Review: Mark 2 Artisan "Silver Dream" Headphone Upgrade Cable for the Sennheiser HD-650
May 16, 2010 at 1:02 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 3


1000+ Head-Fier
Jan 8, 2009
Review: Mark 2 Sennheiser Silver Dream Headphone Upgrade Cable
About 2 months ago, Alister from Artisan Silver Cables contacted me to see if I were interested in reviewing their new headphone upgrade cables for the Sennheiser HD-600 and HD-650. I accepted his proposition with great pleasure as I was curious to see how the Mark 2 cable compared to the Mark 1 that I had been using for the past few months.
The Mark 1 Silver Dream cable replaced the Moon Audio Blue Dragon I had used for more than a year. While I was pretty happy with the improvement the Blue Dragon brought upon the stock cable, I felt that it was too smooth sounding and I was looking for a Silver cable that would finally “open up” the HD-650. I hesitated between a few different silver cables but I finally settled on the Silver Dream cable because it used mainly an air dielectric and was relatively affordable compared to the other silver cables.
Later on, rosgr63 was kind enough to loan me his Stefan AudioArt Equinox Cable for a few weeks. The Equinox is considered by many as a reference cable. So to my surprise, I found that Mark1 beat it on every category: it was more transparent and smoother at the same time. It had a deeper and more articulated bass; it had a smoother sound and a much bigger soundstage.
For more details, I have already written 2 detailed reviews about the Mark1 cable here ( and here (
Also, if you want to have a “baseline” of how my system sounds, you might be interested in reading the following review (see here: during which I alternated between the Mark1 and Mark2 cable.
So why did Artisan Silver Cables discontinue such a good cable? As excellent sounding as the Mark 1 cable was, it had one major flaw. Because, it used the same simple construction as their interconnects and speaker cables (solid core silver conductors loosely fitted in Teflon jackets), the Mark 1 was a very fragile cable and wasn’t suited for the more demanding headphone application. Alister told me that they discontinued the Mark 1 cable when they had a few failures being reported. So they had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something new.
I suspect that the main reason the Mark 1 sounded so good is because it used mainly air dielectric but in order to strengthen the cable they had to use Kevlar reinforcement (like Moon Audio). The first prototypes Alister made weren’t convincing and it took him a few months before he came up with his Mark 2 cable.
That is why I have been curious to try the Mark 2 cable as I wanted to see how close it could get to the Mark 1 cable while being much strongly built.
Speaking of build quality, the Mark 2 looks very nice and is well built. It is on par with Moon Audio Blue Dragon which was the best built cable I came across.
It also uses a Furutech FP-704 connecter instead of the cheaper Neutrik connector one used on the Mark 1 cable.
Also, just before I received the Mark 2 cable from Artisan Silver Cables, rosgr63 loaned me another of his headphone cables (Thanks again Stavros!). It was a Revelation Audio Labs cable made from cryo treated solid core silver using the Furutech FP-704. Since it was a custom made cable, I didn’t find any more information on RAL website. Since some of the Revelation Audio Labs can be very expensive, I didn’t ask rosgr63 for the price before I finished the review.
So, for the past few weeks, I have been mainly listening to the Mark 2 cable while alternating with the stock cable, Mark 1 and the Revelation Audio Labs cable.
Is there really an audible difference between headphone cables?
Before starting the review, I am going to take a few moments to explain my point of view on cables in general. The some logic applies to headphone cables in particular.
I have always been puzzled to see on head-fi people spend thousands of dollars on headphone amps and tubes while dismissing the possibility that a “simple” piece of wire could make any sort of difference at all. And of course, according to that group of people, all those who think they hear a difference between cables are probably just experiencing the placebo effect. Indeed, there have been quite a few double blind tests where listeners could not distinguish very expensive cables from very cheap ones (though a high price in cables doesn’t necessarily mean high quality).
So from that “fact”, there is no possibility according to the objectivists that a “simple” wire could make any audible difference in the “real” world.
However, what double blind tests have also shown in the past is that it is impossible to tell a difference between different transports, DACs, amps, interconnects and speaker cables. So according to the cumulative results of those tests, we should not be able to distinguish any difference between a $100 audio chain from a $100,000 one. The only audible difference would come from the speakers ... and even worse, if the speakers have similar frequency response, telling the difference should not be possible.
