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Null Audio Arete Series MKII Cable w/ Apple Mic - Review (pics)

  1. thapchild

    Enjoy my Book:
    Recently I purchased a Null Audio Arete Series MKII Cable with Apple Mic from Null Audio.  I’ve had the cable about 3 weeks now, and finally took some time to make a write up for anyone who is considering purchasing an upgrade cable.
    I consider myself a closet audiophile.  I’ve always loved music, and at times seem more into “how well it sounds” vs actually enjoying the music its self.  I’m well aware that there are $200 sound systems, to $400,000 sound systems, and I’ve always tried to purchase the best sounding equipment within my budget regardless of name brand or popularity.
    The reference speakers/cables I use are a pair of UE Triple Fi 10, JH 16 Pro, and the cables that came with both stock.
    I’ve had many IEMs over the last 10 years, and really started trying and buying as many as I could once I purchased my first iPod, back in 2004.  The last 6 years I’ve really only used two pair of IEMs.  The Triple Fi 10, and the JH Audio 16 Pros.  The Triple Fi are my backup set when I forget my JH at home.
    I couldn’t tell any difference between the JH Cable, and the UE cable audio wise.  Both had about the same sound stage, same tone/warmth/depth.  I chose the UE cable over the JH cable because it had a mic, and had a smaller connector.  So my comparisons are against the UE cable, however, they would be the exact same if I used the JH cable.
    I use the IEM 70% of the time in my iPhone (currently 6 Plus), and the other 30% in my laptops (Alienware M18X, and mid 2012 Retina MacBook Pro).  I choose simplicity over quality in this regard.  I leaned heavily towards getting a portable amp, but ultimately decided that it would be one more thing I’d have to lug around, and part of the reason I like IEMs so much is their portability.
    A big factor to me in cable decision is I wanted it to have volume/mic controls on the cable.  I do like to tuck my phone into my pocket, and not have to dig it out to switch tracks or answer a call.  The UE cable does an ok job (no volume controls) the mic works nearly as good as the stock apple unit.
    Those things being taken into consideration, here is my review:
    Customer Service:
                    Null Audio was quick to respond to every email I sent them, as well as sent me pictures of the mic they use, and made sure I selected the correct options for my JH 16 Pro.  I give their Customer Service an A+.  Honestly, it's the reason they got my sale.  I contacted several other cable companies, and their lack of Customer Service lost them a shot at my business.  Good job Null Audio.
    Audio Comparisons:
                    I’m a computer geek by trade, so I tend to use computer terminology when describing things.  I didn’t find the two cables drastically different.  It wasn’t as night and day as switching IEMs (TF10 vs JH16 as an example).  It did however offer an improved experience.  The biggest change over the stock cable is what I personally would call “resolution”… now this may not be the correct term, but what I mean is: every instrument seemed more clearly represented.  If I chose to pin point a specific instrument, or sound in a song I could distinctly focus and pull that sound out from the rest.  It’s like the bandwidth supplying the IEM widened up, allowing all the traffic of the sound through to the IEM.  A specific example of this was my 192khz 24bit recording of Green Day, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. (click HERE to listen to this song on youtube) The fluctuating guitar riff that starts in the opening is distinguishable from all the other sounds though out the entire song.  The vocals seem slightly more bright, as does the rest of the midrange/upper end.  It doesn’t seem to have changed the “equalization” of the IEM, but rather it just seems like it’s at a higher clarity.
                   I do have to say that over all, it's a cleaner, crisper, better sound.  It's very hard to pinpoint why it's better... but swapping cables back and fourth listening to many songs over the course of two weeks, every time I like the sound more from the Null Audio cable.  Perhaps it's me just "wanting" to like it more because it cost twice as much as the UE cable.  I was able to pinpoint some finer details in the music on the Null Audio cable, and like my previous statement, it seems to have improved "resolution" or "clarity".
                   I didn’t notice any change in the lower spectrum.
    Physical Comparisons:
                    Size:   For starters, the cable is larger in diameter (pics below).  It’s not “too” large, but it definitely has a feel of “if it were much bigger I wouldn’t like it”.  The Nylon covering (option) is a nice touch, and has a slick feel, just like you’d expect.  I also think this adds to the overall size.  The construction is solid.  The Y splitter is the only “eye” sore on the cable; it’s rather big and boxy in design compared to the rest of the cable, and other cables on the market.  It’s satisfactory, but I wish it were smaller, and more curved.  I definitely like the Y splitter on the UE cable more.
                    Mic:  The Apple Mic/Volume accessory is very nice.  It functions flawelessly, sounds about the same quality as the Apple/UE mic. (I tested making Skype Test calls on my PC then listening to the 20 second message, as well as leaving my self-voice messages on my iPhone.) There were very little differences between the 3 microphones.  If I had to give an edge, I’d say the Apple mic is slightly superior to the other two, but it’s very minor, if at all.  The buttons have a very positive feel, letting you know they were pressed, and they work every press.  Double clicks, and volume up/down worked just fine, every time.  This is a step up over the UE cable.  The button on the UE cable has been redesigned at least once since I’ve been purchasing their cables (I’ve gone through 3, about 1 every year and a half).  Thought he new design (which has an external button) works better than their original design, neither work as well as the Null Audio mic button.  Thumbs up to Null Audio, they got the Mic accessory right!  I couldn’t ask for more.
                    Weight:  The weight of the cable is more than the UE cable.  I didn’t weigh them (though I wish I would have).  I’d estimate it’s almost twice as heavy.  It’s not enough to cause a problem, again, it’s right at the limits of “too heavy” but still acceptable.  It definitely takes away some of the “feeling” of protable IEM.  I wonder if people think “that’s a massive cord for in ear headphones” when I’m wearing it, but I don’t really care.
                    Comfort:  The comfort is amazing.  The weight slightly counter acts the comfort as I feel like I can feel the weight of this cable more, but the over the ear tubing they use (not a wire like UE) is much more comfortable.  There is no ear fatigue at all from these cables.  Definitely pick these over UE for comfort.  I do find that the bulky Y splitter gets caught on my zipper of my jacket, and never had that issue with the UE cable, I just zip my jacket up lower/higher, problem gone.

