losing detail, and, even tested with tracks that almost always root out harshness and sibilance, is remarkably well controlled. The Hero has never had the widest stage, in my experience, and the Storm does very little to change that, but it certainly doesn’t reduce it in any dimension. If I really had to nit-pick, and I do mean REALLY nit-pick, then I’d say that perhaps the overall layering of the presentation is reduced a notch but, again, the Hero can at times be a bit much in that regard, so I don’t really see this as a negative. I’ve been so loath to part with the Hero as I’ve always really loved its overall signature but, being honest, I’ve always felt it was just one notch away from greatness and have been searching for a cable that would help it get there for some time. The closest that I had got before the Storm was the Plussound Tri-Copper, which pulled back some of that high-end harshness but just couldn’t quite get to the rich, analogue sound that the Storm lends it. All in all, I think my quest for the perfect Hero cable is complete, and the Storm is it. Any Hero owners, I urge you to try this cable above all others.
When paired with the AME Radioso - a single DD, single BA and quad-estat tribrid - that can come across as a little digital and dry, the Storm magnifies the low-end, again adding a nice analogue texture and a satisfying thump to the already well-managed mid-bass and, again, enhances the somewhat recessed and fairly dry mid-range with a more liquid, analogue richness that definitely wasn’t there before. I also find that it brings the mids a touch more forward in the mix which, coupled with the slightly tamed treble (interestingly not quite so restrained as with the Hero), the Storm makes the Radioso sound that little bit more coherent, an issue that can very often plague hybrids and, particularly, tribrids. Prior to trying the Storm with the Radioso, the best match I had found was the Effect Audio Janus Basso, but the Basso never really fixed the, albeit very minor, cohesion issue, perhaps because it never quite added that level of ‘liquidity’ to the mids. Again, I’d say the Storm is, by some margin, the best pairing that I have personally found for the Radioso.
Interestingly, I also tried the Storm with @Penon’s own, excellent tribrid, the Volt. The Volt has an overall much warmer, more mids focused, signature than either the Hero or Radioso. Whilst not exactly lacking in mid-bass, the Volt is perhaps not as satisfying in the sub-bass frequencies as the Hero, nor as relaxed at the high-end frequencies as the Radioso, but with a much richer, more forward mid-range than either. The Storm does pair fairly well with the Volt but quite significantly alters its signature. By elevating the bass and taming the treble, I felt that the Storm robbed the Volts slightly of its spacious stage, creating a more intimate experience, and setting those spectacular, rich mids back a little too much in the mix, for my preference, so that the overall signature felt much less aggressive and more laid back. I do appreciate that, for many, this will be a hugely positive attribute, as a very lively, exciting listen can become a bit fatiguing over time, but, whilst I love a ‘musical’ IEM, I do prefer one with a bit more energy (so long as there’s no harshness or sibilance, of course). So, with that in mind, I guess I’m a little split on whether to recommend the Storm for the Volt or not. I think it all comes down to personal preference. If you’re a Volt owner that likes a more relaxed, intimate, laid back and musical signature, then I’d absolutely recommend that you give the Storm a try. If you prefer a spacious, still very musical but energetic sound, I’d probably suggest thinking about @Penon’s excellent Totem cable instead.
And there you have it, I believe. The Storm is the direct counterpart to the Totem, both offering TOTL sound properties for two very different signature preferences. I must believe that this was a very deliberate move on @Penon’s part.
Overall, I’d say that the @Penon Storm is a very specialist and unique cable that seems to have been designed to add a very musical, analogue texture and restraint to IEMs that might feel a little too dry or over excitable (of which there are many recent examples - even at the TOTL end of the category). It’s not a one-size-fits-all cable and has a very specific, arguably niche, use case. Most other cables that share many of the Storm’s strengths aim to extend and/or increase both ends of the frequency range, including the treble, and the few I am aware of that don’t, are significantly more expensive than the Storm. In my opinion, there isn’t a cable that comes even close when paired with the Empire Ears Hero, really pulling out the very best that those specific IEMs are capable of. For that reason alone, the Storm is worth every penny to me. It is THAT special a synergy. This is definitely a cable for listeners who crave a richer, more 'analogue' type of sound.
Incidentally, I understand that the Storm has been developed as a potential upgrade cable for @Penon’s upcoming Legend all-BA flagship IEM. I’ll be getting my hands on the Legend soon so will update my findings as soon as I’ve had a good chance to listen to the pairing.