HD-800 Cable Comparison: ALO Audio, WyWires, Norne, Furutech, Kimber
Aug 4, 2014 at 1:52 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 19
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For years I’ve avoided writing much about headphone cables for two reasons: Firstly it invites arguments, and secondly I didn’t want to be seen as favouring any one cable manufacturer over another. With one exception, I’ve found all the ones I’ve dealt with to be great enthusiasts who were willing to go out of their way to make great products and take care of their customers. Since I had ended up with a bunch of different cables on hand (all purchased by me) I thought I'd sit down for an hour or two and try them all with the same music. 

The differences in the sound with each of the cables in place I’m perfectly willing to admit were very subtle. But while small, those differences add up over many hours of listening, just as the extra degree coldler may only add half a cent to the hourly cost, I use the aircon for many hours over the Summer, causing the cost to build up, just as I listen to music for many hours a week or month, making subtle differences add up.

The HD-800s have, as a result of both a strong treble peak at 6.3 kHz and reflections off the parts inside the cups something of a reputation for harshness. Many people have compensated for this by using warmer tube amps, “dark” current-gain non-feedback amps and, of course, re-cabling them. My solution was to use damping, specifically covering the problematic areas with non-slip shelf matting, which results in a far better stereo image and less harshness. Given that it costs only a couple of dollars and a few minutes to do the mod, I think should be every HD-800 owner’s first action before considering something like an aftermarket cable. More information about these mods can be found at Innerfidelity. The comparisons below were done with the mod installed.

It is also worth considering that my impressions were done only with one set-up, and what I felt was best will very likely be different for different people, music and equipment. I've posted this here purely for fun. In case if anyone is wondering why I bought so many cables, the reason is that two of them, the ALO and Furutech only have TRS plugs, so I ordered the WyWyres and Norne as cable systems with tails designed to be used with a variety of amps and DAPs respectively.

Music used:
Julia Fisher: Sarasate, HDTracks.
Fiona Bevan: Accidental Powercut 2 Binaural, Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound
 
Original Rig:
MacBook Air, Audiophilleo 1 + Pure Power, Chord Hugo, Moon Audio Silver Dragon, ALO Audio Studio Six.
The NOS tubes in the Studio Six, at least to my ears, don't tonally alter the sound compared to listening directly from the Hugo.
 
2016 Rig:
MacBook -> iFi iUSB 3.0 -> Singxer F-1 -> Schiit Audio Yggdrasil -> Van Den Hul The Orchid -> ALO Audio Studio Six. 

Furutech iHP-35H ($150 approx.)

Julia Fisher: Sarasate, HDTracks.
Notes come through rather aggressively. In fact I didn’t notice much, if any difference between the Furutech and the stock cable. 

Fiona Bevan:
Though the Bowers & Wilkins recordings are a touch hot and I had expected it not to be a good match, the very open treble of the iHP-35H worked very well, probably because I’d damped the HD-800s by that time.

Norne Audio Vanquish 6ft ($244 with HD-800 termination)

Julia Fisher: Sarasate, HDTracks.
The aggressive treble apparent with the stock cable and Furutech is somewhat tamed but not as overtly much as with the WyWires or ALO. If anything, the music comes through with a bit more in the way of dynamics compared to the WyWires. It seems to strike the best balance between dynamics and delivering the treble.

Fiona Bevan:
I sometimes feel this cable has a bit of everything the others do — a bit of the openness of the treble of the Furutech, spaciousness of the ALO and sweetness of the WyWires, but not as much as each of them has those things. Instead I feel is slightly more dynamic in how it sounds. By that I mean, individual notes and the micro-detail and changes of volume and tone in them jump out more.

ALO Audio Reference 16 ($617 stock)

Julia Fisher: Sarasate, HDTracks.

Everything sounds more spacious and the aggressiveness of the opening notes is far more bearable than with the Furutech. The cable has a touch of warmth, making the mid-bass slightly more prominent, yet at the same time the treble feels a bit more extended than with other cables.

Fiona Bevan:
The character of the ALO cable was equally apparent on this track, bringing a touch of warmth and a feeling of pushing Fiona slightly further back. I thought that the sound of the guitar was the nicest out of this cable.
 
2016 Impressions (various music): With the Yggdrasil in the system, I felt that the Ref 16 cable brought out a bit more detail than the WyWires Red.

WyWires Red ($349 with HD-800 termination)

Julia Fisher: Sarasate, HDTracks.
Like the ALO Reference 16 the initial aggressive notes were tamed nicely, but without the slight warmth that the ALO tends to inject. If anything, the treble is slightly sweeter making for a presentation that delivers the delicacy of the notes and great listenability. I listened to the track the whole way through instead of stopping to change cables as I did with the others.

Fiona Bevan:
This cable battles the Norne for the sweetest presentation of Fiona’s voice, but seems to present the music with a very slightly smaller (perceived) image than the other cables, especially the ALO, which manages to make everything sound more spacious. Instead you get a touch of the soft and sweet. This makes it the easiest cable to listen with, but very slightly at the expense of the dynamics of individual notes.
 
2016 Impressions (various music): The WyWires, due mostly to it having multiple "tails" which I can plug into different components, I use most often with DAPs. However I had left it connected when I went back to my main system, and it was when I was comparing the Kimber and ALO that I felt that in exchange for the softer, sweeter presentation, that it lost a bit of detail compared to the ALO. This was only noticeable once I had the Yggdrasil here. I still find it to sound wonderful with the Chord Mojo, and was using that combination for some time quite happily. 
 