In my opinion, there are 3 flaws in that reasoning:

1. On the measurement side:
People focus only on the frequency domain and don’t know that the human ear is far more sensitive to time domain resolution. It is only until recently that some researcher started to test for the actual temporal resolution of the human ear, which is far higher than expected.
Here ( you can read some interesting research papers about the temporal resolution of human ears.
While conducting his research, Kunchur realized that no single CD player could generate properly the square waves he needed for his testing. He had to resort to an analog wave generator to test the limits of human temporal resolution. That means that people that were complaining so far about the poor quality of the digital reproduction of most CD players were dead spot on. Most measurements focused on the frequency domain (frequency response, THD...) but totally discarded the time domain performance.
So while those people might have been laughed at because there was supposedly no measurement to back their claim, you can draw your own conclusions after reading those research papers or by looking at the graphs here ( And for those who don’t know it, most CD players and DACs today use the sigma delta chips that give those horrible high frequency sine waves.
That is to say that if people who complained about the sound of CD players were only affected by placebo, there wouldn’t be measurements to back their claims (jitter, square waves...). So those that were really affected by the placebo effect were those who were told that CD is as good as it gets ... and convinced themselves that is indeed as good as it gets.
The same rule, could be applied to cable, if we measured the impulse response, square waves or better signal music we would have more meaningful results.
By the way, just before finishing the review, I came across an ongoing project by Nordost. See here:
Instead of measuring static signals, they used real recorded music and their results show that even external factors (such as vibration support and power cables) will affect the output of audio equipment
2. Most ABX are conducted improperly:
I have been baffled when I bought an AES research paper about jitter a few weeks ago. There has been a head-fier posting all around the place about the fact that jitter is inaudible below certain (high) levels because no double blind test showed otherwise.
Well to my surprise, I found that they used for the research some cheap $30 Sony headphones for the tests. Those same headphones would have been dismissed by any audiophile (I wouldn’t personally used them even in a portable rig).
Also, there was no mention in the paper about the headphone amp, interconnects, power filtration...
So unfortunately, that paper is used as a “reference” to say that the jitter of the source is not important as long as it is below 10000ps (audiophile equipment has jitter lower than 100ps). What it means is that when other “scientific” double blind tests are conducted on other areas (cables, amps...) they start from the supposition that the quality of the source doesn’t matter. So when testing to see if there is a difference between cables or amps, and according to that test, any source would be ok as there is no double blind test to suggest otherwise...
So sadly, many of those double blind tests are meaningless in my opinion because the systems they used are not nearly revealing enough.
3. There is a strong psychological factor to the AB tests:
First there is the stress. When we are stressed and are “forced” to hear a difference our minds can play tricks. When we are listening casually, we are in a different state of mind where we are looking to forget about the equipment and concentrate on the music instead.
Second, when we are doing a double blind test, we concentrate too much and our brain starts filling the gaps that aren’t really there.
Let’s take for example a phone conversation. If we concentrate enough, we can recognize a voice on a poor connection. So how come? Well our brains sort of interpolate the available data points and check it against our “data base” of known voices. 
The same is done when listening critically in a double blind test: our brains records the details with the better equipment and then fill in the gaps when listening to lesser equipment.
Unfortunately, this “imprinted memory” fades away after a while.
On the other hand, when we are listening casually, the differences jump at us and are not usually what we expected to hear. When listening very hard to hear a difference we try to simplify things and focus only on limited aspects of the music in order to highlight any difference. For example, when A/Bing 2 components on a large orchestral piece of classical music, should the listener focus their attention on the placement of the performers on the soundstage, the size of the soundstage, the timber of each instrument (and which one?), the timing, the tonal balance, the overall transparency, the low level details, the dynamics, the transient speed... There are so many things one can focus on and the more stressed and constrained by time we are, the more restrictive that list become and that is why you find so many people limiting their A/B comparisons to bass/mids/highs.
To sump up, what good cables, bring to the mix is less hard work to “reconstruct” the recorded event. With better equipment in general, your brain doesn’t have to work as hard or as much during the recording, which makes it a more pleasurable listening experience on long listening sessions.