    Cable Noise:   I don’t care what cable you have, you’re going to hear it some times.  This is no different than the UE cable.  The tonal note is different (mainly because of the nylon sleeve) but it’s no better or worse than the UE cable.
    Build Quality:
                 Unfortunately there was one build issue that I had problems with, and I think my issue may be isolated.  My right JH 16, socket holes are slightly more loose than the left.  The left side stays in acceptably.  The right side literally fell of the the cable.  I think because my right ear cork-screws in much more than my left, and i use the "plug" to help me twist it in/out.  With the longer stock JH cable, and UE cable the pins are very long.  This isn't an issue.  But the pins on the MKII were very short.  I ended up trimming down the surface of my IEM with a razer blade where the cable can get as much extension into the holes as possible (not noticable on my IEM), and i spread the pins slightly on the MKII using needle nose pliers.  Ultimately i ended up having to use a dab of super-glew to hold it in place as it would fall off too easy and I was afraid i was going to lose an IEM.  One dot of super-glue on the inside is unnoticable, and holds it securely in place, but can easily be broken if I want to remove the cable in the future. 
                  I can't say if this is a defect of the cable, or the IEM, or both, but longer pins for JH 16 would be nice.  Other brand IEMs may not suffer from this issue.
                  The rest of the build quality is exactly what you'd expect from $100 cable.
    Though both the stock cable/Ue cable have their benefits (Size/Slim/Lightweight) I give the MKII the nod.  The better audio quality, comfort, and mic controls make up for the larger size, and weight.  If the durability is as good as it seems, this will be my goto cable of choice from now on.
    How the cable arrived out of the shipping box.
    Wasn't expecting a "flashy" container.
    Some plastic covering on the Y splitter, which I removed.
    UE cable next to the MKII Cable.  Notice the thickness difference, as well as the Mic.  The UE cable uses one button for audio controls, and one box for the mic.  Only the Mic can be seen in the picture.  The UE cable is smaller all around, where the MKII is more comfortable, and tangles less.

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