The Sound in Tri-metal colors!
PROS: great value, excellent workmanship, noticeable refinement in sound.
CONS: sound improvement varies depending on pair up with different sources and earphones.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Plussound.
My general thoughts about replacement cables (cable review intro).
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.
Founded less than 4 years ago, Plussound is a relatively young company, but they are very ambitious and I constantly see Christian (the man behind the company) actively participating and offering suggestions and support in many different threads on Head-fi.
While communicating with him through PMs, I always had a prompt reply within an hour. He was very honest and straightforward with me about his current workload and how long it will take him to make a cable. Custom cables are often made to order, thus do your homework about cable-maker before moving forward with a purchase – 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 cable 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 Plussound 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 have an option for 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 I often hear a question why aftermarket cables cost so much. You have to take into consideration the cost of the pure copper, silver, gold, and the weight of corresponding wires 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 fall into $600-$1k price range. I do hear the improvement in sound over the stock cable, but the higher the price the deeper you are into the territory of diminishing returns. After my review of their X8 and Apollonian+ series cables, Plussound approached me with an opportunity to look into their “entry level” X series, and I actually got curious how their budget cable going to perform. Due to my review schedule it took me a little while to get to this write up, though I have already been talking about this cable in some of my posts on Head-fi.
As I mentioned in my other Plussound review, 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 (optional right angle 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS) 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. You can request to customize the housing of L/R connectors with a color coded label, but in the dark it’s easy to feel the position of these screws for a “blind” guidance.
X series Plussound cable doesn’t look like your traditional multi-braided heavy cable. It’s actually part of their ultra-portable series which is lightweight and intended for traveling and stage use. Anybody on the move can benefit from these thin (1.4mm) 26AWG gauge wires where only 2 twisted cables are used. For my review purpose I choose a tri-metal wire blend with copper, silver, and a small amount of gold – the option which raises $125 X series baseline price to $199. Various wire materials have different conductivity and resistivity properties, and as a result the hybrid mix usually takes advantage of the combined performance.
Upon closer look you can actually see the bi-color UPOCC enamel-coated litz wires within each cable surrounded by clear PE insulation shielding. As Plussound stated, all these wires are cryogenically treated to strengthen their structure. Even so wires looks thin, they feel very durable. Also, not only the wires get cryo treatment, but according to Plussound all of their anodized aluminum components such as plug and shell connectors, y-splitter, and chin sliders also get this treatment to increase the strength and durability. On top of that, connectors can also be customized with a different color print of the heat-shrink tube exterior. Having this rubbery coating on top of the connector, which also extends and forms a strain relief, makes a nice non-slip grip. But at the same time it also makes connectors look a bit DIYish.
The design I received didn’t come with a chin slider, though you can add it when customizing your cable with different available options. Since the wire is thin, lightweight, and supple, it doesn’t really require a chin slider assistance to bring the cable wires together in order to keep it tight behind your ears. Another interesting feature of these cables, found in other Plussound cables as well, there is no memory wire and instead the cable is pre-shaped like an earhook. I have no idea how they do it, but this type of “invisible” earhook looks very clean and does a good job in keeping wires secure around your ears. Also, I found the cable to be easy to wrap for storage and it stayed tangle free. There was hardly any microphonics, and the memory effect of the cable was down to minimum.
Since I have many different DAPs with both 3.5mm TRS and 2.5mm TRRS connectors, I asked for the cable to be terminated with a balanced 2.5mm TRRS connector and also received an optional ($75) custom made right angle adapter. In my previous review I had a straight one piece adapter, while here I wanted to take a closer look at their angled one. It’s all a matter of a personal preference, but usually straight adapter works better with a top mounted HO while angled one is more convenient with HO at the bottom of the DAP. Either way, it’s a one piece adapter, very well built, and convenient to use with any 2.5mm balanced cable without adding extra length or bulk.
Last, but not least, I couldn’t help but notice this X series tri-metal cable was nearly the same thickness and weight as Linum SuperBaX cable. SuperBaX is not as thin as a regular BaX, but in my opinion it’s in the same category as X series. I wasn’t able to compare their performance since my SuperBaX prototype has mmcx connector while X series is 2pin, but in side-by-side comparison fully loaded tri-metal X series is cheaper than SuperBaX and comes with lots of customization options in comparison to a more expensive SuperBaX which can’t be customized.