This leads me to explain my testing methodology. Instead of quick A/B testing on a single track, I prefer to listen to a component/cable through various albums, take some notes and only after I start getting a grasp of what is going on, I do A/B switches to confirm on infirm my preliminary findings. This usually implies dozens or hundreds of listening hours. I also like to listen to the equipment at low volume level and high volume levels. Sometimes when listen only at a regular average level, we can miss some characteristics. For example, a component that can be clear sounding at regular volume levels can turn into acid sounding at high volume levels.
Listener fatigue is also an important factor. Since this whole hobby of audiophilia is about listening to music in the first place, I automatically discard equipment that are pleasing in the short listening sessions and that end up being tiring on long listening sessions. I sometimes have my headphones on for hours at a time so it is a very important factor for me.
Overall, I hope that this little digression helped the reader to understand not only where I stand on cables but also how I conduct my tests.
System used for the review:
System Used:
Main Chain used for this review:
Foobar v1.0 --> Kernel Streaming --> Jkeny’s modified hiface --> Oyaide DB-510 --> Audio-gd DAC19 DSP --> Artisan Cables "Ultimate Silver Dream" RCA / Black Stuart ACSS --> Audio-GD C2 --> Headphone cable --> Sennheiser HD-650
Power related accessories:
Hi-Fi Cables & Cie PowertransPlus Power Cords (x2)
Hi-Fi Cables & Cie SimplePower
Bada LB-5600 Power Filter Plant
Essential Audio Tools Noise Eater Parallel Filter
Vibration Control:
E&T Spider Rack, Maple platforms, Sandboxes, Brass cones, Acrylic and Fiber carbon sheets, Yamamoto footers, Herbie's Audio Lab Tenderfoot, SuperSonic Component Stabilizer
Other equipment on hand:
Transports: Emu 0404 usb, Musiland Monitor 01 usd, Teralink X, Purepiper usb to spdif, Teralink X2
DACs: Zero DAC, Audio-gd DAC 100, Audio-gd FUN, Purepiper DAC A-1
Headphone amps: Audio-gd ST-3, Little Dot MKIII, Audio-gd FUN.
Picture of the system:

Some of the reference tracks used for this review:
Natalie Dessay - Italian Opera Arias - Emi Classics
Mahler - Symphony n 5 - Decca
Puccini - La Boheme - Decca
Mozart Violin Concertos - Marianne Thorsen - 2L - 24/96
Sol Gabetta - Schostakowitsch Cellokonzert Nr. 2/Cello
Vivaldi - Concerto for 2 violins - Carmignola/Mullova
Keith Jarrett - Paris / London - Testament - 24/96
Glenn Gould - The Goldberg Variations 1981
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator OST
The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five
Diana Krall - Quiet Nights - 24/96
Diana Krall - Live in Paris
The World's Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings - Chesky - 24/96
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
Patricia Barber - Companion
Soundrama - "The Pulse" Test CD
Head-fi/Chesky Sampler - Open Your Ears - 24/96
The Sound:
Timber & Tonal balance:
With a transparent component like the Mark2 cable, it is hard to go into the classical bass/mids/highs description. While the Mark2 extends the frequency response in both the low end and extreme highs, it doesn’t have a sonic signature of its own.
However, by comparison to the stock cable it is apparent that the bloated mid-bass is gone and that the high frequencies are a lot cleaner through the Mark 2 cables.
What the Mark2 allows to do, in comparison with the stock cable, is a finer and more precise reading on the true harmonic structure of different instruments and voices. Overall you recognize instruments more quickly and you can even distinguish th….
So the Mark2 cable is a relatively well balanced cable (like the Mark1 and the RAL) which makes what I am trying to describe in this part of the review even harder to do.
The main differences I detected on the timber and tonal balance between the 3 top cables were mainly in 2 areas. The first one is the handling fast transients and the second one is the way the upper harmonics were rendered relative to the fundamental frequency.
Let’s start with the transient speed. While I have found in the past that the Mark1 cable was notably faster than the Moon Audio Blue Dragon and the Stefan Audio Art Equinox Cables, I have found that it was surpassed by the Mark 2 cable as well the RAL Cable in transient speed.
