The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was original posted on my blog
, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on head-fi.
Manufacturer website: PlusSound Audio
I did combine X8 and Apollonian+ reviews in one write up since my Intro and Plussound Wires sections, as well as packaging and some design description, are common to both cables. The main difference is in sound analysis section where I talk about individual cables and their pair up with different IEMs/CIEMs.
* click on images to expand.
My general thoughts and personal opinion about replacement cables.
Aftermarket premium replacement cables have been a controversial topic of discussions in many audio communities. There are some who don’t hear a sound improvement and others who consider the improvement to be too subtle to justify the cost. Some are firm believers (myself including) who do actually hear the change in sound, while others talk themselves into believing to validate their purchase. I also ran into a group of people who consider cables as another accessory to personalize the appearance, just like they would with CIEM customization, or those who switch from single ended to balanced and take the opportunity to upgrade to fancier wires. And then you have a group who never tried a replacement cable and formed their opinion based on reading someone else’s rant.
From my personal experience, I do hear and feel the change in a sound, but I'm not able to capture it accurately in measurements. The most obvious change even disbelievers can agree on is that higher purity material will yield a smaller resistivity, better conductivity, and corresponding boost in signal level. Also, various metals have different properties. There is no magic behind it and you’ll get an instant benefit of slightly higher output driving your transducers, something that could be measured. But when I hear a change in bass tonality, tightness, articulation, or I hear more airiness in treble or overall improvement in retrieval of details which feels like a layer of veil is lifted off – this is not easy to capture. Considering we all have a different perception of sound, without supporting measurements some people jump into conclusion and form a “snake oil” opinion, especially when price is taken into consideration.
The intent of this review is not to change anybody’s mind, but rather to share with you what I hear and how I hear it. Perhaps, I can’t fully explain why there is a change in sound, but I do hear it and would like to describe it. What makes sense to me is that I look at the wire as a material with physical properties of resistivity, conductivity, level of purity, etc, which acts as a filter between your source and headphones. Variations of these physical properties will affect the electric signal and result in a sound change, from a subtle to a more noticeable level. Also, I want to talk about the design of these cables, to make people understand why they cost so much, and that you are not dealing with a “coat hanger” wire but rather high grade materials, advanced production techniques, and hours of labor which all add up to a premium cost. Last but not least, the sound improvement of one particular cable is not universal because it will depend on the synergy between your source and your headphones.
Now with introduction out of the way, something I’m planning to include in all of my future dedicated cable write-ups, I will begin with a few words about the Plussound Audio. Founded less than 4 years ago, it’s a relatively young company, but I’m already starting to notice more Head-fi discussions about their cables and I see Christian (the man behind the company) participating in many different threads of that community.
When I contacted him, I received the reply within an hour. When we were discussing about review opportunity – he was very honest and straightforward about his current workload and how long before he can make review cables for me after taking care of his paid customers. I have been in touch with many different cable manufacturers, though have reviewed not as many due to a lot of miscommunication. Custom cables are often made to order, thus do your homework about cable-maker before making the commitment, it’s almost as important as choosing the cable itself.
Regarding the material used in his cables, Plussound offers a number of signature copper, silver, and plated wires described in details here
. One thing you going to notice right away is that regardless of the type of metal material, they all feature a Type 6 Litz configuration where wires have 6 enamel-coated groups with multiple strands to decrease electrical anomalies (such as skin and proximity effect causing microphonics), to minimize oxidation (preventing wires turning green), and to improve conductivity (electric signal usually travels on the surface of the wire, thus multiple thin strands will have a better conductivity and a smaller resistivity than a single “coat hanger” wire).
Another important fact is that Plusssound wires are cryogenically treated for strengthening purpose to enhance their reliability and longevity. Furthermore, the wires itself are UP-OCC manufactured, referring to Ultra-Pure Ohno Continuous Casting process developed and patented by Professor Ohno of CIT in Japan. Also, many of Plussound cables feature a custom sleeve between the y-splitter and the plug. When I first saw it in the pictures, I assume it was for decorative purposes until I learned later that it’s a rather advanced multi-dampening system featuring tri-shielding and dual insulation for a better isolation of wires from outside environment and from internal interference all the way down to the plug.