2016 Additions

 
Kimber Cable AXIOS - $798
 
Julia Fisher: Sarasate, HDTracks.
I was wondering, given the similarity to the ALO cable, if the Kimber might end up an alternative. However after comparing with the WyWires and ALO it seemed that it has a character of its own.  Where the ALO has the deep subtleties of the ALO house sound - a focus on the micro details and space whilst extending the treble and bass - much like Ken's amps, the Kimber has a slightly smaller soundstage for more of a sense of intimacy and the macro. Where the WyWires can seem a bit soft, yet inviting, the Kimber is a touch more aggressive, giving the violin notes more impact than sweetness. This worked out wonderfully with Macy Gray's binaural album and the HD800 S, for example. 
 
Fiona Bevan:
 
When I get around to it!
 

 
Maybe in the future I'll try it with different music, such as rock, to see if I have different impressions.
 
Aug 4, 2014 at 9:10 AM Post #3 of 19

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I'm looking to buy a set of cables for my more frequently used headphones (LCD-2.2 and HD800). If I were to buy multiple cables, one for each headphone, that amounts to A LOT! Especially if I am going with the ALO Reference 16.
 
So... I have a few questions and I know these would be your opinion, and I respect that.
 
1) Which cable do you like best and for what reason?
 
2) Which cable do you think offers the best price-performance?
 
Also, I started another thread re. interchangeable headphone termination. Any experience with that?
 
Aug 4, 2014 at 9:35 AM Post #4 of 19
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What I ordered from WyWires was two cables: One for Audeze and one for the HD-800s. Both end in a 4-pin mini-XLR male plug. Then I asked Alex to make a bunch of "tails" which go from a 4-pin mini-XLR female plug to a bunch of headphone connectors: 3.5mm TRS, 6.5mm TRS, 4-pin XLR, dual-3-pin XLR and AK240 balanced.
 
I've seen some people get a cable made for one pair of headphones, then adaptors for the headphone end that allow it to work with a different pair, sometimes hard-wired into headphones that don't have removable cables.
 
I'm not going to state a preference for one manufacturer, but I do think that any of the cables I've tried were better than the stock ones. However, with the HD-800s, the damping mods made a much bigger and more useful difference, to the point that the stock cable is actually OK afterwards.
 
Aug 4, 2014 at 9:56 AM Post #5 of 19

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Thanks for the reply. I think I'll bite the bullet and try a one size fits all solution.
 
Aug 11, 2014 at 2:47 AM Post #7 of 19

nephilim32

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Thinking about a Copper Venom from ToxicCables inc.
Might be a good fit, but I am super skeptical in up grading the stock HD 800 cable. I've done everything else in my headphone rig and this would be the last thing I do. Have my doubts though. Spending close to g-note on a cable for at best a minor improvement in sound....if I'm lucky to even get minor. Like I said. I'm a skeptic. Lol
 
Sep 18, 2016 at 7:14 PM Post #10 of 19

claud W

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Currawong, 
Have you tried the new Wywires Platinum cable?
 
Sep 18, 2016 at 8:06 PM Post #11 of 19
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  @Currawong
 
Hi
 
Do you have any experience with the SAA endorphin or any Double Helix cable for the HD800??
 
Thank You 


Neither unfortunately. If ever I do, I'll write about them. 
smile.gif

 
Sep 19, 2016 at 10:03 AM Post #12 of 19

jdmeyers77

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My 800s came with the Cardas Clear.  Having been a fan of Cardas stuff in the past, that was a huge selling point to me.  Mighty fine sound, IMHO.  And they just exude such class in terms of the look & feel.
 
It's nice to know that I'm likely getting the full spectrum of sound the 800s are capable of.  I use a Cary 300SEI with NOS tubes and a Cary 303/300 tubed CD player.  Scary good.  YMMV.
 
Oct 17, 2016 at 7:41 AM Post #13 of 19

Whazzzup

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@Currawong


Hi

Do you have any experience with the SAA endorphin or any Double Helix cable for the HD800??

Thank You 

I have double helix c4 se for my hd800S at present and found a nice subtle improvement from stock bringing the sound stage closer and wider. I'm imminently getting prion 4 balanced cable and chaparone 3 xlr interconnects to connect a balanced amp (GSX mk2) to my TT. So give a heads up in a couple of weeks concerning that. However it may be impractical to compare c4 direct to TT versus prion 4 to GSX as there are several confounding variables and volume changes to differentiate. However prion to stock comparison should be easy to do, so write up then.
I'm a long term dhc guy and use them exclusively for all cabling in my rigs. However it isn't cheap and timely either, but you find an artisan like that and stick with it...
 
Oct 23, 2016 at 4:19 PM Post #14 of 19

BarDash

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Currawong, 
Have you tried the new Wywires Platinum cable?

I just got the Balanced Platinum and am using it with the Hd800s... So far to my ears I am enjoying them immensely.
 
Oct 27, 2016 at 6:06 PM Post #15 of 19

LarryMagoo

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I made my own cable for my 800S....I needed a 20 footer so there is no way I am spending multiple thousands for something like that.  I made mine for HP-1 Silversonic cable from DH Labs.   It's way better than stock but taken many hours to break-in along with my associated equipment ....which was new as well...
 
I use a Norne Audio Balanced Connector and got multiple sets of their connectors to solder to my wire....Yikes they are way tiny....had to stack up two pairs of reading glasses to see what the hell I was doing!  
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