What it means for the Mark2 cable is that sounds appear and disappear instantly. The attacks are not blurred but at the same time the decay of the notes are not shortened. The Mark1 cable is a little softer in the attacks in comparison and the RAL cable fall somewhere in the middle.
What it means is that all natural (unamplified) instruments will sound like they are supposed to, provided the upstream components (especially the DAC) are up to the task.

If you had read my previous review of the Mark1 cable, you would have learned that I was surprised the first few days of its use by the extra treble energy it had in comparison with the Blue Dragon (as well as the stock cable).
While moving from the Blue Dragon to the Mark1 cable definitely changed the tonal balance of my system, switching from the Mark1 to the Mark2 is a slightly different story. The first minutes I listened to the Mark2 cable, I thought for a while it was indistinguishable from the older model. After more listening, I came to realize that the upper harmonics of the Mark2 cable were more illuminated than the Mark 1 cable. It is like if the Mark1 was dusty on the upper harmonics while the Mark2 was a lot cleaner. While this might sound like a good thing, it also implies that it will ruthlessly reveal any flaw on the system upstream or the recording itself.
Again, the RAL cable fell curiously right in between the 2 Artisan Silver Cables by having a slightly livelier representation than the Mark 1 cable but still not to the level of the Mark2 cable.
However, to keep things in perspective these differences are rather small and I had found far bigger differences when I compared the Mark1 cables to the Blue Dragon and the Equinox.
While I don’t know what a “perfect” cable would sound like since it is impossible to listen to the Sennheiser HD-650 without a cable, my guess is that it wouldn’t be far off (tonal wise) from those 3 cables as there sonic signature is far less than that of the Blue Dragon, the SAA Equinox or worse, the stock cable.
Overall the Mark2 silver dream “de-veils” the HD-650 by offering a cleaner and clearer window to the representation.
Musical examples:
Dian Krall – Quiet Nights – 24/96: I have just recently downloaded this album from HD Tracks. I had listened previously to the CD version and found it pretty poor sounding (and compressed). The high rez version caught my interest not because it was 24/96 but because it was supposed to be recorded directly from the analog tape (without further processing). Overall, the album has an “analog” feel that is well rendered by the Mark 2 cable. With the Mark2, the sound is smooth yet it doesn’t fall in the hazy side of the stock cable. The Mark2 cable preserves the natural warmth of the recording without adding or subtracting anything. On this particular recording, you feel that the Mark1 is doing a little bit too much as I felt like listening through a warm sounding tube amp (my gear is solid state).
Keith Jarrett - Paris / London - Testament - 24/96: When you listen to this recording, you can not only clearly hear the fundamental of the note being played but also all the overtones. Reverting to the stock cable you get a much more simplified version of the recording. The Steinway Grand piano becomes a cheap smaller Yamaha one. The lower notes don’t go as deep and you get the impression that the system can only play one note for all the lower frequencies. The same is true for the midrange and the higher frequencies. Going from the stock cable to the Mark2 cable, you get a more complete and richer representation.
Surprisingly these differences are not only heard in my reference system. Even on the cheap Audio-gd FUN DAC/Headphone amp combo, the improvement going from the stock cable and the Mark2 cable are easily audible.
Though, while the differences between the 3 silver cables (Mark2, Mark1 and RAL) were audible on the cheap FUN, it would have been a lot more difficult to draw good conclusions using only the FUN as a source/amp, as it is a lot more colored than any of those top cables.
Soundstage & Imaging:
While the soundstaging of the stock Sennheiser is already good (provided they are used with a good headphone amp), they remain a little bit hazy and lack any real depth.
Upgrading the stock Sennheiser cable to a silver cable can improve the size of the soundstage in width, depth and height while having a sharper imaging.

However, I have to say that the soundstaging is the only area where the Mark2 cable really fell short of the Mark1 cable (which is a true champion in this particular area). The older cable has the widest and deepest soundstage I have ever heard on the HD-650.
While the Mark2 couldn’t equal the performance of the Mark1 cable, it still did a better job than all the other cables I had tried (Silver Cryo RAL, the SAA Equinox and the stock cable).

Switching back and forth between the Mark 2 and the Mark 1 cables from Artisan Cables on different albums, I realized that the difference could be partly explained by a different listening perspective. The slightly more upfront nature of the Mark2 cable would put you slightly closer to the performance stage.