I know that for many people all these buzz words and tech terms doesn't mean too much; after all, the majority will only care about the final performance and the overall appeal. But often people bring up why aftermarket cables cost so much. Without a doubt you have to take into consideration the cost of the pure copper, silver, gold, and the weight of corresponding metals when you are dealing with multi-braided cables. There are also other contributing factors, including manufacturing process (UPOCC), additional treatments (enamel and cryogenic), engineering (custom shielding), labor of braiding and twisting, and choice of different plugs and shell connectors.
I still look uneasy at the cables that cost north of $600 and close to $1k or more, considering there are so many other premium cables in $300-$500 price range. You can also find a more budget friendly cables in $50-$200 price range, but just like with IEMs – some companies offer $200 flagships, others have $500 flagship, and you can go up to $1k-$2k TOTL level noted by diminishing returns. Either way, you have to consider each pair up on a case-by-case basis, and as a matter of fact I reviewed a number of flagship IEMs where I preferred a stock cable over a premium upgrade. Bottom line, you can’t just assume that top of the line cable will improve the sound quality of any pair of earphones or headphones.
Plussound X8 cable.
While majority of cable manufacturers pay little attention to the actual packaging and send the cable in a padded envelope, I was pleasantly surprised to receive Plussound cable inside of a giftbox quality cardboard black box with a magnetic flip cover. It was a nice touch to see a branded logo on the cover top and the sides as well as "Handcrafted in the USA" printed on the front. Inside, the cable and the included adapter were sealed in individual clear plastic bags and foam lining was used for extra cushioning. Also, I found a bonus branded rubber band and Custom Cables card with lots of interesting details about the wires, components, installation instructions, care, and warranty.
I do recommend reading this card because it actually has some useful info, like mentioning about the shell connectors with locking screws relative to L/R position where screws have to face outwards. I didn't read these instructions at first and spent a few minutes scratching my heads looking for L/R marking on the connector housing until I my common sense kicked in since screws facing inward would be rubbing against my skin. Of course, everything is customizable and you have a choice of color labeling or other marking options.
Design ($349 as configured, with a bonus 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter - additional $75).
Unlike Plussound signature design with a sleeve covering bottom portion of the cable wrapped in layers of custom insulation, shielding, and dampening, here you get a chance to see the beauty of 8-wire non-sleeved braiding. Each Type 6 Litz wire is wrapped inside of a clear shielding, revealing the details of copper strands, and the craftsmanship of the braiding technique. A common cable usually has 2 wires going to each shell connector and 4 wires braided/twisted going down to the plug. When you double the amount of these wires, you typically increase the weight and make the cable stiffer. With this updated X8 copper wires cable, Plussound switched to a new Cryo treated 28AWG UPOCC Copper Type 6 Litz wires which are 15% smaller in comparison to their other thicker 26AWG wires, making the braiding more compact and pliable while also reducing the weight.
In terms of a selection of other cable components, I chose 2.5mm TRRS gold plated plug which according to Plussound also received cryo treatment and had a heatshrink cover with a logo for a better grip which you can customize as well (the color) during ordering. The y-splitter capsule and matching chin-slider ring were made from anodized aluminum and received cryo treatment to increase the strength and the durability. The plug and shell connectors supposed to be made from anodized aluminum with cryo treatment as well, but covered in heatshrink which provides a better non-slip grip and extends into a strain relief. Of course, everything is customizable and you have a choice of different types and brands of plugs and shell connectors, regardless if it's in ear monitors or full size headphones.
Besides a very neat 8-wire square braid pattern from y-splitter down to the plug, the 4-wire braid going up to the shells is arranged in a flat pattern which makes it more supple and better suited for over the ear fit. Another interesting design detail - there is no memory wire or a stiff (or soft) earhook heatshrink piece. I'm not quite sure how it was accomplished but there is a pre-shaped flexible bend in the braided part of the cable right after the connector housing - many people with glasses will appreciate it. I already mentioned about the locking screws used as L/R id by making sure they face outwards on corresponding connectors. This makes the id of L/R sides easy in the dark when you feel rather than see the cable. Also, my particular cable came with mmcx standard connectors, and they felt durable and with a secure snap joint.