Right angle 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS adapter.
Next to Linum SuperBaX.
For this test I used Lotoo PAW Gold (SE only connection) and Opus#2 (SE and BAL) as a source for testing and comparison. Prior to testing, I kept the cable on a burn in for about 100 hours. When I was switching and comparing cables, I made sure to volume match the sound level by ear. In general, I found this hybrid cable to offer a smoother full body sound refinement with a nice accentuation of low end frequency range. In comparison to a typical stock OFC, it also lifts a veil off the upper mids and lower treble, though don’t expect the same level of bright revealing sparkle as you would get from pure silver or gold-plated silver wires.
Here in more details how it sounds with a number of selected IEMs/CIEMs after I switched to this X series cable.
UM Maestro (stock ofc vs X) – sub-bass extension goes deeper with a little more quantity, mid-bass punch is slightly stronger, and overall bass is tighter. Upper mids are a little warmer, more organic, and less splashy. Treble is a little smoother, still crisp but with a bit less airiness. Strangely in this case I found the connection with a recessed shell of Maestro to be not as secure.
Noble Savant (stock spc vs X) – upper mids/treble becomes a little smoother, otherwise a very similar sound. 2pin connector fit was a bit tight.
Noble K10UA (stock spc vs X) – nearly the same sound. Tight fit of the connector, but not as much as Savant.
CA Ei.xx (stock ofc vs X) – I hear more texture in sub-bass, a little more impact in mid-bass and overall bass is tighter and better controlled. The most noticeable change is in upper mids/treble where the sound becomes brighter, more detailed, treble is crisper and with more airiness. Overall, the sound becomes more resolving and has improved layering effect. I was previously using BaX with Ei.xx, but I think I prefer X due to more airiness and higher resolution.
CA H8.2 (stock ofc vs X) – bass is tighter, the same quantity but feels tighter and a little faster. And just like with Ei.xx, you get a brighter upper mids with improved retrieval of details and crisper treble with more airiness. This also improves the perception of the sound which becomes more resolving and with improved layering of instruments and vocals. I found this pair to be very good, even better than some pure silver or pure copper cables.
InEar StageDiver SD4 (stock ofc vs X) – in my original SD4 testing I had to use ofc cable and Comply foam tips to tame down the brightness which made sound smoother but also lost some airiness and details. X brings back the missing details while still keeping the sound in a comfort zone without pushing it toward bright harshness. I do hear low end being a little tighter and better controlled, but the most significant improvement is brighter and more detailed upper mids/treble without analytical sibilance. Tight secure recessed socket connection as well.
64Audio U12 w/B1 and UE Buffer jack (stock vs X) – not a very significant improvement, but I do hear bass being a little tighter and more controlled (better separation from lower mids), and a touch more sparkle in the treble. With U12 the most significant sound improvement is switching to Buffer jack.
EE Zeus-R (stock BTG spc vs X) – I hear a little less hissing. Bass is nearly the same, while treble has a touch less airiness, becoming a little smoother. The biggest change is in mids where you get a little more body in lower mids and upper mids become a little more organic and slightly warmer. You still have the same slightly mid-forward signature, but now the sound has more body. Great pair up if you want to smooth out Zeus signature and cut down on some hissing.
Unlike some other more expensive alternatives, Plussound X series cable is very easy to recommend because it’s lightweight, durable, looks great, offers a noticeable improvement in sound, and very reasonably priced. I definitely hear an improvement in sound quality over the typical stock OFC cables, though the level of the improvement will vary depending on the pair up synergy between the source and IEMs/CIEMs. In some cases, for example with Noble and their own SPC cable, I didn’t find too much of an improvement, but in other cases the sound refinement was quite noticeable. As I said in my previous cable reviews, 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 why sometime it’s not easy to recommend $500+ cables, but in case of X series with this particular $199 tri-metal model – I can go even as far as saying it offers a very reasonable price/performance ratio.