In comparison to the other top performing cable I had on hand, the Mark 2 cable had both a bigger soundstage and a more pinpoint imaging than the RAL cable.
So, will a silver cable transform the soundstaging of your hd-650 into that of the K-701/702? The answer is simply no. From the little listening I did with the AKG K702 a few weeks ago, I realized that while an upgrade in headphone cable can change dramatically the perceived soundstage, it does so by a different way than switching headphones. I think that we hear an increase of the size of the soundstage simply because the details in the background are more easily audible. The combined effect of a sharper imaging and increased depth is probably what causes that perception of increase in size.  
So overall, the Mark 2 cable improves the layering of the soundstage and provides a much more precise imaging than the common copper based cables.
Musical examples:
Mahler - Fifth Symphony: This particular recording, when played through the correct equipment, is a good test tool for the imaging performance of system. Here, with the Mark 2 you can almost count the number of instruments. However, it is a difficult task to do because I too often find myself drawn by the music and forget about what I was trying to do.
Anyway, what I can say is that with the Mark2 cable, you get a much better depth and pinpoint imaging than with the stock cables or the other copper cable I tried before for that matter.
Puccini - La Boheme: The layering of the soundstage is outstanding. The performers on the stage are clearly differentiated from the accompanying orchestra. Each performer and instrument has its place in space which is surprising from such an old recording. On lesser cables, the soundstage is smaller and stuck inside the head, different instruments are blurred together and the performers lack that holographic representation and are only mere voices.
Vivaldi - Concerto for 2 violins - Carmignola/Mullova: Looking back at my notes, I found out that with the Stefan AudioArt Equinox Cable, I was able to clearly distinguish the soloist but I described the background instruments as being blurred.
In this recording, the imaging of the background instruments is even sharper than the Mark 1 cable, though the soundstage is slightly smaller and not as three-dimensional.
The Messiah – Dunedin Consort 24/88: This album shows the superiority of true high resolution files. While the CDs above all had excellent soundstaging and imaging clues, going to 24/88 provided a more relaxed and spacious representation and there was much more air between instruments and voices. The Mark 2 was capable of capturing that increase in resolution and soundstaging while those clues would get totally blurred and muffled by the stock cable.
In this recording, the sharp imaging didn’t come at the expense of a thin sound. The music sounds just sounds like it is supposed to: detailed, spacious yet highly enjoyable.
I have read numerous reports where the Sennheiser HD-650 were described as sluggish. That usually could be explained by 2 reasons: insufficient amping or the quality of the cable
Even with a powerful amp, the stock cable muffles the transients which make the HD-650 sound slow and uninvolving.
The dynamic range of the Mark2 cable is amazing: it retains the low level information when playing loud material; it can go from whisper levels to explosive levels in an instant and at very low listening levels, the details are not obscured or muffled like it is the case with the stock cable.
Because the Mark2 cable is a “fast” cable, you not only get believable macro-dynamics, but you also get a good representation of the micro-dynamics. Here the Mark2 is pretty much on par with the Mark1 cable as well as the RAL. Looking back at my notes, the Blue Dragon and the Equinox cables both blurred a little bit the transients and muffled the micro-dynamics rendering.
Of course, the choice of the amplifier will affect the most the dynamics of the HD-650. However, a poor or an average cable can blur the effects of a dynamic amplifier.
Musical examples:
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator OST: This album is a nice test tool for testing the dynamic performance of a component or a cable. The only cables that do not make the HD-650 sound compressed are the 3 silver cables. On this particular album, the stock cable, the Moon Audio Blue Dragon and the Equinox all seemed to suffer from compression especially in the bass.
With its quicker nature, the Mark2 cable gave me the best dynamic representation of this album. Reverting back to the stock cable, everything seems muffled and slower.
Diana Krall - Live in Paris: While the Mark2 cable was pretty quick on the Gladiator soundtrack, it retained all the little fine inflexions of Diana Krall voice. That is to say that the Mark2 cable didn’t disappoint in the micro-dynamics department.
Transparency & Definition:
Because of the slightly more forward voicing than the older Mark1, the Mark2 seems more transparent.