Since I requested the cable with 2.5mm TRRS balanced termination, in addition to the cable I also received a short straight 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS adapter. If you have any DAP with 2.5mm balanced output, I strongly recommend to get balanced terminated cables with an adapter. This way for an additional $75, the cost of these custom adapters, it feels like you are getting a 2nd pair of cables since you can use it either way. Many cable manufactures make adapters by using two separate male and female connectors with a short braided wiring in between. It works, but does add to the length and the weight of the cable and will make it look inconsistent if adapter wires are different from the actual cable. One piece adapter is very compact and self-integrated without any extra wire extension. Just one thing to keep in mind, I would recommend straight adapter if you are dealing with desktop amps and right angled adapter if you are dealing with a DAP.
For this test I used Lotoo PAW Gold (SE only connection) and Opus#1 (SE and BAL) as a source for testing. Prior to testing, I kept the cable on a burn in with ES60 for 100+ hours.
- Going from Westone stock Epic cable to X8, I hear a change with bass becoming tighter and more articulate, even picking up some speed with a little faster attack. I hear mids gaining a little more clarity, like a faint layer of veil was lifted off, and also hear a little more sparkle in treble - no change in perception of the extension, just a bit more crisp. Overall, I hear the sound being tighter and sharper. When comparing X8 by switching to Linum SuperBax, the sound gets smother. X8 gives ES60 a sharper edge and more speed while SuperBax makes it a little smoother and more organic; both have a noticeable improvement in retrieval of details and resolution over a stock Epic cable.
- Here the comparison was done going from ALO stock Litz SPC cable to X8 where I hear the sub-bass gets a little deeper with more rumble, but the overall feeling of the bass became smoother and a bit looser, more toward dynamic-like driver performance rather than a faster BA driver sound. I don't hear too much difference in retrieval of details, but overall sound with X8 is a little smoother, warmer, with more body, and also sounds more organic. Also, I hear a little less sparkle in treble. I actually expected this change going from Silver plated copper to a pure copper cable. There was no need to look for a cheap ofc mmcx cable for comparison since I had no doubt X8 will be a noticeable step up.
- Fidue stock cable comes with 8x SPC wires and by going to 8-core UPOCC pure copper X8 cable I hear bass becoming tighter and more articulate where the dynamic driver performance of this hybrid IEM picked up some speed with a little faster attack. I do hear mids being a little less veiled in comparison, also I hear a slightly better retrieval of details with sound becoming more resolving. The treble now sounds a little more extended and with slightly more airiness. Overall sound got a little sharper and tighter and I sense a faster speed which translates into an improved PRAT. This change I actually didn't expect. I did found X8 pair up with Sirius over its stock cable a little better, but there is no denial that Fidue stock cable looks first class with its locking ring and anything aftermarket can ruin that design flow.
Plussound Apollonian+ cable.
Everything I mentioned in the packaging section of Plussound X8 cable applies to Apollonian+ as well which arrived in a giftbox quality cardboard black box with a magnetic flip cover. Similarly, the cable and the included adapter were sealed in individual clear plastic bags, and foam lining was used for extra cushioning. And included were a rubber band and Custom Cables card with lots of interesting details about the wires, components, installation instructions, care, and warranty info.
Design ($499 as configured with gold plated copper wire, and a bonus 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter for additional $75).
The Apollonian+ cable was pre-configured for the review purpose with 2pin shell connectors and was also terminated with 2.5mm TRRS balanced plug and included with the same 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS adapter. Similarly to X8 cable, chin slider and y-splitter were anodized aluminum cryo treated pieces, and the shell connector and the plug also made with anodized aluminum under a cryo treatment wrapped in a heatshrink which provides a better non-slip grip and extends into a strain relief. As expected, everything is customizable and you have a choice of different types and brands of plugs and shell connectors.
But unlike X8, Apollonian+ has Plussound "signature" design with a sleeve covering the portion of the cable between the y-splitter and a plug. My cable was equipped with 4 gold platted copper Type 6 Litz 26AWG conductors shielded in their "standard configuration" which includes dual insulation (with PE and MF), tri-shielding (with copper, carbon, and mylar), and multi-dampening (with cotton) all wrapped in NV customizable (color) sleeve. So what does it all mean? In theory you get a perfect isolation and interference free shielding, but in practice you get a heavier and stiffer cable. Luckily, you are not dealing with 6- or 8-conductors which bulk up the cable. Of course, I did notice the additional weight and the cable was not as flexible as braided X8 design when I wrap it for storage, but using 4-conductors was a good compromise.