Also, because of the added transparency and clarity, the Mark2 cable seems slightly louder than the Mark1 cable and definitely louder than the stock cable. What it means is that to get the same amount of information, you do not need to turn the volume as high as you would with the stock cable. At the same time, the sound is clean and balanced enough that I can turn the volume up to insane levels without getting any excessive brightness.
Overall, this is different from the clarity that some Grado headphones offer because they have bumped up treble and bass to sound loud at low volumes. The reason the HD-650 sound clearer with the Mark 2 cable is simple, it is because all the low level details are there in spades.
This wasn’t only noticeable with a selection of high quality music but it was also noticeable when using the HD-650 for listening casually to movies or series. With the Mark 2 cable, you get all the little details that fool you into being actually there.

However, I have to note that there was a point during the review period where I thought it had less low level details than the Mark 1 cable when I had to use the Kimber PBJ interconnects for a few days, but I came to realize later on that the “dead” black background was in fact due to the interconnects (and equipment being used). When I reverted to my reference chain connected through the ACSS/CAST mode, the perceived noise floor dropped and I started hearing once again those little low level details that make a recording sound alive (and not like if it were recorded in a dead space environment). Since I listen to a lot of unprocessed music, I am very sensitive to the low level details retrieval of components in my chain.
The weird thing is that while the Mark1 and the RAL cables were almost as detailed as the Mark2, they didn’t make feel like something was missing when I was using lesser equipment and cables upstream. I suspect that the slightly “sharper” sound of the Mark2 cable overemphasized those shortcomings.
If I had written my review a few weeks earlier, I would have probably reached a different conclusion regarding the definition level of the Mark2 cable.
What it means is that the Mark2 cable will highlight the sonic character of the components and cables used upstream.
Another attribute of the Mark 2 cable is that it offers a great differentiation between recordings. Changing from one album to another, you get the impression the equipment was changed. On one album I get the impression my system is too warm sounding ... and the next album I get the impression my system is too forward sounding and ruthlessly revealing. What it means is that with the Mark2 cable, I get to listen more to the recording itself and less to the equipment. The Mark1 cable in comparison is a little bit softer and renders everything with a slight silvery and smooth touch. In retrospective, I have to admit that the Mark1 was a little bit cheating in rendering the upper harmonics by making everything sound slightly better than they actually are.
So overall, I have found the Mark2 very detailed (on par with my older reference cable, the Mark1) and very transparent to the recording.
Listening through the Mark2 cable, you get the feeling to be hardwired to the microphone feed of the recorded even (provided the components upstream are up to the task).
Limits of the review:
While I tried the Mark2 cable with different sources and headphone amps during the course of the review (including the tubed Little Dot MKIII), I have to note that most of my gear uses discrete design (i.e no opamp) with zero negative feedback.
That is to say that I can’t predict how the Mark 2 cable will sound with opamp based components that use a lot of negative feedback.
The revealing and transparent nature of the Mark2 cable will probably make it better suited for tube equipment or solid state equipment that is known to have a balance on the neutral or slightly warm side.
But that is only speculation from my end as it didn’t find any “incompatibility” with the equipment I paired it with.
To wrap-up, the Mark 2 Silver Dream cable is an excellent sounding cable. Compared to the stock cable, it improves tremendously the frequency extension at the extremes, cures the HD-650 from the mid-bass bloat and dirty highs, and it pretty much gives you an open window to the representation.
Its high transparency implies that you should pair it with great care and avoid bright sounding equipment. However, and paradoxically, it is more forgiving towards poor recordings in comparison with something like the Stefan AudioArt Equinox which overemphasize any mid treble brightness.
Overall, it seems that the Mark2 cable isn’t add or subtracting much to the signal. It gives you the impression of being hardwired to the microphone of the recorded event.
In any case, I could be very happy with either one of the Artisan Silver Dream cables, or the Revelation Audio Labs one. But now, that I have listened to those well made silver cables, I would have a hard time living with a copper cable such as the Blue Dragon or the Equinox even though they also provide an improvement over the stock cable.
May 16, 2010 at 1:17 PM Post #2 of 3
What another great review!
I can't thank you enough!
May 18, 2010 at 2:48 AM Post #3 of 3
Thank you for your nice comments and for letting me borrow your RAL cable for a little bit longer


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