Going up from y-splitter to shell connectors you get traditional 2-wire twisted conductors where you can clearly see gold plated copper strands grouped inside of a clear shielding. The shell connectors had the same design with outward facing locking screws, except here you had a standard 2-pin connector. Similarly to X8, there was no memory wire or an earhook heatshrink piece. Instead there was a pre-shaped flexible bend in the twisted part of the cable right after the connector housing for an over ear fit which many people with glasses will appreciate.
For this test I used Lotoo PAW Gold (SE only connection) and Opus#1 (SE and BAL) as a source for testing. Prior to testing, I kept the cable on a burn in with U12 for 100+ hours.
w/64 Audio U12
- While going from a stock OFC cable to Apollonian+, I hear an overall characteristics of the low end to be similar, except for one noticeable difference where I hear a little better control with a better separation from lower mids in comparison to a stock cable. Also, I hear a shade of veil is lifted off the mids, with a little more details especially when it comes to vocals shining with more clarity. Treble sounds close, though I do hear a little better definition and a touch more clarity. Next, I switched from Apollonian+ to TWau cable where I hear the bass tighter and more articulate, mids gaining a little more clarity like yet another layer of the veil was lifted off, and I hear a little more sparkle in treble. I didn't know what to expect in this case, but I guess there is another level of refinement when going from gold-plated copper to gold-plated silver.
- Going from stock ofc cable to Apollonian+, I hear the bass getting tighter and more articulate, and even a little faster in speed, but other than that I don't hear a significant change in low end performance (the same sub-bass extension and a similar mid-bass punch). Mids are as clear and detailed between both cables, but I do hear them being a little smoother and having a more natural tonality when using Apollonian+. I actually felt that stock cable made upper mids a bit grainy, while Apollonian+ worked its magic to smooth them out, even making them slightly more transparent. Also, I hear a better definition of treble, with a little more sparkle. The effect of TWau cable upgrade was nearly the same. The only thing I felt uneasy about was the recessed socket of Maestro where 2pin connector of my review cable didn't plug deep enough. It made a good connection without causing any sound cutoffs, but it didn't feel as secure. Obviously, this is a not a showstopper since another type of 2pin connector could be selected when you know which earphone you are planning to use.
- In this case, while going from stock SPC cable to Apollonian+, I only noticed the sound becoming a little brighter and crispier, but overall sound performance was very similar to Noble's stock SPC cable. Perhaps Apollonian+ cable introduced a bit of smoothness to the sound, but I found this difference to be rather subtle. Coincidentally, TWau had a similar "update" results when used with K10UA. This is a good example of where I think Noble did their homework selecting a specific type of cable to bring up the best in the sound of their monitors.
It has been awhile since I posted a dedicated cable review, and typically include a cable pair-up section in all of my flagship IEM/CIEM write ups. In here, while talking about the new Plussound Audio cables, I also wanted to take the opportunity to share a few of my thoughts about cables in general. It's hard to have an objective opinion about sound improvement when upgrading the cable because we are not talking about a sound signature change or anything that drastic, but rather a level of refinement which has a subjective perception.
That's exactly what Plussound cable offers, a refinement of sound which going to vary depending on the pair up between different sources and the chosen headphone/earphone. Plussound cables are priced above budget alternatives but not as high as some fancy exotic cables. When you factor in their build quality, selection of the fine materials, engineering behind the cable assembly, and a dedicated support, you will see more value to justify the price. Regarding the sound improvement, don't expect miracles, but in my opinion you can never go wrong with a pure copper cable upgrade, and I was very impressed with X8 cables, both in terms of the look and the performance. 8-conductor braided cables are usually stiff and bulky, while X8 feels light and has a comfortable fit. Apollonian+ pair up might be a bit tricky since with a few selective IEMs used in my testing the improvement wasn't consistent, but this has nothing to do with a cable but rather with a synergy of my earphones under the test. Either way, I had a very good experience dealing with Christian and his Plussound Audio, and look forward to continue testing and featuring his cables in my upcoming IEM/CIEM reviews.